Wisconsin Bike Federation : ‘Push Back’

Background Reading

Summary

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What’s the worst that could happen? Here is what the Wisconsin Bike Federation has to say:

As we reported the other day Governor Scott Walker’s proposed budget is a direct assault on biking in at least three of its provisions. The governor would cut $2 million from the Transportation Alternatives Program, gut the Stewardship Fund used to buy land for trails among other public purposes, and repeal our state’s successful Complete Streets law.

The Bike Fed is hard at work on all three fronts. Today we made a move on the Complete Streets issue by asking the chairs of the powerful Joint Finance Committee to pull the governor’s language repealing the law from the budget.

The Finance Committee has a long tradition, going back a couple of decades, of weeding out policy items that have no business in the budget bill and removing them all in one omnibus amendment. They ask the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau to help them identify those items, so we’ve flagged this issue for the Fiscal Bureau as well.

In our letter to Joint Finance Co-Chairs Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) we pointed out that the Complete Streets law is a policy of longstanding that has worked well. If the governor or legislators want to repeal or amend the law they should do so in a separate bill. The Bike Fed would be happy to defend the law or work constructively to change it if a case can be made that this is necessary.

But by putting such a policy change in the budget the governor is trying to avoid making a case for the law’s repeal. Because the budget must pass, if the repeal language isn’t removed, it will become law with little study or debate. Moreover, the budget is so big that an issue like this can get lost amid cuts to the university and other state agencies, education funding and so many other issues.

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» Governor Walker Slashes Bicycling from State Budget

Pulling the Complete Streets repeal language from the budget and asking the governor to introduce it in a separate bill where it can be studied and debated in the full light of day is a challenge the Bike Fund would be happy to meet. The law has been a great success and we would be eager to tell its story.

But leaving the provision in a dark recess of the huge budget bill guarantees that this important issue won’t get the attention it deserves. That would be bad policy-making and bad government.

Our letter to Sen. Darling and Rep. Nygren is below. You can help by contacting them and asking them to honor the Bike Fed’s request to remove the Complete Streets repeal from the budget.

Dear Sen. Darling & Rep. Nygren:

In his proposed 2015-17 state budget Governor Walker has included language that would repeal Wisconsin’s successful “Complete Streets” program. You can find the language in Sec. 84.01(35), Wis. Stats.

The Wisconsin Bike Fed opposes the governor’s action. Moreover, we believe that this is an example of a policy item, which the Joint Finance Committee routinely and correctly dismisses from the budget in an omnibus amendment. We are writing today on behalf of our 4,600 individual and business members throughout the state to ask that you include the governor’s Complete Streets repeal among items that you eliminate from the budget.

Complete Streets has been in place for many years and it has functioned very well. The law essentially requires that road projects involving state or federal funds take into account facilities to accommodate bicycle and pedestrian traffic. The law and its related administrative rule (TRANS 75) provide many opportunities to gain an exception to this requirement if the cost would be prohibitive, the projected use would be light or for other reasons.

If the governor believes the law is flawed in some way he can have legislation introduced to repeal or change it. The Bike Fed would be happy to make our case in favor of the law or work with the governor and interested legislators in amending it if that is needed. But in any event this should be debated outside of the budget process.
Thank you for your consideration of our request.


TakeAways

So the very first question that has to be asked is what things in the new budget have the highest priority? My own personal opinion is that the most effective of them is the Complete Streets law. Here in Illinois and in most other states the burden of paying for the completion/installation of sidewalks and other aids to pedestrian access to roadways is generally built into the initial construction of a property.

So in essence the burden is not exactly on the tax payers but rather on those buying or constructing properties in the first instance. And that might be the problem for a ‘pro-business‘ governor who is of course running for higher office.

And what is the response of the Wisconsin Bike Federation? We they write:

The Bike Fed would be happy to make our case in favor of the law or work with the governor and interested legislators in amending it if that is needed. But in any event this should be debated outside of the budget process.

Now I Go Into ‘Beast Mode’

If your cause is just, then why be ‘happy‘ to have to defend the obviously ‘just‘? But perhaps all of this is something of a charade? You know already that the GOP has attempted to vote out of existence the ACA some 56 times already.

This sort of charade is conducted because it is ‘safe‘. It is the political equivalent of donning ‘sumo wrestling outfits‘ on a cruise ship and ‘having a go at it‘, after a few drinks. The suits themselves make bodily injury a near impossibility.

Now consider that the Governor wants to look tough on any budgetary items that his constituents in the business world dislike. And who wants to have to pay for ‘Complete Streets‘ when there is already a ‘mass transit‘ system in place?

And between you and me and that ‘fly on the wall‘ the two most likely groups to directly benefit from a ‘Complete Streets‘ are possibly ‘school kids‘ and ‘poor people‘. The business community probably asks the question why kids need great sidewalks (especially along busy roads, which is where they are often omitted) when they normally get carted to and from school in buses? You know, those large yellow vehicles that have the flashing lights and pivoting stop signs. And that is a good assumption in most areas of the country.

As for the ‘poor people‘ notion, that comes from the realization that most folks wanting to get from point A to point B do so in cars. And crossing those wide avenues like North Avenue in the western suburbs of Chicago is not something anyone would choose to do, unless they ‘had to‘.

Let’s set aside the school kids for a moment. And concentrate on those who are ‘weakest‘. They have no choices in many cases. If you are a single mom with kids who is going shopping and there are no corner markets where you live. But there is a strip mall across a very large, very busy street, you head there for food, milk and diapers. You have to take your kids with you since you probably have no additional family to help babysit while you go shopping.

Okay, so why then this bit of wording:

In our letter to Joint Finance Co-Chairs Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) we pointed out that the Complete Streets law is a policy of longstanding that has worked wellIf the governor or legislators want to repeal or amend the law they should do so in a separate billThe Bike Fed would be happy to defend the law or work constructively to change it if a case can be made that this is necessary.

Is there really any reason that this law would need tweaking? From my own experience, the reality is that the complete streets seldom get built. Almost always a sidewalk ends abruptly and leaves a pedestrian in the lurch. This is especially true in places where an overpass has been created and the sidewalk does not reach it or when it does there is an enormous grade difference. You could never push a stroller along it without having to lift it to cross the ‘disconnect‘.

Is it possible that everyone here (including Wisconsin Bike Fed) is engaged in a bit of Kabuki Theatre? I think there is a possibility that this is so.

How Everyone Wins

Like the votes against the ACA, a blow at the Complete Streets legislation looks good to political benefactors. And of course standing up for the little guy is what the Wisconsin Bike Federation loves to do since it makes fundraising all that much easier. Again, this is all a bit like those sumo wrestling competitions in the overly stuffed suits. Everyone gets a bit of exercise and a chance to do some posturing without any real chance of injury.

Is that what is going on here? Time will tell. But one thing is for certain, there are going to be lots of instances where ‘give and take‘ will be required. We are heading into a new presidential election cycle very shortly. And everyone is going to be vilifying the other guy. That is to be expected. What you as a consumer need to consider is who is telling the truth.

You need to find out exactly what the Complete Streets law actually says. Ask the folks from your Bicycle Advocacy group to do exactly what they always demand of candidates:

  • Give us a blow-by-blow description of the law, all the gory details
  • Ask who pays for what and why
  • Then get some statistics to verify the current measurable benefits of Complete Streets and then any negative impacts that its demise would bring

Assume at the very least that everyone is overstating their position. That is normal in any debate. You ask for slightly more than you hope to get. You paint a more dire picture than really exists on the off chance that no one will call you out on the fudging that you are doing.

Everyone has an agenda. That includes both politicians and advocacy groups. Follow the money. All those dollars you and I give to advocacy groups are less about lobbying and far more about paychecks. That’s OK, but being honest about how much of each dollar given to a group actually pays for their families food and clothing helps to determine the efficiency with which they do their work.

Likewise we need to know the degree of impact on our businesses when we demand that they pay for infrastructure that normally should be the burden of taxpayers. Heck, in the current world we live in the homeowners and renters in cities have to be threatened to shovel those same walks that exist outside their dwellings or they get tickets.

Why should we hold developers to such high standards and fall down as home owners and renters when it comes to the upkeep of those expensive sidewalks? There really is a great deal about the inner workings of our communities that needs to be considered when we go into battle over budget items.

Of what value are Complete Streets whose maintenance is allowed to lapse to the point that the sidewalks crumble? I see this problem all the time. We have a complete or nearly complete street that either is in terrible disrepair or was completed to the letter of the law, but the adjacent property built a decade or more before still lies unpaved. Quite often enforcement or an utter lack of due diligence is exhibited by municipalities.

It will be interesting to see how all of this pans out.