MAP-21 and Environmental Justice

In case you didn’t already know MAP-21 is the US Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration’s new set of rules now enacted to govern how and where Federal revenues are spent on transportation in the US. The “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act” (P.L. 112-141) was signed into law by President Obama on July 6th, 2012 and the law is in force as of yesterday. Alternative transportation advocacies such as Transportation Alternatives, The League of American Bicyclists, People for Bikes, Walkscore, and many others all campaigned to improve Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) funding, but their efforts were largely overwhelmed by highly politicized and contrarian efforts to cut spending in this area. This has largely resulted in organizations spending the last six months searching for ways to make MAP-21 work for those of us who don’t drive.

It is well known that multimodal TAP infrastructure enables mobility for economically disadvantaged populations. Don’t agree, well I’d like to introduce you to the very bottom layer of anyone’s social order.

Bota Bota Bicycle Taxis

A Bota Bota bicycle in South Africa or Nigeria or just about any hard rock African country with a significant population of economically disadvantaged people is a highly sought after mode of transportation. For the people that gain a vehicle like this it is by leaps and bounds a more efficient mode of getting around. The installation of pavement for these riders extends their range by at least 100%.

Here in the US the same principles apply. The minority that is forced into traffic on foot or on a bike is disproportionately subject to adverse human health and environmental effects of programs and policies that are the result of inattention on the part of both Congress and in this case the Federal Highway Administration.

Here is the funny part, Congress, in an effort to remain politically correct has previously decreed that this shouldn’t happen.

“Each Federal agency shall make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations.”

The Bota Bota is a step up for the part of the world that cannot afford to drive a car every where. Here in the US the bicycle fills much the same role for people equally disadvantaged, what ever the reason. When considering the portion of MAP-21 funding that is dedicated to TAP programs around the country Congress broke its own rule. Ask me how I know?

Each and every time a diesel truck passes to close on my right and I’m left breathing heavy metals, ash, and other particulate the risk to my health is increased substantially. Every intersection I have to navigate with extreme caution to avoid the dreaded left-hook or the nefarious right T-bone is an increase to my health and a degradation of my environment that others on the same road do not share. The simple act of riding a bicycle places those of us who do in a minority which is unjustifiably at increased risk of, and lets be frank here, death.

The total funding for TAP programs over the next two years isn’t even equal to the expected surplus funding that the FHA will have to reallocate for Interstate construction projects over the same period. TAP is such a tiny and unsubstantial drop in the transportation bucket that the debate over its authorization, heated and nasty at times, must have been a charade simply to waste time.

The reason I bring this up in writing is that I’m certain there must be some up and coming law firm out there, interested in litigation for civil rights and, in this case, environmental justice that could make a case for improving TAP funding through re-allocation of funds. Where multimodal and bicycle specific infrastructure exists it is often in poor shape and more often than not it just doesn’t exist. This is against the law of the land, and Congress should be made aware of the fact that they’re breaking their own laws.

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