Cities, towns and villages across Wisconsin have asked for $62.6 million to make walking and biking safer for their residents, a demand four times greater than the amount of money the state made available through the federal Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), according to figures released by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
Bike paths and pedestrian crosswalks in Plover, Antigo, Milwaukee and dozens of other communities will compete for the $7 million in TAP funds budgeted in each of the 2016 and ‘17 state fiscal years. Most of the projects are scheduled to begin in 2018, as part of a four-year funding cycle.
More than a half-dozen groups devoted to improving the health and quality of life in Wisconsin are collaborating to highlight the huge gap between the demand for these projects and the priorities of state leaders.
In recent years, WisDOT has spent less than half of the $16 million available for walking and biking improvements through Federal Highway Administration program. Instead, legislators and the governor redirected about $9 million of the potential Transportation Alternatives money to road projects and other uses.
Overall, the $$7 million the state does allocate for walking and biking improvements through TAP represents roughly 1% of the $677 million it receives for transportation purposes.
The 2015-’17 biennial budget further diminished support for non-motorized transportation, when the Legislature eliminated $1 million in state money previously allocated to the Transportation Alternatives Program.
“Our communities are telling us that they want safe walking and biking,” said Steve Elliott, Executive Director for the Wisconsin Alliance of YMCAs. “Not only is it good for health and safety, it also creates vibrant places where people want to raise families and businesses want to locate.”
The need to further support cities, villages and towns providing safe walking and biking routes for children and adults is exemplified by growing rates of obesity, among all age groups. Nearly one of every three adults in the state faces the debilitating and costly effects of obesity, according to the latest figures.
“Without the TAP funds, many local communities simply do not have money to build large projects that make it practical, safe and attractive for youths and adults to walk or ride their bikes,” said David B. Allen, M.D., a professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.
“These projects are so important because we know that changes in everyday physical activity can make major differences in a person’s risk for obesity-related diabetes and other health problems,” said Allen, a physician at American Family Children’s Hospital. “These funds have even more value to Wisconsin families when they support projects that make biking and walking the easy and safe choice, and also connect communities.”
Building connections that provide alternatives to driving is a theme of many TAP applications, not only between communities but between residents and services.
“As the population ages, it is becoming increasingly vital to ensure older residents can access the services they need in their community. An environment that supports biking and walking helps seniors get around, even when many can’t or don’t want to drive a vehicle anymore,” said Robert J. Kellerman, with the Wisconsin Aging Advocacy Network.
The Safe Routes to Schools Program, which teaches and encourages students in kindergarten through eighth grade to walk or bike to school, also depends on TAP dollars.
“I talk to school leaders all across the state, and one of the things always on their minds is student health and safety,” said Jessica Binder, Program Manager for the Wisconsin Bike Fed. “Safe Routes to School helps achieve both goals. Without more funds, local schools are having a tough time encouraging students to walk or bike, something we all grew up doing.”
Each year, the state bypasses an opportunity to devote millions of dollars from the FHWA to make it easier and safer for children and adults to walk or bike. Fully funding transportation alternatives projects will be a high-value investment in Wisconsin residents. It also will improve the economic opportunities for residents whose job prospects are limited by a lack of transportation options.
Leaders in the state’s cities, towns and villages have shown a willingness and a demand for more of the money that is being routed to other costly priorities.
The following organizations have collaborated on this effort to bring attention to the need to improve funding for safer walking and biking in Wisconsin communities:
Wisconsin Alliance of YMCAs (Contact: Steve Elliott – executive director – 608-556-1004)
Wisconsin Aging Advocacy Network (Contact: Carrie Porter – transportation specialist – 608-228-8092)
The Wisconsin Bicycle Federation (Dave Cieslewicz – executive director – 608-698-4971)
American Family Children’s Hospital (Contact: David Allen, M.D.: 608-263-5835)
Dane County Healthy Kids Collaborative
Safe Kids Wisconsin
The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network