I'd like to make a toast to the bicycling lobbyists who worked
on the mammoth transportation package that Congress sent to President Clinton's
desk last week.
My champagne glass is full of "ice tea" -- ISTEA, that is, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act. That's the 1991 legislation whose six-year reauthorization cycling advocates pedaled furiously to make into a stronger brew. The newly minted TEA 21, the $210 billion Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, turned out pretty sweet.
"TEA 21 is a tremendous victory for cyclists," said Jody Newman, executive director of the League of American Bicyclists. "There's more funding for bicycling, and bicycling is included in more places and more ways."
"Two years ago, we weren't even sure cycling would be included at all" in what is primarily a spending plan for building highways, Newman said. "ISTEA in '91 was the first time that cycling, when it came to federal transportation funding, was regarded as a legitimate form of transportation."
ISTEA pumped more than $1 billion into bike-friendly road and transit improvements, up from just $41 million total for the previous 18 years, in programs with goals such as easing traffic congestion and reducing air pollution.
Thanks to ISTEA, there are bike lockers at train stations in Long Beach, Calif., bike racks on buses in Seattle, bicycle-pedestrian coordinators in every state government, a revised vehicle code in Wisconsin that treats bicycles equitably, bike lanes on busy Harlem streets, a "divided freeway" recreational path in Minneapolis with separate asphalt lanes for bikers and joggers, 900 bike parking racks in downtown Philadelphia, a burgeoning "traffic school" for cyclists in Atlanta, a "Bike to Shop" campaign in Chicago and more.
Locally, ISTEA money has been awarded for trail maintenance in Leominster State Forest, design of the Assabet River Rail Trail and other projects.
Last week, the Bikes Belong! campaign was still combing the TEA leaves, so to speak, to see exactly what's available for bike projects in the next six years. For starters, Newman said, there are new categories of money, for goals such as bike safety and educational activities, "hazard elimination" and access to mass transit.
TEA 21 earmarks $6 million for the Blackstone River Bikeway. With a 20 percent state match, that should be enough to build the 26-mile route from Worcester to Providence -- some on existing roads and some as a separate path -- according to the office of U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester. Rhode Island plans to open the first segment of the bikeway, a 3.5-mile stretch in Lincoln, in October, said Lisa Lawless of the R.I. Department of Environmental Management.
"The one fly in the ointment," Newman explained, is that a big chunk of the money authorized for cycling projects could be shunted to highway construction if bike people don't come up with specific bike plans. "That means we will have to work really hard to make sure it's spent on cycling," she said.
The New England Mountain Bike Association will have its National Trails Day celebration Saturday at Great Brook Farm State Park, Lowell Road, Carlisle. Volunteers will cut in a couple of miles of singletrack on newly purchased land -- bring work gloves, eye protection and loppers if you can help -- and will have a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new trail at noon. NEMBA patrols will lead various bike rides for all ages and abilities in the afternoon. Admission is free. For more information, call (800) 57-NEMBA.
TIP OF THE HELMET to Saturn racer Frank McCormack of Leicester, who won the six-stage Tour of Japan. He earned the leader's jersey in the third stage, chasing down a breakaway and crossing the line 2 minutes, 26 seconds ahead of the next finisher. McCormack held the No. 1 overall position through the conclusion of the race last Sunday. Saturn's Mike McCarthy won two stages.
Meanwhile, McCormack's brother and Saturn teammate Mark had two stage wins in the Atlantic Cup Classic, in Providence and Quincy, and finished third overall. Winner of the five-race series was Kevin Monahan (Breakaway Couriers).
Effective Cycling is a League of American Bicyclists program that teaches cyclists how to get the most out of biking: how to ride confidently in traffic, make sure your bicycle fits, conduct a safety check, fix a flat tire, avoid potholes and other road hazards, prevent crashes and falls, make emergency maneuvers, and understand your rights and responsibilities. The course is 10 hours, typically taught in two or three sessions, with on-road and classroom instruction.
Evening and weekend courses will be offered in June, July, August and September in Cambridge, with more dates and locations to be announced. Cost is $50-$60. For details, contact Paul Schimek (617 494-3601) or visit MassBike on the Web.
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