Our Dear Mayor has released his proposed 2012 budget.
For 2012, our Mayor has been put in a tough spot. Faced with declining state and federal aid, he has been forced to make the tough choices and has proposed cutting approximately 20% of the total spending by the City of Madison when compared to the 2011 Budget. For Bicycle and Pedestrian infrastructure there is both good and bad news, and I’ll try to lay both of those aspects as best I can.
First with the bad news:
1) The City of Madison SLASHES funding requests for bicycle and infrastructure projects by 75%!! Ok, now that the inflammatory headline is over with, what does that actually mean? Every agency has to include not only a budget, but also a Future Year Estimate. This estimate is really a request for funds, and so agencies will put estimates into the budget for projects that will (hopefully) be occurring during those years. If you check the 2012 Bicycle and Pedestrian agency budget, you’ll see that while we’re only spending $4.4m this year in bicycle and pedestrian projects, next year we’re “estimating” spending $11m. The only problem is that last year’s budget (2011) estimated that we’d be spending $13m in 2012. Comparing the two you’ll see that the Cannonball Bike Trail was pushed back from 2012 to 2013 ($3.7m), the Cap City Trail improvements were pushed back ($1.4m), Starkwater Creek Bike Path was pushed back ($2.5m), etc. Some of these delays were caused by factors other than a shortage of funds, but it’s obvious that when the budget got tight, desperately needed bicycle infrastructure was one of the first things to be cut.
2) Ok, this is probably more like a 1a) type of bullet point, but I am *VERY* concerned about whether the city is serious about increasing bicycle infrastructure spending going forward. In both politics and corporate America it’s called “padding the budget,” where you put in additional wishlist items that you know will never get funded. If you really want $10m for a project, you put in for a separate $5m project for a total of $15m requested. Then when word comes down from the CEO (or Governor, or Mayor) that everyone has to cut back by 20%, you ditch the extraneous $5m project and look great in the eyes of your boss since you just “saved” 33%. Never mind that you’re still getting full funding for your $10m project that you really wanted in the first place.
So, my concern is that bicycle funding is the extraneous fat that is only put in there for leaders to pull out when they need to show that they are cutting spending. For the 2010 budget it was “estimated” that we’d spend $3.2m on the Cannonball Bike Trail in 2011 (you know, the one that has been now pushed back to 2013 at the earliest). And for the 2009 budget, it was “estimated” that we’d spend $1m+ on the Cannonball Bike Trail in 2010. And for the 2008 budget it was “estimated” that we’d spend $3.2m on the Cannonball Bike Trail in 2009. Basically, from the 2008 budget onward, the City has been claiming that we just have to wait one more year before they’ll start funding this. The 2012 budget is no different with ZERO spending next year on this Trail, and a crucial $4m bridge over the Beltline pushed back, you guessed it, one more year…
3) The City of Madison spends a disproportionate amount of money on roads for cars compared to the *actual* percentage of people who drive to work. From the 2009 US Census Data, people get to work by:
Bicycling (listed as “other”): 6.1%
And yet, Madison is spending the following for the 2012 Budget:
Auto-specific (Roads, parking, traffic signals*): 82%
Bicycle-specific (including multi-use paths): 3%
* – Does not include snow removal, salt trucks, police, fire, etc that cyclists need on occasion, but with far less frequency than car drivers
It’s obvious that cycling is growing in Madison, but the funding for cycling-specific projects has not. We’re still being funded at the same dollar amount as 2007, but cycling commuting has increased from 4.6% to 6.1%, along with a corresponding drop in people driving to work (76.2% down to 70.7%). And yet funding for roads is 22% *higher* than it was in 2007. We as cyclists don’t want a disproportionate amount of money going to support our riding, what we want is AN EQUAL amount of OUR TAX DOLLARS going to support the infrastructure that WE USE on a daily basis.
The good news
1) We’re still spending $4.4m on bicycle and pedestrian-related infrastructure this year. That’s not bad, and it’s a lot better than other communities that spend $0.0 on it.
2) Bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure is the only agency in the 2012 budget that actually *increased* in spending from the 2011 budget (a 10% increase). All other agencies decreased in actual dollar amounts.
3) I must grudgingly admit that certain projects lumped under “roads” do benefit cyclists. For example, Fish Hatchery Road is being resurfaced next year ($2.3m), and there is a bicycle lane on that road that is barely usable now. Hopefully after the reconstruction it will be far better for a cyclist to ride on, but in the numbers above it is lumped in with “Roads” and not “Cycling Infrastructure”. I’m not quite sure how I would split that $2.3m up between benefiting autos versus bicycles, but there is definitely some positive aspects for bicycles in the roads budget.
So, where does that leave us? I’m not sure. The cynic in me looks at the proposed $11m in bicycle/pedestrian funding “estimated” for next year and just assumes that all of that will get pushed back ad infinitum. We have pushed back projects for the last 4-5 years, and that’s 4-5 years that we have NOT been able to use bicycles to get certain places here in Madison. It took brave leadership to do things like build the Southwest Commuter Path, which today transports hundreds if not thousands of people to and from work every day. It’s literally too crowded at rush hour to actually ride at my normal pace, and probably should be widened to accommodate all of the (bicycle) traffic. I don’t see any of that leadership right now. I see a focus on maintenance and upkeep instead of using money to connect suburbs like Cottage Grove or Sun Prairie to Madison. There’s still an overwhelming focus on auto-related road projects, with one intersection rebuild costing more than all of the requested bicycle/pedestrian projects combined. At a time when Americans as a whole (and Madisonians in particular) are driving less and less, we’re spending more and more on roads. It just doesn’t make sense…
And yet, this is still Madison. City agencies are coming up with new ways of accommodating bicycle traffic, such as the intersection at Regent and Monroe that is a godsend to cyclists on the Southwest Commuter Path. “Sharrows” and Share the Road signs are popping up, and the city is actively looking at improving bicycle routes throughout neighborhoods. It gives me hope that the city and the Mayor aren’t just trying to placate a few noisy/angry cyclists, but really do want to promote cycling and alternative means of transportation. Now if they could just put some more money where their mouths are…