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CAMPO weakens bicycle, pedestrian funding

Wednesday, November 12, 2014 by Gene Davis

Despite repeated objections from Austin City Council Member Chris Riley, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Policy Board voted Monday to soften a policy that directs federal funds toward bicycle and pedestrian projects under a proposed long-range plan.

The CAMPO board voted to amend a long-standing policy in the 2040 Regional Transportation Plan that has required at least 15 percent of available CAMPO federal funding go toward bicycle and pedestrian projects. The amended policy makes the 15 percent funding directive a goal instead of an automatic set-aside.

Riley, a frequent advocate of multimodal transportation, said the policy change would hurt multimodal transportation in Central Texas.

“The 15 percent rule has worked well for many years,” he said.

However, CAMPO Executive Director Ashby Johnson said many jurisdictions represented on the CAMPO board want the ability to spend their allotment of federal funds where they think their constituents want. Johnson said while the 15 percent set-aside worked well for many years, he thought CAMPO could instead make the 15 percent a target.

“My main concern is that (bicycle and pedestrian projects are) the only thing we have to set aside for,” Johnson said. “We don’t have to set aside for transit, we don’t have to set aside for anything else. So I’m just trying to make it consistent.”

Pflugerville Mayor Jeff Coleman and Round Rock Council Member Craig Morgan echoed Johnson’s comments.

“I don’t think me or my fellow elected officials want to be told by a board where they have to go (with the money),” Morgan said.

Still, Riley maintained that the 15 percent requirement created clarity for funding the bicycle and pedestrian projects.

“I think we have had a real issue in underfunding bicycle and pedestrian facilities in the Central Texas region, and that 15 percent rule helps,” Riley said. “And I think softening the language will rightfully be viewed as us backing off on our commitment, and I think that’s a mistake.”

The CAMPO board later voted to loosen policies in the 2040 Transportation Plan that required the construction of pedestrian and bicycle facilities along with “all new construction of regionally significant roadways and bridges” in areas identified as priorities within the Priority Pedestrian Districts Map and Priority Bicycle Corridors Map.

The board voted to change the policies’ language to “encourage,” not “provide,” the bicycle and pedestrian facilities in those areas. Riley and Council Member Bill Spelman, whom Riley voted for by proxy as Spelman did not attend the meeting, were the two opposing votes to the policy change.

Johnson described the amended policy as moving from a top-down to bottom-up approach.

Before the vote, bicycle advocates asked CAMPO board members not to change the bicycle and pedestrian polices.

“Our city is in a very important stage, and we really need to encourage bicycling, and we need to protect our pedestrians,” said Bike Austin Interim Executive Director Carol Reifsnyder. “And the wording as it is does that.”

Meanwhile, CAMPO and the City of Austin are both in the process of filling full-time positions focused on pedestrian and bicycling programs and issues. Johnson said the findings from these incoming bicycle and pedestrian coordinators could alter the bicycle- and pedestrian-related policies in the future.

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