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The walking, bicycling and trail community is stunned at the Florida Department of Transportation's (FDOT) decision to single out walkers, bicyclists and trail users yet again, disproportionately cutting $24.7 million in Transportation Enhancements (TE) funds and another $3 million from the Recreational Trails Program (RTP).
FDOT's egregious slashing of funds puts the personal safety of walkers and bicyclists at huge risk and leaves behind a long list of ready-to-go, unfunded trail projects in its wake. Most notably, this decision profoundly affects a portion of the SR 207 Rail Trail in St. Augustine and the regionally significant Courtney Campbell Causeway Trail projects linking Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties.
Enhancement funds are federal dollars that can only be used for qualifying projects such as bicycle and pedestrian facilities, and trails. These limited funds are highly coveted and sought after. When a local community applies for TE funds today, they are most likely applying for funds that will not be available until 2017.
"By rescinding their unspent funds disproportionately, FDOT signals that it does not consider safe places to walk and bike a transportation priority," says Kevin Mills, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) Vice President of Policy. "There are critical trail connections that need funds and could be unduly delayed or lost because FDOT has not moved proposals through their process or preserved funds that could be spent going forward. This short-changes Florida's active transportation future."
This comes on the heels of two equally devastating and disproportionate cuts made in 2009 that totaled more than $60 million. These 2009 cuts alone represented more than a year's worth of Florida's total TE allocation, yet the program itself only receives less than 3 percent of the transportation funds in Florida. This latest action targets the TE program at more than 20 percent of the total funds being relinquished, while road money and associated contract authority has been mostly protected.
"The TE program is an important source of funds for achieving the bicycle and pedestrian mobility goals of Florida's communities," says Laura Hallam, Executive Director of the Florida Bicycle Association. "To reduce these funds disproportionately to other highway programs is to reduce transportation choices for Florida's residents and visitors and ignore the relationship between our transportation system, environmental sustainability and public health."
According to the 2010 Dangerous By Design report*, Florida continues to top the national list of the most dangerous places for pedestrians. A pedestrian in the state is twice as likely, on average, to be struck and killed by a vehicle as in other states. You fare even worse as a bicyclist at nearly three times.
"We thought we were making progress through extensive outreach and relationship-building efforts with FDOT," says Ken Bryan, RTC Florida field office director. This renewed attack on walkers, bicyclists and trail users makes one thing clear we cannot rest in our fight to ensure a safe, convenient transportation future for all Floridians, not just those behind the wheel.
RTC has mounted a campaign to address these ill-advised and short-sighted rescissions to meet the needs for trail systems and other active transportation facilities by fully obligating TE and RTP funds each year and using funding flexibility to shift additional funds into these programs over time. The national non-profit is joined by the Florida Trail Association, Florida Bicycle Association, Green Mobility Network, BikeWalkLee, Safe Routes Partnership (FLA), Naples Pathways Coalition, First Coast Trails Coalition, South Florida Bike Coalition and Peace River Riders Bicycle Club. For more information on this effort, visit Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's action network.