Can Congress Really Be Serious About Eliminating Transportation Enhancements & Safe Routes to Schools?

What’s the political mindset these days that proposes to eliminate one of the most successful federal programs for community mobility and planning? I can tell you from my own experience, and those of my colleagues in Arizona, that the Transportation Enhancements (TE) program has built some of the best connections for pedestrians and cyclists in the Phoenix metro area, and around the state, providing transportation options through neighborhoods and along busy arterial streets. 

The local Council of Governments working group, on which I served until 2009, has reviewed hundreds of walkways and multi-use paths and recommended that they be funded, enhancing people’s ability to get around in our car-oriented metropolis. Many crucial links through neighborhoods — including connections to schools and to workplaces — have been built through this program over 20 years. 

Beyond the metro area, a number of programs have had a positive effect on mobility and the local economy, including the Flagstaff Urban Trail System, which has connected its neighborhoods to local schools and to its downtown and other commercial centers; Tucson’s river paths; and Glendale’s and Chandler’s canal paths, which provide safe passage for commuting cyclists to workplaces downtown or for students traveling to universities and community colleges.

And it’s not just about the transportation linkages that have been built. I remember walking with Congressman Blumenauer (OR-D), in 2001, along West Fifth Street in Tempe, Arizona, showing him how the TE funding was a catalyst for reinvesting in a transient and aging neighborhood near Arizona State University and downtown. With traffic calming measures like removing a traffic signal in favor of a four-way stop, raising intersections for safer pedestrian crossings, a wider walkway separated from traffic, adding bike lanes, street trees, and public art, suddenly there was both public and private interest in reinvestment. The city redid the neighborhood park and built a new community center; homes and apartments were improved and new housing was built. Stormdrain improvements were made to correct periodic flooding, and fiberoptic lines were laid, upgrading access to the Internet. Because dedicated TE funding was available, there have been major improvements in the ability of school children to get to their neighborhood school and university students to get to classes.

Those improvements created a wide variety of construction and permanent jobs and stabilized the neighborhood. A win-win for everyone.

Of course, landscape architects were the ones to step up and provide the design and construction services necessary to realize the city’s vision. Cities can choose a firm most suited to the project and be assured the project would move forward. We can all see the results of the federal investment of our money. 

But landscape architects are not the only ones to benefit from TE funding. Think of all those neighborhoods, school children, families, and students who have been served, all the businesses that benefit from the additional pedestrian and bicycle traffic, and the lives saved because there are safer transportation options available. So tell us who else benefits from these projects so we can let Congress now know how valuable this program has been and can continue to be.

This guest post is by Angela Dye, FASLA, LEED AP, principal of A DYE DESIGN, and former president of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).

This is the first in a series of guest posts by landscape architects across the country who use federal Transportation Enhancement (TE) funding to design projects that improve their communities and create jobs. This series illustrates how landscape architects help create the active transportation infrastructure  that cities and towns across the country  are demanding. Current legislative proposals would eliminate dedicated funding for the TE program. Use the ASLA Advocacy Network to let Congress know that walkable, bikeable communities are a priority in your community.

Image credits: (1) TE funding led to a safer route to school and a bike-friendly designation for the city, (2) With a new walkway, children have a safer way to the community center. Tempe, Arizona, 2000 / Angela Dye

2 thoughts on “Can Congress Really Be Serious About Eliminating Transportation Enhancements & Safe Routes to Schools?

  1. Andrew Sparks 02/13/2012 / 11:06 am

    Why should the federal government pay for walkways in Phoenix so kids can get safely to school. Parents in Phoenix should pay for that. Landscape architects have to be more creative in times of federal economic collapse. We need to stop relying on our central government for otherwise unaffordable programs, and begin grass roots organizations to develop local funding sources – charitable organizations, civic groups, school districts, cities, counties, and states. Everything then becomes more precious, less expensive, and more personal.

    • Cory Parker 02/13/2012 / 7:38 pm

      That is a good point, Andrew. The follow-up question would be: Why should the federal government pay for roads in Phoenix so drivers can commute long distances? Drivers in Phoenix should pay for that. As a pedestrian and bus rider in Seattle, I certainly do not want to contribute taxes to more roads in Phoenix. If I do need to contribute federal taxes to the $144 billion transportation budget, I would much rather that money go to non-polluting, healthier, and more social forms of transportation than have 100% of it go to fossil-fuel-based travel of cars and planes.

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