I've been recieving a bunch of messages lately about bikes and public funding. As I understand it, these all boil down to the fact that Congress is debating several versions of a transportation bill that would cut funding for "bicycle and pedestrian projects," and they urge me to contact my Congressional representatives in an effort to stop this. On the face of it, this seems like a no-brainer.
However, I've started to wonder what said "bicycle projects" are. The first thing that comes to mind is bike paths. In my opinion, though, bike paths are generally not implemented properly in the US. They're rarely (if ever) "bicycle only," and do not segregate bicycle and pedestrian traffic well, making them dangerous for both groups. They're often not maintained well (pavement quality, snow removal), have many crossings where the bike/walker does not have the right of way (requiring frequent stops), and are routed oddly because the property for the trail came either from the purchase of an unused railway (MA) or easment from a drainage ditch (TX, NM). As a consequence, I worry that bike paths in the US simply serve to "ghettoize" cyclists, as illustrated by the person honking and yelling "ride on the bike path!" at me on Sunday as I rode through Hudson center.
I know there are other bike-related traffic improvements out there, most obviously the wide dedicated bike lanes that are becoming more common in places like Cambridge, Somerville, and Newton. These methods implicitly accept the bicycle as a legitimate form of traffic, which I think is a critical step for (non-cyclist) drivers to understand. They're probably also far more cost effective. My question is this: does the money for these also come from money earmarked for "bicycle projects," or is it drawn from larger but less restricted pools of transportation funds?
As much as I care about cycling, I recognize that there's just not enough money out there to fund every public works project, especially if it doesn't really accomplish the stated goals. And I worry that considering bicycles separately from other traffic just reinforces the idea that we have less of a right to the roads than do cars. So before I go writing my Congressmen, I want to make sure I'm supporting something that makes actual sense. Can anyone convince me that I am?