State Representative Joe Pickett has recently renewed his objections to the process behind the downtown trolley project, pointing out a required public hearing was not held, that there were other inconsistencies. He also says in his letter to the Texas Transportation Commission that “The second issue is the false information that this was funding only for the trolley project.” So we wondered, what if, as Rep. Pickett suggests, we could use these funds for other projects? Well, we know bike and pedestrian projects are good for business. They can (and have!) revitalized neighborhoods all over the world by creating new transportation options, and bring new traffic to local businesses: In Manhattan, NY, protected bike lanes led to a 49% increase in retails sales at local businesses! (New York City Department of Transportation. Measuring the Street: New Metrics for 21st Century Streets. NYC, 2012.) On Valencia Street in San Francisco, CA, 2/3 of merchants say bike lanes had an overall positive effect on business. (Drennen, Emily, “Economic Effects of Traffic Calming on Urban Small Businesses,” San Francisco, CA) And overall, bike projects, dollar for dollar, create 1.5x the jobs that road projects create! (Garrett-Peltier, Heidi, Pedestrian and Bicycle Infrastructure: A National Study of Employment Impacts, Political Economy Research Institute University of Massachusetts, Amherst, June 2011) So just for fun, we decided to compare what we could build with $30 million (there’s $97 allocated for the trolley, but we don’t need to get greedy): One mile of street widening, or 600 miles of quality bike lanes, or 100 miles of sidewalks, or 300 miles of buffered bike lanes, or 120 miles of bike boulevards, or 30 miles of bike trails, or 20 miles of physically separated cycle tracks, or 2,000 rapid flashing beacon systems. (Source: Tulsa Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee) So if the money from the trolley project were to come available, we’ve got ideas how it should be spent. Funding for transportation over the past few decades has gone primarily to roads for cars, it’s time we brought a little balance back to the system with a real commitment to funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects for a change. This can be done by: installing sidewalks and curb cuts connecting our on-street bike lane network using canals and utility easements to create hike/bike trails and linear parks planning for and creating dedicated walking and biking infrastructure (such as short cuts between neighborhoods and destinations separate from our roads) encouraging developers to build denser, multi-use neighborhoods where buildings are a mix of residential, businesses, shops, restaurants, schools and public spaces all within easy walking distance of one another (as opposed to the low density single use developments we see being built today) adding street furniture and trees to make sidewalks more welcoming and installing end of ride amenities such as bike racks/parking to welcome bike riders. Don’t get us wrong, the trolley would be a great addition to the downtown/UTEP area, but it’s fun to play what if… Or, we could stop dreaming, and really get behind a real commitment to restoring balance to our transportation system if the city/county and all the local municipalities could work with the MPO to dedicate a substantial portion of the Surface Transportation Program funding that is set aside for metro mobility (STP-MM) annually, just for bike and pedestrian projects. Other regional MPOs have made similar annual commitments, why not the Paso del Norte Region?

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