Some 60 years after interstate highways began dividing the poorest American communities—often communities made up of racial minorities—the federal government has finally recognized that this was a problem. Biden’s Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg today announced the Reconnecting Communities Pilot Grant Program, a $1 billion program designed to reconnect some of these communities that have had highways or other transportation facilities create barriers to mobility, access, or economic development. This grant is part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and funded for the next 5 years. States, MPOs, local or tribal governments, and even non-profits are eligible to apply. The grants would specifically fund planning studies looking at removing, retrofitting, or mitigating the barrier roadway, or capital costs for the construction of these plans.
While this is an excellent step in the right direction towards righting some of the systemic racism that our transportation system has propagated, it does require local planning and engineering to see the problems and apply for the appropriate grants. In an industry dominated by middle class white male employees, all too often they fail to see issues like these that affect groups below their class. Opening the door for non-profits to apply for planning grants does enable scenarios where advocacy groups can apply for the federal grants—but unless they’re in the habit of applying for USDOT grant funds, they will be at a significant disadvantage competing against government agencies with dedicated grant-writing staff who are experienced at applying for federal transportation grants. Hopefully some progressive communities will take advantage of the opportunity and apply before the October deadline.
Here’s a poem I wrote to entertain you this Friday, with apologies to William Blake. I dedicate this to our readers working in cities and other government agencies, especially those who, like myself, spent many hours over the last several months applying for a TIGER Grant. (If you don’t know what that stands for, it’s in the poem.) I know the Broward MPO was applying for the grant. Was anyone else? Chime in.
BTW, for those who didn’t know, I am now working as a Civil Engineer at the County of Kauai. I may be far away in Hawaii now, but I am still rooting for Miami to be a more livable place! I also still have some consulting projects as well as family in the area, so I am no stranger.
TIGER, TIGER, burning bright—
In the office late at night,
What mere mortal dares to try
Frame their town for critic’s eye?
Transportation modes abound:
Rail turns the traffic ’round;
Cycle tracks are quite like crack.
Will the NIMBY’s send us flak?
Put Investment over here!
We’re dead with none, so we fear.
Which one’s finer? Cycle lanes?
Sidewalks? Port container cranes?
Generating concept plans,
Costs, and graphics (Comic Sans?).
Is the sum within our grasp?
Will some other get to clasp?
Those things may just give me fits.
I water’d Hades with my tears!
As each day the deadline nears.
Sweet Recovery—sleep all night?
When it’s finished we might fight.
TIGER, TIGER, burning bright!
We must win or suffer blight.
I had the opportunity to use Ecobici while in Mexico City for the Walk 21 conference. The system of over 1,000 bicycles has a waiting list for membership and no options for short term memberships, so it caters primarily to residents, not visitors. Thanks to the folks at CTS EMBARQ, conference goers were able to borrow passes for a day to use the system.
From everything I’ve heard and the large numbers of red bikes I saw riding around the city, the system is successful. It has about 9,000 daily riders and the membership was capped at 30,000 members before the recent expansions, with a waiting list of several thousands. The focus of this post is not the ridership or success of the system, but a review of the riding and usability of the system. Since Ecobici is operated by Clear Channel, many of the system characteristics are similar to other Clear Channel systems, such as Washington, D.C.’s old SmartBike system.
Before you question my sanity for riding in a city where drivers don’t even need to pass an exam to obtain a license, know that I had guidance from another conference goer from the U.S. who was living in Mexico, and comfortable enough cycling there to ride his folding bicycle from his hotel to the conference each day. (And hey, I ride in South Florida. People question my sanity all the time for doing that.) Roy Dudley, who works with advocacy group Pro Ciclismo Xalapa, offered to show me around the city by bicycle, so I took him up on that. We walked down to the nearest Ecobici station, where I got to experience checking out a bicycle.