Written by Zach Baker
UPDATE 8/2/17: More current coverage of this issue can be found here.
The devastating cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services proposed in President Trump’s budget have rightly gotten a lot of attention. But there’s another piece of his destructive budget that also threatens the health of our communities and the climate: cuts to public transit and active transportation.
The transportation sector is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. In addition to its contribution to climate change, our current transportation system has many other significant health impacts including air pollution from vehicle emissions, noise pollution from busy roadways, chronic disease risks associated with auto dependency and less physical activity (e.g. obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease), and injury or disability due to motor vehicle crashes. Unfortunately, the most vulnerable populations – low-income communities, communities of color, seniors, and youth – disproportionately shoulder the burden of these health impacts.
Public transit and active transportation options represent an important antidote to the impacts of the current transportation sector – largely by reducing automobile use. Walking, biking, and public transit use reduce greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and motor vehicle crashes. Increasing physical activity in daily life through modest and feasible increases in active transportation would yield a huge reduction in chronic illness and save billions in health care costs. Public transit and active transportation options also provide a much needed lifeline to resources and economic opportunities for low-income people, youth, seniors, and people unable to drive. See our brief on Transportation, Climate Change, and Health to learn more about the connections between transportation, health, equity, and climate change.
The Trump budget disregards the connections between transportation, health, equity, and climate change by cutting funding for public transit and active transportation programs.
The budget phases out the primary grant program for light rail, commuter rail, streetcar, and bus rapid transit projects, allowing funding to continue for projects with existing agreements, but ending funding for any new projects. The Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Program was poised to fund these types of projects to the tune of roughly $2.3 billion per year through 2020. According to one analysis, there are at least 50 projects in the works across the country that had not yet secured a funding agreement from the program and are now in danger of being cancelled due to the proposed cut.
In addition, Trump’s budget erases funding for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program. The TIGER program funds innovative transportation projects, including multi-modal and multi-jurisdictional projects, which are difficult to fund through traditional federal programs. The program has funded more than $1.4 billion in transit projects (over a quarter of total program funding awarded) and $310 million in bicycle and pedestrian projects. The most recent round of program awards – FY 2016 – included projects to build Complete Streets, construct and improve bike lanes, facilitate bus rapid transit, upgrade transit stations, and improve pedestrian safety and connectivity, among others.
Furthermore, the budget eliminates funding for long-distance passenger rail Amtrak service which plays a particularly important role in many rural communities.
Transportation for America has been at the forefront of highlighting and opposing these cuts. Visit their blog for more information.