Criticism of proposed ban on tax funding for bike, walking trails

Proposed state legislation to block the state and local governments from using fuel tax money for bicycle and pedestrian projects drew criticism as at a legislative briefing sponsored by the Knoxville Chamber, reports Georgiana Vines.

A leading critic of the proposal (HB1650) was Knoxville City Councilman Marshall Stair.

“I am disappointed to learn some members of the Legislature are looking to cut funding for bike lanes and sidewalks rather than developing a long-term solution to address all transportation needs. Biking and walking are effective tools for reducing obesity, decreasing traffic and recruiting businesses. The state should be promoting and encouraging alternative transportation, unfortunately this bill takes us in the wrong direction,” he said in a statement issued immediately afterward.

Susan Richardson Williams, panel moderator, said she didn’t think the bill was a good idea at a time when bike and pedestrian trails are being planned in parks. If a tax isn’t used to fund them, how should they be funded, she asked.

Turns out Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero is aware of the bill, and she and the other Big Four mayors strongly oppose it, city spokesman Eric Vreeland said later. Rogero has discussed the bill with the governor, state legislative leaders and members of the Knox County delegation, he said.

The city has a bicycle facilities plan that provides a blueprint for developing a system of connected bike corridors. It features 100 prioritized, recommended projects totaling more than $35 million, with most being locally funded. The current city budget allocates $1 million for bicycle infrastructure.

…At Friday’s meeting, state Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, said the “push back” on state funds for bike corridors came from Chattanooga representatives.

“It will be highly debated,” he said.

Rep. Eddie Smith, R-Knoxville, also on the transportation committee, said the issue is a lack of revenue being generated by bicyclists or bike trails. Maybe a wheel tax could be instituted, he said. Smith said he’s opposed to taking away state money for bike trails.

Note: The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Carter and Sen. Todd Gardenhire, is on notice for its first vote Wednesday in the House Transportation Subcommittee.