Sponsors defend bicycle bill as opposition mounts

State Rep. Mike Carter said he had no idea a firestorm would ensue when he filed House Bill 1650 — but that’s what has happened, according to the Times-Free Press.

That firestorm is the largest mobilization of bicycle advocates in state history, according to BikeWalk Tennessee Executive Director Matt Farr.

…The bill, sponsored by Carter, R-Ooltewah, in the House and Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, in the Senate, would ban the use of state gas tax revenue to pay for many bicycle and pedestrian transportation projects.

…”My bill was simply this: If we’re going to go to the people and say that it’s time for a gas tax increase, do we not owe it to them to be able to tell them transparently where every nickel of that tax goes?” Carter said.

“It would significantly impede state and local abilities to implement bike and pedestrian projects across the state,” Farr said Sunday as he traveled back to Chattanooga from Nashville after a week of campaigning against the bill around the state.

The House Transportation Subcommittee is set to hear the bill March 2. It was set for Wednesday but Carter said TDOT officials will be in Washington, D.C., then.

BikeWalk Tennessee launched an online petition terming the bill dangerous and saying it would undermine tremendous progress made over the years for bicycling and walking in Tennessee.

The petition had 2,830 signatures Sunday night, and House Transportation Subcommittee chairwoman Terri Lynn Weaver said last week she had an email inbox full of messages from bill opponents.

“There is huge opposition to this bill,” Farr said. He cited several biking advocacy groups that have teamed up with his group to fight the legislation, and added that national groups such as the Rails to Trails Conservancy are standing against it as well.

…Gardenhire said “the basic needs of the community” should take precedence over bike projects.

“This is not an issue of whether or not Todd Gardenhire wants bike lanes,” he said. “It’s who pays for it. If this project of bicycle lanes is so near and dear to people, then we have city and county governments that can fund them.”