Tourism and pedestrian activity in the city of Madison may be affected next year as millions of dollars in federal funding set aside to create new bike paths is being used instead to fund state highways.
Ald. Robbie Webber, District 5, said the money set aside for bicycle- and pedestrian-path improvements is only $9 million every two years, which is a half of one percent of the entire transportation budget. To take away money from projects that are already severely under-funded, she added, is not just hurting Madison.
"It's so criminal … to take this tiny amount of money from a fund that is so important for communities all over the state," Webber said. "[The funding] is economic development, it's tourism dollars and it's ways for children to get to school without walking on busy roads."
Krista Flanagan, vice president of sales and marketing at the Greater Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the money is especially important because Madison is a city known for its accessibility using community bike paths and pedestrian walkways. Currently, she added, the city is home to more than 100 miles of bike paths, but is always looking to expand.
"We receive a lot of national rankings in terms of our bike paths, and we were named the best road biking town in America," Flanagan said. "We really key in on those rankings … it's very important to us."
She also said new pedestrian pathways are what attract tourists and give Madison much of its out-of-town business. Without funding to maintain this attraction, tourism could suffer, Flanagan said.
"What we do is use our rankings to promote Madison," she added. "We go after people who are outdoor enthusiasts."
Webber added Madison already has high quality paths because funding also comes from city tax money. But she said in a growing city with increasing needs, there are several projects that could use extra cash.
Some projects in planning stages will be delayed because of this funding cut, Webber said. Overpasses across the beltline and a path near Sherman Avenue connecting low-income families to more jobs are just a few of the proposals Madison is looking to invest in.
Throughout the entire state of Wisconsin, Webber noted, 92 projects applied for this "tiny sliver of money," which will now be used elsewhere. She said the $9 million will be added to the already $160 million that goes toward road transportation.
"For these projects, this $9 million is such a small amount of money," Webber said. "Where's the fairness in that?"
Though it might seem unbalanced, Webber said the city asked for $5 million of the allotted $9 million this year. She added across Madison, constituents continually ask for better and safer ways to get to work without being hassled by a car or parking.
"You can ask any alder and they will say constituents need a way to get to work — the whole city has lots of bike riders," Webber said. "Madison is really committed to having good pedestrian and bicycle infrastructures, so yes, we wanted that money too."