Angie Schmitt

Republican Platform is Hostile to Cities

Would end all federal transportation funding for transit, biking, walking.

By , Streetsblog - Jul 22nd, 2016 10:18 am
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Milwaukee Streetcar on Milwaukee St.

Milwaukee Streetcar on Milwaukee St.

In the past few years, Congressional Republicans tried and failed to turn the federal transportation program into a highways-only affair. Still, the GOP isn’t giving up on eliminating federal funds for transit, walking, and biking.

Donald Trump may have made his name building on the most transit-rich real estate in the nation, but he hasn’t changed the party’s stance on transportation at all. The transportation plank in the newly updated GOP platform [PDF] is as extreme and hostile to cities as ever.

Here are some of the lowlights:

1. Eliminating federal funding for transit, walking, and biking

The Republican Party platform calls for cutting all federal funding for transit, walking, and biking.

The loss of federal funding would cause chaos for transit agencies and transit riders, disrupting and diminishing capacity to operate, maintain, and expand transit systems. The reason this proposal goes nowhere in Congress is that even a sizable share of Republicans realize it would be disastrous to kneecap transit in the nation’s urban centers, where so much economic activity is concentrated.

During a Bloomberg Politics event on infrastructure yesterday at the RNC, Nebraska Senator Deb Fischer (a big Trump booster) toed the “no gas tax for transit” line. She suggested that transit could be funded by a “user fee” on “ticket sales” — apparently unfamiliar with the term “fares,” let alone the fact that roads don’t come close to paying for themselves either.

Republicans are also out to squelch the measly 2 percent of federal transportation funding that goes to walking and biking projects. The GOP platform specifically calls out “bike-share programs, sidewalks, recreational trails” as undeserving of federal support.

2. Obama’s conspiracy to “coerce people out of their cars”

The GOP has gotten away from explicitly calling any attempt to improve transit, walking, or biking a United Nations conspiracy — apparently that was deemed too crazy. But it’s still completely acceptable to accuse President Obama of orchestrating the conspiracy instead.

Obama has secured some additional funds for transit and rail via relatively small programs like TIGER, and may adjust federal rules to nudge state DOTs in a more multi-modal direction. This amounts to tinkering around the margins of federal transportation policy, which remains heavily tilted toward highways and allocates tens of billions of dollars a year for roads. For this, the GOP accuses the Obama administration of trying to “coerce people out of their cars” and “social engineering as it pursues an exclusively urban vision of dense housing and government transit.”

3. No mention of the 35,000 traffic deaths on American streets every year

Traffic fatalities are on the rise and the Centers for Disease Control recently pointed out that America is falling far behind peer nations when it comes to reducing the death toll. But the GOP surface transportation platform doesn’t mention safety at all. The document does refer glowingly to the 1980 Republican platform, which led to the revocation of the national speed limit, freeing states like Texas to raise limits to speeds like 85 miles per hour.

This story originally ran on Streetsblog. Angie Schmitt is a newspaper reporter-turned planner/advocate who manages the Streetsblog Network from glamorous Cleveland, Ohio. She also writes about urban issues particular to the industrial Midwest at

10 thoughts on “Streetsblog: Republican Platform is Hostile to Cities”

  1. Virginia Small says:

    Thanks for republishing this informative, well-written blog. If the GOP gets its way, all of Wisconsin, not just Milwaukee, will be greatly hurt in its ability to fund multi-modal trails, mass transit, bike lanes, etc.

    Although Milwaukee County Parks funding has been severely slashed for over 30 years, the county has gotten grants for multi-modal trails, etc. through federal programs. We’re talking millions. Thus, that’s one aspect of our parks system that has actually improved, including expansion of the Oak Leaf Trail. (State grants like the Knowles Nelson Stewardship Fund have also helped, but that funding is being curtailed.)

    Fed money also largely funded the recent restoration of the historic Lion Bridges and others in Lake Park. Milwaukee’s streetcar has gotten major federal funding (TIGER, etc.).

    Interesting that fed funding for walking and biking is a “measly 2 percent” of all federal transportation funding. It’s ironic that the platform talks about “coercing people out of their cars” since car commuters are often desperate for ways to get exercise in their free time and also avail themselves of great “walkable” urban areas for entertainment and on lunch hours.

    I wonder what Speaker Paul Ryan, “Mr. Fitness,” and RNC chairman Reince Priebus think about all this. We certainly know Gov. “Harley Hog” Walker’s positions.

  2. Michael says:

    In many ways, Republicans are right about this. There is no reason for the federal government to be involved in local bike paths and street cars. (Transit as a whole is a different matter as there are a lot of interstate and regional train systems)

    What’s the rational for relying on federal funds to pay for walking and bike paths? We should establish local funding sources to pay for these important infrastructure needs rather than hoping for federal grants.

    And getting rid of the national 55mph speed limit is a good thing for anyone that needs to drive across the country.

  3. Jason says:

    You make this argument that Republicans are heartless on the federal level when it comes to transportation,you don’t mention that they prefer to just send the funding back to the states but you lose your argument by placing a picture of the Milwaukee trolley next to your prose. There is a reason why Mayor Barrett did not allow City of Milwaukee citizens a chance to vote down this tax boondoggled. He wanted it, Downtown wanted it and it well suck resources away from the tax payers of Milwaukee for the next two generations.

  4. Virginia Small says:

    One reason the feds are involved in bike paths and multi-modal trails is that much transit is interrelated, such as bike lanes being part of streets. The federal government, supported by everyone’s taxes, is the major source of transportation infrastructure.

    Two percent is a drop in the bucket, but without such funding we will continue to support only car-centric infrastructure. Even though federal funding is often distributed through the states, it means that anti-mass-transit and anti-multi-modal transit states–like Wisconsin–at least have a shot at some funding to keep from being stuck in the Dark Ages.

    Michael, what sort of “local funding sources to pay for these important infrastructure needs rather than hoping for federal grants” do you propose? I.e., how much do you want to raise already-high local taxes?

  5. jason says:

    How compassionate are Democrats? The Milwaukee county board always playing politics signed on to giving transportation to free rides for 65 year olds and up with no income requirements. Knowing Chris Abele has common sense he vetoed it in an election year, Democrats over rode Able’s veto and again played politics so Abele came off as cold hearted. Milwaukee county has millions and millions of dollars of defecit and less buses will run to actually help people in need.

  6. Penrod says:

    The idea that the federal taxpayers should be responsible for funding restoration of the the Lion Bridge in Lake Park is just silly.

    There is absolutely nothing in the Constitution which authorizes the feds to pay for local foot bridges, bike paths, street signs, or intra-country mass transit.

    I understand that those who believe it would be good policy for the feds to borrow money from China, to be repaid by succeeding generations, to do so, also believe that anything they think is good policy is thereby rendered Constitutionally authorized, but it isn’t.

    I also accept that such people hold the very concept of constitutional government in utter contempt. Better you make the argument that we, too, should hold the Constitution in contempt than try to pretend otherwise.

    Local infrastructure, local events, local policies: Pay for them locally.

    Or perhaps you will support federal funding for a new Milwaukee Gun Club range in Lake Park, because that is considered by some people to be good policy. How about federal funding of a Motorcycle Race Track, because some people think that would be good policy? How about federal funding of a Nancy North Shore Tennis and Golf Club?

  7. Virginia Small says:

    Penrod, it sounds like you may oppose all federal funding distributed by state and local entities. Federal lawmakers could someday address that policy issue by repealing such programs–and perhaps lowering federal taxes.

    Until that happens, would it be responsible for city and county officials to pass up all federal funding? What might be potential outcomes? The state Legislature has already completely defunded all state parks. The county has $500 million in deferred parks maintenance. The city’s budget is squeezed tight. Thus, many quality-of-life amenities have been declining for decades.

    Whether one agrees that federal money should pass to states and cities, some federal infrastructure funding has helped our area from heading over a cliff. I don’t agree with how some infrastructure is funded but simply not building or maintaining it is a race to the bottom.

    As to your final questions, the county parks department offers a wide range of amenities in various locations–and has received federal grants for some projects including multi-modal trails. Through public hearings, friends group efforts, etc. citizens appropriately get to make the case for preferred amenities, nearly all of which are funded through local taxes. However, citizens did not get a voice at the county level about whether they wanted $4 million a year from county taxes to support an NBA arena.

  8. Penrod says:

    Hi Virginia, I do oppose all federal funding which is not authorized the the Constitution. I understand that marks me as a drooling knuckle-dragging ultra-rightwing whacko, but there you have it: The US government should not be doing things which the Constitution does not authorize, like going to war without Congressional authorization, or paying for bike paths.

    “Until that happens, would it be responsible for city and county officials to pass up all federal funding?” Yes, it would be responsible. I’ll go further: It is irresponsible, and subversive of the Constitution to do otherwise.

    Virginia: The Constitution puts certain policy options on the table, it leaves others off, and in some cases listed in the Bill of Rights, explicitly prohibits still other options. Funding sidewalks and nice old bridges are two things left off the table. Pretending otherwise does not change that, but it does diminish respect for the Constitution, and thereby reduces all of the protections afforded us by the Constitution.

    Just ask the Presidents who have gone to war without authorization, and the Congresses which have allowed them to do so with impunity.

  9. Vincent Hanna says:

    Bike paths didn’t exist in the late 18th century, so of course the Constitution doesn’t mention bike paths. Doesn’t that need to be taken into account here?

  10. dty says:

    @Vincent – great point

    @Penrod – “I do oppose all federal funding which is not authorized (in) the Constitution.” So building on Vincent’s point, logically you would not support federal transportation funding for aviation, rail or water/maritime purposes. You would not support federal spending on automotive safety. You would not support US military spending on the Air Force, as the constitution only mentions the army and navy. You would not support federal spending on space exploration. If you are a strict Constitutionalist, so be it, but it probably goes beyond what even you understand.

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