Photo by Carlo Nicora on Flickr.
AAA Mid-Atlantic has made a welcome effort to be friendly toward pedestrians and cyclists since the controversy over their hateful reaction to Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes. But while they might preach “share the road,” it’s certainly not “share the budget,” as AAA Mid-Atlantic argued in a recent editorial for taking away ped, bike and transit funding and reallocating everything to cars.
Nationwide, AAA has a reputation for often lobbying against transit and pedestrian and bicycle programs, but many local clubs have tried to work more positively with users of other modes, even establishing bicycle roadside assistance (which Better World Club, AAA’s main competition, has always offered).
National AAA even distanced itself from AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Lon Anderson’s press release slamming the installation of the Pennsylvania Avenue lanes. AAA spokesperson John Townsend and social media manager Kim Snedaker assured us they “are not anti-bike”, and replaced the inflammatory press release with a more conciliatory one. (Neither is still available on the Web.)
Since then, the constant venom we had been previously seeing from Anderson and Public Affairs Manager John Townsend transformed into a more pro-coexistence message. For example, Townsend spoke positively about bicycling for WAMU, saying, “Part of living in the city is finding common ground and using common facilities for the greater good.” Townsend urged both motorists and cyclists to follow the rules.
Cycle advocates and AAA also found common ground following the death of Natasha Pettigrew in Maryland. An SUV driver hit Pettigrew on her bicycle and continued driving for four miles. Townsend told WTOP that Maryland laws are inadequate for punishing drivers who kill negligently cyclists.
"They’re killing people on the highways and they’re only getting a slap on the wrist and being charged a fine,” he said. “We need to close that loophole now.” And, writes WTOP, “Townsend emphasized that in this situation the person outside the car is the victim, ‘even if he contributed to the crash.’”
However, while AAA Mid-Atlantic may not “hate cyclists,” want drivers to share the road amicably, and believe in laws that allow punishing negligent drivers, they want to take away the federal dollars that cover most transit, bike and pedestrian programs.
Don Gagnon, President and CEO of AAA Mid-Atlantic, published an editorial in the July/August AAA World magazine recommending that Congress reallocate the entire transportation trust fund to road programs in the upcoming reauthorization.
Rails to Trails Conservancy sounded the alarm and have asked AAA members nationwide to ask national AAA to disavow this.
AAA Mid-Atlantic is again not representing the will of their members in the region.
According to Rails-to-Trails, Americans in a survey wanted to spend 22% of transportation money on pedestrian and bicycle programs. 10% of trips are walking or biking trips. But only 1.1% of this federal money goes to ped and bike programs, and Gagnon wants to cut it to zero.
While they’re free to say what they want, Gagnon and others are drawing their salaries from members across the region who just want roadside assistance. Yet their dues are going not only to pay lobbyists who fight against pedestrian and bicycle projects in Washington but to a magazine that spreads these messages to unsuspecting members.
Gagnon is careful to emphasize that AAA Mid-Atlantic isn’t specifically advocating for funding cuts, but just to dedicate all of the existing trust fund money to highways. This is a distinction without a difference. Kim Snedaker repeated the party line in an email:
Do we think bike trails, hiking trails, sidewalks, museums and transit ought to be funded? Of course! Don did not in any way suggest we should stop funding any of the list of items, but simply change the federal account from which they are paid to improve road conditions and motorist safety.
I appreciate Snedaker’s work to be nicer to cyclists, but this statement seems very disingenuous. Gagnon’s editorial is not suggesting a new, alternative revenue source for the existing ped, bike and transit programs. It’s not suggesting ways to expand the pie for everyone. Instead, they “simply” want to “change the federal account” to take all the ped, bike and transit funding and give it to highways.
While we’re at it, let’s “simply” also change the federal accounts so all federal money that goes to California goes to DC, Maryland and Virginia instead. But no, we’re not suggesting actually cutting any aid to California. It’s a little insulting to our intelligence, actually.
National AAA has denied lobbying against transit in the past. But either that’s splitting hairs on what “against transit” means, or else they’re just hiding behind the fact that their affiliate around Washington, DC does the lobbying for them.
Rails to Trails can only ask its members nationwide to push national AAA on this issue. But we live in the AAA Mid-Atlantic region. If you’re still a AAA member, switch to the Better World Club. And tell AAA you might consider being a member again only if they focus on their real mission, providing services to drivers, and stop trying to lobby against transit, pedestrian and bicycle programs.