Local nonprofit will oversee $21 million effort to encourage walking, biking

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When Minnesota Congressman Jim Oberstar wrangled major federal funding for a revolutionary pilot project designed to shift Americans from reliance on motorized vehicle travel to riding bicycles and walking, nobody at the small, but influential Transit for Livable Communities (TLC) had a clue they would be a player.

After all, TLC had mostly focused on transit alternatives–light rail and bus service–during its ten years of operation. And though TLC representatives had communicated with Oberstar’s office, when word came down that the organization would be asked to oversee the four-year $25 million pilot project in Minneapolis, they were a bit taken aback.

“It was a surprise to be selected,” TLC co-founder Barb Thoman confessed.

Indeed, it was unprecedented for a nonprofit group to coordinate a federal project of this magnitude. But the group moved quickly to hire Steve Clark, a longtime transportation consultant from Wisconsin, and it put together an advisory committee to encourage citizen participation during the pilot project.

On June 1, the federal Highway Administration formally approved TLC’s work plan.

Clark and Thoman appeared before the Transportation and Public Works Committee Tuesday to report on their progress. Minneapolis is the largest city to be selected for the pilot; the other three projects will be in Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, Marin County, California, and Columbia, Missouri. The city will act as a fiscal agent to direct the funds between the state Department of Transportation and TLC, which will suggest where the funds should be spent.

About two-thirds of the $25 million will go toward infrastructure improvements, Clark told the committee, with the remainder being used for marketing, promotion, and education. “It’s an unprecedented opportunity,” he said.

He reported that the Bike Walk Advisory Committee–27 representatives from stakeholder organizations throughout the city–met for the first time last Tuesday, going through a “visioning” process that created some momentum for the future. “It was very encouraging to see the energy, ideas, and commitment to the process” from the group, he said.

TLC will establish some baseline travel data by September 2006 and compare that with non-motorized travel in 2010. The project will also document the health benefits, energy conservation, and pollution reductions during the project.

The committee unanimously endorsed the relationship between the city and TLC, which is expected to be easily approved by the City Council.

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