Millions in Stimulus for Subsidized Bikes, Helmets and Walking Shoes

Written by Jeff Johnson on October 21, 2009. Posted in General

“Sorry kids, but we had to mortgage your future.  Here, have a bike helmet.”

Yesterday, the Hennepin County Board on a 6-1 vote, requested federal stimulus funds in the amount of $10,000,000 for a program called “Communities Putting Prevention to Work.” Although we have not been granted these funds yet, there was great optimism that we will receive them based upon the strength of our proposed program and the desire of the federal government to fund projects like this.

The funds would be used throughout suburban Hennepin County “to address obesity, physical activity and nutrition through sustainable, proven approaches such as policy, systems, organizational and environmental changes in communities.”

Included in the request: $2.7 million for “subsidized bicycles, helmets, walking shoes and transit passes.”

If I recall, in order to counter the concern that we were spending our children into poverty, proponents of the stimulus bill earlier this year argued that the massive spending was absolutely necessary to create jobs (remember, if not for the stimulus, unemployment might rise above 8%). I have a sneaking suspicion that millions for bike helmets and walking shoes have little do with creating jobs.  Rather, programs like this are more about social engineering, or, as one of my colleagues on the county board admitted, “this is about changing people’s behavior,” not creating jobs.

Another part of the request: $1.1 million to conduct “joint bicycle and pedestrian planning” and to “work with our partner cities on ordinances to increase density of grocery stores and community gardens, and decrease access to fast food.”

I’m not exactly sure what increasing grocery store density means, but I assume it has something to do with encouraging grocery stores to be built in heavily populated areas. “Decreasing access to fast food,” however, seems pretty clear: Government needs to work toward putting fast food restaurants out of business, or, at the very least, making it more difficult for new such restaurants to open.  What a great way to create jobs.

There are also millions in the request for things like marketing to promote biking, walking and taking transit (I’m at a loss, by the way, as to how sitting in a train instead of a car addresses obesity, physical activity, or nutrition), “planning a comprehensive bicycle/pedestrian wayfinding system” and “developing a comprehensive bicycle/pedestrian/transit commuter support program.”

So, just to recap: We are looking to spend $10 million of taxpayer money for subsidized bike helmets, comprehensive bicycle/pedestrian wayfinding systems and government efforts to decrease access to fast food restaurants. At least now I can tell my kids what they’re getting for their mortgaged future.

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