In a recent report, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., placed the Minneapolis Freewheel Midtown Bike Center among 65 projects nationally that wasted more that $1 billion in federal money. The $800,000 bike center opened last spring on the Midtown Greenway bike path and houses a repair shop, cafe, bike storage and showers. Hundreds of people have taken classes on bike commuting there. A federal grant for several hundred thousand dollars and contributions from the city, the shop operator and private donors paid for the center.
According to the senator, a dollar spent on that type of project is a dollar “that’s borrowed against programs like Social Security and Medicare.’’ But for our money, it's worthwhile to invest taxpayer dollars in helping the environment, decreasing oil dependency and improving health. Regular exercise can reduce the need for some Medicare benefits as Americans age.
Other items on Coburn's Hall of Shame spending list deserved their spots. In Texas, for example, a $367,000 federal grant paid for a huge inflatable alligator and water slide to help a school district with reading instruction. Other questionable projects included a search for outer space aliens ($9.4 million), a retractable shade canopy ($2.4 million), training classes for casino workers ($784,000), and preserving a small plane-shaped building ($9,000).
But a center that encourages exercise, promotes energy savings, reduces auto emissions and decreases pressure on roads and bridges is hardly outrageous. Proud of Minneapolis's' ranking as the No. 2 city where residents bike to work, Mayor R.T. Rybak was right to defend the center as a good use of public funds. Congress was smart to support it. And Coburn, an M.D., should know better.