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Congress Increases Funding for Biking, and Adds New Safety Program
UPDATE – The FAST Act was passed by the Senate, and signed into law by President Obama on December 4.
The House of Representatives just passed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. The FAST Act is a five-year bill that will slightly increase funding and slightly change some policy. The biggest change is that it will create long-term certainty for states, local governments and transportation stakeholders. The bill is expected to pass the Senate this week and be signed into law by the President either later this week or early next week.
Overall the active transportation community did really well. The new bill includes an increase in funding for bicycling and walking and makes nonprofits eligible for that funding. The bill also creates a new safety education program and, for the first time, includes complete streets language.
We didn’t get everything we want, and there are some things we don’t like, including changes to the metropolitan transportation alternatives funding and changes to highway safety funding. There are also several places we wish language could be stronger, but overall the FAST Act is an improvement on MAP-21 for biking.
Thank you to everyone who lobbied at the National Bike Summit, responded to our action alerts and helped us build support for this bill.
Finally, we have one more ask: Please help us in thanking our many allies and champions in Congress who made this bill a success for us. Over the next week or so we will be broadcasting our thanks on twitter and Facebook and through our action alert system. Please join us in thanking Senators Cardin (D-MD), Cochran (R-MS) and Boxer (D-CA) and Representatives DeFazio (D-OR), Larsen (D-WA), Blumenauer (D-OR), Buchanan (R-FL) and Zeldin (R-NY).
Here’s an explanation of the big wins, the table below gives more specifics to the changes in the bill.
A Long-Term Bill
Its been over a decade since Congress passed a long term bill. Getting a bill longer than a few years has been the number one ask for state and local governments, and transportation stakeholders across the board. This gives some certainty of funding, allowing states to plan and implement long-term transportation projects. This is an important piece for biking as well. We know that over the years, investment in biking and walking facilities has dipped in between long-term reauthorization bills. (You can see those dips in 1998, 2005 and 2014, all years when reauthorization bills were delayed.)
What’s in it for Biking?
Transportation Alternatives Program
This program is the most prominent funding source for biking and walking infrastructure projects. The FAST bill makes some policy changes:
- Nonprofit organizations are now eligible to apply for funds. This makes it easier for nonprofits to do safety and education for Safe Routes to School programs. It also means that nonprofits who run bike share programs can apply directly.
- Funding increases from $820 million to $835 million in 2016 and 2017 and to $850 million in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
- The program maintains its competitive nature.
Metropolitan areas that get their own funding can use half of it for roads and bridges. However, that funding would still have to go through a competitive process
Change in Name
The funding program is no longer a stand-alone program. It is no longer the Transportation Alternatives program; it is now a set aside in the larger Surface Transportation Block Grant Program. We’ll have to find a better way to reference it.
New Bicycle and Pedestrian education program
The FAST Act creates a priority safety fund to reduce bicycle and pedestrian fatalities. The program will focus on:
- education of law enforcement;
- education of motorists, drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians; and
- implementation of enforcement campaigns.
Only states in which 15% or more of overall fatalities are bicyclists or pedestrians will receive funds. Last year Congress passed a directive to require states and metropolitan areas to set goals for reducing bicyclist and pedestrian crashes and fatalities. This new program will help states fund that work.
The FAST Act directs the US DOT to encourage states and Metropolitan Planning Organizations to set design standards to accommodate all road users. It also requires the US DOT to produce a report on implementation and best practices in two years.
The bill also broadens the guidelines state can use when designing roads, and gives local jurisdictions the right to choose different guides from the state in certain circumstances. This allows local governments, who often want to be more progressive, the opportunity to do so.
The FAST act is a true step forward for bicycling and walking, and the League looks forward to working with the government agencies and advocates to make the most of these opportunities.