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House Transportation Bill Includes Big Wins for Biking and Walking
Our organizations stand with Black Americans because Black Lives Matter. Safe streets and routes for everyone means more than bike lanes and sidewalks. It means that everyone is free to move on our streets, in our neighborhoods, and throughout our cities without fear of violence, racial profiling, or police brutality. We know that transportation is an area of inequity in nearly all of our cities across the nation. We have made a commitment to move forward practicing anti-racism in our work and to listen, learn and act to make our streets safer for everyone.
On Capitol Hill, the Safe Routes Partnership and the League of American Bicyclists have been pushing for changes in the federal transportation bill detailed below that will help states and communities build healthier, safer, and more affordable transportation options—particularly in the communities that most need them. The updates below reflect legislative outcomes based on more than a year of advocacy on Capitol Hill to shape a transportation bill that is transformative for the people who use it and we commit to supporting the anti-racist implementation of whatever form the final transportation law takes.
Yesterday Rep. DeFazio (D-OR), along with Rep. Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Rep. Lipinski (D-IL), released the House transportation reauthorization legislation, the INVEST in America Act. The bill proposes $494 billion over five years, with greater investments in biking, walking, Safe Routes to School, and transit than the status quo, plus it includes new climate programs.
The League of American Bicyclists and the Safe Routes Partnership worked closely together on improving the Transportation Alternatives Program and bicycle and pedestrian safety, and are pleased to see significant investments and policy changes included. Detailed information is below, but the takeaway is that the INVEST in America Act would mean significantly more money to increase the safety of people biking and walking and build projects that facilitate biking and walking safely.Both our organizations are grateful to Chairman DeFazio for his thoughtful approach to weaving bicycling and walking throughout the bill.
“The INVEST Act reflects more than a year of advocacy by the League, our partners, and our members to push for a future where our transportation system works better for all people, especially people biking and walking,” said Bill Nesper, executive director of the League.
“We know that the INVEST Act can make a difference in transportation equity across the country and the Safe Routes Partnership looks forward to supporting its passage and implementation for Safe Routes to Schools, to parks, to healthy food, and so many other essential parts of our lives,” said Cassandra Isidro, executive director of Safe Routes Partnership.
Unlike most transportation bills, it is not a bipartisan bill due to the legislation’s climate provisions. The Committee will consider the bill on June 17, so there may well be changes to the draft between now and then as legislators negotiate and plan amendments seeking changes. After that, the bill is expected to be considered by the full House of Representatives on July 1. Then it will be up to the House and Senate to negotiate the differences between their two bills in hopes of getting a final product signed into law. The current transportation law expires at the end of September.
Transportation Alternatives Program
With the leadership of Reps. Espaillat (D-NY) and Larsen (D-WA), the primary program for funding biking, walking, and Safe Routes to School gets a number of improvements:
- Funding for TAP is set at 10 percent of the Surface Transportation program, meaning that it will be able to grow over time. Funding will jump by 60% from $850 million per year to an estimated $1.5 billion per year—totalling more than $6 billion over four years.
- More money will be in the hands of local governments, with 66 percent of TAP funding being allocated by population (up from 50 percent)—meaning more funding is set aside for communities large and small.
- Prevents states from transferring any funding out of TAP unless they can demonstrate they made the funds available to local governments and no suitable projects were submitted. In a typical year, we lose $150 million from TAP to these transfers, so this will ensure more local projects are able to be funded.
- Large metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) will be able to obligate TAP projects (i.e. get the projects built) and smaller MPOs will be eligible to compete for TAP funding.
- Give states more flexibility on the required local match by allowing federal safety money to substitute in as the local match and letting states average the match across all projects, meaning that each individual project wouldn’t have to meet the 20 percent match. This will help ensure that safety projects can be built even in communities lacking matching funds.
- Let states use up to 5 percent of TAP funding to support staff and technical assistance, which should help more communities submit successful applications and get projects built more quickly. At the request of a local government, a state could also build the project on their behalf.
- Requires states to report funded projects, increasing transparency.
- The Recreational Trails Program also gets a boost in funding to $145 million per year, which was a priority of the Coalition for Recreational Trails.
Safety for People Biking and Walking
Thanks to champions Reps. Brownley (D-CA) and Espaillat (D-NY), the bill includes new requirements for state departments of transportation to prioritize safety for vulnerable users.
- All states would be required to develop a vulnerable user road safety assessment identifying fatalities and serious injuries and to detail the corridors, projects, and strategies that would reduce risks for vulnerable users.
- Starting in 2024, states that have a vulnerable user fatality and injury rate that is above average must obligate funding in alignment with the vulnerable user road safety assessment.
- The amount of funding a state must allocate towards vulnerable user safety is equal to half of their 2020 Transportation Alternatives Program allocation, and they have two years to use it. Based on today’s numbers, that would be approximately $247 million per year. This would be the first time federal funds were required to be spent on bicycling and walking safety.
- In addition, the safety portion of the bill shifts to a safe systems approach, and prioritizes speed reduction, which will also be beneficial to people biking and walking.
- We hope to work with our supporters to start these provisions sooner than 2024, and to better involve cities in how the safety funding would be allocated to projects. As is, the vulnerable user safety program would direct twelve times the current level of spending towards making communities safer for people to walk and bike.
- And with the leadership of Rep. Blumenauer (D-OR), the bill allows transportation funds to be spent on Vision Zero plans. Those plans will detail how to reduce or eliminate transportation fatalities and injuries, and must explicitly invest in low-income communities, ensure that there is no targeting of those communities by law enforcement, and that civil rights are protected. The bill also includes language requiring the MUCTD to incorporate a safe systems approach to setting speed limits.
The League of American Bicyclists worked to advance policies throughout the INVEST Act that would make biking better and more accessible for all people. With thanks to the Congressional Bike Caucus co-chairs Representatives Blumenauer (D-OR), Buchanan (R-FL) and Pressley (D-MA), we were able to ensure bike sharing systems are eligible for federal funding through Transit funding, and through the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program. We will continue to work with these sponsors to incorporate HR 1507, the Bicycle Commuter Act, through the Ways and Means title of the INVEST Act.
For the last several years, the League has represented the interests of people who bike and walk in discussions about the future of automated and connected cars and safety. Bill Nesper, the League’s executive director had been scheduled to testify in front of the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee on these topics before the COVID-19 shutdown. The INVEST Act revises multiple programs related to new technologies, automated vehicles, and safety, and creates a new study focusing specifically on the effects of automated vehicles on road user safety:
- Technology, Innovation and Deployment Program: The bill changes the goal of this program from accelerating deployment of automated vehicles to increasing safety and mobility. It adds new qualifications to the federal grant program that include vehicle to pedestrian technology and technologies that improve vulnerable road user safety. It also requires the US DOT to prioritize grants that, among other things: improve bicyclist and pedestrian safety and reduction of greenhouse gases.
- Intelligent Transportation System Program: This program aims to enhance the efficiency of the transportation system through the use of technology. The INVEST Act requires the advisory board to include a bicycle and pedestrian representative on its advisory board.
- National Highly Automated Vehicle and Mobility Innovation Clearinghouse: This is a new clearinghouse created to study the effects of automated vehicles and related technology on land use, housing, and other secondary issues.
- Study on safe interactions between automated vehicles and road users: This provision requires US DOT to study how automated vehicles will interact safely with vulnerable users, specifically including people biking and walking It also requires bicycling and walking advocates to be included in the working group responsible for overseeing the study.
The Safe Routes Partnership worked closely with Rep. Brown (D-MD) to ramp up inclusion of Safe Routes to School initiatives. Many of these provisions were included in the bill, including:
- Safe Routes to School infrastructure projects can now be built using safety funds, without any local matching funds required. It also makes eligible the creation of safe routes to bus stops.
- States can also use their safety funds to implement Safe Routes to School programs and campaigns.
In addition, Chairman DeFazio (D-OR) brought back the Safe Routes to School program. While it does not have a funding setaside, the language would:
- Expand Safe Routes to Schools to now include high schools, in addition to grades K-8.
- Explicitly allow the funding of “Safe Passages” type of programs, which utilize non-law enforcement, community-based approaches to improve personal safety for kids walking and biking to school.
- Enables the funding of Safe Routes to School initiatives out of three different pots of transportation funding—safety, Surface Transportation Program, and the Transportation Alternatives Program.
- Once again requires states to have a full-time Safe Routes to School coordinator, which will be a great help in ensuring that more transportation funds are spent on this important cause.
The INVEST Act also includes a number of provisions that partners championed and that the League of American Bicyclists and Safe Routes Partnership supported:
- Context Sensitive Design/Complete Streets requirement: The current FAST Act includes a requirement for states to consider all users when constructing or reconstructing roads. The INVEST bill takes this further by requiring the US DOT to provide guidance that provides best practices, metrics on how the project fits with neighboring land use, and establish model policies and practices. Transportation for America led the advocacy efforts to have this included. Thanks to National Bike Summit attendees who lobbied for such policies to be included.
- Connectivity and Improving Access: In 2012, Congress created performance measures on safety, congestion, pavement quality, etc. but there was no measurement on how well our transportation system works to connect people from where they live to jobs and services. This bill creates that performance measure and applies it across modes. The INVEST bill also requires metropolitan and state planning to include connectivity to jobs and services in their planning processes. Transportation for America led the advocacy efforts to have this included. Thanks to all National Bike Summit attendees who lobbied for this for the last two years.
- Active Transportation Connectivity Grants: The INVEST bill includes a one year grant program of $250 million dollars to fund states and local governments to build active transportation networks, spines (connections between communities) and complete streets plans. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy led this effort.
Finally, we wanted to highlight several other provisions of interest in the bill.
- Climate: Throughout the bill, the House bill addresses climate change. It adds a performance measure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG emissions), and adds reducing GHG emissions into the State and Metropolitan planning process. Climate mitigation is also a goal in multiple programs from the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program to technology and innovation programs. The bill also includes several new programs:
- Carbon Pollution Program: The bill creates the Carbon Pollution Program with roughly $8.35 billion over four years. The program can only be used to fund projects that reduce GHG emissions, and can NOT be used to build single occupancy vehicle capacity. Bicycling and walking projects are explicitly listed as zero emissions modes. States can also use the funds for transit programs, intercity rail that reduces single occupancy vehicle travel, and up to 10 percent for transit operating assistance.
- States will be evaluated based on the change of per capita GHG emissions on public roads. USDOT will rank states based on their current GHG emissions for the most recent year vs. their average of per capita GHG from 2015-2019. High performing states (the top 15 states) can use 100 percent federal funding for projects under this program, and can transfer up to 50 percent of the program’s funding to other programs. If any of the bottom 15 states did not reduce their GHG emissions they would have to spend 10 percent of their surface transportation dollars on GHG reducing projects.
- Community Climate innovation grants: Local governments also get a climate program! Cities, MPOs and other local government entities can apply to the US DOT for a grant for projects that reduce GHG emissions, including bicycling, walking and transit. US DOT must prioritize projects that reduce the most GHG in a cost effective manner, includes a strong public process that takes into account equity and environmental justice impacts, serves low income communities, and is spread among urban, suburban and rural areas. The funds cannot be used for single occupancy vehicle capacity.
- Eliminating Racial Profiling in Highway Law Enforcement: The bill creates a $7.5 million grant program to encourage states to enact or enforce laws that prohibit racial profiling in highway law enforcement and to make public data on traffic stops and race.
- Metropolitan Planning Program: As mentioned above, the bill includes a new emphasis on GHG emissions reduction and on accessibility to jobs and services. It also requires any new or reestablished MPO to equitably represent the population of the region it represents. This is significant because most MPOs include one member per local jurisdiction regardless of the population of each jurisdiction.
- High Performing MPOs: The bill creates a program to reward MPOs which do an efficient and effective job of obligating funds. These MPOs will receive an additional $750 million a year for local priorities.
- One-year grant programs: The INVEST bill includes a series of four one-year grant programs. Three of the four address bicycling and walking and connectivity, including the Active Transportation Connectivity Grants mentioned above and two others:
- Gridlock Reduction Program: This is a one year program of $250 million to fund urbanized areas with a population over 1 million to reduce congestion. Bicycling and walking projects are eligible.
- Rural Grant Program: This is a one year program of $250 million that funds projects that improve safety, state of good repair, economic growth, and connectivity projects in rural areas.
- Federal Lands Program: The INVEST Act includes an almost 40 percent increase to the Federal Lands Management Program, and makes the program easier to use. The bill also includes a Federal and Tribal Lands Major Project grant program of $400 million a year for high priority projects that are difficult to fund through FLMP. The bill does not include a set aside for Active Transportation as advocated for by PeopleForBikes and supported by the League of American Bicyclists.
School Bus safety provisions: The bill would require US DOT to study the costs and benefits of installing lap and shoulder belts on seat buses and to consider requiring them. It would also require a public campaign to reduce illegal passing of school buses and to improve safe loading and unloading of children.