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“Every Life Counts”: Our testimony on the Hill for safer roads

In March, hundreds of bike advocates climbed the Hill at the National Bike Summit to ask their senators and Members of Congress to work with us in building a more Bicycle Friendly America. Advocates asked for improvements in road safety, increases in funding for projects that would make biking and walking better for everyone, and encouragement of active commuting. Those hundreds of meetings all made a difference, not only in advancing our legislative priorities but also in spotlighting the voices of bicyclists. 

After the National Bike Summit, Congress asked the League to provide an expert witness to testify from a bicyclist’s perspective at a hearing on roadway safety. To represent us in this role, we chose League Board Member, Mike Sewell, P.E., daily bike commuter, and League Cycling Instructor. Mike works as a professional engineer in Louisville, Kentucky as the Active Transportation Service Line leader and one of the owners of Gresham Smith, an architecture, planning and engineering consulting firm.  

Mike testified alongside representatives from the National Transportation Safety Board, the National Safety Council, and the American Traffic Safety Services Association among others.Congress brought these experts together to identify causes behind the increased fatalities on our roadways and propose solutions to improve safety through improvements to federal transportation law. Read Mike’s testimony on behalf of the League online.

By way of introduction, Mike recounted to Congress how he became a daily bike commuter, and how that experience challenged him as an engineer. He then introduced the League’s proposal to push states to address bicyclist and pedestrian safety in the next transportation bill and increase funding for biking and walking projects

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For three hours, Members of Congress questioned the witnesses about roadway safety. Mike highlighted separated bike facilities, 3-foot passing laws, Complete Streets, and the role of a systems approach to addressing vulnerable users like bicyclists and pedestrians.

Here are a few key takeaways from the hearing and you can watch the full testimony below.

  1. Speed kills, but our engineering norms and our culture don’t recognize that. All the witnesses stressed the role of speed in the growing number of fatalities. To reduce speeding will take not only changes in engineering norms and practices, but changes in our culture as well. Mike testified to the danger speeding presents to all users, and the need to focus on both culture and infrastructure. 
  2. Congress focused on behavior, not engineering, to improve safety. While roughly 30 Transportation committee members asked questions, only a few asked about a systems, or design-focused, approach to improving our roads. Most focused on behavior issues like driving under the influence of marijuana, sleep apnea, and seat belt use. Mike discussed how the design of roads, including building complete streets and adding active transportation infrastructure, can both reduce speed, and separate bicyclists and pedestrians from cars.
  3. More local control. Everyone at the hearing—witnesses, Democrats, and Republicans—pushed for local governments to have more say in how safety funds are spent and safety strategies are developed. Vision Zero cities show that most fatalities occur on a small percentage of roads, even when state formulas don’t capture those deaths. The League’s safety proposal would require the state to work with local governments to address bicyclist and pedestrian safety in areas with high fatalities. 

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