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Senate Releases Transportation Draft with Good News for Bicycling and Walking!
The Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) committee released its transportation bill this weekend, and scheduled a committee meeting for Wednesday where members will offer amendments and vote on whether to send the bill forward. The EPW Committee is responsible for the roads and highway section of the transportation bill, so it covers most of the issues pertaining to active transportation.
Our statement on the bill
“The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s bipartisan Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021 makes a critical investment in safe streets for everyone,” said Bill Nesper, executive director of the League of American Bicyclists. “The bill’s proposed changes to the Transportation Alternatives program will make it easier for local governments to build bike lanes, sidewalks, and trails, plus new language on the safety of vulnerable road users puts a desperately needed focus on reducing fatalities and serious injuries among people biking, walking, and using wheelchairs.”
The League of American Bicyclists worked with Safe Routes Partnership on two central issues – funding for bicycling, walking and rolling infrastructure and improvements to safety for vulnerable road users. The League also prioritizes Complete Streets and improving access to everyday destinations. Read on for what the League is seeing in this draft of the transportation bill.
The Transportation Alternatives program is responsible for roughly 50 percent of all federal transportation dollars that go to bicycling and walking infrastructure. We worked with our Senate champions, Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Roger Wicker (R-MS), and were successful in securing:
Currently, Transportation Alternatives is capped at $850 million a year. This bill would increase that funding to $1.38 billion in 2022. That funding would increase each year and hit $1.49 billion in 2026.
Right now, states can transfer 50 percent of their Transportation Alternatives dollars out of the program. Roughly 20 percent of funding is transferred to other uses.
The EPW bill fixes this by requiring states to first open a competition, so that local governments can apply for the funds. It also requires the state to offer technical assistance to local governments that request it. Finally, the state has to certify that any unfunded applications were not of a quality high enough to fund. The state can then transfer the funding.
Helps with Local Match
Small, rural and low-income communities often have a hard time accessing TAP funds because the law requires local governments to cover 20 percent of the cost. This bill gives the state the flexibility to help by allowing states to:
● Use safety funds as the local match for projects that improve safety.
● Meet the 20 percent match at the program rather than project level. That means that if a larger community offers a higher local match, the state can use that credit to help a smaller or high-need community.
Prioritizing High Need Communities
The bill requires states to prioritize high-need communities in the application process. The state can define high-needs communities for what makes sense to their state. States that already do this often use indicators such as: transit-dependent or low-income.
|Bike Infrastructure in College Park, MD|
Right now, walking and biking make up 12 percent of transportation trips, but pedestrians and bicyclists make up 20 percent of fatalities. Still, states spend roughly one percent of their safety dollars on safety. Bicyclists, pedestrians and people using mobility devices (wheelchairs, scooters, micromobility, etc.) are defined as Vulnerable Road Users(VRU) in the bill. The EPW bill addresses VRU safety in multiple ways:
Vulnerable Road User Assessment
It requires every state to do a Vulnerable Road User Safety Assessment to study where and when these fatalities and serious injuries are occurring, including a demographic breakdown to ensure equity considerations are incorporated. It then requires the state to identify projects and strategies to reduce the risk to people bicycling, walking and rolling.
Fair Share for Safety
For states where 15 percent or more of their fatalities are vulnerable road users, the state must then spend 15 percent of their Highway Safety dollars on VRU safety. If this passes in the final bill this would be a massive increase in investment for our safety. Want to see where your state stands? Check here.
The bill also overhauls the entire safety section to consider the safe systems approach including an emphasis on protection of vulnerable road users. It also allows for funding of non-infrastructure projects like education programs.
The bill requires the Federal Highway Administration at the US Dept of Transportation to do additional research to identify infrastructure and policy interventions that can improve safety for vulnerable road users, and encourage more bicycling and walking.
Complete Streets and Improving Access
The bill requires states to develop standards for complete streets, and includes planning funding to do bicycling, walking and complete streets plans.
The bill includes a pilot program to help measure the accessibility and connectivity of a communities’ transportation. For instance, how easy is it for people to get to everyday destinations, whether they bike, walk, drive or take transit. The hope is that this data will help communities plan better and that the program will lead to better planning.
The bill also integrates equity into many of the programs, such as safety, to ensure better access and safety for communities who have been left out in the past. It also requires that funding to improve air quality is focused on low-income communities most affected by poor air quality, such as communities by ports and freight routes.
Reconnecting Communities Program
The bill includes funding to remove highways that divide communities (often low-income or communities of color) and to re-establish connections.
The bill is bipartisan and reflects the priorities of both sides. It includes significant investment in reducing climate change and will create a new performance measure requiring states to report on efforts to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
The bill creates a new rural block grant program to help states and communities in rural areas meet specific needs in those communities. The bill includes some leniency in congestion and pavement performance measures for rural states.
This bill makes important strides for bicycling and walking, and if passed, will result in significant increased investment not just in infrastructure, but in research to better improve infrastructure over time.
The League is supporting an amendment to fund Biking and walking networks. The Markey (D-MA) and Sullivan (R-AK) would create a grant program to help communities build out their biking and walking amendments. Watch for that alert later today.
Want more information? Join Caron Whitaker for a webinar on Wednesday, June 2nd at 11 am EST for a full download on the EPW bill, progress in the House, and what the next steps are to get a final transportation bill. Register here: https://bikeleague-org.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZMlc–hqzktHtd_K9LYMZtYuN9z-0fdllh
This is a bipartisan bill, and therefore is not the Biden American Jobs Plan. Because of that, there will be some critical commentary that the bill should be more progressive and more prescriptive, requiring the state to go further in addressing climate change, and better meet the goals of the AJP. While we would like to see more emphasis on equity, climate and multimodal efforts, this is a strong, solid bill for bicycling and walking and represents a chance for concrete change.