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What do the election results mean for biking and walking?

You proudly took part in #IBikeIVote – now what? Last Thursday, Caron Whitaker, the League’s vice president of governement relations, hosted a webinar to discuss the election results and what they mean for biking. Download a PDF of the slides online here and keep reading for our federal policy intern Cecily Foote’s readout of the webinar. 

Long-time rail commuter “Amtrak Joe” Biden (and president-elect) has promised expansive public transportation improvements for our country. But what about biking? And what about Congress?

We’re going to see significant support for mobility and active transportation under the incoming Biden administration, especially rail and transit, especially in urban areas, and especially as a strategy to address climate change.

President-elect Biden has laid out four priorities: COVID-19, economic recovery, racial justice, and climate change. His infrastructure and transportation plans mainly fall under the climate change category but also seek to address equity and emphasize safety. In his plan, he has promised to “provide every American city with 100,000 or more residents with high-quality, zero-emissions public transportation options.”

Alongside these commitments to transit investment, the plan notes investing in bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure. Biden has also expressed interest in supporting micro-mobility and other emerging technology, including facilitating electrified travel modes and adopting a national framework to regulate autonomous vehicles. John Porcari, an advisor to the Biden-Harris campaign and former senior Obama transportation official, confirmed some of this at a recent meeting of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

As for who Biden picks for Secretary of the Department of Transportation, a plethora of names have been tossed around but the decision likely won’t be announced until next week at the earliest. We do know that Biden is committed to having the most diverse cabinet in history. Whoever he chooses, the Secretary will have the power to develop the national transportation policy and interpret transportation laws passed by Congress, on top of overseeing key agencies like the Federal Highway Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

During Obama’s first term, Secretary Ray LaHood (2009-13) promoted biking and walking projects through his TIGER grant program, with a focus on livability. Following LaHood, Secretary Anthony Foxx (2013-17) prioritized equity and access to jobs with his Ladders of Opportunity program. The Partnership for Sustainable Communities, an Obama-era collaboration between the DOT, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Housing and Urban Development strove to coordinate resources and de-silo policymaking. Over the past few years, Secretary Elaine Chao (2017-present) has rebranded TIGER to BUILD, and favored rural highway projects over multimodal and urban investment.

To coordinate the eventual transition of administrations, President-elect Biden has appointed agency review teams, many with deep expertise in public service. Phil Washington of Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Association is leading the nineteen-member team reviewing the DOT.

With debate about the Senate transportation bill on the horizon, it’s unclear where Republicans will settle on climate change and how equity will factor into policy.

The House of Representatives passed the five-year INVEST in America Act in July, robust in championing climate and safety with strict performance requirements, but the Senate was unable to finish its bill, forcing Congress to pass a one-year extension instead.

The good news is biking and walking has bipartisan support in Congress, particularly when it comes to safety. Additionally, Transportation Alternatives funding, which accounts for about 50 percent of funding for state and local biking and walking projects, should remain robust with support from re-elected Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.). The League’s own recent polling shows that 60 percent of Americans think the federal government should invest more into biking and walking, an increase over previous years. The explosive growth in biking this year hasn’t yet translated into public support, but that could change in the coming months.

Overall, there aren’t any major shifts in the Senate or House in terms of implications for people who walk and bike, although the House still has fourteen seats waiting to be called and two seats in the Senate will be decided in run-off elections in January. What’s still uncertain is how Republicans will recalibrate without Trump, especially along the lines of climate change. 

The Democratic caucus is also recalibrating, and new and returning progressive Members of Congress are expected to encourage more left-leaning legislation. We know equity is a priority for the caucus, but how it will work its way into its policy priorities remains foggy, whether it appears as non-police enforcement, education programs, Highway Safety Grants, or other approaches. 

From a survey the League recently conducted of state and local bike advocacy organizations, the number one policy priority organizations supported was the establishment of an equity lens on transportation funding. The League will be creating our policy platform for 2021 and beyond accordingly.

Political will does not exist in our politicians without you; political will requires your engagement. Here’s how you can help:

Write a letter to your Congress member congratulating them on their election and emphasizing the local benefits of bicycling and walking — we have a template you can use here. If you do send a letter, or if you have any questions, email [email protected] to let us know.

And consider attending our virtual 2021 National Bike Summit, where you can Zoom with your Senators (and Member of Congress)! We’re also working on a new online lobby training to help you take action, which will be coming soon.

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