The 117th Congress Takes Strong First Steps Toward Improving Walking, Biking, and Rolling

The start of the 117th Congress has been eventful to say the least. Between the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6th, the Democrats re-gaining control of the Senate with the election of Senators Ossoff and Warnock in the Georgia runoff, former President Trump’s second impeachment, and the inauguration of President Biden, it can be hard to keep track of the flurry of new bills being introduced by members of Congress. This blog post will highlight three Capitol Hill happenings from January related to walking, bicycling, and Safe Routes to School.

Secretary of Transportation Buttigieg Confirmed

After a smooth hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee on January 21st, the full Senate confirmed Pete Buttigieg as President Biden’s Secretary of Transportation. His experience as the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, where he supported improving safe streets for people walking and biking, make us optimistic that he will value walking, biking, and transit as Secretary of Transportation.

Safe Routes to School Expansion Act Re-Introduced by Representative Brown

We are grateful to Representative Anthony Brown (MD-04) for his continued leadership prioritizing the safety of kids walking and bicycling to school and throughout their communities. Representative Brown reintroduced legislation to expand eligibility for Safe Routes to School infrastructure and non-infrastructure under the Highway Safety Improvement Program. Co-sponsors of the bill include Congresswoman Julia Brownley (CA-26), Congressman Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Congressman Jared Huffman (CA-02), Congresswoman Dina Titus (NV-01) and Congressman Andre Carson (IN-07).This year’s version of the bill also included language that House committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman DeFazio (OR-04) incorporated into the committee’s markup of the INVEST Act. This language effectively restores the Safe Routes to School program as it was under SAFETEA-LU but without the dedicated funding stream. Specifically, this bill would:

  • Make Safe Routes to School infrastructure projects eligible for the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP), replacing very limited language focused just on school zone signage and signals
  • Add in eligibility within HSIP for infrastructure to improve safety for people walking and biking to bus stops – such as sidewalks, crosswalks, signage, and bus stop shelters
  • Once again allow states to use up to 25 percent of their HSIP funding for safety campaigns and other non-infrastructure – which would include Safe Routes to School non-infrastructure (such as encouragement programming and education) and campaigns around school bus safety
  • Add educational officials to the list of entities states must consult when doing their safety planning so that Safe Routes to School issues will be considered
  • Modify the federal share requirements so that biking, walking, and Safe Routes to School projects can be done entirely with federal funds, without requiring a local match
  • Expand Safe Routes to School eligibility to high schools (currently only K-8 schools are eligible)
  • Allow the funding of programs to use non-law enforcement, community-based approaches to improve personal safety 
  • Reinstate the requirement that state departments of transportation have full-time Safe Routes to School coordinators and require that coordinators specifically reach out to rural school districts to make them aware of available funds

We extend our thanks to the League of American Bicyclists, American Heart Association, American Public Health Association, American Planning Association, American College of Sports Medicine, American Society of Landscape Architects, Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals, Association of SNAP Nutrition Education Administrators, Association of State Public Health Nutritionists, Health Resources in Action, Healthy Schools Campaign, National Athletic Trainers' Association, Public Health Institute, Society for Public Health Educators, and Trust for America's Health for their support.

Transportation Alternatives Enhancement Act Re-Introduced by Representative Espaillat

We applaud and thank Representative Adriano Espaillat (NY-13) and co-sponsor Representative Rick Larsen (WA-02) for re-introducing the Transportation Alternatives Enhancement Act in the House of Representatives. This bill would increase funding for the Transportation Alternatives Program, the primary source of federal funds for walking, biking, and Safe Routes to School, and build in provisions to make the program more responsive, flexible, and equitable. Specifically, it would:

  • Tie funding for transportation alternatives set-aside at 10% of STBG, which would allow for growth over time
  • Shift more money to local governments – 66% of TAP will be allocated by population (up from 50%) giving local governments and MPOs the ability to decide what projects are meaningful to them
  • Prevent states from transferring money out of TAP unless they can show that they made funds available through a competition, provided TA, and no suitable projects were submitted
  • Give MPOs authority to obligate funds for projects they select
  • Give states flexibility on local match by allowing federal safety money to substitute in for local match and letting the states average the match across projects, so each individual project would not have to meet the 20% local match threshold
  • Require that the competitive process consider the location and impact on high-need communities, as defined by the state department of transportation, in project selection. Suggestions for high need include: low-income, transit-dependent, rural, or other indicators of high-need.

Both bills build on strong language from the 116th Congress that got even better with re-introduction. The Safe Routes Partnership is proud to endorse both pieces of legislation, and we will continue to work with our partners in public health, active transportation, and social justice to push for their inclusion in a transportation reauthorization bill.