Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill Makes Meaningful Strides Toward Increasing Funding and Improving Safety for People Walking, Biking, and Safe Routes to School

On Sunday, August 1, 2021, a bipartisan group of Senators released the final bill text for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. This bill reauthorizes transportation funding through 2026 and incorporates priorities originally identified in President Biden’s American Jobs Act. It is currently being debated and amended on the Senate floor. We will continue to update this post as developments occur.

Two key points:

  • This bill includes the reauthorization of surface transportation funding. Similar to prior transportation reauthorization bills like the FAST Act, this bill includes both policy change to make the programs we care about work better and authorizes the funding for these programs
  • It is a bipartisan bill, which means compromise was reached from both Democrats and Republicans. As a result, this bill falls short of some of the progressive provisions included in both the House INVEST in America Act and President Biden’s American Jobs Plan. The Safe Routes Partnership supports this legislation, as it includes reforms that will improve safety for people walking and bicycling and increases the amount of funding available to build out facilities for people to walk, bike, and roll.

The Safe Routes Partnership worked closely with the League of American Bicyclists on two key issues: funding and safety for walking, bicycling, rolling, and Safe Routes to School.

Transportation Alternatives Program (Sec. 11109)

The improvements to the Transportation Alternatives program that unanimously passed the bipartisan Environment and Public Works committee were all included in this bill. Thanks to our Senate champions, Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Roger Wicker (R-MS), we were successful in securing:

  • Increased funding that will continue to grow over the life of the bill:  Currently TAP is capped at $850 million a year. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act would increase funding by 60% to $1.38 billion in 2022, and would increase each year up to $1.49 billion in 2026. Across all five years, it would mean a $2.5 billion increase for sidewalks, bike lanes, Safe Routes to School programming, and trails.
  • Protecting more TAP money:  Under current law, states can transfer up to 50 percent of their Transportation Alternatives dollars out of the program. On average, states transfer roughly 20 percent of funding to other uses, which takes funding away from local governments looking to improve safety. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act would only allow transfers if a state has held a competition, provided technical assistance to applicants, and did not have enough quality applicants to use all the funding.
  • Help with the Local Match:  Small, rural and low-income communities can be deterred from applying for TAP funds they must cover 20 percent of the project’s cost. Under this bill, states would have more flexibility with matching requirements.  They could use federal safety funds as the local match for projects that improve safety – including all Safe Routes to School projects. In addition, states would also be able to meet the 20 percent match across all TAP projects, meaning that if a larger community provides a higher local match, the state can then allow a lower match to a high-need community.
  • Prioritization of High-Need Communities: The bill requires states to prioritize high-need communities in the application process. States would define what constitutes high-need in their state—such as high-poverty schools or low-income or rural communities.

Safe Routes to School (Sec. 11119)

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act recodifies the Safe Routes to School program into current law and expands it to cover high schools.  It also strengthens the language in the federal Surface Transportation Program and the Highway Safety Improvement Program to proactively affirm that those funds can be used for Safe Routes to School projects—rather than just relying on TAP funding.

Highway Safety Improvement Program (Sec. 11111)

Walking and biking make up 12 percent of transportation trips, but pedestrians and bicyclists make up 20 percent of fatalities. Even though this trend has been worsening for several years, states spend just one percent of their safety dollars on improving safety for people walking, rolling and biking (called “vulnerable users” in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act). With the leadership of Senator Carper (D-DE), the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act makes a number of changes that would make it safer to walk, bike and roll:

  • Create a Safety Plan:  Every state would be required to complete 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. States must identify projects and strategies to reduce the risk to people bicycling, walking and rolling.
  • Ensure Funding Goes to Vulnerable User Safety:  States in which vulnerable users represent 15 percent or more of all roadway fatalities would be required to spend 15 percent of their federal Highway Safety Improvement Program dollars on vulnerable user safety.  Based on 2016-2018 fatality rates, 28 states would be required to spend more than $200 million on improvements like sidewalks, bike lanes, crosswalks, and more.
  • Creating Safe Systems Approaches: The bill overhauls the entire federal safety program to include and consider the safe systems approach, which builds the safety and protection of vulnerable road users into road planning from the start. It also specifically makes Safe Routes to School projects (both infrastructure and programming) eligible for all federal safety funding.
  • Improving Knowledge: Finally, the bill requires the Federal Highway Administration to conduct additional research to identify infrastructure and policy interventions that can improve safety for vulnerable road users and encourage more bicycling and walking.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act creates two new programs relevant to active transportation: the Reconnecting Communities program and Safe Streets and Roads for All.

  • Reconnecting Communities Program (Sec. 11509 - $1 billion). President Biden originally called for $20 billion to fund the program, so this falls far short of that, but labeled as a pilot program, this is a starting point for future advocacy to undo the harmful legacy of the construction of highways in Black communities and other communities of color.
  • Safe Streets and Roads for All (Sec. 24112 - $5 billion) This program creates a grant program administered by the USDOT to fund planning and implementation of “comprehensive safety action plans” – Vision Zero and Toward Zero Deaths plans, in practice. Cities and other sub-state jurisdictions, MPOs, and tribal governments are eligible to apply for these funds. 40% of funds would be required to spend on developing these plans, and the remainder can be used for implementing them. There is a lot of good in this program, however, it also permits enforcement of traffic laws as a permissible use of these funds with no safeguards to protect against the harmful implications of traffic enforcement.
  • Complete Streets (Sec. 11206) Requires that states and MPOs adopt plans to consider the needs of multimodal road users of all ages, abilities, and travel modes.