USDOT Sidesteps Safety as Congress Focuses in on Bicycle and Pedestrian Infrastructure

Matthew ColvinThere were two significant developments this month in Washington D.C for Safe Routes to School.  First, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) released its proposed rule addressing safety on our roads. Notably absent from the rule were safety targets for pedestrians and bicyclists.  However, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure was front and center in a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing examining local perspectives on transportation. 

U.S. Department of Transportation Issues Proposed Rulemaking on Safety

The most recent long term surface transportation funding bill, MAP-21, established a performance and outcome based system for states to invest in projects that help achieve a list of national goals.  First on USDOT’s list of performance targets was safety, and as you may have seen on our blog, they issued the proposed rule to address how the government will implement Congress’s new safety laws this month.  Unfortunately, while we feel that the proposed rule gives states far too much leeway to set and meet their own safety targets in general, it also does not create separate measures for motorized and non-motorized road users.  Considering that bicycle and pedestrian deaths now make up more than 16 percent of all roadway fatalities, while states are spending less than one half of one percent of their federal safety dollars to address the issue, including a target for non-motorized road users could not be any more critical. 

While the period for public comment on the proposed rule will be open for 90 days, we are simultaneously working with Congress to address this issue.  Right now, a bipartisan list of more than 70 members of the House of Representatives and 13 Senators, have signed on to the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act.  Should the USDOT fail to act on implementing safety measures for pedestrians and bicyclists after the comment period ends, this legislation would ensure that non-motorized road users no longer take a back seat to vehicular passengers.  But we need your help.  We encourage you to read our blog for more background, and then take a moment to submit comments to the USDOT expressing your support for roadway safety for all users. You can also take a look at our official comments to USDOT.

Senate Focuses in on Local Funding, Transportation Alternatives.

This week, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing entitled, “MAP-21 Reauthorization: State and Local Perspectives on Transportation Priorities and Funding.” We previously addressed the extensive attention Congress was giving to their Highway Trust Fund woes – which, to be sure, is a substantial problem that threatens the sustainability of our transportation programs – so we were heartened to see the Senate focus on the importance of preserving and strengthening the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) at this hearing. 

MAP-21 consolidated several stand-alone programs, including Safe Routes to School, Transportation Enhancements, and Recreational Trails, into the Transportation Alternatives Program; reduced overall funding by about a third; and gave states flexibility to transfer funding for these critical programs to other priorities, such as building more highways.  The panel of witnesses, made up of mayors and local leaders from around the country, spoke about the vital role TAP funding has played in putting bicycle and pedestrian safety projects on the ground at the local level.  Of note, several witnesses pointed out that when we focus on creating multi-modal cities, not only do we make them safer for children and families, but we can also attract the kind of talent businesses are looking for when deciding where to open new offices.  And this economic component is not just limited to big cities. One witnesses stressed that in Vermont, bicycle and pedestrian projects have been major economic drivers for small towns and villages. 

In her closing remarks, Senator Boxer gave a clear indication that TAP should be a priority in the new bill, but added that the support of local leaders will be key in avoiding another fight over bicycle and pedestrian safety dollars, like we saw in the crafting of MAP-21.  This should drive home the point that your voice at the local level will be key in influencing national decision makers in the next transportation authorization go-around on Capitol Hill.