U.S. Senate Committee unanimously approves Complete Streets amendment

Many thanks to all of you who responded to a recent Advocacy Alert from MoBikeFed and many other national, statewide, and local advocacy organizations across the country.

Thousands of people contacted our Missouri Senators, Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt, and other senators on the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.

The result was that the committee UNANIMOUSLY passed the amendment proposed by Senator Mark Begich of Alaska, which requires states to create a Complete Streets policy.

According to the National Complete Streets Coalition:

Complete Streets Logo
Complete Streets Logo

The amendments modified S. 1950, the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Enhancement Act, which is one of the Commerce Committee’s contributions to the overall reauthorization package.

With this measure in place, the proposed bill now directs the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to create standards for the safe accommodation of all road users and allows the Secretary to waive the standards for states that have their own policies. The additional language offered by Senator Thune would allow states to determine what is safe and adequate accommodation for a specific street. For example, the state could determine the expected users of that street or decide on the type of crossing provided.

Appropriately, the Commerce Committee’s jurisdiction is safety – a core motivation for Complete Streets policies across the country and for the support a federal policy has received on Capitol Hill.

A StreetsBlog article explains why this amendment is important:

The street safety (or “complete streets”) amendment [PDF] introduced into the Commerce bill by Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) deserves attention for its special focus on non-motorized modes. The amendment says the Secretary of Transportation “shall establish standards to ensure that the design of Federal surface transportation projects provides for the safe and adequate accommodation, in all phases of project planning, development, and operation, of all users of the transportation network, including motorized and non-motorized users.”

States with their own complete streets policies would get a waiver from the federal policy, as long as their policies are in compliance.

A federal law — as opposed to individual city or state ordinances — is important because “streets don’t end at the borders of their jurisdictions,” according to Barbara McCann, director of the National Complete Streets Coalition. “We’ve had many jurisdictions that have complete streets policies say that they need and want that consistency.”

Some state DOTs have expressed a desire for more guidance on how to adopt complete streets policies. This amendment would provide that guidance straight from the top and allow USDOT to ensure compliance.

Though the overall bill was passed on a party-line vote of 13 to 11, the complete streets amendment passed unanimously — recognizing, according to McCann, “that every transportation project has to be a safety project.”

Complete Streets is the next logical step towards a truly balanced transportation system

As we have pointed out before, until 1991 the federal government's "motor vehicle only" approach to transportation funding had a disastrous effect on bicycling and walking in the U.S.  

What we found out in that 75-year motor-vehicle-only experiment is that when you spend billions of dollars a year on motor vehicles and highways only, you end up with (surprise!) a wonderful system for motor vehicles driving on highways but practically nowhere to safely walk or bicycle. 

When the nation's transportation funding policy started to take a more balanced approach in 1991, things started to change.  What we have found in this most recent twenty-year experiment, 1991-2011, is that when you take a more balanced approach and include funding and consideration for bicycling and walking, along with all other modes, suddenly bicycling and walking becomes possible again.

The amount of bicycling and walking in the U.S. has bottomed out and now is starting to rebound slightly--and changes in federal funding priorities are the major impetus behind that change.

And it has taken twenty long years to even start to undo the damage created by the preceding 75 years.  Only now, in 2011, are we starting to see really connected and complete bicycle and pedestrian transportation networks start to come together in Missouri.  Slowly but surely, the change in priorities at the federal level are bringing change at the statewide and local levels.

The next logical step is to start planning for bicycling and walking as part and parcel of every transportation project--that's what we call "Complete Streets."

Complete Streets doesn't mean that you put bicycle lanes and sidewalks on every road and highway, no matter how remote.  It doesn't mean that Missouri must do everything exactly the same as California, Oregon, or Amsterdam.

What it means is that you carefully consider the needs and the actual and potential use by bicyclists and pedestrians in every transportation project, and then you do what is reasonable and practical within that project to create complete, connected transportation networks for bicycling and walking.

In short, we start do for bicycling and walking what we have been doing for motor vehicles for a hundred years--we connect people to their destinations.

It's proven, it works, and it is very cost effective.

Thanks to our Missouri Senators and other members of the Commerce Committee for their support of the Complete Streets amendment.

You can watch the Commerce Committee debate and pass elements of the transportation bill, including Begich's Complete Streets Amendment, here.  Discussion on the Begich Amendment took only a few moments (it had the support of committee leaders of both parties) and the Amendment passed on a voice vote which appeared to be unanimous.

Adoption of Complete Streets Policies at every level of government--local, regional, state, and national--is one of the goals of MoBikeFed's Vision for Bicycling and Walking in Missouri. As of the end of 2011, sixteen Complete Streets policies have been adopted by various agencies in Missouri, including the state's six largest cities and the two largest Metropolitan Planning Organizations.

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