Advocacy Result: Complete Streets, Roll-On Bicycle in Senate Transportation Bill; TIGER out for now

Passage of the federal transportation reauthorization bill--which has had a very rocky time over the past half dozen years--took a major step forward today.  The Senate Commerce Committee passed its portion of the act, which contains several important provisions affecting bicycling and walking. Missouri Senators Blunt and McCaskill are both on the Commerce Committee and played a key role in the negotiations that led to the bill's passage today.

Missouri delegation at the National Bike Summit visits Capitol Hill
Missouri delegation at the National Bike Summit visits Capitol Hill

What went right?

First--the positives:

  • Complete Streets is included.  This appears to be the most progress Complete Streets has made in the Senate in over a decade of working on the issue.  The Complete Streets language was included in the committee chair's amendment, which was adopted unanimously by the Committee.  This gives the amendment a very high chance of surviving through the final Senate version of the bill--and perhaps surviving conference Committee with the House version of the bill as well.
     
  • Bicycle Roll-on for Amtrak was included. Similar to the language for Amtrak bicycle roll-on adopted by the House earlier this year, the amendment requires Amtrak to do a study of passenger loading procedures and (among other things) bicycle roll-on. So the bill's passage is no guarantee of a result, but will create an advocacy opportunity for us to work with Amtrak for universal bicycle roll-on across the country.

What went wrong?

The negatives:

  • TIGER funding omitted. The federal TIGER transportation grant program has funded important multi-modal transportation projects across the country, including many important bicycle and pedestrian projects and road/highway/transit projects that include major bike/ped components.  The bill that came to the Commerce Committee turned TIGER into a freight-only program that would not have allowed any spending on bike/ped programs.

    So the good news is, that the bill completely omitted this "bad version" of TIGER.  But the bad news is, the Committee did not replace the bad version with the very good version that is already in place.

    This is unfortunately, because the TIGER program is one of the few factors in the federal transportation bill that pushes transportation planning and funding in the direction of truly comprehensive, multimodal transportation thinking. It is one of the few programs that allows regions to make a big step forward in the areas of transit, connectivity, and biking/walking--for example, St Louis's city-arch-river project,  Washington MO's river bridge (which will include a bike/ped path), Joplin's integrated transportation rebuilding plan, and Kansas City's streetcar and green impact zone projects.  All of these projects, and more, were funded in part by TIGER funds.

    Work is underway to bring a pro-TIGER amendment to the floor of the Senate, and national bike/ped groups are already organization support for that amendment.
     
  • The bill passed the Committee on a strictly partisan vote. Traditionally, transportation bills are the result of a comprehensive bipartisan process in the Senate, and bills pass committee votes with broad bipartisan support.  For reasons unrelated to bike/ped issues, the Commerce Committee version of the bill passed on a straight party-line vote--raising doubts about the ability of the Senate to pass a bill this year. With 60 votes required to pass any bill in the current Senate, bills that lack bipartisan support have a tough row to hoe.

What's next?

The House just passed a six month extension of the federal transportation funding bill.  Senate leadership has vowed to bring their version of the reathorization bill to a vote in the next couple of weeks.  The Senate version will bring together the Commerce portions of the bill passed today, along with several other pieces--some of them passed already and some yet to be determined.

So it remains to be seen whether Congress can pass a bill this year--and if it does, whether the House or the Senate version of the bill will be the one that moves forward. 

In addition, there is a huge funding issue to be resolved--the federal gas tax hasn't been increased since the early 1990s, and the natural working of inflation and increasing fuel economy means the purchasing power of that gas tax is far, far lower than it was over 20 years ago.  The leaves a shortfall of some $15 billion annually in transportation funding--a shortfall that has been filled in recent years by a series of stopgap general revenue measures.

What are we working for?

What is our position on the federal transportation authorization?

In March, the Missouri delegation at the National Bike Summit visited Washington
In March, the Missouri delegation at the National Bike Summit visited with every Missouri member of Congress, including Missouri's Senator Claire McCaskill

  • Pedestrian and bicycle needs should be taken into account in every project that receives federal funding (ie, Complete Streets).
  • Walking and bicycling need a fair share of funding.  Bicycling and walking need only a very small percentage of transportation funding, but when biking and walking get the 1-2% they need, they thrive.  We support increasing biking/ped funding to 2012 levels--before the (approx 1/3) cut bike/ped funding received with the passage of MAP-21.
  • Improve funding and create measurable goals for reducing bicycle and pedestrian injuries and fatalities--including support for a national Vision Zero act.
  • Improve input of local communities and citizens in determining transportation goals and priorities.  In particular, we support a stronger role for small MPOs (Metropolitan Planning Organizations) and RPCs (Regional Planning Commissions) in setting local transportation priorities.  At the local level, Americans very much support better, safer bicycling and walking in their communities, and when local citizens have real input into transportation priorities, bicycling and walking rise to the forefront. When unelected bureaucrats set priorities, bicycling and walking lose.

More details about the national bike/ped agenda in Congress here.

MANY THANKS to the hundreds and thousands of you who have contacted your members of Congress about these issues.  When you speak up to our elected officials, it really does make a difference!

 

Working for a world-class transportation system in Missouri and improving safety for all road users are two key priorities in MoBikeFed's Vision for Bicycling and Walking in Missouri.

Your ongoing membership and generous financial support helps turn our Vision into reality!

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