MAP-21: First draft of Federal Transportation Bill for next several years has several problems for biking and walking

This week the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee released its first draft of the long-term renewal of federal transportation funding bill.

If you're in a rush, the short version is this--the bill is disappointing in several ways and, in particular, has these three serious problems:

  1. The current dedicated funding programs for bicycling and walking are combined into one program, with significantly less funding;
  2. An expanded list of eligible activities are added to this smaller funding pot, including such big-ticket items as NEPA compliance and land acquisition for wetland mitigation; and
  3. The proposed bill effectively allows states to completely opt out of the program and would allow all this money to be redirected to highway construction.

Background: The six-year federal transportation bill

Missouri's National Bike Summit Delegation
Missouri's National Bike Summit Delegation
The federal government renews transportation funding authority every six years. Starting in 1991 it was ISTEA, then TEA-21, then SAFETEA-LU.  Here is the breakdown of where we are in the process:

  • SAFETEA-LU has been expired for about two and a half years now.  Proposed changes in policy and the difficulty in finding new funding (the federal Highway Trust Fund is running short of buying power and all sides realize new funding is needed) is making concensus on a new bill very difficult.
  • Since SAFETEA-LU expired, the federal transportation program has been running on a series of short extensions.  These basically extend funding at previous levels without any change in funding levels or policy.  The current extension expires in March, 2012.
  • Now both the Senate and House are preparing their versions of federal transportation funding and policy, with the goal of passing a bill by the March deadline.
  • If a renewal doesn't pass by March 2012, it is likely a new temporary renewal will be passed until after the next election cycle.
  • Speaker Boehner has promised to release a House Transportation Bill by the end of 2011.  The House bill is very likely to contain no dedicated bicycle or pedestrian funding at all.  The House is proposing a 6-year bill.
  • At least in the Senate, a strong, bi-partisan majority currently supports bicycle and pedestrian funding, as do a majority of U.S. voters.  However that may not directly translate into help with the details of the transportation bill, which is decided by a much smaller group.

Why the federal transportation funding bill is important for bicycling and walking

As we have recently discussed on MoBikeFed News, the federal bicycle and pedestrian funding, which started with ISTEA in 1991, has been extraordinarily important for turning around bicycling and walking in the U.S.

With the House version of the likely to be very trimmed down in every, and likely quite unfriendly to bicycle and pedestrian funding, the Senate version is quite important.

The new Senate proposal

Last Friday Senators Boxer, Inhofe, Baucus, and Vitter announced the first draft of MAP-21, a new two-year federal transportation policy bill.

Senator Inhofe (OK), in particular, has been fighting to make any and all bicycle and pedestrian funding optional for states, because he feels that some states just don't want any bicycling or walking and would rather spend all the money elsewhere.

The result is a bill that is pretty good for bicycling and walking in some ways but has some very serious problems in others.

All together, based on the promises made by Senate committee members and staff in the past, this initial bill is something of a disappointment. 

Here is the response to the bill by the national coalition of bicycle and walking groups:

The America Bikes coalition — representing the nation’s leading bicycling and walking groups — today expressed their appreciation for the continued inclusion of funding opportunities for biking and walking in MAP-21.

America Bikes remains deeply concerned, however, that bicycling and walking programs suffer disproportionate cuts in funding in the new bill, and that significant additional activities are made eligible for these limited funds. We remain committed to working with the EPW Committee and full Senate to resolve these issues, especially in the light of the Senate’s continued, strong bi-partisan support for bicycle and pedestrian funding as shown in several recent votes on the Senate floor.

The process of honoring the public’s strong support for these programs begins immediately with amendments that have been introduced already by Senate supporters of dedicated funding for non-motorized transportation. Specific concerns include:

  1. The current dedicated funding programs for bicycling and walking are combined into one program, with significantly less funding;
  2. An expanded list of eligible activities are added to this smaller funding pot, including such big-ticket items as NEPA compliance and land acquisition for wetland mitigation; and
  3. The proposed bill effectively allows states to completely opt out of the program and would allow all this money to be redirected to highway construction.

The America Bikes coalition calls on the leaders of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to restore dedicated funding for bicycling and walking in MAP-21 and remove the opt-out provision that would encourage States to eliminate funding for these two modes altogether.

When America Bikes, America Benefits

From San Francisco to Bentonville, Arkansas, and from Oklahoma City to New York City, communities are increasingly investing in bicycling and walking infrastructure and programs to support popular, healthy and cost-effective transportation. These investments — made possible by dedicated federal transportation dollars — are working:

  • Commuting trips by bike have increased nationwide by more than 40% since 2000; bicycling and walking now account for 12% of all trips in the United States.
  • Thousands of Safe Routes to School programs are reducing congestion and improving safety in communities across the country.
  • Recreational trails are heavily used and provide crucial economic benefits, especially in rural communities.

A transportation bill designed to efficiently move America in this new century should continue to include dedicated funding to create safe and accessible places for people to bike and walk. Since 2005, a total of just 1.5 percent of annual federal transportation funding has been devoted to supporting these activities. Biking and walking not only comprise more than 12 percent of all trips but also account for 14% of annual traffic fatalities.

Dedicated funding for bike/ped projects – one or two cents of every dollar – is a time-tested, popular, and effective approach to building a truly multi-modal national transportation system that offers choice, safety and access for all. Increasing the safety and use of non-motorized transportation reduces congestion, saves lives and money, protects the environment…and creates more jobs per million dollars of investment than highway-only projects: exactly what MAP-21 should be trying to do.

Dedicated funding for bicycling and walking enjoys broad support at all levels of Government. Less than one week ago, 60 Senators voted in bi-partisan support of preserving the Transportation Enhancement program – the third such vote in support of the program this year. At the state level, transportation enhancement, safe routes to school and recreational trails programs typically receive at least three times more requests for funding than is available. In May, a survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors showed solid support among Mayors for funding of bicycling and walking infrastructure.

The League of American Bicyclists has a good side-by-side summary of current legislation compared with the MAP-21 proposal.

In addition, there is one specific anti-bicycle provision:

The draft of the Senate's transportation authorization bill, S. 1813 Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, includes language that would introduce a mandatory sidepath law on roads in our National Parks and other Federal lands. It requires cyclists on Federal lands to use a path or trail, instead of roads, if the speed limit is over 30 MPH and a trail exists within 100 yards, regardless of its condition or utility of the path. The provision sets a terrible precedent. Passing it would send the wrong message to transportation agencies that these policies are acceptable. Laws like this have been taken off the books in states over the past 30 years. This takes us in the wrong direction.

Missouri repealed its mandatory sidepath law in 1995.  The last thing we need is to have the federal government re-enact a policy like this.

Please visit the League of American Bicyclists web page and sign their petition against this mandatory sidepath provision.

The good news

The good news: Since the initial announcement, committee members have shown themselves to be open to improvements to the original bill. There is bipartisan and leadership support for an amendment to remove most of the categories of road funding from the special dedicated funding pot.  It may not be as easy for states to remove funding from the program as it first appears, and Senators may be open to tweaking the language further.

So this is one of the first sallies in the effort to pass a new national transportation bill, but for certain not the last we'll hear about it.  Stay tuned!

What you can do for now

In the meanwhile, it's worth letting the key Senators know that we are disappointed in this initial effort and believe they can do better.