Senate passes landmark transportation bill; key bike/ped and trail provisions included

Today the U.S. Senate passed its version of the six-year federal transportation policy bill renewal, known as MAP-21, by a vote of 74-22.

Missouri Delegation visits the National Bike Summit
Missouri Delegation visits the National Bike Summit

Thanks to the work of national, state, and local bicycle, pedestrian, and trails advocacy organizations----helped by calls and email messages from tens of thousands of citizens from across the U.S.--the bill included all of the key bicycle, pedestrian, and trails amendments that we have been working for.

None of the key bicycle, pedestrian, or trails amendments was forced to go to the floor of the Senate for a vote.  Work by our allied groups in Washington with key committee members and Senate leadership was able to develop bipartisan support for the amendments so that they could be adopted into the final version of the "manager's amendment" of the bill that Senators approved today.

Key bike/ped provisions in the final version of MAP-21 that was adopted today:

  • The Cardin-Cochran Amendment putting Enhancements, Safe Routes to School, Recreational Trails funding into a separate, better functioning program, and the Klobuchar Amendment, fully funding the Recreational Trails program.
  • The Klobuchar Amendment fully funding the Recreational Trails program (paid for by fuel tax funds generated by off-road vehicles that use the trails)

What's next

The ball is now firmly in the court of the House, whose extreme, reactionary approach to the transportation bill has imploded, unable to find support from any part of the political spectrum.  (The House's "uniquely terrible" bill has drawn opposition from the New York Times, the National Rural Assembly, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Club for Growth, public health organizations, AARP, SmartGrowthAmerica, AASHTO, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and even CarTalk--about the strangest collection of political bedfellows imaginable.)

It remains to be seen whether the House will continue with an extreme version of the transportation bill, work towards a more moderate, bipartisan version of its bill, or take up the Senate bill as its starting point.

Which of these approaches is taken by House leadership will almost certainly determine whether Congress is able to actually pass a transportation bill before the November 2012 elections.

Thank you!  Your calls and emails made the difference . . . 

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to call or write you Senators over these important issues.  When we all speak up together for the things we believe in, that make our communities great places to live, we really can make a difference.

Please take a moment to contact to your Senators and thank them for supporting bicycling, walking, and trails in the final version of MAP-21--and remind them that a delegation from Missouri will be meeting with them about these issues at the National Bike Summit next week.

What was adopted--more details

Cardin-Cochran Amendment, improving the administration of Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to School, and Recreational Trails funding:

If MAP-21 becomes law, the language from this amendment will ensure that local governments, school systems, and metropolitan planning organizations are able to access much-needed funds to make bicycling and walking safe and accessible.

With the acceptance of the Cardin-Cochran amendment, here’s how MAP-21 would work if it becomes law:

  • Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to School, and Recreational Trails are consolidated into a new program called Additional Activities.
  • State Departments of Transportation (DOTs) will make their Additional Activities funding available to metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) and local governments. Here’s how they’ll allocate the funds:
    • The state DOT will allocate 50% of the Additional Activities, based on population, to MPOs and rural areas. MPOs will then distribute the funds through a competitive grant program for projects in their communities.
    • For the remaining 50% of Additional Activities, the state DOT would host its own competitive grant process for projects. Local governments, school districts, and others would be eligible to compete for this funding.

If it becomes law, this legislation would ensure that local governments and communities have a voice in the transportation decisions that affect their streets. The safeguards included in MAP-21 would ensure that communities of every size benefit from making their own localized transportation decisions for safe streets.

Klobuchar Amendment -- fully funding the Recreational Trails Program:

March 13, 2012: From Coalition for Recreational Trails: We are delighted to report that the Manager’s Amendment to MAP-21, the Senate transportation bill, containing a modified version of U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s amendment continuing the Recreational Trails Program essentially unchanged, was accepted this afternoon on the Senate floor. This is a wonderful achievement! We are very grateful to Sen. Klobuchar (D-MN) and her eight co-sponsors -- Michael Bennet (D-CO), Scott Brown (R -MA), Richard Burr (R-NC), James Risch (R-ID), Bernard Sanders (D-VT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Mark Udall (D-CO). Please be sure to let them know how much the trails community appreciates their leadership and support. And, of course, we are very grateful to all the members of the CRT and the CRT Council of Advisors, who delivered powerful messages of support for the RTP from all across the country. Congratulations on an incredible effort and an amazing success. Many told us this was an impossible mission, with the Congress and Administration so focused on program consolidation and opposition to non-highway spending. You showed them!

- Marianne Fowler and Derrick Crandall, Co-Chairs, Coalition for Recreational Trails

The Alliance for Biking and Walking has some of the details on the recreational trails language that was adopted:

In the newly amended version of MAP-21, state Departments of Transportation have the option to preserve the Recreational Trails program in their state. If they do not opt out, a set-aside of the state’s Additional Activities funds would go towards Recreational Trails activities. (Funding would be equivalent to 2009 levels of Recreational Trails for that state.) This new language will ensure that states are able to continue to draw on federal funding for the Recreational Trails program as they see fit.

The League of American Bicyclists has more detail about the Rec Trails provisions.

The "mandatory sidepath" requirement on federally owned lands
The BikeLeague has the background on this issue. One senator is pushing a proposal that requires bicyclists to ride on a path if one is provided alongside or near a road--a so-called "mandatory sidepath" law.  

This provision applies only to federally owned roads on federally owned lands--for instance, to roads in national parks.  This represents only a very small percentage of all roads in the U.S., but the provision still creates an unfair and unsafe environment for those roads and in addition, it sets a terrible precedent.

Jeff Miller of the Alliance for Biking and Walking wrote:

The manager's amendment also alters the sidepath provision to allow bicycles on federally owned roads so long as roads are rated a "B" or higher on the Bicycle Level of Service (BLOS) scale.

The League of American Bicyclists has more detail on this issue, including the current language:

(d) BICYCLE SAFETY.—The Secretary of the appropriate Federal land management agency shall prohibit the use of bicycles on each federally owned road that has a speed limit of 30 miles per hour or greater and an adjacent paved path for use by bicycles within 100 yards of the road unless the Secretary determines that the bicycle level of service on that roadway is rated B or higher.

Bicycle sidepath requirements hark back to 1950s automobile-dominated road planning.  After rolling out steadily across a large number of states and communities from the 1940s to 1960s, mandatory sidepath laws have been steadily rolled back since then. For example, MoBikeFed led the charge to repeal Missouri's mandatory sidepath law in 1995. Mandatory sidepath laws are just simply a bad idea--and worse than that, they don't work.

So this compromise is far from an ideal solution.  But at the same time it is a huge improvement over the initial proposal.  Advocacy groups will continue to work to improve or--preferably--remove this provision as the bill works its way through the legislative process.

A possible upside to the provision is that this is one of the first times a measure like BLOS has been officially endorsed by law, and apparently the first time ever in federal law.  We would like to see bicycle level of service measures used routinely in road and highway planning, so this proposal could be seen as a positive step in that direction.

Other amendments
Transportation for America has an exhaustive list of transportation and non-transportation-related amendments that were voted on in the Senate over the past few days.