Major bike/ped goals addressed in new U.S. Senate Transportation Bill

One reason the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation--joined by many colleagues in advocacy groups across Missouri, and many private citizens over the years--has made a point to attend every National Bike Summit since 2005 is that we know that those person contacts with our elected representatives and their staff make a real difference.

Regular annual visits to Washington DC have made a big difference
Regular annual visits to Washington DC - as well as thousands of messages and phone calls - have made a big difference in Congress

Sometimes you don't see the difference day-to-day, or even year-to-year.  But when people who are enthused about better bicycling, walking, and trails from all over the U.S. keep up a sustained effort year after year, and when the effort is organized at the national level by smart organizations who follow up on Capitol Hill throughout the year--over the decades, it makes a real difference.

If you follow politics at all, you know that the last couple of years have been among the most divisive in many years. Both parties find it hard to get together and agree on much.

Federal Transportation Bill - representing about $50 billion in annual spending nationwide - is a priority for both sides of the aisle this year

But when we talked with every Missouri congressional office in March at the most recent National Bike Summit, one thing we heard loud and clear from both sides of the aisle, is that a Transportation Bill was a top priority and one of the few high-profile agenda items likely to move forward in the next year or two.

And, we heard from both sides that improved policy and funding for walking, bicycling, and trails is part of the national, bipartisan concensus now. (FYI Missouri Congressman Sam Graves, one of the four leaders of the House Transportation Committee, is a vital link in that national bipartisan consensus.) We should not see the attacks or efforts to remove all bicycle/pedestrian funding that we have too often seen in the past.

Both House and Senate pledged to move forward at top speed in drafting their Transportation Bills.

But--we have been most concerned about the Senate bill, because that is the chamber where the nation's big cities, where bicycling and walking have taken off earlier and to a greater degree than some other parts of the country, have the least amount of influence.

Senate bill drops--and (surprise?) looks amazing for bicycle, pedestrian, and trails issues

But recently the League of American Bicyclists rolled out a detailed analysis of the Senate Transportation Bill.  And guess what? It looks amazing for the issues that people who walk, bicycle, and use trails care about.

The Senate Environment & Public Works Committee released the text of the roads portion of the transportation reauthorization bill this morning and it is great for biking and walking.  

The new bill makes key improvements to funding programs while also including a new set of climate-related programs and bicycle-friendly policy. Not only did we get much of what the League asked for on safety and infrastructure, bicyclists will benefit from new programs regarding emission and congestion reductions. 

It’s because of those who attended the National Bike Summit, our League members, and our legislative action alert responders that the League has been able to build support for these issues on Capitol Hill.

What's good about the Senate bill from the bicycle, pedestrian, and trails perspective

Here are some key takeaways from the League's analysis of the Senate bill:

Visits by supporters like you make a huge difference
Visits by supporters like you to our state and federal elected officials have made a huge difference over the years

Transportation Alternatives

The TA program accounts for roughly 50 percent of all federal funding for biking and walking infrastructure. This bill increases that funding from $850 million per year to $1.2 Billion per year—a 40% increase in year one, and the program will grow with inflation for the rest of the bill’s life. The bill also makes a series of policy changes we had asked for which will make the program run more efficiently, and make it easier for cities to access funding. The League and the Safe Routes Partnership led on this effort. . . .

Safety

The bill adds an additional $250 million per year to safety spending, with the caveat that if a state or urbanized area has higher than average bicyclists and pedestrian fatalities, then the new funding has to be spent on bicycling and pedestrian safety improvements. Between 2014-2016, states spent roughly $60 million on bicycling and walking safety improvements so this program could add another $500-750 million over the life of the bill. There are also incentive grants for states and urban areas if they reduce their bicycle and pedestrian rates. The League and the Safe Routes Partnership led on this effort. . . .

Planning

The bill includes a pilot program to get better modeling data to states and metropolitan and regional planning organizations—like we asked for in the COMMUTE Act. The planning section also includes a funding set aside for certain types of plans that help reduce single occupancy vehicle travel including: Bike Network plans, Complete Streets plans, etc. Transportation for America and the League led on this effort. . . .

Storm Resiliency

This bill is the first ever federal transportation bill that includes a section dedicated to the climate.While many of the programs in this section are fairly small, the mere existence of this section is a huge step forward and will be good for bikes. Not only does this climate section include a pilot project for using bikes to help with evacuation and immediate storm recovery efforts, it includes language encouraging damaged roads to be built back as complete streets.  In addition, biking infrastructure will also be eligible under multiple new programs, including Urban Congestion Mitigation program, Emission Reduction program, Alternative Fuel Corridors program and the Resiliency program. . . .

Additional Positive Changes 

In addition to getting all three of our National Bike Summit asks fulfilled in this transportation bill, there are a number of other positive changes included in this bill. 

  • The bill includes a program for communities where highways bisect the community in a way that divides neighborhoods and cuts off bicycling and walking access. The Community Connection program would provide grants to local governments and community organizations to plan for replacing highways in a way that connects the community while meeting transportation demands.
  • There’s a small program to fund bollard protection for biking and walking trails next to car traffic. This is a response to the 2017 terrorist attack in NYC.
  • The bill creates a “Center of Excellence on New Mobility” to be a clearinghouse of research on how automatic vehicles, ride share, and scooter and bike share effect equity, land use, etc.
    MoBikeFed's Vision for Bicycling and Walking in Missouri - 2008
    MoBikeFed's Vision for Bicycling and Walking in Missouri - 2008
  • The bill funds a study of the Recreation Trails program to see how much revenue is brought in through a tax on recreational vehicle fuel. 
  • The grant program for bridges includes criteria regarding active transportation access. 

What about the rest of the bill?

The bill is a bipartisan effort that will result in a $287 billion bill over five years. Chairman Barrasso went into the bill with the goal of ensuring that rural areas benefited at the same rate as urban areas, that public lands were stewarded, and that the permitting process was streamlined. Ranking Member Carper went in with the goal of improving safety, creating a climate title, and addressing innovation.

Not a groundbreaking new approach, but major, positive steps forward on many fronts

The League sums up the overall bill:

For advocates who were hoping for a complete revision of the transportation program, this bill is not that. The vast majority of the funding still goes to states through the existing formula programs. However, the addition of the climate title, the safety incentive programs and other new additions are a significant step forward to encouraging states and municipalities to plan and build differently.

The Missouri perspective on this bill

From our perspective in Missouri, we would add three things: 

  • From the bicycle and pedestrian perspective, between the forthcoming House and Senate bills, we were by far most concerned about the Senate bill. This could have been an opportunity to really slash some programs, or come in with a more extreme negotiating position on the issues we care about vis-a-vis what the House bill is likely to look like.
    MoBikeFed's Vision for Bicycling and Walking in Missouri - 2009
    MoBikeFed's Vision for Bicycling and Walking in Missouri - 2009


    So to have the Senate bill look this good at this point in the process is very, very good news indeed.

    Almost certainly, the House bill will be even better on most of our issues.
     
  • Everyone reading this is probably well aware of the current, very polarized national political climate.  To have a very good--and fast-moving--Transportation Reauthorization Bill moving forward in both chambers at this point is a very, very positive direction. 

    Almost certainly, both parties will see the Transportation Bill as one of the few really major bills Congress will be able to move before the 2020 elections, and all sides will have a strong incentive to get it passed with all due speed.
     
  • You may remember the long, drawn-out, extremely delayed and generally tortured history of the federal transportation reauthorizations since SAFETEA-LU in 2005, MAP-21 in in 2012, and the FAST Act in 2015: Every one of those bills was delayed, stalled, stonewalled, and previous funding extended numerous times while Congress worked for years past the reauthorization deadline to get the bills done.

    This time around, reauthorization isn't due until 2021 and already both Chambers have bills well advanced in the process.
     
  • Finally, the requirements for giving due consideration to bicycling, walking, and trails in the federal transportation bills have had a major positive influence on Missouri, on MoDOT, and on Missouri cities and counties since the adoption of ISTEA in 1991. Those of you who have been around the block a few times may remember that MoBikeFed was founded in 1993-1994 precisely to advocate for MoDOT to accept bike/ped funds in ISTEA, hire a statewide bike/ped coordinator, and take the other positive steps to include bicycling and walking in our state and local transportation planning and projects.

    Early in the process, in the early 1990s, MoDOT simply refused to accept or spend the bike/ped money.  And they refused to hire a statewide bike/ped coordinator.

    A big breakthrough came when the high-level decision was made to spend a big chunk of the first years' bike/ped funding from ISTEA to acquire the Katy Trail corridor and build the trail.  (Those of you with long memories will recall that Ted and Pat Jones put up the required 20% local match for the trail--but we often forget the remaining 80% was federal transportation funds that came via ISTEA--the first years of the "Transportation Enhancements" program.

    So it is wise to keep in mind that Missouri benefits greatly from these federal programs--and our state and local officials often need the push these programs and funding give, to give bicycling, walking, and trails the consideration, priority, and funding they need.

What's next

Stay tuned and have a few spare bags of popcorn on hand, because there are certain to be twists and turns before this bill is finally passed. 

But we're off to a good start--and in large part thanks to the dedicated and persistent work of members and supporters like you--across Missouri and across the U.S.--over the past two and half decades to keep talking to our elected representatives in Congress and keep telling our story.

Thank you to every one who has contributed to that effort over the years.

 

Working to create a better, safer environment for bicycling, walking, and trails, and build a world-class bicycle, pedestrian, and trails system across Missouri, and to ensure we have the right state and federal policy and funding to support those goals are all major points of emphasis in MoBikeFed's Vision for Bicycling and Walking in Missouri.

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