Friday, June 29, 2012

Congress Takes A Sledge Hammer To Safe Streets

If you follow active transportation blogs, you probably have already heard the news. Congress has come up with a "compromise" transportation bill that the House passed earlier today and is being put up for a vote before the Senate this afternoon. Despite four years of advocacy and an outpouring from the public asking for a progressive re-authorization of the transporation bill, far less emerged from the Conference Committee headed by Senator Barbara Boxer and Representative John Mica. As Transportation For America puts it:
"The bill ultimately looks and feels like what it is: A stopgap that is the last gasp of a spent 20th century program. It doesn’t begin to address the needs of a changing America in the 21st century... The bill dedicates zero dollars to repairing our roads and bridges, cuts the amount of money that cities and local governments would have received, makes a drastic cut in the money available to prevent the deaths of people walking or biking, and ensures that you have less input and control over major projects that affect you and the quality of your community."
The part that we cared most about, funding for biking and walking, took a considerable hit. Congress will consolidate Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes To School, and Recreational Trails programs into a new category called Transportation Alternatives (sorry TA). For a good briefing on the damage done by Congress, read this post on the SaltCycle (Salt Lake City's Cycling Advocacy blog.)

America Bikes, the bicycle and walking community's DC lobbying outfit, estimates that the new bill effectively cuts bicycle and pedestrian funding by 60-70%. 42% is taken right off the top; 2009 funding for the affected programs was $1.2 billion, the new Transportation Alternatives fund maxes out at $702 million (equal to the 2009 Transportation Enhancements allocation). But with states given the option to use more than 50% of its allocation to fund any transportation project, is a near-certainty that what finally gets spent on biking and walking will be significantly less.

So what happens now?

State and local governments will have greater flexibility to either increase or decrease the funds it makes available to bicycle and pedestrian projects. We believe that NJ and PA should not "opt out" one dollar of the Transporation Alternatives program and, in fact, should devote more funding to it from the other federal and state transportation programsFor example, Pennsylvania should receive about $24 million dollars per year for Transportation Alternatives plus $3 million for the DCNR's Rec. Trails program to pay for biking and walking projects throughout the state. The state should add more to that pot.

Our goal is that DVRPC, PENNDOT and NJDOT hold competitive rounds of Transportation Alternatives projects in 2013 and 2014. Additionally, for the first time, DVRPC will manage a portion of New Jersey's allocation (a direct benefit of the Cardin-Cochran Amendment). We estimate that a combined state and MPO funding could award $8 million in Southeast PA and $3 million in South Jersey each year. Awarding a substantial proportion of that amount to trails would contribute towards the $12.5 million per year that we are asking DVRPC and its member governments to allocate towards The Circuit annually.

Having a Complete Streets policy guiding new transportation projects is more important than ever, and New Jersey continues to lead the nation by example. NJDOT has been hosting Complete Streets trainings for municipalities and just launched their Complete Streets microsite which is intended to bring the progress of Complete Streets into the sunshine. It contains this excellent video of how two communities in NJ have embraced complete streets.