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The Federal Government and Active Transportation


With the recent passage of the federal transportation reauthorization bill (the “FAST Act”), active transportation saw a marginal increase in funding—a victory in a contentious political climate, but at a level insufficient to meet growing demand.

Man walkingThe recent Congressional debate spawned new champions for active transportation, but also revealed that unfortunately there are still decision-makers who do not accept that such investment is not only cost-effective, it is essential.

Federal investment in active transportation helps the government to contain ever-rising mobility and health care costs. Investing in active transportation improves the efficiency of the roadway system for everyone, including motorized users. By enabling Americans to walk or bike instead of drive for short trips, the federal government avoids underwriting more expensive strategies for reducing congestion, managing road wear, or serving the mobility needs of those who cannot drive.

For 60 years, federal transportation policies, as implemented by state agencies focused on road expansion, have tended to make it much harder for people to walk or bicycle. Strategic investments in active transportation help to restore a sense of balance; providing choices regarding how to get around. Therefore, we see an essential federal interest and role in investing in active transportation systems that expand the transportation choices available to the American people.

What Is The Current Federal Role?

In June 2012, the U.S. Congress passed a federal transportation bill, “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century” (MAP-21) that reduced dedicated federal funding for active transportation by at least 30 percent, consolidated three core programs that support active transportation into a single Transportation Alternatives program, and changed the rules to grant states more control over whether and how to fund active transportation.

Congress passed a new federal bill to replace MAP-21 in December 2015, the “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act” (FAST Act; see RTC’s analysis of the bill). The bill provides for a modest increase in funding, but also a new source of vulnerability to transfer away funds at the metropolitan level. Changes to a low-interest loan program will provide a new tool to finance active transportation networks.

Between 1991 and 2012, the federal Transportation Enhancements (TE) program was our nation’s top funding source for trails, walking and bicycling. TE's vital resources have enabled communities throughout the nation to build locally prioritized trail, walking and bicycling projects. In 2012, TE, Safe Routes to School, and the Recreational Trails Program were consolidated as the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP). The FAST Act further makes a cosmetic structural change by moving TAP under a broad highway program as a set-aside.

The Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program passed as part of the 2005 federal transportation bill SAFETEA-LU, moved beyond the project approach of Transportation Enhancements to advance active transportation networks. The program funded four communities around the country at $25 million each over four years to complete interconnected systems by which people can walk and bike to get where they’re going.

The Transportation Infrastructure Financing and Innovation Act (TIFIA) Program is a federal low-interest loan program intended to encourage public-private partnerships and spur transportation investment. Provisions added in the FAST Act will make TIFIA more accessible to communities seeking to build connected active transportation networks. Members of the Partnership will be working closely with USDOT (United States Department of Transportation) to ensure timely guidance, and will be assisting communities in taking full advantage of the new provisions.

The 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA) included the Prevention and Public Health Investment Fund (the Fund). The Fund is the nation’s first mandatory funding stream dedicated to public health prevention. From 2011 to 2014, a portion of the Fund was dedicated to Community Transformation Grants (CTG). CTGs supported long-term prevention, such as infrastructure that creates or enhances access to active transportation in conjunction with public-awareness campaigns. Although Congress discontinued the CTG program, we hope to see future health-focused prevention programs that provide for active transportation and encourage active living.

The federal Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program has funded large-scale transportation projects that have an outsized impact on a regional scale. Several funded projects have addressed, either as an element of a larger proposal or as the primary focus, active transportation as a means of improving regional access and livability.

As the FAST Act and ACA are implemented, the Partnership for Active Transportation will monitor how these funds are being spent and how we can best ensure that active transportation projects and systems are prioritized.

About The Partnership

We're a broad-based coalition of nonprofit, for-profit and public sector entities working together to create healthier places for healthier people by supporting increased public investment in walking and bicycling as essential modes of transportation.

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