A couple weeks ago, the Partnership for Active Transportation—a national coalition of transportation, health and economic development groups organized by RTC—released our federal policy platform calling for three policy innovations: greater investment in active transportation networks, innovative financing to leverage the private value of these investments, and the integration of health impacts into transportation decision-making.
Recently, two federal bills were introduced in the U.S. Congress, which have the potential to advance specific planks of the platform and improve active transportation infrastructure.
1. The New Opportunities for Bicycling and Pedestrian Infrastructure Financing Act
This House bill (H.R. 3978)—cosponsored by Reps. Albio Sires (D-N.J.), Andre Carson (D-Ind.), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.)—would establish a pilot program to demonstrate the effectiveness of loans that leverage the private value of public investments in walking and biking projects.
The bill would set aside $11 million per year, or about 1 percent of an existing loan program, the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA), to benefit walking and biking projects costing $2 million or more. And, at least a quarter of the funds would be targeted toward low-income communities.
TIFIA has been a very popular and cost-effective way to accelerate investment in public transportation projects costing $50 million or more, and RTC and the Partnership both understand how critical it is to make this approach work for smaller active transportation projects across the nation.
H.R. 3978 advances this great idea, and RTC is among 25 organizations that sent a letter this week encouraging Members of Congress to support the bill.
However, H.R. 3978 is a pilot project. To improve active transportation networks nationally, RTC and the Partnership aim to build support for a more ambitious approach—one that enables small projects to compete for much larger pots of funds. We also seek to ensure that a loan program is structured to remove barriers to capturing the private value of active transportation investments by addressing challenges such as prohibitive application fees.
2. The Safe Streets Act
Earlier this month, the Safe Streets Act of 2014 (S. 2004) was introduced in the Senate by Senators Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii); this complete streets bill would require routine accommodation of all users when using federal dollars to complete road improvements.
A little history: A House counterpart to this bill was introduced last summer and currently enjoys support from both Republicans and Democrats. RTC and the Partnership platform strongly support this bill as a common sense policy to ensure that highway funds are used effectively and with sensitivity to the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists and people in wheelchairs.
Our platforms calls for a focused investment by the government to fill in gaps in walking and biking networks—with the Safe Streets Act allowing limited, dedicated active transportation funds to be focused on trails, and sidewalk and street improvements in places not slated for road improvements that would trigger the complete streets policy.
We will continue to monitor and advocate for these policies, and work to build support for other policy innovations put forth in the platform. As the debate over these bills and others ripen, RTC will be sure to keep you informed of developments.