With the promise of a “new program on national rebuilding,” President Trump reinforced his intention to push for a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure in his Feb. 28 speech to Congress. He pointed to crumbling infrastructure as his motivator alongside worries he’s previously expressed about potholes and tiles falling from the ceilings of tunnels.
Trump’s not wrong to focus on maintenance: It’s wise to fix the infrastructure you have before building new. The nation’s roads need improvement—but it will take more than filling potholes to strengthen our transportation system.
It is critical that we consider the safety of our roads for everyone who uses them, including drivers, walkers, bikers and those who use transit. Recent traffic fatality statistics reveal an alarming trend. Growth in deaths among pedestrians and bicyclists, who now account for 18 percent of all traffic fatalities, rose more steeply over the past decade than any other category. Our outdated infrastructure isn’t just causing shipping delays and wear and tear on vehicles. It contributes to thousands of fatalities each year.
Whether or not Trump is able to work with Congress to fund this massive investment is one question. But even if sufficient revenue is found (perhaps through corporate tax reform), the only way that Trump’s infrastructure plan will meet the needs of Americans is if it provides for a more balanced transportation system.
The active transportation community—advocates, planners and developers working to build trails and other walking and biking infrastructure—is calling on the Trump administration and Congress to prioritize balance in its plans. The goal is to help meet the transportation needs of everyone, including those who don’t drive, such as many low-income individuals, people living with disabilities, seniors and children. While road and transit systems need repair, active transportation networks—which complement transit and provide practical alternatives to driving—are in many communities generating the greatest demand and offering the most affordable mobility solutions.
The federal government has severely underinvested in active transportation, resulting in limited options to safely and conveniently access community destinations by foot, bike or wheelchair. The Transportation Alternatives Program, the nation’s top source of funding for active transportation, should constitute at least 3 percent of all federal surface transportation funding, compared with the 1.5 percent of funding it currently receives. Further, competitive multimodal programs that have supported balanced, cost-effective transportation options should be prioritized. In particular, the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program should be permanently authorized in the surface transportation program and funded by the Highway Trust Fund, with its budget doubled to $1 billion to accommodate the volume of worthy applicants.
A balanced transportation system would prioritize pedestrian and bicyclist safety, redoubling efforts to provide safe walking and biking routes for everyone. If our transportation system isn’t built so that people can get where they need to go—including schools, jobs, shopping areas and important services—the economy loses.
Trails, sidewalks and complete streets do more than keep people safe—they align with other Trump administration priorities by providing a high return on investment in terms of mobility, economic development and public health. A federal investment in infrastructure is an opportunity to align transportation systems to meet demand and provide the amenities people need to get around—by car, train, bus, foot, bike or wheelchair.