Secretary Foxx’s Parting Gift for Trails and Active Transportation Could Impact America

Posted 03/02/17 by Patrick Wojahn in Policy

Photo courtesy Tim Tai | CC BY-NC 2.0

In the waning hours of his time as secretary of transportation, Anthony Foxx issued a regulation that could, if implemented, be a true gift to cyclists and pedestrians around the country. The regulation—which was developed by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)—integrates multiple recommendations from the trail community to ensure biking and walking are considered when measuring the effectiveness of our transportation system.

Here’s a quick recap!

Law Requires State and Local Transportation Planners to Track How Well They’re Doing

In the federal transportation spending bill passed in 2012, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), Congress required the U.S. Department of Transportation to develop regulations requiring performance measurement; in other words—they were required to set goals and standards for state and local transportation officials to use to measure how well our transportation system is working. Congress laid out specific areas for FHWA to measure progress, including bicycle and pedestrian safety, congestion and air pollution, among others.

In 2016, FHWA issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that established performance measures in three different program areas: 1) performance of the national highway system (National Highway Performance Program, or NHPP); 2) freight movement on the interstate system; and 3) congestion mitigation and air quality (CMAQ). RTC and other advocates were concerned about the proposed rule because the performance measures for the national highway system and CMAQ focused entirely on the movement of cars—leaving out other critical transportation modes such as walking and biking.

Trail Advocates Mobilize

In response, RTC, with several environmental groups and bike-ped advocacy organizations, mobilized the active transportation community and sent a clear message to FHWA: How well our transportation system handles congestion does not depend solely on how well it moves cars, but how well people are able to get where they need to go.

Photo courtesy WABA | CC BY-NC 2.0

Specifically, we asked supporters to send comments to FHWA and sign a petition to make trails count—which garnered more than 13,000 signatures! Last August, we submitted these signatures along with a two-part request to FHWA to 1) require a measure to track how well the nation’s transportation system works for people who walk or bike; and 2) to include greenhouse gas emissions in its measurement of pollution from on-road sources—to help local jurisdictions measure how well they are integrating transportation methods that do not contribute to climate change.

Final Rule Released!

The final rule was released on Jan. 18, 2017, just days before President Trump took office. It made several changes that help broaden the types of travel that states have to consider.

First, both the NHPP and CMAQ rule now include consideration of reduction in CO2 emissions caused by the highway system. Second, the NHPP measure now considers “person-miles” traveled that are reliable, rather than just vehicle miles traveled—thus, looking at how many people are able to get around. Third, the CMAQ performance rule includes a measure of how many people travel by modes other than a single-occupancy vehicle (including by walking and bicycling)!

These changes are a big victory for trails, walking and biking. With the new rule, FHWA is looking to transportation planners on the state level and in major metropolitan areas to consider all types of travel as they attempt to relieve traffic congestion and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Also, in the final rule, FHWA acknowledged the thousands of people who asked that other modes of transportation besides cars count in their measures—confirming that trail advocates like you made this happen!

RELATED: Op-Ed: How Secretary Chao Can Save Lives in Active Communities

It is uncertain whether the U.S. Department of Transportation—now under the authority of newly confirmed Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao—will actually implement the rule, and they may even repeal it altogether. RTC will be watching closely to make sure that FHWA implements this rule and does so in a way that supports all users of our nation’s transportation system. Check back on the TrailBlog for updates.

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