The Latest Federal Transportation Bill and Biking

Guest post by Attorney Daniel J. Brazil.

In December of last year, Congress and President Obama passed a long-term transportation bill into law. The FAST (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation) Act is a five-year bill that ensures funding through 2020. Despite several attempts to amend the bill to remove any spending for bicycle-related projects, the final version of the law has received victory calls from cyclists and cyclist advocates across the nation.

What’s the Good News?

There is now an estimated $835 million available for spending on biking and pedestrian infrastructure projects in each of the next two years. That figure will rise slightly to $850 million in years three through five.

States can seek grants specific to “non-motorized safety” issues designed to prevent pedestrian and bicycle fatalities. Money is available for projects such as the construction of bike lanes, bicycle parking, and walking trails for pedestrians. The biggest win is that, for the next five years, the biking community will receive the funding for projects tailored specifically to our needs.

The law also moves toward the “complete streets” approach to roadway design. Local governments may access federal funding for projects that use alternative street design manuals to protect and promote the use of bicycles.

The law requires state transportation agencies and metropolitan planning organizations to consider the needs of all road users, including pedestrians and cyclists. State and local governments have more freedom than ever to prioritize things like safe bike lanes and sidewalks over the maintenance of high speeds for motor vehicle traffic.

What’s the Bad News?

There isn’t any, necessarily. But there are a few worrying items to take note of.

For instance, the funding is there. But state and local governments will have a large say in how they spend the money. City planners have the right to “flex” funds from non-bike-related transportation projects to things like bicycle paths. At the same time, they have the power to “flex” money earmarked for bike and pedestrian projects to other transportation concerns.

It remains incumbent on all of us in the Minneapolis biking community to keep up the pressure on elected officials to pay attention to the needs of cyclists.

The FAST Act also falls far short of the kind of attention and funding bike-related projects receive in other countries. Any dreams of making the U.S. a world leader in cycling safety and participation will have to wait.

The U.S. is designed, built and legislated for motor vehicle traffic. The FAST Act largely reflects that. The bill also relies, at least in part, on the future sale of national oil reserves for its funding. For those of us that choose biking for its environmental benefits, it is frustrating to see bike initiatives paid for in that manner.

What’s the Point?

There will be money. And lots of it. That’s the most important takeaway for Minnesotans worried about the future of biking infrastructure projects.

As we work to tackle dangerous intersections and eliminate other known hazards to bikers, we have some hope of getting federal funding to help. The FAST Act will promote the continued growth of bike lanes, protected bikeways and other investments necessary to make Minneapolis an even greater place for bikers.

Attorney Daniel J. Brazil of The Law Offices of Daniel J. Brazil is an experienced personal injury attorney with offices located in Uptown. He has a passion for the outdoors, especially cycling and climbing. Learn more about Dan and his practice by following him on Twitter (@LawDanielBrazil and #MplsBikeAttorney). 

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