The Cultural Trail in Indianapolis, IN exemplifies design flexibility in creating streets that are safe and inviting for walking, bicycling, and driving. Photo by Ian Freimuth.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously approved its draft six-year bill, the DRIVE Act, this week. Included in the bill are several provisions that would provide the long-term stability that states, regions, and local communities need to plan and build good projects and offers important steps forward for safe, multimodal streets.
The Committee’s bill includes:
- A small, but significant change to the design criteria of the National Highway System (NHS), so that designs now “shall consider” access and safety for all modes of transportation, the natural environment, and community contexts. Previously, agencies were only advised that they “may take into account” the environment, context-sensitive design, and only the access needs of all modes of transportation.
- A direction to reference the Urban Street Design Guide developed by the National Association of City Transportation Officials when developing design criteria for NHS.
- Increased design flexibility for local jurisdictions, by allowing them to use a design guide that is different than that used by the state—so long as it’s approved by FHWA, adopted by the local government, and complies with Federal laws. This will allow more communities to use Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context-Sensitive Approach, the Urban Bikeway Design Guide, and the Urban Street Design Guide.
- An increase in funding available through the Transportation Alternatives Program, which funds many walking and bicycling projects, and a requirement that 100% of the funds be distributed by population. Previously, states were allowed to “flex” up to 50% of this money to other uses.
- Provisions to make it easier for communities to build transit-oriented development (TOD) projects, which help create compact, mixed-use neighborhoods near public transportation.
A few amendments that further Complete Streets goals were offered in Committee, but not included in the package for changes ultimately approved. We thank Senator Markey for offering an amendment to include the full text of the Safe Streets Act, and Senator Gillibrand for offering an amendment to fund Vision Zero plans and implementation.
Three more committees will now need to offer their sections of this bill. The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs will handle public transportation systems. The Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will focus on safety, buses, and railroads. And the Finance Committee will need to figure out how to pay for the bill’s programs. Stay tuned.