No Summer Lull on Capitol Hill

Margo Pedroso

 While schools are out for summer and many Americans head out on vacation, things on Capitol Hill have been heating up.  I’ve got updates on a range of federal policy topics to share with Safe Routes to School advocates.

  • Anthony Foxx, former mayor of Charlotte, NC, was sworn in on July 2 as the new U.S. Secretary of Transportation.  We congratulate him on his Senate confirmation vote of 100-0.  While we know he was an advocate for Complete Streets in Charlotte, we will need to do more education on bicycling and walking issues. Sen. Schatz (D-HI) submitted some questions to the Secretary-to-be on active transportation, and responses from Secretary Foxx were supportive but vague.  We look forward to working with the Secretary and his staff to get more specific on why Safe Routes to School, bicycling and walking are essential to safety and connecting people to a better quality of life, which are priorities that Secretary Foxx emphasized in his welcome statement.
  • Congratulations to the National Complete Streets Coalition for their recent Congressional briefing and House introduction of the Safe Streets Act of 2013, which would require states and MPOs to adopt Complete Streets policies within two years of the bill’s passage.  Reps. Matsui (D-CA) and Joyce (R-OH) have taken the lead on this important legislation.  The Safe Routes Partnership supports this legislation because it helps ensure that our transportation system is built right, for all users—including bicyclists and pedestrians, from the start.
  • On June 10, the US Department of Transportation issued the final guidance and a Q&A on the Transportation Alternatives program (TAP), which includes Safe Routes to School projects.  States and MPOs should now be moving full speed ahead to get this program set up and get awards out the door.  Read our blog for more details on the guidance, and please attend our July 22 webinar to get all the latest on Transportation Alternatives. Leading up to the webinar we will be issuing a chart with state decisions on TAP implementation and ideas and examples to help MPOs craft effective TAP applications.
  • We also continue to urge Congress to restore the Safe Routes to School funding back to 100% federal funding, instead of the new requirements that all projects secure a 20% state or local funding match. We thank Sen. Shaheen (D-NH) for raising concerns about the impact of the match requirement on small towns and low-income schools during a Senate Appropriations Committee session, and urging her colleagues to find a solution. We will continue to work with Sen. Shaheen and other supporters to try and fix this challenge.
  • Finally, on June 25, President Obama gave a speech unveiling his proposed action plan on climate change.  Unfortunately, the transportation aspects of his plan encompass making vehicles more fuel-efficient and investing more in electric and alternative fuel vehicles.  We would like to see a focus on the role that increased walking and bicycling (resulting in less vehicle miles traveled) can play in reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. If Congress does take up the issue of climate change again (which is doubtful given the partisan divide), we will push for inclusion of active transportation and smart growth elements.

So – that’s the latest from Capitol Hill.  We will continue to work to advance Safe Routes to School and healthy, active communities on Capitol Hill.