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 ISTEA Position Paper from Bikes Belong

By Allen Greenberg, February 1997

ISTEA established a new approach to transportation decision-making including long-range planning, consideration of a broad range of social and environmental criteria, active involvement of local governments, extensive public involvement, and greater attention to fiscal responsibility. ISTEA has been a successful experiment in devolution with accountability. It has given local officials broad authority and resources at the same time it has linked long-range planning and public involvement requirements with fiscal and environmental accountability. Now, five years later, we know that this bold step forward is working. By putting communities and the public in the center of the process, this approach has encouraged funding and planning for the best transportation solutions.

To realize continued success, former FHWA Administrator Tom Larsen (under President Bush) has said of ISTEA reauthorization: tune it, don't toss it. We must retain the basic vision and approach of ISTEA, while making modest improvements to the programs it created. To this end, we support the Surface Transportation Policy Project's proposal, "A Blueprint for ISTEA Reauthorization."

One of the hallmarks of ISTEA is that it provides broad eligibility for bicycle (and pedestrian) projects and programs by referencing them in nearly all its programs. This has encouraged greater consideration of the non-motorized modes. Bicyclists were promised nothing, but had the opportunity to influence everything. But this opportunity was meaningful only because ISTEA created innovative funding programs with broad, but targeted funding goals (enhanced communities, clean air, etc.). Two of these new program categories, Transportation Enhancements (TE) and Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ), have been the primary sources of new funds for bicycling projects. These programs must be preserved and should be expanded. Similarly, other innovative programs, including Scenic Byways and the Recreational Trails Fund (with the contract authority funding provided in the 1995 National Highway System legislation), should be retained.

Ensure Appropriate Treatment of Bicycling in Transportation Projects

The best way to maximize the efficiency of our transportation system (and transportation investments) is to ensure that the system provides users with a real choice of modes. We must avoid making a major portion of users auto-dependent for all of their transportation needs. Yet, too often we have designed and constructed transportation facilities that serve to do just that by virtue of the fact that they have failed to provide any accommodations for modes other than motor vehicles. For decades we have been building streets and highways in urban and suburban areas with no provisions for bicyclists (nor sidewalks to accommodate pedestrians). The legacies of this approach include much higher levels of auto-dependency (especially among children, leading to the new transportation service category call soccer moms), and traffic-related fatalities having become the leading cause of death for children. We need to ensure that transportation facilities and services provide opportunities for people of all ages to bicycle (and walk) safely.

Section 109 (n) of Title 23 takes a small but important step in addressing this concern. It reads, "The Secretary shall not approve any project under this title that will result in the severance or destruction of an existing major route for non motorized transportation traffic and light motorcycles unless such project provides a reasonably alternate route or such a route exists."

Positive, proactive measures are also required. The best time to provide accommodations to bicyclists is when a project is being considered. The worst time is after projects are built. Since bicyclists will use all roadways where they are legally permitted and frequently combine bicycling and transit use, bicycle accommodations should be designed into federal projects. The cost to accommodate bicyclists in larger projects is frequently negligible, while retrofit solutions can be planning and construction nightmares and are almost always more expensive when done as an afterthought. Let's do things right the first time.

To affect the desired outcome as part of all transportation projects, Section 217 of Title 23 should be modified to include the following requirements:

1. All highway construction and reconstruction projects, on which bicycles (and/or pedestrians) are permitted, shall be designed and constructed so as to provide appropriate accommodations for these users.

2. When a transportation project is undertaken, and the bicycle (and pedestrian) element of the state's or MPO's Long-Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) calls for the provision of certain facilities and/or services, said provisions must be included in the project.

3. No transportation project shall be undertaken in such a way so as to reduce accessibility by bicycle (or foot), or to render conditions for non-motorized users less safe, unless equal or better access is provided for by other improvements as part of the same project.

4. No regulatory or other action that hinders bicycle (or pedestrian) accessibility shall be undertaken on or apply to roadway segments funded or improved with federal money unless it is persuasively demonstrated that such action is necessary to promote public safety.

Strengthen ISTEA's Programs to Better Integrate Bicycling

A. Enhance Communities

ISTEA's Transportation Enhancements Program (TEP) provides a mechanism by which the transportation sector can redress some of its negative impacts on communities, alternative modes of travel, the environment, and historic and cultural resources. The concept is a simple one: set aside a certain level of funds for activities that have too often been overlooked or ignored as part of the development of our transportation system. By all measures, this program has been an enormous success. It has surpassed all other federal transportation programs in: bringing public involvement into the transportation planning and funding processes, thereby assuring that the public is being served; securing non-federal matching funds; obtaining volunteer resources (technical, labor, etc.) to assist with project design, implementation and maintenance; inspiring competition for the funding offered, and; amassing public support for transportation in general. In recognition of its success, TEP funds should be increased from about 2 percent to 3 percent of total authorizations.

In addition to increased funding, the Transportation Enhancements Program should be strengthened, as follows:

1. To clarify the program's intent, add a goal statement highlighting the important role the TEP plays in ISTEA.

2. To clarify project eligibility and to preserve the integrity of the TEP by ensuring its use for non-routine, community enhancing projects related to transportation, enact current FHWA guidance, stating that "eligible projects must be directly related to the intermodal transportation system by function, proximity or impact," into law.

3. To improve the process of implementing state TEP programs, require states to establish TEP's that include the following: an applications process, project selection criteria, and a state level advisory committee with broad citizen and agency participation and fair representation for both rural and urban areas.

4. To ensure that federal funds appropriated for the TEP are actually spent, require states to obligate any backlog of unspent TEP funds before these funds lapse. Additionally, require states to allocate funds to their TEP at least equivalent to percentages authorized in ISTEA.

5. To reduce costly and burdensome "big project" federal administrative requirements on small TE projects, encourage states to adopt the FHWA-established procedures for streamlining TE project implementation and administration, and encourage FHWA to investigate and implement further streamlining for state and local compliance with relevant federal laws and regulations (including the possibility of making the TEP a grant program).

B. Protect the Environment

Transportation and the environment are inextricably linked. Many of this nation's environmental ills are unfortunate byproducts of our current transportation system and services. The ISTEA intends for the transportation sector to contribute to our national environmental goals (paramount among them is air quality through the CMAQ program and the Clean Air Act Amendment conformity requirements that are applied to TIPs). The CMAQ program provides essential funding for the federal mandate to meet important health- based air quality standards.

Now, additional measures should be taken to further protect and enhance the environment:

1. To improve CMAQ by encouraging a long-term sustainability focus and increasing funding in recognition of pending new air quality standards (so that resources can be brought to newly effected areas without cutting funding to existing non-attainment areas).

2. To limit grand-fathering of transportation projects approved prior to ISTEA.

3. To provide performance incentives for reduced energy consumption.

4. To establish a new national transportation-environment initiative.

C. Promote Safety

On an annual basis, bicycle crashes are responsible for 800 fatalities and 600,000 emergency room admittances in the United States. When combined with pedestrians, the non-motorized modes constitute in excess of 15 percent of all transportation related fatalities. While ISTEA includes important federal safety programs, little attention has gone specifically to addressing bicyclist safety. We must do more to educate motorists and bicyclists about safe travel behavior and to reduce the roadway hazards that confront bicyclists.

ISTEA's safety programs should provide the same consideration for the bicycle (and pedestrian) mode as its other programs do. In general terms, this consideration should be reflected through a program mission statement to serve bicyclists along with other road users, broad and explicit project funding eligibility, local government involvement, extensive public participation, and a balanced allocation of program resources. To accomplish this, ISTEA's designation of a portion of STP funds for safety should be retained.

In addition to proposing requirements for greater local control and public involvement, recommendations for ISTEA's safety programs include:

1. To modify the Section 152 Hazard Elimination Program:

a. To make projects that increase hazards to or inhibit access for bicyclists and pedestrians ineligible for funding.

b. To add bicyclists to the list of road users for which hazards need to be identified.

c. To include safety improvements to paved trails (especially when intersecting roadways) as specifically eligible for program funding.

d. To require, or at least make eligible, the creation of "spot-check" programs for the rapid-response elimination of low-cost hazards such as monster potholes and roadway and rail debris.

e. To encourage the use of traffic calming measures to promote multi-modal and community safety.

2. To modify the existing Section 130 program requirement that signs be posted at all grade-crossings to also make, to the extent feasible, all such crossings bicycle-safe.

3. To modify the Section 402 Highway Safety Program. Bicyclists and pedestrians make up over 15 percent of the annual traffic-related fatalities in the U.S., and millions of other Americans are injured while bicycling or walking. Yet, over the past several years, most states have consistently allocated less than 2 percent of their Section 402 funds to bicycle and pedestrian safety projects. The Section 402 program is failing to address the needs and concerns of non-motorized users of the transportation system. The following actions should be taken:

a. To require States to allocate no less than 10 percent of their Section 402 funds to bicycle and pedestrian safety programs at least until they reduce related fatalities by 10 percent.

b. To require State Offices of Highway Safety to institute a broad-based public involvement process to help guide decisions on the allocation of Section 402 funds. This should include representatives of the elderly, children, disabled, bicyclists, pedestrians, neighborhood groups, etc.

c. To give special attention to promoting training and education programs for motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians to enhance the safety of non-motorized travelers.

D. Encourage Multi-Modal Consideration in the Federal Lands Highway Program

Bicycling provides an excellent means for families to enjoy this nation's beautiful and vast federal resources in a manner consistent with protecting these resources. There is no better way to showcase the opportunities that ISTEA presents to America's communities than for federal park superintendents and land managers to embrace ISTEA's spirit of multi-modal planning, broad public involvement, and community and inter-governmental cooperation. Unfortunately, many of ISTEA's provisions do not apply to Federal Lands Highways and many land managers have shut the door to bicyclists, saying bicycling is "not part of my agenda" or "is the least of my concerns."

In order for the public to benefit from the Federal Lands Highway Program to the extent it has from the rest of ISTEA, the following changes to this program should be made:

1. Apply ISTEA's LRTP and TIP requirements.

2. Require full public participation from representatives of local and national communities.

3. Designate 10 percent of program funding to a Federal Lands Transportation Enhancements Program.

E. Provide Equal Tax Treatment Among Commuter Transportation Modes

Despite our national rhetoric in support of energy efficiency and environmental protection, federal tax treatment of transportation commute benefits actually encourages driving alone and discourages alternatives. Federal tax law allows employers to provide their employees tax-exempt car parking benefits valued at up to $165 per month and transit and vanpool benefits up to $65 per month. Employers and employees are sanctioned, by losing all tax benefits, if employers offer the cash value of a car parking space in exchange for employees forfeiting the space and finding alternative transportation. Similarly, expenses associated with bicycle commuting, including bike parking, shower, and locker fees and rentals, cannot be subsidized by employers. Federal tax law allows employers to reimburse employees for both transit fares and car parking fees at transit and carpool lots, but bike/transit commuters cannot be reimbursed for renting bicycle storage lockers.

To rectify this injustice and to end this perverse incentive to drive to work alone, we recommend the following:

1. To eliminate the "constructive receipt" and "benefit in-lieu-of compensation" provisions of federal tax law that sanction employers from offering employees a cash option to car parking.

2. To require employers who offer car parking benefits to provide a "cash out" option.

3. To add bicycle commuting expenses, including mileage related expenses, as eligible for tax-exempt transportation commute benefits.

F. Support Research that Includes Bicycling

Accommodating bicycle transportation is a key element in creating a sustainable transportation future that serves children, health-conscious adults, the working poor, and many others who will choose to integrate bicycling into their lives. But very little of our federal transportation research is specifically targeted to answering key questions about safely integrating bicycling into our transportation mix. Most federal research fails to even acknowledge bicycling or the effects of transportation measures on bicycling.

A particularly important example is the massive, federally funded Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) research initiative with its proposed automated highway system (AHS). At a minimum, all federal transportation research projects should identify what, if any, impacts their recommendation could have on bicycle transportation and safety, and evaluate options to mitigate adverse effects on bicyclists.

A number of issue areas that are important to bicycling are worthy of federal research support. Among them are:

1. The effects of transportation plan, program, and funding alternatives on children's transportation, both in terms of access and safety.

2. The effects of various bicycling facilities (and networks of such facilities) on bicycling rates and safety.

3. The effects of bicycle education on bicycling rates and safety.

4. Techniques for incorporating bicycling into transportation demand models.

5. The effects of traffic calming measures on mode choice and safety.

IV. Improve the Planning Process

The purpose of the long-range transportation planning exercise is to ensure that transportation spending is designed to achieve a community's vision for its future and that a wide range of factors and issues are given careful consideration. This is a sensible approach and LRTP requirements should be retained in reauthorization. Unfortunately, many bicyclists who labor within the LRTP process have seen their work disregarded when funding decisions are made as part of the TIP. A simple mechanism to help rectify this would be to require that bicycling (and pedestrian) projects that are contained in LRTPs be implemented at a rate roughly proportional to other transportation modes.

Bicycling elements and components of LRTP's differ substantially in their thoroughness and care applied to incorporating bicycling into state and regional transportation visions and strategies. Federal guidance should be issued to identify common elements and implementation strategies of successful bicycling (and walking) plans. Abandoned railroad corridors offer tremendous potential as bicycle and/or general transportation facilities. Unfortunately, the process to take advantage of such abandonments can be complicated and states and communities need to be prepared for such opportunities. To help ensure that such opportunities are not lost, LRTP's should include an assessment of abandoned and likely to be abandoned railroad corridors, including their potential for conversion to other transportation uses such as trails for non-motorized travel. Also, states should establish abandonment early warning systems for themselves and their local communities. Clearly, federal rail-banking law that allows such conversions must also be retained.

Just as non-profit organizations have a vital role to play in transportation project planning, many also have unique expertise in designing and implementing projects, particularly where such projects are innovative or uncommon. For this reason, we endorse the provision in the STPP platform, "A Blueprint for ISTEA Reauthorization," that says, "Non-profit organizations should be allowed to directly sponsor and administer projects that have been approved by MPO's or states."

V. Institutionalize Bicycling within Transportation Agencies

Institutionalizing bicycling within transportation agencies is critical to providing the American public with transportation choices that include bicycling. ISTEA helped bring about such institutionalization by requiring state transportation departments to have Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinators. These coordinators have provided bicyclists with an important entree into state transportation bureaucracies. To further institutionalize bicycling at the state level, these coordinator positions should be full-time (ISTEA only requires half-time coordinators) and they should be complimented by state level Bicycle Advisory Committees whose members are appointed through a fair and open process.

Just as institutionalization is important at the state level, so to is it at the metropolitan level. MPO's should designate at least one program staff member to be responsible for bicycle (and pedestrian) issues and to coordinate this element of LRTP plan development and implementation. Further, bicycling interests should be represented on Transportation Planning Boards which have authority over many project funding decisions.

For more information, contact: Martha Roskowski, Executive Director, Bicycle Colorado, PO Box 698, Salida CO 81201 (719) 530-0051; fax (719) 539-5119

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