67 Congress Members Tell Feds: Measure the Movement of People, Not Cars

A proposed rule from U.S. DOT could undermine transit. Image: Transportation for America
If U.S. DOT doesn’t change its proposed congestion metric, 50 people riding in a bus will count as much as one person in an SUV. Image: Transportation for America

The federal government hands states about $40 billion a year for transportation, money they can basically spend however they want. The result in many places is a lot of expensive, traffic-inducing highways that get clogged with cars soon after they’re finished. Can measuring the effect of all this spending lead to better decisions?

U.S. DOT is developing a metric to assess how well states address congestion. This is a minefield — if the new congestion rule only measures the movement of cars, it’s going to entrench 60 years of failed transportation policy. Unfortunately, the first draft of the DOT rule left a lot to be desired.

Reformers have been pushing the agency to revise the rule so it takes a broader, multi-modal view of congestion. Stephen Lee Davis at Transportation for America reports 19 senators and 48 U.S. representatives have written a letter to U.S. DOT [PDF] demanding a healthier approach.

The Congress members write:

If we focus, as this proposed rule does, on keeping traffic moving at high speeds at all times of day on all types of roads and streets, then the result is easy to predict: states and MPOs will prioritize investments to increase average speeds for cars, at the expense of goals to provide safe, reliable, environmentally sensitive, multi-modal transportation options for all users of the transportation system, despite those goals being stated in federal statute. This singular focus on moving vehicles undermines the progress this Administration has made on multi-modal planning and investments through the TIGER program. Encouraging faster speeds on roadways undermines the safety of roads for all users, as well as the economic vitality of our communities.

The excessive congestion performance measure should be amended to assess people hours of delay and not just vehicles. This change is critical to account for the many non-single occupancy vehicle users, including transit bus riders and bicyclists and pedestrians traveling along the corridor, which provide critical congestion relief and could be undercounted or even penalized under this measure.

The letter also insists that U.S. DOT require state and regional transportation agencies to assess the impact of projects on greenhouse gas emissions.

U.S. DOT is currently accepting comments about the rule change. You can weigh in and help promote a better policy.

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Transport Politic offers a side-by-side comparison of the Republican and Democratic transportation platforms. Bike Portland highlights a study that found streetcar tracks cause a large number of cyclist injuries in Toronto. And The Fifth Square wants Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney to enforce parking rules on South Broad year round, like the city is during the DNC.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

U.S. DOT Blows Chance to Reform the City-Killing, Planet-Broiling Status Quo

|
The Obama administration purportedly wants to use the lever of transportation policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx recently said he’d like to reverse the damage highways caused in urban neighborhoods, but you’d never know that by looking at U.S. DOT’s latest policy prescription. U.S. DOT has drafted new rules requiring state DOTs to track their […]
A crowded 38 bus in San Francisco

Transportation Agencies Will Finally Measure the Movement of People, Not Just Cars

|
Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent in the quest for free-flowing vehicular traffic. The result is wider highways, more sprawl, and more people stuck in congestion. But this week U.S. DOT took an important step to change course, releasing new standards to guide how transportation agencies measure their performance. Advocates for transit and walkability say the policy is a significant improvement.

Tell the Feds: Don’t Turn City Streets Into Highways

|
Will the Obama administration prod state DOTs to abandon the destructive practice of widening roads and highways, or will it further entrench policies that have hollowed out cities and towns, increased traffic and car dependence, and made America a world leader in carbon pollution? That’s what’s hanging in the balance as U.S. DOT opens public comments on […]

A Big Opportunity to Reform the Vicious Cycle of Highway Expansion

|
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx made headlines recently with a speech about how America needs to rethink its approach to urban highways. But U.S. DOT’s influence is limited. States have the real power when it comes spending federal transportation funds, however, and a lot of states are still stuck in the cycle of addressing traffic congestion by widening highways, […]

The Feds Want to Reform the Cult of “Level of Service”

|
“What you measure is what you get,” the saying goes. That’s certainly true for transportation policy. And for a very long time one metric has reigned supreme on American streets: “Level of Service,” a system that assigns letter grades based on motorist delay. Roughly speaking, a street with free-flowing traffic gets an A while one where […]