American cities and towns should get a leg up on using federal funds to make streets safer for biking and walking, thanks to rules enacted yesterday by the Federal Highway Administration.
MAP-21, the current transportation law, was passed hurriedly enough that not all the i’s could be dotted and t’s could be crossed — and some of those details simply aren’t the business of Congress to work out. It’s up to U.S. DOT to put a finer point on many of the provisions in the bill. The agency is still struggling with a lot of them and has, admirably, opened the door to significant public input to help them put meat on MAP-21′s bones.
Some of the details came out yesterday, with FHWA’s guidance on the Transportation Alternatives program, which replaced the popular Transportation Enhancements program as a major funding source for bicycle and pedestrian projects.
America Bikes was quick with its analysis of the pros and cons of the new rules, and chief among the good news is that the guidance preserves local control over bike/ped funds by denying states eligibility for TA funds.
The disappointing provisions in MAP-21 haven’t gone away. TA money still gets split down the middle, with half going to cities and towns and the other half going to the states. And state DOTs can still have the option of either running a competitive grant program with their half of the funds, or “flexing” their entire portion to whatever they want. But the good news is that states can no longer apply to their own grant programs, clearing the way for greater local access to these funds.
“If you make a contest with your own rules, and you apply to it, who’s going to win?” said Mary Lauran Hall, spokesperson for America Bikes.
Primarily, the rule means that if a state decides to use its TA funds on bike and pedestrian infrastructure, local agencies will have a greater say in how the funds get spent. And it won’t just prevent state bike/ped projects from competing against city bike/ped projects. One of the most disappointing changes in MAP-21 was that states can now spend TA funds on environmental mitigation for road building. Those tend to be big, expensive projects that can elbow crosswalks and bike lanes out of the running. This rule seemingly negates that option, unless the state finds a local agency to sponsor the environmental mitigation project.