A Bill to Make American Streets Safer Surfaces in the Senate

Has the moment finally arrived for a national complete streets law?

Guadalupe Street in Austin, Texas. Photo:
Guadalupe Street in Austin, Texas. Photo: City of Austin Public Works Department/Flickr

A bill creating incentives for transportation agencies to design safe streets for everyone — pedestrians and cyclists in addition to motorists — is back on the floor of Congress this week. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska) are sponsoring the Safe Streets Act of 2014, which would require all states to develop complete streets policies for federally funded roads within two years. A companion piece of legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives last year.

Exemptions would be allowed, with special approval, on limited access highways, in very rural areas, or if the agency could demonstrate the cost was “excessively disproportionate” to the anticipated bike or pedestrian traffic.

In the last 10 years, 47,000 pedestrians have been killed on American roadways, thanks in part to street designs that make walking dangerous. Two-thirds of pedestrian deaths occur on federally funded roads, according to Senators Schatz and Begich.

“Our legislation provides commonsense solutions to consider the needs of our seniors and children, encourage alternative forms of transportation, and make our roads and communities safer for everyone,” said Schatz.

Groups including the National Association of Realtors, Smart Growth America, and AARP cheered the bill’s introduction.

“Safe mobility options … are essential to the independence and well-being of mid-life and older Americans,” said Joyce Rogers, senior vice president of government affairs at AARP, in a press release. “Fully one-fifth of persons age 65 and above does not drive. Yet almost half of respondents to an AARP survey of persons age 50 and above said they cannot safely cross the main roads in their neighborhoods. ”

Schatz and Begich are seeking additional sponsors. The full text of the bill is not yet online.

13 thoughts on A Bill to Make American Streets Safer Surfaces in the Senate

  1. Time to start calling our own senators to tell them to cosponsor! I’ll call Boxer and Feinstein’s offices on Monday!

  2. Call any of their offices (DC or local), tell the staff that you’d like to speak about a legislative issue. Then say that you want them to sign on as cosponsor to the Schatz-Begich Complete Streets bill.

    Some offices will request some personal info (address, zip, or city, your name). And then that’s it.

    But it’s important to CALL. Email and writing is fine, but calling ensures that the staff you speak with listens to and understands the issue, meaning that it’s on the mind of not just the senators, but the staff as well.

  3. Controlled-access highways should be automatically exempt from any such requirement, since the purpose of controlled access and ROW segregation is, exactly, to avoid conflicts with any interference. I oppose this measure as it slips in a bureaucratic boondoggle that would require “especial exception” for freeways and the likes where, by definition and principle, only road vehicles should be. It smacks as a coveted way to extract additional “compensation” monies whenever a highway project is pushed around, to be used elsewhere, just because there is no political will to independently fund on the sort of things that would get piggybacked on road projects (trails, countryside bike paths etc).

  4. The exemptions for “very rural areas” are unfortunately not appropriate. Roads in very rural areas have very low traffic and should be operated as shared space where cars and pedestrians walk on the same road — *but that still requires policy*, specifically a policy of speed limits, so the pedestrians don’t get run over.

    Also, the “excessively disproportionate” rule will be abused massively by the Road Warriors. They will claim that they don’t expect anyone to walk on the sidewalks because nobody walks on the existing (unsafe, 55 mph) roads.

    So I support the principle of this bill, but it sounds like it lacks teeth.

  5. And just who decides what makes a safe road design? As far as cycling goes there is a raging debate among cyclists themselves as to what makes a safe road design. There is data that shows that the most accepted “safe” design for sharing the road and cycles, separated path next to the road, is actually not as safe as just bike lanes. There is also data that shows, on some roads, that having shared lanes instead of bike lanes is safer. I am not arguing here which is and which is not safer, my argument is, the government has shown in the past and present, when related to bicycling safety, that they actually chose the least safe option because that is the “feel good” that most uninformed people think is the safest. Any law related to safety for pedestrians and cyclists needs to have studies performed of the various options to prove which is safest. Some exist, but they are from Germany and Belgium so there are differences to the U.S. For those cyclists who always scream follow the great success of Amsterdam, the statistics show that accidents have actually climbed since Amsterdam installed their separated paths. The intersections are so much more dangerous.

  6. I contacted Schumer and Gillibrand’s offices this morning. I see some loopholes here, but it’s a good start and it would be nice to have some federal oversight on these projects.

  7. So we have to figure out what the absolute best choice is before we can take any steps forward? ANY of these options are an improvement over the status quo for biking. And there’s no arguing that improving sidewalks by making them wider and separating them from the vehicular ROW with barriers such as trees and street lights makes walking safer. We need to move forward and stop focusing exclusively on moving cars when building roads.

  8. “Safe streets are vital to Latino communities. See which
    communities are leading the way, and which communities need help at Salud
    America! Growing Healthy Change bitly.com/1n1ef05.”

  9. Sorry, but what? That’s the entire point.

    Take the cyclist who was killed by the guy driving a Tesla west of Santa Cruz. It’s a 55 mph road, and it’s obviously not particularly safe. It’s also the ONLY road. If the government is going to “upgrade” rural roads into 55 mph highways, and “upgrade” highways into limited-access freeways, it must provide a safe alternative for people who can’t travel at 55 mph to get around.

    Otherwise, set the speed limit at 35, and enforce it. You’ll save a hell of a lot of money, since you won’t have to straighten and widen and do everything else you need to do to allow people to drive 55.

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