Complete Streets Bill Introduced in Congress

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By Charles Pekow — Should all roads be designed with the interests of bicyclists in mind? A bill just introduced in the U.S. House would require all state, regional and local governments (including metropolitan planning organizations) to adopt complete streets policies that consider the needs of all transportation users. They’d get two years to adopt such policies.

The Safe Streets Act of 2013 (H.R. 2468) would require road plans to consider bicyclists as well as pedestrians, people with disabilities, public transit users, etc. in all phases of planning and development for roadways and bridges.

The law would apply during “design, planning, construction, reconstruction, rehabilitation, maintenance and operations for the entire right of way” as it its written.

In other words, bicyclists’ needs have to be considered in all road projects, including changes to existing ones. Governments would have to put it in written policies.

The act goes so far as to require transportation departments to “indicate that improvements for the safe and convenient travel by pedestrians or bicyclists of all ages and abilities on or across streets shall be fully assessed, considered and documented as a routine element of pavement resurfacing projects.”

The proposed law does allow a few loopholes. It wouldn’t apply retroactively to projects at least 30 percent designed when it takes effect. Nor would projects have to allow bicycles on places they’re forbidden by law, such as freeways. But in such cases, the projects would have to make a “greater effort” to accommodate bicyclists alternatively.

Planners could also get out of the requirement if they show it would cost too much or that bicyclists are already adequately accommodated.

Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) introduced the bill. She wanted to make it a bipartisan effort, so she sought a Republican cosponsor. Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) agreed. So far, no other representative has signed on.

Cycling Utah called the offices of every member of the Utah and Idaho representatives to ask their opinions. None responded.

The bill was referred to the Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure. No companion legislation is pending in the Senate.

Matsui introduced a similar bill in the last two congresses and a version was introduced in the Senate two years ago. Neither house acted and no legislator from Utah or Idaho supported the bill in the last Congress.

Some local governments already have adopted complete street policies that feature many elements of the act, however. A list compiled by Smart Growth America, a leading backer of the bill, shows that 28 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have already enacted complete streets policies. Utah and Idaho have not.

Smart Growth also says that 490 local jurisdictions have adopted a plan. These include six in Idaho, all developed in the last four years. The Boise Metropolitan Planning Organization adopted a regional one in 2009. Ada County ( a silver-level Bicycle Friendly Community as designated by the League of American Bicyclists) came up with one the same year.

The cities of Coeur d’Alene, Hailey, McCall and Sandpoint also came up with some kind of complete streets policy, ordinance or resolution.

Down in Utah, your community is covered only if you live near the Great Salt Lake. Only Salt Lake City (a silver bicycle friendly community) Salt Lake County and the Salt Lake Metropolitan Planning Organization made it to the Smart Growth list. The city, perhaps slightly ahead of the curve, adopted an executive order in 2007, followed by an ordinance in 2010.

Note: Smart Growth says it updates its list bimonthly but that it may not include everything.

 

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