By Charles Pekow — At least nothing terrible is going to happen and some improvements might. The surface transportation bill signed into law last December did not cut funding for federal bicycle support programs. You may recall the last Transportation Act Congress passed did exactly that. Instead, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act increases funding slightly. FAST also last for five years — longer than any of the recent surface transportation extension bills. This will allow states and communities to plan ahead better than they have been.
The Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) came out reasonably well. Its funding gets increased from $820 million to $835 million in 2016 and 2017 and to $850 million during the next three years. An amendment also allows non-profits – not just governments – to get grants. This will make it easier, for instance, for private organizations to get funds directly for bikeshare and education programs, the League of American Bicyclists points out. But instead of existing anymore as a stand-alone program, TAP gets blended into the Surface Transportation Block Grant but maintained as a set-a-side.
Cyclists will have to remain vigilant to make sure they get their share of the TAP money that is allocated for metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs). A provision in the law says MPOs can use their share for any surface transportation program – not necessarily TAP.
The act also creates a new safety education program for bicyclists and pedestrians. Grants can go to states not only to educate cyclists, pedestrians and motorists; but also police and for bicycle and pedestrian enforcement programs. But not every state can necessarily get a grant. The states only become eligible if at least 15% of their traffic fatalities include cyclists and/or pedestrians.
The law directs the United States Department of Transportation (DoT) to issue a report within two years on best practices for Complete Street programs. And it gives Amtrak a year to report on the use of taking bicycles on its trains.
The law also directs DoT to report to Congress within eight months on bike path safety, considering factors such as property damage, injuries and deaths. The report would also recommend ways federal, state and local governments can improve safety.
And the new law still allows governors to opt out of the Recreational Trails Program.