Sen. Mark Begich and Sen. Brian Schatz sponsor Safe Streets Act of 2014

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Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska)

Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and co-sponsor Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawai’i) on Feb. 7 teamed up to introduce the Safe Streets Act of 2014, which Begich’s office says will “create safer roads for Alaska families, children, and seniors by modernizing the way federally funded roads are planned, designed and built.”

If passed, the bill will ensure new federally funded roads follow Complete Streets policies, safely accommodating travelers of all ages and abilities, including drivers, transit passengers, bicyclists, and pedestrians. Complete Streets policies make sure that sidewalks, crosswalks, and safe transit access are taken into consideration as roadway plans are developed. The Safe Streets legislation will increase safe travel options, like walking and biking, and help save lives.

“I’ve been a proud supporter of Safe Streets policies since I was the mayor of Anchorage and I continue to support them here in the Senate,” Sen. Begich said in a press release. “These policies lead to safer roads, less traffic congestion, higher property values, and healthier families. That’s why I’m pleased to introduce this common sense bill to strengthen our transportation infrastructure and enhance the quality of life in our local communities.”

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawai'i)

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawai’i)

“Too many people are killed or injured each year because our streets are simply not designed and built with the safety of everyone — including pedestrians and bicyclists — in mind. Our communities deserve safer streets,” Sen. Schatz said in a press release. “Many of our roads in Hawai’i and across America make travel difficult for seniors, families, youth, and others who are unable or choose not to drive. 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.”

According to Begich’s office, over the last decade 47,000 pedestrians have died on U.S. highways. Two thirds of pedestrian deaths have occurred on federally funded roads. These roadways often lack Complete Streets features like sidewalks, crosswalks, and bicycle lanes, which limit access and create a dangerous environment for travelers.

The Safe Streets Act will require all states and metropolitan planning organizations (MPO) to adopt Complete Streets policies for federally funded projects within two years, and consider the safety of all users when designing new roads or improving existing roads, according to Sen. Schatz’s office. In addition, the Secretary of Transportation will provide resources to transportation agencies across the country with best practices for implementing complete streets principles for those states and MPOs. The Safe Streets Act of 2014 will ensure that effective practice and proven safety measures become federal guidelines, improving safety on our community streets.  Access to safe sidewalks, bike lanes, and other street features would reduce injuries and deaths, improve the quality of communities, ease traffic congestion, and allow for more healthy and active lifestyles.

“America’s streets should be safe and convenient for everyone, whether you are driving, riding a bike, walking or using transit,” said Roger Millar, director of the National Complete Streets Coalition, a program of Smart Growth America. “The Safe Streets Act is another sign that Congress is dedicated to making our nation’s streets safer and more open to everyone, regardless of age, ability, income, ethnicity or transportation choice.”

The Safe Streets Act is supported by the following organizations: AARP; National Association of Realtors; Smart Growth America; National Complete Streets Coalition; American Planning Association; American Public Transportation Association; Transportation for America; Easter Seals; Safe Routes to School National Partnership; American Society of Landscape Architects; America Walks; and the League of American Bicyclists.

The bill is S. 2004, “a bill to ensure the safety of all users of the transportation system, including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, children, older individuals, and individuals with disabilities, as they travel on and across federally funded streets and highways.” There is a companion bill in the House of Representatives, the Safe Streets Act of 2013 (H.R. 2468), which was introduced by Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and co-sponsored by Rep. David Joyce (R-Ill.) and 17 others.

• One-page information sheet about the Safe Streets Act of 2014

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Bipartisan bills promoting bicycle and pedestrian safety introduced in U.S. House, Senate

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The headlines are tragic. Two 15-year-old girls walking to the store on an Anchorage bike path are killed by an out-of-control pick-up truck. A Fairbanks man is convicted for killing a teenaged bicyclist and injuring her friend after he ran a red light. And just last month, a male pedestrian crossing a street in Juneau was hit by a truck and had to be medevacked with life-threatening injuries.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon)

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon)

Two U.S. Congressmen — Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (both D-Oregon) — are hoping to make it safer for bikers and walkers with identical bipartisan bills they introduced on Friday, Nov. 15, in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives called the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act.

The bills, HR 3494 and S 1708, if passed, will create performance measures for bicycle and pedestrian safety. Specifically, they direct the U.S. Department of Transportation to create metrics for states to assess and address “serious injuries and fatalities per vehicle mile traveled” and “the number of serious injuries and fatalities” for “non-motorized transportation” — a.k.a. walking and biking. Current law has no such emphasis on active transportation.

According to BikePortland.org, “The bill looks to balance federal traffic safety spending — which currently tilts drastically toward motor vehicle operators at the expense of people who use our roads on bikes or on foot. The bill’s authors claim that while almost 16 percent of traffic deaths in 2012 were people who were walking and bicycling, less than 1 percent of safety funding goes toward infrastructure to protect them. They also say that federal traffic safety improvements that have led to a declining rate of fatalities among motor vehicle operators and occupants, ‘have not helped all road users.’ ‘Even as driver and passenger deaths have decreased, the percentage of bicyclist and pedestrian roadway deaths has increased in recent years.’ The fix, they say, is to decouple federal safety funding guidelines and give states more flexibility in how the money is spent.”

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon)

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon)

The House bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Howard Coble (R-North Carolina), Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), who all are members of the House Bicycle Caucus founded by Blumenauer. The Senate bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire) and Sen. Brian Schwartz (D-Hawai’i). Both bills have the official title of “To amend title 23, United States Code, with respect to the establishment of performance measures for the highway safety improvement program, and for other purposes.”

In his statement on the House bill, Blumenauer noted that the number of bike commuters has increased by more than 60 percent over the last decade. “As transportation systems adjust to handle different types of road users, the federal government must encourage appropriate standards to ensure road user safety,” he said.

In a statement about the bills, Andy Clarke, President of the Bicycle League of America, said they are long overdue:

Dramatically reducing the number of people biking and walking who are killed and seriously injured on our roadways is critical for two very compelling reasons.

First, this is about much more than just statistics — every one of these fatal crashes robs a family, a community and our nation of a precious human life. The costs to society are huge, and these are usually very preventable crashes.

Second, bicycling and walking are healthy and enjoyable ways to get around that we should be doing everything possible to promote: we know that lack of safety is a major deterrent to people walking and riding more frequently, and we know exactly what we can do to improve traffic safety — not just for people riding bikes and walking but for everyone on our roads.

Establishing simple safety performance measures — holding ourselves accountable to eliminate these needless crashes — will prioritize roadway designs that are safe for all users, and encourage education and enforcement programs that rid our communities of the scourge of distracted driving, speeding, and drunk/drugged/drowsy driving. That’s good for everybody.

Bicyclists and pedestrians make up an increasingly large percentage of all roadway fatalities and serious injuries — and in a handful of states the issue is particularly acute. States such as Florida, California, New York and Texas need the backing of the Federal government to tackle this problem head-on, and every State in the nation can play a role in making biking safer and encouraging more people to ride.

The bills will have a major impact in Alaska, which has the highest combined percentage of walking and biking commuters in the country, according to the Bicycling and Walking In the United States, 2012 Benchmarking Report compiled by the Alliance for Biking and Walking. Unfortunately, Alaska also has the third-highest rate of bicycling and pedestrian fatalities.

According to Alaska Injury Prevention Center Executive Director Marcia Howell, “A bill is being introduced to require DOT to create separate non-motorized performance measures. Once performance measures are included in DOT plans, funding will follow, to help improve the measures, like decrease bike and pedestrian injuries. This is extremely important. In a recent study AIPC conducted, we found that 78 percent of cyclists who suffered serious injuries on Anchorage streets do not show up in the police crash report data base.  It is traditionally the police crash data base that determines Alaska DOT funding priorities. As of September, Alaska added hospital data to its strategic plan, and we are working on non motorized performance measures.  But federal legislation would make this much much easier.”

We encourage you to contact your U.S. Senators and Representative and let them know you support these bills. In fact, ask them to sign on as bill co-sponsors (FYI, while Alaska Sen. Mark Begich currently is not signed on as a co-sponsor to S 1708, in the past he has been a co-sponsor to at least two similar bicycle and pedestrian safety bills).