Eight members of the U.S. House of Representatives introduced House Bill 3663 in mid-July. The proposed piece of legislation is titled, “Complete Streets Act of 2019.” It is no less than a mandate that all states implement policies to address “critical gaps in pedestrian, bicycle, and public transit infrastructure.”
The Complete Streets protocol would prioritize modes of transportation for new road construction and improvement projects this way:
- Pedestrian mobility
- Bicycle mobility
- Public transit
- Vehicular operations
- Freight operations
Interestingly, the Brookings Institute found through an analysis of U.S. 2016 Census data that commuter use of transportation modes is nearly the opposite of the Complete Streets agenda:
Drove alone 76.3%
Used public transit 5.1%
Worked from home 5.0%
Took a taxi or rode a motorcycle 1.2%
Ominously, HB 3663 includes this passage: “The benchmark and guidance [of Complete Street projects] shall . . . focus on modifying scoping, design, and construction procedures to more effectively combine modes of transportation into integrated facilities that meet the needs of each of those modes of transportation in an appropriate balance.”
It is that last phrase, “in an appropriate balance,” that catches the eye. What does that mean? If the goal is to convert even more urban street pavement from car and truck to bicycle use, at what point will transportation planners be required to explain how demand will catch up to supply by transforming roads into more bike lane and sidewalk space? And while they are at it, the planners should also address how restricting vehicular traffic to provide comparable road access to seriously underused modes of transportation won’t lead to unintended negative consequences for the free and efficient movement of people, goods, and services, and therefore to the nation’s economy.
Yes, streets need to be safer for all road users. We discussed that from a pedestrian standpoint in “Problem Solving Ain’t What It Used To Be” (NMA E-Newsletter #496). We followed that with, The Not-So-Hidden Cost of Vision Zero” (NMA E-Newsletter #500), which provides information about the staggering sums of taxpayer money being spent to attain a goal of zero road fatalities and shares some Zero experiences from NMA members. Complete Streets and Vision Zero are two peas in a pod, with both casting a boney grim reaper finger of blame at motorists.
Some of the supporters of HB 3663 in the House are also the legislators we are courting to sponsor the NMA DETER Act which would stop the federal funding of state traffic enforcement campaigns based on ticket quotas. Both are critical issues for motorists that shouldn’t be mutually exclusive: Stopping the authorization of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of street conversion projects across the country without evidence that pedestrian and bicyclist road use will increase appreciably, while also contesting a similar funding each year by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for forced, by-the-numbers ticketing campaigns.
It will require political finesse to defeat HB 3663 (and similar Complete Streets legislation) while also encouraging many of the same House members to incorporate our ticket quota ban into their transportation bill. That is the true appropriate balance we must strike.