Infrastructure Urgency, Part 1: NMA E-Newsletter #659


Two weeks ago, the NMA launched an information campaign directed at the top aides of U.S. Congressional members who sit on either the Senate or House Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Committees. One single-topic email is sent per week on issues contained within the massive proposed legislation to fund an upgrade of the nation’s transportation-ish infrastructure. (We’re not fans of the “-ish” affectation, but the scope of the proposals goes beyond roads, bridges, tunnels and transit systems.)

What we really aren’t fans of are the infrastructure recommendations that are onerous to drivers. Below are examples of the first two NMA emails, personalized and sent to the staffers. We will be following with three or four more emails in the next few weeks on topics such as automated enforcement, funding of a mileage-based (vehicle-miles-traveled) road user fee pilot program, support for standardizing in-cabin driver monitoring systems, and one that never goes away, the federal funding of state-run high-visibility traffic enforcement campaigns that are measured by tickets issued rather than safety metrics.

We’ll share those emails with you, too, in future e-newsletters. If motorists are going to move the needle on any of these issues, it’s going to require the help of you and others in reaching out to the T&I Committee members with shared concerns.

Here are the current committee memberships along with linked contact information:

Senate Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee

House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee

The staffer response we have received so far to the NMA emails shown below has mostly been a routine polite recognition of the issue along with a promise to share our concerns with the legislator. One legislative aide observed that for as long as her boss has been on the T&I Committee, she has never heard a negative word about Vision Zero. That remark is very telling, and is also why we linked stories of eleven major North American cities with VZ programs either ineffective or outright failing despite massive public funding. The question is whether she, and more importantly, her boss, will read those accounts with some degree of alarm.

We know the messages struck a chord with the legislative director of a U.S. Representative, who wrote, “Thank you so much for flagging this. My boss completely agrees with the sentiments you outlined below regarding Vision Zero. Let me know if you have time this week to discuss the issue and potential paths forward on pushing back on this madness.” That is precisely the kind of response upon which we will be building.

NMA August 9th/10th Email to Senate and House Top T&I Aides
H.R. 3684 Infrastructure Bills: Concerns of the Motoring Public,
Part 1 – Vision Zero

Dear Kara,

Congress appears to be getting ready to approve a $1 billion investment in Vision Zero and Safe Streets state programs over the next five years. Is that really the right thing to do with taxpayer money when time-after-time these programs have failed to meet expectations despite having hundreds of millions of dollars pumped into them already? Traffic safety improvements can and should be made, not by pursuing an unrealistic “zero traffic fatalities at all costs” approach, but by providing funding for more robust driver education programs across the country that include advanced-skills training, and for the safety training of other road users such as bicyclists. That would be a billion dollars much more effectively spent toward lowering roadway accident and fatality rates.

Please encourage Senator Whitehouse, as a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, to give the proposed appropriation for Vision Zero programs a critical review, especially with the abysmal track record of previous VZ efforts.

Some recent, high-profile examples of those expensive failures:

Austin, TX
Austin, TX traffic fatalities nearly triple in January (Feb 2020)

Chicago, IL
Several years into a ten-year “Vision Zero” target, some cities that took on a radical safety challenge are seeing traffic fatalities go up (Nov 2019)

Los Angeles, CA
Los Angeles’ Vision Zero Plan is Not Working…Yet (Feb 2020)

New York, New York
Vision Zero Sputters As NYC Traffic Deaths Reach Highest Level of De Blasio Era (Oct 2020)

Philadelphia, PA
As traffic deaths spike, Philly reveals updated Vision Zero action plan (Nov 2020)

Portland, OR
City of Portland dissolves Vision Zero task force (Feb 2021)

San Francisco, CA
City Performance Scorecard (Dec 2020)

San Jose, CA
With traffic deaths on the rise, San Jose renews focus on safety (Jul 2020)

Seattle, WA
24 Deaths in 2020 Show Seattle Still Falling Woefully Short of Vision Zero Pledge (Feb 2021)

Toronto, Ontario
Why Toronto’s approach to Vision Zero isn’t making streets safer (Oct 2019)

Washington, DC
D.C. traffic deaths rise during pandemic, impeding plans for zero-death goal (Oct 2020)

The National Motorists Association is a nonprofit coalition of concerned motorists. The voting bloc of licensed drivers in the United States is nearly 250 million strong. There are a number of aspects of the infrastructure bills that deserve particular scrutiny. We will be highlighting some of them in a short series of email messages to the members of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee over the next few weeks. If you have any questions about the issues from a motorist’s perspective, please feel free to contact me.

Thank you for your consideration, and for the attention Senator Whitehouse will give to these important issues for motorists and taxpayers.

Kind regards,

Gary Biller
President/CEO

National Motorists Association
Empowering drivers since 1982
Email:           [email protected]
Telephone: 608-849-6000
1001 Arboretum Dr, Ste 120, Waunakee, WI 53597

 

NMA August 16th/17th Email to Senate and House Top T&I Aides
H.R. 3684 Infrastructure Bills: Concerns of the Motoring Public,
Part 2 – Speed Limits

Dear John,

Two key elements of Vision Zero will open the door for local authorities to lower speed limits without regard for current engineering standards and significantly expand the use of photo enforcement—speed cameras, in particular—to monitor compliance under the threat of significant penalties.

Part 1, sent last week, illustrated the ineffectiveness, at great cost, of Vision Zero programs in major cities around the country. This email addresses the safety and community-trust ramifications of arbitrarily lowering speed limits to reduce traffic fatalities. Please forward this information to Representative LaMalfa for consideration when reviewing the bipartisan “Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act” and the parallel “INVEST in America Act” package.

State Departments of Transportation (DOT) understand the essential need to post viable speed limits based on typical safe driving behaviors. The Iowa DOT is not unique in affirming publicly, “When a good speed limit is set based on data-driven decision-making, drivers adapt, and less enforcement is needed. Sometimes we are asked to reduce speed limits in hopes of preventing crashes, but in most cases, lower speed limits aren’t the solution. When a speed limit is set too low without supporting data, we see more variability in speeds. This creates conflicts and makes assessing the speed of other drivers difficult to determine.”

In fact, the seminal study on speed limit changes, the Federal Highway Administration’s publication, FHWA-RD-97-084, Effects of Raising and Lowering Speed Limits on Selected Roadway Sections, by Martin R. Parker & Associates, shows no safety benefits for (and often adverse effects resulting from) limits posted below established traffic speed patterns.

By funding Vision Zero programs with $1 billion over the next five years, Congress will be giving the green light to eliminating the current requirement to gathering speed-study data as a necessary component of speed limit determination. Posted speed limits will be based on the individual decisions of engineers (or administrators) in thousands of different jurisdictions across the country.

The word “uniform” is prominent in established standards set by the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices and the Uniform Vehicle Code for a reason. Without a coherent, engineering-based national standard for setting speed limits, drivers can drive safely but become unwitting violators as they travel from one community to the next. Do we want drivers focused more with eyes down on their speedometers or with eyes up on the road?

Traffic enforcement has a long history of being applied inequitably, as many of today’s headlines too often make clear. Funding Vision Zero programs will promote the lowering of speed limits by default, not by engineering methodology, and encourage the proliferation of automated enforcement cameras. The federal government would be paving the way for drivers, particularly those from low-income and marginalized communities, to become vulnerable to higher ticketing rates. This is at a time when trust between the police and community must be strengthened, not damaged further.

The NMA encourages Rep. LaMalfa to vote against the federal funding of ineffective and wasteful Vision Zero programs.

Thank you for your consideration,

Gary Biller
President/CEO

National Motorists Association
Empowering drivers since 1982
Email:           [email protected]
Telephone: 608-849-6000
1001 Arboretum Dr, Ste 120, Waunakee, WI 53597

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