Oregon’s rookie Senator Jeff Merkley continues to live up to his potential as active transportation’s greatest hope in the U.S. Senate. The Livable Communities Act (S.1619), which he introduced in the Senate back in March, passed out of a key committee yesterday and will now head to a vote in the full Senate. The bill includes an amendment authored by Merkley that significantly strengthens the role of biking and walking.
In a statement about the bill — which the League of American Bicyclists is hailing as a “win for livable communities” — Merkley said, “Too many communities have been built with little or no public transportation, and have not made it easy for people to bike or walk to school or the grocery store. As a result, families are forced to pile into the car just to go across the street… It’s time to improve transportation options and work to build safer, stronger communities.”
The Livable Communities Act will create two new grant programs that will encourage planning and projects that integrate transportation, housing, land-use, and economic development. It also establishes an Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities (at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)) to oversee the grant programs and a new Council on Sustainability with reps from HUD, the US DOT, the EPA and other related agencies.
In his amendment, Merkley defined active transportation as being modes that are “powered solely by human energy, including bicycling and walking.” That “solely by human energy” part is interesting, because it would seem to mean that transit and e-bikes would be excluded from active transportation programs.
Merkley also used his amendment to insert a definition of “integrated active transportation network” into the bill. That term is now defined as,
“a network of facilities for active transportation, including bicycle lanes, bikeways, bicycle boulevards, pedestrian and bicycle trails, and sidewalks that are coordinated to provide safe and convenient connections to public transportation, workplaces, schools, residences, businesses, recreation areas, and other community activity centers.”
Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) carried the bill in the Senate and its companion bill in the House (H.R. 4690) is still waiting to get out of committee. Also in the House, the biggest champions of active transportation are in what the League calls a “tug of war over livability”. Rep. Peter DeFazio passed an amendment to strip out $200 million for livability programs from the House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development bill. The move was praised by the trucking lobby but is seen by insiders as the byproduct of an argument over procedural protocol between DeFazio, Earl Blumenauer, and James Oberstar about where and how livability programs should be funded.
For more on the passage of the Livable Communities Act, check out the coverage on Streetsblog DC.