(Images: Blumenauer by J. Maus/BikePortland. All others via Facebook)
On a day when we learned U.S. traffic fatalities in 2012 went up for the first time since 2005 — with notable spikes in bicycling and walking deaths — Oregon Congressmen Earl Blumenauer and Peter DeFazio joined with two of their Republican colleagues, Howard Coble (NC) and Mike McCaul (TX) to introduce the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act (H.R. 3494).
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.
Here’s an excerpt from a statement sent out by Rep. Blumenauer’s office yesterday:
“[The bill] would require the US Department of Transportation to set separate measures for motorized and non-motorized safety. States would be able to set their own safety targets and have the flexibility to choose the best methods to meet them. The legislation encourages states to make their roadways safer without diverting funding from other safety needs.”
As a lever to make these changes, the bill’s sponsors point to the existing transportation law, MAP-21, which requires states to set performance goals for reducing traffic fatalities and injuries. If the goals aren’t met, the USDOT can require state DOTs and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (like Metro for our region) to set aside a larger portion of federal grant funds for safety-specific projects.
Rep. Blumenauer says the time for stronger non-motorized safety standards has come due to a 60 percent increase in the amount of bicycle commuters over the past decade.
While this bill is not likely to move on its own, it is something that could be stuffed into another piece of legislation. It also gives voters and lawmakers something to point to as an example of how biking and walking safety should be a bipartisan issue.