Monday, March 28, 2011

BikeWalkLee's Testimony on National Transportation Reauthorization

Background: The U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, chaired by Congressman John Mica from FL, recently held field hearings across the country in preparation for the writing of the transportation reauthorization bill. On March 14th, a hearing was held in Maitland, FL and invited witnesses made presentations to the Committee. However, no speakers were invited that represented the interests of pedestrians, cyclists, transit users, senior citizens, environmentalists, etc. As a result, Chairman Mica heard primarily from the "road builders" and heard from the FDOT representative, Assistant Secretary Prasad, who questioned investing in sidewalks and bike infrastructure. BikeWalkLee and other statewide and local advocates throughout Florida decided to take the opportunity to submit testimony for the record to make the case for federal investments in biking, walking, and transit. The full testimony can be found on our website: Below are a few excerpts from the testimony:

Chairman Mica, Ranking Member Rahall, Rep. Brown and other members of the Committee.
Thank you for coming to Maitland on March 14th for your field hearing on the surface transportation reauthorization. Our organization -- a community coalition in Lee County, Florida, raising public awareness and advocating for complete streets and a more balanced transportation system – believes that the next federal surface transportation bill needs to reflect a vision of a balanced multi-modal transportation system. A balanced multi-modal system includes safe, well-maintained, and efficient highway, rail, public transportation, bicycling, and pedestrian systems. Over the past 20 years, federal transportation legislation has moved incrementally in the direction of a more balanced system. It is essential that this year’s reauthorization move boldly forward in the direction of transforming our national transportation system to meet the challenges of America in the 21st century. The nation is truly at a crossroads. We can either continue building a costly, outdated, and, oil-dependent transportation system, or we can move forward....

BikeWalkLee supports a bold vision for a 21st century transportation system at the national, state and local level—a balanced, multi-modal system that invests in public transportation, safe places to walk and bicycle, and land use policies that reduce travel demand by locating more affordable housing near jobs and services. Public transit, pedestrian, and bicycling facilities are at the core of providing transportation access and choice. These transportation modes are not “frills” or somehow not federal responsibilities. They are all part of one integrated national transportation system that provides safe mobility and connectivity to get people where they want to go. Bicycling and walking are transportation solutions and are directly linked to successful transit programs, since every transit trip begins on foot. Bicycling and walking are popular, practical, and money-saving ways for Americans to complete short trips.

The safety of all transportation users has been and should continue to be a major responsibility of the national transportation system. Nationally, 13% of all roadway fatalities are pedestrians and cyclists, while in FL, that percentage is 22%. Clearly, the national transportation system must establish programs to address these safety issues and should establish performance targets to hold state and local transportation agencies accountable for reducing these roadway fatalities. According to the 2009 national report, “Dangerous by Design,” (a joint effort of the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership and Transportation for America), there is an epidemic of preventable pedestrian deaths (76,000 Americans in 15 years). An overwhelming proportion have occurred along roadways that were dangerous by design—streets that were engineered for speeding cars and made little or no provision for people on foot, in wheelchairs or on a bicycle. Addressing these safety concerns must be a high priority of the next transportation bill. For much of a decade, Florida has been the most dangerous state in the country for both pedestrians and cyclists and it is critical that the next legislation provide the tools (and the accountability) to ensure that Florida and other states do something to eliminate these preventable deaths on our roads.

BikeWalkLee’s vision of a balanced multi-modal transportation system is not just an abstract wish; we have been busy working with our elected officials and other community partners to put our county on the path of realizing this vision. We are especially proud of our Lee County elected officials, both at the Lee Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and the Lee County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC). Both organizations have shown strong support for complete streets and a more balanced multi-modal transportation system by requiring bike/ped/transit accommodations in all road projects. County officials also have provided funding for stand-alone bike/ped projects as part of the ARRA funds and the annual FDOT work plan. As a result, our county has been recognized at the national and statewide level for its leadership and accomplishments in making Lee County a more bike/pedestrian/transit-friendly community. Just this week, Lee County commissioners were named the "Elected Officials of the Year" by the Florida Bicycle Association. Singled out in the FBA honor was the county’s recently adopted Evaluation and Appraisal Report, an exhaustive review of the county's land use policies. It is a visionary plan with a focus on sustainability and a blueprint for changes in land use that will promote walkable/bikeable and transit-accessible neighborhoods, with complete streets concepts integrated into every component of this plan.

It is important that the federal transportation legislation provide our local elected officials with the tools and support they need to continue on the path to a balanced multi-modal transportation system that is vital to the sustainability and economic viability of our community and this country. Lee County’s MPO recent long range transportation plan identified the need to establish a comprehensive transit system to meet the projected transportation needs in our community. Transit infrastructure is necessary not only to our county’s future, but to the economic vitality of Florida. Federal financial assistance will be essential to our ability to move in this direction. In addition, continued federal funding for bicycling and walking facilities can assist the county in offering cost-effective options to help mitigate national problems such as transportation dependence on oil, and help hard-pressed county families lower their transportation costs, stay healthy and active, and at the same time serve those that do not bike or walk by lowering congestion.

Like Chairman Bruno, our elected officials understand the importance to the economic viability of our community of investing in pedestrian and bicycle facilities as part of a transportation system that provides people choices. Research shows that people want to live and work in walkable communities, where people of all ages, abilities or mode of transportation feel safe and welcome on the roadways. One study in Lake Worth, Florida, found that people were willing to pay $20,000 more for homes in pedestrian-friendly communities. As we try to attract businesses to our area or retain the ones we have, it is important to provide this quality of life feature....

We also urge Congress to incorporate the complete streets approach into the transportation bill. Complete streets policies simply require that the safety, interests, and convenience of all users be considered in the design and construction of transportation projects. Lee County’s complete streets efforts have convinced us of the value of this approach and a federal complete streets policy would result in better state and local projects, and better use of the billions of dollars invested every year in road infrastructure. Recent USDOT policies in support of complete streets have greatly assisted our local efforts and they should be incorporated into the underlying transportation statutes.

Finally, as Congress works to improve and reform our nation’s surface transportation programs, it is important that it find ways to improve the efficiency of implementation, push more decision-making down to the local level where the needs are best known, strip away the layers of bureaucratic red tape that have added unnecessary costs to transportation projects-- road projects and bike/ped facilities alike--and slowed the delivery of much-needed improvements....

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