Infrastructure bill has money for pedestrian and cyclist safety

A constant stream of vehicles travels south on Highway 99 through southern Sacramento and pulls away from downtown during the evening commute hours.  The new infrastructure legislation aims to make roads safer.

A constant stream of vehicles travels south on Highway 99 through southern Sacramento and pulls away from downtown during the evening commute hours. The new infrastructure legislation aims to make roads safer.

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No more cycle paths clearly separated from the streets. Street designs more suitable for pedestrians. And more safety features on cars

California and other states are waiting for a lot more money to implement such plans, thanks to the $ 1,000 billion infrastructure bill the House is considering.

The Senate has already approved the infrastructure bill, and it is considered to have strong support in the House. Progress has stalled as the Liberals insist there will be no vote until a separate set of taxes and expenses is passed, a process that could take weeks.

Once the infrastructure bill is approved, Caltrans officials say the federal money for the bill “would help the progress” the state has already made on security.

A 2017 California law that increased transportation funding provides about $ 100 million a year to cities, counties and regional transportation agencies to build or convert safer bike lanes, crosswalks, and sidewalks.

The federal bill would increase this funding even further. The bill will mean around $ 11 billion to states for security-related programs, more than double the current level, according to the White House.

States with high rates of cycling and walking fatalities, including California, will now be required to significantly increase investments in the safety of vulnerable road users.

Defense groups in Washington and Sacramento are generally enthusiastic about the federal bill, although many have hoped Congress would go further.

“This is a big step forward,” said Caron Whitaker, senior vice president of the League of American Bicyclists, although she called for even stricter safety requirements.

“There are a lot of things that concern pedestrian safety,” said Nathan Smith, vice president of engagement at the American Traffic Safety Services Association.

More dangerous streets

Roads have become more dangerous for cars, cyclists and walkers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When you have consecutive years of increasing road deaths, it increases the urgency,” said Mark Chung, vice president of road safety at the National Safety Council.

In the first half of 2021, road deaths were up 21% from the first half of last year in California to 1,848, according to a preliminary council estimate. This trend was apparent nationwide, as the number of deaths during the period declined in only six states.

Pedestrian fatalities totaled 1,026 in California last year, up six from 2019, according to preliminary data from the Governors’ Highway Safety Association.

Deaths of cyclists involved in fatal crashes statewide fell to 138 in 2019, the latest data available, from 173 the year before. In Sacramento, two cyclists died in 2019.

Other bicycle fatalities in 2019 in fatal accident totals: Fresno, two; Modest, one; San Luis Obispo, none.

Russell Martin, senior director of policy and government, cited several reasons for the pandemic trends.

With more empty roads, “people had more opportunities to accelerate,” he said. And with people walking less distance, there was more cycling and walking.

Add to that “people are more stressed, and you have a combination of these factors that have led to a lot of accidents,” he said.

Help for pedestrians, cyclists

The bill requires states to approach cycling and walking safety with measures such as improving street design. Vehicles will move to more sensors to detect pedestrians and cyclists. Strategies to reduce vehicle speed will be implemented.

The legislation also promotes strategies such as Vision Zero, an approach that brings together different interests in accident prevention. It encourages policies that discourage speed, targets communities with high numbers of deaths and injuries, and uses data to determine the best approaches.

Not everyone is happy. Transportation For America is concerned that states are being given too much flexibility.

A requirement that states must spend 15% of their money on road safety if 15% of road deaths are pedestrians, cyclists or people using mobility aids, the group says.

“We like to say that you can’t use a teaspoon to fill a hole you’re still digging with an excavator,” said Stephen Davis, spokesperson for Transportation for America.

Flexible money, he said, “will only exacerbate the same problems that we are simultaneously trying to solve with incredibly small amounts of money dedicated to security.” He called the bill the same kind of approach “that has made traveling outside a car more dangerous than it has been in two decades.”

At Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, President Cathy Chase also finds the bill too timid. “The firm deadlines for agency actions have been sidetracked by unnecessary studies, insufficient requirements or not at all included,” she said.

For example, the bill does not have a deadline for the government to require new cars and large trucks to include automatic braking systems, nor does it guarantee that the systems can respond effectively to pedestrians, cyclists and other road users. of the road.

Bicycle League’s Whitaker isn’t entirely happy with the bill either, but cites politics as to what’s going on.

If that pass fails, lawyers will have to wait until the next Congress, which could be led by less friendly lawmakers.

“I don’t want to take this chance,” she said.

This story was originally published October 5, 2021 at 5:00 a.m.

David Lightman is McClatchy’s chief congressional correspondent. He has been writing, editing and teaching for nearly 50 years, with stops in Hagerstown, Riverside, California, Annapolis, Baltimore and since 1981, Washington.

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