Iowa’s Senator Harkin Introduces “Complete Streets Act”

harkin.jpgOn Monday US Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa introduced "The Complete Streets Act of 2008," a bill "to promote the design of streets that are safe for all of those using the street — including motorists, bus riders, bicyclists, and pedestrians, including people with disabilities."

"Making our streets bike and pedestrian friendly is a win-win for us all," said Harkin. "It not only promotes healthier lifestyles, it lowers the amount of traffic congestion that many people deal with every day."

A recent study by the Texas Transportation Institute found that providing more travel options, including public transportation, bicycling and walking facilities, is an important element in reducing traffic congestion. The study reported that congestion was responsible for an annual $78.2 billion loss in fuel during traffic jams in 2005, an increase from $57.6 billion in 2000.

Also, as recently as 30 years ago, up to 70 percent of children were walking or riding bikes to school. Currently, the number has dropped to only 10 percent. Parents report that traffic safety is the main reason they do not permit their children to walk or bike to school. This legislation will make our environment more inviting for physical activity, especially for kids.

Though S.2686 would require states and Metropolitan Planning Organizations to adopt policies to ensure "that the safety and convenience of all users of the transportation system shall be accommodated," and though it calls for measurable performance standards, the bill includes Hummer-sized loopholes, such as exemptions in cases where the "cost of establishing complete facilities would be excessively disproportionate to the need or probable use." So while it may be an important symbolic gesture, it remains to be seen what tangible impact it would have if passed.

Upon introduction the Complete Streets Act had one co-sponsor, fellow Democratic Senator Tom Carper of Delaware.

  • ddartley

    I’d call my Senator and ask her to support it but she’s too busy answering imaginary phone calls on prop phones.

  • I think we need to embrace this bill whole-heartily to encourage progress on this issue. No bills avoid loop-holes, and it is sensible that rural roads not be made to have distinct bike lanes, sidewalks, etc…

    This legislation will get Americans thinking about alternative transportation again. Soon we’ll need to drop the term “alternative” once the movement goes mainstream. But that is for tomorrow. For now, go Harkin!

  • Josh

    A symbolic gesture is better than no gesture at all.

    Ddartley, you’d be much better off contacting Schumer anyway, since he’s actually interested in representing New Yorkers.

  • Schumer isn’t interested in representing New Yorkers who don’t own cars.

    Geoffrey, maybe it’s pragmatic to ignore the holes in the bill, but I wouldn’t say that it’s sensible. I grew up walking and cycling on rural roads, and sustained a concussion because the only “safe” part of my road was four inches deep in loose gravel that day. Something needs to be done to make rural roads safer for non-motorized use. I don’t know what, but something.

  • Jim N

    As a cyclist, pedestrian, and disabled person, I’d say that the biggest problem is understanding. Motorists don’t seem to have any idea what it’s like to be on a bicycle in traffic, or to try to cross the street when handicapped. The best way to change this would be to have those motorists become cyclists themselves (including the police), if only occasionally.

    So, in that spirit, I’d endorse token measures.

  • da

    The AARP has been pushing the “Complete Streets” idea in their monthly magazine.

  • “Complete Streets” is a bad idea cooked up to save the auto. We can’t mix the auto with bicycles and pedestrians. We have to eliminate it before it eliminates us.

  • Cap’n Transit, I too grew up walking and cycling on rural roads – luckily I was never seriously injured, though there were certainly close calls.

    My point is that given limited resources, it would be more sensible – or pragmatic, depending on how you see it – to fix the much more densely populated areas’ roadways.

    In college, residents of my dorm had to dash across a clover interchange to get to the grocery store because some car obsessed mayor thought it was appropriate in a densely populated student neighbourhood. I’d rather lose these dangerous projects than invest in rural areas where the facilities are less likely to be used.

    Certainly once the urban and suburban streets have been converted and the mindset is established you could look to carry the program across all roadways. I’d be afraid that if it went full out right away, it would either not pass in the Senate or be vetoed. Which would solve nothing… Sometimes you gotta take it one day at a time.

  • Cap’n Transit

    Sure, Geoffrey, I agree that the best strategic allocation of resources is towards areas with high populations. But I think we should implement a few rural showcases, particularly in terms of popular long-distance routes. Part of the difference between the difficulties experienced by the Fat Man Walking and the relative success of Fat March is the quality of the pedestrian infrastructure.

  • RvW

    If you read this and you’re from Iowa, contact Senator Harkin, and thank him for this effort. I think as the price of gasoline keeps rising, $4 soon?, that the interest will increase. High prices will make this idea more appealing to a broader public. This bill is at least a few steps in the right direction.

  • thomas Treharne

    As the plannning director for the City of Marion Iowa it is great to see support by means of proposed legislation. I deal with development proposals on a daily basis which insist on not including sidewalk, imagine what they say to complete streets. This is great support for the battle being waged at the local level to maintain and support walkable communities.

    To further identify the issues, because of recent court cases and state code interpetations we (cities) have a difficult time requireing the dedication of parkland and requiring the construction of trails in new developments. This legislation is a step in the right direction for creating livable communities however there is more to be done.

    These comments represent those of me personally and not of the City of Marion.

    tom treharne



Complete Streets Bill Introduced in Senate

Earlier this week, 12 senators, led by Tom Harkin (D-IA), introduced the Complete Streets Act of 2011 (S.1056), a companion to the House bill we reported on a few weeks back. The purpose of the bills is to push states and metropolitan planning organizations to fully consider incorporating pedestrian and bicycle safety measures when roads […]

Federal Complete Streets Legislation Gains Momentum

Complete streets advocates received a double dose of good news this week from Washington, D.C. For the first time ever, complete streets legislation is now introduced in both chambers of Congress, after the Safe and Complete Streets Act was introduced in the House of Representatives. Meanwhile, the Senate version of the bill received its first […]

National Complete Streets Bill Back in Play

There’s a new Complete Streets Act pending in both chambers of Congress, and it needs co-sponsors. The bill would require federally-funded road projects to meet the needs of pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders — not just drivers. To ask your representatives to sign on as co-sponsors, head over to Transportation for America’s e-campaign. Sacramento representative […]

What If We Measure Streets for Walking the Way We Measure Streets for Cars?

“What you measure is what you get,” the saying goes. In transportation, the dominant metrics are all about moving motor vehicle traffic, so America has built a transportation network that moves a lot of cars. Our streets may be dangerous, expensive, and inefficient, but they do process huge volumes of motor vehicles. A quintessentially American transportation metric — […]

67 Congress Members Tell Feds: Measure the Movement of People, Not Cars

The federal government hands states about $40 billion a year for transportation, money they can basically spend however they want. The result in many places is a lot of expensive, traffic-inducing highways that get clogged with cars soon after they’re finished. Can measuring the effect of all this spending lead to better decisions? U.S. DOT is developing a metric to assess how […]

Pennies for Pedestrians: NY State Spends Small on Street Safety

New York State devotes just 1 percent of its federal transportation funds to pedestrian infrastructure. Photo: Wikipedia It’s not news that a half-century of transportation spending to accommodate the automobile has made the typical American city hazardous and hostile to people on foot. But it’s shocking how we still devote so few resources to correcting […]