Skip to Content
Streetsblog New York City home
Log In
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Federal Bill Seeks to Prioritize Pedestrians (Albeit A Tiny Bit More)

10:36 AM EDT on July 11, 2019

We can do better than tires and cones, America.

Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey
Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey
Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey

He's started putting the "new" into the Green New Deal.

Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey — the veteran lawmaker who joined forces last year with freshman New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in dreaming of sending America to fossil fuel rehab — is proposing that 5 percent of all federal highway funds be diverted to building "Complete Streets" that would stem the blood tide of pedestrian deaths in this country.

“When we have ‘complete streets,' we can have complete communities — comprehensive centers for employment, education, health care, civic life, and commerce," said Markey, squarely positioning the bill not only as a safety issue, but also as an economic security issue squarely in line with his and Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal.

"Whether you are traveling by foot, spoke, or pass, everyone deserves ‘complete streets’, and this legislation will help fund safe transportation options for the 21st century,” added Markey, later tweeting about the 35-percent increase in pedestrian deaths in the U.S. between 2008 and 2017.

Under the proposed bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), states would be required to set aside 5 percent of their federal highway grants for programs that "provide safe and accessible transportation options for multiple modes of travel, as well as for people of all ages and abilities," Markey's office said in a statement.

The Markey-Cohen bill would also require grant recipients to adopt and prioritize a "Complete Streets" policy — and it would require the federal government, the states and federal "metropolitan planning organizations" to adopt design standards for all highway projects "that provide for the safe and adequate accommodation of all users of the surface transportation network, including motorized and non-motorized users, in all phases of project planning, development, and operation."

The "five percent for peds" plan could generate roughly $25 million for these pedestrian projects. It is unclear what the full impact will be; the federal government sends about $470 million in highway trust fund money to the states every year, and, according to federal documents, far more than $25 million is already being used on pedestrian projects. Federal law already allows states to use federal highway money for "bicycle transportation and pedestrian walkways ... and the modifications of public sidewalks to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990," though the law does not mandate an amount.

In New York City, for example, about 18 percent of federal money — which is roughly $60 million per year — ends up being spent on street reconstruction projects — "the majority of which had large safety and mobility components that benefitted pedestrians," said Department of Transportation spokesman Brian Zumhagen.

ped-deaths-graph-1

Pedestrian fatalities increased by 35.4 percent between 2008 and 2017. In 2018 alone, 6,227 pedestrians were killed in motor vehicle crashes, the highest mortality rate since 1990.

“We are facing a national safety crisis,” said Cohen. “Over the past decade, this country has seen a dramatic increase in the number of pedestrians killed while walking. We need streets that can accommodate all means of transportation, from foot traffic and strollers to cars, light trucks and 18-wheelers. The grants made under the 'Complete Streets Act' will transform communities and make them safer.”

The text of the bill is here.

Markey's office said the bill has the support of many advocacy groups.

“We’ve spent decades now designing our streets to move cars as quickly as possible while neglecting the safety of everyone using the street. The result? The number of people struck and killed by drivers while walking increased by 35 percent over the last decade,” Emiko Atherton, director of the National Complete Streets Coalition, said in a statement. “The federal government must take the lead on prioritizing safer streets, and the Complete Streets Act of 2019 represents the best, most direct effort yet to help states, metro areas, cities, towns and counties design and build safer, complete streets."

Ironically, supporters include app-based taxi systems that have led to a massive explosion of car traffic on many urban streets.

“Since day one, Lyft has been committed to redesigning cities around people instead of cars. This is why we focus on making car ownership optional, investing in sustainable transportation options, and partnering with like-minded organizations through the Complete Streets Coalition,” said Lauren Belive, director of Federal Government Affairs for the taxi behemoth (who surname is simply perfect for a company spokeswoman!)

Uber and Via issued similar statements of support.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog New York City

Council Votes to Repeal Decade-Old Law, Expedite Bike Lane Installation

The City Council repealed a notorious. out-dated law that imposed lengthy delays on the city before it could break ground on new bike lanes.

December 7, 2023

Dynamic! MTA Could Hike Congestion Pricing Toll 25% on Gridlock Alert Days

The MTA said it had that power, and modeled it in its environmental assessment (see footnote 2 below), but no one ever reported it, until Wednesday.

December 6, 2023

Judge Orders Trial for Hit-and-Run Driver Who Turned Down ‘Reasonable’ Sentencing Offer

Judge Brendan Lantry turns down driver's request for mere probation for killing a delivery worker in 2022. The trial will start in January.

December 6, 2023

Wednesday’s Headlines: Another Big Day at City Hall Edition

Today is going to be another busy day for the livable streets crowd. So get ready with today's headlines.

December 6, 2023

Reporter’s Notebook: Will Eric Adams Ever Publicly Embrace Congestion Pricing?

The governor, the head of the MTA and the city's leading transit thinkers all celebrated congestion pricing on Tuesday as an historic moment while Mayor Adams spent Tuesday failing to live up to it.

December 6, 2023
See all posts