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October 23, 2019

Curbed: New bill aims to counter alarming rise in pedestrian deaths with funding for safer streets

A plan to reprioritize federal transportation spending was introduced by members of Congress today after recent reports that show an alarming rise in pedestrian and cyclist fatalities on the nation’s roadways.

The Vision Zero Act of 2019, a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by U.S. Representatives Earl Blumenauer, Vern Buchanan, and Ayanna Pressley, would make federal transportation funding available for communities to implement Vision Zero programs by redesigning streets to eliminate pedestrian deaths and accommodate multiple modes of transportation.

The bill would allow funding from existing federal programs such as the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program, the Highway Safety Improvement Program, and the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program to be steered towards these goals. Currently, the largest portion of federal transportation spending—$177 billion of the $441 billion spent in 2017—goes toward highways.

The Vision Zero Act comes after a five-year increase in pedestrian and cyclist deaths in the U.S. A recent report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found more pedestrians and cyclists were killed last year than in any year since 1990; approximately 17 pedestrians and two cyclists were killed each day. While overall traffic deaths may be declining, pedestrian fatalities are up 3.4 percent year-over-year and cyclist fatalities are up 6.3 percent.

The problem may be getting worse in urban areas. According to the Portland Bureau of Transportation, more people have been killed on city streets in that Oregon city so far this year than in all of last year.

“The Vision Zero Act is a critical step in our fight to reduce the number of transportation-related fatalities across our country,” said Rep. Pressley, who recently co-founded the House’s new Future of Transportation caucus. “This bill affirms the right of pedestrians, cyclists, and public transit riders to travel safely in community.”

The last few years have seen increased legislative activity around traffic deaths and pedestrian safety at various levels of government, with mixed results. Currently, more than 40 communities across the U.S. have adopted and implemented Vision Zero programs, a data-driven approach to transportation design that aims to utilize new partnerships, safe planning, and community-focused solutions to reach the goal of zero traffic fatalities.

In large cities, such as New York and Los Angeles, where Vision Zero programs have been promoted by local leaders, recent spikes in fatal crashes have led local activists to question whether enough is truly being done.

On the federal level, another bill focused on traffic and pedestrian safety, the Complete Streets Act, was introduced in both houses of Congress in July by Sen. Ed Markey, of Massachusetts, and Rep. Steve Cohen, of Tennessee, and would require states to aside five percent of federal highway funds for complete streets programs. A bill to make transit expenses for cyclists tax-deductible was introduced this year, and many representatives are currently battling to make sure the new transportation funding bill currently being considered in Congress allocates more funding for safer streets and car-free modes of transit.