While much of the attention in January here in DC has been focused on resolving the standoff over the government shutdown, Congress has also been getting organized – welcoming new members, deciding committee leadership and assignments, and staffing up.
Back in December, we reported on the elevation of Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) to chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee and Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO) as the ranking member. Rep. DeFazio has wasted no time repeatedly touting his support for Safe Routes to School, biking, and walking in several different interviews, and his plans for the next transportation reauthorization bill.
.@RepPeterDeFazio -- the most powerful Democrat in Washington on transportation -- tells Streetsblog what he hopes to deliver in the next 2 years:— Streetsblog USA (@StreetsblogUSA) January 29, 2019
#1. National electrification system
#2. State of good repair for transit
#3. More $$ for walking and bikinghttps://t.co/k4eAl153R3
Heading up the House Transportation subcommittee on Highways and Transit will be Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL). Congresswoman Norton is very familiar with the needs and challenges of people walking and biking, given that she represents the urbanized District of Columbia. Rep. Davis represents Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, home to a robust Safe Routes to School program, and has in the past spearheaded legislation to get more funding to local communities to address their top transportation priorities, including walking and biking.
In the Senate, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) and Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) are continuing as chair and ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Sen. Carper is a noted advocate for addressing climate change and in the past introduced legislation to provide more low-carbon transportation alternatives (including biking and walking). Sen. Barrasso and Carper will be working closely with the second-in-command positions, which are the leaders of the Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee.
For Democrats, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) is moving into the ranking member position of the subcommittee. Sen. Cardin should be very familiar to Safe Routes supporters, as he is a long-standing champion of the Transportation Alternatives Program. In fact, he partnered with the since-retired Sen. Cochran (R-MS) to negotiate the amendment that saved funding for Safe Routes, biking, and walking by creating the Transportation Alternatives Program. Taking the lead for Republicans as chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee is Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV).
Fortunately, it did not take long to get a several Senators on the record on these issues. Earlier this week, the Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing on the nomination of Nicole Nason to be the head of the USDOT Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). In her testimony, Nason focused on safety, indicating that the only acceptable number of deaths from crashes is zero. She specifically called out improving pedestrian and cyclist safety by improving how we design our roads.
During questions and answers with Ms. Nason, Sen. Carper talked about biking and walking as part of the solution to address climate change. Sen. Cardin asked Ms. Nason to work with him to enhance the Transportation Alternatives Program as a way to improve safety for people biking and walking. And, most intriguingly, Sen. Capito asked about the growing rates of pedestrian deaths and how that could be addressed. Ms. Nason indicated that it takes education, enforcement, and engineering, and that she intends to ensure that FHWA provides information and data to address pedestrian safety.
We are very hopeful that, so soon into a new Congress, we already have so many indications that key leaders on transportation have taken notice of the need to improve safety for people walking and biking. We look forward to working with them to make that a reality in the next transportation bill.