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Citizens, Cities and Climate Change
Three takeaways from the recent performance measures comment period
On August 20, the public comment period on the transportation performance measures ended. As we reported earlier, this was an opportunity to comment on Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) draft rule on what performance measures states and metropolitan areas should use to measure congestion mitigation, air quality and the reliability of our road system.
The draft rule suggested that the best way to measure the reliability of our roads and congestion was to focus on the speed at which automotive vehicles traveled. The Bike League, along with other transportation, environmental and health advocacy organizations submitted comments on these rules. We also asked our members and supporters to send in comments to US DOT, asking for all modes to be considered, as well as for states and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) to have to measure their greenhouse gas emissions (GHG emissions). Thanks to all of you who added your voice!
There were so many comments that the federal register has yet to register all of them, but I wanted to give you an update on a few lessons we can learn from the comments of the state Departments of Transportation — represented by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) — the National League of Cities and other.
First, I want to highlight that AASHTO suggests, in their comments that the opinions of citizens should matter less than their comments. While the League agrees that Departments of Transportation bring critical engineering knowledge and experience, we also believe the process is called “public input” for a reason.
The purpose is to create a transparent system where citizens can read and comment on rules their government is proposing to measure the success of the transportation system which all of us use. We are not suggesting citizens demand specific engineering solutions, just that we have an opportunity to weigh in as users of the system.
The reason FHWA gives for not including bicyclists and pedestrians is that they don’t have the best methodology to collect the data on bicyclists and pedestrians. The League believes that the U.S. Department of Transportation is fully capable of determining a reasonable way to measure the “reliability of roads” for biking and walking. (Cities and the private sector are already working on it.) They just need the will to do it. The role of citizens in this public process is to demand they do so and to create the political will.
When faced with this same position on the safety performance measure, the Department of Transportation heard the thousands of comments for bicyclists and pedestrians (11,000 of the 13,000 comments came from the League) and found a way to include a non-motorized component to the safety rule. We believe they can do the same for system performance!
Cities and Mayors get it!
While the state Departments of Transportation are concerned with what is required to consider bicyclists and pedestrians (and greenhouse gas emissions) when designing and building infrastructure, the cities are supportive of figuring it out. Once again we find that Mayors and cities are much more supportive of measuring how all their citizens travel.
From the National League of Cities’ comments:
“Unfortunately, as proposed, this rule will do very little to better prioritize the kinds of transportation projects that are essential to the wellbeing and competitiveness of our cities. It misses the mark by narrowly defining our transportation network as simply roads and cars and measuring vehicle speed and delay seven different ways, rather than evaluating the performance of the robust network of roads, sidewalks, bike paths, and transit corridors we know it to be. And while we do place great value on moving vehicles efficiently on America’s highway system, these performance measures miss a key opportunity to evaluate accessibility, sending a clear, yet outdated signal that our transportation network continues to be an end itself, rather than a means to an end: a pathway to opportunity, jobs, the neighborhood supermarket, our children’s schools, or a trip to visit friends and family.”
The draft rule released by USDOT asks whether states and metropolitan areas should be required to measure — and set goals to reduce — greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions released by the transportation sector in their jurisdiction. This question has become the most controversial part of the draft performance rule. AASHTO, the Chamber of Commerce, the American Petroleum Association and 19 other organizations argue against the requirement, saying the 2012 Transportation bill, which created the directive to develop performance measures, does not give Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) the authority to do so, and even if FHWA has the authority it shouldn’t exercise it. The argument is that under current transportation law only a few specific pollutants are named, not including GHG, and that to add GHG emissions would cause significant project delay and cost, and not result in significant GHG reduction.
Often times in situations like this, the agency would look to Congressional Intent, but that is divided as well. The leading Democrat, Senator Boxer (D-CA), who was Chairman of the relevant committee at the time, has stated it’s appropriate to measure GHG under the air quality performance measure required under the law. The leading Republican, Senator Inhofe (R-OK), current Chairman of that Committee disagrees.
The transportation sector is the second largest contributor to GHG emissions in this country. In order for the United States to keep the promises it made in Paris to help reduce global GHG emissions, this country will have to find a way to reduce its transportation emissions significantly. If transportation agencies are not part of the solution, it’s hard to imagine the US can meet its goals.
The Bike League will be watching to see how the Department of Transportation comes down on all three of these issues, but we may not know for months. Secretary Foxx has been pushing to get as much done on these rules as possible during his tenure, but it will be hard to resolve these controversial questions in the last few months.
If USDOT doesn’t resolve these concerns, it will be up to the next administration. Let’s hope they pick up where Secretary Foxx leaves off, and does not start the process over!