Federal legislation would direct more money toward street safety

Safe street infrastructure might soon become a national priority, pending passage of a federal bill that would require states to...

Safe street infrastructure might soon become a national priority, pending passage of a federal bill that would require states to set aside some highway funding for projects such as sidewalks, bike lanes, crosswalks and bus stops.

Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts and U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee introduced the Complete Streets Act on Wednesday in an effort to provide safe and accessible transportation routes for multiple modes of travel across the country.

If passed, it would require states to take 5 percent of their federal highway money and instead give it to regional or local agencies seeking to create alternative transportation networks for people of all ages and abilities through street safety efforts, pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure, transit stop upgrades and other improvements.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, for example, would apply through the state for access to funds to use on eligible projects for technical assistance and capital improvements.

“Year after year of increasing fatalities demand that we make significant investments to ensure safety for all users of the road,” Markey said in a statement. “By fostering ‘complete streets,’ we will foster complete communities — ones with less reliance on gas-guzzling cars, greater safety and more equity in everyone’s ability to access work, school and other critical services.”

Millions of dollars flow from Washington D.C. to California each year designated for highways, the product of a decades-old formula that critics say encourages the construction of polluting, car-centric roadways as opposed to sustainable modes of transportation.

While San Francisco was the second city in the country to sign on to the Vision Zero pledge to eliminate fatalities and reduce severe injuries caused by traffic violence, it continues to face stubbornly persistent rates of driver-related collisions on city streets. Over the last 15 years, at least 20 people have been killed each year due to traffic violence.

Last year, 30 people were killed, marking an increase from the year prior even as the 2024 Vision Zero deadline fast approaches.

Simply put: The City is not on track to meet its goals.

SFMTA points to the success of low cost, high-impact interventions — including turn restrictions, protected bike lanes, sidewalk bulb-outs, more visible crosswalks and education campaigns that curb reckless driving behavior — as proof that its approach can be effective.

But such undertakings require money, as do potentially more effective but more costly measures such as red light cameras, which can be tough to come by in a moment where budget austerity is of the utmost importance to recover from the pandemic.

Erica Kato, SFMTA spokesperson, said the agency is evaluating what the proposed legislation could mean for local efforts to improve street safety.

“We are reviewing the legislation to understand potential impacts but conceptually are strongly supportive of proposals that recognize the need to fund complete street efforts in cities like San Francisco that are critical to achieving our Vision Zero goals,” she said.

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