US Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and US Representative Doris Matsui (D-California… Sacramento to be exact) have introduced two important walkability-related bills to the US Congress.
Senator Harkin introduced the Complete Streets Act of 2008 (S. 2686) which would require states and MPOs to establish complete streets policies and apply them to federally-funded projects. The bill clarifies what a complete streets policy should contain. The legislation would also strengthen research and technical assistance on complete streets. Complete the Streets has put together an excellent information fact sheet about the bill, why it’s needed, and what you can do to help get it passed. You can download that document here.
Representative Matsui introduced the Energy Conservation Through Trees Act of 2008 (H.R. 5867). The legislation requires the use of science-based tree-siting guidelines to ensure that trees are not planted in locations that will disrupt pre-existing infrastructure, block solar panels and wind turbines, or damage power lines. The legislation would also require utilities that receive assistance to partner with nonprofit tree-planting organizations or other municipal infrastructure groups to run the technical side of the program. These nonprofit groups are meant to serve as tree-planting experts to complement utilities’ financial interest in lowering peak energy demand and reducing consumption. They will provide technical and outreach assistance, work with tree recipients, and ensure that trees are planted in the right place to maximize energy conservation.
Obviously, both of these bills would be huge step in the right direction for providing better walking and biking facilities in the United States.
The policy guidance in the Complete Streets bill is pretty powerful and would attempt to close some of the gaps in current State DOT policies and practices—something that we’ve struggled with here in California, even though from my experience we have some of the most progressive policies in the country. The bill text is probably about the strongest they could make it and still have it pass. The bill does discuss penalties for non-compliance with its provisions. I would imagine that a penalty for non-compliance would be to withhold Federal funds, though I doubt it would go that far. The policies will not be the hardest part to implement. I think that practical implementation of those policies, once incorporated, will be the challenge.
The tree legislation is modeled after the successful programs from the Sacramento region. I think that most residents of and visitors to Sacramento would agree that its beautiful trees are its best asset. I’ve visited hundreds of cities around the world and have never seen a more impressive tree canopy than what exists in Sacramento’s urban core. Any legislation that models what’s been accomplished here can only be a good thing.
UPDATE 5/1: Doris Matsui introduced the Complete Streets Act of 2008 in the US House of Representatives last week as well.
Here are some additional resources on this legislation:
Special thanks to Connie Gallippi for the heads up on the Matsui legislation!