WASHINGTON, DC – Pennsylvania U.S. Senator John Fetterman on Tuesday introduced the Building Safer Streets Act, his most recent legislation to improve street infrastructure and prevent the loss of lives on unsafe streets. Senator Fetterman and expert witnesses spoke yesterday about the importance of the bill at an EPW subcommittee hearing on roadway safety.
“The bottom line is that we are facing a street safety crisis in America — and in Pennsylvania. The thousands of lives we lose due to unsafe streets is unacceptable, and it’s long past time we in Washington do something about it,” said Senator Fetterman. “I’m proud to introduce this bill to provide communities—especially our smaller towns—with the resources and guidance they need to make their streets safer.”
On-street fatalities have reached the highest level in 41 years, and they increased during the pandemic despite an overall decrease in driving. Older residents, children, people with disabilities, those living on reservations, and people of color are all more likely to be hit in preventable incidents. Pennsylvania is home to some of the most unsafe streets in the nation — between 2012 and 2020, 1,426 pedestrians were killed on Pennsylvania streets. Experts have dubbed State Street in Harrisburg the “deadliest road in America.”
Unsafe, poorly designed streets are also a significant barrier to economic revitalization, particularly in smaller cities and towns. Land values increase with better street infrastructure, and retail tenant occupancy improves with safety.
The Building Safer Streets Act would bring street design standards into the 21st century and make way for innovative, locally-sensitive street designs and improvements by providing government agencies from the federal to local level with resources to remove red tape and make streets safer. It will also adjust street safety-focused grants (Safe Streets for All) so that the money reaches small communities.
The Building Safer Streets Act would:
- Create a streamlined exceptions process for FHWA-recommended features that improve safety, removing the need for slow and costly exceptions requests
- Ensure FHWA guidelines and guidance distinguishes between rural, suburban, and urban needs
- Adjust the Safe Streets for All grant program to address the specific needs of small and rural communities
- Provide clarity for states and localities on how they can design streets to better accommodate users
- Direct the FHWA to help states and localities design streets that account for freight and transit networks (e.g. at-grade rail crossings, truck routes, or bus stops)
- Create a consistent process at FHWA for determining design exceptions for projects that do not include multimodal facilities (e.g. bike lanes)
- Requiring public documentation for FHWA decisions that expressly prohibit certain designs and limit local flexibility
- Prevent FHWA from considering higher speed limits as a contributor to value of time metrics
- Prevent FHWA from accepting rising road fatalities as an acceptable safety performance target
- Facilitate data-collection regarding updates to highway design manuals to allow best practices for designing lower speed non-freeway roadways
This is Sen. Fetterman’s second street-infrastructure related bill, one of his highest priorities as a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. This bill, along with Senator Fetterman’s Shovel-Ready Streets Act, was considered at a Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works subcommittee hearing on street safety.
“This Congress has put tremendous oversight responsibility on the Department of Transportation, ensuring that taxpayer dollars are protected as we invest generational amounts of resources to finally rebuild American infrastructure. But the question we have to ask is if we are actually protecting taxpayers themselves. There are extraordinarily commonsense measures that are overdue,” said expert witness and Pittsburgh resident Karina Ricks of Cityfi, LLC. “The Building Safer Streets Act will compel US DOT to give localities and states clear and consistent guidance, and that will help a lot to speed project delivery and avoid time-consuming reviews.”
“Traffic violence is a preventable epidemic that is killing almost 120 Americans every single day and devastating families and communities,” said Latanya Byrd, Families for Safe Streets Greater Philadelphia chapter founding member. “We can end this crisis with proven policies that promote safe roads, safe speeds, and safe vehicles. My niece Samara Banks and her three young children were killed by a speeding driver on one of Philadelphia’s most deadly streets, Roosevelt Boulevard. Families for Safe Streets is so grateful to Senator Fetterman for being a leader on roadway safety and introducing the Building Safer Streets Act so that other families do not suffer as my family has.”
The Building Safer Streets Act is endorsed by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), Transportation for America, the National Safety Council, the National Association of Counties, the National Association of Towns and Townships, the National Association of County Engineers, the American Planning Association, Vision Zero Network, America Walks, League of American Bicyclists, Families for Safe Streets National, Main Street America, LOCUS at Smart Growth America, and others.
In Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Downtown Center, 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania, American Planning Association PA, City of Philadelphia, Families for Safe Streets Greater Philadelphia, BikePGH, and the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia have endorsed the bill.