“Great idea, but we just don’t have the money.”
It’s a refrain that’s painfully familiar to every advocate who deals with policymakers at any level of government. Pedestrian safety is a prime example. Safety features like sidewalks, signalized intersections, accessible pedestrian signals, proper curb ramp placement and tactile warning fields all come with significant costs. When advocates ask for these infrastructure changes, the response is often that there’s no funding so it will have to wait until some future budget cycle. As result, it may take years to see results.
As we celebrate Pedestrian Safety Month throughout October, this seems like a good time to talk about some potential funding sources that many local leaders and planners may be unaware of. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), signed by President Biden in November of 2021, is providing a massive federal investment over the next five years in an array of infrastructure priorities, including roads and bridges, rail, transit, ports, airports, water systems and broadband. The $1.2 trillion package represents one of the biggest investments in the nation’s infrastructure since the interstate highway system was built.
Wisconsin’s share of that investment includes dollars that can be used to enhance pedestrian safety. Communities can benefit from BIL in two ways: (1) more funding for existing programs; and (2) opportunities for discretionary grants.
Four Wisconsin communities—the City of Sheboygan, Forest County Potawatomi Community, the City of Beloit and the Oneida Nation—have already won competitive federal RAISE (Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity) grants for projects that will benefit nondrivers.
Among existing state programs that can support local initiatives of interest to pedestrian safety advocates, the two most relevant are the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) and the Congestion Mitigation and Air-Quality Program (CMAQ). BIL has increased funding dramatically for each of these programs. These are potential funding sources that are good to be aware of when you communicate with local officials about needed improvements.
TAP is a federally funded program that covers 80% of the cost for selected multi-modal transportation improvement programs, with an emphasis on the kinds of utilitarian trips nondrivers rely on. TAP dollars can also be used for planning. Entities eligible to receive TAP funding include local governments, transit agencies, tribal governments, school districts and nonprofits. While TAP funding can be used anywhere in the state, there is a special focus on small, rural communities.
CMAQ encourages transportation projects that improve air quality. It includes efforts to enhance public transit, bicycle/pedestrian facilities, ridesharing programs, and technologies that improve traffic flow and vehicle emissions. CMAQ funds are only available in 11 counties in the eastern part of the state: Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha, Waukesha, Washington, Ozaukee, Walworth, Sheboygan, Kewaunee, Manitowoc and Door.
When you talk to local leaders about how to improve pedestrian safety in your community, it can’t hurt to be armed with the knowledge that these programs exist and are better funded than ever for the next five years. Here’s a summary of what you can do to promote pedestrian safety and how this information fits into your advocacy:
- Determine what features are needed and include elected officials in this analysis. Consider conducting a walk audit in partnership with local officials, senior living or senior center administrators, and school leaders. These groups often have common interests and may also hear from their constituents about trouble spots.
- Find out who owns the road (local, county or state government) and reach out to the officials at the appropriate level.
- Advocate for what you need and make the case for how these features will benefit many pedestrians, noting other vulnerable populations. This is important because officials must make tough decisions about how to spend money. If a change will help a greater number of people, they may make it a higher priority.
- Find out if they are aware of the possible funding sources included in this article and share information as appropriate.
- Ask for a timeline on when you can expect to hear from them. Ask about next steps in the process so that you can continue your advocacy efforts and engage others to assist.
- “Make Way for Pedestrians,” a webinar featuring Denise Jess of the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired and Cassie Steiner-Bouxa of Sierra Club – Wisconsin Chapter. Watch the YouTube Webinar.
- AARP Walk Audit Toolkit .
- August 2018 Council article: “Advocating for Accessible Pedestrian Signals”
- September 2022 Council article: “White Cane Safety Day: Promote Pedestrian Safety for All Where You Live”