What is the FAST Act?

The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) is the federal transportation law that will be in effect from October 1, 2015 through September 2020. This new transportation package preserves funding for Safe Routes to School, bicycling and walking by continuing the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), with a few policy improvements over the previous transportation law. 

The passage of the FAST Act means we have five years of certainty that TAP, which was renamed to “STP Setaside,” will continue to provide hundreds of millions of dollars for Safe Routes to School, bicycling and walking infrastructure and programming across the country.  For this FAQ we will continue to refer to the program as TAP.

How much funding is available for the Transportation Alternatives Program under the new law?

Funding for TAP will grow from the current level of $819 million per year to $835 million in 2016 and 2017 and to $850 million in 2018 through 2020. While this still does not restore the funding cuts that bicycling, walking and Safe Routes to School received in the 2012 MAP-21 transportation law, the small increase in funding in the FAST Act helps the program keep pace with other transportation funding streams.

Does the name change for TAP have any practical effect on how the program works?

Under the FAST Act, the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) is renamed to “STP Setaside” and will now be a sub-program of the Surface Transportation Program, which is a large and fairly flexible pot of funding that state and regional transportation authorities use for a wide range of transportation projects. But, even though it’s been moved and renamed, TAP will function just the same as it does now: Safe Routes to School, bicycling and walking projects can all compete for funding. While the name has been changed at the federal level, states and localities may choose to continue to use the TAP name. TAP’s matching requirements have also been left unchanged, requiring up to 20 percent of the TAP project cost to be funded by states or local jurisdictions.

Who will be the decision-maker on how TAP funds are spent?

Just as in current law, state departments of transportation will still control 50 percent of TAP funds to either award to projects around the state, and the other 50 percent is targeted for projects in small towns, mid-sized communities and larger urban areas.  For large urban areas with more than 200,000 people, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), which are regional transportation authorities, run the competitions and pick the projects.

Are there any ways that TAP funds can be used for other purposes?

Under MAP-21, state departments of transportation were allowed to transfer up to half of TAP funds to other transportation programs or projects. Approximately 20 states have used this flexibility to divert nearly $300 million away from TAP from 2013 to 2015. The state transferability provision remains in the FAST Act.

One new change to current law is that large MPOs may now divert up to half of their TAP funds for road or other transportation projects.  However, because TAP still requires a competitive process in which local governments apply for projects and because most MPOs have more Safe Routes, bicycling and walking projects that they can currently fund with limited TAP dollars, it isn’t anticipated that this will have significant negative consequences.  Even so, advocates in these larger cities should get to know their MPOs and work to influence their TAP process to ensure these funds are used for Safe Routes to School, walking and bicycling.

Are nonprofits able to compete for TAP funds?

Yes! Under the prior Safe Routes to School program, nonprofits were able to apply for funding—but were left out when Congress first created TAP in 2012.  Under the FAST Act, state and local nonprofit organizations that work on transportation safety will once again be allowed to compete directly for TAP dollars.  This will be of particular help to bicycle and pedestrian organizations that want to implement bike safety programs at multiple schools, for example.

TAP projects often must go through a lot of regulatory hoops before they can be implemented.  Is there any remedy in the FAST Act?

The US Department of Transportation (USDOT) is required to issue new guidance within a year to help ensure that TAP and other transportation projects can move through the regulatory process more efficiently.  It is likely that this will make it easier to implement Safe Routes to School projects across the country, and the American Heart Association, Safe Routes to School National Partnership and other organizations will work with USDOT to ensure the guidance is beneficial to TAP projects.

Is there anything else included in the FAST Act that is helpful to Safe Routes to School, bicycling and walking?

There are new transparency requirements in TAP that will ensure that states and MPOs report to USDOT about the number, amount and types of applications as well as funded projects.  This data will be helpful in documenting the demand for different types of TAP projects.

States with high rates of bicycle and pedestrian fatalities (more than 15 percent of all traffic deaths) will be eligible for a portion of approximately $14 million under a new National Priority Safety Program to support awareness, education and enforcement meant to reduce bicycle and pedestrian fatalities and injuries.

And, the NACTO Urban Street Design manual, which has more progressive designs for bicycling and walking, is now officially recognized as design guidance for federally-funded projects.

How can I learn more about the changes to TAP and what it means for my program and my community?

Additional information regarding TAP may be found in the “TAP in Your Community” document here or within the resources section below.

How does the FAST Act advance Complete Streets?

The bill takes steps in maker streets safer for all users by:

Requiring the Secretary of Transportation to encourage states and metropolitan planning organizations to adopt road design standards that take into account pedestrians and other vulnerable road users, as well as motor vehicles, through all phases of planning, development, and operation.

Directing the Secretary to report on state progress toward implementation and to identify best practices in the states.

Requiring State transportation departments to take into account access for all users and modes of transportation when designing and building National Highway System roadways. This requirement is a significant step forward, in that all designs and design alternatives need to take into account all potential users of the roadways.

Requiring the use of the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO)’s Urban Street Design Guide as one of the standards that U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) must consider when developing design standards, and it permits local governments to use their own adopted design guides if they are the lead project sponsor and the direct recipient of the federal funds for the project—even if it differs from state standards.

Does the FAST Act contain additional provisions for walking and biking funding outside of TAP?

Yes! There are several opportunities with the FAST Act for additional funding for walking and biking within your state and community. Please contact Tim Vaske to learn more.

What other resources are available to me regarding the TAP Act, TAP, Complete Streets, and walking and biking?

Voices for Healthy Kids, National Complete Streets Coalition and Safe Routes to School National Partnership have several resources that are available to you regarding TAP, Complete Streets and Walking & Biking Infrastructure. Below you will find several resources, including those relating to equity with transportation policy. In addition, Tim Vaske is available work with you directly around your technical assistance needs.

Additional Resources

Voices for Healthy Kids Resources

Voices for Healthy Kids has developed several resources that may be of assistance to you as you work with your coalitions and other stakeholders on the opportunities presented within the FAST Act, including:

Safe Routes to School National Partnership Resources

The Safe Routes to School National Partnership (SRTSNP) is a national non-profit that advances policy change and catalyzes support for healthy, active communities, starting with walking and bicycling to school. They are dedicated to creating livable, sustainable communities where all people can be healthy and physically active. Below is a sample of some of resources that are made publically available through the Safe Routes to School National Partnership website.

National Complete Streets Coalition

A nationwide movement launched by the National Complete Streets Coalition (NCSC) in 2004, Complete Streets integrates people and place in the planning, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of our transportation networks. The NCSC promotes the development and implementation of policies and practices that ensure streets are safe for people of all ages and abilities, balance the needs of different modes, and support local land uses, economies, cultures, and natural environments.

The NCSC has free factsheets and resources that are available to advocates, community partners, transportation planners, and other key stakeholders, intended to educate and inform people and organizations on how to develop, support, and implement Complete Streets. Popular resources include NCSC’s Fundamentals of Complete Streets and the Ten Elements of an Ideal Complete Streets Policy.

Other resources include (but are not limited to):

  • FAST Act Complete Streets One-Pager 
    NCSC has developed a useful one-pager that can be used by advocates to educate their coalitions and advance their campaigns.  
  • Complete Streets Mean Equitable Streets 
    The last half-century of transportation planning and design has instead created hundreds of miles of “incomplete” streets – those without safe places to walk, bike, or take public transportation. Such streets particularly dangerous for people of color, older adults, children, and those living in low-income communities. These populations suffer disproportionately from poor street design in increased likelihood of illness, injury, and death. They are also more likely to be cut off from jobs, doctors, friends, and family, and to pay out much more of their budget to transportation than their counterparts.  
  • Complete Streets Help Create Livable Communities
    The streets of our cities and towns are an important part of the livability of our communities. They ought to be for everyone, whether young or old, motorist or bicyclist, walker or wheelchair user, bus rider or shopkeeper. But too many streets are designed only for speeding cars, or worse, creeping traffic jams. They are unsafe for people on foot or bike – and unpleasant for everybody.  
  • Dangerous by Design 2014
    American communities are poised for a renaissance in walking. We’re walking more often, for fun and to get to places in our neighborhood. We turn to WalkScore when figuring out where to live and our most walkable places often are among the most economically vibrant in the country. Hundreds of cities have adopted Complete Streets policies to ensure walking is in the forefront of our decisions regarding street design. Public health officials from the Office of the Surgeon General to the local doctor’s office are encouraging us to get out for a walk for physical activity and to combat chronic disease.

    Dangerous by Design 2014 takes a look at where these fatalities happen and who’s most at risk, presenting data from every county, metro area, and state. As in past years, Sunbelt communities that grew in the post-war period top the list of most dangerous regions. These areas developed rapidly, with many low-density neighborhoods overly dependent on extra wide, fast arterials to connect homes, schools, jobs and shops. Such roads rarely feature the facilities needed for safe travel by foot. The report also calls out the unacceptably high number of pedestrian deaths seen in nearly every major metro region.