Government Funding

Source: Pedestrian Bicycle Information Center

At any level of government, the rules and criteria used to establish agency priorities should ensure that good bicycle and pedestrian projects compete well for funding. This requires careful writing of internal rating criteria used to create "needs lists" and select projects for funding. Good language ensures pedestrian and bicycle funding is a "mainstream" activity that competes on equal footing with other modes.

While dedicated funds (i.e., an independent funding source or a set-aside percentage of a larger fund) are important for addressing high crash locations and other targeted areas, it is also advantageous to group smaller projects with an existing project. Funding improvements as part of larger projects creates economies of scale that results in reduced costs and reduced impacts to traffic, businesses, and residents. For example, if there is an existing road project, it is usually cheaper to add bike lanes and sidewalks to the project than to construct them separately.

For a broad picture of how transportation projects get funded, visit A Guide to Transportation Decisionmaking (2009), created by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). And for a quick guide on federal funding opportunities, visit Bicycle and Pedestrian Funding Opportunities: Federal Transit and Federal Highway Funds.

More detailed information about government funding sources is included below:

1. Federal: transportation

The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), which was signed into law in July 2012, funds surface transportation programs at over $105 billion for fiscal years 2013 and 2014. MAP-21 created a new formula program called Transportation Alternatives (TA), which includes many activities previously funded under Transportation Enhancements (TE), Recreational Trails, and Safe Routes to Schools under the previous authorization bill -- SAFETEA-LU. According to the National Transportation Alternatives Clearinghouse, managed by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, this consolidation of programs is associated with a 26.4% reduction in total funding for all three programs from FY 2009.

Transportation Alternatives projects must be one of ten eligible activities (e.g., pedestrian and bicycle facilities; safe routes for non-drivers; and conversion of abandoned railway corridors to trails) and must relate to surface transportation. The funding for this program is administered by the Federal Highway Administration, but it is implemented by individual states. Each state has a policy regarding what qualifies as a "relationship to surface transportation" and each state department of transportation (DOT) has a TA manager responsible for the distribution of funds. The list of managers is available here. Eligible entities include:

Local governments

  • Regional transportation authorities
  • Transit agencies
  • Natural resource or public land agencies
  • School districts, local education agencies, or schools
  • Tribal governments
  • Any other local or regional governmental entity with responsibility for, or oversight of, transportation or recreation trails, that the state determines to be eligible.

A more technical explanation of TA is available in FHWA's Transportation Alternatives (TA) Set-Aside Implementation Guidance (June 2016).

2. Federal: non-transportation

There is a wide range of other federal funds that can be used for bicycling and walking facilities. The most common include:

  • Funds through federal land agencies such as the National Forest Service, National Park Service or Bureau of Land Management. These funds are primarily for trails and must be on federal lands.
  • Community Transformation Grants (CTG) through the CDC -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awards CTGs to state and local government agencies, tribes, and non-profits that are working to improve community health. Many of these projects are transportation-related.
  • Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) through HUD -- the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides annual grants on a formula basis for community-based projects. The majority of funds must be used on activities that benefit low- and moderate-income persons. Examples of the types of projects they fund are: commercial district streetscape improvements; sidewalk improvements; safe routes to school; and neighborhood-based bicycling and walking facilities that improve local transportation options or help revitalize neighborhoods.

The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy also maintains a list of Federal funding mechanisms that are not limited to transportation projects.

3. State

Every state raises revenue for highway and transportation infrastructure through a state motor-vehicle fuel tax. Some states also raise funds through vehicle licensing fees. In many states, the laws governing how these funds can be spent would make most active transportation projects and programs eligible for these funds. However in other states, use of the funds may be limited to providing paved highway shoulders on state owned and operated roads. State funding specifically for trail development is often administered through the state's parks, recreation, conservation, natural resources, or environmental protection department or agency.

A growing number of states are providing funds from non-transportation related revenue streams. However, these funds are not always eligible for the full range of pedestrian and bicycle activities.

4. Local

There are many examples of local communities creating revenue streams to improve conditions for bicycling and walking. Three common approaches include: special bond issues, dedications of a portion of local sales taxes or a voter-approved sales tax increase, and use of the annual capital improvement budgets of Public Works and/or Parks agencies.

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