We are so excited!!! Pretty much everything BikeMN asked the Legislature for in 2023 has become law. Our asks were included in a historic transportation bill that passed the Legislature late Sunday, May 21st. Governor Walz signed the bill into law on May 24th. It includes about $50 million more per year than the current state and federal funding levels for active transportation and safe routes to school, policy changes that will make bicycling safer, stop as yield (aka Idaho Stop), and a rebate of up to $1,500 on the purchase of a new e-bike and qualifying accessories. It also includes additional funding for safety studies and complete streets improvements in the Metro Counties totaling another $40+ million. BikeMN will be sure to alert our supporters when input is needed by your city or county.
Special thanks to the Transportation Committee Chairs, Senator Scott Dibble and Representative Frank Hornstein (pictured left), and the chief authors of the Bill Dooley (BikeMN’s Advocacy Committee Chair who passed away in December) Bicycle Safety Act Senator Kelly Morrison and Representative Steve Elkins and the e-bike rebate language Senator Omar Fateh and Representative Lucy Rehm. Thanks also to our many partners including the Transportation Forward Coalition, the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, the Minnesota Safety Council, and our chapter organizations and members from throughout Minnesota. Your voices were heard. A heartfelt thanks also to BikeMN’s lobbyist Vic Moore. Vic has been with us for many years and was well-positioned to advise us on strategies for what we knew was going to be a historic session. He was at the Capitol most days. His guidance was invaluable to our efforts. Thanks again to everyone.
During the last week of the legislative session, the Governor’s Office and House and Senate leadership agreed on a transformational transportation funding package. It includes a lot of one-time surplus funding, indexing the gas tax to inflation (gas tax has not been increased for more than a decade), a 75-cent delivery fee on purchases of more than $100, and, another big one, a 3/4 of a cent sales tax in the Metro Area the majority of which will be for transit, biking and walking with a smaller percentage spent on roads and bridges.
These are all controversial and politically risky things for the DFL majority to enact in a year with a huge surplus. But, the issue is that there is no surplus for transportation because it is an ongoing need and the multimodal transportation challenges we face cannot be fixed with a one-time appropriation of cash from the surplus. Therefore the session went down to the wire. The Transportation Conference Committee met from 6-10 pm on Saturday the 20th and the full House and full Senate passed the bill/conference committee agreement Sunday the 21st. The Governor was part of the final negotiations so he is expected to sign it promptly.
The Bill Dooley Bicycle Safety Act proposed $10 million per year for safe routes and $25 million per year for the active transportation grant programs administered by MnDOT. They got $10 million for Safe Routes to School and $19.5 million for active transportation per year for the next two years. Active transportation has only been funded once before and safe routes has been funded at $1 to $5 million.
The Transportation Forward Coalition (pictured left), organized by MoveMN, has been the consistent voice for the Metro Area sales tax of three-quarters of a cent. That will raise hundreds of millions 5% of which will be dedicated to active transportation and allocated by the Metropolitan Council’s Transportation Advisory Board. The forecasted amount for that fund is about $23 million per year.
The Omnibus Bill also establishes a Transportation Advancement Account and allocates about $95 million per year from the account to the Metro counties. It specifies that 41.5% of that amount, about $39 million, is to be spent on active transportation and transportation corridor safety studies. The rest of the money can be used to modernize a corridor without adding traffic capacity including complete street projects. BikeMN and its supporters will need to monitor this program and work to ensure that the money is well spent.
The bonding bill that passed this session also included infrastructure funding of $2.4 million for Safe Routes to School and $1.2 million for Active Transportation grants. More thanks are due to the Capital Investment Committee Chairs Representative Fue Lee and Senator Sandra Pappas. This was the first time that active transportation was included in the bonding bill.
All of the policy provisions in the Bill Dooley Bicycle Safety Act were also included except for greater local authority to set speed limits on county and state roads. They will go into effect on August 1, 2023. Those changes include:
- Changing “schools MAY teach bicycle and pedestrian” safety to “MUST teach bicycle and pedestrian safety”.
- Changing the outdated “a bicyclist must ride as far to the right as practicable” to “as far to the right as is safe as determined by the bicyclist”.
- Making it legal to ride through a right-turn lane without turning right. Currently, this is accepted practice but until this change, if someone hits a bicyclist that is doing this it is the bicyclist’s fault.
- Making it legal for bicyclists to treat stop signs (not stop lights) as yield signs – aka the Idaho Stop.
- Reinstating the MnDOT Active Transportation Advisory Committee that was not reauthorized several years ago.
- Requiring MnDOT to be Minnesota’s go-to leader for active transportation information and guidance. They are currently doing a great job but that has not always been the case with past administrations.
- Renaming the North Star Bicycle Route after former member of Congress, Jim Oberstar, and designating it and the Mississippi River Trail as state bicycle routes.
- Creating the Advisory Council on Traffic Safety and including a representative from BikeMN among the many members (thanks to MN Safety Council)
If you are a passenger rail fan you’ll also be happy to know that the Northern Lights Express to Duluth was funded at a level that will unlock federal funding that will pay for the rest of the project. Service to Duluth is not expected for another three years but the bill also committed to the state share of the ongoing costs of a second train a day from St. Paul to Chicago. That service is expected to begin later this year or early 2024.
As always, we’ll keep you posted about opportunities to engage as projects get planned and implemented. You can sign up for our e-news at bikemn.org. Finally, we’d love to hear from you about wins in your community. Please share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Very truly yours,
Streets.MN interviewed Dorian about these legislative victories for Minnesota for their podcast, find the episode, transcript, and more here.