5 Bills Every Bike Advocate Should Care About
By: Kiran Herbert, PeopleForBikes local programs writer
We’ve combed through every state bicycling bill currently being considered — here are the top five themes that emerged and why they’re important.
PeopleForBikes’ state and local policy team keeps a running document of state legislative bills that could have implications, good or bad, for bike riding and bike businesses. Over the past six years, they’ve noted a significant bump in the representation of bikes in state legislatures and recently, certain bills have stood out as fitting into a national theme or being completely novel.
“The 2021 legislative sessions are proving to be a prime example of how bike legislation can not only improve bike riding but also play a serious role in helping states achieve their environmental, social and economic goals,” said Ashley Seaward, PeopleForBikes’ regulatory and policy analyst.
The five policies highlighted below represent shifts in the way America is making recreation and active transportation decisions, even if none of them are ultimately passed into law. To simply have the ideas in these bills put into an official form at the legislative level means we’re on the right track toward garnering broad public support for bicycles and improving our communities nationwide.
1. Outdoor RX Programing
Outdoor recreation bills have been introduced in Utah (House Bill 254), Nebraska (Legislative Bill 605) and Washington (House Bill 5292), but we’re particularly fond of Illinois’ House Bill 194. The bill, introduced by Rep. Sonya M. Harper, creates the Outdoor RX Program Act, which would provide funds for outdoor environmental, ecological, agricultural and other natural resource and outdoor-based therapy programs.
Included in the bill is some great preamble language: “Time outdoors can be a valuable adjunct therapy in addition to more traditional health care, while also reducing reliance on prescription medication.” Furthermore, the bill lists the therapeutic benefits of time spent outdoors as a scientific fact, a known way to “help reduce stress, improve concentration and promote overall well-being, both physical and mental.”
Why should you care? This bill would put into Illinois state law that outdoor recreation is on par with other forms of therapy and medicine, opening the opportunity for other states (and, ideally, insurance companies) to follow suit. By providing a more holistic approach to caring for people, a healthcare provider might eventually be able to prescribe riding a bike instead of medication, lessening our dependence on prescription medication while still improving our overall health.
2. Electric Bicycle Incentives
In case you missed it, our federal policy team has been hard at work alongside Representatives Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) to introduce the Electric Bicycle Incentive Kickstart for the Environment (E-BIKE) Act (H.R. 1019). At the state level, there are currently 23 proposed bills related to electric bicycles.
California’s Assembly Bill 117 stands out for its acknowledgment that electric bicycles are a critical form of transportation and integral when it comes to reducing carbon emissions. This bill would bring about a massive investment in electric bicycles through the Electric Bicycle Rebate Pilot Project, which would be funded with $10 million from the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund as part of the Air Quality Improvement Program.
Two other electric bicycle incentive bills of note: Oklahoma’s Senate Bill 435, which would legalize a $200 electric bicycle purchase incentive, and Washington’s House Bill 1330, which would do away with the existing sales tax on electric bicycles and allow for a $200 incentive to be used on related bicycling equipment.
Why should you care? A 2019 study found that across the United States, we can expect an 11% decrease in carbon emissions with a 15% increase in electric bicycle mode share. The above states are the first to put out realistic models for incentivizing this shift and getting more people buying, and commuting by, electric bicycles.
3. Combating Climate Change
Dubbed “GHG” for greenhouse gas emissions by our policy team, these bills offer ways for states to combat the rising threat of climate change. Although most bills propose multiple avenues for reducing emissions, all have positive implications for bike infrastructure. Vermont’s House Bill 120 specifically names bicycle infrastructure networks as a way to reduce emissions.
New Jersey’s Assembly Bill 5196 would provide loans and other financial assistance for climate change mitigation and resilience projects, including “zero-emission vehicle infrastructure” (i.e. bike networks). What’s more, the bill stipulates that climate change mitigation projects might include “zero-emission public transportation projects,” such as bike share programs.
Why should you care? Bills like these have only started to emerge in the last few years, hinting at a larger shift in the national conversation surrounding climate change. By providing large-scale funding for public investment projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, these kinds of bills mean big money for potential bike projects. They also offer a prime opportunity for environmental and transportation advocates to collaborate on a unified goal of reducing emissions through bikes.
4. Bike Riding Incentives
No bill is likely to get more people riding than one that offers financial benefits for bicyclists. There are currently two policy proposals that do just that in New York and Hawaii. Hawaii’s, Senate Bill 524, is really an overall commuting bill with positive implications for workers that choose to bike. Similar to the federal Bicycle Commuter Act, which was recently reintroduced to Congress, it would essentially give Hawaiians commuter benefits no matter what mode of transportation they choose.
The preamble language is particularly bold and we’re here for it: “The legislature finds that the State's policy of providing highly subsidized parking for state employees limits the employees' choices, does not reduce traffic congestion or greenhouse gas emissions, and contradicts state policies to encourage alternative modes of transportation.” New York’s Assembly Bill 2234 would similarly allow bicyclists to qualify for commuter benefits.
Why should you care? People should be rewarded for choosing to get to work by bike and, in lieu of national action that’s proved fickle in the past, states are starting to take action. More people commuting by bike means more support for bike infrastructure, cleaner air and healthier employees.
5. Action on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI)
What does a DEI bill have to do with biking? Like almost everything in American life, transportation is intersectional and there’s a long history of disenfranchisement when it comes to Black, Indigenous and people of color, as well as low-income populations and folks with disabilities. Oregon’s House Bill 2985 would ensure that members of the Oregon Department of Transportation advisory committee reflect the racial, ethnic and ability composition of the state.
Why should you care? Transportation decisions need to be made with input from people from all communities, backgrounds and ethnicities. Historically, Black and brown communities have been underrepresented or excluded completely from public planning decisions at every level. We need to make sure there are legal obligations to include all people affected by transportation projects and decisions.