Ten Ways To Transform Transportation — Part II

People are free to choose the way they get around.  But the context shapes their likely choices.  This is Part II of a three-part series suggesting high-leverage actions that would shift the context from one that makes getting into a car the default option to one where walking or cycling would be equally – and in some situations more – easy to do.  Because mass transit is such a huge topic, I will deal with it separately in a later series of posts.

 

The ideas discussed in Part II include:

4. EXPAND SAFE ROUTES TO SCHOOL and SAFE ROUTES FOR SENIORS PROGRAMS 
5. REQUIRE LOCAL CITIZEN’S BIKE/PED ADVISORY COMMITTEES
6. CHANGE REGIONAL & LOCAL DECISION-MAKING PROCESS
7. ENCOURGE SMART GROWTH

Ideas 1-3 are discussed in Part I and ideas 8-10 plus a list of the provisions of the new Bike Safety Bill in Part III.   However, this is my list of the top ten ways to transform transportation.   I’m sure readers have others.  Please comment and add your own.

4)  EXPAND SAFE ROUTES TO SCHOOL and SAFE ROUTES FOR SENIORS PROGRAMS:

Require every school district receiving state aid to annually add one school to its list of schools participating in the Safe Routes program.  Require every municipality to make it easier and safer for older people to walk or bike to high-demand destinations providing food, social services, recreation, health care, civic involvement, etc. 

+ The percentage of children who walked or biked to school decreased by 68 percent from 1969 to 2001.  However, the Safe Routes to School program has shown that fixing sidewalks, installing crosswalks and traffic signals, slowing traffic, installing bike racks, providing adult supervision, and securing official encouragement can reverse the precipitous drop in the number of children walking or cycling to school.  Teachers know that kids who work out some energy before class are better able to concentrate on learning.  And doctors know that regular physical activity is one of the best ways to stay healthy.

+ Nearly 20-30% of morning traffic, and a high percentage of child-involving traffic accidents, occurs as parents drive their kids to school – often over extremely short distances.  Forbidding motorized traffic within 100 feet of a school during school hours (except for special needs and unavoidable deliveries) would immediately improve safety of everyone.

+ The state needs to dedicate a higher proportion of its highway funds to providing some or all of the cost of infrastructure improvements around schools and in senior-intensive neighborhoods to municipalities that are implementing full-fledged SRTS and SRFS programs.  “School Routes” should be identified so parents and children know the route with the greatest visibility at key crossing locations.  Curb cuts, curb extensions, cross walk markings, and pedestrian signal should be installed everywhere they’re needed.

+ An equal emphasis should be placed on bicycling to school as it is on walking to school.  In addition to cross walks, intersections should include red and green bicycle signal heads for children to know when to cross safety by bike. At school, children who bicycle should be credited for coming to school by bicycle. Secure, covered, and well-lit bicycle racks should be placed in a prominent location in front of schools to provide visible encouragement to nervous parents.  As mentioned above, it would be good if bicycle skill training was a required part of elementary school physical education programs (and if every child actually had Phys. Ed. – or at least a real recess – every day).

+ Studies repeatedly show that people, particularly the elderly, who live in neighborhoods with sidewalks are significantly more likely to walk than those whose neighborhoods lack sidewalks.

 

5)  REQUIRE LOCAL CITIZEN’S BIKE/PED ADVISORY COMMITTEES:

Require that every state agency and municipality (population over 10,000) receiving state aid have both bicycle and pedestrian citizen advisory committees – each including advocates, public health and environmental protection representatives – with the right to look over all land use, development, and transportation plans, including all requests for “exceptions” from the official state policies favoring “complete streets” and “traffic calming.” 

+ The state and many municipalities have good policies but often poor implementation around transportation-impacting plans.  These volunteer committees would not necessarily have the right to stop any plans, but they would have the right to make suggestions directly to decision-making officials, and as citizens the members would have the ability to raise a public outcry if local transportation agencies are not adequately incorporating the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, people of all ages and abilities.

+ “Complete Streets” and “traffic calming” are now officially encouraged design approaches on the federal, state, and many local levels.  However, they are not always incorporated into local, or even state, plans.  In addition, simply applying these terms to a road project is not enough.  Roads can be reconfigured with beautified streets full of trees, furniture, and even wider sidewalks, but cars are still able to zoom through at 30 to 40 mph with no provision for bicyclists except in the middle of the road.  The road may be improved and economic development goals realized, but this is not expressing the full meaning of traffic calming or multi-modal design.

+ Studies show that traffic calming reduces the incidence of crashes involving pedestrians and increases the amount of walking and cycling by people of all ages and of outdoor play among children.

6)  CHANGE REGIONAL & LOCAL DECISION-MAKING PROCESS:

Change or expand membership on the regional Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) to include representatives of state or local public health, environmental protection, and smart growth agencies; Require every MPO to have both pedestrian and bicycle advisory committees with the power to review and comment upon all projects being considered for TIP inclusion; Require MPOs to describe how each TIP project contributes to the attainment of state-wide transportation goals (see #10, below). 

+ The decision-making process for allocating scarce funds to transportation projects is complex, opaque, decentralized, and hierarchical – all at the same time.  Key players are the mis-named Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO), which are actually regional bodies.  Massachusetts, for example, has 13 MPOs.  They are chaired by a representative of the Secretary of Transportation and (except for the Boston MPO) typically include someone from the District Office of the state Highway Division, the state-funded Regional Planning Agency, the state funded Regional Transit Authority, and – through a Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Transportation and regional municipalities – an equal number of local mayors and selectmen. Finally, representatives of the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration serve as non-voting members of MPOs.

+ The key job of the MPO is to decide which projects are included on the annual Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), which are compiled state-wide into the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), which is then reviewed and approved by state and federal transportation and environmental agencies.  Bottom line – no project can receive federal funding, which is usually the only source of funding available, unless it is included on the STIP.

+ Despite the dominance of state agencies in the MPO, and despite state policy to compensate for the historic over-reliance on automobiles by prioritizing pedestrian and bicycling projects, at the local and regional levels inertia rules.  It is very unusual for MPOs to include non-car-centric projects on their TIP and very common for them to request “exceptions” from having to include full-scale bike or pedestrian accommodations in those projects.

+ To provide staff support for the new focus on MPO decision-making, contracts with the Regional Planning Agencies need to be revised to require the use of more staff and other resources on bicycle and pedestrian projects.

+ To further institutionalize this change in local decision-making, the MOU between the state and municipalities needs to be revised to require the presence of citizen bicycle and pedestrian advisory committees (see #4, above) in any municipality with a seat on the MPO.

 

 

7) ENCOURGE SMART GROWTH: 

Increase the incentives for, and the penalties for not, focusing suburban and rural development on creating mixed use, compact, walkable and bike-friendly town centers in ways that integrate with mass transit.

+ All land use has a transportation impact.  Planning decisions need to take into account how people will get to and from any new office, store, school or clinic.  Zoning needs to encourage new development to be close to other high-use destinations or in transit corridors.  Residential building should make good use of existing facilities and infrastructure.  Land-use policies “drive” transportation expenditures.

+ Massachusetts already has a number of transit-oriented-development and smart growth programs.  These programs need to be more tightly coordinated with affordable housing programs, school construction funding, economic development subsidies, and decisions about where to site public buildings or to encourage social service providers to locate.  Public buildings should model good locational decision-making, and public subsidies to private developers and service providers should require similar efforts.

+ And it is vital to include bicycling facilities in all these efforts, including protected bike lanes (or cycle tracks) and off-road paths as well as on-road lanes or shared spaces.  The “new urbanist” visions that provide the aesthetic framework for wider pedestrian spaces too often leaves out two-wheeled transportation.

+ Unless the increasing interest in cycling is matched by an increasingly complete set of bike-friendly facilities, it is likely that – as some Denver surgeons have pointed out in a recent study – we may be heading for an increasing number of increasingly severe injuries.

–>for a PDF file with the compiled material of Parts I, II, and III, please send an email to steve@livablestreets.info

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