Friday, November 13, 2009

USDOT Policy Proposal on Complete Streets Breaks Down Silos; Defines "Livable Community"

Great news today for pedestrian-oriented communities from the US Department of Transportation. A new policy proposal would dramatically expand, and help clarify, the funding eligibility of improvements for pedestrian access -- currently often limited only to areas immediately surrounding a mass transit access point -- to anywhere within 1/2 mile of a station (3 miles for bicycle improvements).

For the entire article and additional details, see: "Proposed Policy Statement on the Eligibility of Pedestrian and Bicycle Improvements Under Federal Transit Law," Federal Register / Vol. 74, No. 218 / Friday, November 13, 2009 / Notices.

If the policy change is accepted, a portion of federal transit (FTA) funding could be used to build complete streets that would connect train stations, schools, employment centers and residential neighborhoods. Researchers have found that these facilities dramatically increase the proportion of Americans able to walk or bicycle on a daily basis, while promoting transit use. The Safe Routes to Transit program is one example.

In New Haven, FTA station access funding is currently being applied to a bicycling route from Downtown to Union Station. Although the route is taking time to build due to bureaucratic obstacles and bicycle parking is an issue, the first round of street improvements should be completed in Spring 2010.

The USDOT's proposed change may help allow the federal government to funnel additional construction funding directly to transit-rich communities. Given the proven impact of complete streets on transportation access, the fact that taking a single one-mile trip by foot each day would save families hundreds of dollars per year, and the fact that $5.6 billion in national costs would be saved if just 10% of Americans were able to walk more each day, we believe that this this policy change will pay for itself many times over.

Incidentally, the Federal Register piece cites studies used by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as well as other agencies working to build a healthy, energy-efficient and economically-vibrant nation. This is good evidence that our Executive Branch is working to break down the longstanding agency silos in Washington.

A succinct definition of livable communities -- which closely ties in with CDC's public health priorities -- may be found within the announcement:

A livable community is ‘‘a community where if people don’t want an automobile, they don’t have to have one; a community where you can walk to work, your doctor’s appointment, pharmacy or grocery store. Or you could take light rail, a bus, or ride a bike.’’

According to Secretary LaHood, ‘‘[l]ivable communities are mixed-use neighborhoods with highly-connected streets promoting mobility for all users, whether they are children walking or biking to school or commuters riding transit or driving motor vehicles. Benefits include improved traffic flow, shorter trip lengths, safer streets for pedestrians and cyclists, lower greenhouse gas emissions, reduced dependence on fossil fuels, increased trip-chaining, and independence for those who prefer not to or are unable to drive. In addition, investing in a ‘‘complete street’’ concept stimulates private-sector economic activity by increasing the viability of street-level retail small businesses and professional services, creating housing opportunities and extending the usefulness of school and transit facilities.’’

To illustrate the Secretary’s point, more than half of older adults who described an inhospitable environment outside their homes would walk, bicycle, or take public transportation more if their streets were improved.

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