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.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Pedestrian Deaths are Preventable: Demand Safer Streets! (Partnership for Prevention)

This article is reposted from Partnership for Prevention, a nationwide public health advocacy group: Sean Barry explains Dangerous by Design, a report released yesterday from T4America and Surface Transportation Policy Partnership, which is receiving significant national attention.

The following guest post was written by Sean Barry with Transportation for America - a national coalition seeking to align our national, state, and local transportation policies with an array of issues like economic opportunity, climate change, energy security, health, housing and community development.

In the last few years, health advocates have increasingly urged Americans to walk, bike and exercise more often, noting regular physical activity is paramount to good health. Unfortunately, a new report released this week by Transportation for America and the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership reveals that walking in many of our communities is far more dangerous than it should be.

Dangerous by Design: Solving the Epidemic of Preventable Pedestrian Deaths (and Making Great Neighborhoods) shows that the level of pedestrian fatalities in the U.S. is roughly equivalent to a jumbo jet going down every month. But there is no national sense of urgency about pedestrian safety.

Under current federal transportation law, projects that benefit pedestrians and bicyclists are labeled “enhancements” and attacked by some as luxuries that detract from core road and highway building.

Current transportation policies vastly shortchange people who walk or bike. Less than 1.5 percent of total federal funds are ultimately spent on pedestrian safety, despite walkers comprising 11.8 percent of all traffic deaths and a comparable percentage of all trips. In this decade alone, 43,000 Americans have died preventable deaths while walking or crossing a street in their community. Although members of every demographic group are affected, ethnic minorities are suffering disproportionately, with African-American fatalities 70 percent higher than whites, and Hispanics 62 percent higher.

It should not come as a surprise that our inadequate investment in roads safe for all users adversely affects safety and health. For many Americans, daily physical activity is no longer a part of their daily existence. Seniors, the disabled and low-income Americans who cannot or chose not to drive face limited alternatives. Lower rates of physical activity are linked to rising obesity and pollution from automobiles increases the risks of asthma.

Dangerous by Design ranks America’s major metropolitan areas according to a Pedestrian Danger Index that measures how safe they are for walking. The report also profiles communities across the country that have successfully stepped up and reversed current trends.

In St. Petersburg, FL, for example, a “Vision 2020” planning process resulted in 13 additional miles of sidewalks and 32 rapid-flashing signals at crosswalks, improving driver-yielding compliance by 83 percent. In Charleston, SC, two-thirds of area residents say they are getting more exercise after the launch of a three-mile pedestrian and bike path. And, the installation of 1,600 speed humps in residential Oakland, CA led to a 50 to 60 percent reduction in the odds of injury or death among children walking.

There is growing movement for action in Congress as well. Last year, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) introduced the Complete Streets Act. This legislation would ensure that new road projects emphasize safety and accessibility for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists and transit riders.

Transportation for America is working to arrange a meeting with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, perhaps as soon as next week. At this meeting, we plan to deliver the message from our hundreds of partner organizations and thousands of supporters across the country that safer streets must be a priority.

Sign our petition today and help us send a strong message to the USDOT!

We hope the release of this report will fuel a greater sense of urgency about pedestrian safety and the need for a more balanced transportation policy. With health care remaining in the headlines, let’s convey to our representatives that making our streets safer is no longer just an “enhancement,” but an essential.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Finally a Conclusive Literature Review on Cycling Infrastructure and Safety

Finally a decent, conclusive literature review on cycling infrastructure! The researchers at UBC did a great job with their report, which reviewed several dozen English-language studies and was released just a few weeks ago. Check it out: Winters, Meghan et al. The impact of transportation infrastructure on bicycling injuries and crashes: a review of the literature. Environmental Health 2009, 8:47. There's a PDF link at the bottom of the page. A hat tip to Elly at Bike Portland for the heads-up.

Of course, many studies have been done on infrastructure, but they have been mostly limited to specific situations. Although in the end, a large proportion of the data that these authors reviewed still turned out to be limited and inconclusive (proving that much more rigorous study is needed), they did conclude the following:

"The principal trend that emerges from the papers reviewed here is that clearly-marked, bike-specific facilities (i.e. cycle tracks at roundabouts, bike routes, bike lanes, and bike paths) were consistently shown to provide improved safety for cyclists compared to on-road cycling with traffic or off-road with pedestrians and other users. Marked bike lanes and bike routes were found to reduce injury or crash rates by about half compared to unmodified roadways."

When it comes to understanding the impact of infrastructure on transportation safety, access and promotion, this is the equivalent of a breakthrough. In light of the research, it is no surprise that so many communities are passing Complete Streets bills and that the CDC is specifically recommending bike lanes and crosswalks as a cure for the nation's still-expanding obesity epidemic.