The DOT policy is to incorporate safe and convenient walking and bicycling facilities into transportation projects. Every transportation agency, including DOT, has the responsibility to improve conditions and opportunities for walking and bicycling and to integrate walking and bicycling into their transportation systems. Because of the numerous individual and community benefits that walking and bicycling provide — including health, safety, environmental, transportation, and quality of life — transportation agencies are encouraged to go beyond minimum standards to provide safe and convenient facilities for these modes.
Having spent most of his tenure chiding distracted drivers and hunting down demon-possessed Toyotas, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood appears to be over the whole car thing. The policy statement above was just one element of his push to put bicycling and other car alternatives on an equal footing to cars in transportation planning, which he recently announced at the National Bike Summit.
The main points of LaHood’s pro-bike policy shift are explained in his “Recommended Actions”:
The DOT encourages States, local governments, professional associations, community organizations, public transportation agencies, and other government agencies, to adopt similar policy statements on bicycle and pedestrian accommodation as an indication of their commitment to accommodating bicyclists and pedestrians as an integral element of the transportation system. In support of this commitment, transportation agencies and local communities should go beyond minimum design standards and requirements to create safe, attractive, sustainable, accessible, and convenient bicycling and walking networks. Such actions should include:
- Considering walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes: The primary goal of a transportation system is to safely and efficiently move people and goods. Walking and bicycling are efficient transportation modes for most short trips and, where convenient intermodal systems exist, these nonmotorized trips can easily be linked with transit to significantly increase trip distance. Because of the benefits they provide, transportation agencies should give the same priority to walking and bicycling as is given to other transportation modes. Walking and bicycling should not be an afterthought in roadway design.
- Ensuring that there are transportation choices for people of all ages and abilities, especially children: Pedestrian and bicycle facilities should meet accessibility requirements and provide safe, convenient, and interconnected transportation networks. For example, children should have safe and convenient options for walking or bicycling to school and parks. People who cannot or prefer not to drive should have safe and efficient transportation choices.
- Going beyond minimum design standards: Transportation agencies are encouraged, when possible, to avoid designing walking and bicycling facilities to the minimum standards. For example, shared-use paths that have been designed to minimum width requirements will need retrofits as more people use them. It is more effective to plan for increased usage than to retrofit an older facility. Planning projects for the long-term should anticipate likely future demand for bicycling and walking facilities and not preclude the provision of future improvements.
- Integrating bicycle and pedestrian accommodation on new, rehabilitated, and limited-access bridges: DOT encourages bicycle and pedestrian accommodation on bridge projects including facilities on limited-access bridges with connections to streets or paths.
- Collecting data on walking and biking trips: The best way to improve transportation networks for any mode is to collect and analyze trip data to optimize investments. Walking and bicycling trip data for many communities are lacking. This data gap can be overcome by establishing routine collection of nonmotorized trip information. Communities that routinely collect walking and bicycling data are able to track trends and prioritize investments to ensure the success of new facilities. These data are also valuable in linking walking and bicycling with transit.
- Setting mode share targets for walking and bicycling and tracking them over time: A byproduct of improved data collection is that communities can establish targets for increasing the percentage of trips made by walking and bicycling.
- Removing snow from sidewalks and shared-use paths: Current maintenance provisions require pedestrian facilities built with Federal funds to be maintained in the same manner as other roadway assets. State Agencies have generally established levels of service on various routes especially as related to snow and ice events.
Improving nonmotorized facilities during maintenance projects: Many transportation agencies spend most of their transportation funding on maintenance rather than on constructing new facilities. Transportation agencies should find ways to make facility improvements for pedestrians and bicyclists during resurfacing and other maintenance projects.
As the authors of Carjacked, and others (especially here in bike-obsessed Portland) are quick to point out, America’s transportation policy has existed solely to serve cars since time immemorial. Including provisions for non-car transportation shouldn’t necessarily come at the expense of cars and road infrastructure. Especially considering how relatively few opportunities there are to replace regular car use with bicycles or the bus. Besides, LaHood can only veto major, federally-funded infrastructure programs if they fail to include provisions for cyclists and non-car transportation.
Like so much that LaHood has done since taking office, this statement was highly symbolic and of little real consequence. But while LaHood grandstands, a larger problem looms: the president just signed legislation that will spend $19.5b to keep the federal highway trust fund solvent until 2011, at which point more tough choices will have to be made. Given LaHood’s publicly-stated preference for a vehicle-tracking, pay-per-mile taxation regime to rebuild the highway trust fund, some might see his wooing of anti-car (or, at least pro-bike) forces in a more sinister light. LaHood has made no secret of his desire to “wean America off the automobile,” and and between pay-per-mile and the British government’s bag of anti-car tricks and taxes, he’s got a lot of options. But with the 2012 election picture looking far from perfect, LaHood will probably have to forgo any big political risks for more symbolic pronouncements like this one. Car fans can breath easy for a little while longer.