State Support for Bike and Pedestrian Infrastructure

Even as programs that fund bike and pedestrian infrastructure such as Safe Routes to School, Complete Streets and Transportation Enhancements have been targeted for elimination at the federal level, states and localities are demonstrating a continued commitment to them, reflecting the public's desire to have transportation options, leisure opportunities and communities that are healthier and safer. But the infrastructure needs are great, the funding is insufficient and projects are being increasingly scrutinized. 

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In August 2011, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation requiring that the agency in charge of any road project receiving state and federal funds must consider the needs of everyone who uses the roads.

“New York’s roadways should safely accommodate all pedestrians, motorists and cyclists, and this legislation will help communities across the state achieve this objective,” Cuomo said in a press release about the state’s “Complete Streets” law.

Complete Streets design features include sidewalks, bike lanes, crosswalks, pedestrian signals, raised crosswalks, ramps and traffic calming measures.1

With Cuomo’s signature, New York became the 26th state to adopt a Complete Streets policy. Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., and 283 local jurisdictions also have written policies on the books, according to the National Complete Streets Coalition.2

Even as programs that fund bike and pedestrian infrastructure have been targeted for elimination at the federal level, states and localities are demonstrating a continued  commitment to them, which is reflective of the public’s desire to have transportation options, leisure opportunities and communities that are healthier and safer. These programs include not only Complete Streets, but also the Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to  School programs. In addition, an increasing number of states are incorporating bike and pedestrian needs into their transportation planning. But as in other infrastructure areas, the needs are great, the funding is limited and the merits of each project that receives funding are being subjected to increasing scrutiny.

Bike & Pedestrian Infrastructure Needs
Just as Cuomo was signing the Complete Streets bill, The New York Times reported on the dangers pedestrians in Orlando and other Florida communities face every day.

“So much of Florida has been built up so quickly in that era of the automobile-oriented design,” David Goldberg of the nonprofit safety advocacy organization Transportation for America told the newspaper.

Pedestrians must deal with strip mall-lined arterial roads that are constantly being widened to accommodate more traffic, long superblocks with infrequent and dishonored crosswalks, speeding motorists and missing sidewalks.3

Transportation for America’s 2011 report, “Dangerous by Design,” ranked the Orlando-Kissimmee region the most dangerous of 52 metro areas around the country. Three other Florida communities were in the top five. Orlando saw more than 550 pedestrians killed from 2000 to 2009, an annual fatality rate of three per 100,000 people. The national average is only 1.6 per 100,000.4

Orlando is taking the concerns to heart, building miles of new sidewalks, installing audible pedestrian signals and traffic slowing measures, modifying bus stops, creating overpasses and improving lighting. But, as the Times reported, it’s difficult to make the changes uniform since different roads fall under different state and local jurisdictions and bureaucracies.5

The Transportation for America report highlighted several actions it believes should be taken to solve what the organization calls an epidemic of preventable pedestrian deaths. Those actions include retaining and enhancing the Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School programs, the two federal programs some have targeted for elimination during recent negotiations over a new federal surface transportation authorization bill in Washington.

The report also said states and communities could benefit from another proposed targeted federal grant program to help them fill gaps in their pedestrian and bike infrastructure. Moreover, the organization said, more states should spend funds they receive from the Federal Highway  Safety Improvement Program on pedestrian infrastructure. Currently, only California and  Florida do so. The report notes that while motor vehicle deaths have declined markedly in recent years, pedestrian fatalities have not.

“Federal policy should require that states use their funding to reduce fatalities, making sure those reductions occur across every mode, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists and motorists,” the report said.

Transportation for America also suggests that Congress must demand accountability measures from state governments to ensure transportation safety funds are spent wisely on the most dangerous streets.

One other important thing state governments can do, according to the report, is to pass enabling legislation that allows the use of low-cost design solutions. These can include speed limit reductions in pedestrian areas and technologies like red light and speed traffic cameras.6

Funding for Bike & Pedestrian Infrastructure
State and federal support for biking and walking infrastructure in recent years, however, has not been at a level consistent with the percentages of walkers and bikers in communities and the number of them killed annually on the nation’s roads. The Alliance for Biking & Walking reported in its 2012 Benchmarking Report that in the 51 largest U.S. cities, 12.7 percent of trips are on foot and 1.1 percent are by bicycle. Pedestrians make up 26.9 percent of all traffic fatalities in those cities, while 3.1 percent are bicyclists.7 In rural areas, the percentage of trips made on foot or bike is only 20 percent below the rate in cities and the percentage of those who bike or walk to work is right in line with national averages.8

Yet states spend just 1.6 percent of their federal transportation dollars on bicycling and  walking infrastructure which amounts to just $2.17 per capita.9

“This is nowhere near an equitable amount (of funding) for these nonpolluting, energy-efficient means of travel,” Jeffrey Miller, alliance president and CEO, said in an interview with the online news service Environment and Energy Daily earlier this year. “We’d love to see 12 percent of funding going towards biking and walking, but at the very least we should be preserving what sliver of funding we’re giving to it.”10

Despite evidence that limited funds for infrastructure improvements may significantly impact the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians, preserving even existing funding has become a significant challenge for advocates of improvement programs and projects. Some members of Congress argue for limiting the federal role in transportation and question whether such safety improvement programs are even in the national interest. Transportation for America and others counter by arguing that 67 percent of all pedestrian fatalities from 2000 to 2009 occurred on roadways that are eligible to receive federal funding for construction and improvements with federal guidelines or oversight for design.11

Many trends in the traffic fatality and injury numbers for 2010, released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last year, were positive. The number of motor vehicle traffic fatalities was the lowest since 1949. But the number of pedestrians injured in traffic crashes increased 19 percent, rising from 59,000 in 2009 to 70,000 in 2010. Pedestrian
fatalities increased 4.2 percent.12

A January 2011 report from the Governors Highway Safety Association analyzed the NHTSA data and cited a number of factors that may have contributed to the increase, including more distracted pedestrians with the proliferation of smartphones and portable electronic devices. The report quotes one North Carolina survey answer that points to another explanation: “Rapid urbanization, a weakened economy, and growing numbers of vulnerable populations (including older pedestrians and socio-economically disadvantaged groups) without other transportation options have challenged the state to keep up with issues specific to pedestrian safety and mobility.”

Regardless of the root causes, though, the GHSA report pointed to well-established general principles states should follow if pedestrian safety is a priority.
They include:

  • Incorporating pedestrians into state Strategic Highway Safety Plans or having separate pedestrian safety plans.
  • Analyzing crash data to identify pedestrian safety problems. Some states conduct  pedestrian safety audits as well.
  • Allocating appropriate resources to pedestrian countermeasures to reserve roadway space and time for pedestrians, such as pedestrian zone signs, countdown signals and median refuge islands. The report notes that Georgia has added pedestrian-activated red stop lights at pedestrian crossings with high volumes of people. Las Vegas and other cities have added separate pedestrian walkways.
  • Strengthening laws and enforcement. New Jersey, for example, now requires vehicles to stop, rather than just yield, for pedestrians in crosswalks. Hawaii and New Jersey also have deployed police officers as “decoy” pedestrians in some marked crosswalks. Motorists who fail to stop for the “undercover” officers are issued warnings or tickets by other uniformed officers a short distance away.
  • Continuing programs to educate children on safe pedestrian behavior.13

In recent years states have been able to turn to three programs that seek to provide project funding support and guidance to make sure their transportation plans incorporate the needs of all users. These include Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to School and the aforementioned Complete Streets program.

Transportation Enhancements Program
In 2004, when a Maryland community was looking to improve safety and congestion concerns along a high-volume road where it intersected with a trail for hikers and bikers, local officials relied in part on $3.95 million in funds from a program known as Transportation Enhancements to construct a pedestrian bridge and improve lighting and signage in the area.14

The federal Transportation Enhancements program, first established in 1992 as part of the surface transportation law known as ISTEA, has in the years since provided more than $8.5 billion in dedicated funding for bike and pedestrian projects to communities across the country.

But some in Congress have argued in recent months that dedicated funding for the program be eliminated or made optional for states. They’ve pointed to the use of program funds in some states for “beautification projects—such as movie theaters, squirrel sanctuaries, turtle tunnels and flower beds” (as a press release on the website of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., described them)15—funds they contend could have been better spent on higher priority needs such as repairing the nation’s crumbling bridges.

Some, however, believe the purpose and size of the program have been misrepresented, and the Associated Press reported last year that in some cases, lawmakers have exaggerated the nature of projects funded by the program to make their case against it.16

“Though there are 12 eligible uses in the transportation enhancements program … more than half of TE funds are spent to make people on foot or bike safer,” Stephen Lee Davis of Transportation for America wrote in a 2011 blog post. “While TE only accounts for 1.5 percent of transportation funding, it is the largest source of funding for biking and walking facilities—which carry 12 percent of all trips in the United States.”17

Moreover, the program is oversubscribed in many states, with requests for funds running about three times the amount available.

“It’s wildly popular across the country,” Kevin Mills, vice president of the Washington,  D.C.-based nonprofit Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, told The Washington Post last year. “This program has been the lifeblood of the nation’s trails, biking and walking programs.”18

Advocates fear that without a dedicated federal funding stream for Transportation  Enhancements, states would likely reduce spending for safety features like sidewalks, crosswalks and trails, leaving even more Americans at risk.

While projects to support nonmotorized transportation may be popular among local officials and the general public, some state departments of transportation have been reluctant to fund such projects through existing programs and the regular state transportation planning process.

Instead, they’ve turned to other funding streams in recent years. The bicycle advocacy organization America Bikes points out that the amount spent on bicycling and walking infrastructure increased by 50 percent when states were awarded funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Moreover, more than half of the grants awarded under the federal TIGER program—Transportation Investment Generating Economic  Recovery—went to projects that included significant nonmotorized components.

But America Bikes also notes that, in general, when states are given more discretion over how to spend funds on nonmotorized transportation projects, they usually end up spending less on those kinds of projects. And state department of transportation officials in states such as Florida, Oklahoma, Utah and Nevada have told Congress in recent years they don’t support the federal programs that supply funding for those projects and don’t want to be required to spend any funds at all on bicycling and walking.19

Safe Routes to School 
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn announced in January 2012 that schools and communities around the state would share $21.7 million in federal grant funds for 229 projects to enable and  encourage children to walk and bike to school.

The grants are part of the Safe Routes to School program, established in 2005 and administered by the  Federal Highway Administration. The program seeks to reverse a more than 40-year decline in the percentage of K-8th grade students who regularly walk or bike to school.

“These projects enhance roads, sidewalks and other infrastructure within communities, which is important in keeping both drivers and pedestrians safe,” Quinn said in announcing the grants. “Encouraging children to walk and bike to school not only makes school routes safer, but also improves the quality of life for Illinois residents by easing traffic congestion and reducing emissions.”

The funded projects will support sidewalk repairs, equipment for police and crossing guards, safety training, educational materials and public service announcements encouraging safe walking and biking to school.20

The 2005 legislation that established the federal Safe Routes to School Program required each state to create and fill a state Safe Routes to School coordinator position to oversee  implementation of the program. But states also were given flexibility in administering their programs. The legislation required that no less than 10 percent and no more than 30 percent of each state’s funding be allocated to noninfrastructure activities including education, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation.21

According to Transportation for America, federal Safe Routes to School funding is inadequate to meet all the needs of schools around the country. Funded at $950 million from the 2005 fiscal year to the 2011 fiscal year, at just 0.25 percent of the federal transportation budget, the program has provided grants to more than 11,000 schools. But that represents only about 11.5 percent of the nation’s schools and, in many cases, the grants awarded covered only a portion of needed safety improvements around each school.22

The Alliance for Biking and Walking in its 2012 Benchmarking Report identified 18 states--including Illinois--that have supplemented federal Safe Routes to School funds with additional funding sources, including state funds, Transportation Enhancement program funds, state license plate sales and private foundation funding.23

Yet, like the Transportation Enhancements program, the Safe Routes to School program has been targeted for elimination as some members of Congress seek to focus limited federal transportation dollars in other areas.

Complete Streets
Complete Streets is a third program having an impact on the nation’s bike and pedestrian infrastructure. As mentioned earlier, New York was among the states to adopt a Complete Streets law in 2011 but it was not the only one. Vermont and Missouri did as well.

In signing legislation in his state, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said, “This law will guarantee that we’re designing roads that work for the future—for older Vermonters, for those who choose to take public transportation, for people who opt to walk to their jobs and errands, and for motorists.”24

The AARP was among the dozens of advocacy organizations that worked to pass the measure in Vermont. “AARP supports Complete Streets because as people get older they drive less or hang up the keys altogether,” the organization’s Vermont website says.

“This life change can mean a lower quality of life, less independence and isolation if  alternative ways of getting around are not available. But there are many other reasons to support Complete Streets. Public health advocates support development of safe places
to exercise as a way to combat obesity and chronic disease. Safe alternatives to driving can reduce our carbon footprint and promote livable communities that follow smart growth land use patterns. And for everyone young and old who is riding a bike or walking, safety on the road is a top concern.”25

In passing a state policy in Missouri, state officials followed the lead of individual  communities in the state that have been singled out as having some of the best Complete Streets policies in the nation. Nine Missouri cities, towns and metropolitan planning organizations won praise for their Complete Streets ordinances, resolutions, policies and plans in a report last year from the National Complete Streets Coalition.

The report said Complete Streets policies at several levels of government are important to take the burden off any one to accomplish all the process and procedure changes necessary for successful implementation. With each level of government working toward the same vision, changes can be implemented more gradually and with greater regional coordination. In addition to creating statewide policies, state governments have an important leadership role to play in providing guidance to localities on Complete Streets. The New Jersey and Wisconsin departments of transportation, for example, have programs to help local officials understand the more technical and process details of Complete Streets.

The report also lists the elements of what the coalition believes comprise an ideal Complete Streets policy. The report says the policy, among other things, should:

  • Include a vision for how and why the community wants to complete its streets.
  • Specify that “all users” include pedestrians, bicyclists and transit passengers of all ages and abilities, as well as trucks, buses and automobiles.
  • Encourage street connectivity and aim to create a comprehensive, integrated, connected network for all modes.
  • Be understood by all agencies to cover all roads.
  • Apply to both new and retrofit projects, including design, planning, maintenance and operations, for the entire right of way.
  • Make any exceptions specific and set a clear procedure that requires high-level approval.
  • Direct the use of the latest and best design criteria and guidelines while recognizing the need for flexibility in balancing user needs.
  • Direct that Complete Streets solutions will complement the context of the community.
  • Establish performance standards with measurable outcomes.
  • Include specific next steps for implementation of the policy.26

But many state Complete Streets policies around the nation have their own unique elements as well. For example, the Connecticut Department of Transportation has a “Quick Fix” program that uses operational funding to make safety improvements quickly, while funding is limited with the intention of implementing more capital-intensive improvements later when additional dollars are available.27

Despite the success and proliferation of state and local Complete Streets initiatives, many believe a National Complete Streets Policy, which could be adopted as part of the next federal surface transportation authorization bill, is needed. Such a measure could require states and metropolitan planning organizations that have not already done so to craft and adhere to Complete Streets policies. It also could require agencies to consider the needs of cyclists, pedestrians and transit users when building roads with federal funds.28

The U.S. Department of Transportation issued a policy statement in 2010 that expresses support for the development of “fully integrated active transportation networks.”

“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,” the policy statement said.

The DOT also encourages states and other government entities to adopt similar policy statements and to “go beyond minimum design standards and requirements to create safe, attractive sustainable, accessible and convenient bicycling and walking networks.”
Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, the policy says transportation agencies should consider walking and bicycling on an equal footing with other transportation modes because of the benefits they provide.

“Walking and bicycling should not be an afterthought in roadway design,” the policy reads.29

Bike & Pedestrian Transportation Planning
Statewide planning is another area where policymakers can help to make the infrastructure safer for those on foot or bike and Oregon is seen as a leader in land use and transportation planning. Since 1995, Oregon’s Department of Transportation has included a bicycle and pedestrian plan as one element of its overall state transportation plan. The plan—and amore recently updated design guide—outline the overall vision for bike and pedestrian policy and document in detail numerous specific planning principles and recommended facility design standards for use by local jurisdictions.30

Incorporating the needs of biking and walking infrastructure into state planning efforts has become increasingly common in recent years, according to the Alliance for Biking & Walking’s 2012 Benchmarking Report.

Thirty-four states have published goals for increasing both bicycling and walking among their citizenry. Many of those states also have committed to improving safety for those walkers and riders. Forty-one states report having adopted goals to decrease pedestrian fatalities and 38 have goals to decrease bike fatalities, the report said.

Twenty-four states have adopted master plans for bicycling and walking. Four others have plans for one or the other and two other states are considering plans.

The report also notes that 24 states have bike and pedestrian advisory committees that assist with the planning, development, prioritizing, and implementation of bike and walking programs and facilities.31

Future of Bike & Pedestrian Infrastructure Policy
But even where states and communities may be on board with policies to improve  transportation infrastructure for all users, the challenges remain immense and may require them to employ additional remedies.

The Los Angeles Times reported in 2011 that 42 percent of sidewalks in that city were in need of repair. City officials estimate eliminating the backlog of needed improvements could cost as much as $1.6 billion. But at current funding levels, it would take the city 70 years to fix all the sidewalks even as additional deterioration is taking place. Los Angeles is considering, as one possible solution, requiring individual property owners to be responsible for sidewalk
repairs.32

Connecticut lawmakers are considering legislation this year that would penalize motorists whose careless driving results in harm to pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable road users. Despite the enactment of Complete Streets legislation in 2009, many Connecticut
roads remain hostile to users of nonmotorized transportation due to a lack of enforcement of careless driving laws, proponents of the vulnerable user legislation say.

From 2008 to 2010, 135 pedestrians and cyclists were killed on Connecticut roads; approximately 1,500 are injured annually. But under existing laws, unless these incidents involve drug or alcohol use or hit-and-run, drivers are rarely held accountable.33

The legislation (Raised Bill No. 111), which has the support of more than 20 advocacy organizations in the state, would:

  • Establish a class of vulnerable users of a public way.
  • Define vulnerable users of a public way as pedestrians, highway workers, a person using a wheelchair or motorized chair, people riding or driving an animal, people operating farm tractors or implements of husbandry without enclosed shells, bicycles, scooters, roller or inline skates and skateboards. Advocacy groups have sought to add first responders to the list of vulnerable users as well.
  • Establish penalties for infliction of serious physical injury or death to a vulnerable user when a person fails to operate due care when using a motor vehicle. The penalties would include participation in a motor vehicle operator’s retraining program, performance of community service and a fine of not more than $5,000.34

Conclusion
With gas prices at an all-time high in many parts of the country, the U.S. is likely to see more Americans seeking alternatives to their automobiles, including walking and biking. That makes it increasingly important that the infrastructure is sufficient to accommodate them and keep them safe.

Yet the debate over bike and pedestrian infrastructure comes at a time of great needs across all modes of transportation and limited funds for meeting those needs. It will be incumbent upon state and local governments in the years ahead to demonstrate the value of these projects, policies and programs to ensure that they are continued, enhanced and, where necessary, revised to better meet the needs.

Actions at multiple levels of government and coordination among them will be important to ensuring a consistent vision for an integrated, connected, safe infrastructure that serves all users. The solutions will come both at the micro and macro levels, from changing a recommended cross walk configuration to changing a departmental focus.

In an era of limited funds, policymakers must weigh carefully the resources they’re willing to commit to ensuring a pedestrian can safely cross an Orlando street or a child can walk to school in Illinois. Because while investments that build new roads and help to move the nation’s commerce are critical, so too are those that help protect the most vulnerable users of our transportation systems and help to ensure a healthier and safer future for our communities.

REFERENCES

1 Office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “Governor Cuomo to Sign ‘Complete Streets Legislation.’”
Press Release. August 15, 2011. 
2 National Complete Streets Coalition. “Complete Streets – Current Policies.” January 5, 2012. 
3 Lizette Alvarez. “On Wide Florida Roads, Running for Dear Life.” The New York Times. August 15, 2011. 
4 Transportation for America. “Dangerous by Design.” May 2011. 
5 Alvarez.
6 Transportation for America.
7 Alliance for Biking & Walking. “Bicycling and Walking in the United States: 2012
Benchmarking Report
.” January 2012. 
8 Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. “Active Transportation Beyond Urban Centers.” January 2012. 
9 Alliance for Biking & Walking.
10 Julia Piper. “Advocates seek to preserve federal funds for walking and biking.” Environment and Energy Daily. January 24, 2012.
11 Transportation for America.
12 Larry Copeland. “As U.S. road deaths drop, more pedestrians getting struck.” USA Today. December 8, 2011. 
13 Governors Highway Safety Association. “Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State: 2010 Preliminary Data.” January 2011.  
14 National Transportation Enhancements Clearinghouse. “Rock Creek Hiker-Biker
Trail Bridge: Aspen Hill, MD
.”
15 Office of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul. “Senate Votes on Paul Amendment to Address Nation’s
Crumbling Infrastructure
.” Press Release. November 1, 2011. 
16 Joan Lowy. “Fact Check: GOP lawmakers spin funding tall tales.” Associated Press.
October 30, 2011. 
17 Stephen Lee Davis. “Correcting some misinformation on bicycle and pedestrian
spending
.” T4America blog post. September 9, 2011. 
18 Ashley Halsey III. “Federal transportation funding mandates—the coming
Capitol Hill battle
.” The Washington Post. October 24, 2011. 
19 America Bikes and League of American Bicyclists. “Why ‘Eligibility’ Isn’t Enough: The case for dedicated bicycle and pedestrian funding in the federal transportation bill.” 
20 “Governor Quinn announces $21.7 million award to create ‘Safe Routes to School.'" GateHouse News Service. January 24, 2012. 
21 Governors Highway Safety Association, Federal Highway Administration, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and National Center for Safe Routes to School. “Safe Routes to School Noteworthy Practices Guide: A Compendium of State SRTS Program Practices.” 2011. 
22 Transportation for America.
23 Alliance for Biking & Walking.
24 Chris Garofolo. “Gov. signs into law ‘Complete Streets.’” Brattleboro Reformer. May 19, 2011. 
25 AARP. “Complete Streets for Vermont.” 
26 National Complete Streets Coalition. “Complete Streets Policy Analysis 2010: A Story of Growing Strength.” April 2011.  
27 Ryan Lynch. “Six Months Later, ConnDOT Making Progress on New Bicycle and Pedestrian Policies.” Tri-State Transportation Campaign. May 25, 2011. 
28 Tanya Snyder. “Complete Streets Bill Introduced in Senate.” Streetsblog Capitol Hill.
May 27, 2011. 
29 U.S. Department of Transportation. “Policy Statement on Bicycle and Pedestrian
Accommodation Regulations and Recommendations
.” Press Release. March 11, 2010. 
30 Oregon Department of Transportation. “Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan” and “Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Design Guide.” 
31 Alliance for Biking & Walking.
32 Ari Bloomekatz. “42% of L.A. sidewalks await repairs.” Los Angeles Times. November 28, 2011. 
33 Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “Support the Protection of All Users of Connecticut Roads.” Fact Sheet. 
34 State of Connecticut General Assembly. “Raised Bill No. 111: An Act Concerning the Penalty for Causing Harm to Vulnerable User of a Public Way.” 
 

State Support for Bike and Pedestrian Infrastructure

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