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U.S. DOT Releases New Guidance to Make Streets Safe for Cycling

Last month in Pittsburgh, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx unveiled a new federal initiative aimed at reducing pedestrian and cyclist fatalities. Despite declining overall traffic fatalities, people walking and biking are being killed more often on American streets, a disturbing trend that U.S. DOT wants to reverse.

Protected bike lanes are in the toolkit that FHWA recommends to reduce cyclist fatalities. Photo: Carl Sundstrom via FHWA

Now we’re beginning to see what the feds have in mind. This week, U.S. DOT released a new guide for transportation professionals it calls Bikesafe. The online resource includes recommendations for state departments of transportation and local governments on how to make streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

Bikesafe contains a list of 46 “countermeasures,” including chicanes, protected bike lanes, roundabouts, and “visual narrowing” of the roadway. Under protected bike lanes (FHWA calls them “separated bike lanes“), for example, the guide advises planners to pay particular attention to driveways and intersections and to “make full use of signing and marking to improve awareness and guidance of the facility through these conflict zones.”

In addition, the guide includes a primer on how land use decisions affect bicycling safety, how complete streets serve to improve safety, and other big-picture elements of sound bike planning. Another component is supposed to help agencies identify the proper intervention for specific safety problems they encountered.

Caron Whitaker, vice president of government relations at the League of American Bicyclists, said national advocates are pleased that this initiative is focused on infrastructure solutions — like better bike lanes and traffic calming — rather than education alone. Whitaker also likes that the proposal laid out by Foxx calls for requiring state DOTs and FHWA field offices to study bike networks and establish strategies for improving safety.

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U.S. DOT to Publish Its Own Manual on Protected Bike Lanes

FHWA's Dan Goodman pointed to before-and-after images from New York's First Avenue retrofit to show how separated bike lanes can improve safety. Photos: ##http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/42/First_Avenue_in_New_York_by_David_Shankbone.jpg##Wikimedia## and ##http://www.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Downtown-First-Avenue.jpg##Streetsblog NYC##

FHWA’s Dan Goodman pointed to before-and-after images from New York’s First Avenue redesign to show how protected bike lanes can improve safety. Photos: David Shankbone/Wikimedia and NYC DOT

Before the end of this year, the Federal Highway Administration will release its own guidance on designing protected bike lanes.

The agency’s positions on bicycling infrastructure has matured in recent years. Until recently, U.S. DOT’s policy was simple adherence to outdated and stodgy manuals like AASHTO’s Green Book and FHWA’s own Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) — neither of which included protected bike lanes.

In 2010, the department developed a policy stating that “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” and that they should “go beyond minimum standards to provide safe and convenient facilities for these modes.” That was the first hint that the agency was looking beyond the Green Book and the MUTCD, which were (let’s face it) the very minimum of standards.

The department’s new strategic plan, released last year, emphasized pedestrian and bicycle safety and highlighted the need to create connected walking and biking networks that work for all ages and abilities, which is also a focus of the secretary’s new bike/ped safety initiative.

Then last year the agency explicitly endorsed “design flexibility,” unshackling engineers from the AASHTO and MUTCD “bibles” and encouraging them to take a look at the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ urban bikeway guide and the Institute of Transportation Engineers’ manual on walkability.

Now, with a secretary at the helm who’s determined to make bike and pedestrian safety his signature issue, the agency is going further. First, the next edition of the MUTCD (expected to be released in 2016 or 2017) will have a slew of new signage and markings recommendations for bicycling. FHWA’s Dan Goodman told an audience at Pro-Walk Pro-Bike earlier this month that the updated MUTCD is expected to have everything from signage indicating how bikes should make two-stage turns using bike boxes to stripes extending bike lanes through intersections — and, of course, guidance on buffered and protected bike lanes.

But perhaps more important than the changes to the MUTCD is the fact that FHWA is publishing its own manual dedicated to the design of protected bike lanes. (Despite the fact that the guide will deal exclusively with bike lanes that are protected from traffic with some kind of vertical barrier — not just paint — they still insist on calling the designs “separated” but not “protected” bike lanes, out of recognition of the fact that even what passes for “protection” in the U.S. these days — like flexible plastic bollards — don’t offer much protection against a moving car. Streetsblog calls these lanes “protected,” however, as a way to distinguish them from regular painted lanes, which are also “separated” from traffic.)

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US DOT Awards 72 TIGER Grants, But the Program Remains in Jeopardy

This afternoon, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will announce the latest round of TIGER grants awarding $600 million among 72 transportation projects in 46 states and the District of Columbia. You can see all TIGER grants to date or just the latest round — TIGER VI — in this map from Transportation for America.

Here are a few things to know about the state of the program:

Demand for these grants still far outstrips supply. U.S. DOT received 797 eligible applications this time, up from 585 in 2013, requesting 15 times the $600 million available for the program. TIGER fills a significant void in the federal transportation program — it’s one of the only ways cities, metro regions, and transit agencies can apply directly for federal funds, bypassing state DOTs. Plus, the emphasis on non-automotive modes and the availability of small grants make it a good fit for transit improvements and bike and pedestrian projects, which can’t access other federal pots of money so easily.

27 percent of the total funding is going to transit projects. That includes

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DOT Scores TIGER Grants for Vision Zero and Rockaways Transpo Study

City Hall and Senator Charles Schumer announced yesterday that NYC DOT had secured a $25 million federal grant for street safety and greenway projects in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. Notably, the press release announcing the funding hailed street design improvements as a “critical” component of the city’s Vision Zero safety agenda. In addition, a separate $1.4 million federal grant will fund a transportation study for the Rockaways.

A planted concrete median extension at Fourth Avenue and 45th Street will be funded in part by a federal TIGER grant. Rendering: NYC DOT [PDF]

The awards are from US DOT’s competitive TIGER program, which doesn’t always distribute funds to New York City. While the city nabbed two awards from the program this year and has received awards from the program in the past, all three of New York’s TIGER applications were rejected last year.

The $25 million grant comes on top of $21.2 million in federal highway safety funds distributed by the state earlier this year to similar projects. These grants can supplement dollars from the city’s vast capital budget, which also funds DOT’s bike and pedestrian programs.

The TIGER grant will help support a pedestrian safety redesign near the Metro-North station at Park Avenue and 125th Street in Harlem, where DOT is planning wider sidewalks and narrower car lanes on Park Avenue, as well as curb extensions at 124th, 125th and 126th Streets. It will also fund the capital construction of a road diet initially installed with paint and flexible posts on two sections of Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, from 8th to 18th Streets in Park Slope and from 33rd to 52nd Streets in Sunset Park. Extensions of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway will also get a boost from the grant, one near the Gowanus Canal and another in Bay Ridge, where wider sidewalks and a two-way protected bike path on Hamilton Avenue will connect to the existing greenway near Owl’s Head Park.

The TIGER grant will also support eight Safe Routes to School projects:

  • PS 154 Harriet Tubman School in Harlem will receive three curb extensions and six pedestrian islands
  • PS 54 in Woodhaven, Queens will receive four curb extensions and four pedestrian islands
  • PS 239 in Ridgewood, Queens will have a nearby complex intersection simplified and receive expanded pedestrian islands and sidewalks
  • PS 199 Maurice Fitzgerald School in Long Island City, Queens will receive five curb extensions and two pedestrian islands
  • PS 92 Harry T. Stewart in Corona, Queens will receive six curb extensions and four pedestrian islands
  • PS 13 Clement C. Moore in Flushing, Queens will receive seven curb extensions and one pedestrian island
  • Our Lady’s Catholic Academy in South Ozone Park, Queens will receive five curb extensions and three pedestrian islands
  • Our Lady’s Queen of Peace School in New Dorp, Staten Island will have a nearby complex intersection simplified and receive four curb extensions, a plaza, and improved traffic channelization.

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Foxx: New U.S. DOT Bike/Ped Initiative “Critical to Future of the Country”

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx just announced to the Pro-Walk Pro-Bike Pro-Place conference in Pittsburgh that the department is “putting together the most comprehensive, forward-leaning initiative U.S. DOT has ever put forward on bike/ped issues.” He said the initiative “is critical to the future of the country.”

Photo: Wikipedia

The top priority, he said, will be closing gaps in walking and biking networks where “even if people are following the rules, the risk of a crash is too high.” He said dangerous street conditions are especially severe in low-income communities, where pedestrians are killed at twice the rate as in high-income areas, often because they lack sidewalks, lighting, and safe places to cross the street. He noted that when he was mayor of Charlotte, a child was hit by a driver because the road he was walking on with his mother had no sidewalk, and overgrown bushes pushed them into the street.

In its announcement today, U.S. DOT noted that pedestrian and cyclist deaths have been rising faster than overall traffic fatalities since 2009.

As Foxx often mentions when discussing street safety issues, he himself has been the victim of a crash. He was hit by a right-turning driver while jogging one morning during his first term as mayor.

As part of the initiative, U.S. DOT just wrapped up bike/ped assessments in Boston, Fort Worth, and Lansing, Michigan. They’ll be leading similar assessments in every state in the country.

Without going into detail, Foxx also said the department plans “to re-examine our policies and practices that without intending to do so have occasionally resulted in road designs that shut out people on foot and on bicycle.” Certainly, there is a wide variety of federal transportation policies and practices that warrant examination on that front.

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FHWA Gleefully Declares That Driving Is Up, Calls for More Highway Spending

Despite the rhetoric, FHWA's own charts show that driving is hardly bouncing back to peak levels. Image: ##http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/travel_monitoring/14juntvt/figure1.cfm##FHWA##

Despite the rhetoric, FHWA’s own charts show that driving is hardly bouncing back to peak levels — even if you’re just looking at total miles-driven. Chart: FHWA

Well, so much for the predictions that changing preferences and new technologies will lead to a car-free utopia. The Federal Highway Administration announced last week that after nine years of steady decline, vehicle-miles-traveled in the U.S. was 1.4 percent higher this June than last June. Apparently, red-blooded Americans everywhere are finally getting back to their Hummer habit after a few years of diminished driving and rising transit ridership and bike commuting.

Except one thing: Driving is still way down from peak levels. While the FHWA’s press release trumpets that “American driving between July 2013 and June 2014 is at levels not seen since 2008″ — adding, alarmingly, a call for “greater investment in highways” — that’s not the whole story. Yes, the total driving rate now approximates where it stood in 2008, when VMT was in freefall. But it’s still way down from the peak — 3.05 trillion miles — in 2007.

Since the end of the recession, total VMT has fluctuated within a fairly constrained range, remaining well below the 2007 peak. And that’s just total driving. If you look at the per capita driving rate, it’s still dropping. In fact, it’s as low as it’s been in nearly 17 years.

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FHWA to Engineers: Go Ahead and Use City-Friendly Street Designs

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NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide includes engineering guidance for transit boulevards. Image: NACTO

The heavyweights of American transportation engineering continue to warm up to design guides that prioritize walking, biking, and transit on city streets. On Friday, the Federal Highway Administration made clear that it endorses the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ Urban Street Design Guide, which features street treatments like protected bike lanes that you won’t find in the old engineering “bibles.”

FHWA “supports the use of the Urban Street Design Guide in conjunction with” standard engineering manuals such as AASHTO’s Green Book and the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), the agency said in statement released on Friday. FHWA had already endorsed NACTO’s bikeway design guide last August. The new statement extends its approval to the more comprehensive Urban Street Design Guide, which also covers measures to improve pedestrian space and transit operations.

Federal approval of what were until recently considered “experimental” street designs means that more engineers and planners will feel comfortable implementing them without fear of liability.

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FHWA: Bike-Ped Investments Pay Off By Cutting Traffic and Improving Health

Marin County rebuilt an old railroad tunnel and created a 1.1-mile non-motorized path, expanding transit access and increasing biking by 95 percent. Photo: ##http://parisi-associates.com/projects/non-motorized-transportation-pilot-program/##Parisi Associates##

Marin County rebuilt an old railroad tunnel and created a 1.1-mile walking and biking path, improving access to transit and increasing biking 95 percent on the road leading to the tunnel. Photo: Parisi Associates

Nine years after launching a program to measure the impact of bike and pedestrian investments in four communities, the Federal Highway Administration credits the program with increasing walking trips by nearly a quarter and biking trips by nearly half, while averting 85 million miles of driving since its inception.

In 2005, the FHWA’s Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program (NTPP) set aside $100 million for pedestrian and bicycle programs in four communities: Columbia, Missouri; Marin County, California; Sheboygan County, Wisconsin; and the Minneapolis region in Minnesota.

Each community had $25 million to spend over four years, with most of the funding going toward on-street and off-street infrastructure. According to a progress report released this week, about $11 million of that remains unspent, though the communities also attracted $59 million in additional funds from other federal, state, local, and private sources.

“The main takeaway is, we’ve now answered indisputably that if you build a wisely-designed, safe system for walking and biking within the context of a community that is aware of and inspired by fact that it is becoming a more walkable, bikeable place, you can achieve dramatic mode shift with modest investment,” said Marianne Fowler of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and an architect of the pilot program.

Columbia reconfigured a key commuter intersection to making walking and biking easier and safer, resulting in a 51 percent jump in walking rates and a 98 percent jump in biking at that location. In Marin County, the reconstruction of the 1,100-foot Cal Park railroad tunnel and construction of a 1.1-mile walking and biking path provided direct access to commuter ferry service to downtown San Francisco and reduced bicycling time between the cities of San Rafael and Larkspur by 15 minutes. Biking along the corridor increased 95 percent, and a second phase of the project is still to come.

The program helped jump-start the Nice Ride bike-share system in Minneapolis, which grew to 170 stations and 1,556 bicycles by 2013, with 305,000 annual trips. And in Sheboygan County, the ReBike program distributed bicycles to more than 700 people and a new 1.7-mile multi-use path was built, following portions of an abandoned rail corridor through the heart of the city of Sheboygan. “Sixty percent of the population of Sheboygan County lives in close proximity to that corridor,” said Fowler. “And the trail gives them access to almost anything in Sheboygan.”

FHWA could see the impact: At locations where better infrastructure was installed, walking increased 56 percent and biking soared 115 percent. Using a peer-reviewed model, FHWA also estimated changes in walking and biking throughout the four communities. The program led to a 22.8 percent increase in walking trips and a 48.3 percent increase in biking trips. Without the interventions, residents would have driven 85 million more miles since the program launched, according to FHWA.

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A Decade of Growth for Transit-Accessible Neighborhoods in America

About 75 percent of Americans who live within a half-mile of a fixed transit station live in just five cities. Image: Federal Transit Administration

While the number of regions with good transit is on the rise, access is still concentrated in a handful of places. About 75 percent of Americans within a half-mile of a transit station live in just five cities. Chart: Federal Transit Administration

The first decade of the millennium saw significant growth for transit in America.

From 2000 to 2010, the number of regions with fixed-guideway transit — rail systems or bus systems with dedicated lanes — grew from 27 to 40. And ridership followed. In the period beginning in 1995 and ending in 2008, total American transit ridership grew 36 percent — or three times the rate of population growth.

A new report from the Federal Transit Administration and the Center for Transit-Oriented Development [PDF] takes a closer look at population changes and travel behavior in transit-accessible America. Some interesting patterns emerge.

Transit-accessible places are growing, but not as fast as the general population

During the aughts, 881 new stations were built across the United States for rail transit or high-quality bus transit, and the number of people living within a half mile of a transit station grew 6 percent. However, overall population increased nearly 10 percent over same time.

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One Year of Traffic Crashes Costs America $871 Billion

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Traffic deaths and injuries account for the lion’s share of costs imposed by vehicular crashes in the United States. The annual toll amounts to about $2,800 per capita, according to the NHTSA. Table: NHTSA

You can’t put a price tag on human life. But to address the scourge of traffic violence, it helps to measure how much harm it inflicts. And the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has done that by attaching a dollar figure to the economic loss and human suffering caused by traffic crashes. 

In a new report, “The Economic and Societal Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes, 2010,” NHTSA concludes that in 2010 motor vehicle crashes imposed “$277 billion in economic costs… and $594 billion in harm from the loss of life and the pain and decreased quality of life due to injuries.” That adds up $871 billion, or nearly $2,800 for every man, woman, and child in the United States.

In the 300-page report, NHTSA researchers slice the numbers every which way. To assess what causes all this pain and suffering, they look at factors like speeding, alcohol, and driver distraction. The toll from reckless driving is staggering: $199 billion from drunk driving, $210 billion from speeding, $129 billion from distraction.

NHTSA has also been tracking the effects of seat belt use since 1975 and estimates that between 1975 and 2010, seat belts saved over 280,000 lives and prevented 7.2 million injuries, preventing a loss of $1.6 trillion in economic costs alone.

While the NHTSA exhaustively quantifies the preventive value of seat belts and motorcycle helmets, it doesn’t have much to say about street design. Compared to other sections of the report, the analysis of streets is shallow, looking at urban versus rural crashes and two-lane roads versus four-lane roads in urban areas, but not the types of design treatments proven to enhance safety. There are no tables or charts about how much misery can be prevented by road diets, traffic calming, protected space for walking and biking, and other street design elements.

It may be difficult to measure the impact of street design, but the same could probably be said of many metrics in this mammoth report. Countries like Germany and the Netherlands are far ahead of America on traffic safety. NHTSA could help America catch up by producing a more comprehensive examination of how the U.S. can reduce the toll of traffic violence.