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Posts from the Federal Highway Administration Category

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Tell FHWA You Want Safer Designs for City Streets

Earlier this fall, the Federal Highway Administration proposed a major policy change: Instead of requiring roads that receive federal funding to be designed like highways, the agency would change its standards to allow greater flexibility. The implications for urban streets were huge — with less red tape, cities would have a much easier time implementing safer designs for walking and biking. Now FHWA is accepting public comment on this proposal, and you can help ensure that it’s enacted.

Applying highway design standards like wide lane widths and “clear zones” to city streets encourages speeding and recklessness, increasing the risk of walking and biking especially. FHWA’s October rule change proposal acknowledged those dangers, saying that scholarly research doesn’t support 11 of the 13 standards the agency had imposed on roads intended for speeds less than 50 mph.

Many urban streets would be affected by updating the FHWA rules. Freed from outdated design standards, cities will be able to change their streets much more quickly.

But the change isn’t official yet. The public comment period — part of the process of changing federal rules — is happening now Stephen Lee Davis at Transportation for America says its critical that FHWA hear from people who support this change. Unlike other types of public comment periods — environmental reviews of highway projects, for example — these rulemaking comments are taken seriously, says Davis.

Transportation for America has created a tool to help people send their thoughts to the right people.

“For the cities out there leading the way on building smarter, safer, complete, walkable streets that are also magnets for productive economic growth, this is a really encouraging move that will make their work easier,” he said. “We hope others will support FHWA’s proposal.”

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Feds Propose Major Rule Changes to Eliminate Barriers to Safer Streets

Planners will more easily be able to design "Great Streets" like Fifth Street in Dayton, Ohio, pending new federal rules. Photo: APA

By eliminating outdated design standards, the feds can make it much easier for local governments to design streets like Fifth Street in Dayton, Ohio. Photo: APA

Applying highway design standards to city streets has been a disaster for urban neighborhoods. The same things that make highways safer for driving at 65 mph — wide lanes, “clear zones” running alongside the road that have no trees or other “obstacles” — make surface streets dangerous and dreadful for walking, killing street life.

The one-size-fits-all approach to street design has been propagated, in part, by federal standards that apply to a surprisingly large number of urban streets. But not for much longer. In what appears to be a major breakthrough, yesterday the Federal Highway Administration proposed rule changes that will allow cities and towns to more easily design streets in a way that’s consistent with an urban setting.

The FHWA may drop 11 of the 13 design requirements that currently apply to streets in the National Highway System designed for speeds below 50 miles per hour. In place of requirements that dictate things like street width and clear zones, FHWA is encouraging engineers to use judgment and consider the surroundings.

According to Joe McAndrews at Transportation for America, the rule change “will make it dramatically easier for cities and communities of all sizes to design and build complete streets”:

This covers most of the non-interstate roads and highways running through communities of all sizes that are built with federal funds, like the typical four-lane state highway through town that we’re all familiar with, perhaps with a turning lane on one side. Incidentally, many of these roads are among the most unsafe for pedestrians.

In its press release, FHWA said the change is part of an effort to eliminate “outdated standards.”

Read more…

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Feds to Traffic Engineers: Use Our Money to Build Protected Bike Lanes

The feds say there’s no excuse not to use federal funding on designs like protected bike lanes.

The Federal Highway Administration wants to clear the air: Yes, state and local transportation agencies should use federal money to construct high-quality biking and walking infrastructure.

State and local DOTs deploy an array of excuses to avoid building designs like protected bike lanes. “It’s not in the manual” is a favorite. So is “the feds won’t fund that.”

Whether these excuses are cynical or sincere, FHWA wants you to know that they’re bogus.

Last week, the agency released a “clarifying” document that shoots down, on the record, some of the common refrains people hear from their DOT when they ask for safer street designs. This is a good document to print out and take to the next public meeting where you expect a transportation engineer might try the old “my-hands-are-tied” routine.

Here are the seven things FHWA wants to be absolutely clear about:

1. Federal funds CAN be used to build protected bike lanes.

In case any doubt remains, FHWA printed its own design guide for protected bike lanes. It’s okay to use federal money to build them.

2. Federal funds CAN be used for road diets.

FHWA created a whole website to help states and municipalities implement road diets that reduce lanes for motor vehicle traffic to improve safety. FHWA wants local agencies that federal money can be used on them.

Read more…

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FHWA Gleefully Reports That Driving Is Rising Again

Chart: Doug Short

Chart: Doug Short

After flatlining for nearly a decade, the mileage driven by Americans is rising once again. That means more traffic overwhelming city streets, slowing down buses, and spewing pollutants into the air. But to the Federal Highway Administration, it’s a development to report with barely contained glee.

This June, Americans drove 8.7 billion more miles than last June, according to FHWA, a 3.5 percent increase. Total mileage in 2015 is on pace for a new high — finally “beating the previous record” of 1.5 trillion vehicle miles set 2007, the agency reports, as if the further entrenchment of America’s car-dependence is some sort of achievement.

Low gas prices, population growth, and an expanding economy are three factors nudging traffic back onto an upward trajectory, not to mention a transportation policy regime that remains tilted overwhelmingly toward highway construction.

The recent growth in traffic, however, does not negate lasting signs of a long-term shift away from driving. Economist Doug Short gets into more detail about the nuances in the trends, pointing out that on a per-capita basis, Americans are now driving about as much as we did in 1997.

Read more…

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New Federal Guide Will Show More Cities the Way on Protected Bike Lanes

Oak Street, San Francisco. Photo: SFMTA.

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Protected bike lanes are now officially star-spangled.

Eight years after New York City created a trailblazing protected bikeway on 9th Avenue, designs once perceived as unfit for American streets have now been detailed in a new design guide by the Federal Highway Administration.

The FHWA guidance released Tuesday is the result of two years of research into numerous modern protected bike lanes around the country, in consultation with a team of national experts.

“Separated bike lanes have great potential to fill needs in creating low-stress bicycle networks,” the FHWA document says, citing a study released last year by the National Institute for Transportation and Communities. “Many potential cyclists (including children and the elderly) may avoid on-street cycling if no physical separation from vehicular traffic is provided.”

Among the many useful images and ideas in the 148-page document is this spectrum of comfortable bike lanes, starting with bike infrastructure that will be useful to the smallest number of people and continuing into the more broadly appealing categories:

Read more…

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FHWA Will Help Cities Get Serious About Measuring Biking and Walking

This counter in San Francisco gives planners reliable, up-to-date data about bike trips on Market Street. Photo: Aaron Bialick/Streetsblog SF

The lack of good data on walking and biking is a big problem. Advocates say current metrics yield a spotty and incomplete picture of how much, where, and why Americans walk and bike. The U.S. Census only tells us about commuting — a fairly small share of total trips. The more detailed National Household Transportation Survey comes with its own drawbacks: It’s conducted infrequently and doesn’t provide useful data at a local scale.

Without a good sense of people’s active transportation habits, it’s hard to draw confident conclusions not only about walking and biking rates, but also about safety and other critical indicators that can guide successful policy at the local level. A new program from the Federal Highway Administration aims to help fill the gap.

U.S. DOT announced today that FHWA will help local transportation planners gather more sophisticated data on walking and biking. The agency has selected metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) in 10 regions — Providence, Buffalo, Richmond, Puerto Rico, Palm Beach, Fresno, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Memphis — to lead its new “Bicycle-Pedestrian Count Technology Pilot Program.”

FHWA says the program will provide funding for equipment to measure biking and walking trips. Writing on U.S. DOT’s Fast Lane blog, FHWA Deputy Administrator Gregory Nadeau adds that “each MPO will receive technical assistance in the process of setting up the counters; uploading, downloading and analyzing the data; and –most importantly– using the data to improve the planning process in their community.”

The first counts will be available in December. Following the initial pilot, a second round of regions may be chosen to participate, Nadeau writes.

This would be an enormous improvement over what they do in Cleveland, where I live, as well as many other regions: recruit volunteers to stand at intersections with clipboards once a year and count cyclists by hand.

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The American Highway Safety Establishment Warms Up Some Leftovers


Thinking of all traffic deaths as “highway fatalities” and measuring safety in terms of how much we drive is part of the problem. Graph: Toward Zero Deaths [PDF]

A group of heavy hitters in the road building and traffic safety establishment recently came out with a plan called “Toward Zero Deaths” [PDF], presented as an ambitious strategy to cut traffic fatalities in America. But don’t get too excited by the branding — the ideas inside don’t present much of a challenge to practices that have made the U.S. a shameful laggard on traffic safety compared to other affluent nations.

The document was produced by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (the body represents state DOTs), in coordination with the Federal Highway Administration and a number of safety and law enforcement groups. Take a look at what they’re proposing and it’s clear the mentality of these institutions hasn’t evolved much in the past 40 years, even as America falls farther behind countries with far safer streets.

Is it still 1975?

The report starts off stale and doesn’t get any fresher. The three main recommendations are the same ones the U.S. transportation establishment has focused on for decades:

  1. Increasing seat belt use and reducing drunk driving
  2. Improving the driving practices of young people and old people
  3. Regulating vehicle safety more strictly

All fine ideas that make a difference, but this formula leaves out many other strategies adopted by countries like Germany, Japan, and the UK — countries where the per capita traffic fatality rate is less than half the rate in America.

Read more…

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The Feds Quietly Acknowledge the Driving Boom Is Over


After years of erroneously predicting rapid growth in driving, the FHWA finally made significant downward revisions to its traffic forecast last year. Graphic: U.S. PIRG/Frontier Group

The Federal Highway Administration has very quietly acknowledged that the driving boom is over.

After many years of aggressively and inaccurately claiming that Americans would likely begin a new era of rapid driving growth, the agency’s more recent forecast finally recognizes that the protracted post-World War II era has given way to a different paradigm.

The new vision of the future suggests that driving per capita will essentially remain flat in the future. The benchmark is important because excessively high estimates of future driving volume get used to justify wasteful spending on new and wider highways. In the face of scarce transportation funds, overestimates of future driving translate into too little attention paid to repairing the roads we already have and too little investment in other modes of travel.

The forecast is a big step forward from the FHWA’s past record of chronically aggressive driving forecasts. Most recently, in February 2014 the U.S. DOT released its 2013 “Conditions and Performance Report” to Congress, which estimated that total vehicle miles (VMT) will increase between 1.36 percent to 1.85 percent each year through 2030. This raised some eyebrows because total annual VMT hasn’t increased by even as much as 1 percent in any year since 2004.

Comparing the 20-year estimates of the “Conditions and Performance Report” issued at the beginning of 2014 to the new 20-year estimates shows the agency has cut its forecasted growth rate by between 24 percent to 44 percent.

Read more…

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Documentary to Explore Racial Discrimination in Transportation Planning

Beavercreek, Ohio, nabbed its own infamous place in civil rights history last year, when the Federal Highway Administration ruled that the suburb had violated anti-discrimination laws by blocking bus service from nearby Dayton.

The Beavercreek case marked the first time civil rights activists had successfully filed an administrative complaint with the FHWA against a public agency for violating Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Since the law was passed, dozens of these complaints have been filed, but not until Beavercreek did advocates use this mechanism to compel action by a local government. The decision gave Dayton area transit riders access to a bus route to a growing, mostly-white suburb that had sought to keep them out.

The Beavercreek case illustrates larger, more widespread problems with America’s transportation system, say researchers at Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. The Kirwan Institute is producing a one-hour documentary exploring the Beavercreek case and how racism can influence transportation decision making. The filmmakers hope to air the show on PBS after its completion this spring.

I got in touch with producer Matt Martin about the project via email. Martin noted that in a Title VI administrative complaint, the plaintiff must only show there was “disparate impact” on protected classes of people, rather than the much-tougher standard of intentional discrimination required in civil rights cases that go to court. Raising awareness of the administrative complaint as a tool for local activists and preserving its usefulness is one of the film’s main goals, Martin says.

Here is our short Q & A.

Read more…

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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.