AASHTO: New Rule Makes it Too Hard to Ignore Cyclists and Pedestrians

For years, state DOTs have exploited a loophole of federal government policy that allowed them to build massive, publicly funded projects without accommodating non-motorized users as long as they could show that “due consideration” had been given to bicyclists and pedestrians.

But last year, USDOT gave that requirement some teeth. USDOT issued a directive specifying that “due consideration” should include “the presumption that bicyclists and pedestrians will be accommodated” in project designs paid for with federal government dollars.

AASHTO's John Horsley has complained that a new USDOT directive would make it too hard for state DOTs to ignore the needs of cyclists and pedestrians. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/cecmtl/5595848990/galleries/## Flickr, Commission for Environmental Cooperation##

Well, surprise! State DOTs aren’t happy about it. In a supplement [PDF] to a letter [PDF] to USDOT yesterday, John Horsley, executive director of the Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, urged federal officials to reconsider the requirement. “This regulation presents an undue burden on states to justify exceptional circumstances when not including provisions for bicyclists and pedestrians in a project,” he said.

Someone should tell Horsley, that was sort of the point. USDOT is trying to make it hard for state DOTs — using money from both taxpayers who drive and those who don’t — to completely ignore the needs of non-drivers.

In its directive, USDOT states that walking and bicycling should be considered equal to other modes.

“The establishment of well-connected walking and bicycling networks is an important component for livable communities, and their design should be a part of Federal-aid project developments,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Transportation programs and facilities should accommodate people of all ages and abilities, including people too young to drive, people who cannot drive, and people who choose not to drive.”

When asked about AASHTO’s objection to the new rule, spokeman Lloyd Brown said it was part of a list of recommendations that came from the organization’s members: state DOTs.

(Thanks to the Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling Blog for alerting us to this story.)

  • Kenney

    I really love how Secretary LaHood consistently elaborates on who “non-motorists” actually are. I think even more important that acknowledging the obvious (too young to drive, unable to drive), he always gives a tip of the hat to people who choose not to drive. While his efforts in the area of driving safety are laudable, he should build on the success of his “Faces of Distracted Driving” efforts by launching a campaign entitled “Faces of Not Driving.” Hearing the personal stories of people who choose not to drive could help dispel the myth that people only get by on walking, biking and transit because they are too poor to afford a car, and to challenge the idea of car ownership as a status symbol.

  • 20th century federal transportation policy made it too hard NOT to ignore bicycling and walking. Sorry, it turns out that covering 90% of freeway costs with federal funds isn’t such a good idea.

  • Mark P.

    On the next page appears another gem: weakening the requirements for public involvement. It is no surprise that one should follow the next, because public meetings are one of the few places that citizens can confront DOTs and MPOs about the question of routine accommodation. In a public forum people are able to ask:
    Where is the shoulder on this road?
    Where is the bike lane, sidewalk, trail, crosswalk?
    Where are the trees and street lights?
    Why does this road need to be “improved”? What traffic projections are you using?

    and so on.

    Here is the text from page 2.

    Public Meetings

    23 CFR part 450.210
    The regulations state that “to the maximum extent practicable ensure that public meetings are held at convenient and accessible locations and times” – holding traditional public meetings for planning has been relatively ineffective as a means for obtaining public involvement or comment. A later section of the regulations encourages use of electronic means for providing public information, but the requirement for public meetings still stands.

    Recommendation:
    This is outdated for most areas and should be done at the discretion of the DOT or MPO and the approaches to be used should be documented in the DOT or MPO public involvement plan but not dictated at the Federal level.

  • cycler

    This has been a huge help for advocates in the Boston area in the effort to push for better bike accommodations in the area. A big local story is in Arlington MA, a streetcar suburb, there’s a big fight over bike lanes. One of the incentives, is that the road (which is in awful shape) won’t be repaved any time soon if they can’t get federal funding, and to get federal funding, you have to accommodate bikes and peds.
    There’s a virulent opposition group that makes the Park Slope NBB folks look mild mannered and reasonable. Information for those interested here:
    http://ealscoalition.org/

  • bicycle more.

    On point. Thanks for covering this.

  • Doug

    Despite being someone who rarely steps into a car, I agree the language around “those who chose not to drive” should be altered. The point is not that you have to fall into one camp: driver or non-driver, but that you may be, at different times, a person who uses the car (commuting to work, going out of town) and a person who does not (getting groceries, visiting neighbors).

    There’s also a safety component: when your car breaks down on the road, are you going to be killed looking for help? I know that is an all-too-common occurrence on New York City highways (which often lack a shoulder or walkway).

  • Munro

    Something’s wrong with the lead in this story. The linked article does not contain the referenced quotation, nor anything about “due consideration.”

  • Angie Schmitt
  • Anonymous
  • It’s easy to read this with an urban mindset that many Streetsblog readers likely share, but also keep in mind that America has a *lot* of very rural stretches — the type where you won’t pass between two homes without several miles in between.

    I haven’t read into the directive too much to see how limiting it is on rural reaches, but I’d think that most could agree that putting sidewalks on such roads wouldn’t be the most ideal use of ever-limited funding; funding which could instead be far better-applied toward getting ped/bike/transit infrastructure into subrural, suburban, and urban environments.

  • NM

    I do see your point, but bike and pedestrian infrastructure also doesn’t need to look (or cost) the same in rural areas as it does in urban areas. The Netherlands, for example provides very simple and narrow asphalt paths alongside many rural roads, and precisely because bike/ped traffic is lower, they serve both types of users. Riding along one between towns, I was surprised at the number of people using them to, for example, buy groceries in the next town. They have also helped to make bike touring a popular and inexpensive family activity there. If this existed in the New York area, I would take lots of weekend trips out to New York/New Jersey/Long Island B&Bs, while as it stands, I am either trapped in the city or have to rent a car, making the whole thing too expensive.

  • NM

    I should also have pointed out that these paths are used by motor scooters as well, adding one more lower cost, lower impact way of getting around between cities.

  • (can’t seem to reply to NM… so replying to myself instead; when it doubt: choose schizophrenia!)

    I agree with you on most points, except that to go from one end of the Netherlands to the other is the same as riding from DC to Philly; and “rural” Netherlands still has a pretty decent density over a readily bike-able/walkable area.

    What I’m referring to are the stretches in the Midwest where coyotes outnumber people; the same places where my oxen keep dying as they try to ford the river; and the stretches where a couples hours of walking in the sunlight will leave you as parched as the cattle skulls and tumbleweed laying along the way.

  • Statsdude

    Rural roads are easy. Simply provide a wide paved shoulder (4-5 feet) for bicyclists or pedestrians. This is done in many areas already.

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  • NM

    Agreed, Bossi. There’s ‘rural’ near the more populated parts of the country, then there’s wilderness. I’m guessing the rural path would work well pretty much anywhere along the coasts and probably Great Lakes areas, but the cost per use could be pretty ridiculous in North Dakota. Then again, those open expanses are probably enough to create an exception to the new general rule proposed.

  • Munro

    Thanks, Angie. I definitely see it in the AASHTO pdf you provided here, but (and pardon my anal-ity here), I don’t see it anywhere in the directive you link in the article, which you say came out last year (and did). In the AASHTO supplement, the FHWA guidance being objected to was apparently given on April 4, 200*7*. It’s just a little confusing. I’m asking for purely selfish reasons, of course, since I track this news as well and would like to spread the word, but it would seem that the “news” about FHWA’s directive is 4 years old (even if AASHTO is only now getting around to complaining about it). Please correct me if I’m wrong. But, if I’m right, may I suggest that, in the second paragraph of your story, you disassociate from the “due consideration” element of your story both the USDOT link and the reference to it being from last year.

  • Munro

    Ok, I did some additional googling, and I think you just linked to the wrong DOT post. Could this be it in stead? http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/bikeped/bp-guid.htm#bpApp-1 (See Section 2, paragraph 4.)
    The fact remains however that, where the DOT policy guidance is concerned, this did not take place “last year.” I don’t know why AASHTO is just getting around to it now…

  • Angie

    Munro, that looks like a link to the old policy. Our link is the updated language introduced last year. Your line of reasoning is confusing to me. Right now, I stand by the article and I don’t see any evidence in the link you shared that we were wrong.

  • Munro

    My apologies for being unclear. I’ll take one more whack at this and then leave it alone. In the second sentence, second paragraph, you say “USDOT issued a directive specifying that ‘due consideration’ should include ‘the presumption that bicyclists and pedestrians will be accommodated’…etc,” but the phrase “USDOT issued a directive” is linked to an FHWA web-page that does not mention either of the two phrases you quote in that sentence. Presumably, you included the link to indicate it as the source for the quotes, no?

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  • Good post, thanks for such intertesting news!

  • John Horsley is very good person!

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