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.”
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.
U.S. DOT also has a variety of tools it’s releasing. The department’s PedSafe website is already up and running, though it appears to be underutilized. It lets you enter information about a particular safety problem at a street or intersection, and it will then supply a toolbox of possible improvements to address those issues. The department is currently in the process of updating a parallel site called BikeSafe.
The department is also releasing a road diet guide, an environmental justice handbook, and a cycle track design guide (more on that later). These steps are meant to emphasize “design flexibility” — urging planners and engineers to think beyond the bounds of old, conservative guidance on bike/ped designs.
“We’re really trying to show leadership on these kind of design issues and get out in front of them,” Dan Goodman of the FHWA’s livability team told a panel at Pro-Walk Pro-Bike yesterday.
The initiative is a welcome development and a sign that Foxx intends to follow through on earlier hints that he plans to make pedestrian and bike safety his signature issue, just as his predecessor, Ray LaHood, made distracted driving his.
As always, not every branch of U.S. DOT is operating along the same principles. The bike/ped announcement comes the day after the department announced that it was granting a $950 million TIFIA loan to a project called the “I-4 Ultimate” — the reconstruction and widening of 21 miles of Interstate 4 in metropolitan Orlando to “relieve congestion.”