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Posts from the Bike/Ped Category

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Naomi Doerner on How Street Safety Advocates Can Support Racial Justice

When a police officer in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, shot and killed Philando Castile earlier this month, the encounter began with a traffic stop. The stop fit a pattern: Castile had been pulled over many times before — 46 times in 13 years — but few of those citations were for dangerous driving. More prevalent were stops for minor issues like vehicle defects or misplaced license plates — the type of justifications that police are more likely to use when stopping black and Latino drivers throughout the country.

Naomi Doerner is a consultant who helps biking and walking organizations development social equity and racial justice plans. Photo: Bike Easy

Naomi Doerner helps biking and walking organizations development social equity and racial justice plans. Photo: Bike Easy

Street safety advocates often call on police to reform traffic enforcement practices in order to reduce dangerous driving that jeopardizes people walking and biking. Given the pervasiveness of racially discriminatory police work and the prevalence of police brutality in many communities, how should biking and walking advocates shape their strategies and messages?

Naomi Doerner, the former executive director of New Orleans’ advocacy organization Bike Easy, is a consultant who specializes in helping biking and walking advocates develop racial justice and social equity plans. She says advocates should be grappling with structural racism and considering how their own choices can entrench or dismantle it.

Here is a lightly edited transcript of our interview.

What’s a mistake some biking or walking organizations are making with regards to diversity?

I think that one of the things I see is hiring of people of color and then making them sort of the voice for diversity and equity, which are not the same thing.

It is great to hire the folks, to have the folks who do potentially have better understanding. Even if you had a staff that was diverse, if there’s not a co-created understanding of equity within your organization and how you’re contributing to it, it won’t succeed.

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Report: As Cities Add Bike Lanes, More People Bike and Biking Gets Safer

safety_in_number_charts

Cities adding bike infrastructure are seeing a “safety in numbers” — more people on bikes plus lower risk of severe or fatal injury. Graphs: NACTO

The more people bike on the streets, the safer the streets are for everyone who bikes. This phenomenon, originally identified by researcher Peter Jacobsen, is known as “safety in numbers.” And that’s exactly what American cities are seeing as they add bike infrastructure — more cyclists and safer cycling — according to a new report from the National Association of City Transportation Officials [PDF].

The report is part of NACTO’s research series on implementing equitable bike-share systems. NACTO makes the case that large-scale bike-share systems can improve access to jobs in low-income communities by extending the reach of bus and rail lines, and — citing the safety-in-numbers evidence — that good bike lanes have to be part of the solution. Otherwise dangerous street conditions will continue to discourage people from biking.

NACTO tracked changes in bike commuting, bike lane miles, and cyclist fatalities and severe injuries in seven U.S. cities that have added protected bike lanes and bike-share systems over the past decade or so. In all seven cities, cycling has grown along with the bike network, while the risk of severe injury or death while cycling has declined.

In five of the cities — Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, and Portland — the absolute number of cycling deaths and severe injuries fell between 2007 and 2014, even as cycling rose substantially. In the two other cities — San Francisco and Washington, D.C. — deaths and serious injuries increased somewhat, but not as much as the increase in bicycle commuting.

New York City, for example, has added about 54 miles of bike lanes per year since 2007. Chicago has added about 27 miles per year since 2011. Over that time the risk of severe injury or death while cycling has decreased by about half, NACTO reports.

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U.S. Traffic Fatalities Rising Fast — Especially Pedestrian and Cyclist Deaths

Traffic fatalities in America hit a seven-year high in 2015, with pedestrians and cyclists accounting for a disproportionate share of the alarming increase, according to preliminary data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Last year, 35,200 people were killed in traffic — a 7.7 percent increase over 2014 and the worst death toll since 2008. The number of people killed while walking or biking is rising even faster.

Traffic deaths increased 7.7 percent last year and pedestrians and cyclists saw the biggest increase. Graph: NHTSA

Last year pedestrian and cyclist deaths increased more than overall traffic deaths. Graph: NHTSA

Pedestrian deaths shot up 10 percent last year and bicyclist deaths 13 percent — more than other types of victims, according to NHTSA. The agency did not break down these categories by number.

Driving increased in 2015 too, but by 3.5 percent — not enough to explain the rising death toll.

People walking or biking have accounted for a growing share of total traffic deaths since 2007, and there is little agreement about the underlying causes. In addition to the usual rush to blame victims by invoking “distracted walking,” theories include increases in biking and walking overall, driver distraction, and low gas prices promoting more “marginal” drivers like teenagers, who are more crash prone. (The NHTSA report says crashes involving young drivers — ages 15 to 20 — increased 10 percent in 2015.)

One thing is clear, however: The United States is falling further behind other nations that have sustained impressive reductions in traffic fatalities. While countries like the UK, Japan, and Germany achieve rapid improvements in street safety, America has failed to keep people safe on the streets.

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From Minneapolis, Evidence That the Census Undercounts Walking and Biking

Biking jumped 58 percent in the Twin Cities region between 2000 and 2010. Photo: Wikipedia

Biking increased 58 percent in the Twin Cities region between 2000 and 2010. Photo: Wikipedia

The U.S. Census is the most widely cited source of data about how Americans get around. It’s updated regularly and it covers the whole country, but it comes up short in a number of ways. The Census only asks about commute trips, and commuting only accounts for about 16 percent of total household travel [PDF]. What happens when you measure the other 84 percent?

Researchers at the University of Minnesota set out to design a better way to track how people move around the Twin Cities region, and one key finding is that walking and biking appear to be growing a lot faster than the Census indicates.

The UMN survey asked about 1 percent of the region’s residents to keep a travel diary, recording every trip. This resembles the National Household Travel Survey, a more detailed but infrequently-conducted cousin to the Census data on commuting, but the sample collected by the UMN team was much bigger. That’s especially important for measuring less prevalent modes of travel like walking and biking. The UMN study also provided more detailed information about people’s origins and destinations than the National Household Travel Survey.

The UMN team found that driving decreased in the region between 2000 and 2010, while biking and walking grew. Cycling rose over that period from 1.4 to 2.2 percent of trips. That’s about 190,000 daily trips, or a 58 percent increase. Meanwhile, walking grew from 4.5 to 6.6 percent of trips, a 44 percent increase, or almost three quarters of a million daily trips. Residents of the Twin Cities region typically make about 12 million total daily trips.

What’s especially interesting is that the share of biking and walking trips in the UMN survey is much bigger than what the Census indicates — about two to three times larger.

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FHWA Will Help Cities Get Serious About Measuring Biking and Walking

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

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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Anthony Foxx Challenges Mayors to Protect Pedestrians and Cyclists

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx wants mayors to step up bike and pedestrian safety efforts. Photo: Building America's Future

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx speaking at the U.S. Conference of Mayors yesterday. Photo: Building America’s Future

With pedestrian and cyclist deaths accounting for a rising share of U.S. traffic fatalities and Congress not exactly raring to take action, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is issuing a direct challenge to America’s mayors to improve street safety. Yesterday Foxx unveiled the “Mayor’s Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets” at the U.S. Conference of Mayors Transportation Committee meeting in Washington.

Overall traffic deaths are on a downward trend in the U.S., but the reduction in pedestrian and cyclist fatalities is not keeping pace with improvements for car occupants. Pedestrians and bicyclists now account for 17 percent of all traffic fatalities in the U.S., and most of these deaths are in urban areas, Foxx noted.

Back in September, Foxx told the Pro-Walk/Pro-Bike/Pro-Place conference in Pittsburgh that U.S. DOT is “putting together the most comprehensive, forward-leaning initiative U.S. DOT has ever put forward on bike/ped issues.” The Mayor’s Challenge fleshes out that initiative to some extent.

Foxx wants mayors to implement seven key recommendations from U.S. DOT. In March, mayors and local leaders will convene at DOT headquarters to discuss how to put the recommendations into practice. Participating cities will implement the strategies in the following year, with assistance from U.S. DOT.

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Life-Saving Truck Design Fix Sidelined By Federal Inaction

This is the second post in a Streetsblog NYC series about safety features for large vehicles. Part one examined the case for truck side guards and New York City’s attempt to require them for its fleet.

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Large trucks operating in New York City are not required to have side guards to protect pedestrians and cyclists. Photo: dos82/Flickr

American cities are beginning to take the lead on requiring side guards on large trucks in municipal fleets. That’s a good first step toward saving lives, but without addressing privately-owned vehicles, city streets will not be safe from trucks that tend to crush people beneath the rear wheels after impact. The federal government continues to drag its feet, and without a national mandate, the prospects for meaningful action from the states look slim.

Last year, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended installing side guards on all large trucks, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which regulates truck design, has yet to pass a rule requiring them. NHTSA says it might begin soliciting input on new trailer guard rules by the middle of next year. Traditionally, the agency has focused on guards for the back end of trucks, which protect car occupants in rear-end collisions. There’s no guarantee that any progress toward new rules next year will include side guards.

In the absence of federal rules requiring side guards for trucks, New York state and local legislators have taken tentative steps toward addressing the problem. Albany’s previous attempts at similar legislation don’t inspire confidence, however. A recently enacted state law mandates “crossover” mirrors to reduce the size of blind spots in front of trucks weighing at least 26,000 pounds that operate on New York City streets. Enforcement of the mirror law is dismal, in part because of a loophole that exempts trucks registered out-of-state. The ultimate fix would be a national crossover mirror mandate, but the federal government has not shown any inclination to take that up.

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DeFazio, Norton, and Larsen Take on Dangerous Street Design

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) is already proving that he’ll put some muscle into the fight for bike and pedestrian safety in his new post as ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Before even starting his new job as Ranking Member on the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Peter DeFazio is going to bat for bike and pedestrian safety. Photo: ##http://bikeportland.org/2012/03/27/rep-defazio-takes-us-inside-the-transportation-fight-and-the-republican-psyche-69482##Jonathan Maus/Bike Portland##

Before even starting his new job as ranking member on the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Peter DeFazio is going to bat for bike and pedestrian safety. Photo: Jonathan Maus/Bike Portland

DeFazio and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), top Democrat on the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, have signed on to fellow T&I Democrat Rick Larsen (D-WA)’s letter asking the Government Accountability Office to look into the recent rise in bike and pedestrian fatalities, which increased 6 percent between 2011 and 2012.

At the state and federal level, efforts to improve the safety of walking and biking often blame the victim — as the Governors Highway Safety Association did when it flagged the recent increase in cyclist fatalities without noting that biking rates have gone up much more. DeFazio and company are emphasizing a much more fundamental problem: street design.

In their letter, they state:

[W]e are concerned that conventional engineering practices have encouraged engineers to design roads at 5-15 miles per hour faster than the posted speed for the street. This typically means roads are designed and built with wider, straighter lanes and have fewer objects near the edges, more turn lanes, and wider turning radii at intersections. While these practices improve driving safety, a suspected unintended consequence is that drivers travel faster when they feel safer. Greater speeds can increase the frequency and severity of crashes with pedestrians and cyclists who are moving at much slower speeds and have much less protection than a motorized vehicle affords.

The GAO responds to lawmaker requests like these by investigating the matter and reporting back to help members of Congress develop a deeper understanding of the issues so they can set better policy. The GAO itself makes recommendations for improvement in the reports.

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Poll: Support for Active Transportation Funding Is High Across Party Lines

Seventy-four percent of Americans want to maintain or increase federal funding for biking and walking. Image: ##http://www.railstotrails.org/resourcehandler.ashx?id=5088##RTC##

Seventy-four percent of Americans want to maintain or increase federal funding for biking and walking. Image: RTC

When will Congress debate a new transportation bill? Your guess is as good as mine (May 31 expiration date of the current extension notwithstanding). But here’s some advice for whenever they do: Increase federal funding for biking and walking. Your voters demand it.

The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy wanted to know whether Americans support this kind of funding, which is subjected to regular attacks from the right. So RTC contracted two leading polling firms — one Democratic, on Republican — to ask 1,000 people what they thought.

Turns out strong majorities support increasing or maintaining current levels of federal investment in walking and biking paths, regardless of party affiliation. Four times as many voters favor boosting or maintaining funding as cutting it:

Republicans support biking and walking too, by a margin better than 2:1. Image: RTC

Republicans support biking and walking too, by a margin better than 2:1. Image: RTC

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Study: Safe Routes to School Programs Boost Walking and Biking 30%

In just two generations, the share of American kids who walk or bike to school has plummeted — dropping from 50 percent in 1969 to 13 percent today. Can the trend be reversed? Yes, according to new research that shows the impact of street safety infrastructure and other programs implemented with federal Safe Routes to School (SRTS) funds.

Photo: United Way

study published in this quarter’s Journal of the American Planning Association found that over time, SRTS programs produce significant increases in the share of children who walk or bike to school — an effect that grows more pronounced over time. The average increase in walking and biking rates attributable to SRTS programs over a five-year period was 31 percent, the researchers concluded.

The authors examined 801 schools in Florida, Oregon, Texas, and the District of Columbia, using data collected by the National Center for Safe Routes to School from 2007 to 2012 — yielding data from 378 schools with SRTS programs and 423 without. They say the study is the first SRTS research based on such a large geographic sample of schools, enabling them to isolate the effect of different types of Safe Routes to School strategies.

The effect of “education and encouragement” programs grew over time, with SRTS schools seeing progressively larger differences in each successive year. Over five years, the researchers found, this tactic led to a 25 percent increase in walking and biking to school, controlling for demographic differences, neighborhood characteristics, and other factors. Meanwhile, infrastructure investments like safer sidewalks or bike lanes led to a one-time 18 percent increase.

While Safe Routes to School programs work, they’re also in jeopardy. Federal funding for SRTS was cut in the last transportation bill, and that fight is expected to resume once Congress takes up the next one.