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Posts from the Walking Category


FHWA’s New Goal: Eliminating Pedestrian and Cyclist Deaths in America

Pedestrian and biking safety has been lagging. Can federal officials reverse the trend? Graph: FHWA

Pedestrian and cyclist deaths account for a growing share of traffic fatalities in America. Can federal officials reverse the trend? Graph: FHWA

The Federal Highway Administration wants to eliminate pedestrian and cyclist fatalities “in the next 20 to 30 years.” In a new strategic plan [PDF], the agency calls for reducing serious injuries and deaths 80 percent in the next 15 years, which would be an intermediate goal on the way to zero.

FHWA also calls for boosting the share of short trips Americans make by biking or walking. It defines short trips as five miles or less for bicyclists and one mile or less for pedestrians. The agency’s goal is to increase the share of these trips 50 percent by 2025 compared to 2009 levels.

Now for the bad news. As admirable as these goals may be, federal transportation officials have limited power to see them through. Decisions about transportation infrastructure and street design are mainly carried out by state and local governments.

Nevertheless, the feds do have some means to influence street safety by changing design standards and using the power of persuasion. FHWA can certainly help move local decisions in the right direction. To encourage safer transportation engineering, the agency says it will ramp up its professional training and recognize states for making progress on walking and biking.

Here’s a look at some of the more promising ideas in the agency’s plan.

Promote safer streets through better design standards

One obstacle to safe streets is the widespread application of highway-style engineering strategies to local streets where people walk and bike. Wider and straighter roads might be better for cars-only environments, but they are terrible for pedestrian and cyclist safety.

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Explore National Transportation Change Trends by Age Group

Cross-posted from City Observatory

In some ways, the urban renaissance of the last decade or two has been quite dramatic. Downtown or downtown-adjacent neighborhoods in cities around the country have seen rapid investments, demographic change, and growth in amenities and jobs. Even mayors in places with a reputation for car dependence, like Nashville and Indianapolis, are pushing for big investments in urban public transit.

Because many of those who work in urban planning live in or near these walkable, transit-served neighborhoods, it may be easy to imagine that their changes are representative of the overall pace of transition to a more urban-centric nation. Butas we and others have discussed before, in at least one way — transportation — change has actually been excruciatingly slow at the national level.

According to the American Community Survey, from 2006 to 2014, the proportion of people using a car to get to work declined — from 86.72 percent to 85.70 percent. Even among young people, the shift seems underwhelming: from 85.00 percent to 83.94 percent. (Though, as we stressed last week, these Census data only cover journey-to-work trips and tend to overstate the extent to which households rely exclusively on cars for their transportation needs.)

The changes for transit, biking, and walking are, obviously, similarly small. Transit mode share increased from 4.83 percent to 5.21 percent; among those 20 to 24, the increase was 5.53 to 6.35 percent. The overall share of walking commutes actually fell.

In fact, we’ve built a little tool to let people explore these data in an interactive way, selecting mode type and age ranges to see how things have changed, and haven’t, over the last almost-decade. The tool displays the same data in two ways: first, as a graph (above), and then as a simple table (below), for those who find that easier to read. (On the graph, yes, we have allowed the y-axis to begin at numbers larger than zero — in large part because the changes are so small that a chart that began at zero would be unintelligible. We will trust our readers to be sophisticated enough at reading graphs to understand.)

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Will the New “Free Range Kids Law” Protect Parents Who Let Kids Walk?

Last spring, Alexander and Danielle Meitiv became public faces of the “Free Range Kids” movement when their children were picked up by police in Silver Spring, Maryland, while walking home from a local park.

Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, left, were investigated for child neglect after their children were picked up by police last spring while walking home from the park. Photo: Facebook via the Daily Mail.

Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, left, were investigated for child neglect after their children were picked up by police last spring while walking home from the park. Photo: Facebook via the Daily Mail

The sight of a 10-year-old and a 6-year-old unsupervised prompted police to open a child neglect case against the couple. The investigation was dropped in June — but not before the story made national headlines.

A provision inserted into the just-passed federal education bill seeks to put an end to incidents like this, writes Lenore Skenazy in the New York Post. Skenazy, the founder of the Free Range Kids movement and a writer at, says cases like the Meitivs’ are more common than you’d think.

The provision from Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, says the law will not “prohibit a child from traveling to and from school on foot, or by car, bus, or bike when … the parents have given permission.”

We asked some attorneys if the new rule was likely to prevent local police departments from coming down on parents who allow their children to do things like walk to school and play unsupervised.

Ohio bike lawyer Steve Magas said he’s seen similar cases, but he’s not sure how often “free range parents” end up in the legal system. In 2011, a Tennessee mom faced neglect charges for letting her kid bike to school. Magas said he’s currently preparing to represent a woman who was threatened with child endangerment charges by the Ohio Highway Patrol for riding her bike with her toddler.

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Miami’s “Underline” — The Vision for a 10-Mile Greenway Beneath the Rails

Miami's "Underline" proposes making the derelict space under Miami's Metrorail into a "10-mile linear park." Image:

The “Underline” would remake the leftover space beneath Miami’s Metrorail as a 10-mile greenway. Image: The Underline

The idea for Miami’s “Underline” came to Meg Daly after she broke both her arms in 2013.

Unable to drive, Daly, who lives in Coral Gables, started taking Miami’s Metrorail to physical therapy. When she got off at her stop, she would walk the last mile under the shade of the elevated rail platform.

“I just kind of had this moment of discovery,” she told Streetsblog. “I ended up walking beneath the train tracks. I was like, ‘There’s so much space here.'” She thought the neglected but nicely shaded area could make for great walking and biking.

Now, just a few years later, a real plan for a 10-mile linear park called the Underline is moving forward. Daly heads the nonprofit group Friends of the Underline, which is finishing up the master plan for the project. The group received $650,000 for planning and design, funded by the city of Miami, the Knight Foundation, the Miami Foundation, and others.

The Underline would run 10 miles from South Miami, through Coral Gables and on to Miami's Brickell neighborhood under the elevated Metrorail platform by U.S. 1. Map: The Underline

The Underline would run 10 miles from South Miami, through Coral Gables and on to Miami’s Brickell neighborhood under the elevated Metrorail platform by U.S. 1. Map: The Underline

The Friends of the Underline vision is to create an inviting place for active transportation running through one of the most densely populated urban areas in the American South.

Miami’s Metrorail corridor runs 10 miles between South Miami, Coral Gables, and Miami, terminating in the walkable Brickell neighborhood. The corridor roughly parallels US-1, a traffic-clogged urban highway that runs up the eastern coast of Florida.

About 100,000 people live within a 10-minute walk, Daly says. But active transportation options are limited, largely because of South Florida’s notoriously wide, dangerous roads.

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Funds for Walking and Biking Under Attack in Congress This Week

Funds for walking and biking infrastructure account for a tiny portion of federal transportation spending. Safer streets don’t cost much, though, so for the cities and towns that count on these programs, a few dollars from the feds can be a huge help. Despite the relatively small sums at play, walking and biking programs are a constant target for a certain breed of hardline conservative in Congress. This year is no different.

Three proposed amendments to the House transportation bill take aim at programs that fund walking and biking infrastructure.

Georgia Republican Buddy Carter is leading a charge to eliminate the small pool of federal money that helps protect and support cyclists and pedestrians. Photo: Buddy Carter

Georgia Republican Buddy Carter is leading a charge to eliminate the small pool of federal money that supports walking and biking. Photo: Buddy Carter

Tomorrow these amendments will be considered in the Rules Committee, which will decide which get a vote by the full House of Representatives during a markup session Wednesday and Thursday, says Caron Whitaker, vice president of government relations for the League of American Bicyclists. People for Bikes, the League of American Bicyclists, and the Rails to Trails Conservancy are all urging supporters to contact their representatives and tell them to oppose these amendments.

Here’s a summary of what’s proposed:

Amendment 68 — Buddy Carter (R-Georgia)

What’s at stake: The flexibility to spend any funds from the Surface Transportation Program on walking or biking infrastructure.

What it would do: Amendment 68 would forbid funds from the $10 billion Surface Transportation Program from being spent on walking and biking projects. This program accounts for about one fifth of annual federal transportation spending, with a small fraction of that going toward biking and walking projects. In 2014, about $128 million from this program was allocated to walking and biking projects, according to FHWA.

Why it’s a bad idea: States and localities have been choosing to invest more STP money in biking and walking — especially since MAP 21, the current transportation law, reduced the dedicated pool of funding for those activities. That $128 million spent in 2014 represented an 83 percent increase over STP funding for biking and walking in 2009.

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House Dems: We Won’t Support a Transpo Bill That Cuts Bike/Ped Funding

House Democrats won’t stand for any cuts to federal funding for walking and biking infrastructure. That was the gist of a letter signed by every Democratic member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee last week.

Rick Larsen, a congressman representing parts of Washington State, rallied Democrats to support funding for biking, walking and transit. Photo: Rick Larsen

Rick Larsen, a congressman representing parts of Washington state, rallied Democrats to support funding for biking, walking, and transit. Photo: Rick Larsen

Groups aligned with the Koch brothers and their organization Americans for Prosperity have pushed to eliminate all federal funds for walking, biking, and transit. While Democrats are in the minority in the House, by coordinating as a bloc around this issue, they’re making it harder for the extreme elements in the Republican Party to roll back active transportation funding.

The letter, initiated by Washington representative Rick Larsen, states that Democratic committee members won’t support any bill that undermines the “Transportation Alternatives” program — the small pot of money dedicated to walking and biking.

“For the House transportation bill to be bipartisan, it must not cut funding for TAP or make policy changes that undermine the local availability of these dollars,” reads the letter, addressed to the committee’s two ranking Democratic members, Peter DeFazio (OR) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC):

Communities of all shapes and sizes — rural, urban and suburban — are clamoring for TAP dollars to give their residents lower-cost transportation options that reduce road congestion, improve safety for children and families, and boost quality of life. These types of projects are also essential to helping cities and counties increase property values, grow retail sales and attract tourism. While MAP-21 gave states the option of transferring up to half of TAP funds to other transportation priorities, just 10 percent of TAP funds have been transferred — clearly showing the demand for these funds across the country. This is a good program and it deserves to continue.

Congress has yet to make much progress on a long-term transportation bill to replace the previous bill, MAP-21, which expired last year. During the last transportation bill reauthorization process, biking and walking programs took a big hit. In an email to Streetsblog, Larsen said, “I do not want to see that happen again.”

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Surgeon General’s Warning: Unwalkable Places Are Hazardous to Your Health

Physical activity is essential to people’s health, but dangerous streets and spread-out, sprawling communities prevent Americans from getting enough of it, says the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy.

Murthy issued a call to action this morning to highlight how walking — and building walkable places — can benefit a nation where chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis afflict one in two people. Walking (or wheelchair rolling) is a simple and free way for people to get exercise, said Murthy, and even busy people can work it into their lives by making utilitarian trips on foot.

This isn’t the first time a surgeon general has highlighted the health benefits of walking, but it might be the strongest and clearest call to action of its kind so far.

Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued his Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities this morning. Screenshot from event.

Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued his Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities this morning.

The surgeon general’s campaign — #StepItUp — says explicitly that the transportation and planning professions should strive to improve public health through design that fosters walking. The first two goals of the call to action are to “make walking a national priority” and to “design communities that make it safe and easy to walk for people of all ages and abilities.”

“Thirty percent of Americans report they do not have sidewalks in neighborhoods,” Murthy said. “We can change that. We can change it by city planners, transportation professionals and local government leaders working together to improve the safety and walkability of neighborhoods for people with all abilities. Community leaders and the law enforcement can work together to make sure that no American is ever unsafe walking out the door.”

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People Won’t Ride the Tysons Corner Metro If They Can’t Walk to Stations

A Tysons Corner Metro station under construction in 2012. Photo: Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz/Wikipedia

A year after the Washington Metro opened the Silver Line in Northern Virginia, apartment rentals are booming and development is roaring ahead. But Martin Di Caro of WAMU reported Monday that the Metro itself isn’t meeting expectations:

Only 17,000 riders board the Silver Line on a typical weekday, a figure that includes more than 9,100 commuters at the Wiehle-Reston East station, the western terminus with a 2,300-space parking garage. The total is even less impressive when you consider roughly two-thirds of Silver Line ridership is former Orange Line commuters.

The Silver Line as a whole is operating at about two-thirds of predicted ridership.

The retrofitting of Tysons Corner’s suburban office park model into a walkable, mixed-use place has been called “the most ambitious re-urbanization project on Earth.” But according to Metro’s own analysis, progress on walking and biking infrastructure is lagging far behind the transit.

People simply can’t get to and from the Metro safely. While the Tysons stations were built for pedestrian access, without park-n-rides, the blocks are still too long, the street grid hasn’t been built out yet, and sidewalks and bike lanes are still lacking in many places.

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The Top 10 American Cities Where You Can Find Jobs You Can Walk To

Can you hoof it to work? Photo: Public Domain Images

Is your job within walking distance? Photo: Public Domain Images

How many jobs are within a 10-minute walk of your home? How about 20 minutes? Chances are, there’s a lot more if you live in Philadelphia than in Memphis.

A new study [PDF] from the University of Minnesota ranks the 50 largest metro areas in America according to the accessibility of jobs by walking. Using “detailed pedestrian networks,” the researchers measured the number of jobs reachable in a 10-minute walk for the typical worker in each metro. Then they measured how many jobs were reachable within 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60 minutes. To create the city rankings, those figures were then weighted to emphasize the potential for short-distance walk commutes.

In top-rated New York City, for instance, about 5,000 jobs are within a 10-minute walk of the average residence. In lowest-rated Birmingham, it’s only 180 jobs.

You can check out where you city ranks here [PDF]. These are the 10 cities that came out on top:

  1. New York
  2. San Francisco
  3. Los Angeles
  4. Chicago
  5. Washington
  6. Seattle
  7. Boston
  8. Philadelphia
  9. San Jose
  10. Denver

Los Angeles fares a lot better in these rankings than in Walk Score’s, which prioritize the proximity of “amenities” of all types.

Authors Andrew Owen, David Levinson and Brendan Murphy say their rankings are mainly a function of employment and residential density. Cities that ranked highest, they point out, tend to have better transit systems as well. Cities seeking better accessibility have two avenues, the authors say: pursue policies that create more compact development and improve transit.


Russia’s Daredevil Pedestrian Safety Advocates

Have you ever thought about taking matters into your own hands when you see someone drive in the bike lane or block the sidewalk? Well, these Russians are living your vigilante traffic enforcement fantasy — and it looks absolutely terrifying.

A group of men calling themselves the “Stop a Douchebag” movement are willing to risk anything, even a bullet to the head, to protect the sidewalk from entitled drivers.

Wow. Russia’s traffic culture makes south Florida’s look tame.