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What Is Your State Doing to Improve Walking and Biking?

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How good are your state’s policies on walking and biking?

The Alliance for Biking and Walking has made it easy to find out with this at-a-glance chart, released as part of its biannual Benchmarking report this week.

According to the Alliance, state policies are getting progressively better for walking and biking. Now, 34 states publish goals to increase levels of active transportation. That’s up from 29 states just two years ago. Nearly every state — 44 — now sets goals to reduce pedestrian fatalities, and 43 states have set goals for bike fatalities. Even states that aren’t known for walking and biking seem to at least be talking the talk. The Alliance reports that Florida now has a policy aiming to get more people walking, and Nevada is trying to increase cycling.

Cities are getting with the program as well, the Alliance finds.

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Big Win in Charleston: Car Lane Converted to Bike/Ped Path on Key Bridge

Bicyclists grown onto the Legare Bridge. Photo: Charleston Moves

After Tuesday’s vote, cyclists in Charleston won’t have to mix with traffic on the Legare Bridge. Photo: Charleston Moves

Charleston, South Carolina’s Legare Bridge carries about 56,000 cars over the Ashley River daily, but it’s never had a safe path for people on bikes. Connecting central Charleston with population centers to the west and south, it is such a critical corridor that bicycle advocates call it Charleston’s “missing link.”

Charleston bike advocates won a safe spot on a critical bridge this week, thanks to an effective campaign. Image: Post and Courier

Charleston bike advocates won a safe spot on a critical bridge this week, thanks to an effective campaign. Photo: Post and Courier

Now, after years of campaigning, Charleston cyclists have finally won a safe route on the bridge. Charleston City Council voted 8-5 Tuesday to open one of the car lanes to biking and walking exclusively, and active transportation advocates are elated.

Tom Bradford, director of Charleston Moves, the city’s bike advocacy organization, said the decision “truly is the linchpin to total bicycle friendliness.”

Central and downtown Charleston are on a peninsula, and the city and its suburbs sprawl over creeks, marches and rivers, so safe access to bridges is absolutely essential to navigating the city by bike. Bradford said Charleston has been getting more bike-friendly, but because of the city’s geography, “it never would have amounted to more than a hill of beans unless we could get across the Ashley River.”

Bike advocates have talked about opening the bridge — State Highway 17 — up to cyclists since the 1970s. The campaign intensified a few years ago when Charleston Moves took the lead. The group organized a petition drive, generating 1,500 signatures. It also went around to neighborhood groups and student organizations asking for resolutions in support of a bikeway on the bridge.

And Tuesday night, when City Council was set a vote on the issue, advocates for a safe bridge path packed the house. Charleston Moves‘ Board Chair Stephanie Hunt describes the scene:

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Before We Build, We Should Review How a Project Will Affect Safety

Jim Aloisi is a Boston-based lawyer, historian and transportation policymaker. He is a former Massachusetts state secretary of transportation. His most recent book is The Vidal Lecture.

Tanzeel Merchant is a Toronto-based urban designer, architect, planner and writer. He writes for Forbes India.

As cities across North American densify, innovate and refocus their priorities, there is a shared acknowledgement that the era of the automobile is over, and other modes of mobility, such as walking, cycling and transit, are in ascendance. However, these changes are constrained by powerful legacies of our past — the existing, auto-centric infrastructure of highways, inequitable transportation funding across modes, and outdated ways of thinking.

Before designing a road like this, traffic engineers should have to answer the question: Is it safe for people outside of cars, too? Photo: ##http://www.pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/the-daily-need/dangerous-by-design/9619/##PBS##

When proposing a road like this, traffic engineers should have to answer the question: Will the project make people safer or less safe? Photo: PBS

Times have changed, and our planning and review processes need to change along with them. We now live in an era where young people are choosing not to get drivers’ licenses and buy cars, or are delaying those decisions, and older people are drawn to the virtues of a healthier lifestyle. Despite these trends, many transportation officials continue to shortchange funding for the mobility offered by walking and bicycling. Many streets, especially in new suburban neighborhoods, are not pedestrian friendly. Bicycle routes (if they exist at all) are often poorly designed and unsafe. Equitable funding for these modes of transportation is not, and has never been, a reality.

Safe walking and biking ought to be a right, not a privilege. A spate of recent tragedies involving pedestrians and bicyclists points to the urgent need to make mobility safety a critical element of new focus. If you hit a pedestrian at 20 mph, 5 percent will die; at 30 mph, 45 percent will die; at 40 mph, 85 percent will die.

Walking and bicycling are also cost-savers for cities. Integrating these modes into street designs comes at a small cost, with huge returns in terms of reduced vehicular congestion, lower emissions, less wear and tear of roads, stronger local economies and more vibrant neighborhoods.

Planners and decision-makers need a better approach to ensure active transportation is safe and convenient. We propose requiring public infrastructure and transportation projects to undertake a Safety Impact Review (SIR) as part of the process of permitting projects meeting certain thresholds. An SIR would ensure that desired outcomes are baked into development and infrastructure projects right from the start.

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New Bill Would Make Bike/Ped Projects Eligible for TIFIA Loans

The day after President Obama’s State of the Union plea to improve economic opportunity for struggling Americans, New Jersey Democrat Albio Sires introduced a bill that he says will help meet that goal.

Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ) has introduced a bill to extend low-interest TIFIA loans to communities -- especially low-income communities -- for street safety projects. Photo: ##http://paraclito.net/2010/11/04/albio-sires-por-la-libertad-de-cuba/##Paraclito##

Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ) has introduced a bill to extend low-interest TIFIA loans to communities — especially low-income communities — for street safety projects. Photo: Paraclito

His bill [PDF] would build on the TIFIA loan program, which is so beloved by Congress its funding was expanded by a factor of ten in the MAP-21 transportation bill, up to $1 billion this year. Since the beefed-up TIFIA program will fund any proposal deemed creditworthy and only selects projects that cost at least $50 million, advocates for transit and active transportation have been concerned it will become merely a slush fund for toll roads.

Sires’ bill, the New Opportunities for Bicycle and Pedestrian Infrastructure Financing Act — NOBPIFA for short (if you call that short) — would set aside 1 percent of TIFIA’s $1 billion and earmark that money for biking and walking. For these projects, TIFIA’s minimum project cost would be lowered to $2 million, making low-interest, long-term loans available to communities for improvements to their biking and walking networks.

Three co-sponsors have signed on to the bill. Two of them, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, are Republicans from the Miami area. Florida is consistently ranked as one of the most dangerous states in the country for walking and biking.

In a statement, Sires tied the bill introduction to Obama’s State of the Union address:

Last night, President Obama called on Congress to help rebuild our middle class, and this bill would do just that. When we make our roads and sidewalks safer, we help connect workers to new jobs. We create communities where families want to live and businesses want to invest. And we give mothers and fathers peace of mind, knowing they aren’t sending their children to school on the unsafe sidewalks and roadways that exist in so many of our rural and urban communities.

The bill reserves 25 percent of project funding for low-income communities, “with the goal of creating a more equitable, safe roadway environment for all Americans.”

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A Thousand Cyclists Hold “Die-in” to Demand Safer Streets in London

One thousand cyclists held a "die-in" in front of London's transportation offices on Friday to dramatize the dangers faced by the city's cyclists. Image: ##https://twitter.com/MeredithFrost/status/407286714835955712/photo/1## Meredith Frost/ABC##

One thousand cyclists held a “die-in” in front of London’s transportation offices on Friday to protest dangerous streets. Image: Rory Jackson via ABC

In a potent demonstration for safer streets, 1,000 Londoners staged a “die-in” with their bikes in front of the city’s transportation offices Friday. ABC producer Meredith Frost shared the above image, taken during the 15 minute demonstration. It has been going viral on the Internet. The original photo was taken by a member of the public and given to the Stop Killing Cyclists protest group.

Demands for safer streets have gained urgency in London following the death of six cyclists in a two-week period. Organizers are demanding 10 percent of the city’s transportation funds for safe bike infrastructure.

“We want a real budget, at the moment we’re getting crumbs,” organizer Donnachadh McCarthy told the BBC. “We want an integrated cycling network in London within five years and we want a say at the top table.”

The die-in tactic has some detractors, who think it will scare people from cycling and obscure evidence that cycling has recently become safer in London. But the BBC points out that similarly blunt and aggressive protests were key to the success of the 1970s-era safe streets movement in the Netherlands. They have also been used, with some success, to demand better infrastructure in American cities such as San Diego.

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Another Bike/Ped Safety Bill Coming Soon, Courtesy of Rep. Albio Sires

Yesterday was a great day for Congressional support for bicycle safety! Two Democrats and two Republicans introduced a bill to make states set separate performance measures for bike and pedestrian safety. And in addition, Rep. Albio Sires, a New Jersey Democrat, announced on the floor of the House of Representatives that he’ll be introducing a bill to help low-income communities invest in biking and walking.

Rep. Albio Sires spoke on the House floor yesterday to preview a bike safety bill he plans to introduce.

Rep. Albio Sires spoke on the House floor yesterday to preview a bike safety bill he plans to introduce.

His remarks came on the heels of yesterday’s release of national safety data that confirmed that pedestrian and cyclist fatalities comprise a growing share of overall traffic deaths.

Sires said that he was inspired to action by a report the Sierra Club and the League of American Bicyclists released this spring called, “The New Majority: Pedaling Towards Equity.”

Here’s what Sires said on the House floor:

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to talk about the importance of investing in safe infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists. I recently read a report presented by the Sierra Club and League of American Bicyclists, entitled The New Majority: Pedaling towards Equity, and as someone who rides a bicycle regularly, I think there’s a lot to be excited about in their findings. Across the nation, bike ridership is up — and the numbers are impressive. From 2001 to 2009 there has been a 22 percent increase in bike trips among white Americans, 50 percent for Hispanics, 80 percent for Asian Americans, 100 percent among African Americans, and there’s plenty of room for those numbers to grow.

Unfortunately, concerns about access to safe infrastructure remains a barrier for many would-be riders. I believe we must do more in Congress to address that. It’s a simple fact that when we invest in complete streets with safe pedestrian and bicycle pathways, we create communities where businesses want to invest and families want to live. That is why I plan to introduce a bill in the coming weeks that will create innovative new ways of financing non-motorized infrastructure projects. I am hopeful that this legislation will attract bipartisan support here in Congress, so that Americans of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy equitable access to safe roads.

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Blumenauer, Bipartisan Co-Sponsors Set Out to Improve Street Safety Metrics

After a long period of inaction on Capitol Hill, the wheels are beginning to turn again. Lawmakers introduced not one but two good transportation-related bills yesterday: one that aims to improve the safety of walking and biking and one that would establish a national infrastructure bank.

A new bill could mean fewer ghost bikes. Photo: ##http://photoblog.statesman.com/a-ghost-bike-and-a-memorial-bike-ride-for-andrew-runciman-hit-and-run-victim##Collective Vision##

Better performance measures could mean fewer ghost bikes. Photo: Collective Vision

We’ll get into the infrastructure bank bill in a separate post. First, let’s look at the bill Rep. Earl Blumenauer introduced last night. The Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act (HR 3494) would establish performance measures for pedestrian and cyclist safety.

Specifically, it would direct U.S. DOT to create metrics for states to assess and address “serious injuries and fatalities per vehicle mile traveled” and “the number of serious injuries and fatalities” for “non-motorized transportation” — a.k.a. walking and biking. Current law has no such emphasis on active transportation.

Reps. Howard Coble of North Carolina and Mike McCaul of Texas — both Republicans — co-sponsored the bill, along with Rep. Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat. They are all members of the Congressional Bike Caucus, which Blumenauer founded.

In his statement on the bill, Blumenauer noted that the number of bike commuters has increased by more than 60 percent over the last decade. “As transportation systems adjust to handle different types of road users, the federal government must encourage appropriate standards to ensure road user safety,” he said.

Pedestrians and bicyclists accounted for 17 percent of traffic fatalities last year — a proportion that’s on the rise. But less than 1 percent of transportation safety funds support infrastructure for walking and biking.

“While overall traffic deaths are down, the number of bicyclists dying on our roadways has increased by nine percent and pedestrian deaths have gone up by three percent recently,” said Coble in a statement. “This bipartisan legislation strives to reduce the number of bicyclists and pedestrians killed and injured on our roadways. It will help protect all users of our transportation system, while giving states flexibility to enact measures that make sense for them.”

Indeed, the legislation preserves state control by allowing states to set their own safety targets, with “the flexibility to choose the best methods to meet them,” according to the press release.

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Distracted Driving Is Claiming the Lives of More Pedestrians and Cyclists

Pedestrian fatalities attributed to distracted driving increased significantly between 2005 and 2010. Image: Public Health Reports

Total traffic deaths have declined nationwide in recent years, but the same has not held true for the most vulnerable people on the streets: cyclists and pedestrians. In 2011, 130 more pedestrians were killed in traffic than the year before, a 3 percent increase, while 54 more people lost their lives while biking, an increase of 8 percent. The same year, overall traffic deaths declined 2 percent.

As for the reasons why, good data has been scarce, but that hasn’t stopped major media from blaming victims for “drunk walking” or “distracted walking.” Now a new study published in Public Health Reports, the journal of the U.S. Public Health Service and the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General, reveals that distracted driving — particularly driving while texting — partially explains the rising death toll.

A research team from the University of Nebraska Medical Center examined crash records from every fatal collision tracked by the Fatality Analysis Reporting System between 2005 and 2010. They found that the rate of bike and pedestrian fatalities in which distracted driving was listed as a factor increased sharply over that time period.

Pedestrian deaths attributable to distracted driving rose from 344 in 2005 to 500 in 2010, significantly faster than overall population growth. Annual bicyclist deaths caused by distracted driving rose from 56 to 73 over the same period. Together pedestrians and bicyclists accounted for about one in 10 traffic fatalities that resulted from distracted driving, researchers found.

Distracted driving was defined to include anything from tending to a child to tuning the radio or eating while driving. Cell phone use was a major culprit, cited by police in 18.6 percent of the distracted driving deaths involving pedestrians and cyclists.

“The problem is that pedestrians and cyclists have little protection on the roadways,” Fernando Wilson, an associate professor in the College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and one of the study’s authors, told the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, sponsor of the study. “Evidence suggests that separating non-motorized travel from motorized travel, through bike lanes or other redevelopment efforts, could greatly reduce deaths.”

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“Macho Bike Culture” and America’s Paucity of Bike Infrastructure

This morning Andrew Sullivan highlighted a story in the Australian journal The Conversation that explains how the “macho” bike culture of the 1970s contributed to low cycling rates in that county and the United States as well.

Paint is not enough to make cycling on the street appealing to most people. Image: The Conversation

The Conversation‘s Steven Fleming points to recent studies showing that streets with protected bike infrastructure are safer than streets without it. People prefer to ride in protected bike lanes as well. As feminist bike activist Elly Blue told Streetsblog recently, having to ride with traffic means that your city’s bicyclists will range “from the most fit to the least fearful.” But if you want to broaden cycling’s appeal beyond “one percent of the population,” you’ll have to make it safer and more comfortable.

But for years, influential American cyclists, almost out of a sense of pride, resisted protected bike lanes, Fleming writes:

Bike store owner John Forester was a keen “vehicular cyclist”. He could keep pace with cars, assert his right to a lane, and gracefully somersault onto the grass if ever a driver looked but didn’t see him. He published these tips in his 1976 book Effective Cycling, with some good intentions, but also a hint of male pride.

By the way he opposed the Dutch-modeled cycle tracks he feared would spread to the US, you could be forgiven for thinking his secret fear was being made to ride beside women and children.

Authorities throughout the Anglosphere nations where Forester’s book was read most were happy to listen to a male voice of cycling. There was no way though that Forester’s ideas were going to have sway with the Dutch.

Too many Dutch mothers were already active in the Stop the Child Murder rallies that began in 1973 after 450 children were killed on their bikes in one year.

The “vehicular cycling” movement that Forester helped spawn in the United States is thankfully waning. But we’re still dealing with some of the results of resisting bike infrastructure: much lower cycling rates and much higher traffic fatality rates than countries like Denmark and the Netherlands.

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In California Cities, Drivers Want More Bike Lanes. Here’s Why.

Whenever street space is allocated for bicycling, someone will inevitably level the accusation that the city is waging a “war on cars.” But it turns out the people in those cars want separate space for bicycles too, according to surveys conducted in two major California metropolitan areas. Bike lanes make everyone feel safer — even drivers.

Far from constituting a war on cars, protected bike lanes are a big relief for drivers. Streetsblog SF

Rebecca Sanders is a doctoral candidate in transportation planning and urban design at the University of California-Berkeley. She’s spent a lot of time asking people — drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians — what kinds of street treatments would make them feel safer, giving them a list of safety improvements to choose from. Most drivers said their top priority was bike lanes. (In the Los Angeles area, the top choice was for improved pedestrian crossings, but bike lanes were a close second.)

Sanders began this research with Jill Cooper of Berkeley’s Safe Transportation Research and Education Center, under the sponsorship of the state department of transportation (Caltrans). They interviewed drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists on major corridors in and around San Francisco and Los Angeles, asking drivers why they picked the mode they did, and asking everyone how they perceived safety issues, especially for biking. Then they asked what kinds of street treatments would make the street safer for them.

“What was interesting about that study was that in the San Francisco Bay Area, the most requested item, across the board, was a bicycle lane on the corridor,” Sanders told Streetsblog. “It was the most requested item by drivers, it was the most requested item by pedestrians, and it was the most requested item by bicyclists. That was quite surprising to us.”

It’s no shock that cyclists asked for dedicated street space in overwhelming numbers, and it stands to reason that pedestrians want bicycles off the sidewalk. Perhaps it should be just as obvious that drivers would welcome dedicated bike infrastructure, too. They find that bike lanes help them be aware of cyclists and make cyclists’ behavior more predictable, according to Sanders’ research. In general, there’s less potential for conflict between drivers and cyclists when they each have their own space.

“We have not done a good job of recognizing and validating the concerns of drivers about predictability,” Sanders said. “For a long time, cyclists have been defensive; they’ve been fighting for space, and legitimately so. But in the process, some areas where we could really work together, I think, have fallen to the wayside. Everybody wants predictability on the roadway. Nobody wants to feel like they’re going to get hit or hit someone else and it’s going to be beyond their control.”

The results of Sanders’ San Francisco-area research are due to be published soon in the Transportation Research Record and are available now on the Berkeley website. Meanwhile, Sanders has continued to look into drivers’ attitudes toward bike lanes, making it the topic of her (as yet unpublished) dissertation. She has conducted focus groups and internet surveys to shed light on what drivers and cyclists need to feel safe.

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