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Rep. Joe Crowley Announces Pedestrian Safety Bill — The Third in Six Months

Rep. Joe Crowley announces his Pedestrian Fatalities Reduction Act this morning in Queens. Photo courtesy of the Office of Rep. Joe Crowley.

Rep. Joe Crowley announces his Pedestrian Fatalities Reduction Act yesterday in Queens. Photo courtesy of the Office of Rep. Joe Crowley.

Rep. Albio Sires has his New Opportunities for Bicycle and Pedestrian Infrastructure Financing Act (HR 3978). Rep. Earl Blumenauer has his Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act (HR 3494). And now, Rep. Joe Crowley has unveiled his Pedestrian Fatalities Reduction Act.

The New York City Democrat, a supporter of Vision Zero, made the announcement yesterday morning in Queens, which suffers a high rate of pedestrian crashes. He was flanked by street safety advocates and public officials.

States are currently required to submit comprehensive, statewide Strategic Highway Safety Plans to the Federal Highway Administration in order to receive federal highway safety funds. Crowley says the SHSP “is used by state departments of transportation to outline safety needs and determine investment decisions” but that “surprisingly, federal law does not require SHSPs to include statistics on pedestrian injuries and fatalities.”

His bill [PDF] would require states to report on the rate of fatalities and serious injuries among pedestrians and “users of nonmotorized forms of transportation.” If those numbers go up, a state would have to explain in its SHSP how it will address the problem.

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What Yesterday’s Supreme Court Decision Means for Rail Trails

The Supreme Court rules in favor of a property owner who claimed a right to some of the land that is part of the Medicine Bow Rail Trial in Wyoming. Photo: Urban Ecology Network

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of a property owner who claimed a right to some of the land in the way of the planned expansion of the Medicine Bow Rail Trial in Wyoming. Photo: Urban Ecology Network

Yesterday the Supreme Court dealt a blow to rails-to-trails efforts. In an 8-1 decision, the court ruled that lands granted to railroad companies by the federal government do not necessarily revert to government lands when they are abandoned. (Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued the lone dissenting opinion.)

The court ruled in favor of the estate of Marvin Brandt, who owned 88 acres bisected by the planned expansion of the Medicine Bow Rail Trail in Wyoming. The decision could set up a deluge of cases where adjoining property owners claim lands that were formerly railroad rights of way. The Supreme Court overturned the decision of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which must now reconsider the case.

Kevin Mills, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s senior vice president of policy and trail development, spoke with us about the implications of Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. The United States [PDF] for trails around the country:

What is your organization’s reaction to the decision?

We’re definitely deeply disappointed. We’re exploring what recourse we might have as it is remanded down to the 10th Circuit.

What does it mean for rail trails in the U.S.?

The first thing to know is that this is a case about federally granted rights of way. Those are something that’s significant in the western United States and not so much in the eastern United States. The background is, the federal government had land and wanted to get the railroads built across the land and granted land. The question was, does that property interest revert back to the federal government and not to the adjoining land owners?

How will this affect your work on behalf of trails?

I think the main observation: [Projects are] more vulnerable to litigation from adjoining landowners. The question is, how can we look to limit the damage that comes from all that litigation?

This case was bankrolled by interest groups seeking a very specific interpretation of private property rights, including the Koch brothers-backed Cato Institute. Does Rails-to-Trails frequently clash with this group?

There has certainly been historically quite a number of [contentious property rights] cases, those cases have often been settled, at a cost, or litigated — that is also a transaction cost. It’s definitely part of the landscape here. This is not something that’s going to come in and affect every rail trail next week.

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Families of NYC Traffic Violence Victims Band Together for Safer Streets

On Sunday, New Yorkers who’ve lost loved ones to traffic violence gathered on the steps of City Hall in Lower Manhattan to launch Families for Safe Streets, a new initiative advocating for street designs and traffic enforcement that will save lives. In this moving Streetfilm, members of Families for Safe Streets talk about their goals and why they’re speaking out.

The speakers included Amy Cohen and Gary Eckstein, whose son Sammy was killed on Prospect Park West in Brooklyn; Amy Tam and Hsi-Pei Liao, whose daughter Allison was killed in a Queens crosswalk; Judith Kottick, whose daughter Ella Kottick Bandes was killed while crossing the street in Brooklyn; Mary Beth Kelly, whose husband Dr. Carl Henry Nacht was killed while riding his bicycle on the west side of Manhattan; Greg Thompson, whose sister Renee was killed by a turning truck driver on the Upper East Side; Dana Lerner, whose son Cooper Stock was killed by a taxi driver who failed to yield to Cooper and his father while they were in a crosswalk; and Dave Sheppard, whose fiancée Sonya Powell was killed crossing the street by an unlicensed, hit-and-run driver in the Bronx.

Their message on Sunday was about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan to eliminate traffic deaths in New York. Families for Safe Streets supports the multi-pronged action plan de Blasio unveiled last week, while calling on City Hall to make firmer commitments with concrete benchmarks for reducing traffic violence.

The formation of a survivors group dedicated to reducing dangerous driving of all kinds is also a new development in New York, and perhaps a national precedent. While organizations like MADD have specifically countered drunk driving, the United States has not had an equivalent to the UK’s Road Peace, a traffic violence survivors group formed in 1992 that has become a national voice for overall street safety. Perhaps not coincidentally, since 1990, traffic deaths in Great Britain have dropped by two-thirds, while traffic deaths in the U.S. have fallen by only a quarter.

By turning their grief into activism, Families for Safe Streets is doing something new and powerful. And they are extending an outstretched hand to other victims’ families in New York. “There are thousands of other survivors,” Amy Cohen said at Sunday’s event. “We invite them to join us.”

Stephen Miller contributed reporting to this post.

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Developing Nations Respond to UN’s “Decade of Action for Road Safety”

The UN Decade of Action for Road Safety seeks to save 5 million lives by 2020, principally by focusing on the safety of pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists. Image: WHO

The UN Decade of Action for Road Safety seeks to save 5 million lives by 2020, principally by focusing on the safety of pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists. Graphic: WHO

As poorly as America performs on street safety compared to places like Germany, the UK, Japan, and the Netherlands, traffic violence is an even graver public health threat in most other countries. Despite the fact that Africa has fewer cars per person than any other continent, for instance, no other suffers from a worse traffic fatality rate. Each year, 24 out of every 100,000 Africans are killed in traffic, with 38 percent of those deaths being pedestrians.

Globally, 1.24 million people die in traffic crashes each year. Fewer than a third of them are in a car when the crash happens. Half of the victims are either on foot (22 percent), on a bicycle (5 percent), or on a motorcycle (23 percent). In the language of street safety research, these people are “vulnerable road users” or “non-occupants.” Another 19 percent of road deaths are among “unspecified road users.”

In Costa Rica, 75 percent of traffic deaths are among non-vehicle occupants. The WHO analyzed data for every country in the United Nations. Image: WHO

In Costa Rica, 75 percent of traffic fatalities are people outside of motor vehicles. Image: WHO

As car ownership rises in developing countries — the places already plagued with the worst level of traffic violence — the United Nations has declared 2011-2020 a “Decade of Action for Road Safety.” In low- and middle-income countries, 84 percent of roads where pedestrians are present have no safe place for them to walk.

Without action, traffic fatalities are projected to rise to 1.9 million by the end of the decade, but the UN hopes to “stabilize and reduce” traffic deaths to about 900,000 by 2020.

In a report released last year, the UN and the World Health Organization framed safety for walking and biking as an important corrective to the global growth in car ownership:

As the world continues to motorize, walking and cycling need to be made safe and promoted as healthy and less expensive mobility options. However, only 68 countries have national or subnational policies to promote walking and cycling, and just 79 countries have policies that protect pedestrians and cyclists by separating them from motorized and high-speed traffic.

The UN now grades countries according to five “pillars of action” for road safety:

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Why Is It Still So Hard to Find Out How States Are Spending Transpo Money?

Summary of Nationwide Findings for Bicycling and Walking Projects by Project Type. Image: Advocacy Advance

Based on available information, 88.7 percent of all state transportation projects include nothing for walking and biking. Image: Advocacy Advance

You would be lucky to get half as much information about a $5 million transportation project in your state as you can get from a toothpaste tube about how to brush.

That sad comparison comes from a new report by Advocacy Advance (a project of the League of American Bicyclists and the Alliance for Biking and Walking). The report — “Lifting the Veil on Bicycle & Pedestrian Spending: An Analysis of Problems & Priorities in Transportation Planning and What to Do About It” [PDF] — compares bike/ped spending in State Transportation Improvement Programs, the spending plans state DOTs have to publish at least once every four years.

Advocacy Advance took a look at bike/ped spending in all 50 states. Here's part of Ohio's scorecard. The state got two As, a B- and a D for data transparency. Image: Advocacy Advance

Advocacy Advance took a look at bike/ped spending in all 50 states. Here’s part of Ohio’s scorecard. Image: Advocacy Advance

While toothpaste directions average six sentences, the average state DOT project description is just one sentence.

And when trying to decipher how your state is spending millions of dollars on a given transportation project, you shouldn’t be surprised to come across something like this: “SH 28, SALMON SB, SHARED USE PATHWAYS, PHS I.” That’s all Idaho tells the public about how its transportation dollars are being spent.

“Generally, state advocates know about the STIP but they don’t see it as a useful place to put their time because there are so many issues with it,” said Ken McLeod, the author of the Advocacy Advance report. “It’s hard to produce data from it that’s actionable for them or their constituents. So there’s some frustration at the state and local level, knowing that there’s this document with great potential that’s unrealized.”

McLeod dug deep to determine what projects involved bike/ped spending. He separated out bike-only, ped-only, and bike-and-ped projects, and then separately categorized larger road projects with a bike/ped element. And he looked beyond DOTs’ “bike/ped” coding to determine for himself when a project invested in infrastructure for walking and biking.

Advocacy Advance used the data to produce scorecards for each of the 50 states. (Since the District of Columbia isn’t a state and so doesn’t have to produce a STIP, it was left out of the analysis.)

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New Partnership Brings Together “Strange Bedfellows” For Active Transpo

The gospel of active transportation has spread. Thanks to a number of concurrent crises, from obesity to climate change to the “silver tsunami,” it’s become clear to more and more people that the simple act of walking and biking can have a major impact on averting some of the biggest problems America faces. So over the past several years, several different sectors have joined traditional biking and walking advocates in taking up the mantle of active transportation. And now those relationships have been consecrated into a new union: the Partnership for Active Transportation.

DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton helped introduce the new Partnership for Active Transportation today on Capitol Hill. Photo: Tanya Snyder

DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton helped introduce the new Partnership for Active Transportation today on Capitol Hill. Photo: Tanya Snyder

Some of the biking and walking groups you might expect to see in a coalition like this are notably absent, because the convening organization – the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy – didn’t want to fill it up with the usual suspects. Instead, they brought in organizations that aren’t obvious allies: the American Public Health Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the LOCUS project of Smart Growth America that represents real estate developers. AARP is a key player in the new partnership too, though they haven’t quite said “I do,” yet.

“We’ve been making the public health argument for years,” said RTC president Keith Laughlin, “but we are bike advocates. We don’t have the right initials after our names.”

That’s where this partnership comes in. All the groups involved will more or less keep doing the same work they’ve always been doing, but now they can show the formal participation of people “who have all the right credentials” and can make a compelling argument from the point of view of the health or real estate sector that walking and biking are critical components of the transportation system. Showing lawmakers that active transportation has support from these sectors could help broaden the base of support for these programs on Capitol Hill.

The groups launched the partnership this morning on Capitol Hill, in one of the House office buildings, under the banner “Safe Routes to Everywhere,” a spin on Safe Routes to School. Rep. Tom Petri (R-WI), a longtime bike advocate and chair of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) made some opening remarks cheering on the group. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) stopped by later and gave his congratulations.

Susan Polan, there representing the American Public Health Association, acknowledged that it’s unusual for her group to sit down with real estate developers and agree on anything. “It’s a strange bedfellows coalition,” she said, “and that’s one of the reasons why it works.” She said this year is “the year of health,” with the rolling out of the health reform law, and that supporting communities to walk and bike more fits right in with that mandate.

The message the partnership will take to Capitol Hill has three parts:

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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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Secretary Foxx Pledges to Make Bike/Ped Safety a Priority

Pedestrian crash statistics aren’t just numbers to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. He himself was the victim of one of those crashes once, while out jogging. “I got lucky,” he told a packed room at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board today. “But there are lots of people out there that aren’t so lucky.”

Sec. Anthony Foxx announced his transportation priorities today, including an increased focus on safety for modes that historically get ignored. Photo by Nancy Pierce, ##http://www.bizjournals.com/charlotte/blog/queen_city_agenda/2013/02/anthony-foxx-jerry-orr-share-a-happy.html?s=image_gallery##Charlotte Business Journal##

Sec. Anthony Foxx announced his transportation priorities today, including an increased focus on safety for modes that historically get ignored. Photo by Nancy Pierce, Charlotte Business Journal

He said he saw an uptick in the number of pedestrians and bicyclists injured on the roads while he was mayor of Charlotte — and that these numbers are trending upward not just in that city, but around the country. “So over my tenure as secretary of transportation you can expect me to focus some attention on pedestrian and bicycle safety,” he said.

TRB is a major event that draws several thousand transportation professionals and academics from around the world.

Foxx said that after a recent airplane trip, his 9-year-old daughter brought him her list of transportation priorities (including bigger airplane bathrooms and no ear popping) and he figured if his daughter had already announced her transportation priorities, maybe he should do the same.

One of those priorities is to “look out for modes that traditionally don’t get much attention” like bicycling and walking.

The secretary highlighted equity not just among modes, but among people of different incomes. He said transportation should connect everyone, no matter where they live, to the 21st century economy:

I happen to know what happens when that doesn’t happen. Growing up in my hometown of Charlotte, I saw the indent of a highway loop that separated one part of the city from its central business district, and another highway project that divided a neighborhood in half, creating more stress on already stressed communities.

Foxx also highlighted the power of transportation to shape our communities. “I don’t think transportation should just help us get places better,” he said. “It should help us make places better — and help improve the quality of life of people all across our country.”

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Report: More Kids Are Walking to School

SInce 2007-08, driving rates have mirrored the changes in busing, but it's been steady growth for walking. From Safe Routes to School National Center.

SInce 2007-08, driving rates have mirrored the changes in busing, while walking has grown steadily. From Safe Routes to School National Center.

The long-term decline of walking and biking to school has been linked to the childhood obesity epidemic, a big share of morning rush hour traffic, and even kids’ lack of attention in class. In 1969, 41 percent of children in grades K–8 lived within one mile of school, and of those kids, 89 percent usually walked or biked. By 2009, 31 percent lived within a mile of school — and only 35 percent of them walked or biked.

It’s too soon to say that downward spiral is over. But there are hopeful signs.

A new report released by the National Center for Safe Routes to School shows that more kids are walking. However, biking seems to be staying flat, and busing is down.

First, a disclaimer: The study is based on somewhat uneven data. The 2005 national transportation bill, which created the federal Safe Routes to School program and started disbursing money to states, also mandated the implementation of a data collection system. Compliance has been rising dramatically — 382 schools submitted information in 2007, while 8,119 did this year. So current data is more robust than past years, and you should take the year-over-year trend results with a grain of salt.

In addition, rural and low-income students are under-represented in the surveys, as are kids living far from school. In total, more than 525,000 parent surveys from 4,691 schools supplied information for the study.

That said, the National Center found that walking to and from school increased among respondents between 2007 and 2012. While 12.4 percent walked to school in the morning in 2007, 15.7 percent did in 2012. In the afternoon, 15.8 percent walked home in 2007, versus 19.7 percent last year.

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