Monday, March 22, 2010

United States Radically Alters its Bicycle Policy

"...Regardless of regional, climate, and population density differences, it is important that pedestrian and bicycle facilities be integrated into transportation systems."  
Policy Statement on Bicycle and Pedestrian Accommodation Regulations and Recommendations, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, United States Department of Transportation.

Bicycling and Walking received an unprecedented boost at the National Bicycle Summit this past month.  As reported by, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood delivered a "table-top speech" to advocates and community leaders gathered in the Senate Chamber to push for federal dedication to walkable and bikeable communities.  "What an effort a year makes," he said.  "All of the work all of you have been doing for so long has paid huge huge dividends. People get it. People want to live in livable communities."

He praised the efforts of the advocates gathered in Washington, grateful for their push to create what he estimates most Americans desire: "I’ve been all over America, and where I’ve been in America I’ve been very proud to talk about the fact that people do want alternatives. They want out of their cars; they want out of congestion; they want to live in livable neighborhoods. And we would not be where we’re at today without you…. I’m very, very grateful!”

Hear the full speech here:

Just days after this rousing speech, LaHood posted a major transportation policy revision aimed at promoting bicycling and walking on his blog.

The entire policy memo can be viewed here, but the most significant parts of the new policy are outlined below. 

The statement wastes no time in asserting the significance of bicycling and walking:
"Walking and bicycling foster safer, more livable, family-friendly communities; promote physical activity and health; and reduce vehicle emissions and fuel use....Accordingly, transportation agencies should plan, fund, and implement improvements to their walking and bicycling networks, including linkages to transit. In addition, DOT encourages transportation agencies to go beyond the minimum requirements, and proactively provide convenient, safe, and context-sensitive facilities that foster increased use by bicyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities, and utilize universal design characteristics when appropriate."
LaHood has done well to point out the need to go beyond "tokenism" in the inclusion of bicycle and pedestrian facilities.  Too often a bike path/track/lane starts a mile from attractive spots, and ends two miles before you arrive at your destination.  Such poorly designed, haphazard bike facilities are as bad at increasing bicycling as no facilities at all. 

The document continues with an outright policy statement:
"The DOT policy is to incorporate safe and convenient walking and bicycling facilities into transportation projects. Every transportation agency, including DOT, has the responsibility to improve conditions and opportunities for walking and bicycling and to integrate walking and bicycling into their transportation systems. Because of the numerous individual and community benefits that walking and bicycling provide — including health, safety, environmental, transportation, and quality of life — transportation agencies are encouraged to go beyond minimum standards to provide safe and convenient facilities for these modes."
This means that federal projects which include bike/ped facilities will take precedence in the bidding process over those that do not.  Then, nailing the major benefits of active transportation, LaHood again encourages localities to do their best to improve facilities for non-motorized transportation. 

Now, in an era where the clarion call of "states rights!" appears to be making a comeback (if, in fact, it ever went away), some may scoff at the Transportation Secretary's following recommendation: 
"The DOT encourages States, local governments, professional associations, community organizations, public transportation agencies, and other government agencies, to adopt similar policy statements on bicycle and pedestrian accommodation as an indication of their commitment to accommodating bicyclists and pedestrians as an integral element of the transportation system."
I, though, see this as wonderful federal support--the heavy artillery as it were--for local advocates looking to implement the increasing demand for active transportation in their communities.   

Finally, the policy line that lit my face with glee.  The Federal Government is now 

Considering walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes...(and) because of the benefits they provide, transportation agencies should give the same priority to walking and bicycling as is given to other transportation modes. Walking and bicycling should not be an afterthought in roadway design.
The entire document is, of course, a historical call to action for transportation planners, municipal leaders, engineers, and active transportation advocates.  

But this last bit especially tickles my fancy.  At last, the bicycle is recognized as being equal with the car.  Well done, Mr. LaHood.

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