Last week, the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) released their draft strategic plan for FY2014-2018. This plan will drive the USDOT’s internal workplan, so it’s important to make sure Safe Routes to School, bicycling and walking is well-represented. USDOT is asking for input from the public through an online dialogue, but the deadline for comment is September 10, a very short window. There is good news in the draft strategic plan, along with room for improvement.
On the safety section, we are pleased to see bicycle and pedestrian safety called out as a specific section, but it should be separated from older drivers, as those are very different audiences. The data included in the bicycle and pedestrian section should call attention to the seriousness of bicycle and pedestrian safety. In 2011, a total of 5,109 people were killed while walking and bicycling – more than three times greater than the number of fatalities combined for the other modes with their own sections (waterborne, railroad, air, transit and pipeline). The language in the bicycle and pedestrian section fails to call out the large number of fatalities happening each year, and does not mention that as a share of overall traffic fatalities, bike/ped fatalities have jumped from 12 percent of traffic deaths in 2008 to 16 percent of traffic deaths in 2011. The trends are heading in the wrong direction, so greater emphasis and accountability needs to be placed on rectifying these critical safety problems.
Specifically, we would like to see the action items for bicycling and walking include more about bicycle infrastructure (walking infrastructure is mentioned), the need for USDOT to invest in bike/ped data improvements, and for USDOT to work with states to improve spending of Highway Safety Improvement Program dollars on bicycle and pedestrian safety. We also believe there should be a separate performance goal on reducing the rate of bicycle and pedestrian fatalities, rather than combining it together with all other roadway fatalities.
For the livable communities section, we are pleased to hear the USDOT discuss how the lack of coordination between transportation and land-use has created auto-centric communities—resulting in significant transportation costs and lack of transportation options. It calls out the lack of sidewalks, the drop in walking and bicycling to school over the past fifty years, and the rising childhood obesity rates. It is encouraging to have the USDOT talking about the negative health and quality of life impacts on these sprawling development patterns. We applaud the action items and strategic objectives identified, which focus on creating more transportation choices and linking transportation and land use. However, the performance goals in this section need strengthening. One performance goal seeks to increase to 65 the number of state, regional and local policies to improve walking and bicycling—which is too low given the 500+ Complete Streets policies that already exist nationwide.
Please take a few moments to visit the online dialogue—while there, vote for helpful comments and post your own. We will be submitting a letter to USDOT with more detailed comments in hopes that this five-year plan truly reflects the shift towards more transportation options we are seeing in our communities.