ETAP Podcast Discusses Active Transportation

The second episode of a four-part Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP podcast series focuses on the crucial connections required between planners, policymakers, and local communities in order to make active transportation systems more attractive and inclusive for all users. (To listen to the first episode, click here.)

[Above photo by AASHTO]

“Active transportation” encompasses “human-powered” mobility options, such as biking or walking, and is also viewed as a way to help bridge the first- and last-mile gap in public transit systems. Active transportation also offers public health benefits as well, as it engages users in physical activity.

This ETAP podcast episode sits down with Tamika Butler, principal of Tamika Butler Consulting, who describes how her firm strives to help build more equitable and inclusive active transportation systems for minority and low-income communities.

The podcast also visits with Joshua Phillips, communications and public relations coordinator for the Alabama Department of Transportation, about “City Walk Birmingham,” also known as “City Walk BHAM.”

The recent completion of Birmingham’s I-59/20 Central Business District (CBD) Interstate bridges brings about a renewed focus on the space underneath the bridges known as City Walk BHAM. The goal of the project is to provide a space to assist in reconnecting Birmingham and create a destination and common area open to all citizens.

Conceptual planning began on City Walk BHAM in 2014 as a way to create a “fresh and vibrant space” underneath the I-59/20 Central Business District Interstate bridges.

Phillips noted on the podcast that at every phase of the project, Alabama DOT worked to engage the public in the project so it could be better tailored to pedestrian needs; an effort that resulted in the creation of public park and recreation spaces within the project.

To listen to the full podcast, click here.

RIDOT Helps Support ‘Gotham Greens’ Path Project

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation is helping support – in concert with various federal, state, and local agencies – the new “Gotham Greens” off-road multi-use path along the Woonasquatucket River Greenway via stormwater mitigation efforts.

[Above photo by RIDOT]

This new path, located behind the Gotham Greens building in Olneyville, offers new access to the Woonasquatucket River and will serve as a connector between the Greenway and the Washington Secondary Bike Path – helping “knit together” a “patchwork of pathways” in the City of Providence to promote active transportation use while protecting the local environment from stormwater flooding.

The nonprofit Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council, the City of Providence, and Gotham Greens jointly built the new path, while RIDOT – in concert with the Environmental Protection Agency, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, and the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program – will work to mitigate the potential for future flooding along the pathway.

“Urban flooding and resilience are complex issues that demand collaborative, innovative, and targeted responses,” explained Governor Dan McKee (D) in a statement.

This second phase of improvements to the pathway – currently under RIDOT’s supervision and supported in part by the National Coastal Resilience Fund – focuses on streambank restoration and “green infrastructure,” which is the installation of plants, soil, and other natural materials to manage stormwater and prevent flooding and pollution.

Colorado DOT Wraps Revitalizing Main Street Project

The Colorado Department of Transportation recently completed a Revitalizing Main Streets or RMS grant project in partnership with the City of Leadville and the Leadville Main Street Program or LMSP that transformed a “parklet” into a safe, secure and accessible amenity for all residents and visitors

[Above photo by the Colorado DOT]

The agency’s RMS program funds infrastructure improvements for towns and cities across Colorado aimed at making walking and biking easier, encouraging economic development, supporting community access to public streets and multimodal transportation, and bringing innovative uses of public spaces for people to life.

Those RMS funds are used for infrastructure improvement projects that meet the aim of the program and “shovel ready,” therefore can be completed within a 12-month period from grant contract execution, if approved. To date, Colorado DOT said the RMS program has issued 191 grants.

This new parklet facility Colorado DOT helped the City of Leadville will serve as an “anchor feature” for the community; a facility that includes a handwashing station, pet area, bench, picnic table and bike racks. This parklet is adjacent to the Leadville Lake County Visitor’s Center with adequate bike and vehicle parking to serve residents and visitors.

Through this grant, the LMSP worked in partnership with 10 vital partners and agencies and a group of local volunteers to create a community-driven project; one that included a local artist to integrate the historically bright, colorful look, and feel of the City of Leadville into this new amenity.

“With the approach of working collaboratively with partners, stakeholders and community members, this parklet was able to come to life. This safe space will strengthen the connection of people to Leadville’s main street and other central economic hubs,” said Shoshana Lew, Colorado DOT’s executive director, in a statement.

Michigan DOT Grants Help Improve Transit Access

The Michigan Department of Transportation is making it easier for Michigan residents to catch a ride on a bus, rideshare, bicycle, or scooter through its Michigan Mobility Wallet Challenge, a pilot grant program to open up transit options to everyone.

[Above photo by Michigan DOT]

The goal of the program is to make transit services more affordable and simpler for all citizens, including the disabled, poor, veterans and seniors. The idea of the “mobility wallet” is to create an app or smart card that can be used for multiple transit options in a community.

On a recent episode of its podcast series “Talking Michigan Transportation,” the Michigan DOT highlighted one of its non-profit grant recipients, Feonix–Mobility Rising.

Feonix developed a mobility wallet to allow veterans in the Detroit, Grand Rapids, Jackson, and surrounding areas greater access to transit services. The organization added that it plans to expand the program by January 2024 to include individuals and families experiencing poverty.

Feonix CEO Valerie Lefler explained how the company’s program works by using the example of a veteran who has cancer and no nearby family to drive him to his chemotherapy and radiation treatments. The veteran can use the mobility wallet to take the bus until he needs more assistance. The wallet then can be used for an Uber or taxi or an Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA-compliant paratransit vehicle.

Lefler cited a 2018 Veterans Administration study concerning the challenges veterans have in securing adequate transportation. One veteran in that study talked about why his war-induced post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD prevented him from taking a bus to his medical appointments because of the shaking and jostling.

“If we can spend $30 million to equip him with gear and ammunition and all the things that they need in warfare, why can we not give these men and women an Uber or a taxi or a service when they’re seeking treatment, trying to recover from those experiences?” Lefler said on the podcast.

Ecolane Inc., also received a grant to develop a multimodal mobile transit application and smart card that uses Zig, a sensory technology that allows users to pay without having the remove their smart phone or card from their wallet. The technology, demonstrated in this video, is fully compliant with the ADA. Ecolane’s app will be available for nine transit agencies in Michigan.

Michigan DOT Director Brad Wieferich said in a news release that the mobility wallet program demonstrates that “Michigan is on the forefront of innovations in developing new technologies for public transit users.”

Connecticut DOT Adopts ‘Complete Street’ Criteria

The Connecticut Department of Transportation recently implemented new “Complete Streets” design criteria that the agency plans to incorporate into all of its surface roadway projects going forward.

[Above image via the Connecticut DOT]

A “Complete Street” is a roadway planned and designed to consider the safe, convenient access and mobility of roadway users of all ages and abilities. This includes pedestrians, bicyclists, public transportation users, and motorists; it includes children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities.

The agency said this new design criteria expands on its “Complete Street” policy, which ensures that every roadway project includes a focus on pedestrian and bicyclist facilities and public transportation operations to create stronger intermodal transportation networks and improve safety.

The Connecticut DOT’s new ‘Complete Streets’ design criteria focuses on three areas to improve safety and mobility for all roadway users:

  • Pedestrian facilities – includes sidewalks, shared use paths, or side paths on both sides of the roadway.
  • Bicycle facilities – includes paved outside shoulders, bike lanes, separated bike paths, or shared use paths on both sides of the roadway.
  • Transit provisions – includes crosswalks, shelters, benches, and other ways to make existing or proposed transit stops more accessible.

The agency added that if any of its transportation projects does not meet those three criteria, Connecticut DOT’s chief engineer is required to issue a formal design exemption.

“While this change may sound technical, it is a big deal for improving the safety of our transportation network,” noted Garrett Eucalitto, Connecticut DOT’s commissioner, in a statement. “We are doing everything we can to break down barriers to transportation and make Connecticut roadways more accessible for everyone.”

[Editor’s note: In March 2022, the Federal Highway Administration sent a report to Congress detailing the agency’s commitment to “advance widespread implementation” of the “Complete Streets design model” to help improve safety and accessibility for all users. That report – entitled “Moving to a Complete Streets Design Model: A Report to Congress on Opportunities and Challenges” – identifies what FHWA calls “five overarching opportunity areas” that will guide the agency as it moves ahead with efforts to increase “Complete Streets.”]

“Utilizing ‘Complete Streets’ design criteria is just one of the many ways we’re working to make Connecticut safer for all roadway users,” noted Scott Hill, the agency’s chief engineer and bureau chief of engineering and construction.

“This change will solidify and ensure that pedestrian, bicyclist, and motorist safety is incorporated into the billions of dollars’ worth of projects we have planned in our capital program,” he added.

Several state departments of transportation have implemented similar “Complete Street” initiatives over the last several years.

In February 2021, the South Carolina Department of Transportation adopted what it called a “wide-ranging” Complete Streets policy for the state-owned highway system.

That policy requires the South Carolina DOT to work with the state’s regional transportation planning partners and regional transit providers to identify and include walking, bicycling, and transit needs as part of their regional visioning plans.

The California Department of Transportation unveiled a similar “complete streets” policy for all new transportation projects it funds or oversees in December 2021 in order to provide “safe and accessible options” for people walking, biking and taking transit.

Meanwhile, in October 2022, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet issued a new version of its “Complete Streets” roads and highways manual; a revision that represents the first update in more than 20 years to Kentucky’s pedestrian and bicycle travel policy.

Additionally, in January, Governor Kathy Hochul (D) signed a legislative package allowing the New York State Department of Transportation to provide more fiscal support for municipal ‘Complete Streets’ projects. Under the new legislation, the state’s contribution to the non-federally funded portion of complete street projects will increase to 87.5 percent, which will help municipalities to implement these street designs.

Kansas DOT Releases Updated 2023-2025 Bicycle Map

The Kansas Department of Transportation recently released its new 2023-2025 bicycle map, which incorporates more than simply listing bike-friendly pathways across the state.

[Above image by Kansas DOT]

“The revised map has new features such as a focus on rail-trails, Kansas Tourism resources, and information on the recently published Kansas Active Transportation Plan,” said Jenny Kramer, active transportation manager for the agency, in a statement.

“This map provides information for cyclists of all levels of experience as well as community advocates wanting to develop and improve trails and paths in their areas,” she added.

The Kansas DOT 2023-2025 map charts out daily traffic volumes, county roads, rest areas, bike shops, byways, state parks, and – of course – bicycle routes across Kansas.

The map also includes a revised Kansas Rail-Trails map and infographic; a section on trail-sharing etiquette; information on Kansas tourism cycling resources and the state’s Active Transportation Plan; U.S. Bicycle Routes 76 and 66 information; a table of state recreation areas and amenities; and a list of all applicable state bicycle laws.

State departments of transportation develop bicycle routes, which the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials then officially designates within the U.S. Bicycle Route System or USBRS.

In February 2021, AASHTO and Adventure Cycling signed a memorandum of understanding or MOU to formalize their now 17-year partnership to create a national 50,000-mile bicycle route network.

Twice each year, AASHTO’s U.S. Route Numbering Special Committee reviews and recommends to the AASHTO Board of Directors a number of revisions, additions, or deletions to the U.S. numbered routes and Interstate Highway System.

The special committee also reviews and recommends the approval of new and revised U.S. bicycle routes that are critical to the expansion of the USBRS.

In addition, AASHTO’s Committee on Planning works with Adventure Cycling to maintain and update the broader USBRS National Corridor Plan that identifies corridors for future bike routes – noting that the USBRS is a “cornerstone” of Adventure Cycling’s work as a national nonprofit dedicated to inspiring, empowering and connecting people to bicycle travel.

Meanwhile, in late June, Adventure Cycling announced major expansions to the USBRS, including three completely new routes and a connection from Alaska to the lower 48 states.

The three new routes are USBR 610 in Idaho, USBR 11 in Pennsylvania, and USBR 121 in Tennessee. In Minnesota, USBR 20 has been extended and USBR 45 and USBR 45A have been adjusted to incorporate new trails and improve safety.

Meanwhile, Alaska’s network now connects to Washington State via the Alaska Marine Highway System using ferries; the first time a ferry has been designated as part of a U.S. bicycle route.

MassDOT Helps Provide Trail Improvement Funding

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation recently helped provide some $11.6 million in funding through the MassTrails Grant Program to support 68 trail improvement projects statewide.

[Above photo via MassDOT]

Those projects seek to expand and connect the state’s network of off-road, shared-use pathways and trails to use for recreation, exercise, and environmentally friendly commuting.

The MassTrails Grant Program provides matching grants, technical assistance, and resources to individuals, municipalities, non-profits, and other public entities. Funding for those grants come from two sources: The Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation capital budget and Federal Highway Administration Recreational Trails Program grants, managed at the state level by MassDOT.

Program funds go toward the design, construction, and maintenance of diverse, high-quality trails, including hiking trails, bikeways, and shared-use paths, noted MassDOT.

“Outdoor recreation is directly tied to the economic prosperity of our state,” said Governor Maura Healey (D) in a statement.

“By investing in our trails system, we can give our residents opportunities to get outside, commute for free, and showcase all the natural assets Massachusetts has to offer,” she added. “This is how we grow our economy, cut emissions, and improve health outcomes all at the same time.” 

“Bicycle and pedestrian paths are a key part of … providing safe and equitable transportation networks which support the state’s transit, economic, climate and public health goals,” said MassDOT Secretary and CEO Gina Fiandaca.

“This grant money for 68 projects will help cities and towns build out the framework for creating a state-wide trails network and we look forward to seeing the positive impacts new trail construction will have for all those who live in, come to visit, or traverse through our state for work or pleasure,” she added.

Additionally, MassDOT recently announced the new, interactive Priority Trails Network Vision Map for statewide shared-use paths.

That map provides a centralized inventory of key rail trail projects that will help support an envisioned comprehensive statewide transportation trail network.

It specifically identifies approximately 320 miles of trails that have been constructed and are in use, another 24 trails that are currently under construction, plus an additional 60 miles of proposed paths that have been funded but not yet constructed.

The map also lists priority shared-use path project locations that either have been proposed for consideration or will be pursued for funding and development to help address key gaps in the network.   

States Add New Routes to U.S. Bicycle Route System

The Adventure Cycling Association recently announced major expansions to the U.S. Bicycle Route System or USBRS, including three completely new routes and a connection from Alaska to the lower 48 states.

[Above photo by AASHTO]

The U.S. Bicycle Route System is a developing national network of officially designated, numbered, and signed routes that use existing roads, trails, and other facilities appropriate for bike travel, the association noted – eventually encompassing 50,000 miles of routes nationwide.

The three new routes are USBR 610 in Idaho, USBR 11 in Pennsylvania, and USBR 121 in Tennessee. In Minnesota, USBR 20 has been extended and USBR 45 and USBR 45A have been adjusted to incorporate new trails and improve safety.

Meanwhile, Alaska’s network now connects to Washington State via the Alaska Marine Highway System using ferries; the first time a ferry has been designated as part of a U.S. bicycle route.

“It’s exciting to see how the U.S. Bicycle Route System mirrors our European counterpart bicycle travel network, EuroVelo in a new way” by connecting to ferries, noted Jennifer O’Dell, executive director of Adventure Cycling, in a statement.

“By incorporating the Alaska Marine Highway System into the USBRS, cyclists’ horizons are widened beyond the Lower 48,” she added.

Jim Tymon, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, noted that state departments of transportation play a significant role in the expansion of the USBRS by designating new routes twice every year.

“Those bike routes are critical to enhancing and expanding the active transportation opportunities within the nation’s multimodal mobility network,” he said. “State DOTs play a key role in helping foster more and safer bicycle travel options for all Americans and goes to the heart of AASHTO’s longstanding partnership with the Adventure Cycling Association.”

[Editor’s note: AASHTO and Adventure Cycling formalized their nearly two-decade partnership by signing a memorandum of understanding in February 2021.]

Digital maps for all designated U.S. Bicycle Routes are available to the public for free on the Adventure Cycling Association website.

With the new designation and realignments, the USBRS now boasts nearly 20,000 miles of routes in 34 states and Washington, D.C. At least 38 states are currently developing additional bike routes, Adventure Cycling noted.

IIHS: Trade-Offs when Mandating Slow E-Scooter Speeds

Many cities are turning to speed limiters for electric scooters to address concerns about rider safety and conflicts with pedestrians, according to new study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Yet mandating low travel speeds may push more-scoot use onto sidewalks, the group’s research suggested.

[Above photo via IIHS]

“Our results show that restricting scooters to low speeds offers a trade-off,” said Jessica Cicchino, IIHS vice president of research and the study’s lead author, in a statement.

“At slow speeds, riders are more likely to choose the sidewalk over the road,” she added. “That puts them in less danger from cars but could mean more conflicts with people on foot.”

IIHS noted that e-scooter use has blossomed in the United States since the first shared e-scoot program officially launched in 2017. But as ridership has increased, so have injuries and citizen complaints. In response, many towns and cities have required speed limiters for shared e-scooters, with a 15 mph maximum speed the common limit.

To help understand the effect of different maximum speeds, IIHS researchers compared rider behavior in Austin, TX, and Washington, D.C. Austin caps shared e-scooter speeds at 20 mph, while Washington, D.C., makes the maximum speed 10 mph — one of the lowest in the United States. Neither city has an effective way to require speed limiters on privately owned scooters, IIHS noted in its study.

In both cities, e-scooter riders overwhelmingly rode in bike lanes where they were available. Where there were no bike lanes, however, riders in Washington, D.C., were 44 percent more likely than Austin riders to choose to ride on the sidewalk – and were more likely to favor the sidewalk despite lower vehicle traffic volumes when compared to the 16 Austin observation sites.

Overall, however, riders tended to choose the sidewalk when motor vehicle traffic was heavier, as well as on arterials and two-way roads. In contrast, the researchers recorded an increase in e-scooter riders in vehicle travel lanes on weekends, possibly because of lighter traffic.

E-scooter riders are doubtless safer from fatal injuries when they’re not sharing the road with motor vehicles. However, the net impact of sidewalk riding on less serious injuries to e-scooter users and pedestrians is unclear. A previous IIHS study showed that most e-scooter rider injuries in Washington, D.C., happened on the sidewalk but also that injuries that occurred on the road were more severe.

“E-scooter users clearly take risk into account when choosing where to ride,” said IIHS’s Cicchino. “Many are also conscious of the risk of hitting a pedestrian. [But] slowing down the fastest sidewalk riders should help prevent crashes and reduce the severity of injuries when e-scooters hit pedestrians. The clear preference for bike lanes also gives communities another reason to focus on expanding their bicycle networks.”

The researchers also analyzed rider behavior in the central business district of Washington, D.C., where sidewalk riding is prohibited. Despite the ban, IIHS found that two-thirds of e-scooter users rode on the sidewalks at locations without bike lanes that area – noting that riders in the central business district without bike lanes were also 38 percent more likely than riders in Austin to choose the sidewalk over the street.

There’s little evidence sidewalk bans are any more effective elsewhere. Nevertheless, two-thirds of U.S. communities are considering them or have them in place already, according to a 2022 survey by the Behavioral Traffic Safety Cooperative Research Program.

Others are mulling banning e-scooters from all or certain roads. Improvements in e-scooter technology could offer an alternative solution, IIHS noted, with some e-scooter companies now deploying systems that can detect when their e-scooters are on sidewalks.

As this technology matures, it could be used to apply separate speed restrictions for sidewalk riders or prevent sidewalk riding altogether in key locations, IIHS noted.

University Unveils Distracted Pedestrian Prevention App

Researchers at the University of Alabama Birmingham recently unveiled a new smartphone-based application called “StreetBit” that uses Bluetooth beacon technology to prevent pedestrians from becoming distracted while navigating road crossings.

[Above photo by the UAB]

The school said the StreetBit app sends auditory and visual warnings to a distracted pedestrian’s smartphone as they approach a street corner where Bluetooth beacons are installed.

new study co-written by five UAB researchers shows that the application is not only helpful, but also cost-effective by providing a template of how existing data sources can be leveraged to do cost-benefit analyses for any interventions designed to enhance pedestrian safety.

“We hope the template developed in this study can facilitate large-scale implementation of any intervention designed to prevent pedestrian fatalities and injuries by providing policymakers with information on the net benefits of the intervention,” said Jillur Rahim, first author of the study and statistician II in the UAB School of Public Health, in a statement.

“The findings can lead to significant cost savings for the states and, most importantly, save pedestrian lives by facilitating large-scale adoption of such programs,” Rahim added.

UAB said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has noted that more than 7,000 pedestrians were killed in the United States because of crashes involving motor vehicles in 2020, and that part of this issue can be attributed to excessive smartphone-related distractions.

For its study, UAB researchers analyzed pedestrian injury and death rates, expected costs per injury, and prevalence of distracted walking and estimated that StreetBit, or similar interventions, can potentially save between $18 million and $29 million annually in Alabama alone.

Even under the most conservative scenario, StreetBit could yield an estimated net annual benefit of $11.8 million for the state, the researchers said.

The UAB claimed its analysis – entitled ‘Cost–benefit analysis of a distracted pedestrian intervention’ and published in Injury Prevention – is the first U.S.-based study to demonstrate how existing data can be leveraged to predict the net monetary benefits of distracted pedestrian intervention programs.