New Oregon DOT Program Providing Mobility Grants

The Oregon Department of Transportation recently noted that its new Innovative Mobility Program or IMP will be sending more than $87,000 in micro-grants over the next several weeks to local groups to fund the purchase of bicycle helmets and locks, transit passes for elderly and disabled riders and other mobility endeavors.

[Above photo by the Oregon DOT]

“The Innovative Mobility Program will support both existing and new projects that help expand underserved communities’ access to safe and affordable transportation,” said Karyn Criswell, administrator of Oregon DOT’s Public Transportation Division, in a statement.

She noted that the IMP has two “over-arching” goals: Reduce climate impacts by improving access to public and active transportation and investing in historically underserved groups by helping them get where they need to go. In particular, the IMP’s micro-grants seek to improve safety and access for those who walk and roll, while also making it easier to use other transportation modes besides driving alone.

“We heard many people have immediate needs but struggle to hear about or apply for funding on time,” Criswell added. “So $5,000 micro-grants will be issued on a rolling basis with no deadlines to ensure that there’s always an opportunity to access funds.”

Oregon DOT noted that the IMP would also include contracted services, a large competitive grants program, and technical assistance for prospective applicants and grant awardees. Funding for the program, totaling $20 million, comes from a combination of state and federal dollars.

The agency said the IMP’s large grants and contracts portal is expected to open in 2023. In the meantime, IMP micro-grants are available on a rolling basis and the application is available on the website.

Small organizations often serve communities with the greatest need but struggle to produce grant applications that can compete against larger organizations that serve the general population,” said Criswell. “So we’re designing a grant application process that prioritizes need and will include support for these organizations so they can be competitive in an open, public process.”

The agency added that state, regional, and local governments, public transportation providers, public schools and school districts, Native American tribes, certain nonprofits, and businesses providing community services are all eligible to apply for the IMP.

The program can fund many transportation-related activities including pedal and electric bike lending libraries and bike shares; transportation “wallets,” which offer passes and credits for use on transit, bike-share, e-scooters, ride-share, and car-share in one package; carpools and vanpools; equipment such as bike locks and helmets; training and much more.

Tennessee DOT Promoting Delta Region via New Partnership

The Tennessee Department of Transportation is expanding its traditional role in the Mississippi River Delta Region from building and maintaining roads to include fighting litter, supporting tourism and promoting economic development.

[Above photo by the Tennessee DOT]

The Tennessee Delta Alliance or TDA, a partnership between Tennessee DOT and the University of Memphis, is the agency’s latest investment in West Tennessee and one which will “benefit generations to come,” explained Butch Eley, the agency’s commissioner, in a statement.

Tennessee DOT provided the university with a three-year, $675,904 grant to kickstart the partnership. Organizationally, the alliance will be part of the university’s Center for Regional Economic Enrichment, the agency said.

The plan is for TDA to eventually manage the roadway and promote economic development in the Delta counties, an area that includes downtown Memphis and economically distressed rural communities, according to Michael McClanahan, transportation manager in Tennessee DOT’s highway beautification office.

The alliance also will establish a regional, water-based Keep America Beautiful affiliate along Tennessee’s portion of the Great River Road National Scenic Byway.

“This is really innovative,” McClanahan said. “There are about 200 scenic byways, but this is the first one that will be a Keep America Beautiful affiliate.”

The road along both sides of the Mississippi River is a part of a 3,000-mile route from the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico. However, the Federal Highway Administration has only added certain portions of that road to its National Scenic Byways program. In 2021, the FHWA did designate the Tennessee portion of the route as an All-American Road for its historic and cultural intrinsic qualities.

The TDA is just getting started, McClanahan added and is trying to hire an executive director to run the byway organization and appoint advisory council members from the counties along the river.

The TDA will be part of the Mississippi River Parkway Commission, a 10-state organization that works to preserve and enhance the cultural and historic aspects of the parkway areas, addresses environmental issues, coordinates marketing materials, and looks for ways to promote regional tourism through events and links to hiking and pedestrian trails.

This is but one of several Tennessee DOT initiatives aimed at helping clean up state waterways and improve aquatic ecosystems.

For example, in March, the agency teamed up with Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful and other partners to establish a network of 17 “Seabin” automated litter and debris removal devices across the Tennessee River watershed.

Seabin devices work continuously to skim and collect marine debris from the surface of the water. Each receptacle can remove up to 3,000 pounds of marine debris annually, while also filtering out gasoline, oils, and “micro-plastics” from the water.

Grants from the Tennessee DOT and the national Keep America Beautiful organization provided the funds supporting this deployment of the Seabin devices.

Additionally, in April 2021, the agency provided the Tennessee Aquarium grants to establish two new exhibits illustrating how microplastics and other roadside trash can negatively affect the health of the ocean as well as rivers, lakes, and streams.

The new exhibits – housed in the Aquarium’s “River Journey” and supporting the Tennessee DOT’s “Nobody Trashes Tennessee” litter reduction campaign – include actual debris taken from the banks of the Tennessee River.

Colorado DOT Issues Transportation Demand Grants

The Colorado Department of Transportation recently awarded $492,000 in grants to communities and organizations statewide in support of “transportation demand management” strategies that help relieve traffic congestion and lower greenhouse gas or GHG emissions.

[Above photo by the Colorado DOT]

“We’ve known for a long time that we can’t simply build our way out of congestion, and we’re proud to help these pioneering communities and organizations give people more options for traveling,” explained Shoshana Lew, Colorado DOT’s executive director, in a statement.

“Transportation demand management strategies can help manage congestion, restore air quality and reduce emissions,” she said. “They can also make communities more thriving and sustainable.”

Colorado DOT explained that transportation demand management seeks to provide travelers with more travel choices instead of relying on single-vehicle occupancy vehicles. Such choices can include mode, route, time of travel, and work location, the agency added.

Common transportation demand management strategies focus on transit, “micro-mobility” such as bikes and scooters, improvements to pedestrian infrastructure, smart growth policies, intelligent transportation systems, managed lanes, and the encouragement of “e-work” or remote work options. While such approaches are more common in large urban areas, Colorado DOT said many smaller communities could benefit from them as well – with its grant program designed to help them do so.

“There are organizations in the metro area that have been doing great work on these strategies for many years,” noted Kay Kelly, chief of innovative mobility for Colorado DOT. “We’re excited to see these grants help existing groups scale up successful projects and to be encouraging innovation and expansion of transportation demand management efforts to new audiences statewide.”

Other state departments of transportation are engaged in similar efforts.

For example, the Vermont Agency of Transportation awarded roughly $500,000 in grants via the Mobility and Transportation Innovation or MTI program in December 2021 to support “innovative strategies” that improve both mobility and access for transit-dependent Vermonters, reduce the use of single-occupancy vehicles for work trips, and reduce GHGs.

The agency noted that Vermont’s legislature specifically created that program with the passage of the state’s 2020 Transportation Bill in June 2020.

Caltrans Adds ‘Complete Street’ Rule to Project Requirements

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

[Above photo by Caltrans]

A “complete street” policy seeks to expand mobility options for people of all ages and abilities, particularly those who are walking, biking, using assistive mobility devices, and riding transit. Caltrans said its “complete streets” requirement – which went into effect December 7, 2021 – offers several benefits, including enhancing safety and creating more sustainable transportation options to decrease dependence on driving and improving public health by encouraging active transportation like walking and biking.

The agency added that its new policy ultimately aims to “expand the availability” of “sustainable transportation options” to help meet the state’s climate, health, and equity goals.

“California must reduce dependence on driving without sacrificing mobility and accessibility,” explained Toks Omishakin, director of Caltrans, in a statement.

“As Caltrans and local transportation agencies prepare for the influx of new federal infrastructure funding, it is important that we provide safe, convenient, sustainable, and accessible alternatives to driving to achieve our climate goals while equitably serving all Californians,” he said.

Other state departments of transportation are deploying similar “complete street” strategies as well.

In February 2021, the South Carolina Department of Transportation adopted what it calls 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 agency said it would then tailor those plans to the “unique needs” of locales across the state, serving as a foundation for highway planning and design, construction, maintenance, and daily operations.

SCDOT Adopts ‘Complete Streets’ Policy for State Highway System

The South Carolina Department of Transportation adopted on February 4 what it calls a “wide-ranging” Complete Streets policy for the state-owned highway system.

[Photo courtesy of the South Carolina Department of Transportation.]

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 agency will then tailor those plans to the “unique needs” of locales across the state, serving as a foundation for highway planning and design, construction, maintenance, and daily operations.

“The goal of this policy is to make our highway system safe and accessible to all users; drivers, passengers, bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit riders,” explained South Carolina DOT Secretary Christy Hall in a statement. “Proper planning is key to ensuring that the appropriate level of multimodal accommodations is provided in the right context, on the right project, and in the right manner to meet the needs of the community.”

Key components of the agency’s new Complete Streets policy include:

  • Funding for pedestrian, bicycling, and transit accommodations is to be included in the budget for each project if warranted on the individual project and in accordance with the regional plans.
  • Updating and modernizing agency design manuals to include multimodal accommodations.
  • Establishing a council to facilitate ongoing communication to seek continuous improvement opportunities and initiatives.

“I appreciate the time and effort the various advocacy groups put into the new policy,” added Hall. “They have worked side-by-side with us from the beginning and we count on their input as we begin to make South Carolina’s highways more efficient and safer for all of our citizens.”

Buttigieg Highlights Climate, Active Transportation at Senate Hearing

Pete Buttigieg – former 2020 Democratic candidate for president and mayor of South Bend, Indiana – highlighted the importance of climate policy and active transportation needs within the Biden-Harris administration’s infrastructure investment plan during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on January 21 to be the 19th U.S. Secretary of Transportation.

“Safety is the foundation of the department [of transportation’s] mission, and it takes on new meaning amid this [COVID-19] pandemic,” Buttigieg said in his written testimony. “We must ensure all of our transportation systems – from aviation to public transit, to our railways, roads, ports, waterways, and pipelines – are managed safely during this critical period, as we work to defeat the virus.”

Nominated to be USDOT secretary by President Biden in December 2020, Buttigieg also stressed that investment in transportation infrastructure will play a critical role in both restoring and growing the U.S. economy.

“We need to build our economy back, better than ever, and the Department of Transportation can play a central role in this by … creating millions of good-paying jobs, revitalizing communities that have been left behind, enabling American small businesses, workers, families and farmers to compete and win in the global economy, and tackling the climate crisis,” Buttigieg said.

“Infrastructure can be the cornerstone to all of this, and you have my commitment that I will work closely with you to deliver the innovation and growth that America needs in this area,” he emphasized.

Yet Buttigieg stressed during the question and answer portion of the hearing that, “ultimately, we cannot afford not to act on climate. The question becomes: How can we do that in a way that creates economic benefit in the near term, as well as preventing catastrophe in the long term?”

Buttigieg also stressed the need to expand the nation’s “mobility vision” when it comes to supporting active transportation efforts.

“There are so many ways that people get around,” he explained. “Often we’ve had an auto-centric view that has forgotten historically about all the other different modes. We want to make sure anytime we’re doing a street design that it enables cars, bicycles, pedestrians, businesses and any other mode to coexist in a positive way.” Buttigieg also emphasized that the United States has “historic opportunity here, on both sides of the aisle and with the public, for transportation investment – whether we are talking about trains, planes, and automobiles or next-generation transportation.”

AASHTO to Examine Election Impact on Transportation at Annual Meeting

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Annual Meeting – held via a virtual format November 9-13 due to the COVID-19 pandemic – will focus on the potential ways the results of the 2020 national elections could affect the nation’s transportation policy agenda.

As part of AASHTO’s annual meeting, the organization’s Transportation Policy Forum will delve into the Congressional policy outlook for surface transportation funding reauthorization in 2021 and conduct two interactive polling exercises – the first on the pending COVID-19 relief package, including AASHTO’s $37 billion backstop request before Congress, and second on the development of the 2021 AASHTO legislative action agenda.

Several knowledge and spotlight sessions focused on a variety of transportation topics will take place over the course of AASHTO’s annual meeting.

For example, on Thursday, November 12, AECOM will host a resilient infrastructure knowledge session focused on how state DOTs can continue to maintain a connected transportation system in the face of hazards and threats such as hurricanes, flooding, wildfires, derechos, as well as cyber and other potential attacks.

Also on November 12, Bentley Systems will host a spotlight session on how safety culture is evolving with state departments of transportation at different levels, such as in communications with the public and legislators or other external partners; through the project development process; and by pilot projects to transform traffic safety culture among road users.

Registration for AASHTO’s virtual annual meeting is now open and can be accessed by clicking here.

Making Streets Slow and Green in the Time of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic “locked in” many places across the country in late March when a variety of local and state governments issued stay-at-home orders – many of which still remain in place to help quell the spread of the virus.

[Photo courtesy of New Jersey state government.]

Many local and state governments recognized outdoor recreational activities such as walking, bicycling, and running as “essential activities” if conducted in compliance with social distancing requirements. However, many people found they did not have safe access to areas to participate in those activities – especially as parks completely closed to the public in many areas.

As a result, state and local governments are witnessing an opportunity to increase the availability of safe active transportation space in their urban areas. Some of the measures include:

  • Closing certain streets to motorized vehicles. In Oakland, the city closed nearly 10% of its streets.
  • Expanding or creating new priority zones for cyclists and pedestrians, creating “shared spaces.”
  • Creating temporary or “pop-up” bike and pedestrian lanes through low-cost interventions (signage, traffic cones, and concrete barriers).
  • Providing equipment and finance e.g. bike commuter benefits, shower facilities at workplaces, grants to local governments that want to implement slow street initiatives.

More than 200 cities around the world have taken some sort of action to expand pedestrian and bicycle access during the pandemic, according to data collected by researcher Tabitha Combs at the University of North Carolina’s Department of City and Regional Planning. Her research data set is part of a larger project collecting responses globally and includes the Walk/Bike/Social Distancing dataset, COVID19 Livable Streets Response Strategies, and COVID Mobility Works

Photo courtesy of the Charlotte DOT

The Oakland Slow Streets Program is one example of these types of actions. The City of Oakland Slow Streets Program supports “safe physical activity” by creating more space for physical distancing for all city residents by declaring several local roads as “slow streets.”

“Slow streets” are closed to through traffic so that people can more comfortably use low-traffic areas for physically-distant walking, wheelchair rolling, jogging, and biking all across the city. To that end, the Slow Streets: Essential Places program in Oakland extends on the original program and provides intersection improvements to support residents’ safe access to essential services such as grocery stores, food distribution sites and COVID-19 test sites.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation is also making strides in implementing a similar idea via a Shared Streets and Spaces grant program. 

The agency partnered with the Barr Foundation to provide technical assistance and support to cities and towns interested in rapidly transforming their streets to facilitate responsible public health practices. The program resulting from that program includes providing funding for more outdoor seating and recreation space for businesses, as well as safe spaces and streets blocked off for pedestrian and bicycle traffic. As of early August, the program has given out a total of $3.8 million to fund projects in 48 municipalities across Massachusetts.

Alongside of state and local “slow street” encouragement programs are efforts to expand “green street” initiatives as well – largely in terms of altering street designs to better manage storm water runoff.

In the past, storm water often flowed over the urban surface areas, collecting pollutants and other trash, until discharged untreated into creeks, rivers, lakes, and eventually oceans. Today, storm water regulations require better management of such pollutants – and one such solution involves the construction of “greener” transportation infrastructure. 

For example, design methods for green streets or living streets incorporate natural components such as grassy swales, detention basins, and tree wells to manage pollutants from street runoff – methods that promote storm water capture, water conservation, and improved groundwater supplies through infiltration. Green streets also include more trees and shade, which helps improve air quality and reduce urban temperatures.

More state and local governments are recognizing the importance of green infrastructure thinking and are developing tools for transportation planners and designers. 

For example, the San Diego County Green Streets technical guidance document – developed by a contract with consulting firm WSP USA in 2018 – provides directives on green designs for new streets as well as outlines for taking into account when retrofitting existing paved roads to be “greener” and manage storm water runoff better. 

Many other states and organizations are seeing the positive impacts of including green and living streets in their planning processes and are developing guidelines for their transportation planners.

The District Department of Transportation, for one, established a long-range plan in 2013 to make Washington, D.C., the “greenest city in the nation.” The plan calls for increasing green infrastructure in the public right-of-way and taking actions to improve the health of the city’s waterways.

“DDOT is installing Green Infrastructure or GI as part of construction projects and in retrofit projects to reduce storm water runoff in more areas of the city,” the agency noted. “Green Street and Green Alley projects utilize GI techniques and may be constructed where watershed and infrastructure improvements are prioritized.”

The New Jersey Department of Transportation adopted a similar long-range plan in July 2019 as a “one-stop resource” for New Jersey municipalities, counties, agencies, and organizations pursuing green street strategies.

According to the agency, “green street” design elements complement efforts to create more active transportation-friendly environments by:

  • Creating an inviting and comfortable walking and bicycling environment by incorporating green infrastructure elements – such as street trees and rain gardens – that provide shade and remove pollutants from the air.
  • Minimizing flooding along streets and sidewalks that interferes with and discourages walking and bicycling.
  • Achieving efficiencies and cost savings when improvements are designed and constructed concurrently.
  • Aiding in pedestrian safety by using green infrastructure installations to slow down traffic.

ETAP Podcast: Arizona DOT’s Steve Olmsted Discusses the Impact of COVID-19

One impact from COVID-19 pandemic being felt by state departments of transportation is the temporary cessation of “traditional” face-to-face public meetings to discuss upcoming transportation projects – with most of such gatherings going virtual.

In this podcast, Steve Olmsted – senior program manager at the Arizona Department of Transportation – discusses how his agency is handling the challenge of engaging the public and moving forward transportation projects during a time of social distancing.

“We call them virtual call-in public hearings,” he said on the podcast. “The meeting was presented by phone only and callers could verbally submit comments … with a court reporter transcribing the comments. The meeting was also simultaneously broadcast on free public radio stations – that is a novel thing for us and credit goes to our community relations team for that.”

To hear more about the “lessons learned” by the Arizona DOT from this process, click here.

House Climate Report Recommends Transit Expansion, Further VMT Study

The House of Representatives Select Committee on the Climate Crisis unveiled a broad 547-page plan on June 30 that includes among its recommendations that Congress fund a “massive expansion of public transit” and “further examine” switching to a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) or similarly styled fee in lieu of motor fuel taxes.

“One area that the majority staff for the Select Committee did not tackle but remains important for Congress to discuss is the issue of the viability and equity of current revenue streams for highway and transit, including the gasoline tax,” the report noted. “Congress should continue to explore and test options for alternatives that fund U.S. transportation infrastructure priorities while advancing environmental and climate priorities, such as a vehicle miles traveled fee.”

The committee’s plan also suggested “at least” doubling annual funding for new intercity passenger rail and bus rapid transit projects.

“Transit projects that reduce air pollution and improve mobility in environmental justice communities and underserved rural areas should receive additional funds and consideration,” the report said. “Federal support for projects should be conditioned on recipients meeting strong labor standards – including Buy America and Davis-Bacon prevailing wage requirements – complying with all labor, environmental, and civil rights statutes, and signing community benefit agreements and project labor agreements, where relevant.”

The overarching goals of the committee’s wide-ranging climate plan including reaching “net-zero” carbon dioxide or CO2 emissions before 2050, with interim steps including the reduction of U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 37 percent below 2010 levels in 2030 and 88 percent below 2010 levels in 2050.

Every sector of the nation’s economy would be affected by the plan, from the energy industry – where “rapid deployment” of more wind, solar, and other “zero-carbon” power sources would occur – to the construction segment, which, among other mandates, would be required to develop and use more “direct capture” and low-carbon building materials.

The committee’s report describes the transportation sector as the “largest source” of energy-related CO2 emissions in the country – accounting for 37 percent of all emissions in 2019 – and targets it for major changes.

“Congress needs to take a multi-pronged approach to the transportation sector to drive down emissions and increase the sector’s resilience in the face of worsening climate impacts,” the report said. “Improving a vehicle’s efficiency, for example, will not be enough if that vehicle travels farther each year.”

To that end, it recommends enacting a “suite” of new federal transportation policies that could impact state departments of transportation, including:

  • Deploying “demand-pull” and “supply-push” policies that incorporate: a national zero-emission vehicle sales standard; federal procurement requirements; consumer tax incentives to defray upfront vehicle costs; and tax incentives, grants, and other financial tools to help cities, states, and other entities to install electric charging stations and other zero-emission fueling infrastructure.
  • Require states and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) to include GHG emissions reductions in their long-range public transit and highway planning efforts.
  • Direct states and MPOs to evaluate how well the nation’s transportation system is “facilitating access” to housing, jobs, and critical services. With the counsel of outside experts, it recommends that the U.S. Department of Transportation “develop standards and criteria” for how to measure access, including a consideration for how access might differ for low-income communities and communities of color.
  • Require states to use “complete streets” and “context-sensitive principles” when designing and implementing transportation projects and provide grant funding to support associated infrastructure investment.
  • Increase funding for the Low-No Grant Program “by at least tenfold” and limit grants to zero-emission buses and associated equipment.
  • Increase funding for USDOT programs to support passenger ferry electrification and installation of necessary shore-side charging infrastructure.
  • Create a new formula and grant program managed by the USDOT to protect vulnerable transportation assets in advance of disasters, including investing in evacuation routes and increasing resilience to flooding, wildfire, erosion, and extreme weather.
  • Allow states to use funds apportioned under the National Highway Performance Program for projects to mitigate the risk of recurring damage from extreme weather, flooding, and other natural disasters on transportation infrastructure.