Environmental News Highlights – October 7, 2020

A roundup of headlines curated for state transportation environmental professionals


CR Secures Federal Funding, Extends FAST Act for One Year – AASHTO Journal

FHWA Issuing $574M in Emergency Funds For a Variety of Disasters – AASHTO Journal

Water case offers a window into Barrett’s jurisprudence – E&E News

New Bill Aims to Make Communities and Infrastructure More Flood-Ready – Pew

DOT’s Transportation Self-Governance Program for Tribes Takes Effect – Transport Topics

Supreme Court to Hear Energy Companies’ Appeal in City Climate Change Lawsuit – Route Fifty

Infrastructure investment is the best idea that never happens: Could 2021 be different? – Roll Call (Opinion)


Study: No Direct Correlation Between COVID-19, Transit System Use – AASHTO Journal

Public Transportation COVID-19 Research Demonstration Grant Program – FTA

Gas Tax Spikes in N.J. Because of Pandemic’s Impact – New York Times

How COVID-19 repurposed city streets – Marketplace


FAA funds to aid airport safety, infrastructure – Transportation Today

Indiana Seeking to ‘Future-Proof’ Infrastructure Investments – Inside INdiana Business

Public transit agencies can skip long environmental reviews under bill signed by Newsom – San Francisco Chronicle

Montana Selling Bonds As Part Of Infrastructure Funding Package – Montana Public Radio

Paradise Is Going Underwater. What Can We do? – Honolulu Civil Beat (Opinion)

Rising Waters Threaten Great Lakes Communities – Stateline


Pennsylvania Joins 6 States in Commitment to Plan for CO2 Transport Infrastructure – Pennsylvania Governor’s Office (Press release)


How EPA rollbacks evade 1994 environmental justice order – E&E News

Dickinson College to host virtual panel on environmental justice in Pa. – Patriot-News

Yale Experts Explain Environmental Justice – Yale University

Why environmental justice needs to be on the docket in the presidential debates – Union of Concerned Scientists (Blog)


The Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality file a lawsuit against the City of Corpus Christi – KIII-TV

Butterflies are free: Illinois Monarch Action Plan takes flight – The Telegraph

Judge to Decide If San Francisco Bay Salt Ponds Are Protected US Waters – Courthouse News Service

Vermont seeks public input on clean water budget priorities by Oct 30 – Vermont Business Magazine


Historic Preservation Is Great, Except When It Isn’t – Governing (Opinion)


Caltrans’ Director Talks Active TransportationAASHTO ETAP Podcast

The Murky Case for Mass Telecommuting – CityLab

Safer with sharrows? – World Highways

Imagine a statewide network of NC greenway trails. Officials want your ideas. – The News & Observer

Santa Maria releases plan for biking, pedestrian infrastructure, seeks public feedback – Santa Maria Times

U.S. Department of Transportation Designates October as National Pedestrian Safety Month NHTSA


AASHTO Virtual Annual Meeting Registration Now Open – AASHTO Journal

Airport Renewable Energy Projects Inventory and Case Examples – TRB/ACRP (Report)

Transportation Resilience 2019: 2nd International Conference on Resilience to Natural Hazards and Extreme Weather – TRB (Circular)

TR News: Integrating Stormwater Infrastructure into State Department of Transportation Processes – TRB

2020 Virtual Forum on Sustainability and Emerging Transportation Technology (part 1) TRB

Good to Go? Assessing the Environmental Performance of New Mobility – International Transportation Forum (link to pdf)

Webinar: Telework During COVID and Beyond: Leveraging Behavioral Science to Improve Virtual Work and the Future of Commuting – Eno Center for Transportation


Competitive Funding Opportunity: Pilot Program for Transit-Oriented Development Planning – FTA (Notice of Funding Opportunity)

Deprecation of the United States Survey Foot – Department of Commerce (Notice; final determination)

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: Caltrans’ Toks Omishakin

In this episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP podcast, host Bernie Wagenblast interviews Toks Omishakin (at left in photo above), director of the California Department of Transportation or Caltrans.

Omishakin – who chairs the Council on Active Transportation for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials – is considered a national leader in policies that promote safe and equitable “active transportation opportunities,” especially biking and walking.

“When you think about transportation in this country, the one thing that has remained constant is that people walk and bike to get to a variety of places,” he explained on the podcast. “In fact, 30 percent all trips in this country are of one mile or less, with 50 percent three miles or less. So it is clear that there are many opportunities to walk and bike, but have to build the facilities and infrastructure to support those trips.”

Omishakin also pointed out that, “if I could go back in time,” he would not term biking and walking as “active transportation” but rather “transportation essentials” to reflect their modal importance.

“They are a central part of how people live and get about in their communities across the country,” Omishakin said. “Look at the areas of the country where people do not own a car. In New York City, 50 percent of residents do not own a car. In Washington D.C. the rate is 40 percent. In Philadelphia, it is 30 percent. Yet this is not all about big cities. In Akron, Ohio, 15 percent of residents do not own a car. In Mobile, Alabama, 10 percent do not own a car. In Pasadena, California, it is 12 percent.”

Director Toks Omishakin
Photo courtesy of Caltrans

That is why he believes it is critical that the “multimodal focus” of AASHTO and other transportation organizations gets incorporated into key transportation system design guides.

“I’ve been in transportation for 20 years, and whether it is a city, state, or federal transportation agency I’ve encountered, the ‘green books’ on the shelves of their engineers represent the ‘holy grail’ of their decision-making,” he explained. “That’s why the meat, if you will, of what AASHTO’s Active Transportation Council will be focused on in the months and years to come is the incorporation of active transportation within those guidance documents. This is a chance to influence transportation more than ever before. I am really excited by this opportunity.”

Click here to listen to the entire podcast.