State DOTs Face New FHWA Mandate for Bike, Pedestrian Safety Measures

AASHTO Journal, 19 December 2014

A provision Congress included in its fiscal 2015 government-wide spending measure on new safety performance measures for bicycle and pedestrian travel is triggering celebration among bike groups while leaving states waiting to see what federal regulators will require.

The Bicycle Alliance of Washington state, also known as Washington Bikes, issued an exultant “we did it!” statement Dec. 15 after Congress acted, and credited Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., for getting the provision into the law.

The new law directs the Federal Highway Administration “to establish separate, non-motorized safety performance measures for the highway safety improvement program, define performance measures for fatalities and serious injuries from pedestrian and bicycle crashes” and publish a final rule on those measures no later than Sept. 30, 2015.

Separately, a trio of House members wrote the Government Accountability Office on Dec. 18 asking the GAO to investigate why fatalities are rising among pedestrians and bicyclists and recommend ways to improve safety. Those lawmakers — Rick Larsen, D-Wash., Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Eleaner Holmes Norton, D-D.C. — said “​we want to know what more Congress can do to ensure the highest level of safety for all of those using our roads.”

Those actions come as a new survey of state departments of transportation and metropolitan planning organizations — by the AASHTO Standing Committee on Planning — shows the overwhelming majority include bike and pedestrian use considerations into their project planning, while many have adopted targeted bike/ped safety programs or built performance measures.

In addition, states currently analyze fatalities of pedestrians under their Strategic Highway Safety Plans required by federal law, and in this fiscal year will also be required to include bicyclists’ fatalities as a new “core outcome measure.”

Washington Bikes said that during development of the 2015 federal budget, it and the League of American Bicyclists worked with Sen. Murray’s staff to include a directive for those measures. “This push for inclusion in the appropriations bill represents a continuation of an earlier push to pass legislation in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate to require USDOT to establish a non-motorized performance measure,” the group said.

That effort in recent months corresponded with this fall’s AASHTO survey, conducted under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program, which drew responses from 31 state DOTs and 99 MPOs.

Its just-issued results show that 35 percent of state DOTs and 20 percent of MPOs said they have developed bike/pedestrian performance measures that include safety, connectivity, congestion and other categories.

When asked about barriers the transportation officials find to effective planning for the non-motorized travel, 38 percent cited lack of support from elected or agency officials while 37 percent cited lack of good data about volumes of bikers and walkers. Other barriers mentioned include lack of funding for those areas, constraints with rights of way, the need to inventory sidewalks and problems posed by federal and state regulations.

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