When investing in transportation, communities often focus on bolstering infrastructure that already exists, from repaving and extending highways to boosting rail, air, bus and port service. Pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, including bike paths, trails and greenways, typically gets overlooked — but U.S. Transportation Director Ray LaHood is hoping to change that.
Under his direction, the DOT is providing more funding than ever to make roads safer and more accessible for cyclists and pedestrians. One of the department’s key goals is to enhance livability in communities by offering alternatives to driving and gearing policies toward people rather than vehicles.
“Livability means being able to take your kids to school, go to work, see a doctor, drop by the grocery or post office, go out to dinner and a movie, and play with your kids at the park — all without having to get out of your car,” LaHood is quoted as saying on DOT’s website.
Transportation-related livability projects in towns across the country are popular fodder on LaHood’s blog, The Fastlane, from support of bike lanes and sidewalks on city streets in Tupelo, Miss., to walkability initiatives in downtown Dubuque, Iowa (a move that helped persuade IBM to locate an IT services center in the Iowa town).
A Bureau of Transportation Statistics study found that, while respondents still rank enhancements to major roads and highways as the most crucial transportation-related livability improvement, 70 percent agreed that bike lanes were important. The EPA also recently released guidelines encouraging states and metropolitan areas to consider bicycle and pedestrian activity and safety when drafting their transportation plans.
So what other cities are focusing on bike- and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure? A few include:
•Nashville, Tenn.: In two years, the number of bicyclists and pedestrians in the city has doubled, according to a September study conducted for the National Bicycle & Pedestrian Documentation Project. Volunteers watching key intersections during peak morning and afternoon travel times counted more than 5,800 cyclists and pedestrians — up from 3,900 in 2009. “We’re seeing people out there walking and bicycling as part of recreation, and as part of exercise, but especially as part of transportation,” says Leslie Meehan, senior planner for walking and biking for Nashville’s Metropolitan Planning Organization.
•Dalton, Ga.: With its rolling hills and curvy roads, the city is a mecca for cyclists. With funding from the Georgia Department of Transportation, it recently began constructing a $10 million greenway that will connect its downtown district and urban neighborhoods to biking, hiking and running trails.
•Minneapolis, Minn.: Named as the No. 2 bicycling city in the nation by the U.S. Census Bureau, the city has 46 miles of streets with dedicated bicycle lanes, 84 miles of off-street bicycle paths and a popular (and free) bike-share program for those who live and work in the city.
What do you think? Is pedestrian-friendly infrastructure gaining ground in your community? What role will it play in the transportation needs of the future?