Federal Highway Administration Sets the Record Straight on Road Narrowing, Separated Bike Lanes

Aug 26, 2015
Dec 14, 2017
Broadway protected bikelane | Photo by SDOT, flickr
Broadway protected bikelane in Seattle, WA | Photo by SDOT

Although many state and local transportation agencies may not know it, USDOT and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) are big supporters of active transportation - that is, any non-motorized form of travel, such as walking or biking.

Beyond the benefits of improved health and reduced traffic congestion, cites whose residents are physically active will also see significant economic gains - with higher property values, improved academic performance, and increased local trade, for example. But despite the clear advantages of promoting active transportation, advocates of safer streets and improved bike and pedestrian infrastructure are often shut down when bringing their suggestions to state and local agencies. Their proposals are wrongfully dismissed as either unfundable or unsupported by “standard” design guidelines.

As part of the USDOT’s 2014 Safer People, Safer Streets Initiative, PPS has been working behind the scenes with Dan Burden of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute along with Eric Sundquist of the State Smart Transportation Institute and Roger Millar of Smart Growth America to address these common funding misconceptions and bureaucratic roadblocks. Then last week, in a move that will surely have far-reaching impacts on both public safety and public health issues, the FHWA released a comprehensive report clarifying the agency's support for a host of people- and place-friendly street design elements.

Photo by Dylan Passmore | flickr
Photo by Dylan Passmore | flickr

Entitled “Bicycle and Pedestrian Funding, Design, and Environmental Review: Addressing Common Misconceptions,” this document encourages state and local transportation agencies to better support the funding of projects that aim to improve bike and pedestrian infrastructure by narrowing streets or rightsizing roads, for example.


While you can read the full report here, the USDOT website has outlined three key points:

1. The Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) is not the only federal funding source for pedestrian and bicycle projects.

TAP is popular for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure but it’s not the only source of funds.  Pedestrian and bicycle projects are eligible for FHWA funding through the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) Program, the Surface Transportation Program, the Highway Safety Improvement Program, the National Highway Performance Program, and Federal Lands and Tribal Transportation Programs. Funding is also available from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) through Capital Funds and Associated Transit Improvement.  In order to receive funding, a pedestrian and bicycle project must meet a program’s requirements. For example, CMAQ funds have to be used for projects that benefit air quality.

2. AASHTO’s Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets (the Green Book) is not the only design standard that can be used on federal aid highway projects.

When a Green Bookstandard applies but an element of the design is outside the Green Book parameters, a design exception can be considered.  And states can adopt their own standards for non-National Highway System projects.  FHWA’s 2013 Memorandum on Bicycle and Pedestrian Design Flexibility supports a flexible approach to the planning and design of pedestrian and bicycle facilities and the use of additional resources such as the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ Urban Bikeway Design Guide and the Institute of Transportation Engineers’ Designing Urban Walkable Thoroughfares. FHWA also recently published the Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide that includes planning considerations and design options for separated bike lanes.

3. Bicycle and pedestrian projects do not need to be within the existing Right of Way (ROW) to be eligible for a Categorical Exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). As with all roadway projects, FHWA regulations do not require bicycle or pedestrian facilities to be within the existing ROW to be eligible for a Categorical Exclusion under NEPA. The environmental review process for NEPA considers environmental impacts of a proposed project, and doesn’t mandate the siting of a project either within or outside of existing rights-of-way.

Thanks to this important document and collaborative effort, rather than being turned away or silenced, Placemaking and active transportation advocates will now be armed with the facts when approaching their local DOTs with ideas for safer street designs.

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