Statewide Active Transportation Planning: Lessons Learned

May 15, 2019
Photo credit: Nancy Pierce, 2017

Statewide active transportation planning presents a unique challenge. How do you create a comprehensive, cohesive approach for biking and walking across numerous diverse and unique communities? It takes effective coordination and a depth of experience to develop an effective approach. From Alta’s experience completing numerous statewide active transportation plans across the country, we’ll share how to successfully create inclusive and user-friendly plans for large geographic areas with diverse qualities.

“There is an emerging demand for statewide active transportation planning with a more nuanced understanding of context and benefits. In addition to our urban work, our recent FHWA Small Town and Rural Multimodal Networks Guide, and the new Active Transportation Networks Analysis combined with our Active Transportation Analytics practice and health benefits tools define best practices for statewide planning for biking and walking.” — Steve Durrant, FASLA, Vice President, Alta Planning + Design

Understanding Demand

For statewide analysis, it is imperative to understand at a statewide scale where the demand for bicycling and walking is, as well as who the design user is. Alta’s tools are capable of identifying where pockets of demand exist in both rural and urban areas and are sensitive to the types of users who may be expected to be walking and bicycling in these areas. In some small towns and rural communities, active transportation is even more common than in urban areas, but the infrastructure to support it is limited or absent. The FHWA Small Town and Rural Multimodal Networks Design Guide (authored by Alta) helps state, county, and small town transportation officials meets these needs. Understanding the types of users and their design needs can help to establish more effective policies to accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians.

Integrating Health + Equity

By utilizing health analyses, healthy community design and evidence-based health strategies can be integrated into community planning, transportation, and land use decision-making processes. In conjunction, equity analyses help understand where concentrations of historically vulnerable populations exist, populations that may rely more on walking, bicycling, and transit to complete most of their trips. Once the analysis is complete, the results can be used to evaluate existing transportation infrastructure and determine if walking and bicycling improvements can be made to improve mobility options, improve health benefits and reduce economic burdens for these communities. For example, Alta worked with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control to develop The Health + Planning Policy Toolkit to serve as a user-friendly resource for planners, public health professionals, advocates, elected officials, and other interested staff or citizens to successfully integrate healthy eating and active living into their County Comprehensive Plan and other local planning efforts. In addition, Alta has collaborated with Urban Design 4 Health (UD4H), an international leader in using health metrics in a wide range of active transportation plans and designs, from the national and statewide perspective, to the individual parcel-level design decisions.

In the California State Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, Alta focused on social equity, and laid out possible performance measures for investing resources in communities that are most dependent on active transportation and transit. For example, tracking the percent of transportation-disadvantaged population within ½-mile bicycling distance to on-street facilities, the percent of transportation-disadvantaged population with access to completed sidewalk network, and bicycling and walking rates for low income communities, people of color, and women.

Network Planning and Prioritization

A key to successful statewide planning is a data-driven approach to route prioritization combined with public engagement and stakeholder feedback. This process helps to identify corridors that should be prioritized for investment to help State Departments of Transportation use their resources most prudently. Commonly when working with states, they may not have the data they need to make these informed decisions. Alta is equipped to help determine what data sets states need to collect for current plans and the future. Depending on the state and its unique transportation landscape, recommendations may need to be specifically focused on statewide roadway systems, which are not always ideal routes to create bicycle and pedestrian facilities. Alta understands this balance between what is feasible, and has the experience and know-how to coordinate with local jurisdictions to prioritize local changes.

Effective Public Input

Reaching every corner of a state can be difficult using traditional means of public engagement. Alta has found success using online input maps to source feedback from all corners of the states where we work. These tools are fully customized and mobile optimized so that people can provide input on the go. For New Mexico’s Rio Grande Trail Master Plan, Alta developed a virtual open house that attracted nearly 1,000 participants over a 4-week window of time. The graphically-rich and engaging format brings the model of an open house meeting to every region of the state. With added convenience and the ability to reach a broader audience, a virtual open house allows residents and stakeholders to learn about the planning process, give open-ended feedback, and personalize their own experience in the open house through exploring at their own pace, just as they would at an in-person meeting.

Design Guidance

Statewide planning and recommendations should be grounded in design guidelines to ensure successfully securing funding and implementation. Having authored the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide and FHWA Small Town and Rural Multimodal Networks Guide, Alta has the knowledge and skills necessary to develop design guidance for state DOTs to develop and maintain high quality bikeway and pedestrian facilities, in all the contexts that state facilities pass through, including urban, suburban, and rural areas.

Safety Focus

Incorporating safety into statewide planning is of high importance to effectively reduce the number, rate, and severity of bicycle and pedestrian involved collisions. The safety of bicyclists and pedestrians is improved by moderating automobile speeds and providing greater protection from faster moving traffic. A comprehensive approach addressing system design as well as behavior of all types of road users is required to make meaningful strides in safety. Concrete strategies emphasizing safety in roadway design and speed management, addressing unsafe behavior, and seeking a deeper understanding of collision causes and occurrences will contribute to a safer, more inviting walking and bicycling environment.

Education and Encouragement Programs

Creating a safe and inviting active transportation system requires attention to more than just the physical infrastructure; it requires a diverse toolkit of complementary programmatic recommendations that will enable people to bicycle and walk more and lead healthier lives. Targeted education, encouragement, enforcement, and evaluation strategies that improve residents’ health, safety, and their ability to incorporate active transportation into everyday life are important as strategies that support the development and success of infrastructure. Successful programs must reach users and motorists in all different sectors of the population. A program may be presented as a campaign, effort, ongoing initiative or one-time event, depending on its purpose. Every initiative should have a well-defined purpose or focus, a clearly identified goal (or goals), a lead agency/organization, and a logical timeline or schedule. In essence, these different efforts market walking and bicycling to the general public and too see that the maximum “return on investment” in the form of increased mode shift is achieved.

Vision for the Future

State Departments of Transportation across the country are closely watching trends in shared mobility and connected and autonomous vehicles and tracking the implications of federal guidance. As the nature of urban mobility and regional connectivity change, DOTs play a critical role in setting a framework for future-proofing investments, while maintaining a commitment to current infrastructure and multi-modal planning needs. A short-term and long-term vision for gaining the best of what new mobility and transportation technology have to offer can drive policy change and spur innovation and real-world applications for the benefit of everyone in the state.

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