By Steven Frieson, PE, ENV SP, Associate, Regional Team Leader for Engineering at Psomas
Getting from Point A to Point B without your car
Across the country public agencies are promoting programs that encourage walking and bicycling to get from point A to point B as an alternative to using our cars.
The federal government was the initial impetus for these Active Transportation Programs, as they are known, with the important goal of reducing greenhouse gases. Another significant goal is to promote healthier lifestyles and address the obesity epidemic that plagues our nation.
California’s Active Transportation Program was set in motion by SB 99, passed in 2013, which developed policies, standards, criteria, and procedures. Caltrans is the program administrator. A couple of examples illustrate how these programs play out:
First Mile/Last Mile
LA Metro’s “first mile last mile” program promotes the use of walking and cycling to and from transit stations. At Psomas we are currently doing an active transportation plan for the city of Westminster that includes a similar element. It promotes using a combination of bicycling and transit for trips to shopping centers, public parks, and cultural destinations around the city. This approach also brings an added commercial benefit. With people out of their cars, they are more likely to slow down and visit local businesses along the way.
Safe Routes to Schools
Another component of active transportation programs that is near and dear to my heart is Safe Routes to Schools. I am involved in a Safe Routes to Schools project for the City of Palmdale, which has a major arterial street connecting to a high school and three elementary schools. The street is a hodgepodge of sections with and without sidewalks, areas where the street narrows down and then widens out, portions with shoulders and some without shoulders. It’s a daunting environment if you are a student walking or riding to school.
Our mission is to turn this street into a welcoming “complete street” environment that allows safe use by cars, bicyclists and pedestrians alike. Tasks include closing up sidewalks gaps, providing bike facilities and installing enhanced safely features like brighter, bolder cross walks and mid-walk pedestrian signals.
The education portion of a program like this becomes a big part of its success. We have to work to help both kids and their parents understand that walking and riding to school is definitely something that they can do safely. We also have to educate them on the rules of the road and good pedestrian practices.
These projects can range in cost from as low as $250,000 to up to $5 or $6 million. The federal government has dedicated a fair amount of money to help fund these programs, and a call for projects is open right now and closes June 16th. Federal Highway Safety Improvement Program funding is also available. Typically cities and other local agencies can be expected to get funding for anywhere from 75% to 90% (and in some cases 100%) of the overall project cost.
Our nation’s roads are truly capable of being complete streets — portals that can be equally attractive to people on foot, on a bicycle or in their car. As our society evolves, we cannot build enough highway miles to accommodate our growing population. Encouraging active transportation components is vital. And, at the end of the day, this is a great opportunity for all of us to get out and exercise.