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Part1: The Active Transportation Policy Effect: Contributing to Road Safety and Sustainability


  • Challenge 1: Resistance to Change
  • Challenge 2: Active Transportation Plans Outside of Silos

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Active transportation can initiate a virtuous circle where road safety can improve, pollution may be lowered, and economies and communities may be positively impacted. This article looks at some of the common challenges in developing an active transportation policy, plus a few inspirational initiatives.

A well designed active transportation policy and infrastructure investment program can have lasting and far reaching effects in a community, starting with road safety and sustainability. On the one hand, less than 2% of all federal transportation funding was dedicated to active transportation infrastructure, according to a 2018 report from the League of American Bicyclists1. And yet, the National Household Travel Survey2 records that 11.5% of all trips in the United States take place on foot or on bicycle.

On the other, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that in 2020, transportation was the economic sector with the highest level of greenhouse gas emissions, at 27%3. The United States’ 2030 greenhouse gas reduction goal is to reduce emissions by 50-52% compared to 2005 levels. Departments of Transportation can respond to both situations by designing an active transportation plan, whose benefits include creating a network of safe and accessible routes for all road users, lowering pollution, and positively impacting sustainability’s other two pillars, the economy and community.

For the plan to be truly successful, change is required: in culture, outlook, and assumptions. When federal funds are now available to support an active transportation policy, regional agencies can focus their efforts by understanding the virtuous circle that an active transportation plan generates, as well as the challenges ahead in implementing it.The Active Transportation Virtuous Circle for Road Safety and Sustainability.

What is considered Active Transportation?

Active mobility is any method of getting around that uses a person’s own energy rather than a motor. It typically includes activities like biking and walking, and can also include skateboarding, rollerblading, and scooting without a motor. It is also often associated with public transportation, since transit stops are rarely located at the exact start and end of a journey. Travelers must make the short trips that cover the “first and last miles” using their own power.

The Sustainability Benefits of an Active Transportation Infrastructure Investment Program

An effective active transportation policy provides individually-powered or shared mobility alternatives to the personal car. In terms of sustainability, benefits include the environment, public health, equity and community, and the economy.

Environmental advantages are obvious. A higher proportion of trips made using active and public transportation results in less congestion and less air and noise pollution. It can also result in less speeding, contributing further to lowering these types of pollution.

For health, low impact physical activity done at regular intervals, a few minutes at a time – such as covering first and last miles on a trip, can improve overall physical health. Better physical health can also have a positive effect on mental health4.

When not using their own car, people can also engage more actively with their community. When someone is sharing a crosswalk, bicycle lane or road with other users, they automatically become aware that others’ needs may be different. Involving representatives from ethnic minorities, people with physical disabilities, the elderly, even children in active and public transportation programs improves overall equity5.

Finally, active transportation increases the mobility of non-motorized users. A wider job basin opens up and localized economic activity develops through easy pedestrian access. In fact, efforts of regional agencies investing in active transportation plans along certain corridors can also inspire private investment in the same locations6.

The Impact of an Active Transportation Plan on Road Safety

In addition to the observed positive impacts on sustainability, studies7,8 have shown that encouraging active mobility also benefits road safety. As well as slower speeds, it can result in more and different modes of transportation and types of road users who share transportation infrastructure. Circulating all together on the same roads, there is an overall greater awareness of each other, leading to greater respect for each other.

The Active Transportation Virtuous Circle

The Rails to Trails9 conservancy outlines how a road safety virtuous circle develops as active mobility is embraced. Investment in active transportation infrastructure leads to vulnerable road users feeling safer, so that more people adopt active transportation methods. As more people bike and walk, they become more visible, leading to greater safety in numbers and higher awareness of them. With the increased numbers, investment also increases to support and encourage more users. The virtuous circle turns.

Coupled with the road safety virtuous circle, active transportation policies also introduce a sustainability virtuous circle. As streets develop a more welcoming environment, people circulate more on foot or by bicycle, enjoying potentially better health. They become more involved in their community, and the community pulls together to support initiatives that serve their interest – such as active transportation, employment, investment, and community wellbeing. More projects are launched. The active transportation sustainability virtuous circle begins to turn.

Launching this virtuous circle requires overcoming different planning challenges. Below are five for state transportation programs to consider.

Challenge 1: Resistance to Change

An active transportation plan requires a change in expectations regarding road users and road safety. A change in culture is taking place. Beyond road users and how they travel, the entire community is impacted, and their engagement and participation are crucial to ongoing success.

To support these efforts, strong, clear language about the new expectations provides unambiguous guidance for decision-making. Education, awareness, and enforcement can be key to leading change and helping everyone understand the objectives and reasons for the change.

Change also takes time. Working with ambassadors, collecting community input during meetings and informally on the street, and consulting data about changes to the transportation network, to road signs, or to local laws to encourage active transportation, and their road safety effects can help to influence mindsets and deliver the most appropriate active mobility plans. Involving the community also results in shared feelings of success. Everyone is happy when safe routes to school are enacted!

Challenge 2: Active Transportation Plans Outside of Silos

Similar to a resistance to change is agreeing to collaborate outside of silos. Road works, garden services, storm water treatment, and other public services generally work separately from each other. They have distinct budgets, teams and schedules that rarely coincide.

The same is true for businesses, associations, and community advocates, who may be inclined to defend their own interests first before exploring others’.

Upgrading to follow an active transportation policy during routine road maintenance or as part of a specific project is the perfect occasion to encourage all stakeholders to work together. Getting local businesses and road users involved to imagine a new public space is an opportunity to think beyond “pavement” to how an entire community can benefit from a planned change. It could simply mean acknowledging that a better bicycle lane network or better rainwater evacuation is needed.

Bike Lane and Rainwater Initiatives

Non-profit consultancy City Thread helped five cities implement 335 miles of bicycle lanes10 in 24 months. Funding received wasn’t used for building new transportation infrastructure, but for community outreach.Oakland, California is planting rain gardens11 along a major arterial in the San Francisco Bay area. The gardens provide green infrastructure that collects water during big storms, easing the demand on the stormwater drainage system. They also absorb heat during the summer, increase biodiversity, and make streets more pleasant.

KPIs to Improve Road Safety and Sustainability as You Pursue Your Active Transportation Policy

Across a large geographic area, you can query our driving data according to different contexts, such as the weather – raining or not; the time of the day – during rush hour, for example; the day of the week – looking at game days, for example; and locations – such as public transportation hubs.

Slipping into your GIS system, our driving behaviour insights helps you see where your road safety can be improved vulnerable road users as you upgrade to active transportation. You have specific data that helps you analyze each location. You can make the best decisions that will improve your overall road safety and sustainability efforts, for all road users and communities.

Want to know more on this topic ? Contact us or check out the second part of the article here: https://ddi.michelin.com/en/preventive-road-safety/preventive-road-safety-active-transportation-part2/ 

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