Tuesday, April 12, 2011

AASHTO Pushes Back on Complete Streets

In a letter to the Federal Highway Administration the American Association of Highway Transportation Officials asked for a "change" in FHWA bicycle and pedestrian policy.

FHWA Guidance for Bicycle and Pedestrian Provisions of Federal Transportation Legislation, updated on April 4, 2007, states the following: "Due consideration" of bicycle and pedestrian needs should include, at a minimum, a presumption that bicyclists and pedestrians will be accommodated in the design of new and improved transportation facilities. In the planning, design, and operation of transportation facilities, bicyclists and pedestrians should be included as a matter of routine, and the decision to not accommodate them should be the exception rather than the rule. There must be exceptional circumstances for denying bicycle and pedestrian access either by prohibition or by designing highways that are incompatible with safe, convenient walking and bicycling. The law clearly states that bicycle and pedestrian facilities shall be considered where appropriate. However, FHWA guidance has embellished the law from “consider where appropriate” to a must include condition unless not doing so can be justified. Furthermore, it states that “there must be exceptional circumstances” for not providing such facilities. This regulation presents an undue burden on states to justify exceptional circumstances when not including provisions for bicyclists and pedestrians in a project. Recommendation: FHWA should rescind their guidance on the meaning of “due consideration.”

What does this mean? The FHWA improved its due consideration language to reflect the values of a good complete streets policy. AASHTO is not happy with that language and wishes to exclude any suggestion that they must justify not accommodating bicycles and pedestrians in transportation projects. Justification for exclusion is perhaps the most important element of a complete streets policy-that you just can't say no because the project manager says so. Note that the Federal language says "should" not "shall"

So basically AASHTO is attempting to further weaken a flimsy federal policy for accommodating bicycles and pedestrians. That doesn't sound supportive and bicycle and pedestrian advocates deserve an explanation.