Monday, April 9, 2018

Bikeways aren't just for bicyclists

Learning to create more connections to build better communities for everyone

By Barb Chamberlain

People on bikes are bicyclists, people on the sidewalk are pedestrians, right? But wait — what am I if I get off my bike and walk around the corner?

A mode of transportation isn't permanently affixed to my forehead or coded in my DNA. A bicyclist who puts a bike on the rack and gets into an SUV becomes a motorist. A driver who gets out of a car instantly becomes a pedestrian. A pedestrian who gets on a bus becomes a transit rider. Underneath the labels, they're all people just trying to get somewhere.

That's really the point of our work for an integrated, multimodal transportation system: Make it possible for people to get where they're going and make sure they have the freedom to use the modes that work for them.
Building streets that are safe for pedestrians and bike riders improves the safety for everyone.

The bonus for travelers and taxpayers as jurisdictions redesign to create streets for all is that a street that discourages speeding and makes it possible to ride a bike or cross the street is safer for everyone, including people in cars. Even if you think that particular crosswalk at the next corner doesn't matter to you personally, we're not just talking about a few people benefiting; around 30 percent of all Washingtonians either can't or don't drive for reasons of age, disability, income, preference, or other factors.

It's going to take time to get these more livable streets as we move beyond outdated assumptions about transportation. For our engineers this means learning new approaches, particularly for those places where the state highway functions as the main street, a bike tourism route, or the only available connection between two segments of a growing trail network.

Until just a couple of years ago, our highway design manual only allowed for bicycling on highway shoulders and conventional bike lanes, and we had never put green paint in a bike lane on state right-of-way. A lot of new solutions have emerged in the past few years: protected bike lanes, protected intersections, bike boxes, "floating" transit stops that provide a buffer for bicycling connections and the sidewalk, leading pedestrian intervals in signal timing, and more.
We're excited to help sponsor the upcoming Washington Bike Summit in Spokane later this month.

Our partners in cities and towns are working to create low-stress networks and more walkable communities because this supports transportation and health equity, more active environments and more economic growth. Whether it's Safe Routes to School or becoming an Age-Friendly Community – they're thinking about all ages and abilities. They want us at the table with them looking for practical solutions for connectivity, safety and mobility.

The Federal Highway Administration has been bringing out fantastic resources at such a pace it's hard to keep current and we'll see new bike and pedestrian guides coming out from American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials as well. We've been providing multimodal design training in our regional offices and have a new multimodal technical group working on the next round of updates to our design manual.

To help everyone get up to speed, we're sponsors of the upcoming Washington Bike Summit, April 29-30, in Spokane, making national-caliber training available in-state for our staff, our partners, and community advocates and leaders. Registration is open until April 15 — it's not too late to sign up and student scholarships are offered, so we're hoping some of our future workforce will be in attendance. With sessions on everything from measuring multimodal connectivity to collecting data to doing community-based safety assessments, it's one more step on the path in our learning and our evolution as an agency.