Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Walking and rolling into the future together

By Barb Chamberlain

It's National Bicycle Month and a good time to roll out the completed State Active Transportation Plan, 2020 and Beyond. Part 1, that is – there's more to come later this year as we finish work on needed policies and performance measures. Part 1 meets our state law requirement to prepare the plan with a statewide strategy and needs assessment. 

With a decade's worth of data, the plan lays out deeply troubling safety issues and identifies changes needed to address them. Vulnerable road users now make up about 21% of all traffic deaths – that's far out of proportion to the fatality rates for all other modes. And those fatal crashes happen more often in places with low-income households and places with higher numbers of Black, Indigenous, and people of color. State routes through population centers also have a disproportionate number of crashes, and driving speed is a major factor.

Thousands of people across the state engaged with the plan's development and we received hundreds of comments from them earlier this year. We heard the same things again and again: Finish the sidewalks. Make it safer to cross the road. Slow traffic where lots of people walk and roll. Deal with the inequitable effects of the past. Connect the beautiful trails we already have into a larger network. Make it easier to use healthy and sustainable ways to get around.
Among the most common pieces of feedback we received from the public is the need to improve and add sidewalks across the state.
You'll find all of these topics and more in the plan, which is notable for being the first-ever evaluation of 6,977 lane-miles of state right of way, specifically for how it works for active transportation use. The results aren't really a surprise; past decisions prioritized the needs of people moving in motor vehicles, rather than those of people walking, biking, or rolling. 

While the plan is fairly technical and written to conform to requirements of state and federal law, it begins with the understanding that these are the most fundamental forms of transportation and we need to make them work well for people and for the planet. We started building a transportation system – this plan will help us finish it.
Having safe routes for people on foot, bike and other non-motorized modes of travel to get around is a priority of the Active Transportation Plan.

So, the plan's done. Why would you read it now? You'd read it if you want to:
  • Understand the challenges we face if we are to meet our state safety goal of zero traffic deaths. 
  • Understand how decisions about roadway design affected walk/bike safety and mobility, with especially significant effects in places where more lower-income, Black, Indigenous, and people of color live. 
  • Learn about tools such as speed management and improvements at crossings, including ramp junctions – improvements we need not just on state routes, but on local streets and roads as well.
  • Get a sense of how land-use changes have created population centers around state highways that look, feel, and function like towns, without having the sidewalks and bike lanes they need. 
  • Understand how we arrived at a "snapshot in time" high-level cost estimate of what it would take to address gaps on 1,685 miles of state routes through population centers. 
  • Consider the opportunity to connect and complete trails and designate more U.S. Bicycle Routes for a statewide bikeways and trails network. 
  • Ask your local government officials when they last updated their active transportation plan and how they can work to align local network connections and crossings with future changes on state routes.

While biking on the closed section of the SR 20 North Cascades Highway is fun, creating safe infrastructure everywhere for those who walk and roll is a key part of the plan.

Our staff are already developing next steps to move the analysis from the plan's Part 1 into practice while they work to get Part 2 ready for public review sometime this summer.

To receive future updates specifically for the plan, subscribe to the ATP E-News. For active transportation news updates including grant opportunities, webinars, and activities of WSDOT and partners subscribe to the WSDOT Walk + Roll E-News.