Thursday, April 21, 2022

Great things happening for active transportation in Washington

By Barb Chamberlain

If you walk or roll – and remember, everyone does at least some of the time – then 2022 should be the start of even better days ahead. After decades of steady investment and policies supporting active transportation, we believe this is the year we’ll look back on as the launching point for even greater achievements.

New programs and expanded funding provided in the 2022 legislative session bring several opportunities to improve connections, safety and accessibility for people walking and rolling to their destinations. Those investments and policy changes also make it possible to begin implementing elements of our active transportation plan published in December 2021. The plan’s rigorous self-assessment of state highways has just been highlighted by the League of American Bicyclists as a model other states should follow as part of their latest rankings of Bicycle Friendly States (more about that below).

A rider pulling a bike trailer in the buffered bike lane on SR 20 in Port Townsend. With Complete Streets requirements and expanded investments in Move Ahead Washington, more and more people will have access to comfortable connections for walking and rolling.

First, some of the Move Ahead Washington highlights that our Active Transportation Division will be leading:

  • More local projects. Safe Routes to School and Pedestrian/Bicyclist Program funding was tripled per biennium over the next 16 years through the combination of existing and future funding.  This supports projects to help improve safety across the state, with funding going out to communities starting in July 2023.
  • Reconnecting neighborhoods. A new five-year $50 million Connecting Communities pilot program will restore networks and connections (such as trails, bike lanes, and places to cross) where legacy state transportation facilities severed them. The program can support any phase from community-based planning through construction.
  • Bigger, better bike education: A new, much larger school-based bicycle safety education program will reach students from elementary grades through high school and provide bicycles to students and their families, with an emphasis on serving schools in overburdened communities.
  • Timeline for community pedestrian/bicyclist projects: 43 projects to be funded over the life of the Move Ahead Washington package will be prioritized so we schedule the most needed improvements as early as possible.
  • Complete Streets on state routes: The Active Transportation Division is coordinating efforts across our divisions and regions to implement the Complete Streets design directive that will affect all projects of $500,000 or more going into design after July 1 of this year.

We’ll have annual status reports on all of this work starting Dec. 1 and thereafter through the 16 years of investments in this transportation package.

Other active transportation highlights include:

  • Studies that will come out in 2023 will help increase our understanding of the needs of nondrivers; opportunities for micromobility lending libraries; transit service benchmarks; and how to grow walk-on ridership on our ferries.
  • We’ll review State Route 99 in both north Seattle and the South Park area to learn how to improve multimodal safety and accessibility along the corridor.
  • The Complete Streets grant program administered by the state’s Transportation Improvement Board will have more funding to award.
  • The Legislature expanded potential use of traffic safety cameras by more cities in locations such as hospital zones, park zones, and school walk areas.
  • Legislators also expanded the Safe Speeds “20 Is Plenty” Law to allow us and counties to lower speed limits without a traffic engineering study.
Expanded investments in Move Ahead Washington will allow for more safe facilities for walking and rolling like the Scott Pierson trail on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

Washington named one of top three bicycle friendly states

Also in 2022, we’ve been named in the top three of the Bicycle Friendly States rankings. The League of American Bicyclists 2021 rankings were announced Tuesday, April 19, with Washington in the No. 3 spot, including “A” grades for education and encouragement, traffic laws and practices, and evaluation and planning.

Washington held the No. 1 spot from 2008-2019 (there was no 2020 list released) but even this slight change in rankings is still good news for bicyclists overall. We improved in several categories which means other states really stepped up their game as well – which benefits everyone.

And, while it’s nice to be No. 1, we also know that many of this year’s accomplishments took place after we’d submitted details for state rankings. A change in how the rankings were made for the 2021 list, including a greater emphasis on federal investments, also affected where state fell this year.

We remain very proud of our state’s dedication to and future investment in programs and projects that make us more bike-friendly and walk-friendly with each year. If you want to keep up with our news, you can subscribe online to our Walk + Roll E-News that comes out once or twice a month.