Transportation for People or Cars? USDOT’s New Rule Focuses Only on Highways.

Posted 08/10/16 by Patrick Wojahn in Policy, Taking Action

GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail in Greenville, South Carolina | Photo by Ian Curcio

We've collected more than 13,000 signatures urging the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to make trails, walking and biking count! We'll deliver the signatures to USDOT as part of the public comments process. Thanks to everyone who spoke out!

If a person uses a trail to get to work or school, and no one is around to measure the trip, do they count? They certainly should.

Schuylkill River Trail in Pennsylvania | Photo by Boyd Loving

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) proposed a rule on how states, cities and towns should measure and address congestion, reliability and environmental sustainability of the transportation system in their area. The 2012 transportation bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), required these so-called “performance measures” to understand how federal dollars are spent and increase funding accountability and transparency.

But the proposed rule only measures single-occupancy vehicles, leaving out trails, walking and biking networks—and even public transit—essentially focusing on how fast cars are able to go on our roads and highways. This could encourage communities to build wider, faster roadways and highways at the expense of crosswalks, bike lanes, trails and public transit.

A Better Way: Count People, Not Just Cars

First, the proposed methods for tracking reliability and congestion focus solely on how the system works for single-occupancy vehicles, e.g., cars, and enables them to move faster. It ignores users of other modes, such as bus and transit riders, and people who use trails and active-transportation networks. The proposed rule focuses on two measurements, which are essentially the same: travel times experienced by traffic and excessive delay for automobiles. The calculation of delay is based on how fast cars are able to go on highways and other roads. By focusing on how fast it takes to drive from one place to another, the rule ignores the important role that other methods such as walking or biking can play.

Seattle | Photo by Adam Coppola Photography

By only counting cars rather than the entire transportation system, the current proposal fails to make sure that our transportation system works for everyone.

A better way to measure system performance and congestion would look not just at how quickly cars are able to travel on a stretch of road, but how people are able to access the places they need to get to every day, whether they do it by automobile, by transit, by bike or on foot.

USDOT should consider not just how quickly a person can drive a mile, but how well the highway system is integrated with other ways to get aroundand how well the whole transportation network allows them to get to the places where they work, live, shop and play. RTC supports revising this rule to take into account a broader view of accessibility through the national highway system.

And while the performance measure for environmental sustainability requires that local and state governments track emissions of several key pollutants from automobiles, it is missing one important pollutant: greenhouse gas emissions. Tracking of greenhouse gases would help ensure that transportation planners work toward a comprehensive transportation network that pollutes less and includes trails and walking and biking networks.

RELATED: Safer Streets Ahead for Bikers and Walkers with New Federal Safety Rule

Sign Our Petition to Make Trails Count!

The public can comment on the proposed rule and suggest changes through Aug. 20, 2016.

This comment period is an opportunity to tell USDOT that people who use trails DO matter! Now is the time to make our voices heard by telling USDOT that those who walk, bike or use trails to get to their destination should be counted, and that the performance measures should be about more than just cars.

RTC has submitted our own comments—and you can read them here. Comments must be submitted by Aug. 20, and information about how to submit comments is available here.

We collected 13,000 signatures urging USDOT to make trails, walking and biking count. These signatures were delivered to USDOT as part of the public comments process.

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