Active transportation is all about getting people where they need to go safely in a human-powered way—usually on foot or by bike. Yet we know from both research and everyday experience that many trips can be scary or stressful to make by walking or biking. Without proper infrastructure to make those trips safer, most people with a choice won’t leave their cars behind—resulting in less active and healthy lifestyles.
This is not usually a big deal for trails. Trails are designed to be safe spaces for getting where we need to go, separate from threatening automobile traffic. But—for people to use trails, they need to be able to reach them safely. And it’s not just trails that enable us to feel safe outside the protection of an automobile—but the existence of balanced transportation networks where trails as well as other walking and biking infrastructure are accessible to everyone.
Assessing Walkability and Bikeability
To change our nation’s transportation networks from auto-centric to multimodal, communities need a way to assess exactly how walkable and bikeable they are. Once these assessments are made, networks can be benchmarked, progress can be measured, and officials can be held accountable for improving their local infrastructure.
In February, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) provided communities nationwide with guidance on tools that allow just this sort of benchmarking-toward-improvement, and we are pleased to announce that RTC’s own BikeAble tool was included as one of the accepted means of evaluating the low-stress connectivity of a network for people who travel by bicycle.
FHWA’s Guidance is specifically geared toward planners and transportation professionals, providing many examples of technical tools planners can use to assess the relative suitability of a transportation network for people walking or biking. Yet, the key takeaways of their publication are understandable to anyone who wants to travel safely on an accessible network of roads, trails and sidewalks designed for users of various modes, ages and abilities.
FHWA Methodologies and Criteria for Assessing Connectivity
Each of the methodologies selected for inclusion in the FHWA Guidance seeks to gauge connectivity by evaluating a combination of network completeness, network density, route directness, access to destinations and route quality.
- Network completeness. If parts of the transportation network are inaccessible to pedestrians and bicyclists such that they can’t reach some destinations, that network is incomplete. Consider freeways that don’t allow nonmotorized vehicles, or communities connected by freeways that are relatively close together but have no alternative connections that allow biking and walking.
- Network density. How many links and nodes are available to people biking and walking within a reasonable distance that they might choose to bike or walk? Do people have options or alternatives?
- Route directness. How far out of the way must people biking or walking detour to reach their destinations safely? Perhaps there is a direct route, but it would require mixing with fast-moving, multilane traffic. Is there an alternative route available that is bike friendly? How much longer is that route?
- Access to destinations. Ultimately, transportation is about connecting people from origins to destinations and not about the network itself. How well does the transportation network let people biking and walking get from where they are to where they want to be?
- Network quality. Having roads everywhere that connect to everything doesn’t matter if they are so poor or so unsafe for biking and walking that people can’t safely use them. Network quality refers to the transportation network’s level of support for people of all ages, abilities and comfort levels for biking or walking.
The Power of BikeAble for Measuring Connectivity
At RTC, we are pleased to see these components of multimodal connectivity embraced, and especially proud that our BikeAble connectivity analysis tool effectively evaluates all these components, with a specific emphasis on functional and equitable connectivity.
Another recent release from The Greenlining Institute highlights that transportation equity—that is, enabling all people to reach destinations of opportunity such as jobs, schools and health facilities—is an important metric for assessing overall community equity.
With BikeAble, we measure people’s ability to access destinations within a reasonable range for biking on low-stress, high-quality routes that do not require excessive detouring. GIS modeling allows us to do this for every residence and every business within an area, so it’s as if we can model whether someone from every residence in the phone book could bike on a low-stress route to every business listed in the phone book. In aggregate, this allows us to see what parts of a given city are well connected by low-stress bicycling routes and which parts need improvement.
Ultimately, the BikeAble tool goes beyond mere assessment and allows planners to evaluate possible improvements—such as trail additions, new bike lanes or road diets—to see the overall effect on connectivity, and allows decision-makers to rank potential transportation projects by their relative effects on connectivity and prioritize those that bring the greatest improvement, both citywide, and to communities of relative need.
RTC is excited to see formal guidance from FHWA to support and standardize the use of multimodal connectivity tools, and we plan to deploy the BikeAble tool in more locations nationwide to support mobility and connectivity improvements for people who bike.
If you are interested in learning more about how BikeAble can be used to assess and improve equitable connectivity in communities, RTC will host a free webinar on May 2, 2018, at 2 p.m. EST, titled: Creating Equitable Connectivity: An Overview of Recent Resources.
We invite you to join us! Just register to let us know you’ll attend—and we will send you more info!Register for the Webinar