After seeing recent increases in the numbers of pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and deaths, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx announced a national pedestrian and bicycle safety initiative during the Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place Conference held Sept. 8-11 in Pittsburgh, Pa.
“The data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration make it clear: even as automobile travel has never been safer, pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and deaths are on the rise,” Foxx said. “I went to Pittsburgh this week to let folks know that I think this is a problem, and that this Department is putting together the most innovative, forward-leaning, biking-walking safety initiative ever.”
The Safer People, Safer Streets Initiative will try to improve biking and walking safety by providing better infrastructure. It also will provide research and tools for local governments, transportation planners, and active living advocates, so they can make their communities safer.
The plan includes assessments in every state to determine what needs to be done to make conditions safer for walkers and bicyclists. Once the assessments are done, the next step includes projects such as building protected bike lanes, building better trail networks, and even building basic sidewalks and pedestrian traffic crossings in areas where they aren’t available.
“Americans are walking and biking more and more, not just for kicks, but for sensible transportation,” Foxx said. “When President Lyndon Johnson established DOT, he said ‘keeping the traveling public safe from harm’ should be our top priority. So when we talk about ‘the traveling public,’ we must include pedestrians and bicyclists.
If you are walking or bicycling, you should know that your safety is every bit as important —and just as much of a concern to the U.S. Department of Transportation — as the safety of an airplane passenger, a transit rider, or someone in a motor vehicle.
For years, the message pedestrians and bicyclists have been given is, ‘You walk or bike at your own risk; be responsible for your own safety.’
But that’s not good enough. We can’t just tell pedestrians and bicyclists, ‘Be safe,’ without recognizing that in many places there is no safe space for them to be.
After all, we don’t only tell drivers, ‘Just drive under the speed limit.’ We don’t just tell ship captains, ‘Don’t run aground.’ We make sure our highways are well-paved and well-marked, and that our sea lanes are navigable.
We have long recognized that government has a role to play by creating safe infrastructure for travel; it’s time to make sure that includes everyone.”
For the most part, walking and biking advocates welcomed the initiative. But they also feel it needs a solid financial commitment from Congress to work. The following quote is from a press release from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC).
“Secretary Foxx’s announcement and the U.S. DOT’s new commitment to safety are important first steps, but without a financial commitment from Congress, state and local governments will not have the resources necessary to provide safe facilities for pedestrians and bicyclists. RTC will continue to work with members of Congress to see that state and local governments receive the funding they need to connect networks, provide specific solutions to improve safety and monitor safety performance. The U.S. DOT’s initiative provides us with a newly engaged federal partner. Working together with our local advocates and the U.S. DOT, we can work toward a world where pedestrian and bicyclist injuries are a thing of the past.”
“The 12-page document is short on details but long on potential, with the bonus of a hand outstretched to partners to help flesh it out and implement it,” Martha Roskowski, Vice President for Local Innovation for PeopleForBikes.org, wrote in an analysis of the initiative. “The breadth and scope of new efforts to increase walking and biking and reduce walking and biking fatalities is encouraging.”
Smart Growth America praised the new plan. “This approach is right in line with the work of Smart Growth America’s National Complete Streets Coalition, which helps communities create streets that are safe, comfortable, and convenient for everyone. In May, the Coalition highlighted America’s need for safer streets with the release of Dangerous by Design 2014, a report that spotlights the issue of pedestrian safety as well as the factors that make walking dangerous. The report also identifies tools, policies and practices that can help put an end to the decades-long neglect of pedestrian safety. USDOT’s new campaign builds on a Complete Streets approach and will hopefully make streets safer for everyone who uses them. We applaud Secretary Foxx for making this crucial issue a national priority.”