We hear frequent calls for more funding for bicycling — for painted bike lanes, door zone bike lanes, sharrows, protected bikeways, bicycle parking, giant motor traffic intersections for Trader Joe’s, programs to encourage people to ride and any number of things.
We don’t need all of that special funding. We may specifically not want that special funding.
Asking for funding for bicycle facilities is backwards. It’s inefficient, can result in poor or over-priced outcomes, and sometimes the funding can be sidetracked for projects that have little or nothing to do with making walking and bicycling better and safer.
Imagine that you and I asked our boss for a bunch of money for a project. Our boss asks what kind of project and we reply, “Well, a business project”. Boss asks what it will do, and we say “It’ll make business better.” Specifics are demanded, and we chirp “we’ll figure that out when we get the money.” We’d be kicked out on our cute little kiesters.
Worse than the above, funding limits what can be done for the safety of those endangered by drivers, to the limits of the funding. “Sorry mate, we only have funding for wider and faster roads, nothing left to protect children riding bicycles to school, maybe next year.”
We need to think about it differently. Not as bicycle projects or pedestrian projects or people with disabilities projects or guardrail projects, but as one comprehensive transportation and space project. Mitigating the negative impacts imposed by motorists must be a core element of traffic engineering and of every roadway, not an optional add-on.
If I want to do something in my yard that will negatively impact my neighbor, my city will require me to mitigate the negative impact (and I’d want to anyway). That mitigation is not a separate project. It is not something that I can do later if I decide to set aside funding for it. It must be a core bit of what I’m doing. Yet we build roadways with immense and deadly negative impacts on a lot of people without any mitigation of these impacts:
When engineers design a bridge, they don’t use a painted line to keep cars from driving off and plunging to their death. NO! They design it from the outset to be safe. Can you imagine if bridges didn’t have guardrails and we had to fight for funding for them?
In 2015, drivers in MN killed 52 people walking and 10 riding bicycles. MN drivers also injured an estimated 3,522 people walking or bicycling — 392 critically and permanently. Remember, these are only the people walking or riding bicycles who were killed or injured, not the thousands more in cars. These people who were innocently walking and riding were, not of their choice, needlessly negatively impacted by drivers.
My sister-in-law is one of the thousands injured each year. She, fortunately, doesn’t count as one of the fatalities but she has spent the past year dealing with extreme and often debilitating headaches that have caused her to miss a fair bit of work and incur some pricey medical bills — her portion of the $267 million that MNDOT estimates these deaths and injuries to people walking and riding bicycles cost in 2015.
Our response is that we’re going to spend 99% of our money making roads smoother and faster for drivers and 1% to improve safety for those endangered by the fast drivers. We protect people from falling icicles and from plunging off of high bridges but not from errant drivers? That’s messed up.
Rather than start with funding, we should begin with what we should do — build safe roads — and then let the funding follow. If there is only enough funding available to reconstruct 22 miles of roadway to the new safer standards rather than the planned 25 miles of fast, smooth, and unsafe road, then that’s life. If a road cannot be built safe for all of those impacted then it should not be built or reconstructed or repaved.
A Base Requirement
We need new minimum requirements for all roadways. Requirements that will equitably and safely serve all users with as few negative impacts as possible. Somewhat similar to requiring guardrails on bridges.
All users begins with people walking, riding bicycles, those with disabilities, and those who work or live adjacent to the roadway. Next we add transit, motor traffic, parking, sidewalk cafés, street vendors, aesthetics, and other elements.
The roadway itself looks something like this:
And for junctions this: Bicycle Dutch – Junction Design.
This is what has worked well in The Netherlands and is now being copied by cities and countries around the world. This is the direction that MassDOT is going and that the new NACTO Global Street Design Guide recommends (review coming soon).
Getting It Done
Option A: Require that every reconstruction, mill & overlay, or new roadway be designed and constructed to meet CROW standards.
Option B: Require that 10% of all roadway miles and junctions within a jurisdiction be upgraded in each 2-year period. This will result in a safer roadway system in about 20 years vs the likely 40-year period of Option A.
A roadway built to CROW standards will cost between 5% and maybe 15% more than current US standards. But, as Dr Lindeke recently pointed out, will result in an overall net savings:
Back to my earlier business analogy, if an employee tells me that spending $1 billion in business ‘A’ (safer roads) will save us $2 billion in business ‘B’ (healthcare, welfare, etc.) then I’m all ears. Government and politicians need to learn to function the same way — we need to introduce the right hand to the left hand.
But this shouldn’t matter much, because we’re talking about people’s lives, and a solution that we know works, is affordable, and that currently works elsewhere. What is the value of someone’s life?
 Or standards outlined by MassDOT in … or NACTO in …
 Measuring over two years instead of one allows jurisdictions to better plan projects without being forced to incur unnecessary costs trying to meet annual targets. Going beyond two year targets can result in things sliding.