Spring 2014

Transportation Planning That Saves and Improves Lives

By Jennifer Blemur, Esq., NBCSL Policy Associate serves as a Policy Associate for NBCSL. Ms. Blemur staffs several committees including Health and Human Services and Law, Justice, and Ethics. A recently barred lawyer in the state of Maryland, Ms. Blemur maintains a passion for justice and fair play for the underserved. Prior to joining NBCSL, Ms. Blemur worked with the U.S. Committee on the Judiciary and the U.S. Committee on Homeland Security for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Transportation Planning That Saves and Improves Lives
Planes, trains, and automobiles keep Americans on the move.  For some, however, movement is often hindered by a lack of transportation options.  In fact, 700,000 Americans do not have a car or access to public transportation,1 and this issue affects a vast spectrum – from the elderly to millienials, families to individuals.

Transportation limitations disproportionately affect vulnerable communities. African-American, Latino,2 and low-income households3 are less likely to own a car, making them primarily dependent on public transit, walking, and other ways of getting around. This has a direct impact on health as streets are mostly designed to accommodate automobile traffic, which then presents safety challenges to people on foot.  The pedestrian fatality rate of African Americans is 75% higher than Whites, and the fatality rate of Latinos is 60% higher than Whites.4  Additionally, the pedestrian fatality rate for African American children is more than twice that of their White counterparts and 40% greater for Latino children.5  For low-income counties with households living under the federal poverty line, the pedestrian fatality rate is over 80% higher than the national average.6 

Thankfully, investments in walkways, public transit, and other transportation options are generating opportunities and improving quality of health for all Americans.  In communities where transportation can be unreliable, unattainable (due to finances), or non-existent, legislative solutions, federal transportation grants, and municipal bicycle share programs are opening doors like never before.

Complete Streets and Safe Routes

Complete Streets is a type of transportation policy dedicated to creating comfortable and convenient access for all individuals regardless of age and ability, by creating sidewalks, pedestrian bridges, medians, bus lanes, roundabouts, and other means.

Complete Streets policies have been enacted in several states across the country. In Illinois, State Representative LaShawn Ford cosponsored SB 314 (Public Act 095-0665), which states that consideration will be given to bicycle and pedestrian ways in the development and planning of transportation facilities. The Michigan Legislature adopted HB 6151 – co-sponsored by NBCSL members, Representatives Coleman Young and Robert Jones – requiring the state transportation commission to develop a complete streets policy to be used by local entities.  In several states, transportation departments adopted their own policies to meet the needs of pedestrians and bicyclists, creating safer and better access for those in rural and urban communities. 

Safe Routes to School is a movement that encourages the development of sidewalks and bicycle pathways, promotes physical activity, and allows children to travel safely to and from school.  In 2005, Congress allocated $612 million for program implementation.  NBCSL members, Representative T.W. Shannon and Senator Constance Johnson cosponsored SB 399 to create safe routes to schools in Oklahoma to improve student safety and encourage walking.  Through Safe Routes, schools in Oklahoma have hosted walk-to-school days where students and their parents walk to school, engaging the student body in physical activity.  

TIGER Grants and Public Transit

The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) discretionary grant program within the U.S. Department of Transportation provides funds for roads, rail, public transit, and port projects aimed at achieving critical national objectives.7  Established in 2009 as a part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, more than $4.1 billion in TIGER grants have been disbursed.  State and local governments and private corporations are just a few examples of grant applicants. 

The New York Department of Transportation applied for grant funding for the Rochester Intermodal Transportation Center in 2012.  The Center will replace the existing Amtrak station and offer more access to the trains, minimize delays, create a pedestrian bridge, and improve sidewalks.  Construction is expected begin in December 2014.  The Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority also applied for grant funding to improve their Bus Rapid Transit, increase safety for users by repairing and replacing current traffic control systems, and connect travelers to economic areas growing business traffic. 

The Indianapolis Public Transportation Corporation that operates IndyGo – Indianapolis’s public transportation system – received funds in 2013 to repair the line of buses and purchase buses that have been converted from diesel to zero-emission electric vehicles.  The electric buses will require one-fifth of the maintenance of diesel-powered buses, and the repaired buses will improve reliability and ridership. With public transportation use being its highest in 57 years, according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), investments in public transit are crucial in connecting people to work, stores, and other places needed for everyday living.

Bicycle Sharing Programs

Bicycle sharing has been a global trend within recent years, offering people alternatives to public transportation and cars.  Bike share programs work by having users sign up for membership and use the bikes for a limited time - essentially to get from Point A to Point B.8 Biking has several benefits to communities, such as increased physical activity and reduced emissions.

Several cities have adopted different models of bike sharing including Denver, CO; Boston, MA; Miami, FL; and Washington, D.C. Bike shares can be managed and maintained by the local jurisdiction, nonprofits, or for-profit organizations.  Washington, D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare and Boston’s Hubway are examples of bike shares that are owned and operated by the local jurisdiction.  Some of the factors a jurisdiction will consider when putting in a bike share system are (1) population density (higher populations usually mean higher demand for bikes); (2) employment density (higher employment density can increase the number of potential bike users); (3) proximity to colleges and universities (lower rates of car ownership); and (4) available transit (bike shares are often used as the “last mile trip” in a commute).9 

Despite its benefits, minority and low-income communities are not using bike shares as much as other populations.10 A lack of knowledge of the system, low demand, income, and a lack of credit cards are among the reasons attributed to lower use. To help low-income communities sign up for membership in their bike share, Boston’s Hubway launched a subsidized membership program giving membership for $5 a year to low-income individuals and those receiving public assistance. To help those without credit cards, often referred to as “the unbanked,” D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare partnered with financial institutions to enable residents to open a bank account without a minimum balance or monthly fees.  Through participating financial institutions, Capital Bikeshare offers a discounted membership rate for individuals who do not have a debit card or bank account. By prompting people to sign up for bank accounts and debit cards, more members of low-income and minority communities have access to not only affordable and healthy transportation, but also financial empowerment. 

Whether biking, walking, driving, or riding, Americans need to get around.  Advancements in transportation and increased options enable residents to take charge of their lives and take advantage of opportunities that may not be present in their neighborhoods. 

  1. Puentes, R. and Tomer, A. Transit Access and Zero-Vehicle Households. The Brookings Institution. (2011). http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/papers/2011/8/18%20transportation%20tomer%20puentes/0818_transportation_tomer.pdf
  2. Ernst, M. and Shoup, L.  Dangerous by Design. (2011). http://www.transact.org/PDFs/2009-11-09-Dangerous%20by%20Design.pdf
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ernst, M. and Shoup, L. Dangerous by Design.
  5. Ibid. 
  6. Ibid. 
  7. http://www.dot.gov/tiger/about
  8. Prepared by Toole Design Group and Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center. Bike Sharing in the United States: State of the Practice and Guide to Implementation.  United States Department of Transportation Federal Highway Transit Administration. (2012). http://www.pedbikeinfo.org/pdf/Programs_Promote_bikeshareintheus.pdf
  9. Ibid.
  10. Toole Design Group and Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, Bike Sharing.  

NBCSL Policy Associate serves as a Policy Associate for NBCSL. Ms. Blemur staffs several committees including Health and Human Services and Law, Justice, and Ethics. A recently barred lawyer in the state of Maryland, Ms. Blemur maintains a passion for justice and fair play for the underserved. Prior to joining NBCSL, Ms. Blemur worked with the U.S. Committee on the Judiciary and the U.S. Committee on Homeland Security for the U.S. House of Representatives.

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