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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Public Roads - Sept/Oct 1999

Pedaling Into The 21st Century

by Kenneth R. Wykle

President Clinton and Vice President Gore have established the development of liveable communities as a top priority for the administration. Liveable communities - places where people can work together to improve the quality of their lives - means encouraging development patterns that give people safe, accessible, and convenient transportation choices. Those are, by definition, friendly to bicycling.

A bike lane, created by narrowing adjacent travel lanes, was a low-cost improvement in conjunction with street resurfacting in Palo Alto, Calif.

Following the strong direction from the president and the vice president, government agencies have begun to view bicycling as a serious part of our national transportation system. That is, bicycling is a transportation choice instead of a recreational activity only. And more and better things are coming for bicycling in the future.

Under the leadership of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), spending for bicycle and pedestrian projects has increased from about $4 million of federal money annually in the late 1980s to an average of $160 million per year during the 1990s. Even this amount was on a continual upswing, reaching $239 million in 1997. In addition, significant amounts of money are being invested by state and local governments to improve conditions for bicycling.

The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), which President Clinton signed into law last year, holds even greater potential for funding bicycle facilities and programs. State and local transportation planning agencies also are more aware of the demand for facilities that will allow people to bicycle and of the environmental, economic, and congestion-relief benefits of bicycling. As a result, we expect a continued surge in bicycle facility investment as an alternative to the investments of the past, which too often excluded bicycling as a choice.

We have made tremendous progress in the last few years. More American adults are riding bikes and walking. But we must continually focus on our No. 1 priority - safety - while at the same time creating an environment that encourages bicycling and walking.

Our goal is to double the percentage of trips made by bicycle and on foot while, at the same time, reducing the absolute number of fatalities and injuries involving bicyclists and pedestrians by 10 percent.

Striped bike lanes improve roadway sharing and increase the comfort of bicyclists and motorists.

We have found that more than one-fourth of all travel is one mile or less and 53 percent of all people live within two miles of a public transit route. These short trips hold tremendous potential for increasing the amount of bicycling.

To reach our goal, we will be reaching out to the state and local officials who are responsible for making most transportation decisions under our program. We will be encouraging them to consider bicycling when they write their plans, and we will be developing procedures that will require appropriate consideration in a systematic way.

Today, at FHWA, we are approaching transportation with a new perspective that will produce more consideration and more access for bicyclists. We have a new vision that says that the superhighway is not always the answer.

The quest for road improvements does not always have to result in a huge, multilane road that leaves little or no room for bicyclists and pedestrians. Instead, a well-designed highway can balance the needs of bicyclists and motor vehicle traffic.

While FHWA will continue to provide leadership from Washington, bicycling advocates must make their voices heard at the state and metropolitan planning levels. The legislation of the 1990s opened the door of the planning process to public involvement. Our guidance to the planning organizations will ensure that bicycling and walking are given consideration. However, it is up to bicycling advocates to participate and to make sure that what is planned is well-designed and maintained.

Paved shoulders offer many benefits, including providing a place to ride. The textured lane stripe doubles as a rumble strip.

In the federal transportation program, funds are distributed in general categories to state transportation departments and metropolitan planning organizations. Bicycling projects are broadly eligible for funding from most of the major federal-aid highway, transit, and safety programs.

Decisions to allocate these funds are now and will continue to be made at the state and metropolitan levels. However, through consultation, we will strongly encourage the funding of bicycling facilities and programs.

TEA-21 not only directs consideration for bicyclists in the planning process, but it also requires consideration of bicycle facilities in conjunction with all new construction and reconstruction of transportation facilities, except where bicycling is explicitly not permitted. We hope that prohibition will be limited to a dwindling number of places and applied only on a sound safety basis.

Ancillary facilities, such as bicycle parking, are critical elements in making the transportation system bicycle-friendly.

Bicycling is economical, environmentally sound, and healthy. It can and should be an available alternative for people to get around, whether it is to work, school, shopping, or visiting friends. People shouldn't have to use a gallon of gasoline to get a quart of milk. Increased use of bicycling as a means of transportation also will help protect the environment, reduce traffic congestion, and develop more liveable communities.

If we are to reach our goals, bicycle advocates must become involved in the planning process at the state and local levels. By making planners and other decision-makers in all 50 states aware of the demand for bicycle facilities, we can develop a better transportation system and, ultimately, a better nation.

Kenneth R. Wykle is the federal highway administrator. He has served as the chief of the Federal Highway Administration since Nov. 10, 1997. From 1995 to 1997, he was vice president for defense transportation for Science Applications International Corp. Wykle is a retired Army lieutenant general.