FHWA: We are not a barrier to safer, slower, innovative road design

By Robbie Webber
On August 20 the Federal Highway Administration posted a new page on its website. The title, Bicycle and Pedestrian Funding, Design, and Environmental Review: Addressing Common Misconceptions, belies the importance of the clarifications FHWA is trying to make. The page addresses more than bicycle and pedestrian matters. It points out that federal funding or rules do not prohibit good road design for all modes, even if it varies from the standards used for decades.
The page lays out ten misconceptions, ranging from which pots of federal money can be used for what types of projects to acceptable lane widths and design standards. There are helpful links under each item to provide further information to those seeking more details, but the page itself is easily readable and straightforward in dispelling common myths.
The page’s introduction states,

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has been working to address nonmotorized safety issues nationwide and help communities create safer, better-connected bicycling and walking networks as part of the Department’s Safer People, Safer Streets Initiative.
Since launching the Safer People, Safer Streets Initiative in 2014, DOT has engaged safety experts, existing and new stakeholders, local officials, and the public on a range of targeted strategies to encourage safety for bicyclists and pedestrians on and around our streets, including bus stops, transit stations, and other multimodal connections. Through these discussions, a number of common misconceptions have been raised about the use of Federal funding, street design, and the Environmental Review process that can cause confusion and result in project delay.

Although this document clarifies that federal rules and funding do not restrict innovative design and infrastructure as much as many people think, state laws and DOT policies may still prohibit some of the practices that FHWA is green lighting.
At the very least, however, FHWA wants to make clear that they do not want federal policy to be used as an excuse to limit road design and construction that features bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, slower speeds, narrower lanes, and flexible funding.
Robbie Webber is a Senior Associate at SSTI.