State DOTs’ commitment to equity made clearer through federal Request for Information

Equity, diversity, and inclusion have been of growing importance among state and federal transportation agencies, and yet there isn’t a clear consensus on how that commitment translates into tangible outcomes. A new report from the Policy Lab at Claremont McKenna College, produced in partnership with SSTI, offers some clarity through an in-depth look at state DOT responses to the USDOT’s Request for Information on transportation equity data, which was released last year.

Streamlined grant procedures can make competitive funding fairer

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is a more than $850 billion historic investment in support of state and local government work to increase access and safety while redressing inequities across the country. However, a recent article by Brookings contributors Ellory Monks and Shalini Vajjhala points out that the existing structure of federal and state grant application processes may inhibit the fair allocation of the funds.

States can make creative use of federal transportation dollars

With the recent passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, many advocates, community members, and even the federal government are asking state DOTs to deliver more projects geared toward improving multimodal safety and travel options, while addressing harmful environmental impacts and climate change. Some were hoping to see larger pots of money dedicated specifically to achieving those goals, but the reality is that recipients of federal funds already have considerable latitude to fund projects that do just that.

State DOTs working to improve public engagement around urban highways

Many highways that once cut through cities across the country are now coming of age, and the state DOTs responsible for maintaining them are beginning to wrestle with what those facilities should look like in the coming decades and, in some cases, whether they should be there at all. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has signaled strong interest in rethinking these highways and USDOT will soon be inviting applications for its $1B Reconnecting Communities program, authorized through IIJA. That will be good news for a small number of agencies facing mounting pressure from community members pushing for innovative thinking on urban freeways.

Transportation agencies are facing the consequences of induced demand

Induced demand. It’s a concept that used to be popular only among the wonkiest transportation experts, and now gets covered by outlets ranging from the Washington Post to the Wall Street Journal. Governing calls it “the almost universally accepted concept” that almost no one understands, while Strong Towns calls ignorance of the concept “professional malpractice.” With new tools and a better understanding emerging, some transportation agencies are now beginning to wrestle with the implications.

Seattle developed an alternative process for locating pedestrian crossings

The Seattle DOT, in seeking to improve pedestrian mobility, is installing marked crosswalks in areas with anticipated demand, which is an important shift away from the conventional warrant-based system. The final form that these installations take—paint alone, or paint with enhancements such as medians or flashing beacons—will depend on the location, and ultimately still be a matter of engineering judgment and available funding.

Aligning priorities across agencies

Government agencies sometimes face the criticism that they have difficulty coordinating between various silos. In the transportation sector this may stem, in part, from the historic approach of separating modes into different funding, maintenance, and development streams. While barriers still exist, some agencies are developing coherent multimodal policy to combat this. In other cases incoherence can occur when different segments of the same network fall under the jurisdiction of different agencies, each with its own priorities and maintenance approaches.

Measuring access to destinations can help agencies predict transit ridership

Many transportation agencies throughout the U.S.—some working directly with SSTI—are beginning to think about service in terms of access to destinations. A few, like the Washington and Virginia DOTs, are measuring accessibility in planning and project selection. New research suggests that accessibility analysis can also be helpful in predicting travel outcomes like transit ridership.