With the right support and a holistic approach, state DOTs can help address homelessness

People experiencing homelessness often congregate on land owned and managed by state DOTs, especially near overpasses and on other unused rights of way. Unsanctioned encampments, however, can pose risks to DOT staff, public infrastructure, and to the individuals living in them. That often puts the impetus on DOTs to act, but DOTs don’t always have the means to ensure those people and their property are well taken care of. A new source of funding in Washington State aims at changing that.

Big data: allowing cities to evaluate infrastructure investments before and after installation

Infrastructure planning processes have long been forced to rely on expensive and time-consuming methods of data gathering or, in some cases, anecdotal evidence and hypothetical arguments from both project supporters and opponents. Fortunately, thanks to the increased availability of location data, cities are beginning to add important quantitative measures to their decision-making process, including the opportunity to analyze the conditions before and after a project is installed.

Designing inclusive public space can help people be more active

Many agencies have renewed their focus on making transportation systems more equitable for all travelers, or they are being pressured to do so by advocates. Travelers who are Black, Latino, Native, or Asian can feel unsafe in public spaces due to exposure to law enforcement, or the hateful or racist behaviors of others. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought awareness of this situation to the fore. The ability to stay active during the pandemic—especially by walking—contributed to better physical and mental health. For those who did not have access, or felt unsafe outside, and could not stay active, outcomes were not so rosy. New pandemic-era research from Melbourne, Australia, shows that Asians may have walked less in order to avoid racist confrontations and because they didn’t have access to good places to walk.

Tight corners save lives

Since early in the highway era, road designers have tended to favor wide, rounded corners, and dedicated slip lanes that let drivers turn through an intersection without having to slow down quite as much. As many engineers and transportation advocates know, however, those wide turning radii can create issues for people trying to cross on foot. They create longer crossing distances, exposing people to traffic longer, and they increase the chance of a pedestrian crash by 50 percent or more, according to one new study.

Place and race are central to pedestrian safety

Even as the number of people killed by drivers in the U.S. continues to climb—due to what many attribute to pandemic-related reckless driving—studies keep rolling out that point to predictable patterns in where those crashes are likely to occur and who is most likely to be impacted. Two of the most recent studies come from opposite corners of the U.S., well before the pandemic began.

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.

Facilities for walking and biking can increase safety, but intersections still lag

The death of a well-known cyclist in Phoenix, Arizona, persuaded the city DOT to scrap changes it had proposed for an essential local street, in favor of protected bike lanes. As the Phoenix New Times reported, the death of a cyclist and downtown ambassador in central Phoenix galvanized supporters to call for protected bike lanes in the area of the crash. The city Street Transportation Department moved away from installing lanes shared by drivers and bicyclists, to painted, buffered bicycle lanes, and, on some blocks, fully protected bike lanes.