As the federal government significantly invests in vehicle charging infrastructure, states voice their concerns on effectively implementing a consistent and reliable nationwide network while addressing their local needs. Many states are committed to supporting the transition to electric vehicles, but some are looking for more flexibility with funding requirements to coincide with their existing capacity for an effective system.
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.
The goal of investing substantially in public transportation infrastructure and complementary transit oriented development (TOD) is to create positive outcomes for communities, including reducing carbon emissions, increasing access to jobs, and reducing reliance on personal vehicles. Two new studies highlight additional impacts of these investments; transit infrastructure leading to increased levels of physical activity and TOD residents forgoing driving for non-commute trips.
Federal crash data released just this past April confirms what earlier reports had already suggested: 2020 was the deadliest year for walking in the past three decades, marking a 50 percent increase in just 10 years. A new report analyzing the data calls out the most dangerous cities and states across the country, while leveraging emerging data sources to understand how increased walking may have contributed to pedestrian deaths during the unique pandemic conditions of 2020.
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.
One of the main reasons that heavy rail projects are more expensive to build in the U.S. is that we build too few projects, too infrequently, to optimize our engineering, review, and land acquisition policies.
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.
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.
With the passing of the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in November, state DOTs will soon see around 50 percent more annual transportation spending over the next five years. U.S. DOT has outlined its vision for spending under the IIJA, first in a memo from FHWA, and more recently in a series of “Innovation Principles.” The message to state DOTs is that they should focus on preserving existing infrastructure, ensuring safety for all road users, protecting the environment, and reconnecting communities, all while embracing experimentation, adaptation, and collaboration. Many states are now positioning themselves to get a decent slice of the pie and to make the most of what they get.
Culture change at large agencies like state DOTs is slow but steady. In California’s case, the agency has taken several important steps, prompted partly by SSTI’s 2014 external review. The agency started by updating its mission, vision, and goals—shifting its focus from strictly “mobility” to “a safe, sustainable, integrated and efficient transportation system.” It is now formalizing that mission in its design process through a Complete Streets policy directive.