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.
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.
The Oregon Transportation Commission last month approved a revised speed-limit guidance that abandons the long-standing-but-arbitrary 85th percentile rule in many cases. Instead of relying on drivers to set speeds by their behavior, the new guidance provides context-based safe speed ranges for urban and suburban roadways, ranging from 20-25 mph in urban cores to 25-35 mph in more suburban areas. The rule gives leeway for setting limits outside of those ranges. Rationales for exceptions do include observed motorist speeds, but they are based on the slower 50th percentile rather than the 85th.
Can the rise of new personal mobility options lure drivers out of their cars for short trips? Several recent reports say, “yes,” but only if cities resolve both infrastructure and legal issues surrounding their use. At the same time, examination of walking and biking rates from 2001 to 2017 show that better infrastructure and policies are needed to help them supplant driving for short trips. However, cities that have invested in infrastructure have seen a dramatic rise in active transportation.
A pair of new reports examines how the design of large vehicles—such as fire trucks, garbage and recycling vehicles, and freight trucks—impacts traffic fatalities in cities. These types of vehicles have a disproportionate impact on urban roadway safety for all users. However, vehicle design changes and new technology could significantly reduce that impact.
As urban residents place orders for online goods with increasing frequency, the challenge of managing urban freight deliveries grows. City street networks—designed for transit, walking, and biking—are unable to handle this level of freight traffic. Cities, freight haulers, and developers will need to develop new policies and land use strategies to manage this inflow of truck traffic as the retail economy continues to shift to an online/delivery paradigm.
One of our posts from last year, which raised the possibility that we may be in the midst of a major increase in urban truck traffic—and the analysis by the Brookings Institution on which it was based—was recently called out as flawed in a blog post by Joe Cortright of City Observatory. Cortright’s criticism is rooted in what he believes is a faulty analysis of FHWA data.
In case you missed our September webinar: In February, Arizona DOT published its much-anticipated Complete Transportation Guidebook, which ADOT views as a conversation about integrating sustainable transportation practices into the planning, scoping, and design of the project development process. The guide seeks to incorporate multiple transportation modes and is meant to be accessible to government agencies at all levels that work on transportation projects. By providing guidance on available infrastructure choices with a complete transportation approach that covers the planning, scoping, and design of transportation improvement projects, ADOT is hoping to instill sustainability practices both inside and outside the agency. A recording is available on our website.
A recently published study lends more support to the idea that sprawl can be a deterrent to upward mobility, making it difficult for low-income residents to improve their economic circumstances. Compact metro areas showed better results than those that are more spread out. The authors also note that upward mobility tends to be higher in Europe than in the U.S., and they theorize that besides differing approaches to education and social programs, the compactness of European cities may contribute to better opportunities.
Urban truck traffic has boomed alongside the rise in e-commerce. As shown in a recent Brookings Institution blog post, while both urban truck and passenger VMT have been growing faster than urban populations since the 1960s, urban truck traffic diverged from urban car travel in the early 1990s and exploded between 2006 and 2008 before a slight dip during the recession. Thanks to this growth, total single unit (box) truck VMT became majority urban in the early 2000s, and combination (tractor-trailer) truck VMT is likely to become majority urban in the coming years.