The U.S. Department of Transportation recently issued a bold new policy statement on bicycle and pedestrian traffic that significantly impacts how Georgia approaches our local infrastructure planning and improvements.
The DOT’s intention is to “incorporate safe and convenient walking and bicycling facilities into transportation projects” and that “every transportation agency ... has the responsibility to improve conditions and opportunities for walking and bicycling and to integrate walking and bicycling into their transportation systems.”
DOT’s new policy also encourage states, local governments, public transportation and other government agencies to adopt similar policy directives.
After several years of false starts, the Georgia General Assembly finally agreed upon a proposed transportation funding bill. The legislation has been sent to Gov. Sonny Perdue for his review and, presumably, his signature.
Although transportation and traffic congestion is a key issue for the state, especially in metro Atlanta, the legislation does not propose or establish solutions but rather provides for the creation of “special [transportation] districts that correspond with the boundaries of existing regional commissions.”
The bill essentially creates a new bureaucratic layer of oversight and responsibility, and, one can presume, red tape for managing the new transportation districts. Once the districts are created, the bill establishes the mechanism for creating transportation roundtables that help develop the proposed transportation investment projects for the district, and outlines how projects are ultimately put before the district’s voters for approval.
But what is noticeably missing from the new legislation is that it contains no detailed references to bicycle and pedestrian facilities. In light of the DOT’s new policy directive, which was announced, publicly available and should have been known by the General Assembly during the most recent legislative session, it is disappointing to see the Legislature fail to emphasize the many, less costly transportation elements that exist besides roads and heavy rail. What is also absent is a clear directive that any comprehensive transportation improvements include bicycling and pedestrian elements as part of each district’s solutions to its local transportation issues.
Living in Atlanta, we are fortunate to have several progressive transportation projects in various stages of construction and completion. The Beltline will ultimately provide a bicycle, pedestrian and light commuter rail loop encircling Atlanta’s Midtown and downtown. Based upon experiences from other metropolitan areas that incorporate such projects into their transportation infrastructure, the Beltline will provide residents with more transportation choices and create more connected and “livable” communities, places where people can live with less driving. The Path Foundation champions other bicycle and pedestrian projects throughout Atlanta.
Although the Beltline and Path Foundation projects are great examples of what a well thought-out and comprehensive transportation plan can look like, those projects are the exception rather than the rule in Georgia. What’s missing is true top-down leadership and financial support from the state’s elected leaders to endorse and see through to completion broader transportation components like well-defined bicycle lanes and safe pedestrian accommodations.
A common refrain often heard from elected leaders is they make “tough decisions” for their constituents. Instead of kicking the proverbial transportation can, why didn’t the General Assembly make the “tough decision” to immediately address our transportation issues and follow the USDOT’s directive to include the less costly components of well-defined bicycling paths and safe pedestrian accommodations?
Robert H. Turner III is a member of the board of directors for the MillionMile Greenway and an attorney with Stites & Harbison PLLC, in the firm’s Business & Corporate Services Group.
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