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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-12-005    Date:  July/August 2012
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-12-005
Issue No: Vol. 76 No. 1
Date: July/August 2012

 

Walking and Bicycling Pay Off

by Ben Rasmussen, Gabe Rousseau, and William M. Lyons

Four pilot communities evaluated the effectiveness of investing Federal funds in nonmotorized transportation. The results are encouraging.

This kiosk is one of 146 bike-sharing facilities funded through Bike Walk Twin Cities, a participant in FHWA’s Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program. Many of the kiosks are strategically located near transit stations and other key destinations.
This kiosk is one of 146 bikesharing facilities funded through Bike Walk Twin Cities, a participant in FHWA's Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program. Many of the kiosks are strategically located near transit stations and other key destinations.

What happens when a community focuses its resources and attention on walking and bicycling by increasing Federal investments in nonmotorized transportation?

Proportionately, Federal funding for bicycling and walking lags significantly behind financial support for other transportation modes, as shown in a recent study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study, Bicycling and Walking in the United States: 2012 Benchmarking Report, found that although bicycling and walking make up 12 percent of all trips and account for 14 percent of traffic fatalities, only 1.6 percent of Federal transportation funding goes to these modes.

To find out what happens as a result of increased investment in walking and bicycling, the U.S. Congress established the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program (NTPP) in August 2005, as Section 1807 of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU).

Over the following 4 years, the NTPP provided a total of more than $25 million annually in contract authority to four pilot communities (approximately $6.25 million to each community): Columbia, MO; Marin County, CA; Minneapolis, MN; and Sheboygan County, WI. The pilot communities represent a diverse cross section of U.S. cities and towns in terms of population size, demographic profiles, location, physical characteristics, climate, and need for nonmotorized transportation. Each community implemented locally devised strategies to increase the use of nonmotorized transportation and document any accompanying safety, environmental, and health benefits.

Since the beginning of the program, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the pilot communities have examined the impacts of the investments and continue to do so as more projects are completed. A working group established by NTPP estimates, based on traffic counts and studies, that bicycling as a mode share of transportation increased 36 percent across all four communities between 2007 and 2010, walking increased 14 percent, and driving decreased 3 percent.

According to Steve Kinsey, president of the Marin County Board of Supervisors, "This program and its legacy will change the face of transportation in communities across the country."

The Four Pilot Communities

Pilot Community

Population

Project Name

Key Community Characteristics

Columbia, MO

108,500

GetAbout Columbia

College town; large institutional employers (university, medical, and insurance).

Marin County, CA

252,409

WalkBikeMarin

Topography is a major challenge with smaller towns situated in valleys separated by steep ridges, limited connecting roadways.

Pilot target area focused on eastern, urbanized corridor, including 11 cities and towns.

Minneapolis, MN

382,578

Bike Walk Twin Cities

Largest and most diverse population of the pilot communities and most densely developed.

Relatively flat, extreme winter weather.

Pilot area includes primary city and adjacent municipalities.

Sheboygan County, WI

115,507

NOMO (short for nonmotorized)

Largest land area of the pilot communities.

Limited prior experience with nonmotorized transportation.

15 townships, 10 villages, 3 cities.

Manufacturing remains a significant employment sector.

Source: FHWA.

Evaluating the Pilot Program

As described in SAFETEA-LU, the purpose of the NTPP is "to demonstrate the extent to which bicycling and walking can carry a significant part of the transportation load, and represent a major portion of the transportation solution, within selected communities."

The legislation also calls for the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to "develop statistical information on changes in motor vehicle, nonmotorized transportation, and public transportation usage in communities participating in the program and assess how such changes decrease congestion and energy usage, increase the frequency of bicycling and walking, and promote better health and a cleaner environment."

From the beginning, the NTPP's working group designed the demonstration program to gather statistical information on shifts in transportation mode share, both before and after the implementation of nonmotorized infrastructure and educational efforts. To assess the impacts of the NTPP, the enabling legislation calls for interim and final reports to be submitted to Congress. The NTPP's working group tendered the interim report on January 9, 2008. The final report was submitted to Congress in April 2012. Various projects funded by the NTPP are being constructed during the summer of 2012, and results will be tracked in the fall. After completion, the pilot communities will issue a report to the public.

Planned and Completed Capital Projects

Project Type

Miles/Spaces Funded

Miles/Spaces Complete*

Percent Complete*

Onroad Facilities

333

214

64

Offroad Facilities

23

7

31

Bicycle Parking

5,727

5,461

95

Source: FHWA.

*As of August 2011.

Taking a Collaborative Approach

To respond to the enabling legislation, FHWA and the pilot communities formed a working group composed of representatives from the administrating agencies in each community, FHWA, the U.S. Department of Transportation's (USDOT) John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center (Volpe Center), Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The working group first met in December 2005 and subsequently held regular teleconferences and annual meetings to discuss progress and challenges and to coordinate efforts across the pilot communities.

The working group also created an evaluation subgroup to resolve technical issues and implement a common methodology for data collection and analysis. Although the legislation called for reports that would detail findings, SAFETEA-LU did not provide dedicated funding or specific language regarding evaluation. Nor did the legislation take into account the need to provide consistent data at the community level.

"One of the key accomplishments of the working group has been to develop a collaborative approach to data collection and evaluation," says Marianne Fowler, vice president of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. "In other successes, the working group has maintained a coordinated national program, established consistent and credible reporting of results, and shared the program's progress with multiple audiences over the years."

Most Federal funding for programs requires them to obtain a 20 percent match from local sources. Although no match was required for this pilot program, NTPP projects through December 2010 had leveraged more than $58 million in outside funding commitments from a variety of private, municipal, State, and other Federal funding sources. In addition, the pilot communities also obtained in-kind donations of volunteer and staff support, legal services, and easements to facilitate the completion of projects.

The NTPP has offered many occasions for the communities to work with a variety of partners, further deepening preexisting relationships and developing new ones. Partnerships with other government agencies, local businesses, universities, schools, and community groups provided opportunities to try innovative projects and combine with other funding sources to expand the reach of NTPP investments.

Investing in Walking And Bicycling

The NTPP funding enabled pilot communities to make significant investments in walking and bicycling infrastructure and education. Of the total program funds, the vast majority (89 percent) were spent on infrastructure, such as mixed-use trails, sidewalks, bike sharing, and bicycle lanes. The next highest share (8 percent) funded outreach, educational, and marketing initiatives. The remaining funds went to bicycle parking (2 percent) and planning (1 percent). Over and above helping to pay for the projects, the communities set aside funds for administrative costs, such as evaluation, communications support, and program administration.

In addition to the infrastructure aspect, strategic outreach and educational programming have reached thousands of residents, providing information and teaching the skills needed to help increase walking and bicycling activities. These efforts were instrumental in helping to institutionalize nonmotorized transportation in the pilot communities and continue a cultural shift in travel behavior.

Each community had its own approach to program implementation and project selection, depending on existing facilities, plans, and identified needs. Although all of the communities invested heavily in infrastructure, those with fewer existing facilities focused primarily on laying foundations for comprehensive nonmotorized networks. Those foundations included planning complicated gap-filling projects.

Walking and Bicycling Projects

The experiences of the pilot communities demonstrate how Federal resources can assist cities and towns with developing walking and bicycling networks and can highlight the significance of what can be accomplished with a concentrated focus. The four pilot communities engaged in a range of activities:

The following is a closer look at each pilot community, describing its specific accomplishments.

GetAbout Columbia

The philosophy of Missouri's NTPP pilot, GetAbout Columbia, was to promote a cultural change in travel behavior and attitudes toward walking and bicycling, while providing the necessary infrastructure to support such a shift. The presence of a major university in Columbia offered a number of opportunities to encourage walking and bicycling, as many destinations are close together, and not all students have cars. In addition, transitional times during the academic year offered occasions to change travel habits and behavior, because semester changes are periods when other routines also might be changing.

To take advantage of the existing roadway network, GetAbout Columbia placed a high priority on onstreet infrastructure, such as bicycle lanes and boulevards (typically, residential streets where pedestrians and bicyclists are given priority over motorists by discouraging through traffic by motor vehicles). A smaller number of offstreet projects, such as pedways (extra-wide sidewalks), provided strategic linkages between key community facilities to improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists.

This bicyclist is riding on Columbia’s Windsor/Ash Bicycle Boulevard, which provides a critical connection that enables bicyclists to bypass two busy streets and access the downtown area, parks, and retail centers.
This bicyclist is riding on Columbia's Windsor/Ash Bicycle Boulevard, which provides a critical connection that enables bicyclists to bypass two busy streets and access the downtown area, parks, and retail centers.

 

These pedestrians are strolling to a football game on the Stadium Boulevard pedway, an extra-wide sidewalk bordering a major roadway in Columbia. The pedway project also included intersection improvements to provide safe crossings for people with disabilities.
These pedestrians are strolling to a football game on the Stadium Boulevard pedway, an extra-wide sidewalk bordering a major roadway in Columbia. The pedway project also included intersection improvements to provide safe crossings for people with disabilities.

According to Darwin Hindman, who held the position of mayor in Columbia for 15 years, "The project has been extremely important to this community. It has provided numerous benefits, including choices for transportation, health, and transportation equity, and a large benefit to university students. An extremely popular program, it has done a great deal to connect neighborhoods. By making Columbia a more attractive community, it has already had a positive result in recruiting businesses and retirees to the city. It has made Columbia an even greater place to live!"

WalkBikeMarin

Building on a long history of nonmotorized transportation advocacy and activity, California's WalkBikeMarin focused its NTPP resources on filling key infrastructure gaps in its bicycling and walking network. WalkBikeMarin leveraged existing and emerging partnerships, and used strategic community outreach to complement infrastructure investments. The infrastructure gaps tended to be expensive projects that had not been undertaken previously because traditional grant sources are apt to have scoring criteria that reward smaller projects.

Existing plans and a citizens' advisory committee process enabled WalkBikeMarin to select projects quickly and to identify key targets for NTPP funding for the biggest impact. The strategic investments -- some large and technically complicated -- filled gaps in the existing nonmotorized network and also supported connections to transit to accommodate bicyclists and walkers with long commutes.

In addition, WalkBikeMarin focused on incorporating appropriate bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure into all new construction, and retrofitting existing facilities. A smaller number of offstreet projects, such as the Cal Park Hill Tunnel, provided strategic linkages to schools, ferries, and commercial areas. The offstreet projects also offered direct and more convenient routes for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Regarding the tunnel project, Marin County's Kinsey says, "It has given opportunities for people to move safely through our community, away from traffic. Most important, it is providing commuters with a reliable, time-saving alternative that connects directly with our transit hubs."

This project on Medway Road in Marin County, CA, involved widening sidewalks to allow the addition of street furniture and new transit shelters. A separate but concurrent project placed utility wires underground, freeing up more space for pedestrians and making it easier for wheelchair users to negotiate the sidewalk.
This project on Medway Road in Marin County, CA, involved widening sidewalks to allow the addition of street furniture and new transit shelters. A separate but concurrent project placed utility wires underground, freeing up more space for pedestrians and making it easier for wheelchair users to negotiate the sidewalk.

Bike Walk Twin Cities

Because the existing trail system and sidewalks were relatively complete, Bike Walk Twin Cities focused on onstreet connections to complete the network. This approach required road diets and innovative street design such as advisory bike lanes, plus working with transportation professionals, elected officials, and citizens.

In Minneapolis, the NTPP selected a local nonprofit organization, Transit for Livable Communities, to administer Bike Walk Twin Cities. With input from an advisory committee of community stakeholders, the nonprofit's board established strategic priorities to guide the development of solicitations and selection of awards. Local jurisdictions then submitted projects in response to specific solicitation criteria. A team of staff and technical experts scored the proposals, the advisory committee added recommendations, and the nonprofit's board acted on the submissions.

Priorities for project selection included the following:

Bike Walk Twin Cities used several strategies to implement the pilot program, including the provision of grants to municipalities for infrastructure improvements, planning studies, and awareness campaigns. Bike Walk Twin Cities placed a high priority on relatively low-cost improvements that expanded the use of existing roadway areas. The organization identified 21 projects, including bicycle boulevards and restriping to include bicycle lanes. The awards averaged less than $150,000 each. The pilot also focused on funding multiple planning studies and helping to develop high-quality, shovel-ready projects to create a legacy beyond the life of the program.

These cyclists are entering Marin County’s Cal Park Hill Tunnel. The project, which was partially funded by the NTPP, involved reconstruction of a 1,100-foot (335-meter)-long railroad tunnel that now provides direct access to commuter ferry service to downtown San Francisco.
These cyclists are entering Marin County's Cal Park Hill Tunnel. The project, which was partially funded by the NTPP, involved reconstruction of a 1,100-foot (335-meter)-long railroad tunnel that now provides direct access to commuter ferry service to downtown San Francisco.

The Twin Cities have the most demographically and economically diverse population of the four communities. Therefore, the pilot placed special emphasis on reaching specific populations, including women and communities of low-income residents, people of color, and immigrants.

According to Robert Lilligren, vice president of the Minneapolis City Council, "Through the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program, Minneapolis has transformed city streets -- not just through the projects that have been funded, but also in the concept of and commitment to a safe and highly functioning network for walkers and bicyclists. The annual data are certainly evidence of the positive outcome of the pilot, but the results of more bicycle and walking transportation are evident in so many ways. Citizen advocates are more engaged on these issues; elected officials are more responsive -- even proactive; businesses and commercial areas now include bike/walk design features; and events all across the city reflect the vitality of a large and growing walking and bicycling culture. Some of these changes might have happened without the pilot, but the concentrated program created a momentum that achieved greater and more accelerated progress."

This sign indicating that bicyclists may use the full lane is a first for Minnesota. This Minneapolis project included a road diet that reduced travel lanes from four to three and a sidewalk that filled a network gap in a heavily used corridor.
This sign indicating that bicyclists may use the full lane is a first for Minnesota. This Minneapolis project included a road diet that reduced travel lanes from four to three and a sidewalk that filled a network gap in a heavily used corridor.

NOMO Sheboygan County

From the beginning of the pilot program, Sheboygan County in Wisconsin has had a strong culture of recreational bicycling, but little infrastructure devoted to utilitarian bicycling. Many of the communities in the county had comprehensive sidewalk networks and policies in place, but some important gaps remained.

The initial major activity of the Sheboygan County group, NOMO (short for nonmotorized), was to develop the first comprehensive, countywide pedestrian and bicycle plan and begin to build public support for walking and bicycling as a transportation mode. The plan identified priorities to guide investments through the NTPP and beyond. It also provided guidelines and standards for facility design and incorporated Wisconsin laws and policies related to nonmotorized transportation. The public process and the projects identified in the plan guided NOMO Sheboygan County.

The county's NTPP investments focused on filling gaps, building the network, and encouraging public support and awareness through broad educational campaigns. The priority was to start with projects that were relatively easy, both technically and politically, to develop a comprehensive network of bicycle and pedestrian facilities.

According to Aaron Brault, director of Sheboygan County's Planning and Conservation Department, "The NTPP has brought nothing but good to our community. The projects that have come from and will continue to come from the grant provide citizens with healthier transportation options, offer quality-of-life benefits to the community, and overall, make our community more attractive for both residents and visitors alike."

Demonstrating Success

The NTPP working group developed and implemented both project-level and communitywide evaluations to assess the impacts of investments in nonmotorized transportation on travel behavior. These approaches relied on directly collected data and supplementary local and national data sources. In coordination with consultants and academic experts, the working group's evaluation subgroup guided the data collection and helped resolve technical issues as they arose.

For project-level evaluations, each community selected a small subset of projects to receive indepth assessments. For infrastructure projects, traffic counts of bicycling and walking revealed substantial increases and continual growth in nonmotorized travel activities in each of the studied corridors and intersections. Projects implemented toward the beginning of the program showed annual and absolute increases in users over multiple years.

Noninfrastructure projects resulted in outreach to countless participants. In each of the pilots, educational activities improved awareness of nonmotorized issues and directly benefited a variety of community members and professionals. For example, Sheboygan County provided exposure to best practices to local engineers and training for them.

For communitywide evaluation, the NTPP used bookend counts at the beginning of the program in 2007 and again in 2010 after new facilities had been constructed. The evaluation used the methodology of the National Pedestrian and Bicycle Documentation Project, which is cosponsored by Alta Planning and Design and the Institute of Transportation Engineers. (See www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/bicycle_pedestrian/ntpp/2012_report/page05.cfm#Toc308001066.)

A bicyclist uses the new pathway at Howards Grove High School in Sheboygan County.
A bicyclist uses the new pathway at Howards Grove High School in Sheboygan County.

In each of the communities, between 2007 and 2010, the raw counts (as opposed to mode share) revealed that walking increased by 22 percent and bicycling by 49 percent across 58 pedestrian and 65 bicycle count locations. Furthermore, the working group found that intercept survey data indicated that, for most of the communities, the increase in bicycling and walking was attributable primarily to utilitarian trips, although recreational and exercise activity did increase as well.

The working group developed models to determine the impacts of the NTPP regarding energy, the environment, and health in terms of mode share changes and vehicle miles averted. The models estimate that between 2007 and 2010, residents of the pilot communities walked or bicycled between 32.3 and 37.8 million more miles than they would have without the NTPP (controlling for population growth).

Assuming a one-to-one tradeoff between vehicle trips and nonmotorized trips, the working group estimated that between 2007 and 2010, the program conserved 1.67 million gallons of gasoline and averted more than 30.8 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. The working group also noted substantial reductions in other criteria air pollutants that contribute to health problems.

This bicyclist is riding alongside newly painted sharrows or shared lane markings, in the village of Oostburg in Sheboygan County. The countywide project marked approximately 33 miles (53 kilometers) of roadway; at the same time, an educational campaign informed the driving public about the importance of sharing roads with bicyclists.
This bicyclist is riding alongside newly painted sharrows, or shared lane markings, in the village of Oostburg in Sheboygan County. The countywide project marked approximately 33 miles (53 kilometers) of roadway; at the same time, an educational campaign informed the driving public about the importance of sharing roads with bicyclists.

Additional key outcomes of the NTPP include the following:

Walking and Pedaling Forward

In addition to developing infrastructure and programs locally, the pilot communities contributed to the national field of nonmotorized transportation through experimenting with innovative designs, outreach, education, and data collection and evaluation methods that can be applied by peer communities nationwide. The pilot communities and the working group partners enhanced local expertise in bike/walk design at all levels and exchanged lessons learned with peers through presentations at national conferences, a Web site, fact sheets, and reports.

In March 2010, USDOT released a Policy Statement on Bicycle and Pedestrian Accommodation Regulations and Recommendations, which stressed the importance of building safe and convenient multimodal transportation systems. The findings from the NTPP affirm these words of the USDOT Policy Statement:

"Increased commitment to and investment in bicycle facilities and walking networks can help meet goals for cleaner, healthier air; less congested roadways; and more livable, safe, cost-efficient communities. Walking and bicycling provide low-cost mobility options that place fewer demands on local roads and highways. [US]DOT recognizes that safe and convenient walking and bicycling facilities may look different depending on the context -- appropriate facilities in a rural community may be different from a dense, urban area. However, regardless of regional, climate, and population density differences, it is important that pedestrian and bicycle facilities be integrated into transportation systems. While [US]DOT leads the effort to provide safe and convenient accommodations for pedestrians and bicyclists, success will ultimately depend on transportation agencies across the country embracing and implementing this policy."

Moving into the future, the pilot communities will continue to maximize the transportation benefits of the pilot investments. They will carry on with the implementation of remaining infrastructure projects; execute awareness, outreach, education, and enforcement work; and collect data to evaluate and learn from the program. This data collection will benefit the communities themselves and the wider field of transportation.

According to Tony Hull, a nonmotorized planning and evaluation analyst with the Twin Cities' Transit for Livable Communities, "The NTPP has provided a catalyst for refining pedestrian and bicycle data collection that not only provides important benchmarking of program outcomes but has established a framework for performance measures not previously included in the transportation dialogue."

The results of this program provide insight into how to maximize the return on nonmotorized investments in a variety of contexts. As transportation agencies consider the importance of using performance measures to prioritize and track investments, the data and results will become even more important.

"Programs like the NTPP reflect the ability of walking and bicycling investments to transform communities and improve quality of life by expanding safe and healthy travel options," says USDOT Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy Beth Osborne. "The findings from the NTPP demonstrate the importance of nonmotorized transportation and how these transportation modes can enrich communities."

Estimated Change and Percent Change in Mode Share, 2007-2010*

Pilot Community

Bicycling

Walking

Driving

Columbia

+ 0.2 (15.8%)

+ 0.4 (4.4%)

- 0.5 (- 0.6%)

Marin County

+ 0.6 (64.4%)

+ 3.0 (21.0%)

- 3.6 (- 4.7%)

Minneapolis

+ 0.3 (26.3%)

+ 1.5 (10.9%)

- 1.8 (- 2.3%)

Sheboygan County

+ 0.3 (26.2%)

+ 1.2 (14.8%)

- 1.5 (- 1.7%)

Total*

+ 0.4 (35.9%)

+ 1.8 (14.2%)

- 2.2 (- 2.7%)

Source: FHWA.

*Total changes measured as a sum among all four communities.

Bar graph. The vertical axis is labeled “Number of People” and is divided into increments of 2,000 starting at 0 and ending at 16,000. The horizontal axis is labeled “Total 2-Hour Counts.” There are four bars arranged in two sets, one labeled “Bicycle,” and the other “Walk.” In the first set, there were a total of 8,272 people bicycling in 2007, and 12,360 bicycling in 2010 during the 2-hour periods in each year for all four pilot communities. In 2007 there were 12,741 people walking and 15,496 people walking in 2010.
These 2-hour counts for bicyclists and pedestrians at more than 50 locations in the four pilot communities show increases in these transportation modes from 2007 to 2010.

Ben Rasmussen is a community planner with USDOT's Volpe Center. He holds a master's in city and regional planning from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Gabe Rousseau is the bicycle and pedestrian program manager and livability team leader with the FHWA Office of Human Environment. He holds a Ph.D. in cognitive/experimental psychology from the University of Georgia.

William M. Lyons is the principal technical adviser with the Volpe Center. He holds M.A. degrees from the University of California and University of Lancaster (UK).

For more information, see the NTPP's Report to the U.S. Congress on the Outcomes of the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program at www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/bicycle_pedestrian/ntpp/2012_report/page01.cfm#Toc308001010, or contact Ben Rasmussen at 617-494-2768 or benjamin.rasmussen@dot.gov, Gabe Rousseau at 202-366-8044 or gabriel.rousseau@dot.gov, or William M. Lyons at 617-494-2579 or william.lyons@dot.gov.

 

 

 

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