While I was attending last week's Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place conference in Pittsburgh, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced an initiative to improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians.
A U.S. Department of Transportation press release describes the campaign: "The new pedestrian and bicycle safety initiative will promote design improvements to ensure safe and efficient routes for pedestrians and bicycles, promote behavioral safety, and provide education to help individuals make safer travel choices. The initiative will also encourage vehicle safety by drawing on current crash avoidance technologies to alert motorists to the presence of bicyclists and pedestrians."
As noted in that USDOT press release, fatalities from motor vehicle crashes have declined by a third in the last decade, but from 2011 to 2012, pedestrian deaths rose 6% and bicyclist fatalities went up almost 7%. (While that is a significant problem, it's important to understand that vehicle miles traveled in cars has decreased over the last decade while biking and walking are surging in popularity.)
The Obama administration is going ahead with what they can do within federal agencies without going to Congress for approval. That's a good thing given the gridlock in D.C., especially during an election year. And having the weight of the USDOT behind best practices for bike and pedestrian safety is no small thing. The agency is apparently explicitly going to endorse road diets -- reducing vehicle travel lanes, widening sidewalks, putting in bike lanes, and so on -- which it says can reduce bicycle and pedestrian crashes with vehicles by almost half in cities and by about a quarter on rural roads.
But the bigger issue is funding. It's one thing to know what needs to be done, and many local communities already do understand the best approaches, but it's another to execute these strategies. Implementation takes resources, and those have been declining at both federal and state levels.
So while Secretary Foxx's initiative is welcome and worthwhile, it's only a step in the right direction. Knowing what needs to be done is important. And doing it takes resources.
Dave Cieslewicz is the executive director of the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin.