Changing the Rules
Back in 2000, Bikes Belong (www.bikesbelong.org) asked Deb Hubsmith and Patrick Seidler, President of WTB (www.wtb.com) and WTB-funded advocacy arm Transportation Alternatives for Marin (www.wtb.com/about/advocacy) for ideas on how conditions for bicyclists could be improved in the United States. At the time, Bikes Belong was preparing for a meeting with Congressman Oberstar, then a ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Hubsmith and Seidler were able to quickly put together a white paper that described two major program ideas for potential inclusion in the upcoming reauthorization of the Federal Transportation Bill. Those two program ideas were Safe Routes to School (SRTS), and the Non-motorized Transportation Pilot Program (NTPP). Safe Routes was originally piloted as a federal demonstration program in August of 2000 in Marin County, CA and Arlington, MA. Based on the success of the SRTS pilots and a national campaign, Safe Routes ultimately made it in to the 2005 reauthorization with $612 million for a new National program, and $100 million was included for the NTPP. For you technocrats, the funding for the NTPP was allocated through Section 1807 of SAFETEA-LU, the five-year federal transportation bill adopted in 2005.
What is the NTPP and Why Should I Care?
The NTPP is a Pilot Program that designated $100 million dollars to be spent between four pilot communities over the course of four years. This goal of the Pilot Program is two fold: 1) to demonstrate that a shift in “mode share” can be achieved by building bicycle and pedestrian facilities targeted at helping people choose to bike and walk instead of drive, and 2) that investing in bicycling and walking infrastructure has a very high rate of return on investment higher than investing in motorized transportation.
While these ideas may seem novel to most US transportation planners focused on reducing congestion, the success of non-motorized transportation has been clearly demonstrated in the many European cities. The NTPP borrows heavily on a program from the Netherlands called the “Delft Experiment”where an entire
bicycle network was constructed during the 1980s within the city of Delft in an effort to increase bicycling. (More background on Delft at: www.eaue.de
/winuwd/78.htm). Bicycle-centric planning is now growing in popularity in places like Bogotá, Columbia, where over the past 10 years an extensive bicycle network was initiated for construction by then-mayor Enrique Peñalosa. (See Peñalosa’s biography with informative links at: (www.pps.org/info/placemakingtools/placemakers/epenalosa). To be fair, US cities like Portland, OR and Boulder, CO have extensive and heavily used bicycle networks, but these cities represent a tiny fraction of municipalities where planners, policy makers, and advocates have been able to get a significant number of people out of their cars.
The four pilot communities are Columbia, MO, Marin County, CA, Minneapolis, MN and Sheboygan County, WI. Each community is receiving $25 million dollars to spend over four years. Approximately $5 million in each area is used to administer the Federal grant, making $20 million available for actual in-ground improvements and programs.
As the author has the good fortune to work for the Marin County Bicycle Coalition (MCBC), the rest of this article will focus on the Marin County improvements.
The Real Deal
In Marin County, the Board of Supervisors adopted a 2007 General Plan with the goal of 20% of all trips to be made by bicycling and walking by the year 2020. A recent survey places combined bicycling and walking trips at 13.6%. That breaks out to 1.8% for trips made by bicycle, and 11.8% of trips made on foot. While this may seem somewhat low, it compares favorably to the national average of only about 9.5% for combined bike and pedestrian trips. OK enough with the numbers and statistics…