Your Active Transportation Update — Safe Routes to Everything!

Source: PA WalkWorks
Training SRTS Webinars and Active Transportation Summit

We’re working on a number of education and enrichment opportunities for this fall.

The first of our Safe Routes to School in PA webinars is coming up TODAY, September 28, at 7:30pm. You can still register! The second one will be taking place on Monday, October 17, also at 7:30pm. The registration link for that one is here. You can read more about both of them on the PDC website.

And then in November, we are working with Bicycle South Central PA to put on a Statewide Active Transportation Summit: Bikes and Beyond! It will take place on Saturday, November 12, from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm, on the campus of Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster (with an option to choose between a walking or biking tour to follow). It will be familiar to people who have attended past Regional Bike Summits, but the scope will expand to welcome people from around the commonwealth and to include all active modes in the discussion. Bikes are key, but they are not the whole story. As we’ve learned on YouTube in recent years: it’s “Not Just Bikes“! The cost is $30 (in advance) per registrant and goes up to $35 for registrations completed after October 31. Registration will go to cover lunch and snacks.

 Safe Routes September Webinar

Funding: DCNR Offering Special Grant Round Right Now

Thanks to additional funds available through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021, DCNR has opened a fall grant round very similar to the spring Community Conservation Partnership Program (C2P2). The deadline to apply is October 27. Match is typically 100% (1:1) for most communities, but it is only 20% of the grant amount for jurisdictions with populations under 5,000 people.

Priority Projects include:

  • Community Parks and Recreation (Projects that help rehab existing parks and those that improve access for all);            
  • Tree planting, lawn conversion, and riparian buffer grants (over $8 million in Keystone Tree Fund money is available to support watershed and community forestry practices).
  • Land Conservation/Watershed Protection (Land conservation projects that provide habitat corridors, provide connectivity with other protected land, or protect headwater streams);
  • Trails (Projects that close Priority Trail Gaps);
  • State and Regional Partnerships: Select projects for state- and federal-designated Heritage Areas.

All ARPA funds must be obligated by the recipient government by December 31, 2024 and expended by recipients by December 31, 2026. For additional information check out this FAQ: Round 28 Supplemental Round FAQs.pdf

DCNR/ARPA Explainer Video

Health: E-Bikes Both Helpful and Healthful

With the new DCNR E-Bike Policy on our minds, it might be a good time to discuss what e-bikes mean for active transportation. There can be an impulse to accuse a person riding an e-bike of “cheating” and saying it isn’t “real” biking. But what do we really mean? If a person does not want to ride an e-bike themselves, they should not! But they probably also shouldn’t dismiss others who choose to. There are some interesting new studies out that reveal that e-bikes have many benefits, including a documented tendency to increase the amount of physical activity a rider engages in.

This small study has been cited in explaining the general concept, i.e. that e-bike users didn’t work as hard in a given moment, but were far more likely to ride further and more frequently, thereby getting more exercise. And the same thing has been borne out in larger studies, also looking in detail at the “METs” (Metabolic Equivalents) involved. So maybe the outrage is a little misplaced. And those leveling such accusations might be even more surprised to hear about cars which definitely make you less likely to be active and healthy! Keeping all this in mind, it will still be interesting to see how this plays out with the later adopters as there also seems to be a tendency in some parts of the US to opt simply for a throttle bike, which doesn’t even require the rider to pedal at all. As they say YMMV…

Read the Study

If You Drove Today, Did Someone Else Make That Choice For You?

If you ask a group of people gathered in almost any community in the US outside of the centers of specific big cities what mode they used to get to the gathering, in most cases, the majority would tell you they drove a private vehicle. And if you asked them whether they chose to drive, they would probably also say yes. But a researcher in Tennessee points out that it’s not much of a choice, if you didn’t have any other reasonable options. In other words, you didn’t choose to drive, someone else chose for you a long time ago! The linked TED Talk illustrates the dynamic so many of us are living in daily. 

We tend to like to think of these things in individualistic terms. Along those lines, a conservative think tank recently published an opinion piece in papers across the country decrying the idea of focusing on systemic issues and pointing instead to personal choices (bad ones!). But the very examples she provides of how people in the US are more susceptible to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, and more likely to die in car crashes, are classic examples of how the environment contributes to poor health outcomes. In the Netherlands, if there is a problem with people crashing on a given road, they don’t see it as a failure by the drivers, they go back to the drawing board and redesign the road to make it safer. And in the process, they put their residents on track for better health physical and mental health outcomes simply on the basis of being able to lead a more incidentally active life. See if you can spot the missed connections when you read the essay.  What we want to do is move our communities from car required to car optional. More freedom and options for everyone! And more money in the bank account, too.

Watch The TED Talk

What’s In A Word? Modal Hierarchy

Modal Hierarchy refers to the concept that those who present the greatest risk to others within the transportation system have the greatest obligation to behave cautiously. In other words, the larger the vehicle, the more they are expected to take care, moderate speed, maintain alertness, and yield to other modes. And by contrast the people who populate the streets most directly, those walking or using mobility aids, should be at the top of the priority list.

This is a key element that is missing from the updates to the federal transportation policy that have taken effect in the past year. It’s great to have new funding and critical concepts like Safe Systems, Vision Zero, and Complete Streets being promoted by the USDOT, but without a simultaneous shift in the Modal Hierarchy or Modal Priority model, we are continuing to pump funds into hazardous modes in ways that actually increase hazard. As Smart Growth America so succinctly notes, there are necessary trade-offs between safety and speed and we need to start prioritizing safety for all road users. This is why even having funding like the Safe Streets and Roads for All program still seem to be running afoul of transportation conventions, the modal hierarchy needs to lead with people on foot, in wheelchairs, and on bikes or scooters before then accommodating car share, deliveries, transit, hauling, and then private vehicles.

Updates to transportation policy in the EU and UK noted from earlier this year do exactly that, making a point of establishing that people outside of vehicles are no longer to be thought of or treated like second class road users either in the course of planning, maintenance, or use of the transportation networks and public space in our communities. How this plays out in rural areas is less clear, but in the Netherlands, circulation plans are seen as low cost ways to approach entrenched power imbalances on the roads and simply re-designing circulation to provide for safe, traffic-calmed routes in the most critical areas and corridors can accomplish a lot without massive monetary investments.

Modal Priority Explained

Infrastructure Insights From The Interwebs

How many vehicles have you known or owned? Think back and consider (the colossal finned boats of the 1950s aside) how big they were. You can even look it up. That massive station wagon from 1985? Actually 8″ narrower and 18″ shorter than a standard Ford SUV today with a much lower front hood, too. Our standards have changed and this really has crept up on most of us. Also consider whether you are actually carrying any more with those vehicles than you once were? And if you do have occasion for some hauling, do you really need to haul all the time, even to pick up some pizza or take the kids to the game? Pay attention to your actual payload these days and think about the bill of goods you may have been sold.

The Latest and Greatest? There have been some great innovations in transportation and other parts of the world have realized great leaps in transit and shifts to accessible habits for huge improvements in health and quality of life. In the US, not so much.

Read The Tweet