DOT Plans to ‘Enhance the Quality of Life’ by Reducing ‘Car-Dependent’ Development

By Susan Jones | August 28, 2013 | 11:33am EDT

Bicyclists share the morning rush hour with cars in Seattle on May 31, 2012. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - Creating "livable communities" is one of five objectives for the U.S. Department of Transportation, as it updates its 2014-2018 strategic plan.

The draft plan, released this week, notes that President Obama "has made place-based policy a key component of his domestic agenda." And as part of that agenda, DOT says it will "enhance quality of life in all communities" by spending taxpayer dollars on transportation projects that discourage "car-dependent, dispersed development."

"U.S. transportation investments over the last 50 years have often been poorly coordinated with other investments such as housing and commercial development," the plan says. "These development patterns have provided many American families of all income levels with unprecedented choices in where they can live, and the ability to own a single-family home. However, the reliance on car-dependent, dispersed development is not without costs."

DOT says those costs include long commutes and vehicle maintenance: The average American adult between the ages of 25 and 54 drives over 12,700 miles a year and the average American household spends $7,658 annually to buy, maintain, and operate personal automobiles.

"Alternatives to auto travel are lacking in many communities," DOT says, vowing to change that:

"We will enhance the economic and social well-being of all Americans by creating and maintaining a reliable, integrated, and accessible transportation network that enhances choices for transportation users, provides easy access to employment opportunities and other destinations, and promotes positive effects on the surrounding community."

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is inviting organizations and individuals to comment on the initial draft from now until September 6. "Your input will ensure that we consider the perspectives and ideas of all stakeholders as we draft the final version of the plan to be released in early 2014," he said.

"We encourage you to submit your ideas and suggestions early and often. We will review each idea and suggestion that is submitted and summarize how we used your feedback in the final version."

“Livable communities” is just one of DOT’s five objectives for 2014-2018: The others are transportation safety (the "top priority"), "good repair” (infrastructure maintenance), economic competitiveness (strategic investments to serve the traveling public and facilitate freight movement) and "environmental sustainability" (reducing greenhouse gas emissions).

Pedestrian and Bicyclists

DOT, under its "Safety" objective, says there are too many roads, especially in urban areas, that don’t provide adequate safety for pedestrians, bicyclists, and disabled people.

It notes that pedestrian fatalities increased 3 percent and bicycle fatalities were up by 9 percent, respectively, between 2010 and 2011.

Given greater demand for pedestrian and bicycling options, "more attention needs to be placed on how pedestrian and bicycling options can be more effectively and safely integrated into existing transportation networks,” the strategic plan says.

DOT says “complete streets” -- roads that accommodate all users -- help reduce fatalities and injuries. These roadway designs include features such as sidewalks, raised medians, turn lane controls, better bus stop placement, better lighting, traffic calming measures, accessible sidewalks, curb cuts, accessible signage for sensory and cognitive disabilities, and other accommodation for travelers with disabilities.

Instituting policies that accommodate all roadway users has the “added benefit of making walking and biking more attractive options and of enhancing the aesthetic quality and commercial activity on local streets,” DOT says.

To reduce fatalities and injuries for pedestrians, bicyclists, and older drivers – an increasing population -- DOT says it will (among other things):

-- Establish a new clearinghouse of information on determining medical fitness to drive as a resource for state licensing agencies;

-- Encourage states to adopt policies and programs that improve pedestrian, and bicyclist safety;

-- Develop and promote training programs for motorists, children, pedestrians and bicyclists for use in schools and other venues;

-- Work to increase accessible sidewalks, curb cuts and signage, to increase safety for people with disabilities, older adults, novice drivers, and young children;

-- Distribute community-oriented material for people with disabilities, that offers technical guidance on improving pedestrian and bicycle safety;

-- Consider adopting vehicle standards to make vehicles less likely to harm the pedestrian and by providing driver warnings or automatic braking to prevent a pedestrian crash.

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