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Lessons from the 2020 BUILD grant selections

The U.S. Department of Transportation released its list of 70 BUILD grant awardees on September 16, sending $1 billion dollars to 70 projects in 44 states. Much of what media coverage these grants have garnered focuses on how they benefit states important in the November election.  

Here’s a different take. I’m looking at how bicycling and walking projects fared. 

1. Bicycling and walking continue to do well under the BUILD (formerly known as TIGER) Grants. 

    • The 2020 round included two projects that were just bike/ped, one in Alabama and one in Florida. The two combined equaled $39 million, or 3.9% of the grant funding. That compares to the roughly 2% of funding bicycling and walking gets out of regular transportation funding. 
    • Four Complete Streets projects, funded at ~$48.6 billion (4.9% of overall) funding. (Defined as projects that may include more than bike/ped infrastructure but do NOT include widening roads or adding capacity for cars.)
    • Combined that is 8.8% of overall BUILD funding and 11.8% of highway projects funded in this round. (That is great news.)
    • This is a particularly good round for bicycling and walking projects. 

2. Most press around BUILD grants doesn’t mention any funding going to bicycling, walking or Complete Streets

    • Over the last few years, USDOT stopped reporting out how many projects were bicycling and walking or Complete Streets focused. 
    • The bigger stakeholders and transportation media sites rarely dig into the projects to break out active transportation projects. 
    • There is still a perception that the Chao DOT does not fund active transportation, though the reality is that bicycling and walking has done reasonably well over the last few years. However, it seems that neither the Chao DOT or transportation stakeholders want to acknowledge it. 

3. This administration promotes Complete Streets in BUILD projects

    • There were 4 projects that I tally as Complete Streets. These are road projects that generally have a focus on safety, add sidewalks or bikeways, but may also add lighting, technology, or even green infrastructure as well. However, they DO NOT include road widening. (Most projects in the list that include active transportation facilities also include road widening.)
    • There were 14 road projects, for roughly $240 million, that included some element of bicycling and walking (sometimes calling themselves Complete Streets improvements). These often included multi-use trails, sidewalks, or improved intersection technology alongside expanded roadways. 
    • There were also 2-3 projects that include a mention of pedestrian improvements that I deemed negligible.
    • Under the Obama administration, the awards often listed out what part of the project the grant would pay for, the current DOT does not. Since the grant rarely, if ever, funds the full project there is always a concern that the bicycling and walking element could be dropped in the final project.

4. FHWA’s Proven Safety Countermeasures are included in several selected project descriptions 

    • The projects that identified pedestrian safety often included these countermeasures.
    • The Chao DOT has always had a strong bias to removing bicycling from busy roads. Multiple grant awardees included building multimodal paths or separated bike lanes parallel to the roads.
    • While the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that FHWA adopt protected bike lanes as a Proven Safety Countermeasure for bicycling, there is currently no “Proven Safety Countermeasure” specific to bicycle safety.
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