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Speaking Up for Multimodal Elements in Highway Projects

Advocating for an emphasis on people biking and walking when it comes to improving our nation’s roadways is how we shift the focus from making our streets better for people who travel by car to making our streets better for all people. Read more on how advocates can push for placing bicyclist and pedestrian safety and accessibility at the forefront of highway projects from Michael Kelley, policy director at BikeWalkKC.

Highways have a fraught history in the U.S., one built on racial segregation, wasteful spending, and environmental harm. Despite the benefits of the current infrastructure legislation, history repeats itself. One major flaw is the significant funding of highways at the expense of other forms of transportation. Bike and pedestrian advocates are mobilizing to make sure these projects consider the needs of vulnerable road users, but what should that advocacy include? 

I recently went through a similar process in Missouri, where MODOT is working on updates to a section of highway which runs through the East Side of Kansas City. As part of my preparation, I read through the available documents on the project website. I also spoke with John Devine from Georgia Bikes, as he had recently worked on advocating for bike and pedestrian elements on a highway project in the Peach State. 

While there is no one definitive way to prepare or advocate for bike and pedestrian elements on highway projects, consider the following: 

Understand the Process

It’s a long road to get a highway approved and built. Understanding where your department of transportation (DOT) is in that process is helpful because it can provide answers to key questions you may have, such as “Who should I reach out to?”, “What should our organization’s stance be?”, and “How should we mobilize our supporters and partners?”. Even if a project is close to being finalized, having that knowledge can inform how you advocate for multimodal elements. 

Provide Policy Details

Don’t assume that state DOT officials are aware of local or state policies related to active transportation. Point to aspects of the infrastructure bill (like Section 11206) which clarify that states and MPOs must prioritize active transportation. Be sure to highlight policies passed within your community that do the same (such as Complete Streets or Vision Zero). The point you’re trying to make is that there is precedence and guidance on how highway development or maintenance must prioritize the needs of all road users, especially those outside of a car. 

Engage Frequently

Public meetings and online engagement tools are important because they are official channels of communication that DOTs use to make their determinations on projects. With that being said, don’t be afraid to try unorthodox methods as well. One idea: invite staff from your DOT to experience what navigating those spaces feel like on bike or on foot. It can help to build a rapport with those key staff, and also strengthen your case for better multimodal accommodations. 

Remember the Maintenance

This is also an opportunity to question and advocate around the issue of maintenance. Bike and pedestrian facilities are often the last part of crossings or highway infrastructure to be cleared after major weather events, especially snow. Press state (and local) officials on their approach to maintenance and to prioritize bike/ped facilities. 

Advocating on the issue of highways, especially as a bike and pedestrian champion, can be frustrating. However, it’s important to keep in mind that this important work is part of the long game. Making the push now can trigger results faster than you think. Just look at Durham, North Carolina, where the local MPO recently adopted a long-range plan that replaces some key highway expansions with a greater emphasis on bikes, pedestrians, and transit. 

Additional Resources 

Full text of HR 3684, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act: 

Information on FHWA Bridge Accommodations recommendations:

Want to know more about getting biking and walking projects into state and MPO plans to improve transportation? The League’s deputy executive director Caron Whitaker hosted a webinar with in-depth guidance. View the recording here.

Register for #BikeSummit22 now 

And catch Michael Kelly at the 2022 National Bike Summit, as he shares what made his experience campaigning for a movement to shift traffic safety away from enforcement successful in “Decriminalizing Walking and Bicycling in Kansas City”.