Local Planning

At the local level (and, frequently, the county or municipality-level) pedestrian and bicycle plans are typically used to address critical gaps in the pedestrian network and describe the community's levels of desired pedestrian facilities or overall pedestrian environment. They can vary widely in content and direction, and may include regulations, design standards, provide local cross section standards based on roadway, establish when and where sidewalks should be installed during new development, and/or include a specific list of pedestrian projects for inclusion in the local Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).

Local land use regulations

Local governments accomplish land development and growth by following (or changing) their regulations. These typically include zoning ordinances, subdivision regulations, and urban design guidelines. Each of these types of regulations can potentially improve or hinder the inclusion of pedestrian facilities in the community. For example, zoning regulations often set the number of required parking spaces that a particular land use must have; if the requirement is very high, it may be more difficult to fit the spaces on the property, but pedestrian facilities might be more needed for safe navigation through the large parking lot.

Unintended consequences from local regulations frequently limit the scope of pedestrian facilities. Of the three common types of land use regulations, urban design guidelines are probably most likely to incorporate pedestrian accommodation.

Land use regulations are often used to determine the density and intensity of land uses. Both of these characteristics are thought to be related to pedestrian activity, and thus should attempt to support pedestrian facilities. The linkage between land use and intensity and pedestrian activity is increasingly addressed in land use regulations, but many communities have not yet changed regulations to reflect this better understanding of pedestrian activity.

One interesting and important consideration of regulations is that they govern what private interests must do with their land. A regulation, whether a zoning ordinance or some other type, tells a property owner or land developer what he or she can or cannot do with a particular property. In order for a new structure to be built, it must comply with all the regulations that potentially affect it. This is important to understand, because it affects how pedestrian facilities might be funded, and might help explain the degree of commitment or resistance to including pedestrian facilities in new development.

Local roadway design standards

All local roads follow standard design principals that are often developed by a community. Communities that want to carefully control their patterns of growth increasingly regulate the cross-section that roads and corridors must have. A traditional roadway cross-section presents all the elements that should or must be included within the right-of-way. This is usually more than just the road itself; of most interest for pedestrians, these cross-sections show sidewalk placements and widths. If a sidewalk is shown in the required cross-section, it will probably be built; if the sidewalk isn't there, it probably will not be built.

Roadway design standards also include typical intersection designs, so they can play a crucial role in the accommodation of pedestrians with disabilities. These standards are sometimes stand-alone documents, but they are frequently a component of subdivision regulations or unified development ordinances.

Comprehensive plans

Comprehensive plans are intended to guide the overall growth of a community for five to twenty years, including much more than just pedestrian transportation needs. They typically address issues such as economic development, patterns of growth and land development, historic preservation, and transportation. Pedestrian issues are usually a part of a transportation or "mobility" component of the plan, but they are increasingly stand-alone documents, or separate portions of a larger comprehensive plan.

In an increasing number of states and communities, comprehensive plans are extremely important. In these communities, following "compliance" requirements, any land development must match the standards or basic plan described by the comprehensive plan and implemented through land use regulations. Land uses or proposed new developments or redevelopments that don't match the regulations and the comprehensive plan are either denied, or delayed until the community considers whether to change the regulations and/or the overall plan to accommodate the proposal, or whether to provide an exemption.

From the pedestrian planning perspective, a requirement to include pedestrian facilities with new development or redevelopment would likely increase the overall level of pedestrian facilities in the community. However, because development projects are often discontinuous, such facilities will tend to be disconnected, at least temporarily while other developments fill-in the pedestrian network. To avoid this, municipalities and counties can require cash-in lieu of having developers directly providing pedestrian facilities. As long as the funds raised through this scheme are directed to top-priority pedestrian projects, this cash-in-lieu approach tends to be successful.

Local comprehensive plans usually address pedestrian needs through two basic approaches. The first is a statement of policy, which will describe how or whether the community should include pedestrian facilities throughout the community. This policy would then justify decisions about proposed developments in the community. Second, comprehensive plans often identify areas that have, or are desired to have, more pedestrian activity. This information is used by planners and developers in the community to focus on pedestrian-friendly development and redevelopment in those areas.

Capital improvement plans

Capital Improvement Plans (CIPs) are budgeting tools for local governments. Pedestrian-related projects are frequently funded locally, and therefore will appear in a community's CIP. A CIP typically is a listing of specific and general projects that will be funded over a five or ten-year period in the community. Typically, specific projects and their expected costs (e.g., "Sidewalk widening from four to six feet between Monroe and Taylor Streets — $184,500") will be listed for the next year, and more general projects and cost estimates (e.g., "New pedestrian signals in downtown area — $250,000") will be listed for future years.

It is important to note that only those items in a CIP for the next year are actually funded; projects listed for future years may be funded when their year comes, but they might also be moved to a subsequent year, essentially keeping them on the CIP list, but never actually building them. CIPs contain a prioritized list of what communities want to accomplish; they are usually adopted by the community's governing body a few months before the annual budget is adopted. Just as regulations (zoning ordinances, etc.) indicate what private developers must provide, the CIP usually provides a good indication of what a local government is planning to build.

Examples of local pedestrian plans can be found in the Sample Plans section.