Policy and Planning Strategies to Support Walking

Bicycling and walking are important elements of an integrated, intermodal transportation system. Therefore, these modes must be included in the policies and practices of government agencies at all levels. The majority of federal bicycling and walking policy focuses on broad planning requirements and funding. State level policies have a similar focus, although there is more discretion in planning and funding decisions. Ultimately, local policies and regulations have the most direct impact on walkability at the site, neighborhood, and community levels. These range from land use regulations to parking policies. Visit the Sample Pedestrian Plans section to view and link to plans that focus on pedestrians.

Federal Policies

United States Department of Transportation

The United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) is responsible for transportation policies and spending programs at the federal level. Policies and programs of the USDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), such as the Interstate Highway System, often have tremendous influence on the national transportation system. FHWA works with Departments of Transportation (DOTs) in each state to implement polices and programs.

For urban areas, federal funds are channeled through the state DOT and then through metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs). MPOs are federally-mandated transportation planning agencies in charge of creating long- and short-range transportation plans for their regions.

Short-range plans, also known as Transportation Improvement Programs or TIPs, determine which projects are in line for receiving transportation funding for at least four years into the future. In areas with poor air quality, TIPs need to be updated every four years, or every five years in areas that attain federal air quality standards.

It is fair to say that federal transportation funds often are the largest non-local infusion of funding for infrastructure projects. Citizens and advocates interested in policies and projects that support walking should become familiar with their MPO, its functioning, and with elected officials that represent local jurisdiction in MPO activities.

In 1991, Congress passed landmark transportation legislation that set a new direction for transportation policy. The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) recognized the importance of bicycling and walking in creating a balanced transportation system. Key provisions in ISTEA regarding bicycling and walking included:

  • A ten percent set aside of Surface Transportation Program (STP) funding for transportation enhancements, including facilities for bicycling and walking
  • The opening of numerous other funding programs to fund bicycle and pedestrian facilities
  • The requirement that all states and MPOs prepare long range transportation plans that include bicycling and walking
  • The requirement that each state appoint a bicycle and pedestrian coordinator

Following the adoption of ISTEA, the U.S. Department of Transportation published the National Bicycling and Walking Study (NBWS) in 1994. The NBWS translated the recognition of nonmotorized travel embodied in ISTEA into two specific goals: to double the percentage of trips made by foot and bicycle while simultaneously reducing the number of crashes involving bicyclists and pedestrians by 10 percent.

The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), signed into law on June 9, 1998, carried forward the same programs for bicycling and walking established in ISTEA, and also included several new and stronger directives. Important policies and statements in TEA-21 included:

  • State and MPO long range plans are to "provide consideration of strategies that will increase the safety and security of the transportation system for motorized and nonmotorized users."
  • Bicyclists and pedestrians shall be given "due consideration" in state and MPO plans.
  • Bicycle and pedestrian facilities are to "be considered, where appropriate, with all new construction and reconstruction of transportation facilities."

TEA-21 also requires the Secretary of Transportation assure that bicycle and pedestrian linkages are maintained and improved, stating that:

  • "The Secretary of Transportation shall not approve any project or take any regulatory action that will result in the severance of an existing major route, or have an adverse impact on the safety of nonmotorized transportation traffic and light motorcycles, unless such project or regulatory action provides for a reasonable alternate route or such a route already exists."
  • "In any case where a highway bridge deck being replaced or rehabilitated with federal financial participation is located on a highway on which bicycles are permitted to operate at each end and the Secretary determines that the safe accommodation of bicycles can be achieved at reasonable cost, the such bridge shall be so replaced."

In February 1999, FHWA issued a Guidance Memorandum regarding the bicycle and pedestrian provisions of TEA-21. The memorandum is extremely supportive of bicycling and walking and clearly establishes that these modes are an important component of the transportation system, stating that:

  • "To varying extent, bicyclists and pedestrians will be present on all highways where they are permitted and it is clearly the intent of TEA-21 that all new and improved transportation facilities be planned, designed, and constructed with this fact in mind."
  • "We expect every transportation agency to make accommodation for bicycling and walking a routine part of their planning, design, construction, operations and maintenance activities."
  • "Bicycling and walking ought to be accommodated as an element of good planning, design and operation."

The guidance also clarified the meaning of "due consideration" stating that:

  • There is a presumption that bicyclists and pedestrians will be accommodated in the design of new and improved transportation facilities.
  • The decision NOT to accommodate them should be the exception not the rule.
  • There must be exceptional circumstances for denying access through design or prohibition.

The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act—A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) was passed into law in August 2005. It continued the programs for bicycling and walking established in ISTEA and TEA-21, included several new directives, increased funding for some programs, and gave other programs more flexibility. Key provisions in SAFETEA-LU regarding bicycling and walking include:

  • Provision of $612 million over five years for a new Safe Routes to School (SR2S) program designed to make it safer for children to walk and bicycle to school
  • Increased funding for the Recreational Trails Program (RTP), which requires a minimum of 70 percent of the trails be suitable for walking and bicycling
  • Nearly 26 percent increase in Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program funding to help communities support less polluting non-motorized transportation modes like walking and bicycling
  • Creation of the new Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) to provide more funding for pedestrian and bicycling safety
  • Creation of a non-motorized transportation pilot program in four separate cities to fund non-motorized transportation infrastructure projects to study the extent to which walking and bicycling can represent a major portion of the transportation solution in certain communities
  • Requiring that, prior to approval of a TIP, a listing of "investments in pedestrian walkways" and "bicycle transportation facilities" obligated from federal funds during the preceding need to be made public. This increases accountability of pedestrian-related projects and regional priorities and can be used to inform future TIP decisions.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Administered by the Department of Justice, ADA prohibits state and local governments from discriminating against people with disabilities in all programs, services, and activities. ADA also prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in public transportation provided by public entities. The ADA Accessibility Guidelines do not currently address sidewalks and trails, the United States Access Board is working to develop the guidelines. FHWA published "Designing Sidewalks and Trails for Access, Part I of II: Review of Existing Guidelines and Practices" in 1999 and "Designing Sidewalks and Trails for Access, Part II of II: Best Practices Design Guide" in 2001, and recommends that these documents be used when considering how best to accommodate persons with disabilities in public rights of way. More specifically, the design guide suggests a minimum of 60 inches for all sidewalks.

Related federal-level policies

A few more federal-level policies also relate to bicycle and pedestrian transportation:

  1. Context sensitive solutions—The objective of Context Sensitive Solutions is to improve the environmental quality of transportation decision making by incorporating context sensitive solutions principles in all aspects of planning and the project development process. To learn more about Context Sensitive Solutions, visit the FHWA website on CSS.
  2. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)—This Act provides protection for the human environment by requiring federal agencies to integrate environmental values into their decision making processes by considering the environmental impacts of their proposed actions and reasonable alternatives to those actions. To meet NEPA requirements, federal agencies must prepare a detailed statement known as an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). For more information on NEPA and EIS statements, visit the EPA National Environmental Policy Act web site.
  3. The Clean Air Act (CAA)—This legislation, amended in 1990, sets requirements for air pollution prevention and control. The improvement of pedestrian and bicycle transportation, as non-polluting transportation modes, supports many of the objectives of the CAA act. For more information, visit the EPA's Clean Air Act web site.

More information about federal legislation supporting pedestrian and bicycle planning and funding can be found in this video from the Center for Transportation and the Environment, "Bicycle/Pedestrian Planning Strategies: From SAFETEA-LU to Safe Routes to School," which discusses legislation and policies such as SAFETEA-LU and ISTEA.

State/Local Policies

Some states and local governments have found that—in addition to making physical improvements to their transportation infrastructure—numerous outdated policies are in need of reviewing and revision to make them more supportive of bicycle and pedestrian transportation. Policy changes to address walking and bicycling may include a number of elements, such as:

  • Goals that emphasize non-motorized transportation. This includes revisions of transportation goals and objectives that include encouraging alternative transportation modes. It is helpful to establish measurable goals for increasing bicycle and pedestrian travel and reducing crashes. Many state and local bicycle plans have incorporated the dual goals of the National Bicycling and Walking Study of doubling the percentage of bicycle and walking trips, while simultaneously reducing the number of crashes for these modes by ten percent.
  • Changes to standard operating procedures. This includes policies for standardizing bicycle and pedestrian improvements through the regular activities of local, regional, and state governments. For example, some communities have made it standard transportation policy to include bicycle and pedestrian concerns during all transportation improvement studies, and to provide bicycle facilities and sidewalks whenever streets are constructed or maintained.
  • Revisions to tools used to manage growth. Land use planning tools like zoning ordinances, subdivision regulations, school size guidelines and street design standards can encourage and/or require development of bicycle and pedestrian facilities during development projects. Examples include bicycle parking ordinances, site plan ordinances that require bicycle amenities like showers and lockers in addition to bicycle parking, trail development ordinances, and residential street layout requirements that ensure continuity between adjacent developments so that bicyclists and walkers are provided with through-routes.
  • Changes to the motor vehicle code. It is important to eliminate laws that are problematic for bicyclists and pedestrians, such as mandatory sidepath laws (requiring bicyclists to use sidepaths if they exist), or laws that require bicyclists to ride in bike lanes if they exist (this is a problem because bicyclists must merge into travel lanes when making left turns, or when there is debris in the bike lane). Motor vehicle laws should be designed to give pedestrians the right-of-way when crossing the street and should limit right-turn on red where appropriate. For more on laws and law enforcement, visit the Enforcement section.
  • Changes to driver education programs. To include peds and bikes. See http://www.mobilityeducation.org for a terrific pilot program