How to contact MoDOT about a bike/ped issue

Earlier this summer, I was driving near my home on 350 Highway and I noticed MoDOT was starting to work on a re-paving project on the highway. It dawned on me that they were probably going to re-pave the shoulders and then put rumble strips on them. The result would have been, that a perfectly good bicycle facility (6- to 8-foot wide paved shoulder) would have been ruined.

I wrote MoDOT about the rumble strip issue. I also brought up the issue of bike-safe drain grates.

Several weeks later, the MoDOT engineer who was working on the project wrote me back and indicated that they had evaluated the need for rumble strips on that stretch of 350 Hwy and decided that they are not needed. He had also gone in and looked at every drain grate to make sure that all necessary grates were replaced with a bike-safe design.

I have recently ridden on the newly paved shoulders, and the result is a beautiful and very useful bicycle facility.

Speaking with a some people at MoDOT, it turns out that the method I used to report my problem and request action is actually the best and the easiest way both for us and for them.

Using this method gets your request "through channels" and on the desk of the engineer who is actually working on the project in question.

This has proven to be a highly effective method and MoDOT has been responsive to citizen concerns about bicycle safety issues in new construction or re-construction. I know of at least three problem situations that MoDOT has corrected in the past few months, due to citizen feedback.

Please be sure to write MoDOT and thank them if they make the changes you request! This is about more than fixing one particular problem spot--it's about educating engineers and planners and developing a good working relationship with them so that they take the bicycling community seriously and listen to what we have to say in the future.

 

How to explain a problem to MoDOT and ask for change--the nitty-gritty details

This explanation was written to a friend who wrote asking for the best way to approach MoDOT about making a change to a construction project to make it more bicycle friendly.  The answer is somewhat specific to that situation, but the principles apply to most any situation.

MoDOT designs and administers most major highways and thoroughfares in Missouri.

This includes a surprising number within the boundaries of towns and cities. If it is a numbered or a lettered route in the state of Missouri, there is a good chance MoDOT has a hand in it. Even if it is more commonly known as "Main Street" or whatever, if Main Street is also 47 Highway, then MoDOT is either running it or will have a strong say in any local decisions that may be made.

If it is within a city or town, often MoDOT works with local authorities in making decisions. This can get pretty complicated.

The message below was written in response to someone who wanted to know how to report the use of unsafe grates in new construction on a commonly used bicycling street within Kansas City, Missouri. The street happened to be US 24, so that brought MoDOT on board.

Here is what I understand is the best way to report such problems--a way that is not guaranteed of success, but which at least has some chance:

1. Go to the MoDOT feedback page at

 

     http://www.modot.org/asp/repair.htm

 

2. Write a message explaining the problem. Be polite and persuasive. Include basic information such as, exactly where the construction is taking place, the city it's in, etc.

3. Explain why this is an important/often used/necessary bicycle route. Do cyclists (including yourself) often use it? Is it used by commuters, by group rides? Is there a high number of cyclists in this area of town? Is it the only, or the best, or one of the best, through routes in that area of town? Is it near, or does it connect, trip generators like commercial areas, residential areas, parks, schools, etc.?

4. Explain why the current situation is a problem, why it is dangerous, etc. You might propose a solution (in this case, bike-safe grates should be used; you might mention that you have heard that there is a proposal working its way through the MoDOT bureaucracy to use curved-vane grates in this type of situation). But also make it clear that you are not stuck on "your" solution but are willing to look for any workable solution that allows for safe travel by cyclists.

5. I like to include the relevant bits of TEA-21 (the federal transportation bill that funds all of these projects and which MoDOT is supposed to be following):

Sec. 217(g)(1)Bicycle transportation facilities and pedestrian walkways shall be considered, where appropriate, in conjunction with all new construction and reconstruction of transportation facilities, except where bicycle and pedestrian use are not permitted.

(2) Safety considerations. - Transportation plans and projects shall provide due consideration for safety and contiguous routes for bicyclists and pedestrians. . . .

Sec. 217(j)(1) Bicycle transportation facility. - The term "bicycle transportation facility" means a new or improved lane, path, or shoulder for use by bicyclists and a traffic control device, shelter, or parking facility for bicycles.

Then just nicely point out that 6-foot wide bike-eating grates would be a very un-safe feature of this project for bicyclists.

Once you have made the case that this road is commonly used by bicyclists, or is an essential link, even if not commonly used, you have just ended the discussion about whether or not consideration of bicycle facilities is "appropriate". If cyclists are currently using the route, or if it is the only reasonable route between important destination, then bicycle facilities must be considered. As you can see, the definition of bicycle facilities is pretty expansive--replacing crappy grates with bike-safe grates would make these curb lanes "improved lanes . . . for use by bicyclists" and therefore a "bicycle transportation facility".

Some MoDOT engineers know this, but some don't, or have forgotten. So it is worth jogging their memory.

6. Send the message; remember to keep a copy for yourself.

7. You'll probably hear back, at least an acknowledgement that they received your message, within a few days (MoDOT is really working on "customer service"). It may take some time (several weeks?) to work out the details if they are seriously considering your issue.

8. It can work, but don't expect miracles. The earlier you get involved in the process, the better your chance of success. By the time they are laying down asphalt on the streets, it is very, very late in the process. It CAN happen, but don't count on it.

RE: this specific problem with bike-eating grates: For bike-safe grates, the difficulty is that the bike safe designs don't allow as much water flow as the bike-eating grates. So you can't just replace yucko grates with good ones. You have to allow for MORE grates (or at least do a bunch of calculation to figure out whether or not you'll need more).

But, still, it's well worth asking. Bike eating grates shouldn't be used, and they need to hear that from us. Over and over, if necessary. MoDOT's bike/ped coordinator is telling them this story, over and over, but it all takes on an entirely new light when it is requested by a regular citizen.

9. If they change the grates, thank them profusely. Even if they don't, thank them for considering it and firmly request that bike-friendly grates be used from now on in our area.

10. Also it is well worth sending the same letter to the relevant city public works department. OR just call them up and have a chat with them about it.

Strangely enough, sending your request to the general public feedback address seems to work better in most cases than sending a fancy letter to the head of the department. The reason is that your email message will work its way through their customer service system and end up in the hands of the engineer who is actually working on your project. This is the person who can actually make the changes you want.

A fancy letter to the bigwigs often results in a fancy reply that has been carefully vetted to remove any actual content--but little direct action on a specific project.

I hope this helps! I just discovered this approach myself. Even though they were already re-paving 350 Hwy when I wrote with my concerns, the engineer actually went back and analyzed ALL the drain grates and also totally re-thought the approach to rumble strips. The result--NO rumble strips and NO problem grates.

I about fell off my chair when I read the reply from the project engineer. I'm pretty sure that NOBODY had thought about bike-safe grates for this project before I brought it up, and I'm pretty sure they were also planning on rumble strips for much or all of re-paved section. The grates and rumble-strips could have taken a very decent bicycle route (350 Hwy between Raytown and Lee's Summit) and totally wrecked it.

 

So--don't count on it as guaranteed, but it CAN happen. It's worth sending an email or two!

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