Local planning organizations make bike/ped-friendly streets better than state DOTs

Are a lot of the streets in your area designed for autos only, with little or no thought for bicycle and pedestrian needs? Maybe it has something to do with the organizations that planned those roads . . .

Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) are quasi-governmental organizations that help plan transportation for an entire metropolitan region. MPOs are like a council of governments. Most every metropolitan area of over 50,000 population has an MPO. Two MPOs in Missouri are the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC, Kansas City) and the East-West Gateway Coordinating Council (St. Louis).

According to a recent report by the Brookings Institution, MPOs, which are closer to local governments and local needs, do a better job of providing for multimodal transportation (transit, walking, bicycling) than do state DOTs, which like to concentrate on highway building. According to one summary of the report:
The concept of metropolitan planning organizations was first codified in 1973 with the Federal Aid Highway Act, but MPOs did not gain much responsibility until the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) passed Congress in 1991. ISTEA required that MPOs create long-range and short-range transportation plans while also suballocating some state funding to the organizations.

But states continue to hold the most sway when it comes to transportation spending, the Brookings researchers found. "The reality is that the state receives and manages all the federal transportation money, as well as large amounts of state transportation money, and the state political leverage is far greater than the MPOs'," the report said.

States may not be the best managers when it comes to local needs, especially when it comes to multimodal planning, the authors said. Examining federal funds over which MPOs have exclusive control, Brookings found that "these metropolitan entities are much more likely to fund local transit needs than state DOTs."

Planning organizations spent 9.3 percent of their Surface Transportation Program funding on transit projects, while state DOTs only spent 2.5 percent of their STP funds on transit in metropolitan areas, the report found.
For much the same reason MPOs are a good idea for metropolitan areas, State Planning Organizations (SPOs) are a good idea for states. An SPO, which would bring together transportation, planning, health, conservation, transit, public interest groups and other organizations with a stake in long-range planning for the state, could be a big part of the solution for Missouri's current transportation crisis.

SPOs were proposed by Joel Hirschhorn in a paper for the National Governor's Association (PDF).