MoDOT halts Complete Streets bill; promises to implement it via internal policy

At the Senate Transportation Committee hearing Wednesday, MoDOT Director Pete Rahn personally arranged for a change in MoDOT's position on HB 2206, the Complete Streets bill sponsored by Representative Mike Sutherland.

The Complete Streets Bill is supported by the Missouri Bicycle Federation and a coalition of bicycling, walking, and disabilities groups from around the state.

MoDOT had opposed portions of the original version of the bill, but worked with Rep. Sutherland to adopt compromise language that MoDOT was willing to accept. So discussions between Rep. Sutherland and MoDOT had led us to believe that MoDOT would support, or at least remain neutral, on this version of HB 2206, which recently passed the Missouri House by a vote of 139-9.

Representative Mike Sutherland

With MoDOT's concerns allayed, HB 2206 was poised to pass the Senate Transportation Committee and then the full Senate as a consent bill, just as it passed the House last week.

With the bill so close to passing both houses of the Missouri General Assembly, MoDOT Director Rahn took a stronger interest in the bill.

Although MoDOT's research group had returned a fiscal note indicating the impact of the bill on MoDOT's budget would be $0, Rahn apparently became concerned that the bill would require MoDOT to pay more attention to the needs and safety of bicyclists and pedestrians than it wishes to. The agency could face real consequences for failure to safely accommodate for pedestrians, bicyclists, and people with disabilities, where now it faces none.

MoDOT's opposition has stopped progress on the bill for now.

MoDOT Director Pete Rahn

But in a meeting with Rep. Sutherland Wednesday afternoon, Director Rahn personally promised to Rep. Sutherland that MoDOT will implement what they need to internally to make a bill like HB 2206 unnecessary.

Sutherland made it clear that he's going to be monitoring this situation and can easily re-introduce the needed legislation if progress as promised does not materialize.

Many thanks to Senator Bill Stouffer, chair of the Transportation Committee, and the other members of the Transportation Committe for allowing HB 2206 to move forward to a hearing.

More about the Senate Committee testimony

Senator Kevin Engler

During testimony about the bill, MoDOT spokesman Eric Curtit testified that the bill would be expensive, it would reduce MoDOT's flexibility, it would to take money away from needed safety improvements, and open up MoDOT to the possibility of lawsuits. MoDOT's Practical Design policies requires accommodation of walking and bicycling. Most bicycling in Missouri, Curtit indicated, is for recreational purposes.

He also testified that MoDOT has adopted policies of routinely considering the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians, making HB 2206 essentially unnecessary.

Senator Kevin Engler questioned Curtit closely on this issue, indicating that in a large number of MoDOT projects he has personally been involved in, he has yet to hear MoDOT staff broach the issue.

Responses to MoDOT testimony
MoDOT's strong indication of opposition to HB 2206 should certainly give legislators pause. But what are the facts about the specific issues MoDOT raised at the hearing?

Expense: The bill's fiscal note was $0, indicating no overall expense. Complete Streets bill have been passed in many other states and regions, and always exaggerated worry about the high expense has been proven wrong. New construction and reconstruction is the most economical possible time to incorporate bicycling and walking accommodations--it never gets cheaper than that moment.

And bicycling and walking are the most economical forms of transportation to provide for.

Flexibility: Complete Streets policies, including the proposed HB 2206, are designed to be flexible and encourage creative and practical solutions to real problems. Right now MoDOT is using the 'flexibility' it has under current policy to deny much needed bicycle and pedestrian accommodation in almost every possible situation.

Safety: MoDOT's current practices create a terribly unsafe environment for walking and bicycling across Missouri.

Lawsuits: As accommodation for walking and bicycling becomes the norm across the U.S., MoDOT's current practice, which fails to accommodate for safe walking and bicycling in almost every project and situation, leaves the agency wide open to lawsuits. MoDOT is currently in a serious legal situation about sidewalk projects in the St. Louis area where poles where installed that block access for disabled users.

MoDOT certainly faces similar lawsuits from both pedestrians and bicyclists when it fails to provide accommodation in situations where it is clearly warranted, or when it provides substandard accommodation.

In any event, the compromise language in HB2206 offered no opportunity for a lawsuit--at MoDOT's insistence it was general in nature and indicated what MoDOT "may" do rather than what it "shall" do.

Design: Practical Design is MoDOT's new initiative that allows them to trim down projects and save money by eliminating elements that are not completely necessary. I am pleased the Mr. Curtit is on record as stating the MoDOT's Practical Design policy supports inclusion of bicycling and walking. Because the reports we have received from around the state and the personal experience of MoBikeFed board members and staff in working with MoDOT on projects where bicycle and pedestrian accommodations are justified and needed, is that Practical Design is used as an excuse to justify substandard bicycle and pedestrian accommodation, or no accommodation at all.

Most bicycling in Missouri is recreational: This is a problematic assertation that deserves several responses.

- In great degree thanks to MoDOT policy, Missourians bicycle at less than half the national average. Nevertheless, bicycling is a billion dollar industry in Missouri. It could easily be 2-4 times as large. So, yeah--some bicycling in Missouri is recreational. It's also big business.

- A lot of bicycling is recreational. So is a lot of driving. Recreation is extraordinarily valuable to our quality of life. One reason we support complete streets is because it is one of the most economical ways to improve the quality of life in communities across Missouri.

- People who want to use their bicycles for transportation in Missouri are frustrated and stopped from doing so precisely because MoDOT fails to provide safe bicycling accommodations that take them where they need to go. Recreational bicyclists can choose their routes, but transportational bicyclists must travel to a specified destination. If the streets and roads that lead to that destination do not provide for safe walking and bicycling, then you simply cannot go there.

It is deeply ironic that a MoDOT spokesman who has worked on this issue in some depth does not recognize that MoDOT is the cause of this problem and uses the statistic as an excuse for further inaction.

- In stating that "most bicycling in Missouri is recreational", Curtit is relying on a national study that may or may not apply to Missouri. In fact, no one really knows for certain the answers to those questions for Missouri, because no one has studied them--least of all MoDOT.

- In any event, Curtit overstates the case. The summary of the data from the 2002 National Survey of Pedestrian and Bicyclists Attitudes and Behaviors is below. Only 26% of bicycling trips are recreational.

Exercise and health (accounting for just under 24% of trips) are quite a separate category. And given the cost of obesity an lack of fitness in Missouri (about $2 billion per year), it's an important one.

Even those two categories together account for less than 50% of trips.

A better characterization of the data from this study is that about half of bicycle trips are for recreation, health, or fitness and the other half are transportation or destination oriented:

Bicyclists reported a variety of reasons as the primary purposes for the bicycling trips they took. The most common purposes of trips were for recreation (26.0%, SE = 0.79) and for exercise or health reasons (23.6%, SE = 0.76). Additional primary trip purposes included:
To go home (14.2%, SE = 0.67)
Personal errands (13.9%, SE = 0.65)
To visit a friend or relative (10.1%, SE = 0.60)
Commuting to school/work (5.0%, SE = 0.43)
Bicycle ride (2.3%, SE = 0.28)
Other (4.9%, SE = 0.42)

By way of comparison: The National Household Travel Survey 2001 found these percentages for automobile trips: 18% journey to work, 41% family, 27% social and recreational. Those are really not so different from the figures for bicycle trips.

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