MoDOT lobbying and Complete Streets in Pitch Weekly

Waiting for MoDOT by zaskem on FlickR
In an article today, Pitch Weekly reporter Carolyn Szczepanski summarizes the recent issues of MoDOT's opposition to the Missouri Complete Streets proposal and the department's lobbying on this and other issues.

Szczepanski mentions the MoBikeFed poll (still online) which so far shows that about 95% of you think MoDOT lobbying should be severely limited and over 90% of you think the MoDOT's political lobbying hurts the department's credibility at least somewhat.

Szczepanski writes:
The most notable divide over the past several years has been the passage of a Complete Streets bill in the Missouri Legislature. Such a measure would require MoDOT to dedicate a reasonable amount of funds in any road project to cycling and pedestrian accommodations, like crosswalks and "Share the Road" signs. Lawmakers have been warm to the idea. That is, until MoDOT officials dumped a whole bunch of cold water on the proposal, sinking Complete Streets during both the 2008 and 2009 legislative sessions.

Which raises an interesting question: Should state officials, working on the taxpayers' dime, be acting like lobbyists? The Missouri Bike Federation posted an online poll last week about the issue. But cyclists aren't the only ones who think MoDOT is treading a fine line.

This year, Missouri state lawmakers raised the red flag on MoDOT's activities in the halls and chambers of the Capitol. In March, legislators were apparently perturbed by a small army of MoDOT employee's, who urged policymakers to pass a primary seat-belt law. According to the Springfield News-Leader, Rep. Brian Yates, a Republican from Lee's Summit, was among the annoyed. "I wish these employees were working on making Missouri's roads better rather than lobbying legislators on a policy issue on state time," Yates said in a statement.

Let's address one issue the article brings up--because it is a commonly heard objection:
If you ask MoDOT, cyclists don't demand or use the roads enough to warrant the dollars they demand.
That summarizes this whole attitude--and I have seen it and heard it many times myself--that:
1. Nobody actually bicycles or walks on MoDOT roads
2. Nobody needs to.
3. OK, a few people do walk all right but there are like 100 times as many pedestrians as bicyclists so we can just forgot bicyclists altogether.
So let me just take the time to address those issues with actual facts:
1. Over 25% of Missouri's population does not have a driver's license, including over 10% of adults; 8.7% of Missouri households do not own a car at all; over 18% of Missourian's are currently disabled and the vast majority of Missourians will be disabled at some point in their lives; Americans typically live 7-10 years longer than they hold driving privileges--and Missouri's population is aging.

2. The amount of citizens living with without an automobile is high in big cities but even higher in Missouri's small towns--where obesity rates are skyrocketing in part because walking and bicycling facilities are missing in action.

3. MoDOT roads go right through essentially every city in Missouri, and usually are the main roads--where businesses, shopping, jobs, municipal buildings, schools, libraries, parks, and all the rest are. You can't just say, "Oh, well, no one really needs access to all those destinations."

People need to walk and bicycle everywhere that people need to drive--and for all the same reasons.

4. In a typical Missouri city, 80-90% of the streets are already decent for bicycling and walking. But all those streets don't add up to a connected and usable network because the key connecting streets--often as not MoDOT roads--are most often terribly dangerous for bicycling and walking.

5. People do not currently use MoDOT roads for bicycling and walking very much, precisely because MoDOT has spent the last 75 years engineering them to be as unfriendly and un-safe as possible for bicycling and walking.
6. Despite the terrible condition of many of our roads for bicycling and walking, people do still use them--by our best estimate, bicycling and walking makes up about 7% of trips in Missouri. Yet we spend far less than 7% of our transportation budget on bicycling and walking.

7. When (a little) money is spent to actually create complete, connected bicycle and pedestrian networks in Missouri cities, people actually do bicycle and walk--in droves.

8. While it's true that there are more pedestrians than bicyclists in Missouri (5.8 million pedestrians vs. about 2 million bicyclists; the proportion of avid walkers/runners to avid bicyclists is also about 3 to 1) bicyclists naturally ride far more miles than pedestrians.

In fact the best numbers we have show that the two factors cancel each other out almost perfectly--there are three times as many pedestrians as bicyclists but bicyclists ride three times more miles.

The result: Bicyclists and pedestrians cover almost exactly the same amount of miles in Missouri.

And they deserve equal treatment in the transportation system.

9. The vast majority of citizens support improvements for bicycling and walking. Most every city that has done a survey finds better walking and bicycling facilities among their top 2 or 3 requested improvements.
In short, MoDOT roads are terrible for bicycling and walking because they have been designed that way and if the design changes then people will use them far more than they do now.

People like to live where they can bicycle and walk safely.