Paradigm Shift in Transportation Systems

“In today already walks tomorrow.”  –Rachel Carson, Of Man and the Stream of Time

The US Department of Transportation is walking out some good direction and detail in their recommended approach to accommodating bicycling and walking.  We are in the midst of a fundamental system-level shift in transportation, a major adaptation to our circumstances and times.   Bicycling and walking are being thought of as mainstream rather than as something different or alternative.  “USDOT hopes that public agencies, professional associations, advocacy groups, and others adopt this approach as a way of committing themselves to integrating bicycling and walking into the transportation mainstream.”  This inclusive approach leads the way for equal choice, access and treatment.  It promotes respect and more mobility freedom.

Instead of being used for escaping our problems and even compounding them, transportation is increasingly functioning for bringing people together, strengthening our social fabric and getting us moving towards solutions.   The changing attitudes in transportation are part of an expanding social awareness, akin to movements in social justice, environmental sustainability, and universal human rights.  Although Dickens’ paradoxical phrase continually rings true, that we are living in “the best of times, the worst of times”, I am very excited about the emerging changes that are reshaping the physical environment in which we move.

In my life when I make changes that show physical results, these are always preceded by a mental choice, a shift in attitude.  It works the same way on a larger scale.  Our US department of transportation has been making huge advances in public policy on bicycling and walking, and these policies and assumptions are slowly becoming more visible in our transportation systems.  These changes are as big as the changes we’ve seen in the Judicial branch supporting marriage choice.   These kinds of changes eliminate common reasons and justifications for discrimination, reduce unnecessary suffering, and free up the potential of choice and diversity to be fully expressed and for people to thrive and be included as part of the whole.  These adjustments are a natural part of the quest for a more perfect union and happiness.  They take time to manifest and it is hard work to activate principles and live by them.

I’m writing this this morning because these developments are promising although the evidence the change is happening is not always visible and apparent.  These changes are something every person should know about since they guide our public lives together.  With today’s policies tomorrow’s bicycling and walking culture is gathering up energy, being charged.  This is something we can all embrace.  Like all the social changes and advances that have happened before, the benefits are full spectrum and universal.  All human beings are winners.

Some of the things the USDOT is saying on accommodating bicycling and pedestrian travel:
In a recent memorandum transmitting Program Guidance on bicycle and pedestrian issues to FHWA Division Offices, the Federal Highway Administrator wrote that “We expect every transportation agency to make accommodation for bicycling and walking a routine part of their planning, design, construction, operations and maintenance activities.”  The Program Guidance itself makes a number of clear statements of intent:

  • Congress clearly intends for bicyclists and pedestrians to have safe, convenient access to the transportation system and sees every transportation improvement as an opportunity to enhance the safety and convenience of the two modes.
  • “Due consideration” of bicycle and pedestrian needs should include, at a minimum, a presumption that bicyclists and pedestrians will be accommodated in the design of new and improved transportation facilities.
  • To varying extents, bicyclists and pedestrians will be present on all highways and transportation facilities 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.

In rural areas, paved shoulders should be included in all new construction and reconstruction projects on roadways used by more than 1,000 vehicles per day.

Full text here: Accommodating Bicycle and Pedestrian Travel: A Recommended Approach

Here’s the USDOT home on bicycling and walking

This is a good start.

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