Nonmotorized transportation pilot program: Developing performance measures and future needs

By Mary Ebeling

Performance-based planning and decision making for transportation investments has risen in prominence with passage of the current federal transportation bill. MAP 21 sets out six national goals for the federal transportation program and establishes a strong emphasis on performance-based planning.  While FHWA, DOTs, and MPOs have worked diligently to establish performance measures for highway, transit, and freight operations—as directed in the legislation—specific performance measures for the nonmotorized modes included in the Transportation Alternatives Program have been slower to emerge. A newly released report from the four Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program communities offers an important effort at establishing performance measures for bicycle and pedestrian investments and identifies new directions for developing robust metrics to support funding decisions for nonmotorized investments.

Section 1807 of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) provided approximately $25 million each to four pilot communities— Columbia, Missouri; Marin County, California; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Sheboygan County, Wisconsin—to develop pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure and nonmotorized transportation programs. The legislation specifically charged the pilot communities with “demonstrat[ing] the extent to which bicycling and walking can carry a significant part of the transportation load, and represent a major portion of the transportation solution, within selected communities.” To answer the question, the pilot communities worked collaboratively with USDOT/Volpe National Transportation Center, Centers for Disease Control, and the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, to develop measures to track whether nonmotorized investments achieved a change in travel behavior.

The pilot communities each developed programs specific to the needs and culture of the community. However, the four pilots shared a primary goal of documenting mode shift. The four agreed on quantifiable tracking measures that looked at change in travel behavior over time. Beginning with the basic task of conducting bicycle and pedestrian traffic counts, the project also measured accessibility and mobility, drawing a ¼ mile buffer around the new nonmotorized facilities to measure the percentage of the population that gained new access to work, home, school, and play through the NTPP. The team also estimated automobile trips avoided through the availability of nonmotorized infrastructure and calculated GHG emissions reduced as an additional benefit of the program.

The NTPP broke ground—literally and figuratively—in how investments in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure are planned and measured. Through careful and collaborative efforts, the four pilot communities demonstrated that a focused investment in bicycle and pedestrian travel modes will lead to a significant mode shift. As FHWA states, “The NTPP demonstrated what communities can achieve with large investments in nonmotorized transportation planning, infrastructure, and programs. Columbia, Marin County, the Minneapolis area, and Sheboygan County serve as examples for peer communities nationwide as they consider how to improve nonmotorized transportation to produce a broad range of benefits in their communities.”

Mary Ebeling is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.