FDOT makes strides in Complete Streets implementation: Former Dist. 1 Secretary Billy Hattaway weighs in

By Rayla Bellis

The Florida Department of Transportation has achieved a major milestone in its efforts to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety. In late April, FDOT issued a draft of the new FDOT Design Manual, which integrates a context-sensitive Complete Streets approach and will replace the agency’s current Plans Preparation Manual. FDOT has also released a draft of its new Complete Streets Handbook to accompany the Design Manual.

The new Design Manual and Handbook are part of a comprehensive effort by FDOT to build Complete Streets into the agency’s approaches for planning, design, and operations. FDOT adopted a Complete Streets Policy in September of 2014 to help address Florida’s ongoing pedestrian safety challenges, and developed a comprehensive Complete Streets Implementation Plan in 2015 with help from Smart Growth America, which houses the National Complete Streets Coalition. The Implementation Plan outlines plans for updating key manuals and guidance, performance measures, and general agency culture to align with the Complete Streets policy.

A key change FDOT has introduced in the new draft Design Manual is the addition of a Context Classification System, which will guide FDOT engineers in designing roads based on the surrounding land use. The new system resembles the Transect System promoted by the Congress for the New Urbanism and includes a range of eight urban, suburban, and rural context classifications. In line with the new approach, FDOT has also established context-specific design criteria, including narrower lane widths and significantly reduced minimum design speeds in urban areas.

FDOT has asked stakeholders to submit comments on both draft documents by May 26.

SSTI spoke with Billy Hattaway, P.E., former Secretary of FDOT District 1, about FDOT’s Complete Streets implementation efforts. Hattaway championed FDOT’s bicycle and pedestrian initiatives during his time with the department and has received national recognition for his leadership, including being named one of Governing Magazine’s Public Officials of the Year in 2014. He currently serves as the Transportation Director for the City of Orlando.

SSTI: Why has FDOT turned to Complete Streets?

Billy Hattaway: In my leadership role as the Champion of FDOT’s Pedestrian/Bicyclist safety initiative, it became obvious from looking at the highest crash corridors in the state, that many of them were on the state system, and our approach to street design was a contributing factor to the crash problem. Implementation of Complete Streets, and the significant changes that it can create, was an obvious element that had to be addressed as part of our overall efforts from an engineering standpoint.

SSTI: FDOT’s new Design Manual introduces innovative changes to the agency’s approach to designing state roads. Why is the department shifting to a context-based approach and implementing lower design speeds?

BH: When looking at the crash problem related to pedestrian safety, speed is a major factor in the ability of a pedestrian to survive a crash. Higher-speed roadways also diminish pedestrian and bicyclist comfort on those corridors. By taking a context-based approach to roadway design, the Department is providing the right street for the built environment adjacent to the roads, instead of having a one-size-fits-all street design. As a result, the minimum design speed on state roads will be reduced from 40 mph to 25 mph for more urban context zones.

SSTI: Why have training and culture change been a focus of FDOT’s Complete Streets implementation efforts?

BH: The new approach to state road design, based on context, has driven a need for culture change. In the more urban contexts, the design of state roads will be significantly different from how we have traditionally approached it, whereas in the more rural and conventional suburban contexts things will be relatively similar. Those who design projects for FDOT will need training statewide to understand this new approach to designing the state system. It is a significant departure from the all-purpose approach that has generally been used for my entire career in transportation, almost forty years.

Rayla Bellis is a Program Manager for SSTI.