Six months ago, ConnDOT announced it would adopt several policies putting walkers and bikers on more equal footing with drivers. What’s happened since then? MTR recently spoke with agency staff to get an update on these policies and the state’s 2009 complete streets law.
ConnDOT is meeting the complete street law’s requirement that it spend 1% of transportation funding on cycling and walking projects, though this will hopefully further increase in the coming years. While the legislation mandates that the agency report on bicycle and pedestrian initiatives for just one year, the agency has made a verbal commitment to issue this report annually. ConnDOT staffers said that the environmental reviews that are required for major projects will include new ways to assess projects’ impacts on biking and walking. In addition, the next update of the state’s highway design manual will include better design standards for cycling and walking, although staff said nothing about what kind of public process the drafting of these standards would go through.
One of ConnDOT’s new policies was a “Quick-Fix” program that used operational funding to make safety improvements aimed at slowing traffic and providing more space for pedestrians and cyclists. The program aims to make quick changes while funding is limited with the intention of implementing more capital intensive improvements in the long term. One of the first areas this program was implemented was along Main Street in East Haven. The street was put on a “road diet” which created wider shoulders for both pedestrians and cyclists while reducing automobile space, slowing speeds as traffic enters downtown.
Another new policy was a directive that ConnDOT and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) work to prioritize filling gaps in the State’s trail network. According to ConnDOT staff, the relationship between DOT and DEP staff has dramatically improved since the announcement, and the agencies have begun identifying improvements along the Farmington Canal, East Coast Greenway and the Charter Oak Greenway. Historically the two agencies had difficulty working together and often operated in silos.
(These projects are being undertaken by allowing half of Connecticut’s federal Transportation Enhancement funds, traditionally managed by the local regional planning agencies and council of governments, to be managed by the state.)
As advocates said yesterday in response to the national Dangerous by Design report, which found that 1 in 8 traffic deaths in Connecticut were pedestrians, much more is needed, including a state “vulnerable users” law that would protect walkers and cyclists but has been stalled in the state legislature for the last two years. But these steps are welcome from an agency that has been hesitant to embrace all modes of transportation.