“The heart of the issue is that what the biking interests apparently saw in the comments… was a group of DOTs that have no interest in supporting biking concerns. That’s just not the case. That was not the intent. AASHTO has not backed away from its support of the law and the bicycling community.”
— Lloyd Brown, AASHTO
The American Association for State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) issued a statement today saying they would withdraw their request to dial back newly proposed regulations by the Federal Highway Administration that seeks to strengthen non-motorized transportation policy.
AASHTO’s request drew ire from bicycling and walking advocacy groups, state DOT directors (including Oregon’s Matthew Garrett), and even, apparently, their own Board of Directors (who felt they were not adequately briefed on the matter).
Here’s an excerpt from the statement (read it in full here):
“In response to the concerns expressed by several members of AASHTO’s Board of Directors, President Martinovich has directed AASHTO for the time being to withdraw its request that FHWA rescind its guidance on the meaning of “due consideration” of bicycle and pedestrian needs.”
AASHTO — which represents state DOTs in all 50 states — says they will now take time to more fully brief their Board and member DOTs. They have also announced a meeting with advocacy groups on May 19th to discuss the issue.
In a phone interview on Tuesday, AASHTO Director John Horsley told BikePortland he felt the newly proposed policy language fit into the “excessively burdensome” category of regulations that President Obama has told all agencies to cut.
In our interview, Horsley maintained that his stance had nothing to do with a lack of support for non-motorized transportation; he said it’s simply a matter of the extra work states would have to do to prove they cannot accomodate bicycling and walking in a project:
“We have not said in any way, shape or form that we have a quarrel with the requirement that says you have to give due consideration where appropriate; but because of the way the federal highways guidance came out… States now have to spend a lot of time doing paperwork explaining where the facility improvement is not appropriate… To explain that it would be highly costly or that it’s just not practical.”
Horsley said in many rural areas, making states pay for bicycling and walking facilities — and/or requiring them to explain to the FHWA why they can’t do them — doesn’t make fiscal or operational sense.
“This guidance [from the FHWA] is not practical or feasible,” he said, “While helpful to the bike community, it creates a burden on states that we feel fits into the President’s category of “excessively burdensome”… It forces you to justify the facilities even where it’s not appropriate.”
State DOTs already can’t afford bicycling and walking improvements Horsley said, so having to submit paperwork to the US DOT spelling that out would be a burden. “You shouldn’t be forced to do needless paperwork to justify why you can’t afford things you can’t afford to do,” is how he put it.
“When our members tell us a regulation defies common sense, and it does, we want to tell federal highways, improve your guidance.”
When I explained that a growing movement of people feel that all projects should be built as “complete streets,” Horsley said that, “as desirable the objective of complete streets is,” due to budget cuts that are making even basic services hard to provide, “It’s no longer financially possible to do some of these improvements… Even though they are are highly desirable.”
Lloyd Brown, a media spokesperson for AASHTO said that bike advocates misunderstood his organization’s stance on the issue. He wrote to us via email:
“… the heart of the issue is that what the biking interests apparently saw in the comments AASHTO submitted regarding regulations was a group of DOTs that have no interest in supporting biking concerns. That’s just not the case. That was not the intent. AASHTO has not backed away from its support of the law and the bicycling community.”
This debate has put a spotlight on the usually obscure topic of federal transportation policy language. It will be interesting to see what results from the May meeting with advocacy groups and whether or not the USDOT/FHWA ultimately succeeds in passing new policy language designed for “mainstreaming non-motorized transportation.”
It’s important to note that AASHTO’s statement doesn’t say they are giving up on their stance, simply that they are withdrawing it for now. Given Horsley’s comments, I think we’re up for more debate. Stay tuned.
— Read AASHTO’s statement in full here.