On January 12th, Governor Deal hosted a press conference outlining a massive, decade-long plan for transportation projects in Georgia.
An overwhelming majority of the planned expenditures will be used for state highway and interstate widening, with the purported goal of “congestion relief” and allowing Georgia’s motor vehicle commuters to “arrive home quicker.”
Will it work? Only time will tell, but the evidence isn’t promising.
What does this 10-year plan propose for our cities and transportation options for short-distance trips? What vision is there for inter-city trails for transportation, tourism, and quality of life?
We looked over the proposed construction list for the next 18 months, and we found that about 8% of the projects are defined as “bicycle/pedestrian” projects. It will take a while to research each of the listed projects, but the short descriptive titles indicate that most of these are multi-use trails and downtown streetscape improvements.
8% isn’t terrible, but we have to point out that many of these projects were funded by federal Transportation Enhancement dollars years ago and simply haven’t been built yet. With no new funding, even at a modest level, dedicated for walking and bicycling, we’re not seeing a particularly bold vision for improving the safety and vitality of our state’s cities. Safety for our most vulnerable road users should be a top priority, especially considering the fatality statistics from 2015:
- Bicyclist fatalities were up 11% from 2014
- Pedestrian fatalities increased 17% from 2014
- Overall, fatalities of people walking and riding bicycles represented 15.8% of total 2015 fatalities in GA.
In our 2015 Bicycle Friendly State Report Card from the League of American Bicyclists, GA ranked 25th nationally, with a low score of 2 out of 5 for bicycle infrastructure and funding. In its list of recommendations, the League advised Georgia to:
- Ensure that no funds from the eligible federal programs are transferred for purposes other than bicycling and walking projects.
- Develop a system for proactively leveraging state route resurfacing projects to improve local, regional and national bicycle routes.
- Dedicate additional resources towards fully implementing the state’s existing bicycle plan.
- Dedicate state funding for bicycle projects and programs, especially those focused on safety and eliminating gaps and increasing access for bicycle networks
In its 2014 Analysis of Georgia’s spending on bicycle & pedestrian facilities, Advocacy Advance found that 5.7% of all GDOT projects identified for 2013-2016 include accommodations for people walking and biking, but a mere .06% of the budget for identified projects are for bicycle safety and access.
With nary a mention of “active transportation” or “alternative modes,” much less “bicycling” by name, our new statewide transportation plan is not moving the needle on urban traffic congestion relief or vulnerable road user safety.
Yes, we’re investing something for active transportation, piecemeal and scattered throughout the state, but it appears we’re mostly going to double down on a philosophy of “drive everywhere, and drive fast.”
Florida is investing $25 million for a statewide trail network
Virginia created a study committee to develop & implement a statewide network of trails
Washington has pledged $200 million for bicycle and pedestrian projects through 2031
We’re not suggesting that bicycling will become a preferred – or even possible – commuting option for most Georgians, but bicycling could be a viable option for many Georgians, especially for those who live in cities and towns, but only with the right infrastructure. Furthermore, Georgia could easily position itself as the pre-eminent bicycle tourism destination in the southeast with strategic and meaningful investments in regional trails and safe state bike routes.
Thankfully, we do see hope in Georgia’s plan for transportation spending. The Governor mentioned in his address that GDOT is “quadrupling investment in resurfacing,” and every resurfacing project is an opportunity to give a road a safety make-over. State routes fall under the jurisdiction of the DOT’s Complete Streets policy (Ch 9), which allows local leaders to request a modification to roadway striping while it’s being resurfaced. In some cases, this re-striping can lead to slower, safer car traffic and bike lanes where none existed before.
Check out the spreadsheet of planned projects and see if a resurfacing project near you is a good candidate for a safety upgrade through lane narrowing or a modification in travel lanes. If so, talk to your local elected officials and traffic engineers ASAP to put in a request with your regional GDOT Office. The sooner you make the request, the better your chances for affecting the outcome of the resurfacing.
Let us know if you need help, or feel free to contact GDOT’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator with questions:
Georgia Department of Transportation
State Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator
935 East Confederate Avenue – Building 24, Floor 2
Atlanta, GA 30316