Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Note from NCDOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Division Director Lauren Blackburn on Bicycle and Pedestrian Funding

Lauren Blackburn

Perhaps, the most important strategy to building a more efficient bicycle and pedestrian transportation system is leveraging and maximizing funding to construct priority projects. Traditional funding sources, such as federal transportation appropriations, are shrinking and changing. Meanwhile, the need for bicycle and pedestrian improvements in North Carolina is increasing. 

Check out the following highlights from new federal and state transportation funding programs, as they may affect bicycle and pedestrian projects. Look to future newsletters for more in-depth information.

FEDERAL FUNDING: Effective as of October 2013, new transportation legislation called the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) contains a new funding program called the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP). The TAP program is very similar to the Transportation Enhancements program in previous transportation authorizations, but there are some differences of significance to North Carolina DOT and local government partners.  North Carolina will use TAP funds on a variety of bicycle and pedestrian improvements, but the funding can also be used on a variety of other eligible activities. Projects must be submitted by local governments or other local sponsors, and require a 20% match. 

STATE POLICY:  There are several connections between how TAP funding will be administered in North Carolina and the new state law directing all capital transportation investments. 

The Strategic Transportation Investments (STI) formula was signed into law in June 2013. The new law will realign funds toward projects selected through a data-driven process. A new slate of projects will be selected, starting in early 2014, using a prioritization process for programming in FY 16 and beyond. This new formula prescribes the process for selecting bicycle and pedestrian projects to be built using federal dollars. Criteria such as safety, connectivity to important community destinations, and project readiness are used to score bicycle and pedestrian projects in the formula. The new state law prohibits NCDOT from applying state dollars as a match to federal funding to most bicycle and pedestrian projects, but bicycle and pedestrian improvements as part of a roadway or bridge project can still receive state funding. 

Secretary Tata Joins Fellow Riders in Celebrating Bike Month

Secretary Tony Tata, Deputy Secretary of Transit Richard Walls and Bicycle and Pedestrian Division Director Lauren Blackburn joined a crowd of approximately 100 NCDOT staff, local officials and citizens for the City of Raleigh’s Capital City Ride on May 10 in celebration of Bike Month and Bike to Work Day. The ride started at Chavis Park near downtown Raleigh and proceeded 1 mile to the state capitol grounds. Riders were treated with snacks and speeches at the end of the ride.

Some images from the event:
Secretary Tata with his bicycle at the state capitol.

Secretary Tata addresses the crowd at the state capitol.

Secretary Tata chats with cyclists before the ride.

A Go Pro camera catches Secretary Tata during the ride.

NCDOT Launches New Bicycle and Pedestrian Curriculum for Children

On May 9, NCDOT staff and partners celebrated the launch of the new Let’s Go NC! bicycle and pedestrian safety curriculum for children with a special unveiling at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. 

The Let’s Go NC! curriculum, developed by NCDOT in conjunction with ITRE, replaces the “Basics of Bicycling” curriculum and will be used by schools, clubs, after school programs, law enforcement and other groups. 

The curriculum consists of lesson plans, materials, and supplemental tools that will equip a first time user or experienced professional with everything they need to teach elementary-aged children grades K-5 about bicycling and walking safely. It is divided into two primary lesson sets: Let’s Go Walking and Let’s Go Biking. Each lesson set has 3 distinct teaching levels divided by grade – K-1st, 2nd and 3rd, and 4th and 5th. It features hands-on learning and skill-building activities, as well as math, reading, social studies, science, art and music. 

All curriculum materials, including lesson plans, lesson videos and guidance materials for instructors, are easily accessible online.

NCDOT Awards 2013 Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning Grants

Ten municipalities from across the state were notified in June that they would receive assistance with bicycle and pedestrian planning thanks to a $283,500 funding allocation from the N.C. Department of Transportation's Planning Grant Initiative. Now in its ninth year, the grant program helps North Carolina cities and towns develop a comprehensive overall strategy for expanding bicycle and pedestrian opportunities within a given community. For the first time this year the program offered grants for a Comprehensive Joint Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan.

The municipalities are chosen from across the western, central and eastern regions of the state. Recipients were selected from a pool of 12 applications by an awards committee composed of transportation planners from across the state, including representatives of both rural areas and municipalities, metropolitan planning organizations and councils of government.

Recipients this year include: 

Nags Head/Bicycle & Pedestrian Plan/$24,000
Southern Shores/Pedestrian Plan/$28,000
Ocean Isle Beach/Bicycle & Pedestrian Plan/$24,000
Whiteville/Pedestrian Plan/$24,800
Pleasant Garden/Bicycle & Pedestrian Plan/$40,000
Laurinburg/Pedestrian Plan/$22,400
Pinehurst/Bicycle Plan/$45,500
Lewisville/Bicycle Plan/$28,000
Jonesville/Bicycle & Pedestrian Plan/$24,800
Forest City/Pedestrian Plan/$22,000

These municipalities are expected to initiate the planning process this fall. 

About the Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning Grant Initiative

The planning grant initiative is jointly sponsored by the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Division of Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation and NCDOT’s Transportation Planning Branch. Funds for the initiative came from a special allocation approved by the General Assembly in 2003, as well as federal funds earmarked specifically for bicycle and pedestrian planning.

Developing a Bicycle Master Plan: City of Belmont's Story


In 2011, the N.C. Department of Transportation Bicy­cle and Pedestrian Planning Grant Initiative awarded the City of Belmont a matching grant for the development of a Comprehensive Bicycle Plan. 

The Belmont Comprehensive Bicycle Master Plan combined past plan­ning efforts with newer research and analysis, and included a full public in­put process. A proposed on- and off-street bikeway network is included in the Plan, as well as recommended policies and programs to encour­age more bicycling activity and to promote safe bicycling and driving practices. These combined elements establish a complete, up-to-date framework for moving forward with improvements to the bicycling en­vironment of Belmont. 

Belmont is just over five miles due west of the Charlotte-Douglas Inter­national Airport and less than 15 miles from downtown Charlotte, NC. Interstate 85 passes through the northern portion of Belmont’s city limits and Highway 74 (also Highway 29) provides a parallel east-west connec­tion between Charlotte and Belmont. 

Through progressive city planning and efforts to revitalize downtown Belmont, while still retaining its historic character, the city has retained a high quality of life for its residents. With its political support for quality of life and healthy lifestyles; sup­portive existing street infrastructure and planning policies; planned 
gre­enways and parks; attractive downtown and other tourist destinations, strong bicycling community and college population, and proximity to great biking venues and routes (including the Whitewater Center and the Rock Hill Velodrome, the Carolina Thread Trail, and quiet rural roads), Bel­mont is poised to be one of the premier bicycling destination com­munities in the state and region, joining the ranks of other regional Bicycle Friendly Communities (BFCs) including Davidson, Rock Hill, and Charlotte. 

City of Belmont staff and the Project Steering Committee guided the de­velopment of the Comprehensive Bicycle Master Plan. The committee was made up of citizen advocates and representatives from multiple stake­holder organizations and local groups, including the NCDOT and Bel­mont Planning Commission, among others. The Steering Committee met several times throughout the process and provided guidance on the overall vision, fa­cility recommendations, programs, policies, and draft plan development. The draft plan reflected input from the public, the Project Steering Committee, City staff, NCDOT staff, and the existing conditions analysis before presentation to the City Council. The Belmont Comprehensive Bicycle Master Plan was adopted on May 6, 2013. 

Plan in Action

One immediate positive outcome of the plan – the City was able to use the plan to convince the local NCDOT Highway Division to stripe shared use lanes on Catawba Street when that road will be milled and resurfaced in August.  Belmont Assistant City Manager, Adrian Miller stated “Having the bike plan helped when making this request to reduce the vehicle lane width to accommodate the unofficial bike lanes for this project.”  

In addition, the consultant who prepared the plan, Alta Greenways, informed NCDOT staff that the City (through volunteer labor) has begun building their new mountain biking park, though recreation, this is still a positive outcome. 

Text excerpted from Belmont Comprehensive Bicycle Master Plan, Alta Greenways