The De Facto SidewalksAugust 25, 2011 by: Samuel Scheib
Transit agencies serving populations of 200,000 or greater “will expend not less than one percent of the amount the recipient receives each fiscal year under Section 5307 for transit enhancements . . . and will submit an annual report listing projects carried out in the preceding fiscal year with those funds,” according to Section 5307(d)(1)(K). That’s clear enough: you will spend 1% of your federal allocation on transit enhancements. What then, are transit enhancements?
These are projects that improve the service of an agency or are “functionally related to transit facilities.” The list of qualifying projects includes bus shelters, repairing historic bus and rail facilities, signage, etc. Bike and pedestrian projects count too, but unlike the other items on the transit enhancement list, which assist the transportation system, bike-ped facilities are the transportation system. Signs and shelters are self referential. They point to and designate the stop whereas bike-ped stuff leads to and away from the stop. So at what point are these things still “functionally related” to the stop or station?
FTA has sent out a draft of a new policy to clarify this point (Docket No. FTA-2009-0052, Final Policy Statement on the Eligibility of Pedestrian and Bicycle Improvements under Federal Transit Law). It reads in part:
For the reasons outlined in this Policy Statement, and for purposes of determining whether a pedestrian or bicycle improvement has a physical or functional relationship to public transportation, all pedestrian improvements located within one-half mile and all bicycle improvements located within three miles of a public transportation stop or station shall have a de facto physical and functional relationship to public transportation. Pedestrian and bicycle improvements beyond these distances may be eligible for FTA funding by demonstrating that the improvement is within the distance that people will travel by foot or by bicycle to use a particular stop or station.
This is great news because transit agencies can use federal money to build sidewalks and bike lanes or multi-use paths without worrying about it being a proper use of transit funding. Since many cities are playing catch-up on building sidewalks, i.e. getting people safely to transit stops, this de facto relationship between federal cash and bike-ped infrastructure can be a boost to sidewalk construction. The maps below show how significant a half-mile radius standard is. These are the stops in Tallahassee where we have a standard of stops no closer than every 1,000 feet but at least every ¾ of a mile. Lots of transit agencies have a standard of every quarter mile or closer, so we are pretty stingy with stops. Even still the bottom map reflecting a half-mile buffer of the stops shows most of the city is covered. So basically transit agencies can build sidewalks pretty much anywhere they want.