How Can N.H. Encourage More Bikers and Walkers?

Sep 3, 2019

The N.H. Department of Transportation is tackling a plan for the next decade to improve how we get around in the state, on foot and by bike.  We look at the state planning process, and how walkers and bikers can weigh in on problem areas. We also discuss how different kinds of cyclists and pedestrians (including children) impact state and regional planning, and how streets are rated for traffic stress.  NHPR's Sam Evans-Brown, host of Outside/In, is guest host.

GUESTS:

Credit Rockingham Planning Commission

Find the N.H. D.O.T. Statewide Pedestrian and Bicycle Transportation plan here, including an interactive map where you can post your comments and a schedule of public events to hear more about the statewide plan.

Five of N.H.’s regional planning commissions are working with Plymouth State University to assess and map the Level of Traffic Stress a person would feel bicycling on a given street or road. This project will help inform the N.H.D.O.T. Pedestrian/Bicycle Plan and aid in identifying and prioritizing road safety improvements. Click on this link to comment and critique the Level of Traffic Stress maps. 

Alta Planning + Design discusses how planning and design can reduce speed-related crashes with pedestrians and cyclists.

NHPR's The Exchange talked with N.H. Department of Transportation Commissioner Victoria Sheehan in May.

The Outside/In podcast, hosted by Sam Evans-Brown, explores the history of building infrastructure for cyclists.

The state of Massachusetts recently unveiled their state bicycle and pedestrian plans.

The national talk show program 1A recently discussed how cities can keep cyclists safe.  

Transcript

  This is a computer-generated transcript, and may contain errors.

Sam Evans-Brown:
From New Hampshire Public Radio. This is The Exchange. I'm Sam Evans-Brown.

Today on the show, only 3 percent of Granite Staters say they walk or bike to get to work each day. The New Hampshire Department of Transportation wants to know what it can do to get you to do it more. The state is currently drafting a new 10 year pedestrian and bicycle plan. They've got a Web site up where they're soliciting your input and a traveling road show. They're taking around the state to hear from you directly. We want to know what keeps you from walking more or biking more. So-called active transit is good for your health, good for your pocketbook and takes traffic off the roads. So what are the barriers that keep you from doing it? Give us a call. 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7 is the number. You can send us an email as well. Joining me in the studio this morning are Victoria Sheehan, New Hampshire Department of Transportation Commissioner.

Sam Evans-Brown:
Welcome, commissioner. Good morning. Thank you for having me. We also have Phil Goff, New England planning leader at Alta Planning and Design of Cambridge, Massachusetts. The lead consultant of the New Hampshire Ped Bike Plan Project. Hi, Phil.. Hi, Sam. And we've got Scott Bogle, senior transportation manager, our place in your transportation planner at the Rockingham Planning Commission. Hi there, Scott. Morning, Sam. Thanks for having us. So let's start with you, Commissioner, just to get us started. What is this 10 year plan? What will it look like and how will the state use it?

Victoria Sheehan:
So the department is actually embarking on two planning exercises. So one is updating our overall 10 year plan for transportation. And in addition to that, we've been working on our pedestrian and bicycle transportation plan. That effort began back in November of last year and we hope to wrap up and around February. Now we have a draft plan developed at this point, and we're going out now to start to get some public feedback. A lot of this exercise includes developing maps and understanding where we have good connections today and where there's room for improvement. And that's really why we want to go out and continue the public dialogue around how we can prioritize how the different segments of roadway and look at different types of improvements.

Sam Evans-Brown:
And just so we're clear, we're talking about state roads. Right. So so what? What roads does this plan encompass?

Victoria Sheehan:
This is primarily state roads and regional connections. We are looking a little bit at some of the municipal connections as well, especially if there's good municipal routes as an alternative to some of the state routes. But this is primarily a state plan.

Sam Evans-Brown:
So the numbered roads, route 140 route to 02.

Victoria Sheehan:
But I will say that a lot of the main streets in New Hampshire happen to be state roads. And so it's really important that we partner with communities and we understand what their vision is for those roadways that serve their community directly.

Sam Evans-Brown:
So in prepping for the show, I did see that there was a previous New Hampshire State Department Transportation, pedestrian and bicycle plan. It looks like it was out in the year 2000. So that 10 year plan got to last 20 years. It looks like maybe we could we roll through what was in that plan and some of the things that that having it accomplished.

Victoria Sheehan:
That plan was really our first transportation planning effort, focused on bicycle and pedestrian accommodations specifically, and outlined some goals for the department. And most importantly, it was to encourage folks to get out and walk and bike more and really treating, walking and bicycle use as viable modes of transportation. And you mentioned how low that percentages of folks who commute by bicycle or walk today. We really would like to see that number increase for many reasons, not only to be one to provide active transportation solutions that's good for everyone's health and well-being to get out and walk on our highways. But in some of our urban settings where we have congestion and we also are trying to create communities where people can live, work and play, making sure that we invest appropriately in walking and bicycle infrastructure will be really important in helping communities achieve those goals.

Sam Evans-Brown:
So when we look back at that plan where there are suggestions that that you think were really acted upon, that that we can point to today and say this this was a direct result of having this plan on the books.

Victoria Sheehan:
So the department has definitely changed their philosophy and we're not the only DOT changing our approach to accommodating different modes of transportation across the country. Walking and bicycle advocates have been very successful in helping DOTs realize that we really have to have a comprehensive approach to our transportation planning. And as we're setting identifying what the appropriate roadway cross action might be for a segment of highway we need to be thinking about how we're going to accommodate all users, not just motor vehicles. And so that's really been the catalyst for change in many DOTs. We for the first time just recently, our national organization, the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials, had a joint meeting of their active transportation council and the Council on Highways and Streets. That's never happened before. And that really speaks volumes about how closely we're trying to work together to make sure that we make the appropriate transportation investments to meet everyone's needs.

Sam Evans-Brown:
So we take a moment to just tease apart the state's role versus the role of towns and cities, because it strikes me that that a lot of the possibilities for cycling and walking as a mode of transit occur in denser settings. So within urban cores such as they are in New Hampshire. So where does the state's responsibility end and the towns begin?

Victoria Sheehan:
Because the state provides the regional connections, as I mentioned before, we really have to work closely with communities and with the regional planning commissions to understand what the priorities are. In New Hampshire We pride ourselves on our robust public process when it comes to our 10 year transportation planning in general. We have a lot of public hearings across the state to get that grassroots input and make sure that we are listening to what community wants and needs are. many of these facilities are more local facilities. And so we want to make sure that if we construct sidewalks or bike lanes or rail trails, that we have a plan as to how to maintain those into the future. And that requires close coordination between the state and the municipality. And that's why some states have chosen to implement complete street policies and apply a complete streets approach to every project they work on.

Sam Evans-Brown:
And can you define that? For those who don't know, what complete streets means?

Victoria Sheehan:
Complete streets are roadway segments that are accessible to all users. That means we're thinking about walking and biking, but also access to public transit. We want to make sure we have access for individuals with different levels of mobility. So making sure they're accessible from an ADA perspective and that we have really strong connections between different modes, and so many communities in New Hampshire have adopted complete streets policies. And so that's sometimes where the department focused their energy working with those particular communities, because we know they're embracing these transportation strategies and then we're slowly trying to get out to other communities and educate them on the benefits of complete streets, because having good connectivity between modes isn't just an urban issue. We want to make sure in more rural and suburban settings, we also have good connectivity also.

Sam Evans-Brown:
So. So let's just talk about a specific example, say where 108 goes through Dover. Who pays for the sidewalks on that road? Who pays to maintain them in the winter when the snow falls and you know, and who decides what the infrastructure on a road like that looks like.

Victoria Sheehan:
So you brought up 108 in Dover. That section of one awaited actually part of what we call an urban compact. And so the city is responsible for all of the maintenance of that roadway. But in New Hampshire, it depends on the jurisdiction. In some cases, the duty is responsible for upkeep of the roadway. But if there sidewalks, that's usually a local responsibility, unless we're in one of these urban compacts where the city or town is responsible for all of the maintenance on that roadway.

Sam Evans-Brown:
But if it were but if it were a smaller town, then then the state would would plow that whole road, for instance.

Victoria Sheehan:
We would plow the roadway. But if there are sidewalks. Then we rely on the city or town to do that.

Sam Evans-Brown:
But does that does the smaller town have to decide if they want sidewalks or does the state build sidewalks on a road like that?

Victoria Sheehan:
We would construct the sidewalks as part of one of our projects, but we would have a robust public process and make it understood that our expectation is the town would take over the maintenance responsibility. And that's why we haven't mandated complete streets on all of our projects, for example. That's why we work really closely with municipalities to make sure that they understand what their responsibilities are going to be.

Sam Evans-Brown:
A reminder, listeners, that we want to hear from you. What do you think the state should be doing to get more people walking or on bikes? What keeps you from walking or riding to work or to school if you've got kids? Do you let them get around on foot or on bike? So I'd like to open this up a bit. Phil, perhaps we can we can go to you first and talk about the role that your firm has had in this planning process. It sounds like we have a draft plan already, so. So maybe you could tell us how it came to be.

Phil Goff:
Well, we're not quite at the point of having a draft plan, but we're we're getting there. We've completed the analysis of existing conditions. And a core part of that was our connectivity study in which we've looked at the entire state wide roadway network that featured, as the commissioner mentioned before, state maintained highways, but also the numbered roadways through urban compacts which are maintained by municipalities. So we've looked at those in addition to some, you know, some parallel back roads that could provide some better lower stress alternatives for people walking and bicycling to get around busier state highways and other roadways with just high traffic volumes and high speed. So in looking at that statewide highway network we've kind of allocated right now, which are the primary connections that help to connect communities and connect major destinations throughout the state. And in looking at that connectivity network, we're in the process of evaluating the level of traffic stress that exists for people walking, mostly for bicycling, but also for pedestrians as well in order to formulate where the gaps within the statewide network are. And then later in the process, after we hear from the general public in our meetings throughout throughout the month of September, which will get into probably in a few minutes later, we will narrow that down and prioritize the type of recommendations to help fill in the gaps throughout the network.

Sam Evans-Brown:
There are some numbers that I saw from you put out there. There's a document on the state's Web site laying out the state of bicycling, walking in New Hampshire. 46 hundred miles of state roads, only 415 miles of recreational paths, shared used recreational paths and 50 miles of bike lanes on those Forty six hundred miles of roads.

Phil Goff:
Yeah, yeah. The number the mileage of bike lanes and other dedicated on road facilities in the state of New Hampshire right now, it's relatively low. And that's a big part of what this plan is all about is to evaluate the network, to prioritize where it's more logical to include dedicated bicycle facilities, dedicated pedestrian facilities, new sidewalks, where a shared use path might be appropriate alongside of a highway, which you do see in if in a few spots in the state. And look at the expansion of that network. There's no funding for that now. And that's, of course, one of the key key issues here in the implementation section of this plan will lay out some ideas for funding opportunities, grant programs that the Regional Planning Commissions, local municipalities and and the state can go after in order to help fund some of the recommended projects.

Sam Evans-Brown:
You mentioned, though, that this does seem, the document so far, does seem like, largely focused on cycling, perhaps because we're talking about longer trips if we're talking about state roads. But when you look at the numbers of fatalities, overwhelmingly the fatalities in the state are skewed towards pedestrians, not towards cyclists.

Phil Goff:
Yeah, that's true. And there certainly there are a lot more pedestrians out on the roadways, both local streets and, you know, state highways as well. So part of it is a numbers game. But it also really shows the importance of providing more sidewalks, better crossings, the roadways, improved intersections. And that is clearly a big part of this plan. This is the pedestrian and bicycle transportation plan. In the existing conditions analysis report that you've looked at that is available on the Web site. And by the way, we've mentioned the Web site a few times. It's an h ped bike plan dot com for everyone out there. Take a look and you can look at that existing conditions assessment that does include a section on an analysis of the sidewalk network on state highways throughout throughout New Hampshire, including places where there are gaps in the system, where there would be ideal opportunities to add a sidewalk on the other side of the roadway to complete it so it's on both sides. Where we ought to introduce sidewalks on either one or both sides on a roadway that has none right now. So improving pedestrian conditions in the state is certainly equally important here as as the bicycle issues.

Sam Evans-Brown:
So Scott Bogle, Phil mentioned a couple of moments that there are certain roads that a cyclist or a pedestrian might feel more stress while being on. You've been working with with that measurement. Maybe you could tell us more about it.

Scott Bogle:
Yes, certainly. So bicycle level of traffic stress or I'll I'll use the acronym LTS LTS analysis. It's a it's a tool for classifying the likability of a given stretch of roadway that recognizes that different people have different levels of comfort riding next to traffic. So Phil's firm, Alta and other firms that work nationally developing bike ped planning documents that have included LTS analysis and plans for cities and four states for about a decade now. It's a popular measure because it's fairly easy to understand minutes, a bit less data intensive than some other measures of bicycle accommodation. But it's based on a four point scale for stress tolerance that focuses on the sort of rider who'd be comfortable riding on a particular stretch of roadway. So it ranges from LTS1 up to LTS4. LTS1 would be roads that are comfortable for really anyone age 8 to 80. And typically those would be low traffic, low volume neighborhood roads or roads that have separated by school facilities. LTS 2 is going to be suitable for most adults. Those would be low to medium volume and speed roads, particularly where there's a shoulder of at least four feet wide. LTS3 roads are going to be comfortable for a much smaller portion of the population, maybe 7 or 8 percent of people who have more experience riding bikes, who are comfortable riding next to traffic but would avoid the busiest roads. Here in Concord think of State Street or North Maine, maybe Elm Street in Manchester. Route 1A and 1B in the seacoast. And then LTS4 roads are only going to be comfortable for the most stress-tolerant riders. Think of urban bike messengers here. But in Concord, an example would be Loudon Road, for example, where you've got heavy, fast moving traffic, limited shoulder, a lot of turning movements. In Manchester, maybe South Willow Street or Queen City Avenue in the seacoast parts of Route 1.

Sam Evans-Brown:
We we actually have a link to those maps on our Web site if folks are interested in seeing the analysis that was laid out. I like the labels that you had for the different. So you have kids in beginners, willing but wary, comfortably confident and exposure experienced as sort of the hierarchy that you've put out. I have an email from Alex from Epsom who points out that years ago New Hampshire DOT was promoting maps of preferred bike routes for cyclists. These roads were on these routes were on roads that were relatively safe. So sounds like LTS1 or 2 using the lingo here. But they existed on paper only. There were no signs or other infrastructure to alert motor vehicle drivers that bicyclists might be present. Commissioner Sheehan, quickly before the break here, is there any talk about sort of reviving a network of signed routes on state roads that are that are promoted for cycling?

Victoria Sheehan:
You asked previously what the deliverables from the 2000 plan were; one of those things was the maps. And so those are available electronically now as well as in hardcopy. But this latest planning effort, we've been working to update the connectivity maps. And yes, there has been discussion about signing preferred routes. That's one of the things that might come as an outcome of this particular initiative.

Sam Evans-Brown:
All right. We're going to head into a break here. This is the the exchange on New Hampshire Public Radio. We're talking about about cycling and walking - the next step. When we come back, we're going to hear about the urban rural divide when it comes to transportation planning. Can what works for cities and towns work for less dense parts of the state. Stay with us.

Sam Evans-Brown:
This is the exchange on New Hampshire Public Radio. I'm Sam Evans-Brown with me in studio, are Victoria Sheehan, New Hampshire Department of Transportation Commissioner. Phil Goff. Phil Goff scuse me, Phil from Alta Planning a design and Scott bogle from the Rockingham Planning Commission. We are talking about walking and biking in the Granite State. Why don't people do it and how can we convince them to do it more? Kelly tweeted at us: I live in downtown Concord, she says, I would love to see a protected bike path for cyclists. Why can't we make that happen? I would bike to work if I felt safe doing so. Another comment from Scott on Facebook: Separate bike roads protected from cars. I recently saw these in Farmington, Connecticut. I don't want to get hit by an inattentive driver. So. So why don't we? Why do we go to this question of protected infrastructure? Why don't we see more of it? Why is it so hard to do? Phil, maybe you could start with that one.

Phil Goff:
Sure. Well, one of the things I did want to say is that, you know, part of this plan will include design guidelines that encourage a variety of different facility types in the appropriate locations on roadways, depending on volume and traffic volume, the speed of traffic, whether there is a lot of truck traffic in the mix, etc. So those design guidelines are really designed for municipalities and for the regional planning commissions to incorporate into their local planning as well. So if Kelly or Scott or others out there who would like to see those kinds of separate facilities on particular roadways in their neighborhood, in their community, those roadways may not literally be part of the network developed in this plan because they're not state roadways, they're not our state maintained roadways. They're not sort of numbered roadways through urban areas. But the design guidelines as part of the plan can be used by the local communities in order to help plan and design facilities that do provide some separation and a higher level of comfort and lower level of stress for bicyclists and for for pedestrians as well on on really a street anywhere in the state. So that's kind of the good news there. But I would encourage both of them and others clearly to, you know, stay involved in any local processes when roadway planning occurs and really, you know, push for those kind of separated and protected facilities.

Sam Evans-Brown:
One of the one of the statistics that I saw when prepping for the show, which was a surprise to me, but perhaps shouldn't have been, is that even weighted by population, New Hampshire has a relatively low rate of cyclist fatalities. So it does seem that's already a relatively safe state to ride a bike. Does that suggest that we don't need infrastructure like that?

Phil Goff:
I would say no. That doesn't suggest that. I think that suggests a few things. I think it suggests that there there aren't that many bicyclists out there on a daily basis. Certainly, you know, the the numbers we have are only zero point to five percent of folks in the state are bicycling to work on a daily basis, which is quite low. That ranges from obviously some communities where it's probably close to zero. And, you know, the highest is in Hanover, where you have where you have about four or five percent of people doing that. And there's sort of a gradient in between. So there aren't a lot of cyclists on the road, on the roads. There are a lot of recreational cyclists certainly in the on weekends and other times. And we all know there's been some real significant crashes involving some fatalities. So cycling is generally a safe activity, I think, for both utility cycling and for recreational cycling. But there are certain hazards for sure. And there are there is data clearly to show that there are some safety improvements to be had. And one way to do that, I think, is to provide wider shoulders, separated bike lanes, side paths in some places, maybe depending on the volume and speed, maybe just some signage and other improvements, narrowing travel lanes so that motor vehicles are actually driving a little bit slower is a critical part of pedestrian and bicycle safety as well.

Sam Evans-Brown:
Scott, really quickly. You mentioned. This level of stress maps that we now have, as I as I mentioned there, there aren't many cyclist fatalities in New Hampshire. One could read the data saying that that's because we're safe or that because not many people are riding. When you look at those maps. What does it suggest to you in terms of how safe our roadways are for people getting out on bikes? Do you? Where do you see issues of not very good connectivity of safe roads?

Scott Bogle:
Well, the the majority of road miles in most communities are going to be LTS1 or LTS2, because the majority of your road, Miles, tend to be in residential areas. But then to get from that residential area to school or to the grocery store or to your job, you know, across town or the next town, you're usually going to have to cross one of those higher stress roads or ride on one of those higher stress roads. And that creates a barrier for a lot of people to, you know, ride a bicycle for a commute trip or for another trip, even though it may be a very short trip and would be readily bikeable. I think one of the difficulties in talking about rates of bicycle injury or injuries to people riding bicycles is that we don't have a lot of good data on bicycle traffic volume, bicycle trip volume. And that's something that the regional planning commissions are trying to work on. And that's a recommendation that will likely come out of the study that we're working on with DOT and the other regional planning commissions is trying to get better data, better account data for people riding bicycles.

Sam Evans-Brown:
Commissioner Sheehan, thoughts on this.

Victoria Sheehan:
Well, safety is always our primary area of focus. And I agree with what Phil and Scott have said. I would like to think that the low number of severe accidents or fatal crashes involving cyclists and pedestrians are due to safe roadways. But I am concerned that if we don't invest appropriately and we are successful with encouraging more multi-modal trips, then we're going to see that trend in the wrong direction. And that's why we're committed to this particular planning exercise. We want to encourage people to ride more and to walk more. But we want to make sure we're also giving them a safe place to do so.

Sam Evans-Brown:
So a very close listener might be able to detect you. You have a slight accent. You're from Ireland originally and have spent time in Europe. What is that experience...what does experience bring to the job, do you think?

Victoria Sheehan:
Coming from Ireland and outside of Belfast, in the north of Ireland, where our city changed significantly to accommodate multi-modal transportation. Certainly I can lean on those experiences here. There's been a lot of tremendous planning efforts across the United States, but many times we do look to European cities as leaders when it comes to walking and bicycling in particular. And so I think it's important for all transportation professionals to be looking at every example that's available to us. We don't want to reinvent the wheel. If there's things that have been successful in other countries or other places, we want to try and bring those lessons learned to here in New Hampshire. And especially as we start to look at more urban or say more rural improvements. That's where we can learn a lot from other countries which have still invested in facilities and because of that importance of connectivity.

Sam Evans-Brown:
There was a paragraph from Phil's document that he released already that really stood out to me. And again, it is it is rather focused on cycling, but I think it applies to walking as well. And says the bike ability of many New Hampshire communities also typically corresponds with in the era in which it was developed, although not all historic communities are bike friendly. All bike friendly communities include historic downtowns and neighborhoods. Which makes me ask the question, is the context of American development different enough that that we really can't learn that much from Europe because much of our infrastructure was built around cars?

Victoria Sheehan:
We want to provide connectivity to destinations. And so certainly in more historic areas of the country or in European cities that have that history, they provided walking and bicycle access because there was those local destinations. And so that's why we're working with communities. We understand. We want to understand what their planning efforts are and what their vision is for their community. There may not be historic destinations, but if they're trying to make sure that folks can walk to the grocery store, that children have a safe route to get to school, that you can live and work in the same community and choose to walk or bike to make that commute every day. Then we need to be investing in those new facilities that don't exist already.

Sam Evans-Brown:
We're going to try again to take a call here. This is Tim from Warner. We're going to hear from Tim from Warner. Tim. You're on the exchange. What what do you what's your question?

Caller:
Good morning. The state has highway design guidelines that have been under the process of being refreshed. And I was wondering are those design guidelines going to be impacted by this bike/ped plan and also sort of a corollary, what are the design guides that the DOT recommends road designers use for designing both roads and bike/ped infrastructure?

Sam Evans-Brown:
Tim? Well, I've got you on the phone here really quickly. I'm assuming this this is Tim Blagdon who used to be with the Bike Walk Alliance. Is there a specific design guideline that that you think should be changed?

Caller:
Parts of, well, parts of the New Hampshire design guidelines are I believe are still from 1999 and reflect thinking from that time. And so I really wanted to hear from the commissioner if she knows more about the current status of how that refresh is coming along. And I also think that there may be other design guides that both Bill and Scott would be able to refer to better than I, that may be friendlier to bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure than some others.

Sam Evans-Brown:
So Commissioner Sheehan, you alluded to this at the start, that there is, that the department is undergoing a sort of sea change in the way it thinks about cycling and and walking infrastructure. So. So maybe you could tell us a bit more concretely about what that looks like. What would a road design in 1999 compared to one design today? How would they be different?

Victoria Sheehan:
So I'll address Tim's first question, which was the status of our design changes and this was already mentioned. One of the deliverables as part of this plan is new design guidelines, which will be used by the department, but then also can be used by the regional planning commissions and by cities and towns, and so we intend to apply those guidelines to our own projects. We as a department have changed our approach when it comes to ensuring accessibility for all. One of the things that we recently did was we actually moved our bicycle and pedestrian planning staff from our Bureau of Rail and Transit up into the highway design section. And we have them integrated into all of our project development efforts now. So that from the very beginning of a project we can think about the appropriate way to best use that space for all of the roadway users. And so that's been a big change that's already reaping rewards for us as a department in terms of making sure that we're listening to what communities are asking for. And the other things that we have done, for example, we're now posting our three year paving plan on our Web site. People may ask what has that got to do with walking and biking? But the fact that we put that plan out there that gives the regional planning commissions and cities and towns a chance to look at which roadway segments are scheduled for paving work, which means we're going to have the option to re-stripe. And while it's a low cost fix, many times we can move the edge line over just a foot and give a slightly wider shoulder, which can increase that comfort feel when you're out biking on a particular roadway.

Victoria Sheehan:
And so the department's doing a lot of smaller, low cost things just to try to be responsive and make walking and biking more accessible. And the other thing that is part of all of our projects, when we are working on a corridor where there are existing sidewalks, we have to make sure we upgrade all of the tip-downs or wheelchair ramps to make sure they're accessible. So we're spending a lot of money to upgrade those facilities as well. So I think last year we spent between 7 and 8 million dollars on bicycle and pedestrian improvements as part of our regular highway program. And then when we do a major project, that's where we have the more robust public process. We actually go out to communities. We think a lot about context. To have dedicated space can be extremely costly. It can end up with environmental impacts, impacts to to property. And we have to acquire acquire the land and the rights to access that property. So that can be a barrier. But there's many other approaches to improve safety that can still ensure that we're accommodating all the different uses of a roadway. And so that's we're really focusing our efforts. These design standards hopefully will give us that flexibility to work with the communities and try to understand what the best solution would be for a particular roadway segment.

Sam Evans-Brown:
Phil or Scott. Additional thoughts?

Phil Goff:
You know, one thing, this is Phil I wanted to throw out there, too, is one difference between the way the roadway would have been designed. I forget the year that Tim had mentioned on the phone versus now or in the near future when the plan is complete is really the approach to the intersections. And whereas before the roadway would have been designed with, you know, wider travel lanes and narrow shoulder and then at intersections, depending on whether there's a shoulder, whether the sidewalk or other things, the approach would have been a bit different. With the design guidelines were providing in this plan, we will include some various treatments to improve crossings, for pedestrians, for bicyclists, depending on the type of facility that's recommended for that particular roadway link. So you know where, because, you know, as good as any shoulder or bike lane or side path is, it all breaks down just like a chain at the weakest link. It all breaks down at the intersections. If you don't design those well through intersections, it's not going to be a comfortable place for someone on foot or on bike.

Sam Evans-Brown:
We got a tweet from from Charlie who says wider shoulders whenever possible at any time when they repave. I think about the placement of rumble strips and more signage about share the road and wide berth laws. Quick question, though, what data do we have that says that, you know, signage and paint actually improve safety?

Phil Goff:
It's pretty limited. I mean, signage can be a good thing, certainly in terms of way-finding to provide an opportunity for pedestrian or for bicyclists to understand, you know, how to get to a particular destination and how to connect to a particular community, a neighborhood, etc. Especially if there's some information about the number of miles or the amount of minutes it might take to get there. So I think signage can be informative, but in terms of promoting safety, a sign that says bike route, a sign that says bikes may use full lane, which legally they can. Or even the shared lane markings or the "sharrows" that that people see in places. The jury's kind of still out on those planners and many bike advocates feel that perhaps at best they're they're neutral. Some feel they do a little bit of good in terms of providing that visual cue to motorists to expect bicyclists in the roadway. And then others feel it just actually makes things a little bit worse. And I think that the results of the survey questions that we had on the websites really kind of bore that out. So one of the questions we had asked the community and we've had so far 675 responses which is totally great.

Sam Evans-Brown:
Self-selecting respondents.

Phil Goff:
Yes, that's true. But in the in the framework of your question, actually, in some ways that's more important. So we ask people which of the following improvements would increase the number of pedestrians and bicycle trips in the state of New Hampshire. And the lowest of the 16 different options that range from infrastructure to different types of programs, education, encouragement programs, enforcement, things like that. The lowest response was posting bicyclist may use full lane signs and the "sharrows" on the roadway. So even those who are out there cycling a lot feel that those signs and roadway markings don't really do too much.

Sam Evans-Brown:
Scott, do you have any thoughts on this on this front in terms of, you know, what what design changes can happen just had a fundamental level when when every road is built that, so, essentially, what what are ideal conditions for cyclists and walkers? What do they look like?

Scott Bogle:
I mean, I think of a companion benefit to what the commissioner was just talking about with re-striping to get extra shoulder width is that you then also narrow your travel lane a bit, which can have a traffic calming effect because speed is really a major factor when it comes to severity of crashes. So if a pedestrian is hit at 20 miles an hour or they have a 95 percent chance of survival, if they're hit at 40 miles an hour, they have a 15 percent chance of survival. And typically, roads have been designed for 10 to 15 miles an hour over the posted speed limit or the intended speed limit. And so it's it's not surprising that it's hard to get people to travel the speed limit. So efforts to have those roads be designed for somewhat lower speed can help with long term safety.

Sam Evans-Brown:
All right. Still to come, multi-modal transit. How how does that relate to walking and cycling? Also, I'd like to talk briefly about bikelash backlash to these types of improvements in local communities. I'm Sam Evans-Brown. We'll be right back.

Sam Evans-Brown:
This is the exchange on NHPR. I'm Sam Evans-Brown. In studio with me are Victoria Sheehan, New Hampshire Department of Transportation Commissioner. Phil Goff from Alta Planning and Design, and Scott Bogle from the Rockingham Planning Commission. We're talking about walking and biking. Why do more folks not walk and bike? We're going to go straight to a call here. Robert in Epsom has a comment. Robert, you're on the exchange.

Caller:
Good morning. Thank you. I'd like to propose a new state law where there is where there is not a striped bicycle lane, that vehicle drivers have to maintain a 4 foot distance and a 20 mile an hour speed limit to pass a bicyclist and that way around blind corners, vehicle operators could wait till they could see further ahead.

Sam Evans-Brown:
So I'm gonna piggyback on this this comment here, because last time I was on the exchange talking about cycling, we had a caller who called in and said that that her driver's education instructor had said that you never slow down for a cyclist and that if you don't have space to pass, you just sort of squeeze through. So. So we have a three foot law. The caller is suggesting perhaps we have a four foot law. But but often drivers will will pass on blind corners or they they don't provide those three feet. So I wonder whoever would like to take this question, what is how effective our laws like like that? And and are we talking about an enforcement problem?

Phil Goff:
I would say that, you know, laws like that create awareness amongst motorists, not all, of course, not everyone is aware of the law. Some states do post a lot of signs that will say, you know, three foot passing distance, but simply having the law on the books, you know, eventually, you know, more and more people do hear about it. And that, I think, does improve very gradually driver behavior. Enforcement, of course, is very difficult, perhaps even impossible, one could argue. So it's certainly not the panacea that providing, you know, good planning put in a plug for this plan, of course, providing good planning and looking at the right roadways that can provide infrastructure enhancements for for bicycling and for for pedestrians to make them safer, I think is, you know, one of the better things that one could do, along with the kind of policies and funding mechanisms to help support that as well, that the three foot law is a good thing to have on the books, but it's only going to, you know, impact a small number of motorists. But in a good way, at least for those folks, but enforcement's going to be tough.

Sam Evans-Brown:
Commissioner Sheehan, we've had a number of callers and writer inners suggest that that what's really needed here is more outreach to driver education instructors and more education to the educators as to how to appropriately share the road between cyclists and drivers. Is that something that the state is involved with and how does the state interact with driver's education?

Victoria Sheehan:
So I would agree wholeheartedly that we need to do more driver education. Many of us have been driving for decades. It was a long time ago that we took driver's ed. So even if that material was covered, we may not remember all of the details on exactly what the rules the road are. And so, providing some additional messaging around the existing rules and also trying to promote awareness that we are seeing an uptick in walking and biking trips and therefore it's even more important to be vigilant. I think the department has struggled at times because we haven't always had the funding available to do some of the public safety announcements that we would like to be a part of. But that's certainly an area that we see room for improvement. We recently did a PSA that we put out on our website to try and raise awareness for this particular issue. When we look at those statistics around bicycle and pedestrian fatalities, you know, we talk about driving towards zero in this state. One death is one death too many. So we want to do everything we can to both increase the driver awareness, but also make sure that walkers and bikers understand the rules the road and where they should be riding appropriately to keep them safe also.

Sam Evans-Brown:
So we have a an e-mail from Bruce in Randolph who says, In the north country, the presidential rail trail parallels the northern presidential range and connects Gorham and the Pondicherry National Wildlife Refuge. The simplest thing the state of New Hampshire can do to promote biking and walking in the north country is for the Bureau of Trails, which has jurisdiction over rail trails to provide an ironclad guarantee to keep ATVs from using the presidential rail trail. ATVs as are incompatible with walking and cycling, he says. So I'd like to hear a specific response to that question. But also, are are these issues different in more rural parts of the state? There's another e-mail here that I think this actually is from our Facebook page from Abbie, who says the western part of the state is totally overlooked in plans like this. So the question is, what do we do about the north country and what do we do about rural parts of the state?

Victoria Sheehan:
So in addition to the planning effort that we're working on concerning bicycle and pedestrian accommodations on roadways and HB 185 was passed last session, which requires the department to also develop a plan around recreational trails or rail trails, and that will be advanced in partnership with the Trails Bureau at the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. And so we are looking at those recreational trails that exist today and how they've been used and what type of use into the future will be appropriate. With respect to ATVs and motorized use, a lot of it comes down to how we funded the acquisition of some of the corridors that are owned by the state. If we use certain types of federal funding, for example, then motorized use is prohibited and we protect those particular corridors and other corridors, we have more flexibility. And that's why it's important that we do these planning efforts. And so we're really pleased that the legislature supported this particular bill and gave us the funding to look at their recreational trail, a piece of our bicycle and pedestrian planning.

Sam Evans-Brown:
I think that rail trails provided a great moment to pivot to this question of funding, although maybe before we do that, Phil and Scott looked like you had comments on these these listener comments.

Scott Bogle:
Well, in our part of the state, I don't think we face a lot of concerns about sharing rail trails with ATVs. Certainly the rail trail projects that are happening in our area, we've been working on the New Hampshire section of the East Coast Greenway on the Hampton branch, there's been a lot of work happening out along the Manchester Lawrence line to develop the southern New Hampshire rail trail. And particularly in those cases, those have the potential to be real transportation corridors, not just recreation corridors. The rail trail in Salem runs directly parallel to Route 28, so offers an alternative to that high speed corridor. That would be a LTS4 scale that we were talking about earlier. Phil?

Phil Goff:
Yeah, I wanted to assure the writer and everyone else out there that we are not just focusing this plan on the Merrimack Valley or the Seacoast region and the more urbanized parts of the state. We are clearly looking at a statewide plan. There's certainly a significant amount of focus on the western part of the state. I grew up in Keene, so certainly in the Monadnock region. That's a particular interest of mine for sure. But not to say that we're not looking also at the Upper Valley, Lake Sunapee area, in the North Country. And we're going to be providing, you know, policies and guidelines clearly that are effective statewide. But then also developing a network that does bring a diverse typology of facilities to all regions of the state.

Sam Evans-Brown:
So when the question of rail trails comes up, it does, as I said, seem like a good moment to pivot to this question of funding. It seems like there are there are there are a lot of federal grants available for the development of facilities like that. So maybe we could talk about how the state pieces together funding for bicycle and pedestrian facilities, In particular you mentioned that the state has spent about 8 million in the past year, but the state's construction budget is we're talking 400 million is my understanding. So. So how do you how do you find the funds for for these types of projects?

Victoria Sheehan:
I talked earlier about the low cost fixes that we can do as part of our regular transportation projects, trying to do a little bit more to accommodate cyclists in particular and ensure that we are maintaining our existing sidewalk infrastructure. When it comes to larger scale projects, we are limited in available funding. One of the programs that has really helped communities access federal funding is the Transportation Alternatives Program. We actually put out a solicitation for TAP eligible projects. That's the acronym that we use. And cities and towns are able to compete for those dollars. And we're looking for projects that have local support and are sort of financially ready. And so we want to make sure that we prioritize the investments and have projects that can utilize those funds immediately. But as Scott mentioned, many times, the projects that we're investing in will have an air quality benefit. So there's also the Congestion Mitigation Air Quality program. That's another federal program. And we actually used CMAQ funds, that's the acronym for that one, to purchase the Hampton branch, the rail corridor that Scott was just discussing, because we recognize that corridor would be a safe alternative for commuters to access employment in the Seacoast area. And so we're trying to always look at the different funding programs, what the eligibility criteria are, and try to find the projects of the best candidates to leverage those dollars.

Sam Evans-Brown:
Can we talk about the safe routes to school program and the bike lane that was installed in Portsmouth? So for those who don't know there, there was an actual protected bicycle lane. It was basically a stripe of paint on Middle Street in Portsmouth that was that was created last year. But it also had bollards, which are those flexible plastic posts that would separate cars out from traffic. And so so where did the funding for that come from? And and and how did the community respond?

Scott Bogle:
Initially, that was a project that came out of Portsmouth. Safe routes to school planning effort. And for a number of years, there was a standalone federal program for funding, safety improvements and school zones. I'm not sure if that eventually had funding from other sources or not, but they ultimately implemented, excuse me, separated lane on Middle Street that's in the school zone for the high school to encourage faculty and staff and students to be able to safely access the high school. I know there was a lot of Twitter traffic about that. Some community opposition. I'd like to think that that's of...of....

Sam Evans-Brown:
Quieted down?

Scott Bogle:
And that's initial response to a change. And that as people get used to it, they'll accept it as being worthwhile from a safety standpoint. I think some of it was from motorists who just with a narrower lane and felt somewhat more uncomfortable and then needed to move more slowly. And bingo, that's actually what we're trying to get to, is to have motorists move a little more slowly in school zones.

Sam Evans-Brown:
This brings me to to a comment that we got. I'm actually not sure if I think this is an e-mail. It says, in the recent repaving of route 202 between Antrim and Peterborough in one section, the South but southbound breakdown lane became significantly narrower, making this road which felt which had felt pretty safe, much less so. So. So there's two questions here, which is which is that whenever a road becomes narrower, motorists will will feel less safe. They'll want to slow down. And that has the potential to be unpopular. And so as transportation planners, what do you do with when the improvements that you're trying to make are, in fact, unpopular with with the driving public? I think, Phil, maybe you could take that first.

Phil Goff:
Yeah, I mean, I think a lot of the unpopularity of people's responses to initiatives like what they did in Portsmouth and the Route 202 it's a matter of people getting accustomed to it. You know, the first day you come out to a roadway that maybe you've been driving on every day for your whole life and it's different, somehow. You feel like you need to drive a little slower. There isn't quite that. Maybe the the turn lane that you're accustomed to accessing is a little bit shorter. You know, through time, I think with with a lot of things, whether it's roadway or a new building in one's community, I think people get used to it. I think that some of the opposition frequently are just based on human's natural negative reaction to to change. And I think that a lot of the roadway designs we're talking about, whether it's Portsmouth or Peterborough, have solid engineering behind them. They're frequently designed for safety and accessibility for pedestrians, for bicyclists, transit users, the complete streets approach. And I think that the more and more complete streets that motorists and other users throughout New Hampshire see and experience, I think the more they'll accept them and find that they are beneficial really for for all users.

Sam Evans-Brown:
Commissioner Sheehan, as a last question here, a lot of this plan and a lot of the talk here is focused on cyclists. But as we mentioned, there are many more pedestrian deaths than cyclist deaths in the state. So for pedestrians, this really is a matter of of life and death. And as we mentioned, some of the traffic calming measures can be somewhat unpopular. So so with those two facts, how do you how do you see the state moving forward in in the next phase of its planning for pedestrians?

Victoria Sheehan:
Everything we do from a transportation perspective is a balancing act. We're trying to ensure that we have good throughput on our highways and that people can get from point A to point B, but we also realize that the host communities through which our state roads run also have their own transportation goals around connectivity and especially access for bicycling and pedestrians and access to transit. I mean, so we have to do a little bit of everything and keep listening when it comes to pedestrian safety in particular. Phil mentioned how important it is for us to look closely at intersection design and make sure that we are providing safe places for people to make smart decisions and cross safely. That's one of our areas of focus and upgrading traffic signals and making sure that we have pedestrian phases at those intersections where we anticipate a large amount of foot traffic. Those are all the things that are just part of what we do today.

Sam Evans-Brown:
So. So if you're if you're a pedestrian who is interested in seeing those types of improvements, perhaps you should come out to one of these public sessions, public input sessions coming up.

Victoria Sheehan:
Yes. So you had a caller who was concerned about whether or not we're looking at all of the regions of the state. We are as part of the public process. We will be going out to all of the regional planning commissions. We have meetings starting in early September going to the Dover Farmer's Market. We have the Nashua farmers market, Keene Library, Lebanon. We're going to be at the regional planning office there and then across the state. So please check out our website. NH Ped bike plan dot com and you can get all the information there about the dates and times of the meetings.

Sam Evans-Brown:
Thank you all for coming on, as is so often the case. We have many more questions, but no more time. So, Commissioner Sheehan, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show today. Thank you. Scott Bogle, senior transportation planner of Rockingham Planning Commission, thanks for being here. You bet. I appreciate it. And Phil Goff, New England planning leader at Alta planning and design. Thanks for being here. The Exchange is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.