The second meeting of the NCTCOG Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee was held today. Turnout was much better than I had expected; representation by bicycle advocates was more dismal than I suspected.
As with the previous BPAC meeting, NCTCOG offered a web seminar to interested parties prior to the general meeting. This month’s topic was “Safe Routes to School”. Due to work obligations, I was not able to make it to the seminar and can offer no summary. If the past is any indication, the accompanying documents will be available at the BPAC website in the next day or so.
The BPAC meeting began five minutes late and commenced with introductions. Though there was ample representation by the various municipalities, other governmental agencies and NGOs, the only group even remotely affiliated with bicycle advocacy in attendance was the Texas Trails Network. Though I was the only individual who identified themselves as cyclist, there were at least three others who simply gave their name and no affiliation. Both principals from Bowman-Melton Associates were in attendance as were representatives from TBG Partners and an ambiguous entity known as “SGK Associates”. There were also representatives from the Injury Prevention Center of Dallas and DART.
Safe Routes to School
The Safe Routes to School discussion began with an overview presentation by COG staff, followed by comments by TxDOT staff and a short Q&A session. Some highlights from my notes included comments by COG staff on the following subjects: pedestrian injuries third leading cause of death among children and mention that a large number of schools no longer “allow” children to bicycle to school; even going so far as to remove racks.
I challenged the comments by COG staff by posing a couple of questions. Though intended as rhetorical, they were couched in such a manner as to solicit a response to verify the obvious. Citing the statement pertaining to pedestrian injured being the third leading cause of death among children, I asked whether this statistic was specific to school zones or a general rate. Staff confirmed my suspicion that this was an overall rate and could not cite what proportion was specific to school zones. Since the discussion centered around the benefits of the Safe Routes to School program and its benefits, I offered that this would be the more pertinent statistic.
When asked to further explain the finding that many administrations no longer “allowed” students to bicycle to school and were actually removing racks, I posed it as a dichotomous inquiry: was the reasoning paternalistic oversight or a disuse/maintenance issue? The answer fit closer to the first. The justification cited dealt with the perception of liability on the part of the school district if a student were hit and injured while riding a bike on school property. I countered that the Safe Routes to School program deals primarily with providing enhancements to protect pedestrians and cyclists off-campus, en route to school. Implementing changes on these fronts would do little to mitigate the potential for injury on school property.
During the course of the staff presentation, revenue generated by the sale of “God Bless Texas” and God Bless America” specialty plates was cited as a source for funding Safe Routes to School. Figures of $44 million dollars in infrastructure allocations and $2.4 million in non-infrastructure funding were mentioned. My final question was directed at the TxDOT staff.Citing SB161, I asked how non-infrastructure funding would be affected by the passage of this legislation given that the average annual distribution of funding for 2007 matched almost exactly the revenue cited during legislative testimony as being shifted from TxDOT to a “designated statewide nonprofit organization”. Admitting their ignorance of SB161 and after having explained its ramifications to them, the TxDOT staff indicated they had no knowledge of how the specialty plate revenue had been utilized in the past or how it would — being shifted, for all intents and purposes, to TBC — in the future. Don Koski, the committee chair, suggested this might better be answered by the statewide coordinator, who would be participating in a supplemental SRTS gathering at NCTCOG in September.
The Cottonwood Trail presentation offered little more information than is available through the coalition website (link above). A query from another attendee wondered about the meandering nature of the trail, if it is intended as a transportation facility. The presenter, Jonathan Toffer, acknowledged that issue, offered no real rationale, but cited other sections which were (or would be) more linear in nature.
Annie Melton rightfully criticized one section of the trail, running along Spring Valley and Coit, which is defined only by a seven foot sidewalk. Potential issues cited were concurrent use by cyclists and pedestrians. The only solution offered by the presenter was that cyclists could convert to pedestrians or make us of the roadway. Present company excepted, all involved in this aspect of the discussion seemed to think cyclist peril too great to consider the on-street option.
The final segment of the meeting dealt with a summary and future survey of progress on the Regional Veloweb. Use of the phrase “transportation route” was repeated several times, as if the presenter was seeking to convince either themselves or others in attendance that this is the primary intent of the network.
During the Q&A period, I repeated my oft proposed suggestion that surveys be conducted to gauge the actual transportation sue of the Veloweb. Given that Federal air quality mitigation funds are being used in its construction as a alternative transportation network, it seems obvious that COG would have an interest in determining whether it is being used for its intended purpose. I cited The Katy Trail as an example of a failed implementation of this paradigm. This portion of the Regional Veloweb has been referred to as the “Central Expressway of bicycle commuting”. However, in truth, there are only a half dozen or so regular, documented transportation cyclists who make use of it in this manner. Furthermore, given the congestion created by pedestrians, travel upon The Katy Trail is rarely expedient — certainly approaching nowhere near the 25mph design speed. The millions of dollars in CMAQ funds spent to build this trail seems misplaced for the benefit of only a few cyclists. Those monies would have been better directed at education and training many more on vehicular cycling techniques.
Given the fact that bicycle advocacy groups have been disenfranchised from the BPAC process, it should be little surprise that so few representatives were in attendance. It is disappointing, nevertheless. Having been a decade+ member of its predecessor, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Task Force, I am disinclined to abandon the cause. I will continue to attend these gatherings, if only to hold the committee executives and COG staff accountable to the facts of the matters. As with today’s gathering, offering half-truths and engaging in disingenuous discourse — whether intentional or not — won’t escape unchallenged.