Conference Examines Equity Issues Around Bike-Ped Safety

The last week of August, members of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (APBP) met in Portland, OR for their biennial conference. Keynote addresses focused on issues of sociodemographic equity, a theme that was integrated into many sessions throughout the conference.

Keith Benjamin, Director of Charleston, SC Department of Transportation, kicked off the conference with a balance of national statistics and local personal stories about pedestrian deaths and inequity. He touched on historic context adding to inequities and the need to get people beyond advocacy and into office who both understand and prioritize these issues. Benjamin cited national legislation as supporting the goal of more equitable transportation for all modes and all people (section 1442 of the FAST Act of 2015 requires USDOT to “encourage each State and metropolitan planning organization to adopt standards for the design of Federal surface transportation projects that provide for the safe and adequate accommodation (as determined by the State) of all users of the surface transportation network, including motorized and nonmotorized users, in all phases of project planning, development, and operation”).

The following day, Irene Marion (PBOT), Rukaiyah Adams (Albina Vision), and Charlene McGee Kollie (Multnomah County Health Department, REACH Program) addressed development and both behavior and design inequities. Studies have shown that automated pedestrian detection, as well as human drivers, are less likely to yield to black pedestrians than white pedestrians, and that vertical street lighting angles shade darker skin more, leading to poorer visibility. The public health impact on people with darker skin and lower incomes stemming from transportation planning, engineering, and policy decisions leads to greater traffic-related fatalities and injuries as well as potential increased travel times and decreased quality of travel experience for users.

Panels throughout the week drew further attention to the high correlation between poverty rates and crash rates, and more personal stories about captive active mode choice with poor infrastructure in communities with less access to personal vehicles and public transit. Speakers spoke of awareness at the local, state, and federal level. With a large focus on urban cycling, where most bicycle miles traveled occur, Toole Design Group discussed the dynamic between city priorities and state guidance focusing on rural areas in their session on the new AASHTO bicycle guide. Toole speakers also discussed the need for multiple voices to be heard in advocacy and public comment, and the social benefits for all users when walking and cycling paths are designed for users to be able to ride or walk adjacent to one another, with multiple lanes.

 Speakers not only illuminated issues around equity, but impressed upon attendees that it is up to bicycle and pedestrian professionals in the public, private, and non-profit sectors to take the information given to them and make changes. Conference attendees generally fell into these categories, with the noticeable lack of presence of representatives from private companies that manage shared scooters and bicycles.  The micromobility tech companies certainly could have benefitted along with the rest of the conference from the information and lessons learned around access and safety equity considerations. They also missed an opportunity to engage with professionals and learn about local, state, and federal design, planning, and policy that relates to the use of shared scooters and bicycles. More and safer separated infrastructure for scooters and bicycles could have positive safety outcomes as well as an increased public acceptance if sidewalk use and clutter were reduced and safety was increased.

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