Navigating MAP-21: Who’s Got Your Back in Your State?
Knowledge and passion -- that's what it takes to turn hundreds of pages of federal rules and guidance into bike lanes, sidewalks and Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs in your community. That's why people like Julie Walcoff are so important.
Walcoff has been the Safe Routes coordinator in the Ohio Department of Transportation since 2005. "When I started hearing about SRTS, I was impressed and intrigued with the idea of using the built environment to promote physical activity to keep our students healthy and alert in the mornings," she says. "Now, I am continually inspired by the communities, by the way we are seeing different factions come together to work on the common goal of making active transportation safer for their children."
The new federal transportation law, MAP-21, gives far more power to the states in deciding how those federal dollars are spent. With less money overall and opportunities to opt-out or shift funds for biking and walking to other road users, having strong, dedicated bike/ped staff working in your state department of transportation is more important than ever.
But under MAP-21 those positions are in peril. States are still required to "have" a bike/ped coordinator, but there is no requirement that they be full time and no funding is identified for them. The Safe Routes to School coordinator position is simply eliminated -- along with the funding. State departments of transportation employ thousands of people - lumping all the "alternative transportation" responsibilities into one potentially part-time position is unfair -- and a major step in the wrong direction.
We can't let that happen. That's why we need coordinated campaigns in every state to tell the DOT to "Fully Staff" the new Transportation Alternatives program under MAP-21.
Walcoff, for one, still has important efforts in the pipeline. Right now she's piloting new guidelines that are making it easier and faster for big school districts in Ohio to get Safe Routes funding. "We wanted to make the process more streamlined for Ohio's 15 large school districts," she says. "We used Cincinnati Public Schools to try out the process and we recently wrapped up their plan and awarded them $1 million in Infrastructure funds and $200,000 in non-infrastructure funds to implement items in the plan. I've been contacted by several other large districts in Ohio who are eager to get the process moving in their own communities."
We need ALL state DOTs to fully staff the new Transportation Alternatives program. Safe Routes coordinators are essential and a full-time bicycle and pedestrian coordinator is critical. And, faced with a new and complex landscape, we must urge them to hire a Transportation Alternatives coordinator, who has that knowledge and passion to make sure people who bike and walk get our fair share under MAP-21.
Make sure your DOT keeps staff like Julie Walcoff: Find your state contact here and get involved!