Understand Who Can Help

Where should you seek help in resolving pedestrian and bicycle problems in your community? There are many people and entities involved in the process of planning, constructing, operating, and maintaining roads, sidewalks and shared-use trails. This section describes typical roles of agencies and groups involved in surface transportation systems and how to approach them for help.

  • Local Transportation Agencies
    • Public streets, roads, and highways are owned by cities, towns, villages, tribal governments, counties, regional transportation agencies, state agencies, or federal entities such as the Bureau of Land Management. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) does not "own" highways; they are owned and operated by state or local Departments of Transportation (DOTs). The owner of the road usually assumes responsibility for improving, maintaining, and operating the facility. In some cases, agreements between entities define which agency is responsible for various aspects of maintaining, operating, or enforcing laws on the road.
    • For example, when state-owned roadways pass through urban areas, an agreement may require the city or county to operate and maintain traffic signals. Occasionally, several entities will share responsibility for one street or intersection. Your local transportation agency can help you determine who has jurisdiction over various roadways and help direct you to someone who can address your issue.
    • Local transportation agencies with responsibility for public roadways include county, city, town, village, or tribal entities. Entity names vary, but can include:
    • • Public Works Department
      • Transportation Department
      • Streets Department
    • Their responsibilities vary, but generally on public streets they:
    • • Maintain and enforce policies and standards for street features such as lane width, sidewalk width, traffic signal locations, and intersection design.
      • Maintain and operate traffic signals on local streets.
      • Maintain and operate traffic signals on state-owned streets within the city limits.
      • Install and maintain street lights.
      • Install and maintain markings such as crosswalks, bike lanes, and lane markings.
      • Install and maintain street signs.
      • Develop and implement programs or strategies to address neighborhood speeding or cut-through concerns.
      • Develop and implement projects to upgrade existing streets or expand the roadway network.
      • Collaborate with local, regional, or state planning entities to forecast future traffic needs and plan future changes in the roadway network.
    • City, county, state, or federal Parks and Recreation Departments usually have jurisdiction over off-street paths and trails. Their responsibilities often include planning, construction, maintenance, and enforcement of regulations on shared-use trails.
    • Transit entities, which may be independent or within the agencies listed above, usually install and maintain transit shelters.
  • Local Elected Officials and Boards
    • Elected leaders and members of community boards make many decisions that influence the walking environment. Groups vary by community, but often include:
    • • Governing bodies such as a City Council, County Commission, or Board of Supervisors
      • School Board Trustees
      • Boards and committees appointed by the governing entity (usually listed on the website)
    • Developing a relationship with elected leaders and community board members will help ensure they understand the issues and have the information needed to make informed decisions. Tips to ensure your efforts are effective:
    • • Make contact in person or via phone, even if you also sent a letter or email.
      • Be brief, rational, reasonable and to the point.
      • Show how your concern is important to others in the community, too.
      • Ask for specific actions—what do you want?
      • Consider scheduling a brief walking tour to illustrate your points. Try to schedule your walk during a time when the problems are evident.
      • Listen carefully to their concerns and issues.
      • Follow up. Be persistent.
    • You can also request time on the next meeting agenda for board and agencies. Do this by calling a member or the chairperson, or by asking for the agenda item during a meeting of the group. Prepare a brief presentation (no more than ten minutes [even shorter is better]) that includes projected images or displays that demonstrate your points.
    • For example, if you are explaining to the school board that the pick-up and drop-off area is chaotic, provide photos that support your assertion. Prepare a handout to supplement the presentation and submit it to staff well in advance of the meeting for inclusion in the background packet supplied to officials and board members. This allows them to review materials in advance of the meeting and consider questions they would like you to answer.
    • Points to make about the benefits of walking include:
    • • A downtown or neighborhood center with attractive places to walk and shop contributes to the local economy and attracts or keeps businesses in the community.
      • Children, senior citizens, and people with disabilities can get around on their own in a walkable community.
      • Walking supports transit use.
      • The number of people walking in your community is an indicator of the quality of life.
      • A walkable community has a sense of place. People are more likely to know and care about each other.
      • As new development and redevelopment improve walking conditions, many short car trips will be replaced by walking trips.
      • A shift to more walking reduces air pollution, traffic congestion, and parking demands.
  • Local Law Officials
    • People who enforce laws that impact pedestrians and bicyclists should be included in any effort to improve conditions for pedestrians. Local law officials include:
    • • Police Chief and officers
      • Sheriffs and deputies
      • Law enforcement officers at educational or commercial institutions
      • Tribal officers
      • Judges
    • Law enforcement officers

    • Local law officials are generally responsible for enforcement on locally-owned streets, but in many cases they share enforcement responsibilities with county or state law enforcement entities. College campuses, schools, tribes, and even large commercial developments may have their own enforcement entities. Parks and Recreation officials may enforce trail or path regulations. Your local law enforcement agency can provide jurisdiction information.
    • Law officials are usually willing partners who value collaboration with community members, but they often have time constraints. One effective strategy for your first contact is to request 30 minutes of time for a one-on-one interview. Prepare for the interview by writing down open-ended questions (those that can't be answered with a "yes" or "no") and offer to send the questions in advance of the meeting. This ensures you will be meeting with a person who can answer your questions. Sample questions include:
    • • What are your policies or programs regarding (neighborhood speeding, failure to yield, crash records, participating in planning efforts, etc.)?
      • How does your agency handle (complaints, crash investigations, crash prone areas, etc.)?
      • What information can your department provide regarding (a crash, problem, or other issue)?
      • How can your agency work with us to address this issue?
      • Can you suggest others we should include in our efforts?
    • Understand that officers usually view the walking environment from behind the wheel of their vehicle. They may not be familiar with the challenges of the built environment or potential design solutions. You may want to suggest they join you on a walking audit. You'll often hear, "We have more urgent priorities, such as violent crimes, homicides, and domestic abuse." Without sounding dismissive of these concerns, point out that pedestrian crashes are often the number one cause of death and severe injuries, even in crime-ridden areas.
    • See the Enforcement section for additional information on dealing with law enforcement officers.
    • Judges

    • Traffic court judges also play an important role in law enforcement. In many jurisdictions they can dismiss violations, raise or lower fines, and impose community service penalties in lieu of monetary fines. Including judges who hear pedestrian violations in your efforts will help ensure you understand their perspective and they support a safe and comfortable pedestrian environment. See Developing Procedures for Handling Violations and Working with Law Enforcement Officers for additional information.

  • Other Local Organizations
    • Other local organizations that can help you vary from community to community, but often include:
    • • School-based organizations such as parent/teacher groups or safety committees
      • Neighborhood and/or homeowner associations
      • Local chapters of national safety groups such as Safe Kids, American Society of Safety Engineers, and National Fire Protection Association
      • Hospitals, clinics, and emergency room physicians and nurses
      • Organizations such as the American Heart Association or Lung Association who have local offices
      • Providers of youth or senior services, such as Boys and Girls Club, senior centers, and YMCA
      • Providers of services or programs for people with disabilities, including local chapters of the Center for Independent Living
      • Recreation groups, such as the local chapter of the Sierra Club, walking or hiking groups, and bicycling groups
      • Business and merchant organizations
      • Civic organizations such as the Rotary Club, Lions Club, etc.
      • Traffic Safety Committees
      • Groups interested in walkable, bikable, and/or sustainable communities, such as America Walks and the Alliance for Biking and Walking
    • The first step is to identify local organizations and learn more about their mission and activities. Often the easiest method is to review their website or speak with a member. Show how your goal of improved walking conditions fits in or supports their goals. This will help identify organizations most likely to provide resources and support your efforts.
    • The approach to involving other groups depends upon your desired outcome. If you want support for a one-time event or project, giving an informative presentation at the group's meeting or to a member may suffice.
    • If you want to establish a community-wide program that requires months or years to implement, an effective strategy is to build a coalition with groups with compatible outcomes. For examples, visit Organize for Success for additional information about the power of collaborating with others to achieve your outcome.
  • Regional Transportation Agencies
    • Regional transportation agencies, such as Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) or Rural Planning Organizations (RPOs), represent one or more communities in an area. It is common for these agencies to have an Executive Director and a Board of Directors. The Board of Directors is often comprised of representatives appointed by the various communities under the jurisdiction of the agency. Small, rural areas may not be included in a regional transportation agency. The duties of regional transportation agencies vary, but could include:
    • • Develop and implement a Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) with strategies and policies to maintain mobility for all modes of transportation on streets of regional significance.
      • Operate and maintain a transportation forecast model (a computer program) to estimate future traffic volumes on streets of regional significance.
      • Prepare a fiscally constrained Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) that includes bicycle-, pedestrian-, transit-, and motorized vehicle-related projects on streets of regional significance.
      • Design and construct projects in the TIP, or hire consultants to design and construct projects.
      • Operate traffic signals on streets of regional significance, or collaborate with local agencies regarding signal operations.
      • Plan, manage, and operate regional transit.
      • Develop and implement regional land use plans, or collaborate with other agencies in charge of land use planning.
    • The RTP includes regional policies, based on input from entities within the agency's jurisdiction, to address regional pedestrian and bicyclist needs. The RTP is the "big picture" for transportation in the area and usually extends at least 25 years into the future. The TIP includes a list of funded projects derived from the RTP to implement during the next 3-5 years.
    • Ask your local transportation agency if the area you are interested in is within the jurisdiction of a regional transportation agency.
  • State Transportation Agencies
    • Departments of Transportation

    • All states have a department of transportation (or highway department) with roles and responsibilities that include:
    • • Plan, operate, and maintain state roadways.
      • Develop and implement a Statewide Transportation Plan with strategies and policies to maintain mobility for all modes of transportation on federal highways and state roadways.
      • Operate and maintain a transportation forecast model (a computer program) to estimate future traffic volumes on federal and state roadways.
      • Prepare a fiscally constrained Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP) that includes bicycle-, pedestrian-, transit-, and motorized vehicle-related projects to streets of regional significance.
      • Design and construct projects in the STIP, or hire consultants to design and construct projects.
      • Operate traffic signals on state routes, or collaborate with local agencies regarding signal operations.
      • Establish and implement a Strategic Highway Safety Plan.
      • Administer federal funding programs, such as Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) improvement programs.
      • Provide technical assistance to local jurisdictions.
      • Establish a full-time position for a bicycle/pedestrian coordinator whose duties include planning and administering a bicycle/pedestrian program.
      • Establish a full-time position for Safe Routes to School (SRTS) coordinator (if the state wishes to use SRTS designated funds).
    • Staff assigned to the positions in the last two bullet points can provide additional information about state programs and responsibilities.
    • Offices of Traffic (or Highway) Safety

    • All states maintain an office that administers grant funds for the federal program defined in the Moving Ahead For Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). Sometimes referred to as the Governor's Office of Traffic Safety, most of these offices are within larger organizations such as the Department of Transportation, Department of Public Safety, or State Police/Highway Patrol. Duties include:

    • • Develop and implement a highway safety plan that seeks to reduce the number and severity of traffic crashes in the state.
      • Manage a grant program for local and state entities that provides "seed money" for programs to improve traffic safety.
    • These offices often fund grants for education programs.

  • Federal Transportation Agencies
    • U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT)

    • USDOT was established by Congress in 1966 to serve the United States by ensuring a fast, safe, efficient, accessible, and convenient transportation system that meets our vital national interests and enhances the quality of life of the American people, today and in the future. Several agencies within the USDOT are relevant to the bicycle and pedestrian field.
    • Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)

    • FHWA is charged with the broad responsibility of ensuring that America's roads and highways continue to be the safest and most technologically up-to-date. FHWA provides financial and technical support for constructing, improving, and preserving America's highway system. The Bicycle and Pedestrian Program of FHWA's Office of Planning, Environment, and Realty promotes bicycle and pedestrian transportation accessibility, use, and safety. The FHWA Bicycle and Pedestrian Program issues guidance and is responsible for overseeing that requirements in legislation are understood and met by the states and other implementing agencies.
    • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

    • NHTSA's mission is to save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce economic costs due to road traffic crashes through education, research, safety standards, and enforcement activity. The agency collects and publishes state and national crash data, including data on pedestrian and bicycle crashes. NHTSA administers funding to support programs developed and implemented by state traffic safety offices. They also distribute to the general public free educational information and publications focused on many areas of traffic safety, including bicycling, walking, and driving. NHTSA usually communicates through the traffic safety offices rather than directly with citizens.
    • Federal Transit Administration (FTA)

    • FTA administers federal funding to support a variety of locally planned, constructed, and operated public transportation systems throughout the U.S., including buses, subways, light rail, commuter rail, streetcars, monorail, passenger ferry boats, incline railways, and people movers.
    • Department of Justice (DOJ)

    • DOJ enforces U.S. laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires equal access to pedestrian facilities for people with disabilities. Their website provides links to additional ADA information and a complaint form.
    • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

    • The mission of the EPA is to protect human health and the environment. Their transportation-related interests include the built environment, air and water quality, global warming, and land use. Their website includes resources such as:
    • Our Built and Natural Environments: A Technical Review of the Interactions between Land Use, Transportation, and Environmental Quality
      Travel and Environmental Implications of School Siting
    • The EPA also administers the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires federal agencies to integrate environment values in their decision making process. This act requires agencies using federal funds to solicit and consider public input.
  • Role of the Media
    • Media includes newspapers, periodicals, magazines, newsletters, television, and radio. You can purchase media time or space, or you can attract "earned media." Earned media is free, positive news coverage that you get by working with media. It includes coverage such as a television special, talk radio interview, coverage on the evening news, or a printed article in the newspaper. Tips for getting earned media:
    • • Invite media to cover your topic by sending a news release to media outlets.
      • Be prepared to concisely express your primary message in a sentence or two.
      • Provide media with a fact sheet that includes facts, data, and web links that support your points.
      • "Put a face on it." Tell a true story that illustrates your points.
      • Provide a positive image—don't come across as just blaming agencies who have failed; talk about how the outcome you seek will make your community better.
      • Provide visual interest. For example, invite them on a walking audit or to an event.
      • Be prepared to answer hostile and off-subject questions, such as "isn't the problem simply drunk pedestrians walking at night in dark clothing?"
    • Earned media is most effective when combined with a campaign strategy. A campaign is a multi-faceted effort that includes a variety of materials and methods to spread your message. For example, a campaign could include printed brochures, web-based information or blog postings, newsletters, stickers handed out at events, interviews on talk radio, and a printed article. See the section on campaigns for more information.
    • For maximum impact, create a partnership with media in which they sponsor a program that supports your goals. Examples include:
    • • Newspaper editor writes a supporting editorial
      • Newspaper offers space for a pedestrian or bicycle article in one of their cyclical inserts
      • Radio or television sponsor a daily or weekly pedestrian safety tips program
    • See Organize for Success for additional information about the power of partnering with media to achieve your outcome.
  • Technical Professionals
    • An individual or small group of citizens may support or instigate change, but usually they depend upon full-time engineers, police, or planners for changes to become reality. The Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (APBP) is an important voice to support those who promote walking and bicycling as part of their jobs. In 1995, APBP was established as a forum for planners, engineers, academics, and advocates who work to improve conditions for walking and biking. To help ensure excellence in this emerging profession, the association has initiated a number of programs including:
    • • Benchmarking surveys of the profession to document salaries, job responsibilities, emerging issues, and concerns
      • Training courses and workshops focusing on pedestrian facility design, professional development, and other important issues
      • A members listserv for posting questions and announcements related to walking and bicycling
      • Case studies and other materials provided to the PBIC, in a partnership with the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center under a grant from the United States Department of Transportation
    • Increasingly, other professional associations and professions are concerned with pedestrian and bicyclist issues. Sufficient numbers of interested members exist such that special committees or meetings focus on pedestrian-related issues within the following organizations:
    • Institute for Transportation Engineers
      ITE Pedestrian and Bicycle Council
      Transportation Research Board
      TRB Pedestrian Committee
      TRB Bicycle Committee
      American Planning Association
      Congress for the New Urbanism
      American Public Health Association
    • Within each of these organizations, you can now find one or more sections that relate to and support professionals working to improve community walkability and bikeability.