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Will ODOT’s New Walking and Biking Plan Make a Difference?

Brent Warren Brent Warren Will ODOT’s New Walking and Biking Plan Make a Difference?The protected bike land on Summit Street. Photo by Taijuan Moorman.
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A new plan released by the Ohio Department of Transportation calls for an increased focus on the safety of cyclists and walkers in the state. The report, called Walk.Bike.Ohio, is the first statewide bike and pedestrian plan ever produced by the agency.

“The development of Walk.Bike.Ohio has helped us to establish a statewide vision for walking and biking, informed by practitioners and the public,” said ODOT Active Transportation Manager Caitlin Harley in a press release. “This plan outlines what ODOT will seek to advance over the next five years in order to improve walking and biking as a transportation option in Ohio.”

The detailed report lays out the economic, environmental, and quality of life arguments for making Ohio more bikeable and walkable.

The plan also emphasizes equity, stating that one of its strategic goals is to “ensure the system accommodates users of all ages, abilities and incomes [and to] provide opportunities for all Ohioans in urban, suburban and rural areas to have access to connected walkways and bikeways.”

There are about 850 fatal and severe bicycle and pedestrian crashes each year in Ohio, and the numbers are “not trending in the right direction,” according to the report. “Pedestrian crashes of all levels of severity are on the rise in Ohio and are concentrated on arterial roadways.”

Advocates are praising the new report but caution that, given Ohio’s less-than-stellar history of investing in active transportation, the true measure of the state’s priorities will come within the next five years, as the different recommendations laid out in the plan are either implemented (and funded) or not.

“This will be the real test of if this document is worth anything,” says Akshai Singh, who has been active in the MOVE Ohio coalition since 2013. “None of this work has taken place yet.”

Singh cites ODOT’s distribution of federal FAST Act funds as an example of the state’s priorities – in 2020, Ohio received about $1.5 billion in funding yet only made about $70 million available for transit and $25 million for active transportation. Ohio’s gas tax funds, meanwhile, go solely toward building and maintaining highways and roads.

“This is a well-done, welcome and timely report that could be a big step forward for active mobility in Ohio,” adds Harvey Miller, OSU Geography Professor and Director of the Center for Urban and Regional Analysis. “However, we need to support this vision with resources. State funding for active mobility and public transportation in Ohio is one of the lowest in the country, and we have to fight every budget cycle…I would like to see Ohio dedicate 10% of its state transportation budget for active and public transportation, and make this funding dependable.”

“I appreciate the strong social justice and age perspectives on the problem [in the report],” Miller says. “Most people think of hipsters and Lycra when they think of walking and biking, but active transportation is essential for many of the poor and vulnerable in Ohio communities.”

It’s also significant that the state’s efforts to focus on walking and biking are coming at a time when the transit offerings in Columbus could be expanding, according to Miller.

“Walking, biking and public transportation are synergistic: they complement each other,” he says. “If we want new initiatives such as LinkUS and the possible Amtrak expansion to succeed, we need to support these with better walking and bicycle infrastructure.”

For more information, and to read the full report, see www.transportation.ohio.gov.

A graphic from the report shows the projected increase in older Ohioans and the decline in the number of young teens with drivers licenses.
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