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Improving Safety for Walking, Biking, and Rolling

A cyclist bikes in a colored bike lane, while a pedestrian passes. At left, a group of transit users wait for a trolley to arrive.

Photo caption: A cyclist bikes in a colored bike lane, while a pedestrian passes. At left, a group of transit users wait for a trolley to arrive, courtesy of Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center

Safety is U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) top priority for all modes of transportation and those who use them, including for those walking, biking, and rolling on our roadways and sidewalks. These users are referred to broadly as “pedestrians and bicyclists” or “active transportation” users, and include walkers, bicyclists, those using wheelchairs and mobility devices, transit, micromobility riders, and others. DOT recently launched the Active Transportation webpage. The DOT FY 2022-2026 Strategic Plan calls for an increase in the percentage of person trips by transit and active transportation modes by 50% from 2020 levels, and it is essential to ensure these trips are safe—especially amidst troubling safety trends for pedestrians and bicyclists. Click here to learn more about our nation’s roadway safety crisis and DOT’s National Roadway Safety Strategy.

Responsibility of States and Local Transportation and Enforcement Agencies

In partnership with DOT, state and local agencies, community groups and individuals have a significant role in determining how safe the transportation network in their community will be. State and local transportation agencies and MPOs, who plan, design, build, and maintain roads, sidewalks, and stations, are required by law to improve the safety of transportation infrastructure, including for vulnerable road users (VRUs) like pedestrians and bicyclists. Safety enforcement agencies have a responsibility to ensure that the public is aware of safety laws and regulations, and that these laws are enforced. Finally, the elected officials for these jurisdictions can choose to sponsor and pass laws that further enhance the behavioral, infrastructural, and vehicular safety.

Below is a summary of several of the operating administrations’ relevant activities, programs, and a list of related resources.

Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)

FHWA provides stewardship over the construction, maintenance and preservation of the Nation’s highways, bridges and tunnels through financial and technical assistance, and guidance to State departments of transportation (DOTs) and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs). FHWA coordinates with State DOTs to promote and facilitate increased use of non-motorized transportation, including developing facilities for pedestrians and bicyclists, and public educational, promotional, and safety programs for using such facilities. FHWA provides State and local agencies with guidance on safe roadway design standards. FHWA funding, primarily in the form of formula grants to State DOTs and MPOs, can be used to build and improve bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. FHWA is also responsible for DOT’s Complete Streets program, which support transportation agencies in planning, developing, and operating safe, comfortable, and connected streets. FHWA and the Federal Transit Administration maintain a table indicating potential eligibility of bicycle and pedestrian projects for current funding opportunities.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

NHTSA’s mission is to saves lives, prevent injuries and reduce economic costs due to road traffic crashes through education, research, safety standards and enforcement activities. NHTSA’s website includes resources and more information about safe bicycling and walking, including safety research and public education materials. NHTSA also houses the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), which is a nationwide census providing yearly data regarding fatal injuries suffered in motor vehicle traffic crashes, including those involving pedestrians and bicyclists.  

Federal Transit Administration (FTA)

FTA provides financial and technical assistance to local public transit systems, including overseeing grants to state and local transit providers. Multiple FTA grant programs are available to help cities and towns invest in pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, which improves mobility and helps people access public transportation. FTA maintains a list of grant programs with funding eligibility for bicycle projects.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)

FMCSA works to prevent commercial motor vehicle-related fatalities and injuries by enforcing safety regulations, supporting research on safety information systems and safer vehicle technology, and providing States with financial assistance for roadside inspections and other commercial motor vehicle safety programs. These programs are designed to reduce commercial motor vehicle collisions, including those that involve bicyclists and pedestrians.

Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)

FRA ensures the safe movement of people and goods by rail, through regulatory and inspection work, investments to develop and improve the rail network, and through research and technology development. FRA has worked to identify safety risks and to improve the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists at grade crossings, including gathering information on signals, signs, and other devices used to prevent non-motorized fatalities.

October is Pedestrian Safety Month 

Walking is the oldest and most universal form of transportation. Everyone is a pedestrian as walking is the first travel mode for all journeys yet accessible facilities remain a challenge in our communities. Walking is the most economical travel mode, it promotes fitness, and a shift to a walking trip is a better choice for the environment. Walking is the primary means of travel for a large segment of the population who cannot afford, or do not have access to other forms of transportation including private vehicles. The quality and number of pedestrians facilities can be lacking or inconsistent. Bicycle transportation and pedestrian walkways have a legislative history of federal support and attention from lawmakers. 

NHTSA and FHWA launched National Pedestrian Safety Month in 2020 to raise awareness of the rising death from people walking. During Pedestrian Safety Month, the DOT, its partners, and communities across the nation reflect on the work we have done thus far and focus on improvements and plans for the future to create a safe environment for everyone to walk as part of our routine efforts that we address every month and every day. Secretary Pete helped promote Pedestrian Safety Month with this social media message on roadway safety. 

In January 2022, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT, or the Department) released the National Roadway Safety Strategy, a new, comprehensive approach to address the crisis of deaths on our roadways. In recent years, we have seen alarming increases in roadway fatalities, with rates moving in the wrong direction after decades of progress.

U.S. DOT adopts a Safe System Approach as the guiding paradigm to address roadway safety. The Safe System Approach has been embraced by the transportation community as an effective way to address and mitigate the risks inherent in our enormous and complex transportation system.  Safer Roads is a key element in SSA and seeks to design roadway environments to mitigate human mistakes and account for injury tolerances, to encourage safer behaviors, and to facilitate safe travel by the most vulnerable users, including pedestrians.

The DOT and its agencies are taking many steps to support safe travel by foot, including:

  • In May, NHTSA requested public comments on the New Car Assessment Program update to include crashworthiness to protect pedestrians. They continue to review over 2,000 comments from the public.  Once the development, review, and approval process are completed, NHTSA will publish the final decision notice and response to comments in the Federal Register. 
  • In June, USDOT hosted a workshop for dozens of its Allies in Action, organizations that have stepped up in response to the Department’s National Roadway Safety Strategy (NRSS) Call to Action by pledging concrete steps they are taking to be part of the solution.  The attendees represented a diverse group of state, local, and Tribal governments and transportation departments; associations and non-profits; as well as carmakers and others from the private sector. 
  • In October 2023, the DOT created a web-story outlining pedestrian safety challenges and opportunities.
  • For more details on Pedestrian fatality and crash statistics NHTSA has an user-friendly Pedestrian data visualization tool.

Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center

The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC) is a partnership of FHWA and NHTSA and University of North Carolina (UNC) Highway Safety Research Center. Its mission is to improve the quality of life in communities through the increase of safe walking and bicycling as viable means of transportation and physical activity. PBIC develops, synthesizes, promotes, and distributes accurate and current bicycling and walking information; provides access to research findings and data to various audiences; and supports a network of partners who perform public outreach about pedestrian/bike issues. To do so, it manages several websites, produces a variety of reports, guides and case studies, offers training and technical assistance. Visit the PBIC homepage to learn more.

DOT Initiatives and Programs

FHWA Complete Streets Initiative 

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) defines Complete Streets standards or policies as those which “ensure the safe and adequate accommodation of all users of the transportation system, including pedestrians, bicyclists, public transportation users, children, older individuals, individuals with disabilities, motorists, and freight vehicles.” Through this initiative, FHWA works to support transportation agencies in planning, developing, and operating equitable streets and networks that prioritize safety, comfort, and connectivity to destinations for all people who use the street network. FHWA seeks to make funding and designing complete streets the easiest option for transportation agencies from integrate safety considerations for all road users into planning to implementing improvement projects, and operating and maintaining the facilities.

Safe Routes to School

Safe Routes to School (SRTS) is an approach that promotes walking and bicycling to school through infrastructure improvements, enforcement, tools, safety education, and incentives to encourage walking and bicycling to school. Nationally, 10% to 14% of car trips during morning rush hour are for school travel. SRTS initiatives improve safety and levels of physical activity for students, including through encouraging safe active transportation. SRTS programs can be implemented by a State department of transportation (DOT), Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), local government, school district, or even a school. 

Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A)

The BIL established the new SS4A discretionary program with $5 billion in funding over 5 years. The SS4A program funds regional, local, and Tribal initiatives through Action Plan grants and Implementation grants to prevent roadway deaths and serious injuries. Funding may be used to develop or update a comprehensive safety action plan (Action Plan), conduct planning, design, and development activities in support of an Action Plan, and carry out projects and strategies identified in an Action Plan—including activities related to vulnerable road users like pedestrians and bicyclists.

Additional Resources

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