Active Transportation: The Missing Link Between Pedestrian, Bicycle and Motor Transportation Planning

Stick drawings of individuals walking, cycling, running, using a wheelchair and using a scooter

The road to an inclusive Wisconsin transportation plan is a long one. But thanks to work underway by a steering committee serving the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT), positive change is in motion. The committee is steering toward what’s called an active transportation plan for the state. What is it?

Think about the different modes of transportation–car, bus, bike, walking, micro transit, shared rides, and every other way people get from one place to another. Now think about how, for the most part, these modes exist independent of one another. They are not interconnected. This disconnect complicates and often even prohibits movement for some people, especially those who, for a wide variety of reasons including vision impairment, do not drive.

For a non-driver, pedestrian and bicycling options are of great importance. Biking or walking may be the only way for some folks to get to work, to the grocery store or to a doctor’s appointment. Or to just have the freedom to go wherever they please. Unfortunately, pedestrian planning and bike routing have been disconnected from each other in city, rural, and small town planning over the years. This is where Active Transportation thinking comes in.

“This plan brings those two things together and links them to the rest of the transportation system,” says Denise Jess, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired and a member of the Active Transportation State Plan Steering Committee. “We’re uniting them. Ped and bike. If we only think about the biker, you lose track of the walker and vice versa.

Along with the gains that come with interlocking ped and bike planning comes a critical change in the way people think about those modes. Simply put, these options are viable, reliable transportation modes, not merely recreational choices.

“With 31% of the population being nondrivers and with limited or out-of-reach options for other transportation, walking or biking is critical,” Denise says. “It’s important we build bike and ped features that create usable space that reflect the diversity of all users.”

Take recent Kimberly High School graduate Jack Lichosik. The 17-year-old will start college in the fall at Fox Valley Technical College. He also happens to be a recipient of a 2023 Council Scholarship. In his scholarship application essay, Jack described his personal challenge with transportation, and in doing so he testified to the need for active transportation solutions.

“Due to my low vision, I am unable to obtain a driver’s license,” Jack writes, “and unfortunately, I don’t live on a direct bus line. It’s difficult for me to not just be able to hop in the car and go as my family and friends can. Rather, I need to align transportation and rely on others, which can take a lot of time and effort in planning. I do enjoy biking and use it as a mode of transportation often, but that is dependent on weather conditions and the distance to my destination.”

What does an active transportation plan look like?

“It depends on the environment, urban or rural,” Denise says. “The key component is that it’s built for all users, all modes, all abilities and all ages.” Madison and Milwaukee are leading in these areas as part of what’s called the “Complete Streets” effort. This is defined by spaces where anyone can complete the trip without barriers. It comes with varied components: Off-road trails for bikes reduce car–bike conflict. Buffered bike lanes are also a component, as are segregated lanes for pedestrians and bikers. Flashing yellow beacons for people to use when in the crosswalk also fall in line with this type of infrastructure planning.

The process for creating the state’s Active Transportation Plan is just starting. But it’s a highly participatory process. WisDOT is doing extensive outreach. “This inclusive process leads to a better plan because diverse needs and experiences are considered,” Denise says.

A comprehensive active transportation plan put forth by the state is an empowering tool for advocates. It gives people who, like Jack, are seeking changes in local transportation options and infrastructure a defined plan to point to when they communicate with local planners and policymakers.

Currently, the plan is in the pre-draft stage that includes surveying state residents for their own ideas. The public will also have online and in-person opportunities to be heard. Then a draft will be written, followed by more public comment. And finally, a final draft will be written and distributed. While the Steering Committee advises and helps guide the process, WisDOT will write the plan.

To learn more about the Active Transportation Plan in progress and to stay on top of opportunities to participate, visit the Active Transportation Plan page on the WisDOT website.

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