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Kansas DOT Launches New Active Transportation Plan, Strengthening the Environment and Economy

by: Mark Bird
The Chanute Safe Routes to School Project, part of KDOT’s Active Transportation Plan, constructed pedestrian and bike paths along Plummer Avenue in Chanute, Kansas.
The Chanute Safe Routes to School Project, part of KDOT’s Active Transportation Plan, constructed pedestrian and bike paths along Plummer Avenue in Chanute, Kansas.
The North Newton Kidron Loop Trail Transportation Alternatives Project is an extension of the “Trail of Two Cities,” a collaboration between Newton and North Newton completed in 2006 and connecting the adjoining towns. This trail has become a destination point for county residents and beyond.
The North Newton Kidron Loop Trail Transportation Alternatives Project is an extension of the “Trail of Two Cities,” a collaboration between Newton and North Newton completed in 2006 and connecting the adjoining towns. This trail has become a destination point for county residents and beyond.
The Active Transportation Summit held September 20 to 22, 2023 in McPherson, Kansas, brought together professionals, advocates, and community members from across the state to learn more about the recently published Active Transportation Plan, build partnerships, and gain knowledge and skills to improve walking, biking, and rolling in their communities.
The Active Transportation Summit held September 20 to 22, 2023 in McPherson, Kansas, brought together professionals, advocates, and community members from across the state to learn more about the recently published Active Transportation Plan, build partnerships, and gain knowledge and skills to improve walking, biking, and rolling in their communities.
Baldwin City sidewalk project
Baldwin City sidewalk project
Baldwin City sidewalk project
Baldwin City sidewalk project
Hiawatha Streetscape project
Hiawatha Streetscape project
Lawrence underpass project
Lawrence underpass project
States and communities — in their efforts to build strong 21st century transportation systems — are faced with new challenges, such as a growing population aged 65 and over; the varied needs of rural and urban communities; and leveraging increased funding and resources for multimodal transportation. Increasingly many government agencies and local entities are launching plans designed to fully realize the proven benefits of active transportation to health, society, transportation systems, the environment, and the economy.

The U.S. Department of Energy defines active transportation as “human-powered mobility, such as biking, walking, or rolling. Active transportation directly replaces motor vehicle miles traveled, so these modes are effective at conserving fuel, reducing vehicle emissions, bridging the first- and last-mile gap, and improving individual and public health. Bicycles, electric bikes, wheelchairs, scooters, and even walking are all considered active transportation.”

Active Transportation Plans are comprehensive sets of strategies to ensure better options for biking, walking, and transit. These plans include recommendations for prioritizing infrastructure improvements and for new policies, processes, and infrastructure based on public and stakeholder input.

The Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) has implemented a revised, comprehensive Active Transportation Plan (ATP), the first such statewide plan since 1995. The new Kansas ATP seeks to boost walking, bicycling, safe wheelchair use, skateboarding, and non-motorized vehicle mobility options across the state.

Developed with extensive input from state residents — including guidance from various state agencies and partners as well as national and local experts in planning, design, and safety — the object of the new Kansas plan is to establish statewide priorities, policies, programs, and improvements that KDOT and local jurisdictions can use to help people of all ages and abilities feel safer and more comfortable using active modes.

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“The ATP serves as a framework for advancing active transportation and a way to evaluate progress towards what we hope will be a culture shift towards a more inclusive transportation system,” said Jenny Kramer, KDOT Active Transportation Manager. “Similar to the KDOT mission, the ATP vision is to meet the transportation needs of all Kansans, especially those unable, or who choose not to drive — our most vulnerable users of the transportation system.”

Positive Impacts
In the 20th century, cities and states across the United States built transportation networks and other public infrastructure to prioritize motor vehicles. Now, this car-centric approach dominates the transportation networks and heavily influences the way most people travel in the United States. Approximately one half of all vehicle trips in the United States are within a distance that could be made by bike in 20 minutes or less, and more than a quarter of all vehicle trips could be made by foot in 20 minutes or less.

As studies have shown, there are significant benefits that can be realized through the utilization of active transportation modes:

Public Health

The reality that two-thirds of adults in the United States are overweight or obese underscores the urgency of reimagining the transportation landscape. Communities that prioritize active transportation tend to be healthier by enabling residents to be more physically active in their daily routines and by having cleaner air to breathe.

Congestion and Transportation Climate Impact

As cities continue to expand, transportation-related congestion poses significant challenges. The transportation sector contributes significantly (approximately 45 percent of total emissions in the U.S.) to air pollution. By design, the active transportation approach offers emission-free travel options that mitigate environmental strain and alleviate congestion.

Safer, More Plentiful Commute Options

Carefully planned infrastructure ensures that pedestrians and cyclists are shielded from motorized traffic, promoting safety, and fostering a culture of shared road space. This approach also contributes to more accessible, ADA-compliant communities.

Economic Benefits

Active transportation is also a catalyst for economic growth. Areas with enhanced pedestrian and bicycle facilities often see increased property values and vibrant local businesses, creating a cycle of improvement and investment. In addition, active transportation infrastructure diminishes the need for constant road expansions to accommodate heavy traffic and roadway repairs that come with time and influx in population.

To illustrate the economic impact of ATPs, the total benefit of active transportation in the state of Kansas (in 2021 dollars) includes:

  • Total annual tourism/events economic benefits: $42,553,400
  • Total annual retail economic benefits: $41,635,400
  • Total annual transportation economic benefits: $70,868,000
  • Total annual facility access economic benefits: $7,494,300
  • Total annual economic benefits: $162,551,100
Building on Multiple Programs
Kansas' revised ATP builds upon a variety of previous planning efforts. The state's 2045 Long Range Transportation Plan recognizes the importance of a robust active transportation network and how shifting demographics and an aging population will impact future transportation needs. The 2020-2024 Kansas Strategic Highway Safety Plan addresses the vulnerability of active transportation users and includes a stand-alone chapter with strategies to reduce the frequency and severity of crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists. The bipartisan 10-year, $10 billion statewide Eisenhower Legacy Transportation Program, as approved by the 2020 Kansas legislature, funds a variety of transportation initiatives. Included is funding for a new KDOT multimodal set-aside program, including active transportation projects.

“This ATP coincides with the release of the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law [BIL] signed into law November 2021,” Kansas Secretary of Transportation Calvin Reed, PE, said. “The BIL increases active transportation funding and invests in infrastructure and programs for walking, biking, shared micro-mobility, and transit. BIL also places a strong emphasis on traffic safety, vulnerable users, and equity. We’re excited about the opportunities BIL represents.”

Extensive Public Involvement
One of KDOT’s critical goals for the planning process was to actively engage Kansans and gather meaningful input from as many voices as possible from across the state to establish a shared vision and to guide the direction and recommendations of the ATP. The project team involved a Technical Advisory Committee comprised of KDOT staff and a Core Team of stakeholders representing various state agencies, metropolitan planning organizations, health organizations, and others.

In February 2021 the project team held two weeks of engagement opportunities, which included nine online public workshops and 10 focus groups. The meetings provided an overview of the planning process for the ATP and facilitated interactive discussions regarding the draft vision and goals for the ATP. In addition, two online open houses were held in June 2021, where the project team presented draft recommendations and solicited feedback from participants.

“The ATP process opened up a statewide dialogue from a diversity of people and groups from across the state,” Kramer said. “We learned what was most important to Kansans and therefore what to prioritize over the next five to 10 years.”

KDOT also developed an ArcGIS StoryMap (a story authoring web-based application) to gather and share personal stories about how Kansans use active transportation and how they rely on appropriate facilities and services being available. The following are among the stories that Kansans shared:

“Our family has stopped curbside recycling, and now my 10-year-old daughter and I bike to the recycling center instead,” members of the Tremblay family wrote. “We get up before school one day every few weeks and bike 1.5 miles each way. My daughter pulls the trailer of recycling. She enjoys it — getting up early and riding her bike, not to mention making some money.”

"I love to ride a bike,” K. Spangler wrote. “I do it to stay fit and see the country, wherever I am. I just love being out there and have ridden enough that I'm comfortable about anywhere I ride, even on highways. I try to ride to shopping and events whenever possible, but so many retail stores don't have bike racks to lock my bike up. I'm hoping that will be one outcome of this ATP."

"I am thankful that I can walk my young kids to and from school (10 minutes one way),” members of the Blume family wrote. “Although the sidewalks and crosswalks could be better, we can navigate the route. Not only do I get about 40 minutes of exercise without thinking about it, they get 20 minutes too. Since we have been walking to school, all of my biometrics have gotten back in normal range. The other benefits are we get to enjoy some beautiful weather, notice some nature, say hello to neighbors, and discuss their school day."

In September 2023, following an ongoing series of “Bike Walk Roll” webinars where attendees learn how to implement the Active Transportation Plan in communities, KDOT held a three-day, in-person summit for transportation professionals, advocates, and community members from across the state. This event featured workshops, presentations, and other activities.

Projects Underway, More to Come
There are several projects underway now in Kansas that reflect the goals of the Active Transportation Plan.

In the city of Hays, a new multi-use side path along I-70 is being constructed. It is part of a long-term goal to create a continuous path that provides connectivity to all parts of the city. In Russell, Louisburg, and Hugoton, there are new STEP (Safe Transportation for Every Pedestrian) crosswalk projects. STEP is a Federal Highway Administration program. In Lawrence, a pedestrian/bicycle bridge is being constructed over Iowa Street as part of a larger KDOT highway project.

The state's Kansas Safe Routes to School program is expanding. This program provides resources and helps communities across Kansas create safe and fun opportunities for children and their families to walk, bike, and roll to and from school.

At the state government level, $28.5 million has been awarded for 32 Transportation Alternatives Program projects across Kansas for fiscal year 2023-24. The competitive grant program, administered by KDOT, provides funding for a variety of projects, including pedestrian and bicycle facilities, infrastructure for non-driver access to public transportation, and overall safety and mobility improvements. The Transportation Alternatives Program, the largest funding source for active transportation facilities, plans to award over $30 million in new projects this summer for federal fiscal years 2025 and 2026.

Introducing the new Active Transportation Program, Reed said, “Becoming a more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly state is one of our agency’s top priorities and an important step towards ensuring that transportation improvements support the safety, health, education, and economic goals of Kansans of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds.

“We envision a Kansas where it is safe for children to walk, bike, and roll to school or the pool; where Kansans can take advantage of sidewalks for walking, using a wheelchair, or pushing a stroller; where access to our state’s vast inventory of outdoor recreation facilities is enhanced; and where active transportation is an integral quality-of-life component for communities large and small.”

Photos courtesy of Kansas Department of Transportation

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