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Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: September 29, 2022 (2022)

Chapter: Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report, September 29, 2022

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Suggested Citation:"Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report, September 29, 2022." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: September 29, 2022. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26758.
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September 29, 2022

Stephanie Pollack

Deputy Administrator

Federal Highway Administration

U.S. Department of Transportation

1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE

Washington, DC 20590

Dear Ms. Pollack,

The Transportation Research Board’s (TRB’s) Research and Technology Coordinating Committee (RTCC) convened on May 23–24, 2022, for its annual spring meeting with the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA’s) Office of Research, Development, and Technology (RD&T). RTCC is an interdisciplinary committee, whose members are drawn from industry, academia, and the public sector. Appointed by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (the National Academies), the committee’s 11 members have expertise in highway transportation, engineering, safety, technology, planning, program evaluation, and administration (see Attachment A for the committee roster). RTCC’s charge is to monitor and review FHWA’s research and technology activities and advise the agency on (a) the development of its research agenda and its coordination with states, universities, and other partners; (b) strategies for accelerating the deployment and adoption of innovation; and (c) areas in which additional research may be needed. RTCC’s aim is to provide strategic advice at the research policy level.

On behalf of RTCC members, I would like to thank Associate Administrator for RD&T Kelly Regal and her leadership team for providing an engaging and well-organized set of briefings that fostered two days of productive discussions to inform the development of this letter report. The discussions included an overview of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT’s) Strategic Plan, an outline of how FHWA’s Annual Modal Research Plan is being developed in alignment with this plan and its goals, and a mapping of how research activities authorized in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) will further these goals and the nationally significant research topics that were previously identified by RTCC in 2019 in Special Report 331: The Vital Federal Role in the Meeting the Highway Innovation Imperative.1 During the meeting, the committee was also provided with updates on the Cooperative Automated Driving program and on Complete Streets activities that are under way and being planned.

Whereas this letter report follows the spring meeting, it was also informed by RTCC’s winter meeting on December 9–10, 2021, and particularly by that meeting’s initial round of discussions on FHWA’s Complete Streets activities. Therefore, after short summaries of all of the topics discussed during the May 2022 meeting, the focus of this letter report turns to the topic of Complete Streets activities, which FHWA asked the

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500 Fifth Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001

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Suggested Citation:"Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report, September 29, 2022." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: September 29, 2022. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26758.
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committee to advise on because this is an emphasis area in the BIL that FHWA is intent on supporting through the development of research-informed guidance tools and training for state and local transportation agencies. After two meetings of in-depth discussion on FHWA’s plans and progress in this topic area, RTCC members welcomed the opportunity to provide their observations and impressions on the scope and direction of the work and to offer suggestions and options for next steps.

OVERVIEW OF MEETING BRIEFINGS AND DISCUSSIONS

USDOT Strategic Goals and Annual Modal Research Planning

Jonathan Walker, Acting Director of the Office of Corporate Research, Technology, and Innovation Management, briefed the committee on the six overarching goals of the USDOT Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2022–20262: safety, equity, transformation, climate and sustainability, economic strength and global competitiveness, and organizational excellence. They were characterized as being long-term goals, encapsulating the broader outcomes desired from USDOT functions and operations. Aligned with these goals are a set of “priority goals” to be accomplished in the near term (within about 2 years) as well as a number of agency-specific “performance goals.” Two examples of FHWA performance goals are to help bring about a 6 percent reduction in tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases (furthering the climate and sustainability strategic goal) and an increase in the number of states implementing best practices when administering the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program for design-build projects (furthering the equity strategic goal).

RTCC anticipates hearing more from FHWA during the winter meeting about accomplishments with respect to these priority and performance goals, as well as a briefing on the Annual Modal Research Plan (AMRP) for FY 2023. Although the AMRP was still being developed when the committee met in May, Regal outlined how FHWA programs, including research activities, are committed to responding to the six goals in the USDOT Strategic Plan. In addition, the committee observes that the BIL contains a number of mandates for research and dissemination activities; albeit with unspecified funding, such as the development of a research plan for vulnerable road users (VRUs) and a Center of Excellence on New Mobility and Automated Vehicles. Here too, the committee looks forward to learning more during the next committee meeting about how these activities will be structured and resourced.

Mapping Research to Nationally Significant Issues

Special Report 331 identifies 12 nationally significant issues for research. These were derived from TRB’s Critical Issues in Transportation 2019.3 David Kuehn, Team Director/Program Manager, mapped existing RD&T activities and the new ones mandated in the BIL to a number of these nationally significant issues, including transformational technologies, energy and sustainability, resilience, safety, equity, and asset management. In each case, FHWA has three to five related activities under way or

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Suggested Citation:"Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report, September 29, 2022." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: September 29, 2022. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26758.
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awaiting funding. Regal noted that while Special Report 331 provides guideposts for making research investments, the availability of discretionary funds has a major influence on these decisions.

In being asked to comment on whether the FHWA research portfolio has gaps with respect to nationally significant issues, RTCC members observed that more detail on the individual programs and projects in the portfolio would be required to provide such feedback. Members nevertheless pointed out that the exercise of mapping the research portfolio to nationally significant issues is valuable, in and of itself. Such a mapping can highlight gaps in needed research, and thereby inform funding priorities and choices by the U.S. Congress and administration. Regal concurred, and she and her staff raised the possibility of RTCC visiting the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center during its winter meeting to gain a better understanding of the nature and scope of FHWA’s research portfolio.

Cooperative Automated Driving

Brian Cronin, Director of the Office of Safety and Operations Research and Development, led a discussion of FHWA’s evolving efforts to have a more prominent role in ensuring that automated vehicles are designed with more connectivity to infrastructure. He raised concern that without more integration of vehicle automation and infrastructure, the technologies entering the fleet may confer fewer safety and efficiency benefits than might otherwise be attained. He reported on several connected vehicle pilot sites across the country that have capabilities ranging from red light violation warnings and work zone data exchange to security credentialing management. FHWA has been responding to the introduction of levels 1 and 2 vehicle technologies (driver assist and partial driving automation) by exploring how infrastructure connectivity can enable and enhance capabilities such as speed harmonization, adaptive cruise control, and cooperative merging. Cronin believes FHWA’s work to date has demonstrated a real potential for vehicle–infrastructure connectivity to increase freeway capacity and safety and to reduce congestion delays, fuel consumption, and emissions.

The committee was informed that as automobile manufacturers have investigated levels 3 and 4 automation (where the vehicle performs many or all driving tasks under some conditions), they have discovered many challenges arising from the dynamics of the highway environment. Thus, to accelerate research and development (R&D) on cooperative driving automation (CDA) concepts that involve intelligent transportation infrastructure, levels 3 and 4 equipped vehicles, and other road users, FHWA created a program, called CARMA, that has supported CDA testing and evaluation with open-source software. CARMA has involved dozens of university partners and collaborators. Cronin described the many successes achieved by CARMA’s work tracks that are focused on reducing recurring and nonrecurring traffic delays and improving freight operations. He emphasized, however, that more attention needs to be given to other important challenges facing the highway system, such as the need to address the troubling regression in road safety. Pedestrian fatalities, high-speed crashes, and work zone crashes have been increasing in recent years. Addressing this mounting problem, along with enhancing equity, mitigating climate change, and developing the future transportation workforce, have become more prominent public policy goals. Accordingly, FHWA has

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Suggested Citation:"Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report, September 29, 2022." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: September 29, 2022. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26758.
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been evolving CARMA, including changing its name to the “Cooperative Automated Driving” program, to ensure that it contributes to this broader set of goals. To this end, the committee was briefed on plans to use the program’s open-source research tools, simulation capabilities, and testing locations to demonstrate applications aimed at improving collision avoidance capabilities that will protect pedestrians and other VRUs.

After the briefing, Cronin asked RTCC members to identify any evident gaps in the program. Here again, the committee members expressed interest in learning more about the evolution of the program during future meetings, after which the committee should be in a better position to offer suggestions or advice. As a general matter, however, the committee supports FHWA’s decision to expand the program’s goals.

Complete Streets

Background

Barbara McCann, Senior Advisor to the Associate Administrator for Safety, provided an update on FHWA’s Complete Streets activities. She was joined by James Pol, Technical Director for Safety R&D. McCann began by reviewing provisions in the BIL that are most relevant to Complete Streets. The law’s Section 11206, Increasing Safe and Accessible Transportation, refers to Complete Streets as being intended to “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.” The law requires states and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to use at least 2.5 percent of their federal aid for activities that include the development of Complete Streets standards and policies and for the planning required to create a network of multi-use, active transportation facilities. According to the law, such a network would include sidewalks, bikeways, and pedestrian and bicycle trails and serve the purpose of connecting neighborhoods with destinations such as workplaces, schools, residences, businesses, recreation areas, health care and child care services, and community activity centers. Furthermore, federal funds for Complete Streets planning can be used to integrate these facilities with public transit and to improve the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians.

In a section titled “Safe Streets for All,” the BIL established a discretionary grant program with $5 billion in appropriated funds over the next 5 years. The program supports local planning initiatives to improve traffic safety, including funding for developing safety action plans and for carrying them out. Examples of supported activities include adding rumble strips, wider edge lines, and better signage along high-crash corridors and transforming a corridor into a Complete Street with measures intended to improve safety for all users.4 The law also contains many other provisions concerning the safety of bicyclists, pedestrians, motorcyclists, and other VRUs. States are required to complete VRU safety assessments. If an assessment reveals that VRUs account for more than 15 percent of traffic fatalities, the state must obligate funds above a certain level to address the safety of these users. To support these safety investments, the BIL requires FHWA to create a research plan to prioritize R&D on roadway designs and countermeasures to minimize harm to VRUs and to promote bicycling and walking,

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Suggested Citation:"Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report, September 29, 2022." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: September 29, 2022. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26758.
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including research on traffic calming techniques, the impacts of traffic speed on safety, and tools to evaluate the impact of transportation improvements of bicycling and pedestrian safety. If it is assumed that investments in Complete Streets will improve VRU safety, then spending on their planning and development may help satisfy the law’s obligation for spending on VRU safety. It is noteworthy, however, that the BIL emphasizes a data-driven approach for selecting appropriate projects in a plan and for evaluating project outcomes.

Other provisions in the BIL that relate to Complete Streets, namely through an emphasis on VRUs, include a requirement for bridge deck replacements and rehabilitations to be designed with accommodations for pedestrians and bicyclists and for the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) to be updated with guidance on protections for VRUs. The BIL’s Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program provides grants for the removal, retrofitting, or mitigation of existing facilities that create barriers to community connectivity, including barriers to mobility, access, and economic development. Other provisions in the BIL that could be construed as pertinent to the Complete Streets program include funding for projects to reduce carbon emissions from transportation and to promote resilience.

In pointing to these relevant provisions in the BIL, McCann characterized Complete Streets as serving the multiple goals of safety, connectivity, equity, and climate change mitigation. She then summarized the following five areas of opportunity for Complete Streets to be furthered by FHWA:

  1. Improve data collection and analysis to advance safety for all users.
  2. Support rigorous safety assessment during project planning and design.
  3. Accelerate the adoption of standards and guidance that promote safety and accessibility for all users and that support innovation in design.
  4. Reinforce the primacy of safety for all users in interpretation of design standards guidelines and project review processes.
  5. Make Complete Streets FHWA’s default approach for funding and designing non-access controlled highways.

In reviewing these five opportunities in turn, McCann provided the following synopsis of efforts under way or planned by FHWA to support each. She noted that more information on plans can be found in the March 2022 FHWA report Moving to a Complete Streets Design Model: A Report to Congress on Opportunities and Challenges,5 hereafter referred to as the Report to Congress.

Improve Data Collection and Analysis

FHWA is interested in developing data and measures to support the design and selection of Complete Streets projects and strategies by state and local decision makers. Furthermore, it is interested in identifying tools and measures for assessing the performance of projects and strategies.

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Suggested Citation:"Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report, September 29, 2022." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: September 29, 2022. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26758.
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To support choices that will yield safety impacts, the plan is to leverage ongoing FHWA and National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) efforts to develop crash modification factors (CMFs) for different safety features and treatments to be used in the Highway Safety Manual (HCM) issued by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). The plan is to create lists of CMFs for features and treatments that are candidates for use in Complete Streets projects, recommend ways to use them for safety analyses, and identify CMFs that are needed for this analytic purpose. For understanding other considerations, such as how Complete Streets features would be used and perform in providing access, mobility, and community connectivity, different FHWA offices are seeking to improve walking and bicycling volume data and details about the extent and characteristics of pedestrian, bicycle, and transit infrastructure.

Support Rigorous Safety Assessment

It was noted that many federal transportation funding programs do not include requirements for the conduct of specific safety analyses, such as for projects primarily intended to reduce congestion. FHWA is interested in finding ways to increase the assessment of safety outcomes across all types of federal-aid projects as a way to improve safety performance. This will apply to Complete Streets projects, which FHWA intends to support through the development of new models and tools. One option under consideration is to develop a capability for modeling the many complex road user interactions that can occur in a Complete Streets scenario. Such a dynamic model would take into account a range of neighborhood and community settings and predict shifts in transportation demand and mode uses that may occur over time due to Complete Streets.

Accelerate Adoption of Standards and Guidance

McCann pointed out that federally recognized standards and guidance may not promote the use of context-sensitive design solutions for safety and that updates can take time and not keep pace with innovations. Standards and guidance for accessibility by people with disabilities were given as example areas where updates have been lagging. The multipronged approach that is being planned to address these issues responds to direction in the BIL, such as updates to the MUTCD and revisions to existing FHWA roadway design guidance and regulations by encouraging reductions in speed limits and creating roadways that will help “self-enforce” speed limits.

FHWA intends to partner with universities and related organizations to develop education and training programs that provide accurate and complete information on roadway design standards and practices. In the case of standards for accessibility, USDOT is working with the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Access Board to finalize new federal standards for the accessibility of pedestrian facilities in the public right of way.

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Suggested Citation:"Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report, September 29, 2022." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: September 29, 2022. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26758.
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Reinforce the Primacy of Safety for All Users

Over time, FHWA has broadened its guidance about design as a way to encourage states to use engineering judgment to apply different designs in different contexts. It was noted, however, that the application of this flexibility can lead to inconsistent interpretations of requirements that lead to missed opportunities to address safety for all users. For instance, local proponents of context-sensitive and safety-enhancing designs that are not common practice in their jurisdiction may be asked by federal or state reviewers to provide additional analysis or justification. Such added burdens can discourage the pursuit of such solutions even when they are allowable under the flexible guidance.

FHWA intends to support such solutions through new discretionary grant programs, added funding to the Highway Safety Improvement Program, and Complete Streets planning funds provided by the BIL. The agency will also develop and provide training and capacity building for practitioners on implementing a Complete Streets design model and on the selection of context-appropriate designs. To ensure that safety is considered for people walking, bicycling, and using other non-motorized modes for accessing public transit, FHWA will provide states and localities with technical assistance for ensuring that such safety needs are addressed and by involving transit providers in Complete Streets implementation activities.

To better support state and local agencies as they consider Complete Streets projects, FHWA has initiated a two-phase program of case studies. The planned case studies will document the construction costs of a diverse group of Complete Streets projects located in urban and suburban arterials (non-freeways) within the boundaries of MPOs and with posted speed limits of less than 55 mph. They will also study rural arterials that serve as main streets in smaller communities. Important goals of the case studies are to model and support state and local agencies in developing their own case studies. Four cases studies are under way, and up to eight more are intended.

Make Complete Streets FHWA’s Default Approach

FHWA reports that almost 70 percent of the mileage of the National Highway System is not access-controlled, and this includes most arterials in urban areas and many small town main streets. These roadways are the focus of FHWA’s Complete Streets initiative because their need to accommodate throughput and local access can create a challenging safety environment. Thus, an important aspect of supporting consistent prioritization of the safety of all users will be to align guidance, grant awards, and review processes in a manner that makes the funding and design of Complete Streets a non-burdensome option for practitioners.

FHWA intends to create a Complete Streets web portal to consolidate key resources from FHWA and other organizations for reference by practitioners. The agency will also study opportunities to clarify the criteria that can be used to justify not including accommodations for all modes in planning and project design processes to ensure that opportunities for Complete Streets are not neglected. The agency will incorporate Complete Streets criteria in federal grant opportunities and evaluate needed policy, guidance, and program improvements.

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Suggested Citation:"Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report, September 29, 2022." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: September 29, 2022. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26758.
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OBSERVATIONS AND SUGGESTIONS ON COMPLETE STREETS INITIATIVE

The committee is impressed by the array of activities under way and being planned to respond to the BIL’s directives on Complete Streets and to address VRUs. McCann’s and Pol’s briefings, as summarized above, were thorough and generated considerable discussion during the meeting. While it appears that a number of the activities covered in the briefing were being planned or were under way prior to enactment of the law, many are new initiatives and therefore at early stages of planning, procurement, and execution. In this regard, RTCC members welcome this opportunity to provide observations and make suggestions that may be timely as these plans and programs take shape.

The committee’s first observation regards the law’s definition of Complete Streets standards and policies cited above. The definition makes a noble statement about safety and is clear about the importance of inclusivity, but it does not define what “safe” and “adequate” mean. Transportation invariably involves some risk of crash and injury. Moreover, the U.S. road system that is in place was largely designed to accommodate motor vehicles, and it does not compare well with the rest of the industrialized world in the frequency of fatal crashes and trends in pedestrian and cyclist fatalities.6 Pedestrian fatalities in the United States have increased 79 percent since reaching a low point in 2009. Growth in cycling and pedestrian activity in recent years has been accompanied by an increase in pedestrian and cyclist fatalities.7 Hence, it stands to reason that accommodating additional VRUs in the mix of traffic, and doing so at an acceptable level of safety, will be a significant challenge. The magnitude of the challenge is amplified by the ambitious transition that is stated as a goal (i.e., to make Complete Streets applicable to roughly 70 percent of the National Highway System).

The Safe System Approach (see Figure 1) is appropriately cited in FHWA’s Report to Congress as the broader context for Complete Streets efforts. The committee believes that Complete Streets can be a “spoke in the wheel” of a Safe System Approach that helps drive down crashes, injuries, and fatalities, but at the same time, the committee recognizes that FHWA’s authorities and expertise are largely in the “Safe Roads” (design) category along with providing guidance on the setting of appropriate speed limits. That said, the sought after safety outcomes of Complete Streets will depend on decisions and funding for facility operation as well as design, particularly the setting and enforcement of speed limits that are the purview of states and local jurisdictions. In this regard, FHWA can influence the adoption of Complete Streets through funding incentives, but the discretion about how funds are allocated resides with state and local jurisdictions. This reality suggests that FHWA’s influence will have to be exercised in collaboration with states, MPOs, and local jurisdictions. The committee returns to this point in its concluding observations about R&D opportunities for FHWA.

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6 OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). 2020. Road Safety Annual Report 2020. International Transport Forum. See Figures 6, 8, and 9. https://www.itf-oecd.org/sites/default/files/docs/irtad-road-safety-annual-report-2020_0.pdf.

7 USDOT (U.S. Department of Transportation). 2022. Overview of Motor Vehicle Crashes in 2020. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. DOT HS 813 266. See Table 9.

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Suggested Citation:"Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report, September 29, 2022." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: September 29, 2022. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26758.
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FIGURE 1 The Safe System Approach.

Challenges

The Report to Congress recognizes many of the challenges that will arise in encouraging adoption of Complete Streets. In this section, the committee summarizes these challenges in accordance with the five areas of opportunity for FHWA discussed above. This summary leads to the identification of several potential opportunities and options for FHWA RD&T, as provided in a subsequent section.

Improve Data Collection and Analysis

The Report to Congress identifies major data gaps and issues impeding data collection:

  • lack of data on existing pedestrian and cycling infrastructure for the purpose of connectivity to networks;
  • lack of user count data to provide indicators of demand; and
  • difficulty of collecting performance measures to assess progress in VRU safety and other community goals.

The Report to Congress notes that a lack of data “severely restricts the ability of State and local agencies to successfully advance active transportation projects” (p. 24) and that “many State and local agencies and MPOs do not have sufficient expertise, technology, or resources to be able to collect and meaningfully use non-motorized data for planning and decision making” (p. 24). The Report to Congress identifies possible areas of data enhancement regarding the inventory of existing pedestrian and cycling facilities and improved understanding about pedestrian and cycling risk rates. It also identifies the need to provide improved guidance on safety analysis and performance.

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Suggested Citation:"Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report, September 29, 2022." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: September 29, 2022. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26758.
×

An improved understanding of risk rates is important but difficult to achieve. For example, little good research is available about the safety records of Complete Streets that have been built and their contexts (such as the degree of urbanization, mixes and volumes of traffic, speeds, operational conditions to enhance VRU safety, and specific design features). Knowing more about both would help designers choose appropriate approaches suited to the country’s varied local contexts. As noted, FHWA is carrying out case studies to understand the costs of a small sample (up to 12) of constructed Complete Streets, but not to establish their safety benefits. It is easy to understand why the latter is missing. Quantifying how an intervention has affected safety outcomes requires information about the pre-intervention status and presence of other influences on outcomes. As mentioned in the remainder of the committee’s observations about FHWA’s presentation and its review of the Report to Congress, this information is rarely available for assessing impacts on VRU crashes, except in the case of fatalities, or for developing measures of VRU risk exposure.

The Report to Congress notes that data for performance measures of Complete Streets, particularly for safety but also for other interests, are difficult to collect. Ideally, performance measures would address effects on safety, mode shift, emissions, person-miles traveled, and economic activity. Such data shortcomings, of course, also exist for the built system, but they are compounded by the under-reporting of non-fatal crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists and the lack of data on the risk exposure of VRUs. Arguably, in the broader context of a Safe System Approach, where the intent is to eliminate injuries from crashes, and severe crashes themselves, the Complete Streets design is more complex than for access-controlled highways despite the latter’s much higher speeds. The urban context opens up many more opportunities for conflicting traffic movements (particularly at intersections) among people and vehicles moving at much different speeds and with widely varied levels of protection. A 25 mph speed limit for a city arterial is obviously much slower than for an access-controlled facility, but a crash between a motor vehicle and a pedestrian or cyclist at that speed can still result in a fatal or serious injury.

Measures of demand are also problematic. Not only are counts of pedestrians and cyclists infrequently taken, the interest of VRUs in using certain roads is likely dampened by perceptions of the risks of crossing busy streets lacking traffic control and riding bicycles in mixed traffic.

Support Rigorous Safety Assessment During Project Planning and Design

As the need for improvements to existing designs for the broader roadway network became better understood over time, it was possible to estimate the safety benefits of specific design features through the development of CMFs used in the AASHTO HSM. These CMFs, in turn, are based on data and studies aggregated from multiple sites, which is sometimes possible to accomplish with available pre- and post-intervention data on motor vehicle crashes, traffic volumes, and inventory design features. The same would not be true for VRUs due to under-reporting of crashes involving these users and limited data on pedestrian and cyclist traffic volumes. The lack of existing data and relatively low VRU exposure in many jurisdictions require collection of new data, which increases the duration and cost of data collection in order to establish statistical significance in the

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Suggested Citation:"Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report, September 29, 2022." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: September 29, 2022. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26758.
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development of CMFs. Because these data are not easy or inexpensive to collect, they are scarce. The Report to Congress does not explain how these important data gaps can be filled.

Rigorous safety assessment of the cost-effectiveness of Complete Streets improvements would be enhanced by the kinds of R&D and data collection the committee offers suggestions about in the following section, “Opportunities for FHWA RD&T to Address Challenges.” Such assessments will also assist jurisdictions in allocating resources to the most cost-effective opportunities to reduce injuries and fatalities across their networks.

The Safety and Environmental Benefits of Complete Streets Need to Be Properly Weighed in Designing Projects Intended to Reduce Congestion

This challenge is fundamental. The high expense of redesigning and retrofitting existing facilities, especially when it involves expanding rights-of-way in built-up areas, means that designers and policy makers must trade off policy objectives. For existing facilities, enhancing safety for VRUs may involve taking lanes away from motorists, which may impose costs in the form of congestion, emissions, and diversion of traffic to less safe streets. Moreover, officials and designers may be reluctant to retrofit busy roads to allocate more space to VRUs when they are uncertain about whether sufficient VRU demand will materialize to justify the investment. (However, on multilane roads in the United States that have excess capacity, lanes can be removed to reallocate space for VRUs and, at the same time, implement safer designs for motorists that include increased space or barriers between opposing traffic flows.) States and local communities must make choices among policy objectives. Given the aforementioned VRU data gaps, motorist time and emissions effects will be more easily quantified than the safety and mobility effects of accommodating all road users. The Report to Congress notes that reducing capacity for personal motor vehicles does not necessarily reduce mobility if high-quality public transit is available to replace automobile trips. While this substitution may be possible in transit-rich locations, it is important to bear in mind that, nationally, transit accounts for less than 3 percent of average annual person-trips and person-miles (excluding airline travel). Transit represents a minority of person-trips (5 percent) even in metropolitan areas of 3 million or more population.8

The Report to Congress notes that there are few federal requirements for safety analysis when making any kind of road improvement on the federal-aid system, although some states do use analytic tools such as the AASHTO HSM. The HSM, however, has limited CMFs related to walking and cycling that designers need to estimate the safety consequences of different design and operational features. FHWA models and guidance to states are limited to analyses for estimating vehicle throughput and travel time reliability at a national or regional scale.

In the Report to Congress FHWA proposes the development of modeling tools to assist in the analysis of trade-offs. However, doing so assumes having adequate data with which to calibrate the models.

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8 U.S. DOT. Summary of Travel Trends: 2017 National Household Travel Survey. Federal Highway Administration. Calculated from Table 7. Trips in Annual Average Person Trips per Household by Mode of Transportation and MSA Size. https://nhts.ornl.gov/assets/2017_nhts_summary_travel_trends.pdf.

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Suggested Citation:"Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report, September 29, 2022." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: September 29, 2022. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26758.
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Accelerate Adoption of Guidance That Promotes Safety and Accessibility for All Users and Supports Innovation in Design

The committee notes the absence of a well-developed, data-driven design guide for Complete Streets, although many states have experience with context-sensitive design, which involves a similar degree of judgment and discretion by designers in the absence of specific, accepted standards or guidance. The committee also observes that among the strategies FHWA proposes in its report to Congress, not mentioned is support for the development of a design guide. The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) has developed an urban streets design guide that serves as a useful resource.9 Many jurisdictions have developed their own guidance documents, although these are generally based on broad principles and may require conformance with state or AASHTO design guidance. The AASHTO Green Book has been adding flexibility to design over time. Having flexibility, however, is not the same as knowing which design features to choose to improve safety and when there are liability implications for designers when deviating from common practice. Without some degree of standardization or accepted guidance, designers may continue to be reluctant to innovate.

There are other sources of assistance in design. Among many other examples provided in the Report to Congress, FHWA has developed a list of “Proven Safety Countermeasures” documenting the safety benefits of countermeasures for speed management, roadway departure, certain intersection designs, certain pedestrian and cyclist safety features, and others.10 In addition, a forthcoming report from NCHRP is developing cycling and pedestrian safety performance factors (SPFs) to add to the HSM, although these SPFs are applicable to high-level planning and analysis rather than site-specific design.11 FHWA could also play its convening role by bringing together state and MPO staff to learn best practices from each other. However, there remain large gaps in understanding about the risks of walking and cycling in different urban and suburban contexts, both in terms of crashes and exposure to crashes. These gaps will inhibit safety data-driven design.

For building brand new facilities or retrofitting roads with low vehicular traffic, general principles and guidance may well be sufficient for a skilled and knowledgeable designer. However, in the United States, with a system largely in place and largely designed for accommodating motor vehicles, designers are often faced with constricted rights-of-way and limited guidance on maximizing safety while also responding to officials’ and constituencies’ desires to add bike lanes and pedestrian crossings, increase opportunities for freight pick-up and delivery (PUD), and facilitate transit. Some of the questions the committee asked during the Complete Streets presentations, for instance, concerned the importance in many locations of curb management to accommodate growing demands for freight PUD, rideshare services, and micro-mobility. Data-driven, safety-conscious design capability to address these complexities at the local level is limited, as the Report to Congress notes.

The Report to Congress recognizes that the BIL requires the MUTCD to be updated within 18 months to support the “safety, inclusion, and mobility of all users,”

__________________

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which FHWA is working on. This update will be helpful while also recognizing that the MUTCD is limited to traffic control devices that communicate with users, which is an important but limited dimension of Complete Streets design. The Report to Congress also notes that existing training and university education available to designers emphasize accommodating motor vehicles rather than all users, which translates to knowledge gaps among existing practitioners that may need remedying by more knowledge sharing, guidance, and reassurance from authorities.

Although many individual jurisdictions and two-thirds of states have adopted Complete Streets policies, consensus design manuals and guidance to implement such policies take many years to develop and update, as should be expected for documents meant to address highly varied circumstances and be based on the best available research, if not requiring additional research. The Report to Congress notes that “there may be opportunities for FHWA to support research and evaluation on the effectiveness and ability of innovative designs and traffic control devices to improve safety for all users.” The committee agrees with FHWA on this, a point the committee returns to in the next main section.

Given the aspirational, but nonetheless vague, goals of Complete Streets policies, and lacking an accepted design guide, there is some risk that there will be multiple and, potentially, inconsistent applications of Complete Streets in practice. The Report to Congress does not address this concern directly.

Reinforce the Primacy of Safety for All Users in Interpretation of Design Standards and Guidelines and Project Review Processes

This section of the Report to Congress notes that FHWA encourages the use of context-sensitive design while also recognizing that designers may resist the use of uncommon features because of liability when deviating from well-established standards, among other reasons. As potential solutions to these impediments, FHWA suggests improved training and capacity building for FHWA and other practitioners on the imperative to emphasize safety. Of course, such training would depend on having the knowledge base for improving safety through design in specific contexts.

Make Complete Streets FHWA’s Default Approach for Funding and Designing Non-Access Controlled Highways

The committee observes that because FHWA does not itself design highways except for the limited mileage on federal lands, this might be better expressed in terms of how FHWA can influence the design of non-access controlled highways, which speaks to the collaboration theme introduced above. The above default approach objective would be stated more accurately if qualified by FHWA’s actual focus, which is not on all non-access controlled highways but rather on non-freeway arterials with speed limits below 55 mph within MPO boundaries and for rural arterials that also serve as small town main streets (McCann presentation, slide 14).

This section of the Report to Congress points out that various federal regulations require consideration of all modes but does not define “sufficient” consideration in the context of Complete Streets and safety for all users. Although guidance on various

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Suggested Citation:"Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report, September 29, 2022." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: September 29, 2022. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26758.
×

dimensions of safe design for Complete Streets is being provided by FHWA, AASHTO, and NACTO, a sample of practitioners interviewed by FHWA to gather information for the Report to Congress indicated that “there are not yet sufficient resources to help practitioners address multimodal streets that include transit and freight networks, or how to address conflicts between modes when there is not sufficient right-of-way to accommodate all uses in a single street” [emphasis added]. The differences in Federal Transit Administration and FHWA requirements for environmental and funding processes are also impediments to planning multimodal facilities.

FHWA acknowledges that considerable leadership, effort, changes to policies, formal guidance, updating of manuals, and much broader and more extensive technical assistance from FHWA will be needed to help states and local jurisdictions transition to a Complete Streets design model. From an R&D perspective, the committee believes that this list should be expanded to include data collection, research, and more thorough and complete evaluations of safety countermeasures needed for Complete Streets, as described in the next section.

Opportunities for FHWA RD&T to Address Challenges

Throughout the Report to Congress, FHWA identifies steps it could take to facilitate the transition to Complete Streets. In this section the committee focuses on those related to RD&T. The Report to Congress places considerable emphasis on expanded data collection and knowledge about VRU risk rates (p. 25) and improved technical tools to guide decisions, planning, and design as well as technical assistance by FHWA to states and local jurisdictions (p. 25). Included among the steps are the development of updated guidance (pp. 30, 48, 49); appropriate CMFs (p. 30) for Complete Streets; a survey of states to identify gaps that need to be filled through technical assistance (p. 31); the development and enhancement of models that can estimate safety benefits of Complete Streets and assist in trade-off analyses (p. 31); and provision of additional training to FHWA technical assistance personnel and other practitioners (p. 44). To this list the committee would add the need for reliable models for predicting VRU demand and an improved understanding about operational strategies that can enhance the Complete Streets approach and/or might be impacted based on the Complete Streets design.

These are needed areas of emphasis, but the Report to Congress leaves unanswered questions about what data are most needed, how they will be collected and by whom, the kinds of information that improved technical assistance would be based on, and how gaps in CMFs would be filled and models enhanced given limited data and studies. In short, there is a need for critical analysis of what the most important safety data gaps are, how they can best be filled, and how FHWA RD&T resources can be allocated to this task. The committee recognizes this is a difficult task and the Report to Congress is only the beginning in this regard. Given existing data gaps, it requires more than leveraging FHWA and NCHRP projects to develop CMFs for the HSM. Resources will need to be made available for the collection of data as necessary to increase sample sizes.

The committee questions whether the built-in evaluation component of the Safe Streets for All activity funded in the BIL will be adequate to fill gaps in safety data and estimates of Complete Streets safety benefits. Past FHWA efforts to encourage or require

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Suggested Citation:"Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report, September 29, 2022." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: September 29, 2022. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26758.
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evaluations based on user-collected data have suffered from grant recipients’ lack of understanding about evaluation methods, data gaps, and incomplete reporting of project results. Given the wide variety of context-specific situations where Complete Streets investments will be made, and the breadth of safety, accessibility, and connectivity benefits these investments intend to confer, outcome evaluations will be critical and require FHWA guidance to state and local agencies. Applicants for grants will propose evaluation methods, providing the potential for a mix of approaches, including those that reflect local context and seek community feedback. In the committee’s view, however, it is unlikely that state and local agencies will be able to undertake such evaluations without specific funding and guidance for data collection, as well support for the execution of the evaluations. Indeed, given the expectations that investment in Complete Streets can impact quality of life in its multiple dimensions, novel evaluation methods may be needed that require external expert support to develop and execute effective evaluations. The development of such methods would be an area where FHWA can make important contributions through RD&T, including advanced methods and tools assessing effectiveness as a means for improving performance. FHWA may also need to invest in the development of guidance in data collection and support for the cost of data collection.

FHWA’s presumed model for data collection to fill gaps and evaluation of safety countermeasures is to require grant recipients to collect the data and complete evaluations, with the costs of data collection and evaluation included as part of the grant.12 However, a different model is possible. FHWA could fund a substantial research effort in a sample of willing jurisdictions to collect VRU exposure data in a consistent manner using available new technologies. VRU data on injuries resulting from crashes could be gathered from area hospital emergency rooms. Inventory data could be gathered from existing state sources or be collected with vans outfitted for this purpose when such data do not already exist. Traffic volumes and speed data could be collected using passive, unobtrusive technologies. Each sample site would follow a consistent evaluation plan and data collection would continue until sufficient results are available to estimate risk rates and CMFs. The cost of such a large-scale project would be substantial, but FHWA’s aspirations for Complete Streets are also substantial, and it is important that jurisdictions wanting to implement Complete Streets have the guidance they need about the safety and mobility benefits and costs of doing so.

Variations on this data collection and evaluation model are possible, with some data gathering being funded by grantees based on specific data collection requirements developed by FHWA, along with adequate allocation of funding for covering the cost as part of the grant. Evaluations of implementing Complete Streets could be funded separately by FHWA to ensure that they follow the same methods and are completed. The latter has been a problem in other FHWA programs because FHWA has little leverage to require completed evaluations when funds are allocated as grants.

In the broader context of highway safety, the committee notes that about half (52 percent) of all traffic fatalities occur on minor arterials, collectors, and local streets13 and about 25 percent of traffic deaths are speed related. FHWA’s emphasis on design and guidance on speed limit setting are not enough to address this significant and growing

__________________

12 FHWA could also review the SHRP2 safety database to determine whether the driver behavior, precrash, and crash results can inform Complete Streets safety countermeasures.

13 FHWA. Highway Statistics 2019, Table FI-220.

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Suggested Citation:"Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report, September 29, 2022." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: September 29, 2022. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26758.
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safety problem. Complete Streets is only a part of addressing it. This is an opportunity for RD&T to demonstrate to the entire USDOT the value of collaborating with the states and local jurisdictions to develop a Safe System Approach that includes infrastructure, enforcement (including automated), adjudication, vehicle changes (intelligent or connected vehicle speed assist), and behavior change.

As noted earlier, FHWA can certainly influence the adoption of the Complete Streets vision, but given the country’s federalist system and the discretion that states and local jurisdictions have in allocating funds, it will require collaboration with these other levels of government, particularly with regard to setting speed limits and enforcement. One fundamentally important way that FHWA can move this collaboration along is to define the data collection and RD&T necessary to build the science and knowledge on which the safety benefits and policy trade-offs of Complete Streets design can be based and to allocate the RD&T funds necessary to accomplish this task.

Considering Complete Streets from a practical perspective, it will be important that investment in them is made with life cycle considerations in mind, including maintenance implications. A substantial part of state DOT capital allocation is for repaving and maintaining existing assets. Integrating Complete Streets, including pedestrian and bicycle facilities, into state and local asset management plans and programs will be critical. This infrastructure is often not incorporated into pavement management systems and does not have asset management systems of its own. In order to ensure structured maintenance and operations plans, it will be important for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure to be subject to the kind of asset management protocols and condition and performance metrics applicable to pavements and other roadway assets. There appears to be RD&T opportunities for FHWA to assist in this process.

Finally, the committee notes that the five Complete Streets activities discussed above share many common elements and their planning and execution may benefit from a connecting road map or integrated plan. There were suggestions during the committee meeting discussion that such a road map is being considered, and possibly under development. RTCC would welcome the opportunity to review such a document as it is being shaped.

CLOSING REMARKS

RTCC members are pleased to have had this opportunity to provide input on FHWA’s Complete Streets activities. As usual, the leadership and staff of the RD&T have been cordial and supportive in their interactions with the committee. The committee expects its observations and suggestions will be part of a continued dialogue on this and other important FHWA RD&T initiatives.

During the past year, RTCC has undergone a membership rotation. Its four new members bring fresh perspectives and renewed enthusiasm to the committee’s work. They are becoming increasingly familiar with FHWA’s RD&T portfolio, and along with the rest of the committee are looking forward to meeting again later this year. Having had the privilege of serving on RTCC as both a member and the chair for the past 12 years, I will be ending my service on October 31. My successor is Carlos Braceras, Executive Director of the Utah Department of Transportation. Because you know Braceras well, there is no need for me to praise his abundant qualifications. I leave RTCC confident that under Braceras’s able

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Suggested Citation:"Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report, September 29, 2022." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: September 29, 2022. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26758.
×

leadership, the committee will continue to fulfill its long-standing role in providing independent, strategic advice.

On behalf of RTCC, I again offer my thanks to Associate Administrator Regal and her staff for the excellent meeting presentations that set the stage for productive meeting discussions. I hope you find the summaries of these discussions and the observations and advice offered in this letter report to be timely and constructive.

Sincerely,

Image

Timothy A. Henkel

Chair, RTCC

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Suggested Citation:"Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report, September 29, 2022." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: September 29, 2022. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26758.
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Suggested Citation:"Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report, September 29, 2022." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: September 29, 2022. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26758.
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Suggested Citation:"Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report, September 29, 2022." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: September 29, 2022. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26758.
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×
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×
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×
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×
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Suggested Citation:"Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report, September 29, 2022." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: September 29, 2022. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26758.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report, September 29, 2022." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: September 29, 2022. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26758.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report, September 29, 2022." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: September 29, 2022. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26758.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report, September 29, 2022." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: September 29, 2022. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26758.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report, September 29, 2022." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: September 29, 2022. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26758.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report, September 29, 2022." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: September 29, 2022. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26758.
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Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: September 29, 2022 Get This Book
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A September 29, 2022 letter report from TRB's Research and Technology Coordinating Committee (RTCC) summarizes 2021 and 2022 meetings between the committee and the Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Research, Development, and Technology with a focus on Complete Streets activities. FHWA asked the committee for advice on this topic because it is an emphasis area in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) that FHWA is intent on supporting through the development of research-informed guidance tools and training for state and local transportation agencies.

After two meetings of in-depth discussion on FHWA’s plans and progress in this topic area, RTCC members welcomed the opportunity to provide their observations and impressions on the scope and direction of the work and to offer suggestions and options for next steps.

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