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Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO): Active Transportation Funding Policy


Main Components of Active Transportation Funding Policy

Note: These components play a role in most or all of the MPO's bike/pedestrian activities. The approaches below help the NMPO incorporate health into transportation planning; get adequate public involvement; and formulate policy based on public opinion.      

  • Educate stakeholders about the importance of connecting health and transportation in a transportation plan. Because many people still have limited knowledge about the connection between transportation and health, it is important to educate key stakeholders about how transportation impacts health and how transportation planners can be part of the solution. This can occur through workshops, trainings, or public input sessions.

  • Conduct thorough formative work that incorporates public input. The MPO used a variety of approaches, including surveys and in-person meetings, to collect feedback from the public. The MPO collected qualitative feedback from the public about barriers and opportunities to walking and bicycling in the region, as well as on models the MPO developed to rate roadways about how well they served the safety and comfort of bicyclists and pedestrians and a model that predicted areas of the region that were more likely than others to have bicycle and pedestrian trips. The public was also invited to create the criteria for scoring bicycle and pedestrian projects. The criteria developed through this process included seeing if a new facility connected to an existing or planned facility, whether or not the facility was in a locally adopted bicycle and pedestrian plan, and whether the facility would help to improve the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians and help to decrease traffic congestion.

  • Work with multidisciplinary stakeholders/partners. Multidisciplinary collaboration provides perspectives from other sectors; can help promote your cause and your message more broadly than if you were working alone; and can provide feedback you may not otherwise receive on proposed policies. The MPO works with partners in health, housing, transportation, transit advocacy, and other sectors.  

  • Adopt a policy to support the vision expressed by the public, including the creation and application of objective scoring criteria that reflect public input. The Nashville Area MPO created rigorous scoring criteria that allocated more points for a project that addressed health and environmental concerns, among others. See Intervention Materials for the Project Evaluation Criteria.

  • Allocate funding to support the policy and the vision (see bullet above), such as devoting a certain percentage of a funding source to a specific project. As stated elsewhere, the Nashville MPO has allocated 15% of STP funding to active transportation infrastructure and education/awareness activities; flexes" an additional 10% of the U-STP funding to public transit improvements/efforts; and dedicates another 5% of the U-STP funding to technology improvements (such as pedestrian countdown signals or signs encouraging biking or walking on bad air quality days).

  • Establish a way to measure progress over time. A key piece of the MPO's work involves monitoring activities over time. For example, the MPO will benchmark progress over time by monitoring: the number of active transportation policies (such as complete streets policies) that are adopted; how many plans consider active transportation and health (including zoning codes, comprehensive plans, subdivision regulations and major street plans); how many miles of various facilities (such as greenways, sidewalks, and bike lanes) are built; congestion and air quality; all types of crashes; the number of people using active transportation; and transit ridership. Assessing this data over time will allow the MPO to see if their efforts around active transportation are making a difference. Finally, the Regional Transportation and Health study (data for this study is being collected in 2012) will provide a longitudinal perspective of the impact of the MPO's policies over the next few decades.

Advocacy for and Enactment of the Active Transportation Funding Policy:  The process of developing, advocating for and enacting the new Active Transportation Funding Policy was multi-pronged. Steps leading up to the adoption of the policy included: conducting surveys/studies, receiving public input (written and oral), and reviewing work of other MPOs/transportation planning organizations to learn about best practices already in the field.

The MPO's formative work focused on learning what kinds of transportation infrastructure citizens of Middle Tennessee wanted. Once public input was collected, MPO staff used the data to develop the scoring criteria, which integrated health and the environment, and the 15% reserved funding for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and education/awareness activities.   Several key elements of the MPO's formative work are described below.

  • The 2010 Regional Transportation Study, a random digit-dialed survey with approximately 1,100 households that responded;

  • Survey of Bike and Pedestrian Behaviors and Perceptions, an online survey sent to participants from public meetings, as well as bike advocacy groups, non-profits focused on greenways, and other partners. (Recipients were asked to forward the URL to coworkers, friends, and family who walked/biked on a regular basis as well as those who did not walk/bike regularly.) The survey was also sent to member jurisdictions. In total, approximately 1700 responded

  • Bike and Pedestrian Crash Survey, sent to everyone who completed the Survey of Bike and Pedestrian Behaviors and Perceptions, focused on those having experienced a crash/accident as a cyclist or a pedestrian. Over 1000 people responded.

  • Regional Transportation Plan Survey, a comprehensive survey to gather input on the 2035 Regional Transportation Plan. The survey focused on quality of life, transit, and other growth issues; it was posted on the MPO's website. Between 100 and 200 people completed this survey.

Additionally, MPO staff played a key role in framing the relevant issues around active transportation to the Executive Committee of the MPO (made up of mayors of member jurisdictions). The MPO staff framed economic prosperity and the components of a livable and sustainable community. By talking about the influence of mass transit and employee healthcare costs on company relocation decisions, the MPO illustrated to stakeholders that having transportation choices is good for congestion, for the local economy, and for the health of the workforce and general population.

Implementation of Policy:  The Nashville Area MPO has developed and implemented three distinct scoring processes, which all play a role in how the MPO is supporting health through transportation planning.

Application of Bicycle and Pedestrian Study Scoring Criteria: Criteria for scoring and prioritizing bike and pedestrian projects were first developed as part of the Regional Bicycle and Pedestrian Study conducted in 2009. The criteria used to score potential projects includes:

  • Determining the level of service and potential number of non-motorized trips with the goal of providing better facilities and increasing facilities in places that are not conducive to biking and walking — this step produces a score of up to 24 points (a higher score indicates higher need for the infrastructure improvement and a higher likelihood of use, due to population density);

  • determining the project's contribution to bike/pedestrian network connectivity, such as linking and/or extending a bicycle or sidewalk facility to another segment;

  • analyzing how the project would improve the safety of biking/walking in the area;

  • measuring the impact of the project on congestion mitigation;

  • showing how the project supports community goals (elements of locally adopted plans that include bicycle/pedestrian recommendations); and

  • evaluating the project's contribution to high health impact areas (areas that are considered high health risk areas) within the NMPO.

More information on this first phase of scoring criteria can be found here:

Application of Project Evaluation Criteria to projects submitted for the 2035 Regional Transportation Plan: The Project Evaluation criteria used to score and rank submissions for the 2035 Regional Transportation Plan grew out of the scoring criteria described above that was created as part of the Regional Bicycle and Pedestrian Study.

  • The first step is for the MPO to issue a call-for-projects.

  • Once the call for projects is out, jurisdictions can submit project requests for anything from new transit service, an Interstate interchange, a road-widening, retiming traffic signals, a greenway, or pretty much any improvement to a roadway designated as part of the federal aid highway system (with some limited exceptions).   The Nashville MPO requires that the projects must be included in a locally-adopted comprehensive plan or major street plan to demonstrate that technical analysis and community input have determined that the project is significant to that community.   Also, a local jurisdiction must demonstrate that it will be able to providing matching funds should its project be included in the plan. Depending on the project type and funding source the match required ranges from 10-50% of the project cost (usually it is 20%). Projects are submitted using the Project Submission form available in the Intervention Materials section of this template.

  • Jurisdictions submitting project proposals must provide an explanation for why the jurisdiction believes that a project is regionally significant. For the 2035 Regional Transportation Plan, over 500 project applications were submitted for the plan, with a little over 400 applications for roadway improvements.  

  • It is in this step that the Project Evaluation Criteria is applied to each project submission the MPO received. The MPO conducts a comprehensive analysis of each project accounting for everything from roadway congestion, air quality, freight traffic, Environmental Justice populations, non-motorized/active transportation, health and a variety of other factors (see attached scoring sheet, which reflects the Project Evaluation Criteria included in the Intervention Materials).  

  • Following the comprehensive analysis, each technical staff person conducts an additional review of each project application for impact on congestion, transit, freight and the bicycle/pedestrian network.

    • For the bicycle and pedestrian review, a roadway was analyzed for overall importance to the bicycle and pedestrian network, proximity to community destinations such as schools, parks and grocery stores, and additional analysis that reviewed qualitatively how integral an active transportation component would be to the mobility, accessibility and quality of life of the residents and the users of the roadway.   This analysis factored into the final decision-making process and scoring for the project, and helped to de-emphasize the traditional notion that a roadway function is to serve automotive trips quickly and efficiently, but shifting the paradigm so that a roadway is considered as an essential part of a community by connecting people to housing, jobs, other modes of transportation, food and other destinations.

  • Out of the several rounds of scoring and analysis described above, projects are selected for inclusion in the RTP.

Application of Scoring Criteria for the Active Transportation Program: The Active Transportation Program is the 15% of the U-STP funding to be devoted to bicycle and pedestrian projects, including education and awareness activities.  

  • The first step is for the MPO to release the Call for Projects (example provided in Intervention Materials section) notifying jurisdictions about the funding and how to apply.

  • Local jurisdictions submit project proposals.

  • Once project proposals are submitted, the project scoring process includes these steps:

    • Step 1: Quantitative Scoring by MPO Staff — MPO staff will apply the Project Evaluation Criteria used during the development of the 2035 Plan which includes an analysis of LOS, latent demand, proximity of population and employment, traffic volumes, congestion, environmental features, Title VI populations, etc. Projects will be scored and sorted into three tiers (high, medium, and low). MPO Staff and the BPAC will review the applications jointly and decide which applications will move onto the second round of evaluation.

    • Step 2: Qualitative Assessment by BPACThe BPAC will perform a qualitative evaluation of each project, scoring applications from 0 (worst) to 5 (best) within the four factor areas assigned to each category of projects.   For Infrastructure Projects, the areas are: Promotion of Environmental & Personal Health, Expected Utility/ Usage, Contribution to the Built Environment, Value over No Build/ No Action. For Non-Infrastructure Projects, the areas are: Scope of Audience/ Reach, Consistency of Message to Regional Goals, Synergy with other Programs, and Sustainability of Effort. Projects will then be scored and sorted into three tiers (high, medium, and low). MPO Staff and the BPAC will jointly review projects in the lowest tier and decide which should continue into the third round of evaluation.

    • Step 3: Qualitative Assessment by MPO Staff — MPO staff will finalize the rankings for projects, considering fiscal years 2011-2015 Transportation Improvement Program budget constraints, the performance history of project sponsors, long-term sustainability of the project such as ongoing operations and maintenance, and consistency with the 2035 Regional Transportation Plan.

  • Once all scoring is completed, project selection will occur in three stages and involve the participation of MPO staff, MPO BPAC, MPO Technical Coordinating Committee (TCC), and MPO Executive Board:

    • With the MPO BPAC serving in an advisory role, MPO staff will make recommendations for project awards to the TCC and MPO Executive Board.

    • The MPO TCC will be requested to endorse MPO staff recommendations for consideration by the MPO Executive Board.

    • The MPO Executive Board will be asked to adopt MPO staff recommendations

  • Upon adoption by the MPO Executive Board, letters will be mailed to award recipients with instructions on how to move forward with the contracting process.

  • If funded, construction on the project begins. This phase of the implementation is managed by the State Dept. of Transportation.

Keys to Success

  • Including multidisciplinary partners helps to inform transportation planning processes. Potential partners include (but are not limited to): local and state health organizations, other government agencies such as schools, parks, police, public works and others whose work is impacted by the built environment and health; non-profits such as the YMCA, bike and pedestrian advocacy groups; and others who share a common vision.

  • Coordinating and collaborating with Chambers of Commerce and Smart Growth groups helps to engage the business community and bridge the argument between economic prosperity and transportation.

  • The existence of a Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee within the MPO provides support from within for environmental and policy changes that promote walking and biking.

  • Dynamic and forward-thinking leadership within the MPO.

Barriers to Implementation

  • Knowledge and awareness of the following issues among the public and policymakers:
    • Lack of understanding of the connection between transportation and health, not only in the general public but also among various key players in transportation planning and in public health.
    • The understanding between healthcare spending for disease treatment vs. prevention, and how the enormous spending on healthcare is taking away funding for other areas such as transportation.  
    • General lack of understanding about how an unhealthy workforce decreases productivity and increases healthcare spending, and why companies are starting to pay attention to things like transportation and healthcare costs when they are looking to relocate.  
    • The still-new idea that health needs to be addressed outside of the medical setting, as well. This is starting to change, but people are just beginning to see that policies contribute to or undermine health, and/or why they should advocate for good policy.
  • Federal transportation funding and decisions that trickle down to the MPO level.
  • Changing the culture/social norms around modes of transportation.