You’ve probably seen it on your roads.
A new building is constructed on a main thoroughfare to house a restaurant or other business. That business needs a driveway in and out of the thoroughfare. As drivers start entering and exiting the new driveway, there are traffic delays and a few crashes. The driveway also crosses a sidewalk, creating pedestrian and bicyclist safety concerns. To mitigate these risks, a traffic light is installed at the location. However, that slows traffic even more, which means complaints about how long it takes to get across town.
Welcome to access management.
As communities across Florida continue to grow, state and local transportation agencies are striving to design roadways that promote safe and efficient use by all travelers. At the same time, those agencies must provide vehicular access to land parcels that promote economic growth and livable communities.
As a first step toward updating its access management program, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) worked with researchers at the University of South Florida Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR) to conduct a national benchmarking study that identified state highway access management best practices and lessons learned from across the country that may benefit Florida’s access management program.
“Access management as a practice has changed its focus since we established the FDOT program in 1988,” said Gary Sokolow, FDOT Senior Transportation Planner (Retired) and Project Manager for the study. “In the 80’s, it was all about moving automobiles with more speed and efficiency. We now have a much broader perspective that gives more consideration to pedestrians and bicyclists, and also more livable landscapes for streets.”
Complete Streets and Context Zones
This effort is part of an ongoing national conversation about the future of the American transportation system and whom it should serve. This conversation gave rise to a new philosophy of transportation called Complete Streets, where roadways and other transportation facilities are designed with all road users in mind, not just drivers.
Complete Streets also incorporates the idea of Context Sensitive Solutions – the planning, designing, and operating of roadways based on a whole-community context that considers the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, the elderly, transit, and disabled travelers, as well as those driving cars.
“The FDOT Design Manual has been updated to reflect Complete Streets and Context Zones,” Sokolow said. “It was time for us to include these ideas in access management.”
Surveying Other States
The research team used three methods to identify potential improvement areas for FDOT access management practices:
- A review of current FDOT access management policy, as well as the proceedings of FDOT access management meetings with District personnel, and a review of the FDOT One-Stop Permitting website.
- An online survey of 11 other state transportation agencies that have recently updated their access management policies. A follow up goal would be to engage in peer-to-peer exchanges with some of those states.
- A targeted review of relevant literature and government documents related to each state in the study.
Each of the states was examined based on five key topics:
- Access Classification, Context, and Complete Streets: How state access management programs are adapting to Complete Streets policies, including context sensitive roadway classification systems and access management considerations for non-auto modes.
- Corridor Planning and Local Network Development: How state transportation agencies are advancing whole-network planning that includes integrating access management practices on local as well as state roads, especially where the two meet.
- Intergovernmental Coordination: Effective coordination between state and local governments on access management issues.
- Access Permitting Enhancements: Automation applications, such as computerized permit processing.
- Staff Education and Training: Systematic approaches to staff education on access management topics.
Improving Policy and Practice
After the study, the CUTR team developed a technical memorandum [LINK] with suggested access management policy and practice improvements based on the topics of study and the practices of the other states. The memo details multiple technical suggestions for each topic; below are summaries of the findings.
Access management starts by categorizing a stretch of roadway based on context – rural, suburban, urban center, urban core, etc. FDOT currently uses seven access categories based on the importance of a roadway to regional mobility.
However, the current FDOT access management classification system does not completely align with the Department’s Complete Streets Implementation Plan. So, the research team suggested ways to redefine those access management categories.
“We asked, ‘How can we broaden the access categories to communicate the context of the road that we are dealing with to better manage access?’” said Kristine Williams, Planning and Corridor Management Program Director at CUTR and Principal Investigator for the project.
Corridor Planning and Local Network Development
Under a Complete Streets philosophy, access management does not stop at state roads. For a fully optimized system, the state must coordinate and plan with local agencies as development happens in local communities.
“Much of what happens along a corridor relates to how well the network has been designed that feeds into that major route,” Williams said. “The other states we studied were also struggling with this and had some interesting ideas for dealing with it that we think could benefit FDOT.”
One idea is to consider access management before new development has happened at all.
“There are not a lot of new major highways being built, but there is a lot of re-development happening along existing routes,” Williams said. “Which means we have an opportunity to redesign these routes based on new best practices. So much can be done during the land development process that can’t be done after the land has been subdivided and development proposals are submitted.”
Related to the topic above, the study found that better coordination between state and local governments can enhance system-wide Complete Streets access management practices. FDOT actually developed model access management regulations for local governments that were updated in 2017 to consider non-auto travel. The memo suggested better promotion of these regulations to local agencies.
“We want to promote thinking about connected networks and good network planning at the local level,” Williams said. “FDOT is in a great position to lead this and can include these regulations in training modules for local agencies. We think this will help with adoption and implementation.”
Access Permitting Enhancements
From a logistical standpoint, developers and others that need roadway access also need an efficient way to apply for and receive access permits. FDOT does have a one-stop permitting site that allows individuals to apply for utility permits online, but does not currently have “e-permitting” for access permits.
“Several of the states we studied have developed streamlined electronic access permitting processes, even for smart phones and tablets,” Williams said. “FDOT is well underway with e-permitting, but the memo suggested that it be expanded to include access permitting.”
Staff Education and Training
“FDOT has far and away the best access management training program that we found,” Williams said. “In fact, some of the other states we studied actually attend FDOT webinars.”
To build on that robust training base, the research team suggested developing targeted training for the land development community and local governments.
Access to a Better Future
There are many complex issues involved in access management but, done right, it can be a key strategy for developing thriving, safe, and efficient communities.
“One of the great benefits of access management is it is a very cost-effective way of preserving the system, from both a safety and operational perspective,” Sokolow said. “We want to make the best decisions for all travelers as well as the communities they live in. This study provides a good basis and foundation for some of that decision making.”