Missourians for Responsible Transportation [MRT] and our organizational partners (BikeWalkKC in Kansas City, Local Motion in Columbia, Ozark Greenways in Springfield, and Trailnet in St. Louis) work across the state to advance active transportation opportunities for Missourians. Learn more about who we are, what we do, and why we do it via our 2023 MRT Annual Update.
Our mission is to be the leader in fostering strong communities by aligning advocacy efforts for streets, roads, and trails that work for all Missourians.
Taylor March, Executive Director (started February 1, 2023)
Taylor March joined MRT in February of 2023 as Executive Director. Taylor has been amazed at the things the MRT partnership and staff been able to accomplish in 2023! From passing Missouri’s ban on cell phone use while driving, the Siddens Bening Hands Free Law, to working with partners at rural regional planning commissions to successfully advocate for changes to Missouri’s Transportation Alternatives Program scoring criteria, the most commonly used federal funding program for sidewalks, transit investments, and bikeway projects, this was a big year for MRT and our partners. One of the most satisfying parts of the year for Taylor was seeing the announcement of the Rock Island Trail as Missouri’s 93rd State Park, and getting to work with communities to highlight their successes at the first Rock Island Trail Summit in Eldon Missouri.
Learn more about Taylor's previous work with advancing active transportation in the St. Louis area from this post from our partners at Trailnet.
Jackson Hotaling, Community Engagement Director (2021-present)
Jackson Hotaling continues to support MRT through our active transportation regional planning policy initiative, supported by Missouri Foundation for Health. Some of his highlights from this year include advocating for the improvement of MoDOT's Transportation Alternative Program (TAP) scoring criteria, co-hosting a pop-up complete streets demonstration in Joplin, and attending our MRT partner Michael Kelley's (BikeWalkKC) keynote to share about Kansas' updated statewide active transportation plan.
Cindy DeBlauw, Interim Project Director/Consultant (2022-present)
Cindy DeBlauw supported MRT as an Interim Project Director until February 1, 2023 when Taylor March joined MRT as Executive Director. She continues to work with MRT on a part-time basis assisting with the implementation of two Department of Health and Senior Service contracts. One of the most satisfying parts of Cindy's work has been seeing communities take action to support active transportation by applying for grants and advocating for the inclusion of their projects in MoDOT's bike/ped STIP.
On July 6th, 2023, Governor Mike Parson signed Senate Bill 398, which included the “Siddens Bening Hands Free Law,” which requires all drivers to utilize hands-free cellphone features while behind the wheel. After the grace period portion of the law took effect on August 28, 2023, Missouri became the 49th state (plus the District of Columbia and the US territories) to prohibit texting while driving for all drivers, and the 28th state to require hands-free phone use for drivers of all ages behind the wheel. The law's penalty provisions go into effect on January 1st, 2025. This is a great step forward for our state!
Data analyzed in a report from Cambridge Mobile Telematics determined the implementation of the law played a role in reversing Missouri's deadly upward trend of roadway fatalities--Missouri faced fewer roadway fatalities in 2023 than during Missouri's peak in 2022 (Missouri's deadliest year for traffic deaths since 2006). Within the first two and a half months of the law's passage, the new grace period helped prevent 350 crashes, one fatality, and $8.3 million in economic damages on Missouri roadways. Furthermore, MoDOT's Assistant to State Highway Safety & Traffic Engineer Jon Nelson, a supporter of Hands-Free Missouri, corroborated the findings of the report. According to Nels0n "distracted driving has been a big issue on roadways. He believes the new Hands-Free law regarding distracted driving that went into effect in August can help decrease the number of deaths in the future."
The passage of this bill was due in no small part to the efforts of the Hands-Free Missouri Coalition. Hands-Free Missouri's mission is to “Eliminate distracted driving-related injuries and deaths on Missouri roadways through policy, education, and collaboration.” The coalition is formed from more than 40 partner organizations ranging from state legislators, victim advocates, law enforcement, educational institutions, insurance groups, non-profits, and more. Taylor March (MRT) leads monthly meetings for the coalition, and additional MRT partners in the coalition are Jackson Hotaling (MRT), John Montgomery (Ozark Greenways), and Michael Kelley (BikeWalkKC). The coalition has been lauded as a national model for other states to follow, and a national coalition was partially modeled after our coalition.
Taylor March coordinates Hands-Free Missouri's monthly meetings, and coalition partners also manages the Legislative Affairs Workgroup and Public Information/Advocacy Workgroup. Headway towards passage of the legislation was made through Capitol lobby days and distracted driving awareness days, organized by the coalition to bring to attention the issue of distracted driving to the state legislature. During the 2023 Missouri Legislative Session, Missouri Department of Transportation and AAA Missouri (both represented in the coalition) developed language for bills to support legal measures against distracted driving. Several bills incorporated this language, introduced in both the MO House and Senate. The primary bills were combined into one comprehensive piece of legislation and eventually signed into law as an amendment to SB 398. The name of the bill, the Siddens Bening Hands Free Law, combines two surnames of victims of distracted driving, Randall Siddens and Michael Bening. Their spouses, Adrienne Siddens and Stephany Bening, both played an essential role throughout the legislative process and deserve the utmost recognition for their time and dedication with Hands-Free Missouri for advocating for distracted driving legislation.
In addition to legislative advocacy, education is a crucial component of Hands-Free Missouri. The coalition expanded an educational program started in Fall 2021, the “Buckle Up/Phone Down High School Showdown,” which allows schools to compete for prizes while learning actively and raising awareness about the problems associated with distracted driving. It includes programming for elementary schools, high schools, and a new program geared toward small businesses.
MoDOT awarded MRT a Highway Safety Grant (October 2022-September 2023) to support the education initiatives and messaging regarding Hands-Free Missouri .
The Rock Island Trail is Now a State Park
On June 30th, 2023, Rock Island Trail State Park was named Missouri's 93rd and newest state park! Throughout the last several years, MRT worked alongside many organizations (including Missouri State Parks, Missouri State Parks Foundation, Missouri Parks Association, Friends of Rock Island Trail State Park, and Conservation Federation of Missouri) to grow community support, awareness, and funding for the establishment of the 154-mile Rock Island Trail corridor extension from Windsor to Union. As a result, Missouri established the Rock Island Trail as a state park for all to enjoy, and headway is being made toward trail development.
One of the key highlights of our advocacy for the Rock Island Trail was to cohost the first-annual Rock Island Trail Summit in Eldon. We brought together advocates, city and state officials, legislators, planners, and others working to make the Rock Island Trail Missouri's next great active transportation link across the state. The day-long event included a detailed overview of the Rock Island Trail State Park Master Plan, an update on financial and advocacy efforts to secure trail development, a tour of the Eldon Chamber of Commerce, and a legislative update panel discussion featuring five MO state representatives and one state senator.
Of the 154 miles slated for development, approximately 9 miles of trail are funded through various mechanisms. A groundbreaking for the first section of the trail to be built will be hosted in Gerald on January 26th. View our map to see the current trail development status along the Rock Island Trail corridor:
Read more about our work directly with communities along the Rock Island Trail in the 'Consulting Projects' section of this year's Annual Update.
Support of Other Trails Initiatives
MRT has also participated in public planning meetings and/or provided letters of support for several other regional and statewide active transportation corridors under development in Missouri in 2023:
Statewide Active Transportation Planning
Better Access to Active Transportation Funding
The Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) is the largest source of active transportation funding in Missouri. In July 2023, MoDOT released the latest rural TAP Call for Projects with revamped scoring criteria, in part as a result of advocacy by MRT. We requested that the evaluation form inquire whether communities have complete streets policies, which is now included for the first time on TAP grant applications. Furthermore, we requested that the point scoring of the evaluation criteria focus less on the budget and whether communities have additional funding to complete a project. Instead, we advocated for the scoring to focus more heavily on the long-term safety and connectivity impacts of the project. Overall, many of our suggestions were incorporated into the new evaluation criteria, which we believe will have long-term benefits for communities.
The advocacy towards an improved TAP process is part of a larger MRT program, which will run through June 2024 with support from Missouri Foundation for Health [MFH]. Through this project, we have been collaborating closely with Regional Planning Commissions to better coordinate and effect positive changes for walking, biking, and transit access on the regional level. We are primarily working within MoDOT's Southwest District, bringing together four regional planning entities: Kaysinger Basin Regional Planning Commission, Southwest Missouri Council of Governments, Harry S Truman Coordinating Council, and Joplin Area Transportation Study Organization.
Training and Recognition for the Best Complete Streets Policies
As part of our MFH project, MRT hosted a successful 'Pop-Up Complete Streets Demonstration' in Downtown Joplin as part of a monthly community event that drew thousands of people, October's Third Thursday. Joplin recently adopted an active transportation plan and complete streets policy, and the pop-up demonstration provided an opportunity for city staff to stand alongside advocates and engage with community members about existing plans.
MRT partners engaged with event visitors. BikeWalkKC set up their Home Street Home exhibit, showing interpretive displays of complete streets in action. Trailnet provided the materials to set up a temporary road diet on the 600 block of Joplin Main Street, and Local Motion brought their bike fleet for people walking by to try. The demonstration reduced the car travel lanes from four to three (with a center turn lane), based on a previous proposal by and discussion with downtown's revitalization organization Downtown Joplin Alliance. Temporary additions as part of the demonstration included northbound and southbound bike lanes, a mid-block crossing, and planters and seating at bump-outs to accentuate crosswalk visibility and provide landscaping and placemaking amenities.
Additionally, two local artist organizations--Joplin Arts District and Joplin Youth Volunteer Corps--painted eye-catching designs on two temporary artistic crosswalks. Local advocacy organizations and rider groups (Bike Walk Joplin, Joplin Critical Mass, and the Joplin schools bike bus) participated with tabling at the event to build community awareness about local active transportation issues and opportunities.
As a follow-up in November, Michael Kelley (BikeWalkKC) and Troy Bolander (Director of Planning, Development & Neighborhood Services with the City of Joplin) presented to Joplin City Council about the demonstration event and next steps the city can take towards implementation.
Joplin is a key community to watch as a part of Missouri's active transportation transformation. Joplin's newly adopted active transportation plan and complete streets policy, which include a city-appointed Complete Streets Commission, are already directing city leaders with development guidance and identifying capital improvement priorities. As a result of Joplin's efforts, Smart Growth America (SGA) recognized Joplin on a list of the ten best complete streets policies of 2023, along with two other Missouri communities (Rogersville and Riverside). All three of these communities received technical assistance from MRT to develop active transportation plans as part of the Active Living Community of Practice [ALCP] program.
Missouri Complete Streets [MOCS] Advisory Committee
Missouri Completes Streets [MOCS] is an initiative sponsored by the Department of Health and Senior Services [MO DHSS]. MO DHSS contracts with MRT to lead quarterly MOCS Advisory Committee meetings in a virtual setting. Alongside MRT partners and a broad range of stakeholders from around the state, presentations are delivered, pertinent active transportation developments are shared, and there is an opportunity for open discussion during the meetings. Several goals and objectives have been identified by the committee. These include:
The need for a Missouri statewide active transportation plan is becoming increasingly apparent. During our quarterly MOCS meeting in September, we hosted a discussion with the Colorado Department of Transportation, where we learned that Missouri is the most populous of only seven states without a statewide plan. Similarly, MRT has been tracking the active transportation plans of neighboring states--all of which have an existing plan or a plan in development--and the planning discussions in our neighboring states of Kansas and Illinois demonstrates how crucial these planning efforts are to identifying funding, promoting regional connectivity and economic development, and support their states' transportation safety strategies. MRT also participated in two Missouri statewide planning efforts for the MO Department of Health and Senior Services (Master Plan on Aging) and MO State Parks (5-Year Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan), where the need for an integrated framework for active transportation planning was identified as a crucial need for the state in both of these planning advisory committees.
Now is an ideal time for Missouri to create a thorough plan for active transportation, especially with the recent appointment of a new MoDOT Planning Director in October 2023 and the upcoming update to MoDOT's Long Range Transportation Plan in the next few years. Heading into 2024, MRT will support expanded efforts to advocate for a statewide active transportation plan. Please attend our quarterly MOCS meetings to stay tuned for how you can get involved in this advocacy.
Winding down: Active Living Community of Practice [ALCP]
MRT closed out an outstanding consultancy opportunity in December, serving rural Missouri communities for five years as part of the Active Living Community of Practice program. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services contracted with MRT in 2018 to carry out technical assistance for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's State Physical Activity and Nutrition program. The goal of this grant was to assist communities with adopting active transportation policies and plans to enhance the connectedness within communities to everyday destinations. Throughout the program period and with five different cohorts, MRT hosted regular virtual meetings to foster collaboration and provide educational opportunities, as well as offer technical and planning assistance to ALCP communities to support active transportation planning development.
For the final year of ALCP, MRT concluded technical assistance with the ALCP Cohort 5 communities (Cole Camp, Stover, Versailles, Barnett, Belle, Bland, Owensville, Rosebud, and Gerald), which are centered along Rock Island Trail State Park. We hosted several trainings and encouraged ALCP communities to bring key community stakeholders to the training sessions. During these trainings, ALCP partners had the opportunity to connect with communities statewide to learn about and experience multimodal transportation systems in practice. Learn more about this year's ALCP project in the document below, developed by DHSS to highlight this year's progress with ALCP:
Current efforts: Building Communities for Better Health [BCBH]
MRT continued a contract with MO DHSS to provide technical assistance to communities seeking to reduce chronic disease risk factors through physical activity and tobacco use prevention. Similar to ALCP, MRT is assisting local coalitions with adopting complete streets policies and active transportation plans through a collaborative learning process. MRT and another MO DHSS contractor, Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America [CADCA], are providing trainings and technical assistance to communities. Throughout 2023, we led walk audits in our partner communities, while CADCA focused on the tobacco use prevention aspects of the project.
New partnerships: Statewide Physical Activity and Nutrition [SPAN] / High Obesity Program [HOP]
MRT is excited to continue building partnerships to carry forward the momentum of active transportation planning in Southeast Missouri through two new programs. In 2023, MRT signed a contract with University of Missouri Extension to begin planning for technical assistance strategy to support active transportation planning with individual communities in targeted areas of Southeast Missouri. MRT is also under consideration for a similar project with MO DHSS, although project partner determinations have not been completed at this time. Information on the overall programs can be found below:
Stay tuned in 2024 for project developments! One of our first steps will be to identify communities to participate in this program. If you have an interest in partnering on this project in Southeast Missouri, please reach out to us via our email email@example.com.
Updates from MRT Partners
Participation in Other Organizations
We serve on working groups and as members of several other local, state, and national level organizations that focus on forwarding the goals of our mission. MRT has a presence: