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Safety in Numbers: Biking Is Safest in Nations With the Most People on Bikes

The more people bike in a country generally the safer it is for cycling. This phenomenon is called "safety in numbers." Graph: International Transport Forum via Amsterdamize

Countries with high cycling rates also have low rates of fatalities per distance biked. Graph: International Transport Forum [PDF] via Amsterdamize

The more people get around by bike, the safer it is, according to the “safety in numbers” rule first popularized by researcher Peter Jacobsen.

This chart from the International Transport Forum [PDF] shows how the safety in numbers effect plays out at the national scale. As you can see, biking is safer in the countries where people bike the most.

There was, however, some variation country to country. The report noted that Korea’s cycling fatality rates were greater than what its biking rates would suggest. Researchers speculated that might be due to a rapid recent growth in cycling. Perhaps, they write, “neither cyclists nor other transport participants have had time to assimilate each other’s presence.”

Meanwhile, in some nations with high cycling rates, biking has become even safer over time. That was the case in Denmark, where cycling rates have been high but fairly stable for the last decade, but fatality rates have dropped 40 percent during the same period.

The safety in numbers has been observed at the scale of cities too. Recently, for example, bicycle injury rates in Minneapolis have declined as total ridership has risen. The same trend has played out in New York, as cycling has increased while total injuries and fatalities have not.

Do more people on bikes cause cycling to become safer, or does safer infrastructure attract more people to bike? There’s no conclusive evidence either way, but the answer is probably a mix of both. Safer infrastructure entices more people to ride, and more people riding instill greater awareness on the part of motorists and increase the demand for safer infrastructure.

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Protected Lanes Preview: Boston, Detroit, Indy, Minneapolis, Denver & More

Shelby Street in Indianapolis is a model for that city’s two latest protected bike lane projects.

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Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Spring is three weeks away, and that means it’s time for one of American cities’ newest rituals: announcing the year’s protected bike lane construction plans.

Every few days over the last month, another U.S. city has released plans or announced progress in building protected lanes. Even more excitingly, many are in downtown and commercial areas, which tend to have the highest latent demand for biking. Let’s take a scan from east to west of the projects that popped onto our radar in February alone, to be built in 2015 or 2016:

Boston is “heading toward” a firm plan for protected lanes on the crucial Commonwealth Avenue artery between Boston University Bridge and Brighton, Deputy Transportation Commissioner Jim Gillooly said February 9. In column the day before, the Boston Globe’s Derrick Jackson endorsed the concept on the strength of a trip to Seattle, where he rode a Pronto! Bike Share bicycle down the 2nd Avenue bike lane.

“I did something here I am scared to death to do in Boston,” Jackson wrote. “I bicycled on a weekday in the city’s most bustling business district.”

New York City is on track to upgrade several blocks of Columbus Avenue near Lincoln Square with greater protection, improving connections to the Ninth Avenue protected bike lane in Midtown, after a February 10 thumbs-up from the local community board.

Columbus, Ohio, said February 2 that a 1.4-mile bidirectional protected lane on Summit near the Ohio State University campus is “just the beginning” of plans for biking improvements, thanks to advocacy group Yay Bikes and a receptive city staff.

Detroit is installing southeast Michigan’s first protected lanes this year on a “very short segment” of East Jefferson. Advocacy group Detroit Greenways says it’s “precedent setting and could serve as a model for all of Detroit’s major spoke roads.”

Read more…

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The Enormous Promise of a Carbon Tax-and-Dividend

Absent any foreseeable action from Washington, some states and localities are stepping up with policies that put a price on carbon. And that has a number of exciting implications for cities and sustainable transportation. California is using revenue from its cap-and-trade program, for instance, to subsidize housing near transit.

Enacting a carbon tax in Oregon would require overturning a state ban on spending gas tax revenue on anything except car infrastructure. Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland

In Oregon, advocates are now pushing a carbon tax that would rebate all the money to households. Even without spending the revenue on specific goals, carbon pricing would be a huge boost for walking, biking, and transit, Michael Andersen at Bike Portland explains: 

The group, called Oregon Climate, is pushing a concept called “tax and dividend”: instead of sending the proceeds into government coffers, all of the revenue collected from wholesale fossil-fuel transactions — gasoline to a distributor, coal to a power plant, and so on — would be pooled and divided evenly among Oregonians in the form of checks worth an estimated $500 to $1500 per year.

“This is the most climate-friendly progressive legislature that we’ve had, and maybe the most climate-friendly in the country right now,” Oregon Climate Executive Director Camila Thorndike said in an interview Tuesday. “States across the country have their eyes on Oregon, and we cannot let this opportunity pass by.”

Prices would rise in Oregon for concrete, gasoline, electricity and other fossil-fuel-intensive products. Dan Golden, Oregon Climate’s volunteer policy director, said Tuesday that their proposed tax of $30 per ton of carbon (increasing by $10 each year) would translate into about 27 cents per gallon of gasoline, increasing another 9 cents each year.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Pedestrian Deaths in Michigan Increased 41% Last Year (Detroit News)
  • Scientists Find Link Between Car Exhaust and Heart Disease (LA Times)
  • Taking Transit Healthier for Your Brain Than Driving to Work, Science Says (Business Insider)
  • Governing: Transportation Agencies Need More Female Engineers
  • Is Chicago BRT Getting Watered Down Too Much? (CityLab)
  • How Much Money Does Minnesota Need For Roads? That’s a Political Question (MinnPost)
  • Hartford Busway Gets Nod in Connecticut Governor’s Budget (Courant)
  • Las Vegas Caps Off Three-Year Transit Planning Effort (Las Vegas Review Journal)
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Utah Restaurants: If You’re Not Driving, Spend Your Money Somewhere Else

Restaurants in Salt Lake City are winning their battle to keep people without cars from ordering at drive-thru windows.

Salt Lake City restaurants banded together to prevent customers without cars from purchasing products through drive-thru windows. Photo: WIkipedia

Salt Lake City restaurants banded together to prevent customers without cars from purchasing products through drive-thru windows. Photo: Wikipedia

Lawmakers in Salt Lake City had passed a law mandating access to drive-thru windows for people walking and biking. Drive-thrus often stay open later than the indoor restaurant, and serve customers faster.

The law was met with a major lobbying effort by the Utah Restaurants Association, which apparently feared it would leave them open to lawsuits, according to the trade publication Associations Now.

“We cannot mix bikes and pedestrians with vehicles in our service lanes,” URA CEO Melva Sine told the National Restaurant Association in August. “What if someone slips or gets run over? The city doesn’t get sued, the restaurant gets sued. Restaurant owners need the flexibility to manage their own risk, just like the city manages its own risk.”

State legislation overruling the city law was introduced by Rep. Johnny Anderson, a Republican representing Taylorsville, a Salt Lake City suburb. The bill has cleared the legislature but the governor could still choose to veto it, according to Associations Now.

It says something about the system we’ve designed when it’s perceived to be so dangerous that business associations lobby to prevent people from buying their stuff.

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Talking Headways Podcast: Green Trippin’

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This week Ann Cheng of the California advocacy group Transform joins me to talk about their GreenTRIP program. Ann is a planner and the former mayor of El Cerrito, as well as one of San Francisco Business Times “40 Under Forty” in 2014. On the podcast she discusses how housing developers can build less parking and more housing by giving residents better travel options through GreenTRIP Certification.

If you haven’t heard of GreenTRIP, it’s a certification process that helps developers eschew massively expensive parking spaces in exchange for car trip-reducing alternatives. It’s an awesome program and after hearing more you’ll want to bring it to your town! Especially since they’ve just released GreenTRIP Platinum Certification.

I was super excited to hear about the Garden Village project in Berkeley, which has zero auto parking, a bike fix-it station, free car-share membership, and two bike storage hooks for each of its 77 housing units.

Listen in and let us know what you think in the comments!

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Koch Brothers Loom Over Maryland’s Purple Line Fight

Look whose envoy has been dispatched to undermine Maryland’s Purple Line. Once again, Randal O’Toole of the Koch brothers-funded Cato Institute has been deployed to attack a light rail project in distress.

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Newly appointed Maryland DOT chief Pete Rahn will play a large role in deciding the fate of the Purple Line. At Rahn’s confirmation hearing, lawmakers questioned him about a fishy contract awarded to Koch Industries when he was running New Mexico DOT.

On Monday, the Maryland Public Policy Institute, a right-wing think tank, is hosting a debate on whether to construct the light rail project in the DC suburbs, which newly elected Governor Larry Hogan has threatened to kill. The debate will pair Rich Parson, vice chair of the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance, with O’Toole, professional rail critic.

O’Toole works for the Cato Institute, founded and funded by the Koch brothers. Cato dispatches O’Toole to political squabbles involving rail transit around the country, from Indianapolis to Honolulu. He’s so rabidly anti-rail that after Hurricane Sandy, he suggested New York City should replace its subway system with a network of underground buses.

Despite dispensing ridiculous advice, O’Toole continues to be treated as a serious thinker by American media outlets. The Washington Business Journal recently printed an O’Toole broadside against the Purple Line, replete with his typical arguments, like light rail is worse for the environment than driving.

Hogan’s appointee to head the state DOT, Pete Rahn, was scheduled to give opening remarks at the MPPI event. But sources tell us that Rahn has since backed out prior to a bruising confirmation hearing with Maryland’s Democratically controlled legislature.

At the hearing, Maryland lawmakers raised questions about a highway project in New Mexico, where Rahn was previously DOT chief. NM-44, a 118-mile, $420 million road-widening that Rahn oversaw in New Mexico — the most expensive highway project in the state’s history at the time — awarded a huge and unusual contract to Koch Industries.

An investigation by the Albuquerque Business Journal [PDF] reported that Koch Industries was the only bidder on the project and approached Rahn directly with the proposal before bids had been requested. Koch Industries was also awarded an unprecedented $62 million contract for a 20-year maintenance warranty.

Former New Mexico Republican State Senator Billy McKibben told the Illinois Business Journal (which reported on the controversy after Rahn was installed as the head of Missouri DOT) that the deal would have bankrupted the state if it wasn’t for a well-timed oil and natural gas boom.

Correction 2:51 p.m. February 26: The original version of this story included the wrong date for the Maryland Public Policy Institute debate. It is March 2. 

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The Remarkable Drop in Car Commuting to Downtown Seattle

Seattle has made impressive strides in promoting healthy transportation. Image: Commute Seattle

As Seattle has invested more in transit and developed housing downtown, the share of workers who commute without driving has quickly grown. Image: Commute Seattle

In a testament to how quickly travel behavior can change, new stats out of Seattle show that the share of downtown workers who commute alone by car has dropped significantly in the last 15 years.

The rate of solo car commuting to downtown Seattle was 50 percent in 2000. Now it’s down to 31 percent, report the Downtown Seattle Association and Commute Seattle.

Owen Pickford at The Urbanist provides some context:

The mode split by type has changed significantly since the last survey, which was completed in 2012. Nearly 4% fewer people drove alone compared to that survey and it seems likely that Seattle will reach its goal of 30% or less by 2016. The largest companies (100+ employees) in Downtown still had the lowest drive alone rate, but medium sized companies (20-99 employees) saw the most progress, reducing rates from 37% to 30% since the last survey.

Perhaps the most impressive statistic is that non-motorized modes have seen the largest increase. This is also great news for the city because it means people are living closer to work, which is likely only possible due to the immense amount of development that is occurring in Seattle’s downtown core.

Read more…

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Today’s Headlines

  • Senate EPW Committee Weighs Approaches to Transpo Funding Bill (WaPo)
  • Foxx, State Business Lobby Push for Long-Term Funding Solution (The Hill, WaPo)
  • Is The Phrase “Smart Growth” Dead at This Point? (GGW)
  • Amtrak Bill Isn’t Promising for Northeast Corridor (Skift)
  • Twin Cities Light Rail Issues Play Out in Federal Court (Minn Post)
  • The Most Economically Segregated Cities in the U.S. (CityLab)
  • SunRail Expansion Pushed Back to Summer 2017 (Orlando Sentinel)
  • Solo Driving Declines in Seattle Commutes (Seattle Times)
  • Ford Experiments With Uber-Like Service (WaPo)
  • Cargo-Carrying Could Be the Next Frontier for Bike-Share (Fleet Owner)
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Outer London’s Huge Bike Plan Could Break the Cycle of Bad Suburban Transit

Kingston’s rail station would become a “major cycle hub” under London’s plan to pour tens of millions of dollars into biking improvements in three of its suburbs.

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Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

You may have heard that London has just approved a spectacular crosstown protected bike lane. But another part of its plan has, ironically, gotten little press in the United States.

As London’s regional government begins what may be the biggest municipal bicycling investment in the history of Europe, it’s setting aside $140 million for the suburbs.

“Cycling is, I think the secret weapon of suburban sustainable transport,” says Transport for London Director of Surface Strategy and Planning Ben Plowden. “It is much more like car travel than transit is.”

It’s almost impossible to build car-lite suburbs with transit alone

In the United Kingdom as in the United States, efforts to reduce car dependence have relied mostly on the biggest tool in the shed: transit.

In London and New York, transit reigns supreme. The cities’ woven grids of bus and rail lines carry the overwhelming share of non-car trips in each city.

But in smaller cities and suburbs, transit needs help. With further to walk to each bus stop, fewer people ride. With fewer riders, buses run empty and it becomes cripplingly expensive for agencies to run them frequently. With infrequent buses, even short transit trips can take hours.

It’s a situation familiar to anyone who’s ridden transit in a U.S. suburb or small city — let alone tried to balance the budget of a suburban transit agency.

“You’re not going to have a $125 an hour bus with 43 seats coming through all these cul-de-sacs,” said David Bragdon, a former New York City sustainability chief who now runs Transit Center, a transit-focused policy nonprofit. “It just doesn’t work.”

That’s why London, working to stave off congestion as its population keeps climbing, is looking hard for better ways to improve suburban transit. And that’s what led its transport agency to the bicycle.

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