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Talking Headways Podcast: New Tactics for Transportation Ballot Measures

This week we’re chatting with Jason Jordan, director of the Center for Transportation Excellence (CFTE) and policy director at the American Planning Association. Jason tells us how CFTE got started and why ballot measures for transportation have been so successful compared to other types of spending. He also describes scenarios where transportation ballot measures tend to do well and those where they tend to fail.

Political action networks opposed to public investments like transit are getting more sophisticated in their opposition to these ballot measures. We discuss how to combat these new networks, often backed by dark money, and how local champions and coalitions can lead to victory.

You’ll also hear about the measures on the docket for 2016, which is shaping up to be one of the busiest cycles ever for transportation ballot measures.

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Traffic Engineers Still Rely on a Flawed 1970s Study to Reject Crosswalks

When St. Louis decided not to maintain colorful new crosswalks that residents had painted, the city’s pedestrian coordinator cited federal guidance. A 2011 FHWA memo warns that colorful designs could “create a false sense of security” for pedestrians and motorists.

Shoddy, 50-year-old research is an obstacle to grassroots street safety efforts like this fleur-de-lis crosswalk in St. Louis. Photo: Rally St. Louis

That may sound like unremarkable bureaucrat-speak, but the phrase “false sense of security” is actually a cornerstone of American engineering guidance on pedestrian safety.

You’ll find the words “false sense of security” in Washington state DOT’s crosswalk guidelines too. The city of Stockton, California, makes the same claim. The list goes on.

What gives? Well, you can trace this phrase — and the basis of some engineers’ reluctance to stripe crosswalks — to one very influential but seriously flawed study from the 1970s.

In 1972, a researcher named Bruce Herms conducted a study of crosswalk safety in San Diego. He found that intersections with marked crosswalks had higher injury rates than ones with unmarked crosswalks. He concluded that marked crosswalks should only be installed where they are “warranted” because they can give pedestrians a “false sense of security,” encouraging risky behavior.

But there were problems with the study. For one, Herms didn’t actually study why people made certain decisions at crosswalks — that “false sense of security” was just speculation on his part.

Read more…

Streetsblog.net
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A Bigger Transit Benefit Is No Match for America’s Parking Tax Perk

In almost every U.S. metro area, more people drive to work thanks to a commuter tax benefit that helps cover parking and transit-related expenses. Graph: Transit Center

Even with “parity” between parking and transit, the federal commuter tax benefit leads more people to drive to work than if there were no such benefit at all. Graph: Transit Center

Late last year Congress finally moved to boost the maximum commuter tax benefit for transit riders to the same level that car commuters receive. That means transit riders can buy up to $255 in fares each month with pre-tax income, just like drivers can pay for $255 in parking expenses with pre-tax income.

Great news, right? Well, it’s definitely a step in the right direction (for years transit riders had their benefit capped at $130 compared to drivers’ $250), but in a lot of places it won’t have a big effect on how people commute. As TransitCenter noted in a 2014 report, eliminating the subsidy for parking altogether would be a much more effective way to cut traffic.

Now a new TransitCenter study examines exactly how “transit benefit parity” changes the equation:

We project that the expanded transit benefit will help cities and suburb-to-city transit commuters — but still won’t counteract the big pro-driving incentive created by the parking subsidy.

We simulated the impact of parking and transit benefits on five commute markets. In every case, the net effect of the parking and transit benefits together was more driving than in a world with no commuter tax benefits at all.

Read more…

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Today’s Headlines

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How Cities Clear Snow From Protected Bike Lanes: A Starter Guide

A Kubota sweeper/plow, center left, clears the sidewalk at 300 South and 200 West, Salt Lake City. Image: SLC.

pfb logo 100x22This post is by Tyler Golly of Stantec and Michael Andersen of The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes.

As protected bike lanes have spread from city to city across North America, a problem has followed: snow.

Most protected bike lanes are too narrow for standard street plows. So how are cities supposed to keep them clean?

Last year, the two of us decided to try and help more cities solve this problem by researching the best equipment to use for clearing snow from protected bike lanes. We wanted something like PeopleForBikes’ past post about the best sweepers for clearing protected bike lanes of leaves and debris.

But after talking to city staffers across North America and Europe, we realized that the challenges of winter are different than the challenges of fall. The reason is that winters themselves are so different from city to city.

The snow that piles into a protected bike lane in Chicago is very different in quantity, weight and thaw pattern than the snow in Calgary, which is very different than the snow in New York City.

Moreover, there’s just not as much variation among snow-plowing equipment. As one staffer we spoke to put it, the perfect plow rig for your bike lane is the biggest one that isn’t too big.

Read more…

Streetsblog.net
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Where Are the Best Places for Protected Intersections in Your City?

How a protected intersection could fit into the Portland streetscape. Image: Nick Falbo via Bike Portland

How a protected intersection could fit into the Portland streetscape. Image: Nick Falbo via Bike Portland

Protected intersections are the best new thing in American bike infrastructure since, well, protected bike lanes. They greatly reduce the potential for turning conflicts between drivers and cyclists — left turns on a bike, especially, become easier and less stressful — and they make pedestrian crossings much safer too.

So far, a few cities around the country have raced to install their first protected intersection, but the design is still very rare. That means there are a ton of opportunities in American cities to create safer and more inviting intersections for biking and walking.

Which locations could benefit from protected intersections? Here’s a fun exercise courtesy of Nick Falbo, a key figure in the introduction of this design in the U.S. Michael Andersen at Bike Portland says Falbo sketched out what six sites in the city would look like with protected intersections:

Nick Falbo, who works as a senior planner for Alta Planning and Design but did this project as a volunteer on his own time, said he got the idea to create them after he gave a presentation about protected intersections at a conference last fall. A city employee who was attending, he said, asked where in Portland protected intersections could go.

“I’m thinking, like, where can’t they go?” he said.

Read more…

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Today’s Headlines

  • Shorter U.S. Life Expectancy Mostly Explained by Drugs, Guns, and Cars (Reuters)
  • Computers Will Count as Drivers Under Federal Regulations for Self-Driving Cars (Boston Globe)
  • Grand Rapids BRT Project Would Get $57 Million Under Obama’s “DOA” Budget (Mass Transit)
  • …Purple Line in D.C. Would Be in Line for Funding As Well (WaPo)
  • Obama’s Budget Calls for Expanded Urban Development Programs (Smart Growth America)
  • Plus, More Detail About Which Transit Projects Are Recommended for Funding (FTA)
  • Hawaii Lawmaker Proposes Ban on Cell Phone Use By Pedestrians in the Crosswalk (KHON2)
  • Work to Begin Widening I-75 in Detroit Suburbs; Local “Sprawl King” Calls It “Main Street” (Detroit News)
  • Massachusetts Rep Wants to Raise Fines for Jaywalking (State House News Service)
  • Atlanta’s War on Density (Atlanta Studies)
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Get Real — Colorful Crosswalks Aren’t Endangering Pedestrians

Volunteers in the Tower Grove neighborhood of St. Louis painting a crosswalk. Is this really what endangers pedestrians in St. Louis? Photo: RallySTL.org

Volunteers in the Tower Grove neighborhood of St. Louis painting a crosswalk. The city says this creates unsafe conditions. Photo: RallySTL.org

In the summer of 2014, residents of Tower Grove in St. Louis painted crosswalks with patterns like a fleur-de-lis to add some neighborhood character. Now city officials say the crosswalks should fade away, citing safety concerns.

The order comes from new bike and pedestrian coordinator Jamie Wilson, who cites a 2011 recommendation from the Federal Highway Administration. Wilson told The Post Dispatch he has “an ultra conservative approach when it comes to safety,” and “while he doesn’t believe someone’s going to trip and fall” over a colorful crosswalk, “we want to be consistent with the memo the feds put out.”

St. Louis residents in a handful of neighborhoods had raised funds and spearheaded efforts to create crosswalks that added to neighborhood identity. For example, the crosswalk pictured above, in the Tower Grove neighborhood, contains the “fleur-de-lis” that symbolizes the city of St. Louis on its flag.

“People were excited about the project,” Dana Gray of the Tower Grove Community Development Corporation, which helped facilitate the crosswalk painting, told the Post Dispatch. “We had lots of volunteers come out to participate, and they felt like it was drawing attention to the neighborhood.”

Taking a close look at the memo Wilson described, FHWA doesn’t say colorful crosswalks are off limits. It does however warn that they can “reduce” the visual “contrast” between the white crosswalk lines and the street, unless painted with “subdued colors.”

Read more…

Streetsblog.net
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Washington State GOP Claims a Scalp in the Name of Socialized Roads

Republicans in the Washington State Senate are sending a message: Don’t mess with our socialized highways. To show they’re serious about subsidizing roads, they ended the tenure of Washington DOT chief Lynn Peterson.

Lynn Peterson was ousted as head of Washington DOT last week by Senate Republicans for presiding over an effective, but unpopular tolling program. Photo via Seattle Transit Blog

Lynn Peterson was ousted as head of Washington DOT last week by Senate Republicans for presiding over an effective but unpopular tolling program. Photo via Seattle Transit Blog

Senate Republicans used their confirmation authority to give Peterson “one week notice” that she would be fired, as one Democrat put it.

Josh Feit at Publicola explains:

[State Senator Andy] Hill said it was “nothing personal” but the senate needed to use its “blunt instrument” (its confirmation powers) to “impose accountability” on an agency that was responsible for imposing unpopular tolls on I-405. “I have no confidence that this agency is in any position to fix the problems it has,” he said about an agency he accused of unfairly executing its tolling program.

Dan Ryan at Seattle Transit Blog says the tolls are actually working pretty well:

Notwithstanding its unpopularity with some SOV drivers (at least those who don’t use the lanes), it has been rather successful in managing traffic. Travel times in both the express and general purpose lanes are better, saving drivers 14 minutes in the express lanes and 7 minutes southbound in the regular lanes. Bus riders have seen improved speed and reliability. Community Transit riders save six minutes at peak times, while Metro riders are saving eight minutes. After just a few months, ridership is up 4% on CT, and 6% on Metro routes in the corridor.

Read more…

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Today’s Headlines

  • Republicans Won’t Even Give Obama’s Awesome Budget a Formal Hearing (MSNBC)
  • Key Democrat Embraces Obama’s Plan for an Oil Tax (The Hill)
  • Yonah Freemark: How to Build a Streetcar that Works (NYT)
  • An “Invisible Pandemic” on Georgia’s Roads (Georgia Today)
  • Telegraph: Why Do Drivers Get Away with (Attempted) Murder?
  • Obama’s Budget Includes $17 Million for Jacksonville Bus Rapid Transit (Metro Jacksonville)
  • Feds May Start Regulating Megabus Safety (The Hill)
  • How the Waze App Is Changing Driving (Men’s Journal)
  • Michigan Might Raise Speed Limit to 80 MPH (Mlive.com)
  • San Francisco Set to Replace LOS with VMT (SF Planning Department)
  • Form Based Zoning Slowly Taking Over Connecticut (The Mirror)