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How to Spend a Fortune on Roads and Make Potholes Worse

The conventional wisdom about America’s infrastructure woes is that cash will solve everything. That’s the pitch Donald Trump is making with his vaguely-defined $1 trillion infrastructure package.

But simply spending a lot on infrastructure is no guarantee of better transportation conditions. It can easily make things worse. Wisconsin is a perfect example.

James Rowen at The Political Environment notes that under Governor Scott Walker, Wisconsin has gone on an enormous road spending spree. The state has lavished more than $6 billion on huge highway interchanges in the greater Milwaukee area. But this orgy of road spending has coincided with the neglect of basic maintenance, which even the Walker administration has been forced to admit, the Journal-Sentinel reports:

The share of roads in poor condition will double, debt payments and the state’s stream of cash for road and highway projects will barely grow, a state official told lawmakers Tuesday.

By 2027, the share of state roads in poor condition would double to 42% while the money available to address those growing challenges would increase at only one-quarter the recent inflation rate, state Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb testified to lawmakers Tuesday.

The state now has more highways to maintain thanks to the billions Walker spent, which only makes the maintenance backlog worse. Rowen says this situation will cost Wisconsinites dearly:

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Today’s Headlines

  • HUD Pick Ben Carson Never Actually Lived in Public Housing (Washington Examiner)
  • Professional Rail Critic Randall O’Toole Worried Elaine Chao Is Too Pro-Rail (Lincoln Times News)
  • Factsheet: Why Uber Won’t Kill Transit (TransitCenter)
  • Drivers Hit 20 Pedestrians in Toronto and the CBC Blamed It on the Rain
  • Dan Savage: Fatalities in the “War on Cars” Are Never Cars (The Stranger)
  • Leaked Trump Energy Plan Aims to Roll Back Fuel Economy Standards (Center for Media & Democracy)
  • EPA Proceeds to Finalize Emission Standards Through 2025, Ahead of Trump’s Term (Detroit News)
  • Are Suburbs Really “Outperforming” Cities Like the Urban Land Institute Claims? (City Observatory)
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Vancouver’s Multi-Modal Success Story

One of the best transportation stories of 2016 comes from Vancouver, British Columbia, which achieved its goal of having transit, biking, and walking account for 50 percent of all trips a full four years ahead of schedule. Bicycling is a big part of that shift, and now one of every 10 work trips is by bike.

Vancouver is a city that prides itself on rejecting freeways in the 1960s and 70s. It is the only major city in North America without freeways in the core. Recently the city set out to build on the achievements of previous generations by increasing “sustainable modes” to account for two-thirds of all trips by 2040 (read up on the city’s goals).

I was in Vancouver for the ProWalk ProBike ProPlace conference this summer and spoke to several people involved in the effort to make Vancouver a more multi-modal city, including former chief planner Brent Toderian, Manager of Transportation Planning Dale Bracewell, and Melissa and Chris Bruntlett, the activist couple behind Modacity.

I hope this Streetfilm provides a taste what it’s like to have so many different options at your disposal — bike, bus, SkyTrain, SeaBus, and more. And don’t miss our short from earlier this year: Vancouver’s Breathtaking Network of Protected Bike lanes.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Why Ben Carson Running HUD Doesn’t Bode Well for Cities (WaPo); Democrats Pan Carson Pick (Hill)
  • Shuster to Continue Leading House Transpo Committee (Transport Topics)
  • An Optimistic Take on the Unified Republican Government and Transit (Planetizen)
  • DC Officials Claim Discrimination in Metro’s Planned Service Cuts (WTOP)
  • Honolulu Rail Costs Could Balloon to $9.5B (Civil Beat)
  • Apple Finally Acknowledges Its Interest in Self-Driving Cars (Gov Tech)
  • London Mayor Commits Nearly $1 Billion for Cycling Projects (Next City)
  • What’s Ahead for Atlanta’s BeltLine in 2017 (Atlanta InTown)
  • Bike-Share Coming to Prince George’s County, MD (GGW)
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Of Shipyards and Golf Courses: Infrastructure and Economic Nostalgia

Cross-posted from the Frontier Group.

Politics has an indispensable role to play in infrastructure decision-making. There is and can be no objective definition of a society’s infrastructure “needs” — rather, they are shaped by economics, culture and the conscious expression of a society’s values and priorities through the political system.

So, at this time of intense political conflict and renewed interest in infrastructure investment, what are people out there saying about those priorities? Let’s start with Trump advisor Steve Bannon:

I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. With negative interest rates throughout the world, it’s the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Ship yards, iron works, get them all jacked up. We’re just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution — conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement.

Let’s talk about shipyards. The Trump campaign’s emphasis on restoring the industries that fueled the early- to mid-20th century American economy was curious to many, but it did seem to help propel the president-elect to victory in the Rust Belt. Shipbuilding was once an economically vital industry in many cities — my grandfather, for example, worked in a shipyard near Pittsburgh during World War II. But that was a long time ago. U.S. shipbuilding collapsed beginning in the 1970s and today employs 110,000 people, or roughly one out of every 1,430 Americans. Those jobs are certainly valuable, but getting shipyards “all jacked up” could not possibly happen overnight given the capital investment required, and, even if it did, it would have only a small impact on the overall economy.

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From Pennsylvania, a Preview of How Trump & Co. Might Bully Cities

How much will cities be threatened by the impending Trump presidency? An early front in this confrontation concerns immigration.

The money that supports revitalization programs in cities like Philadelphia is being held up for punitive cuts by a Pennsylvania lawmaker. Here Philadelphia's North Fifth Street Revitalization Project leaders participate in a community cleanup day. Photo: Plan Philly

Withholding Community Development Block Grants from from sanctuary cities would devastate organizations like Philadelphia’s North Fifth Street Revitalization Project. Photo: Plan Philly

Trump has threatened to revoke federal funds from hundreds of “sanctuary cities” that do not report undocumented immigrants to federal officials.

Jake Blumgart at Plan Philly reports that Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey has already embraced the spirit of Trump’s proposal, calling for the feds to withhold Philadelphia’s Community Development Block Grants because of its sanctuary city policies:

The CDBG program is a flexible financial assistance program for economically distressed jurisdictions. In Philadelphia, it supports a diverse array of more than 20 programs, from financial counseling to help families access Earned Income Tax Credits to security deposit assistance for homeless families..

A quarter of the funding supports economic development initiatives like those that [Philip] Green’s North 5th Street organization utilizes. For commercial corridor support organizations in neighborhoods like Olney, and for community development corporations more broadly, CDBG are an essential source of support.

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Today’s Headlines

  • It’s Official: Trump Taps Ben Carson and His Non-Existent Housing Experience to Run HUD (Politico)
  • Whatever Trump Does, Mayors Will Act on Climate Change (Scientific-American)
  • Seattle Is Building a Lot of Apartments But Not a Lot of Parking Spots (Seattle Times)
  • LaHood and Rendell Pitch Infrastructure Spending in The Hill
  • Feds Target Sleep Apnea in Wake of Hoboken Train Crash (AP)
  • Northern Virginia Sees Decreased Transit Ridership (WTOP)
  • The Case Against Banning Buses on Cleveland’s Public Square (Plain Dealer)
  • Detroit Hires New Mobility Chief (Crain’s)
  • Will Cities Follow Portland’s Lead With Car-Free Bridges? (Governing)
  • New DC Political Landscape Poses Risk for Jersey Bike/Ped Safety Efforts (Mobilizing the Region)
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Study: Diagonal Intersections Are Especially Dangerous for Cyclists

This week, Cambridge, Massachusetts, unveiled plans for a “peanutabout” that will make a tricky intersection with irregular angles safe for cycling. This type of design intervention could be crucial for locations that new research suggests are especially dangerous.

This new deigned for a diagnoal intersections in Cambridge includes protected bike lanes and a ? on a round-about that locals call a "peanutabout." Image via Boston Cyclists Union

At this irregular intersection in Cambridge, the city plans to improve safety with what the locals call a “peanutabout.” Image via Boston Cyclists Union

In a study published in the journal Injury Prevention [PDF], a team led by Dr. Morteza Asgarzadeh of Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health found that non-right-angle intersections are especially prone to crashes that cause severe or fatal injuries to bicyclists.

Asgarzadeh and his team mapped 3,300 injury crash locations in New York city involving a motorist and a cyclist. Then they analyzed the relationship between a number of factors and injury severity, including street width, weather conditions, gender and age of the cyclist, and posted speed limit.

In most cases, researchers did not identify a significant link. But the researchers did find that a few conditions are correlated with more severe injuries.

Crashes that occurred at diagonal intersections were 37 percent more likely to result in severe injury or death than crashes at right-angle intersections. In addition, while 60 percent of bike-car crashes happen at intersection, cyclists hit by a cars on straightaways — not at intersections — were 31 percent more likely to be killed or severely injured. The researchers hypothesize that crashes on straightways may be more deadly because drivers are traveling at a higher speed.

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Streetsblog Chicago
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Black Leaders Discuss Their Efforts to Promote Equity in Mobility Advocacy

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Moderator Sahra Sulaiman with panelists Tamika Butler and Zahra Alabanza. Photo: Jean Khut

Editor’s note: Streetsblog Chicago sent writer Jean Khut to Atlanta last month to report on The Untokening and share lessons from the event that could be applied to transportation justice efforts in our city. We’ll be running another post on the main Untokening activities in the near future. 

In early November, mobility advocates from across the United States gathered in Atlanta for The Untokening, a “convening” to address equity issues in transportation and public spaces. The event was an extension of this year’s Facing Race Conference, held in Atlanta earlier that weekend.

In conjunction with the convening, The Untokening and the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition hosted a panel discussion called “LA X ATL Exchange: Race, Place & Justice,” featuring Tamika Butler, director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, and Zahra Alabanza, co-founder of the Atlanta chapter of Red, Bike, and Green. Sahra Sulaiman, a communities editor at Los Angeles Streetsblog, served as the moderator.

Walking, biking, and transit advocacy groups often struggle with how to define equity in their work. During the panel Butler said some bike advocates she knew felt there weren’t enough voices representing people who’ve been marginalized by systemic prejudices.

Since starting her position at the LACBC in 2014, Butler has become one of the most prominent voices promoting equity in active transportation. She grew up in Omaha and previously worked as a civil rights lawyer. Butler wasn’t into biking until a friend convinced her to do AIDS/Lifecycle, a fundraising bike ride from San Francisco to L.A. It was there where she met her wife Kelly and found her passion for bikes.

Butler said she has dealt with her share of of racism and sexism in the bike world. One common criticism she gets is that she isn’t “bikey” enough to lead an advocacy organization, which begs the question of what this term actually means. Are her critics saying she isn’t riding her bike enough for transportation and/or recreation to be a bike advocate? Butler doesn’t know the answer, but feels that she wouldn’t face the same criticism if she were a white male.

Likewise, Alabanza didn’t fit the profile many other Atlanta bike advocates were used to. She moved to the city fifteen years ago with a background in community organizing, focusing on LGBTQ issues and reproductive rights. Eventually, her interest in social justice and biking intersected. She saw the need to create spaces for people of color to use biking as a way to form relationships and build community.

RBG originated in Oakland, California in 2007, and Alabanza co-founded the Atlanta chapter in 2012. At first many in the Atlanta bike scene didn’t know what to make of RGB and were surprised that they didn’t address some of the issues bike advocacy groups have traditionally focused on, such as promoting bike lanes and helmets. The volunteer-run group, which describes itself as “exclusively Black,” uses biking a way to address economic, environmental, and mental and physical health issues that impact African-American communities.

Alabanza said her work with RBG allows her to be “unapologetically Black.” Even though she helped create a positive, empowering space for African-Americans, she has faced some backlash, especially during the group’s first year. Alabanza has been accused of reverse racism from people who didn’t understand the need for an all-Black space.

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Seattle Transit Agencies Move Toward Mobile Ticketing

This graphic shows how a Sound Transit transit fare purchased on a ell phone will appear. Image via Seattle Transit Blog

Sound Transit will launch mobile ticketing next week. Image via Seattle Transit Blog

We have the technology to make transit fare payment faster and more convenient. Agencies around the world are making progress on fare collection innovations that improve riders’ experience — with benefits like shorter trip times, getting more transit trips for your buck, and demystifying the process of buying a fare for new riders.

Two Seattle agencies are about to adopt a new method of fare collection. Zach Shaner at Seattle Transit Blog reports that Sound Transit and King County Metro are rolling out a mobile payment option:

On Thursday, King County Metro and Sound Transit will announce Puget Sound’s first mobile ticketing app, called TransitGoTicket. The app will allow Metro and (some) Sound Transit riders to purchase tickets and day passes on their phones without having to buy or use an ORCA card. The iOS app is already live, with Android and Windows to follow Thursday.

The 6-month pilot project is funded by a grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). After 6 months, Metro and Sound Transit will likely conduct a Title VI analysis before deciding on a 6-month extension. If deemed successful after 1 year, the program would become permanent. Ongoing costs include 1.5% of mobile fare revenue to ByteMark and a $126,000 annual fee once in full production (after the pilot ends). New agencies could join for $45,000.

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