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Meet the Mom on a Mission to Bring Sidewalks to Nashville

Stacy Dorris became an advocate for safer streets after a failed attempt to walk to the park by her home in Nashville, not far from Vanderbilt University.

Stacy Dorris, a mother and physician, is trying to fill the gaps in Nashville's sidewalk network. Image: Vanderbilt

Stacy Dorris, a doctor and a mother, is trying to fill the gaps in Nashville’s sidewalk network. Photo: Vanderbilt

Like most streets in Nashville, there were no sidewalks along the high speed road that leads to the park. Still, Dorris headed out with her dog and stroller and gave it a shot.

After getting buzzed by a few speeding cars, however, she threw in the towel.

“We literally had to abort the mission,” she told the Tennessean. “I feared for my life.”

Since then, Dorris, a physician at Vanderbilt University and a mother of three — two daughters, age 15 and 4, and one son, 2 — has been on a mission to make Nashville more walkable. She is single-handedly leading an effort to reform the city’s sidewalk rules.

Though the city has improved its sidewalk situation dramatically in recent years, it’s still pretty dire. The Tennessean reports that Nashville has only about .45 miles of sidewalks for every two miles of road.

I spoke with Dorris by phone to hear the latest. Here’s what she had to say about her quest to fill in the gaps in the Music City’s pedestrian infrastructure:

That was an interesting story in the Tennessean about how scary your walk to the park was. 

Walking with children on Nashville's sidewalk-less roads is terrifying, says Stacy Dorris, a physician and mother. Image: Stacy Dorris

Walking with children on Nashville’s sidewalk-less roads is terrifying, says Stacy Dorris. Photo: Stacy Dorris

Literally, when we tried to walk, legally facing traffic, people were honking at us, people were swerving all over the road. This one SUV, they didn’t see us to the very last second. I think she was texting. It was terrifying. I thought we were going to die. After that we just went home and it was sad. It was so sad that for safety reasons we literally couldn’t walk down our street with a stroller and a dog.

So basically nobody walks in your neighborhood?

No, people do walk on some of the side streets where traffic volume is lower. The problem with Nashville in general that I see, it was either designed poorly or no thought was put into it. There’s these huge superblocks. You really have to go on main corridors to really get anywhere. You can’t get anywhere [on foot] because of these sort of main roads that are very dangerous to walk on.

Why do so few of Nashville’s roads have sidewalks?

One of the things I hear over and over again is that there’s just sort of poor funding. Money is really just sort of a big issue. One of the things that I discovered was there is this whole sidewalk fund that Nashville has set up.

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In Austin, Posts and Paint Bring a New Bike Bridge From Good to Great

All photos: Nathan Wilkes

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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.

Here are a few images from Austin bikeway engineer Nathan Wilkes that show how a protected lane can cheaply add a lot of value to a larger project.

The bicycle and pedestrian bridge over Little Walnut Creek, visible in the top right background above, officially opened Monday after 17 years of planning. It created a direct link between Hart Elementary School and the residential neighborhood to the north — but the link also required pedaling on a wide street that many people would see as unsuitable for children.

Furness Drive before the new bike lanes. Image: Google Street View

The new bidirectional protected bike lane, Wilkes wrote in an email, “is on both sides of the bridge and makes seamless transitions between on and off-street infrastructure.” The 1.1-mile biking improvement cost $20,000, compared to $1.2 million for the bridge itself.

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The Small Indiana City That’s Embracing Livable Streets

Kokomo, Indiana, has put a lot of money and energy into developing streetscape features like bumpouts, Aaron Renn reports. Photo: Urbanophile

Kokomo, Indiana, has put resources and energy into developing streetscape features to calm traffic and provide more space for walking and biking, Aaron Renn reports. Photo: Urbanophile

With a population of about 60,000 and a formerly industrial economy, Kokomo, Indiana, is not the type of city that recent economic trends have favored.

But Aaron Renn at the Urbanophile says the city has embraced some tenets of urbanism as an economic and quality-of-life strategy, thanks in large part to the leadership of Mayor Greg Goodnight. When Renn visited recently, he was impressed with the new downtown bike trail and pedestrian infrastructure. And thanks to careful budgeting and prioritization, the city is making these improvements without taking on any debt. Renn says:

They’ve deconverted every one way street downtown back to two way, removed every stop light and parking meter in the core of downtown, are building a mixed-use downtown parking garage with a new YMCA across the street, have a pretty extensive program of pedestrian friendly street treatments like bumpouts, as well as landscaping and beautification, a new baseball stadium under construction, a few apartment developments in the works, and even a more urban feel to its public housing.

I think they’ve done a number of good things, and I especially appreciate the attention to detail that went into them. You clearly get the feel of them walking downtown streets. I would say the commercial and residential development lags the infrastructure, however. That’s to be expected. They do have an Irish Pub, a coffee shop, a few restaurants, and other assorted downtown type of businesses. This will be an area to watch as some of these investments mature.

When you look at the downward trajectory of most small Indiana industrial cities, the status quo is not a viable option. Kokomo deserves a lot credit for trying something different. And regardless of any development payoffs, things like trails and safer and more welcoming streets are already paying a quality of life dividend to the people who live there right now. It’s an improvement anyone can experience today just by walking around.

It’s hard to tell from Renn’s post if the city’s parking policies are aligned with the improvements to street designs, but it looks like an admirable effort. You can get a better sense of what’s happening (and of Mayor Goodnight’s urbanist library) by checking out the many pictures on the Urbanophile.

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Bike League shares a post from a woman whose life was transformed by her introduction to bicycling and the dramatic weight loss she achieved. And Pedestrian Observations says hoping people will just move out of productive cities with high housing costs isn’t a reasonable affordability strategy.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Four Examples of Why Federal Money Is Bad for U.S. Transportation (Next City)
  • How Will North Carolina Navigate the Politics of its Transit Future? (E&E Publishing)
  • Just Launched: The North American Bikeshare Association (Mobility Lab)
  • Feds to Negotiate on Failed Alaska Ferry (Alaska Journal)
  • Dallas Plays Catch-Up with Demand for Urban Living (D Mag)
  • Jacksonville Transit in Line for Total Overhaul (Florida Times-Union)
  • New Cleveland Transit Station Gets Raves (Plain Dealer)
  • Salt Lake Trib: Utah Transit Authority Needs to Rebuild Public Trust
  • New Rail Hub Will Transform Downtown Miami (Curbed)
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India’s Health Minister Wants Protected Bike Lanes Nationwide

There’s encouraging news out of India, where cities expect to add hundreds of millions of residents in the next few decades but are already choking on traffic congestion and auto exhaust.

The Indian government appears to be embracing bicycling. Photo: Wikipedia

A senior Indian government official wants the nation to embrace bicycling. Photo: Wikipedia

Dr. Harsh Vardhan was appointed to lead India’s health ministry by newly elected prime minister Narendra Modi this May, and he wants to promote bicycling as a way to improve public health and air quality while adding more transportation options, especially for low-income people.

According to the Indian news outlet First Post, Vardhan would like to see a nationwide effort to install protected bike lanes:

Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said that he will approach the Surface Transport and Urban Development Ministries for the development of cycle tracks alongside roads to make cycling a “huge movement” in the country.

“I will personally write to Surface Transport and Urban Development Ministries to do whatever they can in this initiative and also ask them to develop cycle tracks,” Vardhan said as he released a study report titled “Peddling towards a Greener India: A Report on Promoting Cycling in the Country”, prepared by the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi on Wednesday.

The report also recommended that India offer residents micro-loans to purchase bikes, as well as tax incentives to promote bicycling.

The health problems that auto emissions cause are now grave enough to threaten India’s economy, as the number of private vehicles has tripled to 130 million since 2003.

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Pittsburgh Business Leaders See Bikeways as Cure for Road-Space Shortage

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Along Pittsburgh’s new downtown bike lane, all intersections are signalized, but cyclists won’t receive dedicated signal phases and most crossings are unmarked. People will need to be on the lookout for turning conflicts whether they’re on bikes or in cars. All renderings: City of Pittsburgh

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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.

Downtown Pittsburgh has a perfectly good reason to be running out of room for more cars: Its streets have been there since 1784.

“In Pittsburgh, we have too many cars chasing too few parking spaces,” Merrill Stabile, the city’s largest parking operator, said last week. “I am in favor of building a few more parking garages. But we’ll never be able to build enough to meet the demand, in my opinion, if we continue to grow like we’ve been growing.”

That’s why Stabile is among the Pittsburgh business leaders backing a plan announced Tuesday to reduce downtown’s dependence on car traffic by adding a protected bike lane to Penn Avenue.

Jeremy Waldrup, CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, said the protected lane, which will return Penn Avenue to one-way motor vehicle flow by removing an eastbound traffic lane, will make it comfortable for most people, not just the bold few, to bike downtown.

“One of the most important things is that we have as a city developed this incredible trail system, many of them leading to downtown,” Waldrup said. “But once you’ve made it to the borders of downtown, you’re literally on your own to get into the city.”

Penn Avenue’s new one-mile bike lane, installed as a pilot project over the next few weeks, is part of a wave of protected lane projects in American central business districts.

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Boosting Transit Ridership With New Stations, Not New Track

Boston's new Orange Line station in Somerville is a great example of how older cities can boost transit ridership inexpensively with new stations in strategic locations. Image: MBTA

Assembly Station in Somerville, outside Boston, is a great example of how older transit systems can draw more riders with new stations in strategic locations. Image: MBTA

Yonah Freemark at the Transport Politic calls them infill stations: new transit stops built in gaps along existing rail lines. Current examples include Assembly Station just outside Boston in Somerville, DC’s NoMa Station, and the West Dublin/Pleasanton BART station.

Infill stations are a pretty brilliant method to get the most out of older rail systems without spending very much, Freemark says. He’d like to see more cities adopt the strategy:

The advantages of infill stations result from the fact that people are simply more likely to use transit when they’re closer to it — and from the fact that the older transit systems in many cities have widely spaced stations that are underserving potentially significant markets. Erick Guerra and Robert Cervero, affiliated with the University of California-Berkeley, have demonstrated that people living or working within a quarter mile of a transit station produce about twice as many transit rides as people living or working more than half a mile away. In other words, with fewer stations on a line, the number of people willing to use public transportation as a whole is likely reduced.

Assembly Station, which has been in the works for several years, promises significant benefits — 5,000 future daily riders taking advantage of a 10-minute ride to the region’s central business district, at a construction cost of about $30 million. The station fits in the 1.3-mile gap between two existing stations and is the first new stop built along Boston’s T rapid transit network in 26 years. When combined with the $1.7 billion Green Line light rail extension planned for opening later this decade, 85 percent of Somerville’s residents will live within walking distance of rapid transit, up from just 15 percent today.

The cost-per-rider comparison between the two Somerville projects is indicative of the value offered by infill stations: While Assembly Station cost about $6,000 per rider served, the Green Line Extension will cost $38,000 per rider served — six times more. Both projects will provide benefits, but the cost-effectiveness of infill stations in terms of attracting riders is clear. While infill stations will reduce transit speeds to some extent, within reason the number of new riders they attract will more than make up for the change.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Strong Towns comments on perverse transportation engineering standards that create dangerous streets in the name of “safety.” Systemic Failure says Caltrain will have to choose between bikes and bathrooms in its new electrified trains, and it should go with the former. And Beyond DC shares a quote that gets to the heart of the reason protected bike infrastructure is so important.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Lawsuit Filed Against MD’s Purple Line, But Town of Chevy Chase Holds Back (Bethesda Now, WaPo)
  • Texas High-Speed Rail Plans Get More Ambitious (Star-Telegram)
  • Can Math Solve Bike-share’s Rebalancing Problem? (City Lab)
  • Honolulu Anticipates Development Boom with New Rail (Hawaii News Now)
  • FTA Gives New Guidance on Joint Development Projects (Progressive Railroading)
  • Denver Serves as “Smart City” Model (Pop City)
  • How Street Connectivity Affects Pedestrian Volumes (Next City)
  • Portland Bike Group Revives Plan for Protected Bike Lanes Downtown (Bike Portland)
  • Can the Memphis Airport Become an Urban Center? (City Lab)
  • Cleveland Gets New Red Line Station (Plain Dealer)
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Are There Any Affordable Cities Left in America?

When you factor in both housing and transportation costs (H+T) as a percent of income, the car-dependent cities in the right column expensive. But are DC, SF, and NYC that much more affordable, even if you count the benefits of transit? Source: Citizens Budget Commission

When you factor in both housing and transportation costs (H+T) as a percent of income, the car-dependent cities in the right column are especially expensive. But are DC, SF, and NYC that much more affordable, even if you count the benefits of transit? Source: Citizens Budget Commission

Are Washington, San Francisco, and New York the most affordable American cities? A new report from the New York-based Citizen’s Budget Commission [PDF], which made the rounds at the Washington Post and CityLab, argues that if you consider the combined costs of housing and transportation, the answer is yes.

But a closer look at the data casts some doubt on that conclusion. Between the high cost of transportation in sprawling regions and the high demand for housing in compact cities with good transit, very few places in America are looking genuinely affordable these days.

The CBC report uses a better measure of affordability than housing costs alone. Transportation is the second biggest household expense for the average American family, and looking at what people spend on housing plus transportation (H+T) can upend common assumptions about which places are affordable and which are not. Regions with cheap housing but few alternatives to car commuting don’t end up scoring so well.

There are some problems with the CBC’s methodology, however. While abundant transit is absolutely essential to keeping household transportation costs down, and it provides a lifeline to low-income residents of major coastal cities, the report still tends to exaggerate overall affordability in these areas.

According to the report, for example, New York City ranks third in affordability among 22 large cities. A “typical household” in New York City, the CBC finds, spends 32 percent of its income on housing and transportation combined. Part of the reason New York comes out looking good, though, is that CBC used a regional measure of income but looked at typical rents only in the city itself. Because the region’s median income is higher than the median income in the city ($62,063 vs. $51,865, respectively, according to 2008-2012 Census data), NYC appears more affordable than it really is.

Another issue, flagged by Michael Lewyn at his CNU blog, is that by looking at average rents, which in some cities include many rent-stabilized units, the calculation doesn’t necessarily capture what someone searching for shelter is likely to pay. If you’re trying to find an apartment in New York now, getting a place for the average rent would probably be extremely difficult.

What really stands out in the CBC report isn’t that New York, San Francisco, and DC are affordable — it’s that car-dependent areas that may have cheap housing turn out to be so expensive once you factor in transportation.

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Downtown Houston Will Get Its First Protected Bike Lane

Houston's protected bike lane should look a lot like this one from Seattle. Photo: Seattle DOT, via Flickr

Houston’s protected bike lane should look a lot like this one in Seattle. Photo: Seattle DOT/Flickr

A piece of top-notch bike infrastructure is coming to the largest city in Texas.

That’s the word today from Kevin McNally at Houston Tomorrow, who relays the news that a two-way protected bike lane is on tap for downtown:

The City of Houston will install the City’s first on-street protected bike lane along Lamar Street in Downtown, possibly as early as October, according to the Houston Chronicle’s Mike Morris. The two-way protected bike lane will help to connect Downtown to both the Buffalo Bayou trails and the Columbia Tap Trail.

The bike lane will be three-quarters of a mile long and will be painted green, the Houston Chronicle reports. It will be separated from car traffic by “armadillos,” or hard, low-lying plastic bumps. McNally says:

Based on the description from the article, the bike lane should look similar to the above photo of a two-way protected bike lane in Seattle, with the exception being that the white plastic bollards will be replaced by plastic “armadillos” or “zebras” (see examples of those here).

Bike Houston Executive Director Michael Payne said the objective is to make “people feel comfortable” about biking and getting “out of their cars.”

Elsewhere on the Network today: Washington Bikes shares a poll showing overwhelming support for Safe Routes to School among the state’s residents. And Bike Portland reports that advocates in that region are trying to ensure that every school district has a Safe Routes to School program.