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Today’s Headlines

  • Dem Senator Whitehouse: House Bill Is “Pathetic” But I’ll Vote for It (The Hill)
  • House Directs Homeland Security to Develop a Plan to Protect Infrastructure (The Hill)
  • Julián Castro Takes the Helm at HUD (NBC)
  • Pension Funds Eye Infrastructure Investment, But Not in United States (Roll Call)
  • Study Shows Where Bike-Share Increases or Decreases Transit Use (CityLabGGW)
  • Transit Advocates Oppose Next Week’s Road Funding Measure in Missouri (Governing)
  • Minnesota’s Nice Ride Finds One Way to Increase Bike-Share Use Among Low-Income People (Pi Press)
  • As Massachusetts Grows, It Has to Build Denser Housing (WGBH)
  • While Salt Lake City Waits for Streetcar, How About a Bus Circulator? (Tribune)
  • RideScout Exec Calls For “Right-Pricing” Transportation So Users Pay the True Costs (Roll Call)
  • A Fast Transit Response to a Slow-Transit Response to a Fast-Transit Argument (Human Transit)
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Why Do African Americans Tend to Bike Less?

Denver City Councilman Albus Brooks, right, in Copenhagen with Downtown Denver Partnership Director Tami Door.

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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.

It took a week in Copenhagen for Albus Brooks to start thinking seriously about bicycling.

The Denver City Council member, 35, had never owned a bike. By the time he headed home from a study tour in Denmark last month, he knew those days were over.

“We biked every day, so I found myself, on a personal point, increasingly happy,” Brooks said, laughing, in an interview last week. “I was a very happy person by the end of that trip.”

So Brooks came home and bought his first bicycle, a Danish-style city bike. When he rode it to a meeting of other African American community leaders, eager to spread his conclusion that bike transportation could be as important as mass transit to improving central Denver, he got a first-hand lesson in the size of the task he had decided to tackle.

“I came in in a suit and a bike helmet,” he recalled. “These were all middle-class African Americans that do not ride bikes. And they looked at me as if I was an alien.”

Read more…

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FHWA to Engineers: Go Ahead and Use City-Friendly Street Designs

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NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide includes engineering guidance for transit boulevards. Image: NACTO

The heavyweights of American transportation engineering continue to warm up to design guides that prioritize walking, biking, and transit on city streets. On Friday, the Federal Highway Administration made clear that it endorses the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ Urban Street Design Guide, which features street treatments like protected bike lanes that you won’t find in the old engineering “bibles.”

FHWA “supports the use of the Urban Street Design Guide in conjunction with” standard engineering manuals such as AASHTO’s Green Book and the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), the agency said in statement released on Friday. FHWA had already endorsed NACTO’s bikeway design guide last August. The new statement extends its approval to the more comprehensive Urban Street Design Guide, which also covers measures to improve pedestrian space and transit operations.

Federal approval of what were until recently considered “experimental” street designs means that more engineers and planners will feel comfortable implementing them without fear of liability.

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Decades in the Works, D.C.’s Silver Line Opens to Commuters

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By 10 a.m., more than 9,500 passengers had made trips that started or ended at the five new Silver Line stations today. Photo: @drgridlock/Twitter

Half a century ago, when Dulles International Airport was constructed in the farmlands of Virginia, planners were forming a blueprint for the Washington region’s new Metro system. Back then, they ruled out the idea of stretching the rail line 30 miles beyond the capital through rural counties to connect with the airport. Such a line would serve no purpose for commuters, they said, and would do nothing to help congestion.

But there wasn’t a total absence of foresight regarding the region’s potential explosion. Along with the airport came the Dulles Access Road — and through the center of it, a median reserved for future transit.

The new Silver Line, which officially opened to riders on Saturday after months of delays, runs along that exact path. Ultimately, the 23-mile extension — the largest infrastructure project in the nation – will connect not only to the airport but beyond it to Ashburn, Virginia. The $2.9 billion first phase laid 11.7 miles of new track along five new stations in Tysons Corner and Reston, expanding the Metro system’s mileage by 10 percent.

Today is the first weekday for commuters to try out the new line, which runs east from Reston through the city to Largo Town Center in Maryland. WMATA predicts ridership will be low at first, then eventually reach as many as 25,000 boardings a day. As of 10 a.m. today, more than 9,500 people had passed through the five new stations, the agency said.

It took over five decades for the Silver Line to get here. The last 20 years were particularly contentious, as the project overcame political strife, cost overruns, financing complexities, and construction delays.

Read more…

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9 Years After Katrina, New Orleans Transit Still Struggling to Recover

Image: Ride New Orleans

The frequency and coverage of New Orleans transit service is nowhere close to pre-Katrina levels. Maps: Ride New Orleans

Next month will mark nine years since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, flooding nearly 80 percent of the city. In the wake of disaster, the city has demonstrated remarkable resilience. Its population has rebounded to about 86 percent of where it stood before the flooding.

But a new report from transit advocacy group Ride New Orleans [PDF] shows the city’s transit system is nowhere near its pre-Hurricane strength. Evan Landman at Human Transit shares the details:

Some key points from the report:

  • In 2004, RTA’s peak fleet was 301 buses. By 2012, that number had dropped to just 79.
  • Revenue hours declined from over 1 million prior to the storm to fewer than 600,000 in 2012.
  • By 2012, only 36% of the pre-storm daily trips had been restored.
  • In 2012, no bus routes in the entire system operated at 15 minute or better frequency, down from 12 previously.
  • Meanwhile, overall service level on the city’s historic streetcar routes declined by only 9%, and the number of available vehicles (66) is the same today as in 2005.

What accounts for the difference between the relatively robust network of 2005 and today’s service offering? Obviously no transit agency would have an easy time recovering from the damage done to its vehicles and operational infrastructure by a catastrophic event like Katrina. It would be ludicrous to suggest otherwise. But nearly a decade on, something has prevented RTA from ramping back up to its prior service level.

Read more…

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Today’s Headlines

  • DC’s Silver Line Is Open for Business (WMATA, U.S. DOT, WJLA)
  • So Is the Tucson Streetcar (APNews Now)
  • Matt Yglesias: DC’s Streetcar Will Actually Make Transit Worse (Vox)
  • Utah Sen. Mike Lee Launched His Devolutionist Bid in Hopes of Headlines Like This (Herald Extra)
  • Would You Pay 13 Cents an Hour for On-Street Bike Parking? (Bike Portland)
  • BART Gets $17.4M For Security (KVTU)
  • Salon Examines the Benefits of Free Transit
  • Why People’s Eyes Glaze When You Talk About “Infrastructure,” Even If You Say It’s “Crumbling” (E&E)
  • A Summer Reading List for Transportation Geeks of All Ages (Book People)
Streetsblog NYC 28 Comments

The Citi Bike Deal Is Great News for Other Cities Too

Bay Area Bike-Share, shown here in San Jose, is one of several systems that should be able to fulfill expansion plans quicker after REQX Ventures acquires a controlling stake in Alta Bicycle Share. Photo: Richard Masoner/Flickr

Andrew Tangel at the Wall Street Journal had an encouraging update this week on the Citi Bike buyout plan first reported by Dana Rubinstein in Capital New York. It looks like the city is days away from announcing a deal in which REQX Ventures, an affiliate of the Related Companies and its Equinox unit, will buy out Alta Bicycle Share, the company that operates Citi Bike. The implications are big — not just for bike-share in New York, but for several other major American cities as well.

REQX would acquire a majority stake in Alta Bicycle Share, bringing new management and a much deeper reservoir of financial resources to the company. Vexing problems with Citi Bike’s operations, software, and bike supply chain are expected to be addressed, though it’s not clear yet where the next round of bikes will come from.

For New York, the terms of the deal mean the price of Citi Bike annual memberships will rise from $95 to the $140 range, while the service area will expand substantially. A source familiar with the situation said the plan is to get new stations operating by next spring. The larger service area could reach as far north as 145th Street, according to the source, while extending into western Queens as well as a ring of Brooklyn neighborhoods around the current boundaries.

One aspect of the news that hasn’t been getting much notice is that several other bike-share systems will also be affected. As Payton Chung noted last week, Alta-operated systems in Chicago, DC, Boston, and San Francisco have all been hamstrung by bike supply problems the company had been unable to solve. The buyout should break the logjam holding back expansion plans in those cities and allow system launches in Baltimore, Portland, and Vancouver to progress.

The last two years have been simultaneously thrilling and frustrating for American bike-share, with rapid adoption in major cities accompanied by performance glitches and long waits for system expansions. The outlook for 2015 seems a lot sunnier.

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The Bayou Greenways Plan: A Game-Changer for Houston?

Image: Kinder Foundation

The Bayou Greenways project will add 150 miles of biking and walking paths, but will Houston residents be able to safely access it via local streets? Image: Kinder Foundation

Houston’s Bayou Greenways plan is perhaps the largest active transportation project in the country right now — if residents can actually use it for transportation when it’s completed.

Jen Powis of the Houston Parks Board has described the greenway project as a cross between the Atlanta Beltline and the Portland Bike Master Plan, which “re-envisions transportation” in the city. The project is undoubtedly ambitious, but it remains to be seen whether the city will create safe street-level walking and biking connections to the greenway network.

Construction of the Bayou Greenways is already underway. Once complete, it will consist of a comprehensive network of greenways and walking and biking trails along the city’s many natural bayous.

The plan comes from a blueprint more than 100 years old. It was part of early city planner Arthur Comey’s vision for the Houston park system back in 1912. And in many ways, it’s brilliant.

Greater Houston has 10 major natural bayous, which flow out toward the Gulf of Mexico, spread fairly uniformly across the region. These marshy areas aren’t suitable for development, but they can be used for active transportation and recreation. Already there are some 70 miles of disconnected biking and walking paths along these waterways.

The $480 million project will create a network of 300 miles of paths and some 4,000 acres of parkland along these waterways over seven years. If it were completed today, it would be the country’s largest urban trail system.

Linking together the bayous and sprucing them up is expected to pay big dividends. For one, it will greatly expand recreational amenities in the region; six out of 10 Houstonians will live within a mile and a half of a trail or greenway. The city has estimated the combined economic return at $70 million per year. Of that, $10 million is expected to accrue annually from increased property values near the parks and improved business attraction and retention. Another $10 million is expected to come from enhanced water quality and reduced flooding. Finally, the expected increase in exercise and physical fitness is valued at $50 million annually.

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William H. Whyte in His Own Words: “The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces”

When I first got started making NYC bike advocacy and car-free streets videos back in the late-1990s on cable TV, I didn’t know who William “Holly” Whyte was or just how much influence his work and research had on New York City. A few years later I met Fred and Ethan Kent at Project for Public Spaces. I got a copy of Whyte’s 1980 classic, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, which in its marvelously-written, straightforward style is the one book all burgeoning urbanists should start with.

Recently, I read it again. With all the developments in video technology since his day, I wondered: How might Whyte capture information and present his research in a world which is now more attuned to the importance of public space? What would he appreciate? Are his words still valid?

So I excerpted some of my favorite passages from the book and tried to match it up with modern footage I’ve shot from all over the world while making Streetfilms. I hope he would feel honored and that it helps his research find a new audience.

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What’s the Best Way to Tax Parking?

Taxing parking, the way Pittsburgh does, can make downtowns livelier and encourage a healthier mix of transportation options.

A visual inventory of parking in downtown Providence. Image: Greater City Providence

An inventory of parking in downtown Providence. Image: Greater City Providence

Of course, implementing these policies can get tricky. A recent report from the Victoria Transport Policy Institute [PDF] delves into the issue and sorts out the best way to go about it.

At his blog, Transport Providence, James Kennedy considers what the conclusions mean for his city:

The long and short of it is that it’s politically easiest to tax parking on dedicated lots, rather than to do a “per space” tax on all parking, but this way of taxing parking has problems. We might be tempted, for instance, to tax the lots in downtown Providence but not tax the lot attached to, say, the Whole Foods, because our instinctive thought would be that though we don’t like a surface lot next to a grocery store, it’s much better than a bare lot serving nothing but parking alone.

The problem comes with the fact that the lot parking attached to businesses is free to customers and employees. Of course, it’s not actually free. It costs money which is passed into lost wages or higher prices. But to the worker or consumer, it appears free. When the price of commercial parking, i.e., the lots downtown that charge per hour, becomes more expensive without putting an equal burden on these other parking lots, it gives a stronger incentive for businesses to include free parking into their design as a benefit to customers or workers. This is not what we want.

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