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The Koch Brothers Win: Nashville Abandons “Amp” BRT Plans

Nashville’s bid to build its first high-capacity transit line is dead, the Tennessean is reporting today. It’s a victory for the Koch brothers-funded local chapter of Americans for Prosperity and a defeat for the city’s near-term hopes of transitioning to less congested, more sustainable streets.

Nashville's 7-mile "Amp" BRT was part of a larger vision for a better connected, more efficient region. Image: AMP Yes

Nashville’s 7-mile “Amp” BRT was envisioned as the beginning of a more connected transit network and less car dependent city. Image: AMP Yes

The project, known as the Amp, called for a 7-mile busway linking growing East Nashville to downtown and parts of the city’s west end. Civic leaders hoped it would be the first of many high-capacity bus routes that would help make the growing city more attractive and competitive.

But Mayor Karl Dean, facing organized opposition to the project, announced late last year that he would not try to start building the Amp before he leaves office later in 2015.  This week the city’s leading transit official made it official and stopped design work on the Amp, The Tennessean reports.

The opposition group “Stop Amp” was led by local car dealership impresario Lee Beaman and limousine company owner Rick Williams, according to the Tennessean. The group also had help from the Koch brothers, with the local chapter of Americans for Prosperity introducing a bill in the State Senate that would have outlawed dedicated transit lanes throughout  Tennessee. Opponents fell short of that, but Republicans in the legislature were a constant obstacle to the project’s funding.

Transit supporters in Nashville are now left to pick up the pieces and figure out what comes next. “We’ve never come so far in bringing this level of mass transit to Nashville, and we have to continue the conversation to make it a reality,” Dean said in a statement last week.

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Four Nice Touches in U.S. DOT’s New “Mayors’ Challenge” for Bike Safety

Denver Transportation Director Crissy Fanganello, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard in 2014.

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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.

There’s a difference between bike-safety warnings that focus on blaming victims and warnings that recommend actual systemic improvements. The launch of a Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People, Safer Streets by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx is the good kind of warning.

Yes, it’d be nice if it weren’t being pegged on the dubious claim that biking has gotten more dangerous in the last few years. Also if U.S. DOT were offering any money for cities that take its advice.

That said, there’s a lot to love in this initiative launched Friday. Let’s count a few of the ways.

The feds want cities to measure successful bike trips, not just bad ones.

Austin, Texas.

In many cities, the only times bikes show up in the official statistics is when something goes wrong.

When a person collides with a car or a curb while biking, they enter the public record. When they roll happily back to work after meeting a friend for tacos, they’re invisible to the spreadsheets that drive traffic engineering decisions.

This is the sort of logic that sometimes leads people to the conclusion that on-street bicycle facilities decrease road safety. What they’re actually doing is increasing bike usage, which in turn is the most important way to increase bike safety. When our primary metric of biking success is the number of people biking rather than the number of people dying, we’re making our cities better across the board, not merely safer.

Foxx’s lead recommendation that cities “count the number of people walking and biking” shouldn’t be revolutionary. But if every city did, it would be.

Read more…

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Anthony Foxx Challenges Mayors to Protect Pedestrians and Cyclists

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx wants mayors to step up bike and pedestrian safety efforts. Photo: Building America's Future

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx speaking at the U.S. Conference of Mayors yesterday. Photo: Building America’s Future

With pedestrian and cyclist deaths accounting for a rising share of U.S. traffic fatalities and Congress not exactly raring to take action, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is issuing a direct challenge to America’s mayors to improve street safety. Yesterday Foxx unveiled the “Mayor’s Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets” at the U.S. Conference of Mayors Transportation Committee meeting in Washington.

Overall traffic deaths are on a downward trend in the U.S., but the reduction in pedestrian and cyclist fatalities is not keeping pace with improvements for car occupants. Pedestrians and bicyclists now account for 17 percent of all traffic fatalities in the U.S., and most of these deaths are in urban areas, Foxx noted.

Back in September, Foxx told the Pro-Walk/Pro-Bike/Pro-Place conference in Pittsburgh that U.S. DOT is “putting together the most comprehensive, forward-leaning initiative U.S. DOT has ever put forward on bike/ped issues.” The Mayor’s Challenge fleshes out that initiative to some extent.

Foxx wants mayors to implement seven key recommendations from U.S. DOT. In March, mayors and local leaders will convene at DOT headquarters to discuss how to put the recommendations into practice. Participating cities will implement the strategies in the following year, with assistance from U.S. DOT.

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Survey Reveals Huge Appetite for Transit Expansion in Seattle

Image: PubliCola via EMC research

Image: PubliCola via EMC research

Sound Transit in Seattle recently commissioned a survey to gauge support for pumping $15 billion into light rail expansion from local taxes. About 1,500 voters were interviewed by phone in Snohomish, King, and Pierce counties about their appetite for such an increase.

The questions were phrased neutrally and showed “overwhelming” support for continuing to expand transit options in the region, reports Bernard Ellouk at PubliCola:

The poll shows that voters, by a margin of 55 to 31, believe Puget Sound is on the right track — a historic high that has not been approached since December 2000. And the primary concern for Puget Sound residents is mass transit, transportation, and traffic, which ranks above concerns over the economy and jobs, the environment and pollution, and education.

Fifty-seven percent of voters rank expanding light rail, buses, and commuter rail as the best way to address the traffic problem, compared with 36 percent who prefer to expand existing roads and highways and build new roads. Stewart says that, coming on the heels of 2008′s ballot measure to fund an expansion of Sound Transit’s regional express buses and commuter and light rail service, these figures signal “a lot of appetite” to continue transit expansions. Support for expanding transit has remained around 80 percent since 2008. The poll released today shows 82 percent of voters in favor.

Read more…

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Today’s Headlines

  • Nashville’s AMP BRT Won’t Happen — Somewhere, the Koch Brothers Cackle (Tennessean)
  • Paul, Boxer Finishing Up Transpo Bill Paid for by Tax Cut (Bond Buyer)
  • Shuster: Gas Tax Hike Unlikely to Pass This Year (The Hill)
  • Hogan’s Budget Gives Some Money to Purple, Red Lines in Maryland (GGW)
  • DC Metro Revises Emergency Response Tactics Following Tragedy (The Hill)
  • Which Areas Could See Low Gas Prices Hurt Transit? (The Week)
  • The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Connecticut Transportation Last Year (TSTC)
  • There’s Finally Momentum to Improve Transit in Miami, But What About $$? (Miami Herald)
  • Houston Metro Mulls Best Use for $39.9M Unspent Federal Funds (Houston Chron)
  • Why Aren’t More People Riding the Bus in Delaware? (Columbus Dispatch)
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Alabama DOT Wants to Gouge a Highway Through This Historic Town Center

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North Eufaula Avenue, the heart of Eufaula, Alabama’s historic town center, is under threat by the Alabama DOT. Photo: Robin McDonald

The town of Eufaula, Alabama, population 13,000, is known for its historic buildings. Stately mansions, giant live oak heavy with Spanish moss — it’s exactly the type of place that comes to mind when you picture Southern small-town charm.

Every year the city hosts a home tour called the Eufaula pilgrimage, which culminates with the grand mansions on North Eufaula Avenue. That event and other cultural tourism brings millions of dollars to the local economy every year.

Which is why many residents were horrified when the Alabama Department of Transportation came to town in November and announced it would be widening North Eufaula Avenue, through the heart of the historic district. Widening the road from two lanes to four would cut into the roots of the stately oaks and make this historic small-town street feel like a high-speed freeway.

Doug Purcell, a long-time resident and board member of the Eufaula Heritage Association, has been leading the local campaign against the project. The state of Alabama has tried to widen the road three times in the 42 years he’s lived there, and he’s fought back every time.

“North Eufaula Avenue defines the special character of Eufaula,” he said. “It’s Eufaula’s front porch and one of its showcases.”

Purcell and other activists gathered 6,000 signatures opposing the widening.

Read more…

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Why a Broke State DOT Could Be Great for Missouri

These expensive flyovers in sprawling Missouri might not have been worth the expense to taxpayers. Maybe a broke MoDOT will help bring projects back down to earth. Image: NextSTL

Maybe a broke MoDOT will bring costs back down to earth by not building projects like these expensive flyovers. Image: NextSTL

In August, Missouri voters roundly defeated a sales tax increase supported by road building interests that would have dramatically boosted funding for the state DOT. During the run-up to the election, state leaders laid it on thick in their appeal for more road money, arguing that the fallout would be disastrous for public safety if voters didn’t approve the 0.75 percent sales tax hike.

But voters didn’t bite on the business-as-usual proposal. And now, reports Richard Bose in a brilliant post at NextSTL, the state has unveiled its Plan B: a tighter budget that is packaged in language designed to scare residents into approving another funding source for the DOT.

MoDOT's approach to highway funding is no longer sustainable. The organization hopes its scaled-back plans encourage voters to pony up more money. Image; MoDOT

MoDOT’s approach to highway funding is no longer sustainable. The agency hopes its scaled-back plans scare voters into ponying up more money. Image: MoDOT

Missouri officials call it the “325 Plan,” because the state will only have $325 million to spend annually on transportation by 2017. Among the warnings: ”Supplementary roads will become a patchwork of repairs. Heavy loads on Missouri bridges will be limited, and some bridges could be closed indefinitely.” In light of the budget crunch, the state has said it will make “improvements” on only 8,000 of its 34,000 miles of roads. But the rest will still receive basic maintenance.

Bose says putting Missouri DOT on an austerity budget might be just what the doctor ordered. After all, over the last decade, the state binged on road spending, much of it backed by borrowing. And yet the state still has almost 500 bridges in poor or serious condition, and its economy is still performing worse than the nation as a whole. Perhaps giving the DOT more money to throw at highway construction isn’t going to fix anything.

Back when money was flowing freely, many of the state-supported highway expansions were little more than jobs programs, Bose says. Now it’s not clear that the state’s economy can support infrastructure at the scale that was built. Missouri DOT isn’t about to admit that’s a possibility, though:

Read more…

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Suburban Atlanta: Where Parking Is Required But Sidewalks Are Not

Photo: ATLUrbanist

The sidewalk disappears at this bus stop on Buford Highway. Photo: ATLUrbanist

Buford Highway north of Atlanta is the deadliest road for pedestrians in the region. Though lined with residences of people with low incomes, the high-speed, high-traffic road has no continuous sidewalk. Lacking dedicated infrastructure, pedestrians have worn paths in the grass all around it. (See more photos below.)

Darin at ATLUrbanist says these paths are a stark illustration of inequality built into the region’s transportation system.

Those cars are in spaces that are mandated as part of minimum parking requirements — requirements that don’t seem to have a relative in regard to pedestrian infrastructure at bus stops.

This is a good metaphor for the second-class state of pedestrians in car-centric places throughout Metro Atlanta. Cars receive a luxurious abundance of infrastructure for both moving and parking, while pedestrians and transit users fight for a safe place on the edges.

You can see “desire paths” like this – where people have worn down the grass in a median from repeatedly walking through it — along many roads in the metro. I remember seeing them along Canton Highway in Cobb County, where I grew up.

Take a look at these desire paths worn into the sidewalk-free Buford Highway turf:

Read more…

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Today’s Headlines

  • Foxx to Challenge Mayors Today on Safer Biking, Walking (USA Today)
  • Hope’s Not Dead for Movement on Transportation Bill (The Hill)
  • Climate Denier Inhofe Takes Gavel at Enviro Committee, Aims for More Transpo Funding (The Hill, TT)
  • Purple Line Activists Rally Before Tomorrow’s Budget Decision (GGW)
  • CT’s Transpo Future Includes Good Things for Pedestrians and Cyclists (New Haven Register)
  • How the Sharing Economy Could Change Parking Politics (Next City)
  • Milwaukee Business Leaders Rally Behind Streetcar (Journal-Sentinel)
  • How Many Drivers Does Uber Have, and How Much Do They Make? (WaPo)
  • In Texas, Private High-Speed Rail Company Has Eminent Domain Powers (Dallas Biz Journal)
  • Cincinnati Mayor to Press Feds on Bike Trail Funding (Cincinnati Biz Courier)
  • Transportation Upgrades Planned for South Boston Waterfront (BostInno)
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Philly Urbanists Launch Political Action Committee to Shake Up City Council

In a move that may mark, in the words of Philadelphia Magazine, ”New Philadelphia’s political awakening,” a group of Philly urbanists launched a political action committee earlier this month to support candidates who will reform local land use, transportation, and taxation policies.

One of the planks of The 5th Square’s platform: getting the city to follow through on its protected bike lane plans. Image via 5th Square

The new organization is called The 5th Square, a reference to the public space at City Hall, and it was founded by Geoff Kees Thompson, who writes at This Old City. The platform, which is still in development, urges the adoption of a Vision Zero policy to eliminate traffic fatalities, the construction of 40 miles of protected bike lanes in four years, and tripling the city’s parks budget.

The 5th Square will use its candidate surveys, political donations, and volunteers to influence City Council races. ”What [the city] needs now more than ever are better leaders who think progressively about our city, not retrograde candidates stuck to our decline-filled past,” Thompson wrote in the manifesto announcing the PAC’s launch.

So far the group has raised about $3,500 toward its first-month goal of $5,000, a figure Philly Magazine called “pretty much the pizza budget of the mayoral campaign.” But as StreetsPAC has demonstrated in New York City, money is just one of many factors that determine a PAC’s influence.

In 2013, StreetsPAC spent only about $40,000 in its first election cycle, a pittance compared to the real estate interests that dominate the NYC political scene. What it lacked in money it more than made up for in media savvy and grassroots enthusiasm, with 13 of its 18 endorsees going on to win. StreetsPAC organizers credited their success to a hardworking volunteer network and the ability to broadcast endorsements to a large, committed constituency.