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The Surprisingly Rare Sanctuary From Urban Freeway Noise

There are precious few places in the Minneapolis region where you can escape the whirr of speeding cars. Map: Adam Froehlig at Streets.mn

There are precious few places in the Minneapolis region where you can escape the whir of speeding cars. Map: Adam Froehlig at Streets.mn

Bill Lindeke at Network blog Twin City Sidewalks says he grew up in a rather bucolic setting. Even so, he wasn’t able to escape the constant whir of speeding cars. The old farmhouse on a half-acre lot where he grew up is just three-quarters of a mile from Interstate 35E. And in that way, he was like almost everyone else in the Twin Cities, he points out:

It made me realize that freeways are surprisingly close to most houses. It’s increasingly difficult to find anywhere within the 494-694 ring of the Twin Cities where you can’t hear the high pitched whir of tires all hours of the day and night… Cars are a backdrop to every outdoor conversation, every rustle of leaves, and every birdsong day in and day out forever.

The other day at streets.mn, Adam Froehlig made a map that answered one of the questions that’s been nagging at my earlobe for years: Where are the respites from the whir? Is there anywhere in Minneapolis or Saint Paul where you can escape the sound of tires, if even for a brief moment in the middle of the night?

While it’s not perfect, Alex’s map [above] does point to a few small places where freeways might be at least a mile off.

 

There are precious few of these freeway-free pockets in Minneapolis: a pie slice of Northeast Minneapolis, a halo surrounding Lakes Harriet and (Haystacks) Calhoun, a few tiny pieces of South, and a peripheral edge of North Minneapolis. Is there a silent way that these neighborhoods help with delicate sanity?

Elsewhere on the Network today: Forward Lookout warns that a proposed constitutional amendment in Wisconsin could exacerbate the state DOT’s roads-only approach. TriTag says that despite what some opponents are saying, canceling light rail plans in Waterloo won’t actually save taxpayers any money. And the State Smart Transportation Institute points to a new study demonstrating the impact of the federal Safe Routes to School Program on travel habits.

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Today’s Headlines

  • U.S. DOT Kicks Off Teen Traffic Safety Week 
  • Seniors Should Consider Transportation Options When Planning Retirement (NYT)
  • Texas Republicans Want Welfare for Their Roads (WSJ)
  • Work Begins on Freeing Bertha, the Tunnel Borer Stuck Under Seattle (PI)
  • Citing Safety, New Jersey Cities Beg to Keep Red Light Cameras (NJ.com)
  • Portland Needs to Maintain Protected Space for Bicyclists During Road Work (Bike Portland)
  • Transit Union Rebels Against MARTA’s Plans to Privatize Atlanta Paratransit (Creative Loafing)
  • These Eight Victims of New York City Traffic Violence Will Be Commemorated (NY Mag)
  • How to Build an Intersection for Pedestrians: Six Options (Next City)
  • Go Ahead and Panic, But For God’s Sakes, Not About Ebola (Sightline)
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Center Cities Drawing Young College Grads Even in Shrinking Regions

The central cities of America's urban areas have seen a 34 percent increase in young college-educated residents over the last decade. Image: City Observatory

The central cities of America’s urban areas have seen a 37 percent increase in young, college-educated residents over the last decade. Image: City Observatory

In another striking sign of shifting generational preferences, the number of young college graduates is on the rise in central cities across the country — even in regions that are shrinking overall.

That’s according to a new report from City Observatory [PDF], which found the number of 25- to 34-year-olds with college degrees living within three miles of a downtown area has increased dramatically — 37 percent nationally — over roughly the last decade. America’s total population increased about 11 percent in the same period.

College-educated millennials are even more likely to live in central city areas than their Generation X predecessors. And the trendline is among 51 metro areas examined, just two — Detroit and Birmingham — saw a net loss in 25- to 34-year-old college grads living within three miles of downtown.

Interestingly, the total number of people living in America’s core cities remained roughly unchanged between 2000 and 2012, at about 9.4 million people. (There was, however, enormous variation by metro region.) The millennial generation is also a larger cohort than the Gen X group that came before them, and more likely to have a college degree, but that doesn’t fully explain the trend.

Clearly, shifting preferences are at work, says study author Joe Cortright. The number of young college graduates increased twice as fast in core cities as it did in American metro areas overall.

Read more…

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New Jersey’s Response to Suicide Attempt: Close Bridge to Pedestrians

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Without access to the Route 35 Victory Bridge, the path between Perth Amboy and Sayreville gets a whole lot longer. Via WalkBikeJersey/Google Maps

Today’s featured post from the Streetsblog Network is a case study in overreaction and unintended consequences.

John Boyle at WalkBikeJersey reports that after a suicide attempt on the Route 35 Victory Bridge, officials in New Jersey want to sever this important walking and biking link entirely:

On September 20th the body of 16 year old Giancarlo Taveras was recovered from the Raritan River after he jumped off the Route 35 Victory Bridge. The death of the teenager drew an outpouring of grief from the Perth Amboy community. As a result the annual suicide awareness walk over the bridge included more than 500 participants on September 28th. Then on September 29th a 19 year old miraculously survived his suicide attempt with a broken leg. That chain of events along, with pressure from the mayor of Perth Amboy finally spurred NJDOT to do something about the issue. Their solution — set up barricades and close the bridge to bicyclists and pedestrians. Along with a vague promise to put up a fence for the walkway at some point in the future.

The bridge closure severs the only pedestrian and bicycle access between Perth Amboy and Sayreville. A 2 mile bike ride over the bridge is now a 23 mile detour via New Brunswick and a pedestrian’s only option is to use the infrequent bus service that crosses the bridge.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Using examples from the Netherlands, A View from the Cycle Path explains why the “there’s no room for bike lanes” argument doesn’t hold up. The Dallas Morning News’ Transportation Blog has good news: The toll road that regional transportation officials justified with absurd traffic projections will probably be shelved. And Urban Cincy reports that Denver is trying to tackle the food desert problem with healthy corner stores.

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Today’s Headlines

  • This LA Times Editorial Seriously Begins “Motorists Unite!”
  • Cincinnati Bike-Share Beats Expectations (Local 12)
  • Is the Architecture at Denver’s Union Station Telling People of Color to Stay Away? (Post)
  • Iowa Bicyclist’s Life Worth $1,500 According to Judge (Register)
  • Is New York City Underpopulated? (Salon)
  • Revelstoke Times Review Examines the Costs of Various Transportation in the Canadian Town
  • Can Apps Bring Intercity Rail Travel Into 21st Century Tech? (FT)
  • Of Course Millennials Are Driving Less — Driving Sucks (Sun Journal)
  • Vision Zero Seeks to Make New York’s Streets Safe for Children (Gotham Gazette)
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Oklahoma DOT Dismisses Highway-to-Street-Grid Proposal in OKC

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation has rejected a proposal championed by residents of Oklahoma City to replace a highway segment with an interconnected street grid.

Instead of restoring the street grid as proposed above, a low-cost solution that will open up more land for development, Oklahoma DOT will replace a highway with a highway-like street. Image: ODOT

Last year, a coalition that includes City Council Member Ed Shadid prevailed on the Federal Highway Administration to compel Oklahoma DOT to consider the consider the highway-street-grid idea, in addition to the various highway-like at-grade roads the agency had proposed.

Given that advocates had to force the issue, it’s not surprising that Oklahoma DOT is back with its final recommendations for the project, and the agency didn’t score the grid concept too highly. Instead, the DOT wants to build a high-speed, four-lane road without the added street connections advocates want.

The grid concept was by far the cheapest to construct and would have opened up the most acres for development, but it lost points for having lower level of service — a measure of motor vehicle delay at intersections. Oklahoma DOT’s “preferred alternative” will cost three times as much to construct and open up 62 percent less land for development.

Gotta move those cars, the agency essentially wrote in its environmental assessment [PDF]:

A primary purpose of the Crosstown Boulevard is to help restore connections that were lost when I-40 was relocated south to its current location. As a result, the Crosstown Boulevard should be easy to drive with little delay which allows for easy access for conducting downtown business while accommodating the planned vision of the downtown area.

OKC residents hope to build a walkable, mixed-use neighborhood on 700 acres in the hollowed out Core to Shore area that the road passes through.

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Peter Norton: We Can Learn From the Movement to Enshrine Car Dependence

It used to be normal to play in the streets. We're just one revolution away from being able to do that again. Photo via Peter Norton

It used to be normal to play in the streets. Photo via Peter Norton

Yesterday, we published part one of my interview with Peter Norton, a historian at the University of Virginia and the author of Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City. We talked about whether the push for infrastructure investment is always code for increasing car capacity, and how the Vision Zero campaign bears the legacy of 100-year-old movements to make streets safe for everyone.

Norton will be speaking on November 13 at the opening reception of Transportation Alternatives’ national Vision Zero for Cities Symposium in New York City.

Below is the audio of our conversation, which went on long after this written transcript. Feel free to take a listen, and forgive the background noise — we were talking in Lafayette Square, across from the White House, one of DC’s most iconic urban green spaces.

Here is a transcript of part two of the interview, lightly edited for length and clarity.

We keep calling [the current movement for Vision Zero and livable streets] a “fundamental restructuring,” and I’m curious whether you think that’s accurate. What you’re talking about at the beginning of the last century, which you wrote about in “Fighting Traffic,” was a much more fundamental questioning — because it was new — of the role of cars on streets and in cities. And I’m wondering if you think what’s happening now really gets to those questions or whether it’s just, “Oh, can we just have a little space; we just want some accommodation; we want the buses to be a little better, we want a little bike lane”?

Such an interesting question, because I think that dilemma that we’re in right now in 2014, between fundamental rethinking and just fixes here and fixes there, is the same dilemma that advocates of the automobile found themselves in, especially in the early- to mid-1920s. At first a lot of them said, “We need to take the street as it is and do some fine tuning, things like optimize the traffic signal timings–”

The same solutions we’re looking at!

Exactly! The first synchronized traffic lights for motor vehicles were timed in Chicago in 1926, and at the meeting I was just in, they were still talking about getting the timing right.

Then there were others who began to say, “Stop talking about just retooling the streets to make cars fit in them better; we need to actually re-concieve this.” There was an editorial in Engineering News Record in 1920 — Engineering News Record then and now is the journal of the civil engineers — and the editorial said, “We need a fundamental re-conception of what a city street is for.”

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Will Miami Take the First Step Toward Parking Reform?

It’s been a long time coming, says Felipe Azenha at Transit Miami, but finally the topic of parking reform is getting some attention in Miami.

Proposed parking reforms would be a boon for housing affordability in Miami. Photo: Mark Hogan via Flickr

Eliminating parking requirements for small buildings in Miami could lead to larger reforms — and the elimination of bigger garages like this one — later on. Photo: Mark Hogan via Flickr

A public hearing next week will consider the elimination of minimum parking requirements for small buildings along transit corridors. Azena says it’s just the thing this car-clogged, increasingly-unaffordable city needs:

Minimum parking requirements are killing good urban development in Miami. Luckily, there has been a push to eliminate parking requirements for small urban buildings (<10,000 sq ft) in recent months. This is a good first step in the right direction if Miami really aspires to become a walkable and less autocentric city.

Minimum parking requirements perpetuate more automobile use and it also makes housing less affordable since the cost of building and maintaining required parking is passed on to renters and buyers. A few months ago Zillow released a housing report that cited Miami as the 2nd most expensive city for renters. The average Miami resident spends 43.2% of their income on rent.

Combine expensive housing with lack of public transit and minimum parking requirements that only serve to perpetuate the use of the automobile; it’s no wonder why Miami is one of the most expensive car dominated cities in the US.

A better move for Miami would be to entirely eliminate parking requirements and let developers decide how much parking to build. But in the meantime, this proposal is a step in the right direction, Azenha says.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Wash Cycle maps out the locations of bike fatalities in the nation’s capital. Urban Milwaukee reports that universal driver’s ed has been proposed to help combat racial segregation in that region. And Greater Greater Washington says that DC’s regional planners aren’t acting boldly enough to achieve local climate action goals.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Biden’s Infrastructure Speech Highlights the Administration’s Disappointing Record (CFRAP)
  • “Possible” Presidential Candidates Still Trading Barbs About the Auto Bailout (WaPo)
  • Sen. Susan Collins Pushes to Raise Trucker Limit From 70 to 82 Hours a Week (The Hill)
  • Let’s All Calm the Heck Down About Ebola on Public Transportation (Yahoo News)
  • When Oil Prices Rise, Pols Call for Gas Tax Holiday. Oil Prices Are Low Now. (Bloomberg)
  • Chicago Gets Major Upgrade in Farecard Technology, Consolidation (GovTechBizJournal)
  • DC’s 11th Street Park Will Literally Bridge Two Very Different Neighborhoods (CityLab)
  • Miamians Spend Bigger Share of Their Income on Housing + Transpo Than New Yorkers (New Times)
  • Toronto Needs More Transit But Isn’t Willing to Pay For It (Global News)
  • Strong Towns‘ Chuck Marohn Lays Out the Conservative Case Against the Suburbs
  • Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman Talks to CityLab About the New Rail Bill
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Exposing the Deep-Seated Bias in Transportation Decision Making

Transportation engineers think of themselves as detached and data driven. But bias is built in to many of the profession’s key metrics, write Eric Dumbaugh, Jeffrey Tumlin, and Wesley Marshall in an excellent report recently published by the Institute for Transportation Engineers Journal [PDF]. You can trace this bias all the way back to the dawn of the automotive era.

The authors use Level of Service — the ubiquitous engineering metric that assigns letter grades to streets according to how much traffic delay motorists face — as the overarching example. LOS is often presented as a neutral piece of data that informs rigorous, impartial decision making. But in truth, it is steeped in subjectivity and a bias toward automobility.

LOS measures the ratio of road capacity to motor vehicle traffic volume, which is then presented as an A to F ranking system, like a school report card. ”Asserting that a roadway has failed is not a descriptive statement, it is a call to action,” write the authors.

The problem with basing decisions on LOS is that it only tells us about one thing, vehicle delay, while sidestepping other metrics like safety or economic performance. When transportation planners rely on LOS above all other metrics, as they so often do, they are making a judgment that moving cars quickly should be the primary aim of the transportation system.

Since LOS only measures motor vehicle delay, it entirely ignores the experiences of bicyclists and pedestrians. Transit riders get shortchanged too, because their high-occupancy vehicle is considered no different for the purposes of the measure than a car carrying a single person.

Rather than serving as a neutral piece of data, “the current reliance on level of service is based on two philosophical assumptions,” the authors write. “The first is that a region’s economic performance is linked to vehicle delay, or stated another way that traffic congestion is a drag on our economy that should be eliminated. The second is the assumption that we could resolve the problem of traffic congestion if only we made sufficient investments in transportation infrastructure and operational enhancements.”

Neither of those assumptions are supported by the available data. Instead, the inertia of outdated traditions has simply carried forward to the present day, all the way from advocacy by the automobile industry in the early years of transportation engineering, write Dumbaugh, Tumlin, and Wesley. They note that the first endowed chair of transportation engineering at an American university was sponsored by the Studebaker Motor Company.

Instead of establishing LOS as the primary performance measure for streets, as so many transportation departments do, the authors say planners should take time to consider local values. Many urban neighborhoods would prioritize enhancing the experience of cyclists, pedestrians, and transit riders, which has been shown to increase land values and economic performance, as well as safety.