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Fewer People Are Riding the Bus Because There Are Fewer Buses to Ride

Source: The Century Foundation

In most big American cities, bus service shrank between 2006 and 2012. No wonder bus ridership is dropping too. Graphic: The Century Foundation

Remember when the Great Recession decimated transit agency budgets, but the White House and Congress refused to step in and fund bus service while spending billions of dollars to subsidize car purchases? Well, the hangover continues to this day, leaving bus riders in the lurch.

Last year, bus ridership in America shrank 1 percent. While rail ridership grew 4 percent, enough to lift total ridership slightly, buses are still the workhorse of U.S. transit systems, accounting for most trips. If bus ridership is shrinking, something is wrong.

Jacob Anbinder at the Century Foundation has been poring over the data. He notes that in most of the nation’s biggest cities, bus ridership was on the upswing until the recession. Since then there’s been a noticeable falling off. His chart below shows bus ridership in America’s ten largest urban regions:

New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Philadelphia, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston, Washington DC, Atlanta, Boston

It’s not surprising that bus ridership fell when a lot of people were out of work, Anbinder says. What’s disturbing is that bus ridership is still slumping even as the economy has picked back up.

But the explanation is simple enough. As Anbinder shows in the chart at the top of this post, a lot of transit agencies cut bus service during the recession, and for the most part it’s still not back to pre-recession levels.

Streetsblog.net
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Too-Broke-for-Bike-Lanes Wisconsin Building Pricey New DOT Headquarters

The culture war against biking and walking continues in Wisconsin under the guise of fiscal conservatism.

Te Wisconsin DOT's current headquarters. The state is going to spend $200 million for a new building but it supposedly can't afford bike lanes. Photo: Google Maps

Wisconsin DOT’s current headquarters. The state is going to spend $200 million for a new DOT building but it supposedly can’t afford bike lanes. Photo: Google Maps

James Rowen at the Political Environment relays the news that state lawmakers are preparing to put the kibosh on funding for walking and biking trails. That’s in addition to a proposal to nix the state’s complete streets policy. Rowen writes:

There is apparently a move underway by GOP legislators to insert language in the budget that would end the use of state funding, or federal funding passed through the state to localities, for various pedestrian and bike projects and trails.

Legislators who do not represent big cities often do not appreciate the extent of non-vehicle commuting and recreation. These legislators ‘thinking’ is: if localities want these facilities, they have to pay 100% of the cost — though state-imposed spending caps make that outcome difficult-to-impossible, and no such one-dimensional approach is required when a street or highway expansion is planned.

Walker’s budget already repeals the Complete Streets Act, which called for the addition of bike lanes or sidewalks on street projects above a certain expenditure level; the potential prohibition of spending on separate bike or pedestrian trails extends this one-sided ‘transportation’ model in Wisconsin.

In case there was any confusion about where the state government’s priorities lie, Rowen also reports that the retrograde highway builders at Wisconsin DOT are in line to get a new, $200 million headquarters:

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Today’s Headlines

  • The Psychology of Why Driving Turns Us Into Jerks (Slate)
  • How New Jersey Can Lure People Out of Cars (NextCity)
  • Scientist Says Climate Change Contributed to Texas Flooding Disaster (Texas Tribune)
  • “Floating Bus Stops” Can Help Solve Bike-Bus Conflicts (CityLab)
  • Proposal to Hike Tennessee Gas Tax “Not Going Anywhere” (Times Free Press)
  • Maryland County Testing P3 Model for Funding Green Infrastructure (Governing)
  • Self-Driving Google Car Might Not Ever Happen (Slate)
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Four Cities Race to Finish the Country’s First Protected Intersection

A protected intersection under construction at Manor and Tilley in Austin, fall 2014. Photo: City of Austin.

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Sometimes, change builds up for years. And sometimes, it bursts.

Fifteen months after American bikeway designer Nick Falbo coined the phrase “protected intersection” to refer to a Dutch-style intersection between two streets with protected bike lanes, the concept hasn’t just ricocheted around the Internet — it’s been approved by four different cities.

The cities of Austin, Salt Lake City, Davis and Boston are now in a four-way race to create the first working protected intersection in the United States.

The holy grail of bike infrastructure: Low-stress traffic crossings

Photo from Utrecht, Netherlands: J.Maus/BikePortland.

The promise of the design is simple: Instead of forcing people in cars and on bikes alike to look constantly over their shoulders for one another, protected intersections arrange traffic so that everyone can see what’s going on simply by looking forward.

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Tampa Installs Its First Green Bike Lane

Tampa recently added a buffered green bike lane. Photo: Tampa Tribune

Tampa recently painted its first buffered green bike lanes. Photo: Tampa Tribune

There are splashes of green appearing in downtown Tampa, as the city installs its first buffered bike lanes on Platt, Cleveland, and Brorein streets, complete with green intersections.

The Platt Street redesign trimmed the one-way, three-lane road down to a two car lanes plus a buffered bike lane. (The bike lane on Cleveland will offer a travel option for cyclists heading in the other direction.) The city also lowered the speed limit from 40 mph to 35 mph.

The new bike lanes are part of a wider city effort to change Tampa’s record as a dangerous place for walking and biking, says Karen Kresf of the Tampa Downtown Partnership, a business association.

“Our mayor understands the fact that Tampa Bay is rated number two in the country in the Dangerous by Design report,” says Kresf, referring to the Transportation for America report that ranked the most dangerous cities for walking. “Our local governments are finally taking that seriously.”

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The 23-Lane Katy Freeway: A Monument to Texas Transportation Futility

Fast-growing Texas cities have an enormous traffic problem — that much isn’t in dispute. But the response has been myopic: pouring more and more money into widening highways. Even the road engineers at the Texas Transportation Institute recently acknowledged there’s no way these cities can fund and build highway lanes fast enough to keep pace with population growth. That’s in no small part because widening and expanding highways fuels sprawl that induces more car trips, TTI acknowledged.

Twenty-three lanes for the Katy Freeway and traffic is moving 51 percent slower. Photo: Houston Tomorrow

The 23-lane Katy Freeway doesn’t look like this at rush hour. Photo: Houston Tomorrow

Jay Crossley at Houston Tomorrow crunched the numbers after the infamous Katy Freeway widening. U.S. Representative John Culberson recently bragged in Congress about how this $2.8 billion expansion “from eight lanes to 23 lanes” has resulted in “moving more cars in less time, more savings to taxpayers than any other transportation project in the history of Houston.”

In fact, reports Crossley, all that money seems to be doing a great job of generating more traffic:

Houston commutes continue to get worse despite billions in spending on new road capacity. Traveling from Downtown outbound on the I-10 Katy Freeway to Pin Oak took 51% more time in 2014 than in 2011, according to Houston Tomorrow analysis of Houston Transtar data. The Houston region in recent years has been spending the most per capita on new roads of the ten largest metropolitan regions in the nation.

In 2014, during peak rush hour, it took 70 minutes, 27 seconds to travel from Downtown, past Beltway 8, all the way to Pin Oak, just past the Katy Mills Mall. In 2011, this same trip took 46 minutes, 53 seconds.

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Today’s Headlines

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Compelling Evidence That Wider Lanes Make City Streets More Dangerous

The rate of side impact crashes is lowest on urban streets with lanes about 10.5 feet wide — much narrower than the standard 12 feet. Graph: Dewan Karim

The “forgiving highway” approach to traffic engineering holds that wider is safer when it comes to street design. After decades of adherence to these standards, American cities are now criss-crossed by streets with 12-foot wide lanes. As Walkable City author Jeff Speck argued in CityLab last year, this is actually terrible for public safety and the pedestrian environment.

A new study reinforces the argument that cities need to reconsider lane widths and redesign streets accordingly. In a paper to be presented at the Canadian Institute of Traffic Engineers annual conference, author Dewan Masud Karim presents hard evidence that wider lanes increase risk on city streets.

Karim conducted a wide-ranging review of existing research as well as an examination of crash databases in two cities, taking into consideration 190 randomly selected intersections in Tokyo and 70 in Toronto.

Looking at the crash databases, Karim found that collision rates escalate as lane widths exceed about 10.5 feet.

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Streetsblog.net
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A Plea for States Like Ohio to Wake Up to the “New Reality”

Ohio’s cities have been declining, and traffic congestion isn’t the problem. The highway system, if anything, is overbuilt.

Jason Segedy director of Akron's regional council of governments says Ohio is headed down the wrong road, transportation-wise. Photo: Akronist

Jason Segedy, director of Akron’s regional council of governments, says Ohio’s transportation policies make its economic problems worse. Photo: Akronist

But state authorities continue to prioritize highway building over every other form of transportation spending. Jason Segedy, the head of Akron’s regional council of governments, is sounding the alarm about it.

At his blog, Notes from the Underground, Segedy recently published “An Open Letter to Ohio’s Public Officials.” He says the state should shift focus entirely and immediately:

I no longer believe the dogma that is proffered by much of the mainstream economic development, planning, and engineering professions. The practitioners in these professions increasingly function as priests, rather than scientists. And I reject their statement of faith.

That statement of faith being: “More highway capacity is the path to economic prosperity.”

If that were the case, Ohio (the 7th largest state with the 4th largest interstate system) should be tearing it up economically. Instead, we are one of the slowest growing states in the union (44th); our economic growth lags far behind the nation as a whole (which is why our population growth is virtually non-existent); and our state contains (with the exception of Columbus) the weakest performing central cities of any one state in the union.

Our cities are bucking just about every major national trend when it comes to urban revitalization and job creation, and I simply don’t believe that more transportation infrastructure or less “congestion” (such as it is) is the cure for what ails them.

Our biggest economic problem in Ohio today is not the inability to get goods and services to market. Our biggest economic problem is economic inequality — a lack of economic opportunities for the poor and the working class — most of whom are clustered in our central cities, our inner ring suburbs, and our towns.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Maryland “Free-Range” Family Cleared of Neglect Charges (Reason)
  • Long Car Commutes Are a Health Hazard (Minneapolis Post)
  • State Costs for Ohio’s PPP Portsmouth Bypass Have Tripled to $1.2 Billion (Planetizen)
  • Managing Demand Is as Important as Building Infrastructure (Crikey.au)
  • Buffalo Has a New Master Plan for Downtown Streets (Buffalo News)
  • Bicyclist Killed En Route to Memorial Ride for Another Cyclist in Houston (Chronicle)
  • Traffic Noise May Increase Risk for Obesity (CityLab)