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What It Would Take to Eliminate Carbon Emissions From U.S. Transportation?

The U.S. is behind other developed nations in moving toward energy efficient transportation. Graph: U.S. PIRG

America’s transportation system obscenely more carbon-intensive than global leaders in Asia and Europe. Graph: U.S. PIRG

To do its part to avert catastrophic climate change, the United States would have to more or less eliminate carbon emissions from transportation in the next 35 years. But America is nowhere near on pace to make that happen.

Transportation recently overtook the electric power sector to become the nation’s largest source of carbon emissions. That’s what you would expect out of a transportation policy framework that prioritizes cars, highways, and sprawl — and hasn’t changed very much in 60 years, despite some recent tinkering around the margins.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group and the Frontier Group are out with a new report [PDF] outlining 50 steps to eliminate carbon pollution from the American transportation sector by incentivizing low-carbon modes of travel, more efficient development patterns, and cleaner vehicles. Here are three of the most important steps.

First step — get a grip on the damage being done

America is basically flying blind when it comes to charting a greener course for transportation emissions — we have no idea how all the money spent on transportation infrastructure affects the climate. Only in a handful of states do transportation agencies even consider how their very expensive highway projects lead to more greenhouse gas emissions.

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To Open Up Cities, Make Single-Family Zones More Flexible

As the number of jobs in Seattle explodes, the city is grappling with how to make room for all the population growth that’s expected to follow. The city’s “Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda” maps out a strategy to do so, focusing mainly on infill development in denser areas near transit. Most of the city, however, is zoned for single-family housing.

Most of Seattle (the yellow parts) is zoned exclusively for single-family housing. Map: City of Seattle via The Urbanist

Austin Bell at Network blog The Urbanist says Seattle should look for inspiration from Japan, where zoning for these low-rise areas also “emphasizes mixed uses to an extent that is almost never found in American single-family zoning.” Even modest changes to single-family zoning — making room for so-called “missing middle” housing — could accommodate hundreds of thousands more residents, he says:

On two-thirds of Seattle’s land, it’s legally impermissible to build anything other than a single-family home (certain types of institutional or public uses excepted) covering more than 35% of a lot that’s no less than 5,000 square feet, preferably with an alley-accessible parking space…

Outside of infill developments in Central Seattle and urban villages, the slow conversion of single-family zones to low-rise zones is Seattle’s best hope for increasing housing development capacity. In July 2015, HALA Strategy SF.2 explicitly called for “more variety of housing types, such as small lot dwellings, cottages, courtyard housing, duplexes and triplexes, in Single Family zones.” SF.2 “does not eliminate the option of single-family housing; rather, it increases the opportunities for more efficient use of very limited land resources” and went on to note that “low density use would be less intense than the Lowrise 1 multifamily (LR1) zone.” However conservative this recommendation, it hinted that change may be coming to single-family zones.

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Today’s Headlines

  • America Builds More Three-Car Garages Than One-Bedroom Apartments (Bloomberg)
  • Federal Court Denies Injunction on Albuquerque Bus Rapid Transit Construction (ABQ Journal)
  • New Resource Makes 1930s Red-Lining Maps Available (Dissent)
  • Grist: Best Show on TV Right Now, “Atlanta,” Is About Living Carless in the Suburbs
  • Thirty Pedestrians Have Been Killed in the Last Two Years in Nashville (Fox 17)
  • Northern Virginia Breaks Ground on Park-and-Ride Lot to Be Paid for With Toll Revenue (WTOP)
  • Fare Evasion Has Doubled on Twin Cities’ Light Rail (KARE 11)
  • Baltimore to Launch Bike-Share System This Week (Baltimore Brew)
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How American Cities Can Protect Cyclists From Deadly Trucks

Side guards save lives. Photo via Vision Zero Network

Side guards save lives. Photo via Vision Zero Network

Heavy trucks kill. They account for as much as 32 percent of cyclist deaths in New York City and 58 percent in London, far out of proportion to their share of traffic. Across the U.S., 1,746 bicyclists and pedestrians have been killed in collisions with commercial trucks over the last five years.

For cities looking to reduce traffic fatalities, the dangers posed by heavy trucks must be addressed. London is a global standard bearer, but some American cities are also making progress on truck safety. A report from the Vision Zero Network [PDF] highlights some of the best policies.

1. Mandate side guards and crossover mirrors for city trucks

American cities don’t have the power to regulate vehicle designs the way British cities do, but they do have control over their own fleets. Applying effective safety standards to municipal truck fleets is a good first step for cities.

The 2012 death of 23-year-old Christopher Weigl drew attention to the problem of truck design in Boston. One feature the city’s trucks lacked was side guards, which prevent severe injuries in the event a truck driver sideswipes a pedestrian or cyclist, keeping the victim away from the path of the rear wheels.

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How Much Would Cyclists Pay to Cover Their “Fair Share”?

One of these vehicles doesn’t cause nearly as much damage as the others. Photo:

Cyclists should pay their “fair share” for streets — it’s a favorite complaint of newspaper commenters worldwide.

So Walker Angell at Network blog decided to figure out what exactly a “fair share” for cyclists — and pedestrians — would be. Here’s his analysis:

Three factors influence the cost that a person and their vehicle (or just a vehicle when autonomous delivery vehicles arrive) cause; weight, speed, and size.

Weight is approximately $0.005 (1/2 cent) per thousand pounds per mile. In other words, if you drive a 2,000 pound car for 1 mile you’ll cause about 1 cent of damage. This cost is not linear though as a 2,000 pound car actually causes $0.022 of damage, a bit more than twice as much as a 1,000 pound car. A 28,000 pound school bus doesn’t cause $0.14 of damage but $4.31 of damage for each mile.

Next is Size. The larger your vehicle the more space it requires to drive and queue at junctions. This cost is about 1/5 cent per foot of length for a single lane vehicle.

Finally we have Speed. The $0.005 (1/2 cent) above is based on a speed of 10 MPH. At 20 MPH you’ll cause about $0.006 cents per mile; at 30, about $0.007 and so on.

Let’s put it all together.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Michael Bloomberg Urges Cities to Prepare for Self-Driving Cars (WaPo)
  • A Car and Driver Q&A With Anthony Foxx on the Future of Transportation
  • Twin Cities Get Federal Grant to Plan Development Along New Light Rail Line (F&C)
  • Uber Endorses Seattle Transit Ballot Measure (GeekWire)
  • Chicago Black Lives Matter Activists Discuss Transportation Justice With Chicago Reader
  • Does Metro Run Through DC’s Most Populated Areas? (GGW)
  • Nashville Officials Want Transit in the Picture for Improving I-65 (Nashville Public Radio)
  • Florida DOT Funds Driverless Circulator Transit Service in Tampa (Tampa Bay Biz Journal)
  • Dallas Adds Two New Light Rail Stations (AP)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA


What the Price of Parking Shows Us About Cities

Check out the interactive chart at this link.

To see where your city falls, check out the interactive chart at this link.

Cross-posted from City Observatory

Earlier, we rolled out our parking price index, showing the variation in parking prices among large US cities. Gleaning data from ParkMe, a web-based directory of parking lots and rates, we showed how much it cost to park on a monthly basis in different cities. There’s a surprising degree of variation: While the typical rate is somewhere in the range of $200 a month, in some cities (New York) parking costs more than $700 a month, while in others (Oklahoma City) it’s less than $30 a month.

As Donald Shoup has exhaustively explained in its tome, The High Cost of Free Parking, parking has a tremendous impact on urban form. And while Shoup’s work focuses chiefly on the side effects of parking requirements and under-priced street parking, we’re going to use our index of parking prices to explore how market-provided parking relates to the urban transportation system.

In the United States, the majority of commuters travel alone by private automobile to their place of work. But in some places — in large cities and in dense downtowns — more people travel by transit, bicycle or walk to work. It’s worth asking why more people don’t drive. After all, the cost of car ownership is essentially the same everywhere in the U.S. The short answer is that in cities, parking isn’t free. And when parking isn’t free, more people take transit or other modes of transportation.

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D.C. Riders: Late-Night Transit Cuts Would Leave Workers Stranded

Hard to believe, but one of the biggest transit agencies in the U.S. — WMATA — is moving to eliminate eight hours of late-night Metro service per week. The whole system will simply not be available for those eight hours, and people in D.C. are livid.

Protestors demonstrate against late-night service cuts outside a Metro board meeting last week. Photo: Greater Greater Washington

Protestors demonstrate against late-night service cuts outside a WMATA board meeting last week. Photo: Greater Greater Washington

How would those cuts affect transit riders? At a recent public meeting on the service cuts, people spoke about how they rely on late-night Metro service. Greater Greater Washington shares this synopsis from contributor Nicole Cacozza:

One man came to testify on behalf of his former coworkers in the service industry who worked long shifts and needed Metro to get home.

A woman from WMATA’s accessibility committee spoke about just not being able to travel on weekends if Metro cut its morning service, because she cannot get around without public transportation.

One woman who immigrated to Maryland as a child said that she used Metro to travel to Virginia after school in order to spend time with other people from her home country, and she currently knows people who use it to attend GED classes after work.

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Today’s Headlines

  • It’s a Record-Breaking Year for Transpo Ballot Measures (San Gabriel Valley Trib)
  • Twin Cities’ Green Line Is Raising Housing Costs for Poor Residents (Pioneer Press)
  • Senior NJ Transit Officials Miss Safety Hearing (AP)
  • How Will the U.S. Handle Urban Population Growth? (WaPo)
  • Maryland Gov Hogan Touts Purple Line as a Cure for Metro (AP)
  • Should Biking on Downtown Sidewalks Be Illegal? (Next City)
  • Nashville Trails Six Peer Cities on Transit (Nashville Biz Journal)
  • ENO Center Chief: Detroit Desperately Needs to Vote for Rail and Transit (US News)
  • Miami’s Walkability Upswing Starts Downtown (CityLab)
  • A Quick Guide to Urban Development Buzzwords (Charlotte Observer)
  • Capital Bikeshare Expands to Fairfax County (WaPo)

London Is Going to Ban the Deadliest Trucks From Its Streets

Photo: Transport for London via Treehugger

Image: Transport for London via Treehugger

Heavy trucks with big blind spots are a deadly menace to cyclists and pedestrians.

In Boston, eight of the nine cyclist fatalities between 2012 and 2014 involved commercial vehicles, according to the Boston Cyclists Union [PDF].

Between June and September this year, there were six cyclist fatalities in Chicago, and all six involved commercial vehicles.

In New York City, drivers of heavy trucks account for 32 percent of bike fatalities and 12 percent of pedestrian fatalities, despite the fact that they are only 3.6 percent of traffic.

U.S. cities are starting to take steps like requiring sideguards on some trucks. But no American city is tackling the problem like London is.

In London, city officials estimate that 58 percent of cyclist deaths and more than a quarter of pedestrian deaths involve heavy trucks, even though trucks only account for 4 percent of traffic. Evidence suggests trucks pose an especially large risk to women cyclists.

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