Thank you, Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics, for this righteous and oddly poignant look at the dangers — and drudgery — caused by auto-centric urban design. Bravo, sir. You should get an honorary urban planning degree for this.
Bike advocates from places like Portland, New York, and Boulder got a little Rust Belt envy this week when Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto spoke to the National Bike Summit Tuesday morning.
Peduto took office in January with big plans for bike lanes, express bus service, and eventually an expanded light rail network. (He got sworn in during the “polar vortex,” which was symbolic, he said, because “a lot of people said it would be a cold day in hell before I was ever elected.”)
Before launching into his perspective on cycling, Peduto regaled the audience with a history of Pittsburgh’s rise as an industrial giant and its 30-year decline, during which unemployment hit 18 percent and the city lost more population than New Orleans after Katrina. At about the same time that Pittsburgh’s economy hit bottom, it was ranked one of the worst five cities in the country for bicycling.
That was the nineties. Now Bicycling Magazine rates Pittsburgh the 35th most bicycle-friendly city in America, and Peduto wants to see it shoot into the top ten. Thirty percent of Pittsburghers walk, bike, or take transit to work — only seven other American cities have a higher share. But “we can do better,” Peduto said.
In the past few years, Pittsburgh has built 30 miles of on-street bike infrastructure and 500 bike racks, and it has started to install bike corrals.
Don’t forget, Peduto said, what an unlikely place Pittsburgh is for these kinds of improvements:
UPDATE (3:38 p.m. Friday March 7): The state of Kentucky announced today it will allow pedestrians on the Clark Memorial Bridge after all, according to media reports that came out shortly after this article was published. Officials have modified the construction plan to allow one sidewalk to remain open for the next few months. “We heard people’s concerns about the loss of pedestrian access, and we have responded,” said Andy Barber, project manager for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, according to the Louisville Business Journal. Well done, Kentucky! We stand corrected on the statements made in the original article that follow:
In Louisville, it seems, nothing is nearly as important to the state government as cramming more cars through town. Ignoring strong grassroots opposition, Kentucky is currently moving forward on an absolutely enormous $2.6 billion highway bridge replacement and interchange widening project that will take years to complete and weaken downtown neighborhoods.
But for the people who walk or ride their bikes along that route? They should probably start looking for a new way to get to work. That was the message from leaders of the “Downtown Bridge Project” this week.
According to the Courier Journal, the sidewalks and two outer “shared” lanes of the Clark Memorial Bridge over the Ohio River to downtown Louisville will be closed for construction next week and won’t be reopened until July. (The bridge will be totally closed to all traffic for six weeks, beginning in May.)
The only alternative route for walking and biking, the Big Four Bridge, is behind schedule and not yet open to pedestrians and cyclists.
Max Rowland, a project manager with Walsh Construction, the firm doing the Clark Memorial Bridge work, said during the lane closures the bridge will be “unsafe for pedestrian traffic.”
Meanwhile, Mindy Peterson, a spokesperson for the downtown bridge project, said signs will be installed that tell bicyclists to merge into the two remaining lanes. But she doesn’t recommend it herself, telling the paper “it’s not a good spot for bicyclists to be.”
Local active transportation advocate Jackie Green told the paper that multiple walking protests over the bridge were planned to draw attention to the closure. Local cyclists have also appealed to the Federal Highway Administration for help, the Courier Journal reports. But according to the paper, the feds just deferred to state transportation officials.
Carolyn Szczepanski is the Bike League’s communications director. A version of this post was originally published on the Bike League Blog.
The top-line take-away: “Everyone is bought in and support is increasing” for biking and walking in cities of all sizes. In city after city, Meyer emphasized, bicycling is supported, accepted, and acknowledged, and the opposition is in the minority.
“The idea of quality of life came up in every conversation — quality of life as defined by the millennial generation,” he said. Closely tied to economic development, city leaders see better bicycling as a means to attract young talent and the businesses that want to employ them. Bicycling fits into a larger shift to multi-modalism and, in a smaller numbers of cities, the effort to improve health measures.
Here’s are more of Meyer’s conclusions based on what city officials told him.
What messages aren’t working (or not working on a wide scale)?
- Environmental protection: Not a major driver in the majority of cities
- Safety: To bring up safety can backfire if it’s seen as questioning the city’s commitment to an essential duty
- Equity: A positive impact and outcome, but not a critical issue
- Congestion: Not a pressing topic in many smaller or mid-sized cities
What messages are backfiring?
Do you know the most dangerous streets for pedestrians in your city? I think I do.
Jon Geeting and his partner Daniel McGlone at Philadelphia blog This Old City have a better picture though. They actually mapped all the locations where pedestrians were killed between 2008 and 2012. Geeting says when they looked over the data, some interesting patterns emerged:
One thing that jumps out is that there were “only” 16 pedestrian deaths in Center City during this 5-year period, out of a total of 158 citywide.
While we see a higher concentration of pedestrian crashes in the less auto-centric city core, where there are more total pedestrians around, these crashes are less likely to be fatal. We see more fatal crashes happening in the more auto-centric areas where traffic speeds are higher on average.
In other words, the fatalities are about street design.
If Philadelphia’s City Council members would take responsibility for these traffic deaths and injuries the way NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio and some of his City Council allies are, the first thing they’d do is lower traffic speeds to 20 mph or less on city streets.
Geeting suggests the new speed limits could be enforced with cameras.
Elsewhere on the Network today: Streets.mn takes a Minneapolis-area community to task for lousy plowing on bike paths. Reconnect Austin reports some progress in the organization’s push against state highway designs that would weaken downtown neighborhoods. And the Bike League shares initial thoughts about this week’s Women’s Bicycling Forum.
- Is 2015 Deadline Feasible for Automated Rail Safety System? (The Hill, LA Times)
- Star-Telegram: Federal Funds Could Be “Light at End of Tunnel” for TEX Rail
- California High-Speed Rail Agency to Appeal Court Ruling (Fresno Bee)
- Bike/Ped Infrastructure Gets Boost in Pittsburgh and Charleston (Tree Hugger)
- Dispute Over Boston Commuter Rail Deal Heads to Court (Boston Globe)
- Houston to Try Out “Sunday Streets” for Bikes and Pedestrians (Houston Public Media)
- Seattle Explores Ideas for Downtown Gondola (Seattle Transit Blog)
- Protected Bike Lanes Are Actually a Pretty Cheap Investment for Your City (People for Bikes)
- Boston Globe: We Need Cooler Buses
- Howard County, MD, Plans for First Transit-Oriented Development (Baltimore Sun)
This week, more than 700 bicycling advocates converged in Washington — despite a snowstorm that closed down the federal government on Monday cancelled thousands of flights — to learn from each other and compare notes from the past year.
Tuesday, as the summit wound down and participants started gearing up for Wednesday’s Lobby Day on Capitol Hill, Jeff and I were joined by Doug Gordon of Brooklyn Spoke, Suepinda Keith of Triangle Bikeworks in Chapel Hill, and Jonathan Maus of Bike Portland for this very special 45-minute Bike Summit episode of the podcast.
The Women’s Forum is in its third year. The League’s Equity Advisory Council came into being just before last year’s summit. These voices, historically not at the center of the national conversation about bicycling, are coming to the fore.
The five of us talk in this, our lucky 13th episode, about how effectively the movement is transitioning to a more inclusive approach, and we share some of the highlights of the summit, including some truly incredible work happening everywhere from Memphis to LA to Afghanistan.
After three years of rising pedestrian deaths in America, there’s some good news this week about the safety of people on foot.
Pedestrian deaths fell 8.7 percent in the first six months of 2013 compared to the same period the previous year, according to a report from the Governor’s Highway Safety Association. That means about 190 fewer people were killed while walking in the first part of 2013.
The decline follows a three-year period in which pedestrian deaths rose 15 percent from an all-time low in 2009.
Experts aren’t sure what to make of the decline, just as they had trouble explaining the three-year increase that preceded it. Allan Williams, who completed the report, said the dip may be “an anomaly.”
GHSA Chairman Kendell Poole concurred, saying in a press release, “the preliminary findings are good news, but it’s too soon to celebrate.”
The increasing prevalence of mobile devices and distracted driving was often cited as a potential factor in the rise in pedestrian fatalities. But driving fatalities fell 3 percent during the same period.
Now that there seems to be some improvement, some cautious, preliminary theories are being floated. One is that greater awareness of pedestrian safety has led to more street designs intended to making walking safer.
Mark Plotz, vice president of Project for Public Spaces, told USA Today he hoped that was the case, “but it’s too early to know.”
Some credit for the improvement may even belong to the state of Florida, which is the deadliest state for pedestrians per capita. Florida has been making some strides to remedy its horrible record; the state recorded a 23 percent drop in pedestrian fatalities in the first half of 2013. Florida has been implementing reforms aimed at protecting pedestrians, including the hiring of two full-time pedestrian and cycling planners to help oversee design at each of its seven district offices, according to USA Today.
California, Texas, and Florida alone accounted for almost a third of the nation’s pedestrian fatalities in the first part of 2013, according to GHSA. Large states with lots of big cities tend to have the most pedestrian fatalities.
Usually I limit conference wrap-up videos to right around four minutes in length. But there were so many great (and funny!) moments at this year’s National Bike Summit, it was important to pack in all of the coverage we could grab.
So sit back and enjoy many of the faces and fun that made this year’s #NBS14 a big hit.
You’ve probably seen one of those rankings for your city that tells people where the “best places to work” are locally.
They tend to examine criteria like salaries, benefits, corporate culture. But as Jeff La Noue at Baltimore-based blog Comeback City points out, they usually ignore one very important factor: the commute. And that’s a pretty serious omission, La Noue says:
Virtually every rush hour, one or more of our major regional highways is backed up when some unfortunate driver’s car is mangled in a so-called car-b-que. The DC area usually ranks among the highest in the nation for traffic congestion, while Baltimore isn’t far behind.
Beyond causing stress and eating up time, commuting by car can be dangerous. In 2010, Maryland had 493 traffic deaths. 296 were in passenger cars or light trucks vs one fatality in a bus. 383 fatal car crashes were on urban interstates.
Meanwhile, employers on the Baltimore Magazine list highlight commuting options with about the same frequency as company picnics and employer-paid pet insurance. Of the top 25, there are only eight employers with a walkscore rating over 70. A high walkscore can indicate whether an employee can walk to a place to eat, to live, or a central bus or transit line from their workplace.
La Noue goes on to list the best places to work in Baltimore by Walk Score ranking.
Elsewhere on the Network today: The Political Environment challenges the almost unquestioned notion that suburbanites have a right to speedy commutes through the city of Milwaukee. Vibrant Bay Area considers how to make gas stations fit comfortably into the urban environment. And Reno Rambler comments on the ideological divide between cyclists who advocate for better infrastructure and cyclists who advocate for behaving like drivers.