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Engineers to U.S. DOT: Transportation Is About More Than Moving Cars

A trade group representing the transportation engineering profession thinks it’s high time for American policy makers to stop focusing so much on moving single-occupancy vehicles.

Should roads like this be considered a "success?" ITE doesn't think so. Photo: Smart Growth America

Should roads like this be considered a success? ITE doesn’t think so. Photo: Smart Growth America

U.S. DOT is currently deciding how it will assess the performance of state DOTs. Will it continue business as usual and equate success with moving huge numbers of cars? That’s what state transportation officials want, but just about everyone else disagrees — including professional transportation engineers.

In its comments to the Federal Highway Administration about how to measure performance, the Institute of Transportation Engineers — a trade group representing 13,000 professionals — said that, in short, the system should not focus so heavily on cars [PDF].

Here’s a key excerpt:

Throughout the current proposed rulemaking on NHS performance, traffic congestion, freight mobility, and air quality, an underlying theme is apparent: these measures speak largely to the experience of those in single occupancy vehicles (SOVs). While such a focus is understandable in the short-term, owing largely to the current availability of data from the NPMRDS and other national sources, ITE and its membership feel that FHWA should move quickly within the framework of the existing performance management legislation to begin developing performance measures that cater to multimodal transportation systems.

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Revisiting the Peak Car Debate

Cross-posted from the Frontier Group.

I’ve never liked the term “peak car.”

First, it was always unclear exactly what was supposed to be peaking – total vehicle travel, per-capita travel, car ownership, or all of the above? Second, like peak oil before it, “peak car” applies a catchy name to a collection of concepts that are important to understand – taking a useful perspective and turning it into a parlor game or prediction contest.

When we addressed the issue of long-term trends in vehicle travel in our 2013 report, A New Direction, we argued that America had reached the end of what we called the “Driving Boom.” We chose our words carefully, and what we meant by them was this: America had experienced a historical period from the end of World War II until sometime in the early 2000s in which an array of big societal forces had aligned to drive consistent, rapid increases in vehicle travel. That historical period, we argued, was over. What was going to come next was uncertain.

But we suspected that, whatever came next, vehicle travel over the long-term was unlikely, under then-foreseeable conditions, to exceed the level of per-capita vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) that prevailed in the peak year of 2004.

Fast forward to 2016, and we now find ourselves at the end of a second year of blistering growth in VMT, even by the standards of the “Driving Boom” era. (A good summary of recent trends is available from Doug Short here.)

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Streetsblog.net
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Cheap Gas, More Driving Make 2016 an Especially Deadly Year on U.S. Streets

Graph: National Safety Council

Traffic fatalities on American roads are rising faster than driving mileage. Chart: National Safety Council

The number of traffic deaths in America each year is so staggering, it almost defies comprehension — about 35,000 lives lost is the norm. But 2016 is shaping up to be even worse.

Emma Kilkelly at Mobilizing the Region reports on newly-released data from the first half of 2016 showing a disturbing increase in traffic deaths:

The National Safety Council (NSC) recently estimated that motor vehicle fatalities rose 9 percent in the first six months of 2016 compared to 2015, and 18 percent compared to 2014. At this rate, 2016 is shaping up to be the deadliest year for driving since 2007. This Labor Day weekend is on track to be the nation’s deadliest since 2008, with 438 fatalities projected over the three-day period.

The jump in traffic fatalities coincides with sinking gas prices and an uptick in driving. During the first half of 2016, U.S. motorists collectively drove 3.3 percent more compared to last year, reaching 1.58 trillion miles traveled. The recent upswing in miles driven has been linked to the availability of cheap gas and a sharp increase in traffic deaths.

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Today’s Headlines

  • The High Prices of Big-City Living Aren’t Good for Anyone (New Yorker)
  • Biden to Announce New Funding for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (AP)
  • Japan Gives $2M for DC-Washington High-Speed Rail Study (Washington Biz Journal)
  • Seattle Light Rail Sees 76% Increase in Ridership (Seattle PI)
  • GGW: Can the DC Metro Achieve the Culture Change It Needs?
  • With Cheap Gas, Americans Are Driving More (CS Monitor)
  • Tennessee Lawmakers Ask for Foxx’s Help With Funding Mixup (Tennessean)
  • Time Running Out to Save Twin Cities Light Rail Project (StarTrib)
  • Should Downtown Dallas Go for Subway Instead of Light Rail? (Morning News)
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Portland Wants to Rethink Speed Limits By Factoring in Walkers and Bikers

Portland wants to change the speed limit on North Weilder Street from 35 to 25. Photo: Google Maps

Portland wants to change the speed limit on North Weidler Street from 35 to 25 mph. Photo: Google Maps

For cities trying to get a handle on traffic fatalities, dangerous motor vehicle speeds are an enormous problem. Once drivers exceed 20 mph, the chances that someone outside the vehicle will survive a collision plummet.

But even on city streets where many people walk and bike, streets with 35 or 40 mph traffic are common. Cities looking to reduce lethal vehicle speeds face a number of obstacles — including restrictions on how they can set speed limits.

State statutes usually limit how cities set speed limits. In Boston, for example, the City Councilhas voted numerous times to reduce the speed limit to 20 miles per hour, but state law won’t allow it.

Now Portland is taking on this problem. A pilot program expected to be approved by the Oregon Department of Transportation proposes a new way to evaluate what speeds are appropriate for urban areas.

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Streetsblog.net
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Seattle Doesn’t Need a Highway on Top of Its New Underground Highway

As if Seattle's buried replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct weren't bad enough, it's planning to top it with another high-speed, overly-wide road. Photo: Seattle Bike Blog

Seattle is planning to top its underground highway with another high-speed, very wide road. Photo: Seattle Bike Blog

The construction of Seattle’s budget-busting underground waterfront highway has been a great reminder of why car-based urban megaprojects are such a bad idea.

The one advantage of the tunnel is that it would allow for better walking, biking, and transit connections on surface streets by the waterfront. The trouble is, Seattle is on track to waste that opportunity by building another highway-like road right on top of the sunken highway.

The southern portion of the road will be 96 feet wide, with two travel lanes in each direction, a turn lane, two lanes for ferry loading and two 12-foot bus lanes, reports Next City. Marshall Foster, director of Seattle’s Office of the Waterfront, told Next City that the waterfront road needs to be that wide to avoid “throwing someone off the island.”

Seattle Bike Blog is not buying it:

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Today’s Headlines

  • Roundup of Transit Issues on Ballots This November (Governing)
  • Portland Wants Bicyclists and Pedestrians Considered When Setting Speed Limits (Mercury)
  • FTA Asks Judge to Let Purple Line Resume; Delays Cost $13 Million a Month (Bethesda Magazine)
  • St. Louis Advocates Demand Stronger Penalties for Drivers Who Injure Pedestrians (KSAT)
  • 1.6 Mile Seattle Light Rail Extension to Open This Month (Public Intelligencer)
  • San Antonio Kicks Off Driver Education Campaign as Part of Vision Zero (KSAT)
  • Indianapolis Mayor Stops Short of Telling Voters to Support Transit Referendum (Indy Star)
  • Miles Driven in First Half of 2016 Breaks Record (Equipment World)
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Yes, Local Transportation Agencies Can Measure Their Climate Impacts

It’s going to be a tough sell for those who claim that greenhouse gas performance measures for transportation can’t possibly work, when plenty of transportation agencies say it would be no problem.

That’s according to transportation officials in several regions across America who responded to a survey commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The responses were shared with the Federal Highway Administration as it considers implementing a rule for transportation agencies to measure their climate impact.

Even in cities and regions where climate change is nowhere near the top of the policy agenda, planners and decision-makers still recognize greenhouse gas reductions as a desirable outcome of some of the things their constituents want most — like walkable, bikeable neighborhoods and a break from endless roadway congestion that takes time out of their day while triggering respiratory disease and contributing to hundreds of premature deaths per year.

Some legislators are still debating the urgency of reducing carbon emissions from transportation, and the powerful benefits of doing so. Recently, Senate Energy and Public Works Chair James Inhofe (R-OK) maintained FHWA has no mandate to measure greenhouse gases.

But the issue is already settled for many metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), for reasons that usually include but often go far beyond the need for local solutions to global climate change. The survey of 10 agencies in eight states found that most support greenhouse gas reductions as a legitimate policy priority that meshes well with their responsibilities.

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Streetsblog.net
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The Stress of Navigating Unwalkable Bus Stops With a Wheelchair

manchester.metrobus03

How is a person who uses a wheelchair supposed to access this bus stop? Photo: Urban Review STL

Pedestrian access to transit is important. A recent study by TransitCenter found that people who use transit most often tend to walk to the bus or train. But as our “Sorriest Bus Stop in America” contest highlighted, there are some very serious challenges on this front in American cities.

The problem of lousy walking access to transit is compounded for riders with disabilities. In a recent post, Steve Patterson at Network blog Urban Review STL offers a personal account of the obstacles he faces navigating the bus system in St. Louis using a power wheelchair:

Part of the implied contract when taking a bus to a destination is when you’re dropped off at your stop, you’ll be able to get to the corresponding stop in the opposite direction for the return trip. Seems simple enough, right? But in many parts of the St. Louis region being able to reach a bus stop in the opposite direction is impossible if you’re disabled. I don’t go looking for them, I run across them just going about my life.

Patterson recently took the bus down Manchester Avenue to a shopping center, only to find himself nearly stranded, trying to reach the stop shown in the above photo. Two and a half decades after the Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted, these are the conditions for transit riders using wheelchairs in St. Louis:

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Today’s Headlines

  • The Associated Press Examines the Rise of Protected Bike Lanes
  • A Look at the Opportunities and Challenges of Vision Zero in American Cities (Fast.co)
  • Megaproject Expert Says Transit Cost Estimates Are Getting More Realistic (MassTransitMag)
  • Sonar Device Helps Nab Drivers Who Pass Cyclists to Closely (Fast.co)
  • Shanghai Taking Action to Limit Sprawl (Global Times)
  • First of Atlanta’s Six Planned Transit-Oriented Developments Breaks Ground (WABE)
  • State Level Politicking Threatens Twin Cities’ Plans for Southwest Light Rail (Star Tribune)
  • Dallas Advocates Demand a Downtown Subway (Morning News)