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Active Transportation Loses a Key Republican Ally as Rep. Tom Petri Retires

For years, if there was a Republican sponsor of a good piece of legislation on active transportation in the House, more often than not it was Tom Petri of Wisconsin. Advocates will be sorry to learn that Rep. Petri has announced that after 35 years in Congress, he will not seek another term.

Tom Petri received the Wisconsin Bike Federation’s Hero Award last year. Photo: Wendy Soucie/Lodi Valley News

Petri is the Republican co-chair of Rep. Earl Blumebauer’s Congressional Bicycling Caucus, he recently helped launch Partnership for Active Transportation, and he’s a regular at the National Bike Summit. But he really stole everybody’s heart when he was the sole committee Republican to vote against the disastrous House transportation bill in 2012. He says he voted against it “primarily because it slashed highway funding for Wisconsin,” but we suspect that if his amendment to restore Safe Routes to School funding had succeeded, he might have decided to support the bill.

When Petri was named chair of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, it seemed the often-sidelined party outsider would be able to inject a little bit of reason into the proceedings before the passage of a new transportation bill. The hearings he’s held on MAP-21 have been thoughtful, and he’s given considerable attention to the needs of transit, but he hasn’t had much opportunity in the committee to focus on bike and pedestrian issues.

If a bill does pass before a new session begins in January, Petri will have a hand in helping craft it. But if, as most people expect, Congress punts this summer, passing some kind of extension to keep funding going while they stall on finding a sustainable revenue source, Petri will likely be out by the time real negotiations get going.

Streetsblog has requested an exit interview with Rep. Petri before he leaves office. We look forward to bringing you his parting thoughts.

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11 Simple Ways to Speed Up Your City’s Buses

Turning at busy intersections costs buses time.

Turning at busy intersections slows down buses, so many transit agencies are simplifying routes to speed up service. Photo: Steven Vance

All across America, city buses are waiting. Waiting at stoplights, waiting behind long lines of cars, waiting to pull back into traffic, waiting at stops for growing crowds of passengers. And no, it’s not just your imagination: Buses are doing more waiting, and less moving, than they used to. A recent survey of 11 urban transit systems conducted by Daniel Boyle for the Transportation Research Board found that increased traffic congestion is steadily eroding travel speeds: The average city bus route gets 0.45 percent slower every single year. That’s especially discouraging given how slowly buses already move, with a typical bus averaging only 13.5 mph.

Transit agencies are taking action against the waits. A recent report on “Commonsense Approaches for Improving Transit Bus Speeds“ surveyed not just the scale of the problem, but also solutions. In it, 59 transit agencies across America shared how they have responded to the scheduling problems presented by ever-slower bus routes. The agencies report on the most successful actions they’ve taken to improve bus speeds and reliability. Here they are, listed in descending order of popularity.

  1. Consolidate stops: More than half of agencies have thinned bus stops, some by focusing on pilot corridors, and others by gradually phasing in policy changes. Many agencies moved stops to far side of intersections at stoplights, and 13 agencies adopted physical changes like longer bus stops or bulb-outs, which help passengers board faster and more conveniently.
  2. Streamline routes: Straightening out routes, trimming deviations, eliminating duplication, and shortening routes didn’t just simplify service, it also sped up service for two-thirds of the agencies that tried this approach.
  3. Transit signal priority: The 22 agencies with signal priority can change stoplights for approaching buses. They mostly report a minor to moderate increase in bus speeds as a result. In fact, agencies singled out traffic engineering approaches like TSP as the closest to a “silver bullet,” one-step solution.
  4. Fare policy: Several agencies changed fare structures or payment methods. The one agency that collects fares before passengers board, and lets them board at both bus doors, decreased bus running times by 9 percent.
  5. Bus Rapid Transit: Ten agencies combined multiple approaches on specific routes and launched BRT service. Of those that measured the impact, almost all reported a significant increase in speed, typically around 10 to 15 percent.
  6. Vehicle changes: More than half of agencies have moved to low-floor buses, which reduce loading times by one second per passenger. Smaller buses might be more maneuverable in traffic, and ramps can speed loading for wheelchairs and bicycles.
  7. Limited stop service: Although new limited-stop services offered only minor to moderately faster speeds, it’s a simple step and 18 agencies reported launching new limited routes.
  8. Bus lanes: Dedicated lanes are used by 13 agencies, and one reported that “most routes are on a bus lane somewhere.” When implemented on wide arterial streets, this moderately improves speeds.
  9. Adjust schedules: Almost all of the surveyed agencies have adjusted running time, recovery times (the time spent turning the bus), or moved to more flexible ”headway schedules.” All of these actions improve on-time performance reliability for customers, and reduce the need for buses to sit if they’re running early.
  10. Signal timing: Synchronized stoplights along transit routes can make sure that buses face more green lights than red, but only have a mild impact on operating speeds.
  11. Express service on freeways: This strategy had the largest impact on speeding up buses for the three agencies that tried it.

Read more…

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Suppressing the Housing Supply in Cities Isn’t Progressive

The housing affordability crisis in cities like San Francisco is a big progressive cause. But not everyone agrees about what’s causing the problem, and that makes it harder to address.

High housing prices in San Francisco are partly a result of constraints on new construction. Photo: Wikipedia

With so may constraints on housing construction, rents in cities like San Francisco have been skyrocketing. Photo: Wikipedia

Alex Block at Network blog City Block has a good roundup of recent articles exploring the pheonomenon. The authors — Kim-Mai Cutler at Tech Crunch, Ryan Avent at the Economist, and the blog Let’s Go L.A. — agree that the root of the problem is insufficient supply. Essentially, land use and zoning constraints that limit development of new housing are driving up prices for everyone:

Cutler’s article lists a whole host of other potential actions, but concludes that any path forward must work towards adding more housing units to the region’s overall supply. Unfortunately, even this broad conclusion isn’t shared by everyone. In section #5 of Cutler’s article, she notes “parts of the progressive community do not believe in supply and demand.”

Ryan Avent notes that this denial of the market dynamics, no matter the motive, is not only misguided but also counter-productive: “However altruistic they perceive their mission to be, the result is similar to what you’d get if fat cat industrialists lobbied the government to drive their competition out of business.”

Without agreement on the nature of the problem, it’s hard to even talk about potential policy solutions. And there are a whole host of potential policy solutions once we get over that hump. Unfortunately, discussion about supply constraints in cities (via exclusionary zoning, high construction costs, neighborhood opposition to development, etc) means the conversation naturally focuses on the constraint. Advocating for loosening the constraints can easily be mistaken for (or misconstrued as) mere supply-side economics, a kind of trickle-down urbanism.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Voice of San Diego relays news about compromises to a local bus rapid transit project. And Flat Iron Bike introduces a new paper that looks at how to make “managed lanes” on highways more equitable by incorporating transit.

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Today’s Headlines

  • CBO: Obama’s Budget Would Leave Highway Trust Fund With Shortfall (The Hill)
  • D.C. Mayor Pushes Back Long-Awaited Zoning Overhaul (GGW)
  • Shuster Outraises Opponents Several Times Over (Politics PA)
  • CheapAir.com Adds Amtrak Booking (USA Today)
  • $360M Available for California Biking/Pedestrian Projects (KTVN)
  • No Charges for Driver Who Killed NRDC’s Joy Covey on Bike (Almanac News)
  • Nashville’s “Revised” BRT Isn’t Really BRT (Atlantic Cities)
  • New Leader Takes Helm of Congress of the New Urbanism (Metropolis Mag)
  • High-Speed Rail an Option for Upstate NY (LoHud)
  • Atlanta Mayor Says Streetcar Will Start Running This Year (Railway Age)
  • Seattle Approves Master Plan for Cycling (Curbed)
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Cincinnati Streetcar Foes Have New Target: Bike Lanes

Here is a drawing of the bike lane's design. Image: City of Cincinnati

The bike lane that Mayor John Cranley wants to “pause.” Image: City of Cincinnati

Another big transportation showdown is brewing in Cincinnati. This time the fight isn’t over a streetcar — it’s about a protected bike lane.

The Cincinnati Business Courier announced earlier this week that Mayor John Cranley had ordered city officials not to award a contract on the Central Parkway protected bike lane project, which was set to begin this spring. The project — the city’s first protected bike lane — was approved unanimously by City Council last fall.

But now that the funding has been awarded and the political process has wrapped up, the mayor and new City Council members Kevin Flynn and David Mann apparently want the project reevaluated, as a result of complaints from one business owner along the corridor. Tim Haines, who runs Relocation Strategies, said he is afraid of his employees losing free public parking. The plans calls for eliminating parking during rush hour.

City Councilman Chris Seelbach told the Business Courier that the mayor doesn’t have the authority to interfere with the awarding of contracts for a project that has already been approved by council. Proponents of the bike lane, many of the same people who successfully fought for the streetcar, are swinging into action, as well. Groups like We Believe in Cincinnati, Queen City Bikes and Cincinnatians for Progress are planning to pack a committee hearing where the project will be under discussion Monday.

“The group that worked to promote and save the streetcar — we’re still organized,” said Randy Simes, founder of the blog Urban Cincy.

Simes says council members Flynn and Mann are using the same rhetoric they used in the streetcar controversy — claiming the project was passed by a “lame duck” council, and smearing the previous administration.

“It’s almost identical [to the streetcar controversy]. It’s funded. It’s funded with outside money. If they change that dramatically they jeopardize the funding,” Simes said. “If they decide to pause too long, they really just kill the project.”

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How Hartford’s Bet on Cars Set the Stage for Population Loss and Segregation

Since the 1960s, most of the Hartford region's population growth has been in formerly rural towns beyond the inner-ring suburbs. Image: ##http://metrohartfordprogresspoints.org/##Metro Hartford Progress Points##

Since the 1960s, most of the Hartford region’s population growth has been in formerly rural towns beyond the inner-ring suburbs. Image: Metro Hartford Progress Points

Hartford, Connecticut, has one of the highest poverty rates in the country. The urban renaissance that has visited so many cities hasn’t arrived there. Housing is still cheaper in the city than in the suburbs, and although suburban poverty is growing alarmingly fast, it’s nowhere near the levels seen in the city.

There are multiple complex factors that have contributed to Hartford’s woes. But one of them, clearly, is the degree to which the city enabled car-centric infrastructure to proliferate.

As Payton reported last week, Hartford tripled its downtown parking capacity between 1960 and 2000 while squeezing everything else onto 13 percent less land. Avert your eyes if you have a weak stomach:

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Talking Headways Podcast: Escobar’s Escalator

Did you go to the World Urban Forum in Medellín, Colombia, last week? Neither did your hosts Jeff Wood and I, but we sure found a lot to say about it anyway on this week’s Talking Headways podcast. Medellín’s remarkable urban transformation — undertaken in the midst of war — has gotten a lot of well-deserved attention lately for making the city’s transportation infrastructure more equitable.

But first, we talked to our very own Angie Schmitt about the Parking Madness tournament. Did she know Rochester was a winner from the moment she laid eyes on that stunning parking crater? You’ll have to listen to find out.

And finally we turn to Dallas, where local activists are pressuring officials to tear down a 1.4-mile stretch of I-345 to make room for 245 acres of new development downtown. If it happens, it would be a tremendous win for smart urban development over Eisenhower-era car-centrism.

The other big news this week is that Talking Headways podcast is now available on Stitcher! So if you’re not an iTunes person, you’ve got a way to subscribe. But if you are an iTunes person, by all means! Or you can follow the RSS feed. And as always, the comments section is wide open for all the witty remarks we should have made but didn’t think to.

Oh, and despite the fact that we said, “See you next week” at the end out of habit, Jeff will be traveling so we actually won’t be taping a podcast next week. So take that opportunity to catch up on any episodes you’ve missed, and we’ll see you in two weeks.

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More Walking and Biking, Better Health: New Evidence From American Cities

States with higher rates of walking and biking to work tend to have lower rates of diabetes. Click to enlarge. All graphics: Alliance for Biking and Walking

New data from the Alliance for Biking and Walking’s 2014 Benchmarking report bears out the notion that people tend to be healthier in cities where walking and biking are more prevalent.

The Alliance compiled active commuting rates in the 50 largest American cities as measured by the U.S. Census. Then it compared that data with health information from the CDC. On health outcomes like diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure, a pretty clear correlation emerges.

Not all of it can be explained by active commuting, of course. But notice how, in the top chart, as statewide active transportation rates increase, diabetes rates decline.

About 9 percent of Americans have diabetes, but the incidence varies greatly between different places. Diabetes tracks closely enough with walk and bike commute rates that the Alliance and other researchers have concluded there’s a strong correlation.

Rates of elevated blood pressure display a similar pattern:

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Targeted Spending Helps Boost Kansas City’s Walkability

The Alliance for Biking and Walking released a big new report yesterday that measures the nation’s progress on active transportation.

Kansas City has been investing in safer streets, and it's moving up in walkability rankings. Photo: BikeWalkKC

Kansas City has been investing in safer streets, and it’s moving up in walkability rankings. Photo: BikeWalkKC

There’s a ton of data to nerd out on, but one thing that might be particularly interesting to local advocates is that the report shows biking and walking statistics for individual cities. It has details on safety, public spending, and income and gender demographics for active transportation in 50 large cities and 17 mid-sized cities across the U.S.

Rachel Kraus at BikeWalkKC dove into the data, and she found that a conscious effort to improve conditions in Kansas City seems to be paying off:

Moving Up in the Rankings
In 2012, Kansas City ranked 33rd out of the 52 most populous US cities for walking to work. In 2014, KC jumped to #30. Our closest neighbors include Omaha at #26, Chicago at #8 and Wichita at #50. Nationally the top five walking cities are Boston, Washington D.C., New York City, San Francisco and Honolulu. Our bike commuting ranking also improved from #42 to #41.

Still Room for Improvement
KC’s bicyclist safety ranking dropped from #34 in 2012 to #37 in 2014. Our closest neighbors include Omaha at #45, Chicago at #19 and Wichita at #2. (Safety rankings are based on crashes and fatalities.) KC also still lags behind on rankings of residents getting the recommended amount of physical activity. We ranked #38 in 2014.

Read more…

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Today’s Headlines