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Posts from the "California" Category

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Talking Headways Podcast: Good Riddance, “Level of Service”

All the buzz right now is about Arlington, Virginia — the DC suburb has seen its population rise and its car traffic drop since the 1980s. How did they do it? It could be a lesson for Palo Alto, California, which is considering various growth proposals, including one that would invite greater density as long as it comes with no additional driving, carbon emissions, or water use.

Denser, more transit-oriented development would be a big win for Palo Alto, but ironically, California’s environmental law has long penalized projects like that for diminishing “level of service” for vehicle traffic. A new basketball stadium came to the rescue, however, and the state is poised to dump level of service as a metric to evaluate transportation and development projects. That change could potentially slow down highways like “level of service” used to slow down smart growth and transit projects. It’s a whole new world.

Check it all out on Talking Headways. Talk at us in the comments, subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher, or sign up for our RSS feed.

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Talking Headways Podcast: California Über Alles

Welcome to our all-California, all-the-time episode of the Talking Headways podcast.

We start with a statewide debate over whether $60,000+ Teslas should qualify for tax breaks — or whether any electric vehicles should get tax breaks. Then on to the conversation about how California’s cap-and-trade dollars should be spent. One proposal, from the State Senate leader, would spend it on affordable housing, sustainable communities, transit, and high-speed rail. And then we zoom in on Fresno, where one blogger wonders why the political threat to BRT didn’t get as much attention as it did in Nashville.

We missed the podcast after a long-ish break and are glad to be back! We hope you filled the gaping hole in your life by listening to back episodes of Talking Headways goodness and subscribing to us on iTunes or Stitcher or signing up for the RSS feed.

And, side note: The giveaway for our spring pledge drive has changed since we recorded this podcast. Now, you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a package of zines and books by feminist bike activist and writer Elly Blue. Thanks for your donation!

Streetsblog LA 16 Comments

Caltrans Endorses the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide

It wasn’t a total surprise, but exciting nevertheless for bicycle advocates gathered at the NACTO “Cities for Cycling” Road Show in Oakland last nightCaltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty announced that the agency will endorse the use of the National Association of City Transportation Officials Urban Street Design Guide, giving California cities the state DOT’s blessing to install modern infrastructure like protected bike lanes.

Received with enthusiastic applause from the crowd of bike advocates, city officials, and planners, Dougherty said:

We’re trying to change the mentality of the department of transportation, of our engineers, and of those that are doing work in and around the state highway system. Many cities around California are trying to be forward thinking in terms of alternative modes, such as bike and pedestrian, as well as the safety of the entire system, and the very least we can do as the department of transportation for the state is to follow that lead, to get out of the way, and to figure out how to carry that into regional travel.

Imagine how this commute on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland would feel with a protected bike lane. Photo by Jonah Chiarenza, www.community-design.com

NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide, launched last September, is the product of collaboration between the transportation departments of its member cities around the U.S. The guide provides the latest American standards for designing safer city streets for all users, incorporating experience from cities that have developed innovative solutions into a blueprint for others to use. It supplements, but doesn’t replace, other manuals such as the Caltrans Highway Design Manual and California’s Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

As the state’s transportation department, Caltrans has control over the design of state-owned highways, but the design of local streets and roads is left to local jurisdictions — with one exception. Bicycle infrastructure throughout the state has been dictated by the car-focused agency because local engineers rely on Caltrans-approved designs to protect local municipalities from lawsuits. As a result, city planners were often hesitant, or flat out refused, to build an innovative treatments like a protected bike lanes that don’t appear in Caltrans Highway Design Manual.

“It’s a permission slip for cities, for engineers and planners, to do the good, well-vetted, proven work that we know we can do to make our street safer,” said Ed Reiskin, president of NACTO and director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. “It’s only a first step — ultimately, we’d like to see the changes in the Highway Design Manual to see it actually integrated into Caltrans documents. But this is a huge step forward, and great leadership from Malcolm Secretary [Brian] Kelly and Governor [Jerry] Brown,” who commissioned a report that recommended Caltrans adopt the NACTO guide.

The guide includes design standards for infrastructure including bike boxes, physically protected bike lanes, contra-flow bus lanes, and even parklets. Although these improvements have been implemented in cities in California and the world, they have been considered “experimental” until now. The NACTO guide has only been endorsed by two other states, Washington and Massachusetts.

Read more…

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Parking Craters Aren’t Just Ugly, They’re a Cancer on Your City’s Downtown

Downtown Hartford

Downtown Hartford’s Phoenix Building sits atop a moat of (what else?) parking. Photo: Brian Herzog, via Flickr

Streetsblog’s Parking Madness competition has highlighted the blight that results when large surface parking lots take over a city’s downtown. Even though Rochester, winner of 2014′s Golden Crater, certainly gains bragging rights, all of the competitors have something to worry about: Cumulatively, the past 50 years of building parking have had a debilitating effect on America’s downtowns.

Streetsblog recently spoke with Chris McCahill of the State Smart Transportation Initiative in Madison, Wisconsin, to learn about his research into how parking affects small cities’ downtowns. Most recently, McCahill and his co-authors have shown how policy makers’ preoccupation with parking not only hollows out city centers, it also decimates the downtown tax base.

McCahill began his analysis as a University of Connecticut Ph.D. student in 2006, choosing to compare the postwar evolution of six small, built-up, relatively slow-growing cities: Arlington, Virginia; Berkeley, California; Cambridge, Massachusetts; Hartford, Connecticut; Lowell, Massachusetts; and New Haven, Connecticut. For each of these cities, McCahill and his collaborators, most frequently professor Norman Garrick, have gone far beyond the usual publicly available statistics and hand-measured the number of parking spaces (both on- and off-street) and the size of buildings from aerial photos.

The resulting analysis shows how three of these cities have diverged from the other three since the base year of 1960. Arlington, Berkeley, and Cambridge went against the postwar grain and chose a “parking-light” approach: emphasizing transportation demand management (TDM) measures, while de-emphasizing driving and in one case even penalizing parking construction. Hartford, Lowell, and New Haven chose a conventional approach, emphasizing that downtown development should provide “adequate” parking based upon standards of the time.

These two paths led these cities to very different outcomes, which McCahill has chronicled in a series of publications. Most recently, he co-authored two papers about how parking has affected the six downtowns’ urban fabric and their tax bases. Parking lots take a big bite out of the conventional cities’ tax bases, which could reap 25 percent more in downtown property taxes had they chosen a parking-light approach instead.

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Apple Transportation Program Stuck in the Past

Tom Fairchild is the director of Mobility Lab. This article was originally published by METRO Magazine.

Apple

Apple’s new Cupertino HQ will force its thousands of employees into long commutes, many of which will undoubtedly be made by driving alone. Photo: Chris/flickr

As an avid iPhone user, I have bought into the sense that Apple could literally peer into the future and deliver me technology that I never realized I would so desperately need.

For years, Steve Jobs and company seem to have been our reliable guides to a better tomorrow. For new technology, Apple’s vision towards the future seems nearly flawless. But for corporate responsibility? Well, that’s a different story.

Apple’s decision to build a mammoth new headquarters in Cupertino, California — miles from public transportation and adequate housing — amounts to a corporate denunciation of sustainability and a giant corporate shrug to Mother Earth.

Leadership for the tech giant maintains that the new campus will offer “a serene environment reflecting Apple’s values of innovation, ease of use, and beauty.” But the simple fact is that many of Apple’s 13,000 employees will now be commuting to an isolated location 45 miles south of San Francisco.

This reality seems a world apart from Apple’s corporate communications, which state:

Our commute programs reduce traffic, smog, and GHG emissions by providing incentives for biking, using public transportation, and reducing the use of single-occupancy vehicles.

How exactly is this possible when the new headquarters is being built on a location without any existing public-transportation options?

Read more…

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Parking Madness Elite Eight: El Cerrito vs. Chicago

We’re two weeks into our Parking Madness competition, and only a few parking craters are still standing.

Today’s Elite Eight matchup pairs a Bay Area suburb with America’s third largest city: It’s El Cerrito, California vs. Chicago.

First up is El Cerrito, which was singled out for shame by one of our readers because of this crater’s proximity to a BART station providing quick access to San Francisco.

bart1

The submitter pointed out that almost every BART station looks something like this, so in a sense the El Cerrito parking crater is standing in for the failure of an entire region to produce walkable development near transit.

Meanwhile, the Chicago crater suffers from sports venue syndrome:

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Talking Headways Podcast: From the Free Market to the Flea Market

You think the conflict between Uber and regular taxi drivers — and cities like Seattle — is bad? Check out how new taxi apps in China are upending the transportation system and central economic planning. Meanwhile, in Houston, a flea market has brought revitalization without gentrification to a depressed area near the airport, and now an urban design firm is bringing in pop-up infrastructure like mobile libraries and grocery stores, along with sidewalks and bikeways. And Californians are proving that the culture shift away from the automobile and toward other modes of transportation is happening — maybe even faster than we’d thought.

And for a real downer, check out U.S. DOT’s big idea about how to hold states accountable for better safety outcomes — by not holding them accountable at all.

Enjoy this week’s podcast, subscribe on iTunes, follow the RSS feed, and talk at us in the comments.

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Dramatic Shift Away From Driving Continues in California

In the first major travel survey since 2009, evidence grows that Americans are changing their transportation habits rapidly. The news from Caltrans’ 2012 California Household Travel Survey is dramatic: Californians are making far more trips by walking, bicycling, and transit than they were in 2000. The survey found the percentage of trips by these modes doubled in ten years and make up nearly 23 percent of all trips in the state.

Caltrans' latest Household Travel Survey report shows significant increases in walking and bicyclingCar trips decreased dramatically, from 86 percent of trips to 75 percent. This includes trips where people are passengers in cars — for drivers only, the decrease is from 60 percent of trips to 49 percent. This confirms a recent U.S. Public Interest Group (PIRG) report, which got a lot of media attention, about millennials choosing to drive less and being more interested in active forms of transportation.

“The California data is the first new travel survey since the last federal National Household Travel Survey in 2009, so it’s very significant that it shows such a steep decline in driving and a doubling in the share of transit, biking and walking,” said Phineas Baxandall of U.S. PIRG. “It shows the last federal survey wasn’t a fluke.” The national survey showed a jump in walking trips, a slight increase in transit trips, and an increase in “other” modes, under which bicycle trips would fall.

“The fact that we’re seeing this in California, the heart of the former car culture, is also delicious,” he added. Read more…

Streetsblog LA 11 Comments

The End for LOS in California? State Wants Input on a New Planning Metric

With little fanfare, California is considering a change in how it measures transportation impacts that could herald a major change in environmental law. SB 743, passed and signed into law in September, is a potential game changer because it could completely remove LOS — Level of Service, a measure of car traffic congestion — from the list of tools that must be used to analyze environmental impacts under the California Environmental Quality Act. As the state contemplates a broader, more sustainable metric to use for smarter urban planning, the public is invited to weigh in on what the LOS replacement should look like.

Streetsblog USA doesn’t pull punches when describing why many oppose”Level of Service” metrics. Image: Andy Singer

CEQA requires new projects, be they highways or housing units or basketball stadiums, to analyze potential environmental changes created by the proposed project. In copious detail. Water, air, land, noise, plants, animals: any physical aspect of the existing area that might be affected negatively must be analyzed.

For a variety of historical reasons, traffic congestion has crept into this group of environmental impacts under CEQA and become part of the law. Congestion is analyzed by measuring the flow of traffic at intersections (how many vehicles get through in a set amount of time) and grading those intersections on their performance. Planners refer to this as LOS, for Level of Service.

The irony of LOS is that CEQA requires mitigation when projects cause delay to automobile traffic—even if the projects create better conditions for other road users, such as transit riders, bicyclists, or pedestrians. Thus the San Francisco Bike Plan was held up for years because of a lawsuit claiming the city did not take into account the negative effects bike infrastructure would have on LOS.

Streetsblog covered SB 743 as it was passed last year, but at the time we missed a nuance that makes it an even bigger potential change for CEQA and planning. At first read it looked like the LOS provision, tacked onto a bill written to streamline environmental review for a new Sacramento Kings basketball stadium, applied only to areas designated as “Transit Priority Areas,” defined as within a ½ mile of high quality transit. In some places, this covers very large areas: for example, most of San Francisco is so designated because of its dense transit networks. This alone could make a huge difference in the way environmental impact reports are handled for many projects.

Neither Streetsblog nor many advocates monitoring the legislation realized on the first read that the new law gives the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) the discretion to come up with a substitute for LOS and apply it throughout the state—not just to urban areas “well served by transit,” but everywhere. And to all projects.

The long-term results of using LOS as a measure of environmental impact have been argued about for years and explained well elsewhere. Removing it from the CEQA process has the potential to profoundly affect the way cities are planned and built. And while some of the larger cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, actively pursue the question of whether traffic impact is an appropriate measure of environmental impact (and working on their own substitute measures), not every locale is happy about it.

OPR is asking for early feedback on two items: a draft list of goals it wants the new criteria to meet, and a preliminary list of possible replacement measures for LOS. These are both described in detail in this report, and summarized below. The deadline is this Friday, February 14, and comments can be sent to: ceqa.guidelines@ceres.ca.gov. Future drafts will incorporate feedback received now, with the goal of preparing a final draft by July 1, 2014.

Below is an explanation of why many people oppose using LOS as a measure to analyze environmental impacts. Streetsblog is also reaching out to municipal leaders who use LOS for a future story explaining why they may not want to remove it entirely from CEQA.

Read more…

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Talking Headways Podcast: Vision Zero

The best thing about hosting a Streetsblog podcast is getting to call on other Streetsblog reporters for the lowdown on the biggest news of the week. In this case, Jeff Wood and I called Ben Fried, Streetsblog’s editor-in-chief based in New York, to provide some context for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s big announcement of the campaign to eliminate traffic deaths in the city. Note that the podcast was recorded before the recent outbreak of jaywalking tickets in Manhattan.

We also took a look at how California is changing its environmental laws to stop considering vehicular Level of Service as something to strive for — and how some people miss the nuances of how population density affects transportation planning.

As always, the podcast is also available on iTunes.