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Posts from the "Charlotte" Category

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Sec. Foxx: Bicycle Infrastructure Can Be a “Ladder of Opportunity”

Sec. Foxx told hundreds gathered for the Bike Summit that he won't stand still and allow bike and pedestrian injuries and fatalities to increase. Photo: Brian Palmer, via the ##http://www.bikeleague.org/content/sec-foxx-shares-support-bikes##Bike League##

Sec. Foxx told hundreds gathered for the Bike Summit that he won’t stand still and allow bike and pedestrian injuries and fatalities to increase. Photo: Brian Palmer, via the Bike League

This morning, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx’s blog post is all about bicycling. He opens by touting the complete streets policy he helped implement in Charlotte (it passed before he was mayor) and the city’s bike-share system — the largest in the Southeast.

His post follows on his speech yesterday to the National Bike Summit, which began with this frank admission: “I’ve got big shoes to fill.”

Foxx’s predecessor, Ray LaHood, became the darling of the bike movement when he stood on a table at the 2010 Summit and affirmed his commitment to safe cycling, later declaring “the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.”

Foxx’s speech was less fiery but showed his commitment to the issue. He mentioned that he himself had been the victim of a crash while jogging in Charlotte, and while he wasn’t hurt, he’s aware how lucky he was that it didn’t turn out differently.

“All across our country, every day, there are accidents and injuries — and unfortunately sometimes even fatalities — that occur among the bicycle and pedestrian communities,” Foxx told the Summit audience. “I didn’t tolerate it as a mayor. And as U.S. secretary of transportation we certainly won’t stand still and allow this crisis to slowly build up over time.”

“Our roads should be safe,” he went on. “They should be easy places to travel no matter how we are traveling on them.”

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Charlotte and Denver Join Urban Innovators at NACTO

The group that brought you the Urban Bikeway Design Guide and the Urban Street Design Guide is expanding.

San Francisco MTA Director Ed Reiskin is the new president-elect at NACTO. Image: SFGate

The National Association of City Transportation Officials added Charlotte and Denver to its list of member cities this week, bringing the total to 18. In addition, NACTO has added Louisville, Kentucky, and Somerville, Massachusetts, to the list of 12 “affiliate members,” the organization announced today at its “Designing Cities” conference in Phoenix.

NACTO has served as a forum for cities to share best practices in designing safer, multi-modal streets, and its design guides have quickly become an important counterweight to the more hidebound, car-centric engineering guidance offered by the Association of American State Highway and Transportation Officials. Additional NACTO member cities include Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C.

In addition to the new member cities, NACTO will have a new president. The organization recently elected San Francisco MTA Director Ed Reiskin to the post. Reiskin will replace New York City’s trailblazing Janette Sadik-Khan, who is rumored to be departing for the private sector at the end of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s term this year.

Reiskin has been car-free since 1991. At the last NACTO conference, he told attendees, “The most cost-effective investment we can make in moving people is in bicycle infrastructure.”

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The Beginning of the End for Level of Service?

There are three little words that will make any livable streets advocate groan: Level of Service.

"Level of Service" is the metric that, perhaps more than any other, fuels the decimation of walkable streets. Image: Andy Singer

Level of Service, simply put, is a measure of vehicle congestion at intersections. Projects are graded from “A” to “F” based on how much delay drivers experience.

That’s all it measures: the free motion of motor vehicles. And that’s the problem. The safety of people on foot and on bikes doesn’t enter into the equation at all, and transit vehicles carrying dozens of people are subjugated to the movement of private cars. In fact, a high “level of service” generally makes for a much more stressful and dangerous street, since speeding traffic, and the wide lanes that facilitate it, is a leading cause of traffic injuries and deaths.

Last month, livable streets advocates in California finally made progress in a long battle to reform the state’s environmental laws, which perversely rewarded projects that cater to cars and maintain a certain Level of Service. When, for instance, San Francisco went to add a bike lane or a bus lane, the city first had to show — as part of environmental law — that drivers would not be inconvenienced. Then on September 27, Governor Jerry Brown signed a law saying that Level of Service requirements would no longer factor into the state’s environmental review process — at least in “transit priority areas,” which will incorporate sections of all the state’s urbanized areas.

The Natural Resources Defense Council celebrated the bill’s passage, writing that it will “have the potential to shape California’s future in a big way.”

California isn’t the only place rethinking its reliance on Level of Service to grade transportation and development projects. Portland, Oregon, issued an RFP last summer asking for help developing new performance measures to replace Level of Service. The RFP read: “The existing LOS standards and measures, which focus only on motor vehicle levels of service, do not reflect the City of Portland’s current practice which emphasizes and promotes a multi-modal approach to transportation planning and providing transportation services.”

Meanwhile, other cities that want to build better streets for walking, biking, and transit are finding ways around Level of Service without changing laws.

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Passing a Law Is the Easy Part: The Challenge of Building Complete Streets

If Ontario Street in Cleveland, Ohio, is any indication, a complete streets policy is no guarantee you’ll get a safe place to ride a bike, or even a comfortable place to walk.

Now that Cleveland has a complete streets policy, the city is taking this eight lane road and ... drum roll ... adding sharrows. Image: Rust Wire

Ontario is one of those roads designed to simply funnel traffic to and from a highway — and in fact there’s not much to distinguish the street from a highway. It’s eight lanes wide and devoid of landscaping, or any obstacles to fast driving, really. The most tragic part is, it’s right in front of where the Indians play, Progressive Field, which was sold to taxpayers as a way to enliven the city.

This road just came up for resurfacing, and with the city’s complete streets policy, now two years old, it seemed like an ideal time to correct this mistake. Instead, Cleveland’s traffic engineering department punted, leaving the road basically as is but adding shared lane bike stencils, or sharrows. (Actual bike lanes would compromise the street’s ability to accommodate cars during rush hour, you see.)

And there you have it. A complete streets policy should be a fabulous thing that elevates safety, the economy, and social equity in cities, but it can also amount to nothing more than a few new rules that are easily ducked if officials don’t want to follow the spirit of the law.

Some 500 communities and states across the United States now have complete streets policies, so the good work of enacting these laws is well underway. Implementation is the next frontier.

And it’s not easy, especially in communities like Cleveland where these ideas still feel new. But some cities are doing a better job than others, says Stefanie Seskin at the National Complete Streets Coalition. Charlotte, for example, developed six key steps to the project development process. Seattle passed a special tax levy to help support safe streets improvements for active transportation. San Francisco, in its “Better Streets” guide, prioritizes pedestrian concerns.

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NC Gov. McCrory Sets Out to Let Highway Money Flow While Blocking Transit

A new transportation plan put forward by North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory will make it “almost impossible to find money for passenger trains, sidewalks, bicycles and regional transit,” according to the Raleigh News Observer.

Why is North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory trying to torpedo plans for transit in the "Golden Triangle?" Image: Wikipedia

McCrory’s Strategic Mobility Formula will clear the way for more spending on the state’s highway system, designating about 40 percent of the state’s transportation money for projects of statewide importance (big highways, airports and freight rail only). Another 30 percent will be divided between seven regions of the state. Projects eligible for this smaller pot of money would include “second-tier” highways and ferries, but no transit and no Amtrak, reports the News Observer’s “Road Worrier” Bruce Siceloff.

Siceloff adds that the governor’s plan might torpedo a rail “triangle” between Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill:

It creates new barriers that appear likely to kill prospects for money to build greenways or upgrade Amtrak service.

Also in jeopardy are Triangle plans – endorsed by Durham and Orange residents who have voted to increase their local sales taxes – for light-rail lines and rush-hour commuter trains that could eventually reach beyond the region as far as Greensboro and Goldsboro.

McCrory — who helped secure funds for Charlotte’s Lynx light rail system when he served as mayor — has also obstructed the city’s streetcar plans.

It’s something of a mystery why McCrory has become such a dogged transit opponent. Jeff Wood at the Overhead Wire speculates that there are greater political rewards for McCrory in supporting sprawl, since certain individuals stand to profit from some $3 billion in road projects for the Charlotte region, and big-ticket transit projects are seen as competition.

According to the News Observer, state legislators will vote on McCrory’s plan “in the next week or so.”

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Meet Your Next Transportation Secretary

Mayor Anthony Foxx has accepted President Obama's nomination to be the next U.S. DOT secretary. Photo: Flickr/psychoticwolf via Smart Growth America

Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx just accepted President Obama’s nomination to be the next transportation secretary.

Before we get into the details of Anthony Foxx’s résumé and policy positions, let’s just take a moment to appreciate this: The White House has nominated a mayor to be secretary of transportation.

There is often a wide gulf between states and cities when it comes to transportation policy — with cities preferring to invest in multiple modes while states mainly spend on highways. One way to interpret Obama’s nomination of a mayor to head U.S. DOT is that he’s casting his lot with cities. In Foxx, he’s selected the chief executive of a southern city that has made significant progress on transit and walkable development the last few years.

“I know every mayor is thrilled today because one of theirs will become transportation secretary,” outgoing Secretary Ray LaHood said at Foxx’s nomination today. He said the appointment sent a message that “mayors count” and “cities count.”

“When Anthony became mayor in 2009, Charlotte, like the rest of the country, was going through a bruising economic crisis,” President Obama said. “But the city has managed to turn things around.  The economy is growing. There are more jobs, more opportunity. And if you ask Anthony how that happened, he’ll tell you that one of the reasons is that Charlotte made one of the largest investments in transportation in the city’s history.”

Foxx has only been mayor since 2009, and the city was already heading in the right direction. Charlotte’s light-rail system, LYNX, launched in 2007, and its complete streets policy won an award before he took office. But Foxx has also made his own mark.

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