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Posts from the Washington DC Category

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Awful Pedestrian Shaming Campaign Gets the Smackdown It Deserves

Montgomery County, Maryland, used this ill-considered poster to blame pedestrians who are hit by cars. Photo: Montgomery County

Montgomery County, Maryland, thought this was a good public safety message. Photo: Montgomery County

This PSA from Montgomery County, Maryland, has got to be one of the all-time worst examples of pedestrian shaming. The young girl with tire treads across her face, it’s implied, was struck and killed by a driver because she was “wearing black.”

The message was the county’s response to two recent pedestrian fatalities. According to the county, police will be ticketing drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists who break laws. The victim-blaming posters combined with the everyone-gets-fined approach to enforcement tells us this “safety campaign” won’t make pedestrians any safer.

On Twitter, Colin Browne succinctly summed up what’s wrong with Montgomery County’s approach:

Can Montgomery County replace its campaign imagery with Colin’s version?

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How American Cities Can Protect Cyclists From Deadly Trucks

Side guards save lives. Photo via Vision Zero Network

Side guards save lives. Photo via Vision Zero Network

Heavy trucks kill. They account for as much as 32 percent of cyclist deaths in New York City and 58 percent in London, far out of proportion to their share of traffic. Across the U.S., 1,746 bicyclists and pedestrians have been killed in collisions with commercial trucks over the last five years.

For cities looking to reduce traffic fatalities, the dangers posed by heavy trucks must be addressed. London is a global standard bearer, but some American cities are also making progress on truck safety. A report from the Vision Zero Network [PDF] highlights some of the best policies.

1. Mandate side guards and crossover mirrors for city trucks

American cities don’t have the power to regulate vehicle designs the way British cities do, but they do have control over their own fleets. Applying effective safety standards to municipal truck fleets is a good first step for cities.

The 2012 death of 23-year-old Christopher Weigl drew attention to the problem of truck design in Boston. One feature the city’s trucks lacked was side guards, which prevent severe injuries in the event a truck driver sideswipes a pedestrian or cyclist, keeping the victim away from the path of the rear wheels.

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USDOT to Shut Down Nation’s Roads, Citing Safety Concerns

Crossposted from City Observatory.

WASHINGTON, DC – Citing safety concerns, today Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx announced he was contemplating the closure of roads to all private vehicles in nearly every city in the country until he could assure the nation’s drivers that they would be safe behind the wheel.

The announcement comes on the heels of comments by Secretary Foxx that the Department of Transportation may shut down the Washington Metro heavy rail system because of ongoing safety issues.

Since 2009, 14 Metro riders and employees have died in collisions, derailings, and other incidents. On an annual basis, that translates to about 0.48 fatalities per 100,000 weekday riders.*

However, Secretary Foxx noted that this is exceeded by the fatality rate of car crashes in every single American metropolitan area for which data was compiled in a recent report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In San Francisco, 3.75 people died in automobile crashes per 100,000 residents in 2014, a rate 7.8 times higher than the fatality rate on Metro. In Raleigh, NC, the automobile crash fatality rate was 7.50 per 100,000, or about 15.6 times higher than the fatality rate on Metro. And in Dallas, the automobile crash fatality rate was 12.02 per 100,000, or about 25.0 times higher than the fatality rate on Metro.

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Two Very Different Ways Bike-Share Benefits Transit

Depending on the nature of the city and its transit system, bike share can increase or reduce rail transit ridership. Image: Access Magazine

Bike-share’s effect on how people use transit depends on the context. Image: Access Magazine

A new survey [PDF] by researchers at UC Berkeley and published in Access Magazine sheds light on how bike-share systems interact with transit.

Researchers Susan Shaheen and Elliot Martin surveyed more than 10,000 bike-share riders in Montreal, Toronto, Minneapolis-Saint Paul, and Washington, DC. Like previous surveys have shown, Shaheen and Martin found that a significant number of bike-share users reduce car use. But their main focus was how bike-share affects transit use.

The effect of bike-share on transit travel habits varied according to the context. As you might expect, in areas with sparse transit, bike-share offers an important “last-mile” connection. In areas with dense transit networks, bike-share serves as more of a substitute for transit, relieving crowding on packed buses and trains.

People who live in urban cores with well-developed rail systems — like central D.C. — are more likely to substitute bike-share for transit. In these areas, Shaheen and Martin note, bike-share may offer a more direct, quicker alternative to the bus or the train — and that helps open up space on transit lines that need it most.

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The Looming Transit Breakdown That Threatens America’s Economy

transitbacklog

Categories of maintenance needs, in billions of dollars, for America’s large transit agencies. Graph: RPA

While federal transit funding stagnates, the nation’s largest rail and bus systems have been delaying critical maintenance projects. Without sustained efforts to fix infrastructure and vehicles, the effects of deteriorating service in big American cities could ripple across the national economy, according to a new report from the Regional Plan Association [PDF].

RPA focuses on ten of the nation’s largest transit agencies — in Boston, San Francisco, Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York, Cleveland, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. Between them, these agencies face about $102 billion in deferred maintenance costs. To bring the systems into a state of good repair will require about $13 billion in maintenance spending per year — more than twice the current rate of investment.

These regions house about one-fifth of the country’s population and produce about 27 percent of the nation’s economic output. They also carry about 60 percent of the nation’s total transit ridership, up from 55 percent 20 years ago. That’s a reflection of how transit has become increasingly important in these regions, with passenger trips growing 54 percent over the same period.

That level of ridership growth can’t be sustained if the transit systems aren’t maintained properly. RPA cites a 2012 report from San Francisco’s BART that says if the system is allowed to deteriorate…

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People Won’t Ride the Tysons Corner Metro If They Can’t Walk to Stations

A Tysons Corner Metro station under construction in 2012. Photo: Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz/Wikipedia

A year after the Washington Metro opened the Silver Line in Northern Virginia, apartment rentals are booming and development is roaring ahead. But Martin Di Caro of WAMU reported Monday that the Metro itself isn’t meeting expectations:

Only 17,000 riders board the Silver Line on a typical weekday, a figure that includes more than 9,100 commuters at the Wiehle-Reston East station, the western terminus with a 2,300-space parking garage. The total is even less impressive when you consider roughly two-thirds of Silver Line ridership is former Orange Line commuters.

The Silver Line as a whole is operating at about two-thirds of predicted ridership.

The retrofitting of Tysons Corner’s suburban office park model into a walkable, mixed-use place has been called “the most ambitious re-urbanization project on Earth.” But according to Metro’s own analysis, progress on walking and biking infrastructure is lagging far behind the transit.

People simply can’t get to and from the Metro safely. While the Tysons stations were built for pedestrian access, without park-n-rides, the blocks are still too long, the street grid hasn’t been built out yet, and sidewalks and bike lanes are still lacking in many places.

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Gabe Klein on How DC Built a Smarter Parking System

Streetfilms’ Clarence Eckerson is working on a piece about parking policy and was recently in Washington to discuss some of that city’s innovations with former District DOT chief Gabe Klein. The full Streetfilm is still a work-in-progress, but Clarence put together these clips where Klein explains the city’s pay-by-phone parking meter tech, which goes great with dynamic pricing, and its system for selling curb space for one-time uses like moving trucks, which cut down on fraud and looks like a smart way to prevent double-parking. Enjoy.

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It’s “Transit Christmas” for These Bus and Train Projects in Obama’s Budget

LA Metro's expansion plans would get a boost with Obama's $100 million endorsement of the Purple Line extension. Photo: Wikipedia

LA Metro’s expansion plans would get a boost with $100 million for the Purple Line extension. Photo: Wikipedia

In addition to the broad strokes of transportation policy outlined by the White House yesterday, the Obama administration also put out a much more specific proposal: the list of transit expansion projects recommended for funding in fiscal year 2016. Jeff Wood of The Overhead Wire and Talking Headways fame called it “Transit Christmas.”

Though the budget enacted by Congress will no doubt differ from the administration’s budget, these recommendations from the Federal Transit Administration are significant. Many of the projects on last year’s list are now under construction.

Here’s a look at what’s in line for federal funding, starting with the list of grants for large expansion projects from the FTA’s “New Starts” program.

Major projects recommended for funding:

  • Los Angeles’ Westside Subway Extension, Section 2 — $100 million
  • San Diego’s Midcoast Corridor — $150 million
  • Denver’s Southeast Extension –$92 million
  • Baltimore Red Line — $100 million
  • Maryland Purple Line (Suburban D.C.) — $100 million
  • Minneapolis’ Southwest Light Rail — $150 million
  • Fort Worth’s TEX commuter Rail — $100 million

The big drama right now surrounds the Purple and Red line projects in Maryland, where newly elected Republican Governor Larry Hogan has threatened to cut off state support for the new transit lines if private partners don’t cover enough of the construction costs.

A second list of smaller projects in mid-sized cities are in line for funding from the FTA’s “Small Starts” program.

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Will Maryland Gov-Elect Larry Hogan Kill the Red and Purple Lines?

The Purple Line, which Governor-elect Larry Hogan has threatened to kill, is seen as key to Montgomery County’s long-term economic viability.

Seeing shovel-ready transit projects destroyed by petty politics has been all too common the last few years (see: Scott Walker and Wisconsin high-speed rail, or Chris Christie and the ARC tunnel). Even so, this one’s a doozy.

The fate of two of the country's biggest planned transit projects rest in this man's hands: Maryland Governor-Elect Larry Hogan. Photo: Wikipedia

Larry Hogan. Photo: Wikipedia

Maryland Governor-elect Larry Hogan has the power to halt two major urban transit projects that have the planning and funding all lined up and and are all but ready to go: suburban DC’s 16-mile Purple Line as well as Baltimore’s 14-mile Red Line. More than a decade of planning has gone into each of these transit lines, and each has been awarded a competitive federal New Starts grant for $900 million [PDF], accounting for about a third of the total $5.5 billion combined cost.

Early in his gubernatorial campaign, Hogan promised to kill the projects, saying the money would be better spent on roads and that the western, eastern, and southern parts of the state deserved more attention. But closer to the election he moderated his views, saying the lines were “worth considering.”

Since winning the race, he has mostly kept mum about his intentions. When asked recently about the plans, he demurred, according to the Washington Post.

“They should just keep on guessing, because I’m going to be governor January 21, and we will start talking about policy then,” he said.

Although Hogan won’t take office for a few weeks yet, his indecision is already affecting construction timetables. Bids were due this month for the Purple Line project, but were delayed until March, after the swearing-in.

Maryland spent more than $170 million planning and purchasing right-of-way for the Purple Line and another $230+ million on planning for the Red Line. That work will go to waste if the projects are killed. Plus, because the Red Line has already gone out to bid, the state would be responsible for another $8 million in payments to the engineering firms that have prepared detailed, long-term plans to build the line.

Of the most concern to transit advocates is all the federal funding that would likely be lost if the state were to abandon or dramatically alter the plans at this late stage. In addition to the New Starts grant, the Purple Line has received $900 million in federally backed loans. None of the federal money could be used for other projects in the state.

Business groups in both the DC area and Baltimore strongly support the projects and have been urging the governor to continue with the plan.

Klaus Philipsen, a Baltimore architect who served as a consultant and planner on the Red Line, said dirt could start flying this year in Baltimore. The $2.9 billion Red Line was expected to not just attract new passengers, but greatly expand the usefulness of the city’s existing two rail lines by creating a more extensive network. It was also expected to be a boon for struggling west Baltimore, where intensive community planning processes sought to get the most out of the stations for local neighborhoods.

“The hope is that with the Red Line [Baltimore’s rail transit] would start to become a real system and we’d have a quantum leap in connectivity,” Philipsen told Streetsblog.

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Why Aren’t American Bike-Share Systems Living Up to Their Potential?

This chart shows the performance of the world's bike sharing systems. U.S. systems, by en large, are lagging. Image: ?

U.S. bike-share systems, which tend not to have dense networks of stations, also tend to lag behind other bike-share systems on ridership. Graph: Institute for Transportation and Development Policy

As policy director at the New York City Department of Transportation from 2007 to June, 2014, Jon Orcutt shepherded the nation’s largest bike-share system through the earliest stages of planning, a wide-ranging public engagement process, and, last year, the rollout of hundreds of Citi Bike stations.

That makes Orcutt, formerly of Transportation Alternatives and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a leading U.S. expert on bike-share. In a recent exchange about what some cities are passing off as bike-share, Orcutt told he has some concerns about how bike-share systems are being rolled out in cities around the U.S. Intrigued, I asked him to elaborate in an interview.

Here’s what he had to say about what separates a successful bike-share system from one that’s not meeting its potential:

So you’ve come to some conclusions about how certain bike-shares are functioning?

They’re not my conclusions. There’s a fair amount of research out there now and you can see pretty clearly what some of the variables are. There’s a huge variation across cities, especially in the United States.

Can you summarize the research?

The most useful metric is rides per bike per day. You can compare a system with 600 bikes to 6,000 bikes in different size cities pretty easily. You just see, how many rides is it getting?

I’d say the breaking point internationally is about three-and-a-half or four rides. High performing systems are seeing four rides per day on average or more, and then there’s everybody else. A lot of them in the United States are under two.

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