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Posts from the "Washington DC" Category

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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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Talking Headways Podcast: Uber and the Case of the Hidden Gas Tax

podcast icon logoUber is celebrating. DC passed an Uber-legalization law that Uber thinks cities the world over should follow. The problem is, most cities have much more tightly regulated taxi industries than DC, with a far higher cost of entry. In those cases, letting Uber get away with providing taxi services while complying with none of the rules is unfair. The taxi companies have been screaming about this for a while now. Uber’s response is something like, “Catch me if you can, old geezer.” DC’s contribution to that conversation strengthens Uber’s position.

In other news, a front group for the oil industry is trying to cause panic among California drivers about a “hidden gas tax” that’s going to hit come January. What they’re really talking about is California’s landmark cap-and-trade law to limit greenhouse gas emissions, which will start including transportation fuels at the beginning of the year. Jeff and I called up Melanie Curry of Streetsblog LA to explain to us a campaign that didn’t seem to really make any sense and she assured us that we’re not crazy; it really doesn’t make any sense.

Stay tuned; our election recap edition will be coming out shortly.

You can find this podcast on iTunesStitcher, and the RSS feed, or wherever cool kids gather.

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Will DC Finally Repeal Its Unfair Treatment for Injured Cyclists and Peds?

In Washington, DC, if a driver crashes into a person on foot or on a bike, and that person walking or biking is deemed to be even 1 percent at fault, he or she cannot collect any damages from insurance.

DC's law severely restricting damages for people hit by cars could go down tomorrow. Photo: ##http://personalinjurysupport.wordpress.com/category/bicycle-accident/##Personal Injury Support##

DC’s law severely restricting damages for people hit by cars could go down tomorrow. Photo: Personal Injury Support

Shane Farthing of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association and Tracy Hadden Loh of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy put it this way in a story for Greater Greater Washington:

Say you are riding along on your bicycle. Your tail light battery dies one evening, and then a texting driver crashes into you. Can you recover your medical costs from the driver?

Or, say you are on foot and need to cross a street where the nearest crosswalks are far away. But then a drunk driver speeds by and hits you.

Or, you’re biking and get doored. A police officer, confused about the law, incorrectly tickets you for riding too close to parked cars.

In all of those cases, DC’s unjust contributory negligence law would bar you from collecting damages from that drunk or distracted driver.

The DC Council’s Committee on the Judiciary is set to vote on the bill tomorrow. But it’s not looking good.

‘Contributory negligence’ bill may stall tomorrow at D.C. Council. CM Cheh vote may be decisive; undecided at moment. @wamu885news #bikedc

— Martin Di Caro (@MartinDiCaro) November 6, 2014

In addition to Cheh, bill co-sponsor Tommy Wells sits on the committee, as does mayor-elect Muriel Bowser, who said in a pre-election candidate survey that replacing contributory negligence was an “issue that deserves further consideration.” She has until tomorrow to consider it.

If the bill fails, WABA has pledged to release a scorecard with council members’ votes to hold them accountable for supporting the so-called “one-percent rule.”

Only four states — including neighboring Maryland and Virginia — join DC in holding onto this discriminatory and punitive law. This is the third time the bill has come before the DC Council.

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Progress on Parking Reform Could Make DC More Walkable and Affordable

A few key changes to the DC zoning code could help make housing more affordable, streets more walkable, transit more convenient, and healthy foods more accessible. Years of debate and delay have watered down the reforms somewhat, but they still represent substantial progress. And now it looks like they will pass.

New zoning rules will require 50 percent less parking by metro stops and frequent bus corridors. Photo: Virtual Tourist

New zoning rules will cut parking requirements in half near metro stops and frequent bus corridors. Photo: Virtual Tourist

Cheryl Cort of the Coalition for Smarter Growth files a status report at Greater Greater Washington:

The DC Zoning Commission has been deliberating on the zoning update this week. The commissioners embraced most of the DC Office of Planning’s proposals while even rejecting at least one of OP’s recent steps backward.

Buildings near transit (including priority bus corridors) will be able to have half the parking that’s otherwise required if they are willing to forego residential parking permits. Homeowners will be able to put accessory apartments inside their houses without a special hearing, but will have to go through one to use a carriage house. And corner grocery stores will be able to open in residential row house areas if they sell fresh food.

This is a major milestone in the grueling zoning regulations revision process that began in 2007 just after the DC Council adopted the 2006 Comprehensive Plan. Opponents of the update repeatedly asked the commission and the Office of Planning and for more outreach, more meetings, and more delay. In response, officials stretched out the process and added dozens of meetings, fact sheets, and hearings throughout the city. But the process now has an end in sight.

After a few more discussions, a new draft zoning code will be prepared for the city and presented for public comment. These reforms sound like no-brainers to help increase the number of housing units available at lower prices and reduce the share of valuable transit-accesible land consumed by parked cars.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Urban Indy thinks that Indianapolis should hesitate to gloat about all the riders Pacers Bikeshare is attracting six months after opening. ATL Urbanist reports that Atlanta’s MARTA will use elements of tactical urbanism to incorporate public feedback into the redesign of two stations. And FABB Blog shares new data showing how residents of metro DC are flocking toward transit hubs.

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Census Finds DC and NYC Bike Commuting Has Doubled in Four Years

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Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

For the first and second U.S. cities to start building networks of modern protected bike lanes, the payoff seems to have arrived.

In both Washington, DC, and New York City, the rate of bike commuting has doubled since 2009, according to Census figures released Thursday.

Powered by one of the country’s most successful bike-share systems, a solid network of painted lanes, a handful of protected lanes, and the burgeoning bicycle culture that resulted from those changes, Washington’s bike commute mode share vaulted to 4.5 percent in 2013, up from 2.2 percent in 2009. Among major U.S. cities, that estimate would place DC second only to Portland, Oregon, as a bike commuting town.

“DC has been coming up strong for several years,” said Darren Flusche, policy director for the DC-based League of American Bicyclists. “It’s the nation’s capital; I keep waiting for someone to say they’re the nation’s bike capital.”

New York City, meanwhile, has a lower biking rate — just 1.2 percent, up from 0.6 percent in 2009. But that comes out to 46,000 daily bike commuters, about as many as Portland and DC combined. New York added an estimated 10,000 bike commuters in 2013 alone, its fifth straight year of growth.

Flusche credited the Michael Bloomberg administration, led by former Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, for rapidly dedicating space on New York streets for painted or protected bike lanes.

“I think we’re finally seeing the benefits of those decisions made as far back as ’09, ’10, ’11,” Flusche said.

Read more…

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DC and New Orleans Closing the Bike Commute Gap With Portland

Perennial cycling leaders like Portland and Minneapolis have seen progress slow, while some less well-known biking cities are making gains. Image: Bike Portland

Growth in bike commuting has slowed in Portland and Minneapolis, while some less well-known biking cities are making gains. Graph: Bike Portland

New Census numbers are out, providing fresh data on how Americans are getting to work, and Michael Andersen at BikePortland has noticed a couple of trends.

The mid-size cities best-known for biking haven’t made much progress lately, Andersen writes, while other cities have made rapid gains:

2013 Census estimates released Thursday show the big cities that led the bike spike of the 2000s — Minneapolis, Seattle, Denver and, most of all, Portland — all failing to make meaningful changes to their commuting patterns for three years or more.

Meanwhile, the same figures show a new set of cities rising fast — first among them Washington DC.

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Fixing a Blank Wall Streetscape With Storefront Retrofits

Every city has places where the buildings present a blank face to the sidewalk. A dark, recessed arcade deadening the pedestrian environment or a soulless concrete wall fronting a windswept plaza.

Consultant Brent Toderian, formerly the planning director for the city of Vancouver, pointed out a cheap and easy solution to this problem. He calls them “blank wall retrofits,” storefronts that can be inserted over blank walls to add sidewalk-facing retail. He tweeted this great example in Calgary, Alberta: 

This retrofit fits between the lobby and plaza of the brutalist Westin Calgary and the sidewalk.

“It’s a great technique for dealing with fundamentally flawed architecture that presents blank walls to streets and public places,” Toderian says. ”Unlike ‘make-up on a pig’ — e.g. murals — this fundamentally changes the street edge condition. The pig is no longer a pig. It potentially changes un-urban to urban.”

We reached out to our readers to find more success stories. Here’s what they sent us.

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How Should Streetcars and Bikes Interact?

Bike lane or streetcar track? With rubber inserts, perhaps it could be both. Photo: DDOT via ##http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/18791/bike-lanes-could-let-cyclists-avoid-h-street-streetcar-tracks/##GGW##

Bike lane or streetcar track? With rubber inserts, perhaps it could be both. Photo: DDOT via GGW

Streetcar service could finally begin this year in Washington, DC. Trial runs are already taking place. And the debate about how people on bikes will navigate the tracks is already raging.

Last week, the District Department of Transportation quietly proposed streetcar regulations that would ban bicycling within a streetcar guideway except to cross the street. Most immediately, that would prohibit bicycles on H Street NE, one of the city’s premier nightlife hotspots for young people, many of whom arrive on bikes — in part because the area has been underserved by transit until now. There are no fewer than seven Capital Bikeshare stations along the corridor.

But a bike ban on streetcar corridors could have far broader implications when DC builds out its full streetcar network, which DDOT dreams of building out the network to eight lines over 37 miles throughout the city.

DDOT clarified on its Facebook page that it was proposing to prohibit bikes “in the area of the concrete surrounding the rails (effectively the lane the streetcar is running in)… Not the entire street right-of-way.” That means, DDOT says, that cyclists can ride in the left lane — which would undoubtedly lead to conflicts with cars accustomed to seeing cyclists hugging the right edge. If DDOT is serious about that, perhaps they could paint sharrows to inform drivers that bikes have a right to be in the left lane.

Either way, a bike ban is not the best way to deal with what is, by all accounts, a thorny situation.

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association acknowledges that “streetcar tracks can pose a legitimate hazard to bicyclists” but insists that “banning bikes is not an acceptable solution.”

It’s a “solution” that came up earlier this year in Tucson and in 2012 in Toronto, where a cyclist died when his wheel got stuck in the tracks of a streetcar system that doesn’t even run anymore. Lots of cities have struggled to find ways to make the interaction between bicycles and streetcars less perilous.

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Are There Any Affordable Cities Left in America?

When you factor in both housing and transportation costs (H+T) as a percent of income, the car-dependent cities in the right column expensive. But are DC, SF, and NYC that much more affordable, even if you count the benefits of transit? Source: Citizens Budget Commission

When you factor in both housing and transportation costs (H+T) as a percent of income, the car-dependent cities in the right column are especially expensive. But are DC, SF, and NYC that much more affordable, even if you count the benefits of transit? Source: Citizens Budget Commission

Are Washington, San Francisco, and New York the most affordable American cities? A new report from the New York-based Citizen’s Budget Commission [PDF], which made the rounds at the Washington Post and CityLab, argues that if you consider the combined costs of housing and transportation, the answer is yes.

But a closer look at the data casts some doubt on that conclusion. Between the high cost of transportation in sprawling regions and the high demand for housing in compact cities with good transit, very few places in America are looking genuinely affordable these days.

The CBC report uses a better measure of affordability than housing costs alone. Transportation is the second biggest household expense for the average American family, and looking at what people spend on housing plus transportation (H+T) can upend common assumptions about which places are affordable and which are not. Regions with cheap housing but few alternatives to car commuting don’t end up scoring so well.

There are some problems with the CBC’s methodology, however. While abundant transit is absolutely essential to keeping household transportation costs down, and it provides a lifeline to low-income residents of major coastal cities, the report still tends to exaggerate overall affordability in these areas.

According to the report, for example, New York City ranks third in affordability among 22 large cities. A “typical household” in New York City, the CBC finds, spends 32 percent of its income on housing and transportation combined. Part of the reason New York comes out looking good, though, is that CBC used a regional measure of income but looked at typical rents only in the city itself. Because the region’s median income is higher than the median income in the city ($62,063 vs. $51,865, respectively, according to 2008-2012 Census data), NYC appears more affordable than it really is.

Another issue, flagged by Michael Lewyn at his CNU blog, is that by looking at average rents, which in some cities include many rent-stabilized units, the calculation doesn’t necessarily capture what someone searching for shelter is likely to pay. If you’re trying to find an apartment in New York now, getting a place for the average rent would probably be extremely difficult.

What really stands out in the CBC report isn’t that New York, San Francisco, and DC are affordable — it’s that car-dependent areas that may have cheap housing turn out to be so expensive once you factor in transportation.

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Are Children Parasites on Cities’ Finances?

Photo: Bruce Chan

Photo: Bruce Chan

No sooner did Streetsblog LA roll out its new series (and hashtag) #streetsr4families than the Washington Post asked whether it really benefits cities to attract families with kids at all. After all, wrote Lydia DePillis yesterday, while single twenty-somethings freely spend their money on $12 cocktails and $50 concert tickets, parents avail themselves of taxpayer-funded services like public schools and parks. Parasites on the system.

DePillis referenced a 2001 Brookings Institution study, “Envisioning a Future Washington,” [PDF] which put a price tag on attracting different types of new residents. The researchers found that a two-parent family with two kids would cost the city $6,200 annually, mostly because they use public schools, while a childless couple generates a net gain for the city of $13,000.

As someone who takes it on faith that children truly are an indicator species of a healthy city, reading that shook me. Could it be that we parents are, after all, a drain on the cities we love?

The topic is especially salient right now, as I’ve been engrossed in the Sightline Institute’s ongoing series, “Family-Friendly Cities.” In it, author Jennifer Langston writes at length about what cities can do to attract families with children. (More on that later.) But DePillis’s words made me suddenly uncomfortable with the whole proposition. Why should cities bend over backwards for families with kids — letting valuable real estate become children’s play areas, sullying its eateries with crayons and kids’ menus, preserving three-bedroom row houses amid the rush to build studio apartments — when those families actually end up bringing the city down?

DePillis answered her own question, of course. Parents are often in their prime earning years, and they buy expensive houses. Those houses become more expensive when the schools improve — “Trulia crunched the numbers, and found that homes in districts with highly-rated schools are a third more expensive than the metro average, while those in districts with poor schools are much cheaper,” DePillis wrote. That relegates lower-income kids to the city’s worst schools — but if we’re just looking through a lens of GDP, those pricey homes add to the city’s bottom line.

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