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Posts from the "Bike/Ped" Category

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Best Bike Cities? Forget the Census, Let’s Start Asking Mobile Apps

Bicycling patterns in Boston, created by users of activity-tracking app Human.

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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.

The most popular bicycle transportation measurement system in the country is hopelessly skewed toward a niche activity.

We refer, of course, to the U.S. Census.

The niche activity: going to work.

Most Americans have jobs, of course. But going to and from work, which is the only bicycle activity the Census measures across the United States, accounts for less than 20 percent of our trips. Huge swaths of the population, including many of those with the most to gain from biking (the old, the young, the broke), don’t have jobs at all.

What’s more, our commutes tend to be the longest trips we take on a regular basis, which puts bicycling out of reach for millions of Americans. Census statistics provide a useful clue about which cities are doing biking right, but a flawed one — especially for the less intensely motivated bike users that U.S. cities have been redesigning their streets to serve.

A 10-month-old computer chip for the Apple iPhone may already be creating a better alternative.

The M7, a chip introduced last year that lets users gather data about their movements even while their smartphones are asleep, is the hardware behind Human, an activity-tracking mobile app that made a splash this month by using its users’ movement speed to create maps of walking, biking, running and motor vehicle transport in 30 cities around the world.

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Republican Senators Threaten to Slow Extension With Backward Amendments

Just as it seemed like a transportation extension was on the fast track to passage, a Tea Party senator from Utah is gumming up the works — and the top Republican on the EPW Committee might have a plan to help him.

How many crappy amendments are you trying to force down the Senate's throat, Mike Lee? That's right: two. Photo: ##https://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/7998337795/##Gage Skidmore/Flickr##

How many crappy amendments is Mike Lee trying to force on the Senate? That’s right: two. Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

CQ Roll Call reports that Sen. Mike Lee is threatening to block progress on the extension in the Senate unless Harry Reid agrees to allow votes on two right-wing amendments.

The first is a classic “devolutionist” maneuver, a measure to gradually reduce the federal gas tax from 18.4 cents to 3.7 cents per gallon and shift the responsibility for transportation spending to the states.

Rep. Peter DeFazio loves invoking the Amos Schweitzer example to illustrate what a bad idea devolution is. In 1956, Kansas and Oklahoma were going to build a highway linking cities in the two states, but Oklahoma didn’t get the money together, so the road dead-ended at the border. “For three years cars crashed through the barrier at the end of this [road] and landed in Amos Schweitzer’s farm field,” DeFazio said on the floor of the House two days ago. ”That’s devolution!”

President Eisenhower’s interstate campaign, the creation of a federal Department of Transportation, and the implementation of a federal gas tax allowed for a national transportation vision to replace a fragmented state-by-state strategy. Federalization is especially important for freight, since states simply can’t be solely responsible for the ports, roads, and railways that are crucial for moving goods all around the country.

Lee’s second bad idea, which he insists the entire Senate get the chance to consider, is the repeal of the Davis-Bacon Act, a landmark labor law that requires developers to pay workers no less than the locally prevailing wage for their work. Conservatives are forever introducing measures to repeal or weaken this law.

Voting on these amendments would slow the process of approving the extension, but probably not as much as not voting on the amendments. If Reid refuses Lee’s ultimatum, Lee says he’ll refuse to allow a quick vote on the extension bill. Any senator can block “unanimous consent,” which is necessary for a bill to find a quick route to a floor vote.

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Bikes, Cars, and People Co-Exist on Pittsburgh’s Shared Streets

Pittsburgh's Market Square keeps the cobblestone street on the same plane as the sidewalk cafés on the perimeter and the plaza in the middle, indicating to drivers, "you're not on a highway anymore." Photo: Strada, LLC

Pittsburgh’s Market Square keeps the cobblestone street on the same plane as the sidewalk cafés on the perimeter and the plaza in the middle, indicating to drivers, “you’re not on a highway anymore.” Photo: Strada, LLC

Summer is finally here, but livable streets advocates already can’t wait for September to come. The biennial Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place conference is taking place in Pittsburgh, a city that’s shedding its “Rust Belt” image and emerging as a leader in progressive street design with the help of a new mayor who’s committed to biking, walking, and public space.

Over the course of the summer, we’ll be previewing some of the great research and success stories that will be told at the conference. This is our first post in that series. Today, we’re spotlighting one type of innovative design that Pittsburgh is increasingly becoming known for: “shared space.”

As Payton and John have described on Streetsblog this week, shared space is a way of designing streets for cars, bikes, and pedestrians without segregating them. By removing curbs and traffic signals, planners allow everyone to navigate the street using their own common sense and by communicating verbally or non-verbally with others.

Three recent projects in Pittsburgh have utilized the shared space concept. “It’s a change in thinking about how that space is used that elevates the status of pedestrians and cyclists — more pedestrians than anyone — over the car,” said Michael Stern, an architect at Strada, the firm that designed the three new shared spaces. “So that’s a big change.”

In Market Square, where drug deals used to be conducted in plain view, a major redesign has attracted nearly a billion dollars in new development. In addition to offices surrounding the square, there are almost 500 new residential units and 32 restaurants within a block and a half. Many of the 20 dining establishments that encircle the plaza have patio seating on brick sidewalks that blend into the cobblestone street, with no curb separating them. On the other side of the street, the plaza’s terrazzo floor is also at the same grade.

That cobblestone street is known as Forbes Avenue, and it used to cut straight through the square. Now it goes around it. “It has become a really great pedestrian space with slow moving traffic, and limited traffic because everyone knows you’re not going through there quickly,” said Jeremy Waldrup, president of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. Buses that used to go right through were re-routed to neighboring streets too, keeping transit access within a half block but keeping the large vehicles out of the square.

Cyclists complain about the cobblestone, but Waldrup says that doesn’t bother him. “Not every space has to be built optimally for every mode,” he said. The net effect is that “pedestrians rule,” according to Stern. “People will walk wherever they want to walk. If a car comes in there, it’s very clearly understood as a pedestrian space as opposed to a car space.”

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What a Great Pilot Bike Lane Project Looks Like: 3 Best Practices

Cheap and flexible: A pilot protected lane project on Multnomah Street in Portland. Photo: Green Lane Project

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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.

From Calgary to Seattle to Memphis, the one-year pilot project is becoming the protected bike lane trend of 2014.

Street designers looking to use the design have been putting down their digital renderings and picking up plastic posts and barrels of paint, city staffers from around the country said in interviews this week.

“I think there’s been sort of this realization that we don’t have to be so theoretical in our work and we don’t have to be so tied to the process,” said Kyle Wagenschutz, pedestrian and bicycle coordinator for the City of Memphis. “By doing a pilot project you’re able to very quickly put a substantial change on the ground in your city.” The point isn’t to avoid public dialogue, Wagenschutz argues. Just the opposite.

Because a pilot project lets ordinary people see a new street design in action, rather than “spending three to five years talking about renderings and sketch models,” Wagenschutz said, “you’re changing the starting point for your input. You’re changing the point by which people begin to communicate. … The dialogue is based on this new experience that they’re having rather than a dialogue about what might be.”

It’s not unlike the philosophy of many software startups, Wagenschutz said: “Ready, fire, aim.”

But that doesn’t prevent some pilot protected bike lane projects from misfiring. So we talked to a few creators of successful ones to get their advice.

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FHWA: Bike-Ped Investments Pay Off By Cutting Traffic and Improving Health

Marin County rebuilt an old railroad tunnel and created a 1.1-mile non-motorized path, expanding transit access and increasing biking by 95 percent. Photo: ##http://parisi-associates.com/projects/non-motorized-transportation-pilot-program/##Parisi Associates##

Marin County rebuilt an old railroad tunnel and created a 1.1-mile walking and biking path, improving access to transit and increasing biking 95 percent on the road leading to the tunnel. Photo: Parisi Associates

Nine years after launching a program to measure the impact of bike and pedestrian investments in four communities, the Federal Highway Administration credits the program with increasing walking trips by nearly a quarter and biking trips by nearly half, while averting 85 million miles of driving since its inception.

In 2005, the FHWA’s Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program (NTPP) set aside $100 million for pedestrian and bicycle programs in four communities: Columbia, Missouri; Marin County, California; Sheboygan County, Wisconsin; and the Minneapolis region in Minnesota.

Each community had $25 million to spend over four years, with most of the funding going toward on-street and off-street infrastructure. According to a progress report released this week, about $11 million of that remains unspent, though the communities also attracted $59 million in additional funds from other federal, state, local, and private sources.

“The main takeaway is, we’ve now answered indisputably that if you build a wisely-designed, safe system for walking and biking within the context of a community that is aware of and inspired by fact that it is becoming a more walkable, bikeable place, you can achieve dramatic mode shift with modest investment,” said Marianne Fowler of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and an architect of the pilot program.

Columbia reconfigured a key commuter intersection to making walking and biking easier and safer, resulting in a 51 percent jump in walking rates and a 98 percent jump in biking at that location. In Marin County, the reconstruction of the 1,100-foot Cal Park railroad tunnel and construction of a 1.1-mile walking and biking path provided direct access to commuter ferry service to downtown San Francisco and reduced bicycling time between the cities of San Rafael and Larkspur by 15 minutes. Biking along the corridor increased 95 percent, and a second phase of the project is still to come.

The program helped jump-start the Nice Ride bike-share system in Minneapolis, which grew to 170 stations and 1,556 bicycles by 2013, with 305,000 annual trips. And in Sheboygan County, the ReBike program distributed bicycles to more than 700 people and a new 1.7-mile multi-use path was built, following portions of an abandoned rail corridor through the heart of the city of Sheboygan. “Sixty percent of the population of Sheboygan County lives in close proximity to that corridor,” said Fowler. “And the trail gives them access to almost anything in Sheboygan.”

FHWA could see the impact: At locations where better infrastructure was installed, walking increased 56 percent and biking soared 115 percent. Using a peer-reviewed model, FHWA also estimated changes in walking and biking throughout the four communities. The program led to a 22.8 percent increase in walking trips and a 48.3 percent increase in biking trips. Without the interventions, residents would have driven 85 million more miles since the program launched, according to FHWA.

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Senator Pat Toomey Fights to Spare America From Safe Streets

You know the Senate is close to passing transportation legislation when someone introduces a hare-brained amendment to ban bike and pedestrian programs.

Sen. Pat Toomey's answer to the transportation funding crisis is to stop funding the most cost-effective projects. Photo: ##https://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/8565245671/##Flickr/gageskidmore##

Sen. Pat Toomey’s answer to the transportation funding crisis is to stop funding the most cost-effective projects. Photo: Flickr/gageskidmore

Sen. Ron Wyden, as promised, yesterday introduced a bill to extend MAP-21 and the Highway Trust Fund’s authority by three months. It also transfers some money from the general fund into the HTF to keep it afloat until December 31.

Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey saw that as his chance to attack bike and pedestrian programs. He inserted an amendment that he calls “To reserve federal transportation funds for national infrastructure priorities.” Those national priorities apparently don’t include safety, air quality, congestion reduction or public health. Here’s his amendment:

No funds distributed from the Highway Trust Fund established in Title 26, Sec. 9503 of the United States Code may be spent for the purpose of operating the Federal Transportation Alternatives Program.

The Transportation Alternatives Program is the tiny pot of money available for bike and pedestrian projects.

Toomey also introduced an amendment rescinding high-speed rail funds and another exempting infrastructure destroyed during a “declared emergency” from environmental reviews if they’re rebuilt in the same footprint.

Other amendments [PDF] include Wyden’s push for an expedited process to pass a long-term transportation bill (when the time comes) and a proposal from four Democratic senators to extend the transit commuter benefit at the same level as the parking benefit. 

Sen. Jay Rockefeller has an intriguing amendment to create an account within the Highway Trust Fund called the Multimodal Transportation Account. It would fund freight projects, intelligent transportation systems, and other works that don’t fit neatly into one modal silo or another.

Sen. Carper has his name on two amendments to raise the gas tax until it recoups the purchasing power it’s lost over the 21 years since it’s been set at 18.4 cents a gallon, and index it to inflation thereafter. There’s also an amendment to establish an Infrastructure Financing Authority and one to establish an American Infrastructure Fund.

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371 City Leaders Ask Boxer For More Local Control Over Bike/Ped Money

Last week, 371 mayors and other city leaders wrote a letter [PDF] to Sen. Barbara Boxer, chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, in support of local control over transportation dollars for bike and pedestrian projects.

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard (R) gave a stirring speech in favor of local control in a Senate hearing, and the rest is history. Photo: ##http://bikeleague.org/content/371-mayors-congress-we-want-bikeped##Brian Palmer/Bike League##

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard (R) gave a stirring speech in favor of local control in a Senate hearing. Photo: Brian Palmer/Bike League

About two-thirds of the signatories are mayors, from cities as big as Philadelphia and Los Angeles and as small as McKenzie, Tennessee, and Lincoln, Alabama. There are also some city council members, city clerks, aldermen, village trustees, and regional league directors. Their collective voice represents tens of millions of constituents.

The civic leaders said that MAP-21 “reinforces the importance of local elected officials being at the table to ensure that we secure maximum economic and transportation benefits from available federal resources.” MAP-21 included a provision requiring 50 percent of money from the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) — which funds bike and pedestrian projects — to go directly to local communities, instead of being under the control of states.

The letter is the result of a Senate hearing in May, in which Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard and other city leaders testified to the importance of local control over TAP funding. Boxer ended that hearing by affirming that TAP was a critical element of the transportation bill and, according to the Bike League’s Caron Whitaker, she asked Mayor Ballard, a Republican, to help her protect and promote the program by writing and circulating a sign-on letter for mayors to attest to its importance. “The letter, circulated by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities, is the result of that request,” Whitaker wrote.

The letter thanks Boxer for her “leadership” on TAP and urged her “to continue to affirm the role of local elected leaders as you advance legislation renewing MAP-21.” It also asks for a small technical change that would give metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) the power not just to choose bike/ped projects but to actually authorize the funding. The letter says that change is just one example of the minor modifications the signatories would like to see, but it doesn’t list any others.

The National League of Cities and the League of American Bicyclists said they’re not formally circulating the letter to other Congressional offices, but they’re not shy about letting lawmakers know about it.

It remains to be seen how Boxer will use the letter in Senate negotiations, but the mayors have sent a strong message that American cities and towns want more say over how to spend transportation dollars.

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Building a Bike-Ped Data Model That Planners Will Take Seriously

It’s hard to make the case for public spending on biking and walking without hard data. And quality data has been hard to come by. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is looking to change that. The group has taken on a new project to rigorously measure walking and biking on various corridors, providing baseline data that can help make the case for active transportation projects.

Arlington, Virginia, is one of RTC's 12 cities for the T-MAP project and already uses the eco-multi sensor on some trails. Photo: ##http://www.eco-compteur.com/Eco-MULTI.html?wpid=45127##Eco-Counter##

Arlington, Virginia, uses high-tech sensors to measure walking and biking on some trails. Photo: Eco-Counter

Existing measurements of how much people walk and bike have frustrating limitations. The Census recently released a trove of data on biking and walking, but the Census only attempts to measure commute trips and it doesn’t track specific routes. Strava, which makes an app for people to track their mileage, recently published maps of where its users are running and biking, but it doesn’t capture a representative slice of the population.

Now the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is getting serious about collecting detailed information about how people use urban walking and biking trails. With a new project they say “may forever change how non-motorized transportation facilities are prioritized in American cities,” RTC is working with 12 cities to monitor their trails for one year. Combined with other datasets, the information on trail use will help calculate the benefits of proposed investments in walking and biking infrastructure. The program, which RTC is calling the Trail Modeling and Assessment Platform (T-MAP), is headed by an international trio of researchers.

The 12 cities — located in all nine of the country’s climatic zones — are: Albuquerque, Arlington, Billings, Colorado Springs, Fort Worth, Indianapolis, Miami, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Portland (Maine), San Diego, and Seattle.

“This is the kind of forecasting tool that has been used in roads planning for decades,” said Tracy Hadden Loh, RTC’s director of research and the chief architect of T-MAP. “That’s why we’ve come to see roads projects as ‘needs’ — because we can firmly calculate their impact. Decision-makers give credence to quantitative methods for prioritizing transportation investments. T-MAP will provide that rigorous, quantitative evidence of the impact of trails projects.”

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Will Maryland Finally Build a Safe Bike/Ped Crossing on the Susquehanna?

Imagine you live in Havre de Grace, Maryland. Congratulations: It’s a lovely, quaint little town. I’ve enjoyed stopping by on my way between DC and Philly, eating ice cream and watching sailboats bobble in the water where the Susquehanna River spills into the Chesapeake Bay.

Want to walk across the Susquehanna River between Havre de Grace and Perryville, Maryland? That one-mile car trip will take you nearly 100 miles and 33 hours to walk. Image: Google Maps

Want to walk across the Susquehanna River between Havre de Grace and Perryville, Maryland? That one-mile distance will take you nearly 100 miles and 33 hours to walk. Image: Google Maps

Now let’s imagine you work in Baltimore. You want to take the MARC train to work. Lucky you: You live about a mile from the Perryville train station, as the crow flies. But you’re not a crow. So you’d like to ride your bike there.

There are four bridges that cross the Susquehanna River between Havre de Grace and Perryville, Maryland, and none of them allow people to walk or bike across.

To do that, according to Google Maps, you’d have to go about 12 miles north of Havre de Grace (and the most natural route up the Northeast Corridor) and cross on the Conowingo Road bridge, where walking and biking is technically permitted. But there is no walkway on the Conowingo Road bridge, or even a shoulder, and the bridge is a mile long with heavy car traffic at times. If you want to cross safely, you’ll have to go 48 miles north and west to cross the river near York, Pennsylvania.

That’s right: There’s not a single bridge in the state of Maryland that will take you across the Susquehanna River safely on a bike or on foot.

So if you live in Havre de Grace and want to get to the MARC station in Perryville, or anywhere else north and east of your house, you’re going to have to do it in a car.

This river is just begging to be biked across. Photo: Ben Longstaff

This river is just begging to be biked across. Photo: Ben Longstaff

The East Coast Greenway Alliance is trying to change that. Maryland is in the process of designing a replacement for the 108-year-old Amtrak bridge over the Susquehanna River, which carries well over 100 trains every weekday. U.S. DOT gave the state $22 million for the engineering and environmental work to replace the bridge three years ago. Right now, Maryland is conducting its environmental impact review — meaning right now is the time for community input.

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Rep. Joe Crowley Announces Pedestrian Safety Bill — The Third in Six Months

Rep. Joe Crowley announces his Pedestrian Fatalities Reduction Act this morning in Queens. Photo courtesy of the Office of Rep. Joe Crowley.

Rep. Joe Crowley announces his Pedestrian Fatalities Reduction Act yesterday in Queens. Photo courtesy of the Office of Rep. Joe Crowley.

Rep. Albio Sires has his New Opportunities for Bicycle and Pedestrian Infrastructure Financing Act (HR 3978). Rep. Earl Blumenauer has his Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act (HR 3494). And now, Rep. Joe Crowley has unveiled his Pedestrian Fatalities Reduction Act.

The New York City Democrat, a supporter of Vision Zero, made the announcement yesterday morning in Queens, which suffers a high rate of pedestrian crashes. He was flanked by street safety advocates and public officials.

States are currently required to submit comprehensive, statewide Strategic Highway Safety Plans to the Federal Highway Administration in order to receive federal highway safety funds. Crowley says the SHSP “is used by state departments of transportation to outline safety needs and determine investment decisions” but that “surprisingly, federal law does not require SHSPs to include statistics on pedestrian injuries and fatalities.”

His bill [PDF] would require states to report on the rate of fatalities and serious injuries among pedestrians and “users of nonmotorized forms of transportation.” If those numbers go up, a state would have to explain in its SHSP how it will address the problem.

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