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Posts from the Bike/Ped Category

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From Minneapolis, Evidence That the Census Undercounts Walking and Biking

Biking jumped 58 percent in the Twin Cities region between 2000 and 2010. Photo: Wikipedia

Biking increased 58 percent in the Twin Cities region between 2000 and 2010. Photo: Wikipedia

The U.S. Census is the most widely cited source of data about how Americans get around. It’s updated regularly and it covers the whole country, but it comes up short in a number of ways. The Census only asks about commute trips, and commuting only accounts for about 16 percent of total household travel [PDF]. What happens when you measure the other 84 percent?

Researchers at the University of Minnesota set out to design a better way to track how people move around the Twin Cities region, and one key finding is that walking and biking appear to be growing a lot faster than the Census indicates.

The UMN survey asked about 1 percent of the region’s residents to keep a travel diary, recording every trip. This resembles the National Household Travel Survey, a more detailed but infrequently-conducted cousin to the Census data on commuting, but the sample collected by the UMN team was much bigger. That’s especially important for measuring less prevalent modes of travel like walking and biking. The UMN study also provided more detailed information about people’s origins and destinations than the National Household Travel Survey.

The UMN team found that driving decreased in the region between 2000 and 2010, while biking and walking grew. Cycling rose over that period from 1.4 to 2.2 percent of trips. That’s about 190,000 daily trips, or a 58 percent increase. Meanwhile, walking grew from 4.5 to 6.6 percent of trips, a 44 percent increase, or almost three quarters of a million daily trips. Residents of the Twin Cities region typically make about 12 million total daily trips.

What’s especially interesting is that the share of biking and walking trips in the UMN survey is much bigger than what the Census indicates — about two to three times larger.

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FHWA Will Help Cities Get Serious About Measuring Biking and Walking

This bike counter in San Francisco gives planners reliable, up-to-date data about biking rates. Photo: Aaron Bialick/Streetsblog SF

This counter in San Francisco gives planners reliable, up-to-date data about bike trips on Market Street. Photo: Aaron Bialick/Streetsblog SF

The lack of good data on walking and biking is a big problem. Advocates say current metrics yield a spotty and incomplete picture of how much, where, and why Americans walk and bike. The U.S. Census only tells us about commuting — a fairly small share of total trips. The more detailed National Household Transportation Survey comes with its own drawbacks: It’s conducted infrequently and doesn’t provide useful data at a local scale.

Without a good sense of people’s active transportation habits, it’s hard to draw confident conclusions not only about walking and biking rates, but also about safety and other critical indicators that can guide successful policy at the local level. A new program from the Federal Highway Administration aims to help fill the gap.

U.S. DOT announced today that FHWA will help local transportation planners gather more sophisticated data on walking and biking. The agency has selected metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) in 10 regions — Providence, Buffalo, Richmond, Puerto Rico, Palm Beach, Fresno, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Memphis — to lead its new “Bicycle-Pedestrian Count Technology Pilot Program.”

FHWA says the program will provide funding for equipment to measure biking and walking trips. Writing on U.S. DOT’s Fast Lane blog, FHWA Deputy Administrator Gregory Nadeau adds that “each MPO will receive technical assistance in the process of setting up the counters; uploading, downloading and analyzing the data; and –most importantly– using the data to improve the planning process in their community.”

The first counts will be available in December. Following the initial pilot, a second round of regions may be chosen to participate, Nadeau writes.

This would be an enormous improvement over what they do in Cleveland, where I live, as well as many other regions: recruit volunteers to stand at intersections with clipboards once a year and count cyclists by hand.

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Anthony Foxx Challenges Mayors to Protect Pedestrians and Cyclists

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx wants mayors to step up bike and pedestrian safety efforts. Photo: Building America's Future

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx speaking at the U.S. Conference of Mayors yesterday. Photo: Building America’s Future

With pedestrian and cyclist deaths accounting for a rising share of U.S. traffic fatalities and Congress not exactly raring to take action, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is issuing a direct challenge to America’s mayors to improve street safety. Yesterday Foxx unveiled the “Mayor’s Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets” at the U.S. Conference of Mayors Transportation Committee meeting in Washington.

Overall traffic deaths are on a downward trend in the U.S., but the reduction in pedestrian and cyclist fatalities is not keeping pace with improvements for car occupants. Pedestrians and bicyclists now account for 17 percent of all traffic fatalities in the U.S., and most of these deaths are in urban areas, Foxx noted.

Back in September, Foxx told the Pro-Walk/Pro-Bike/Pro-Place conference in Pittsburgh that U.S. DOT is “putting together the most comprehensive, forward-leaning initiative U.S. DOT has ever put forward on bike/ped issues.” The Mayor’s Challenge fleshes out that initiative to some extent.

Foxx wants mayors to implement seven key recommendations from U.S. DOT. In March, mayors and local leaders will convene at DOT headquarters to discuss how to put the recommendations into practice. Participating cities will implement the strategies in the following year, with assistance from U.S. DOT.

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Life-Saving Truck Design Fix Sidelined By Federal Inaction

This is the second post in a Streetsblog NYC series about safety features for large vehicles. Part one examined the case for truck side guards and New York City’s attempt to require them for its fleet.

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Large trucks operating in New York City are not required to have side guards to protect pedestrians and cyclists. Photo: dos82/Flickr

American cities are beginning to take the lead on requiring side guards on large trucks in municipal fleets. That’s a good first step toward saving lives, but without addressing privately-owned vehicles, city streets will not be safe from trucks that tend to crush people beneath the rear wheels after impact. The federal government continues to drag its feet, and without a national mandate, the prospects for meaningful action from the states look slim.

Last year, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended installing side guards on all large trucks, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which regulates truck design, has yet to pass a rule requiring them. NHTSA says it might begin soliciting input on new trailer guard rules by the middle of next year. Traditionally, the agency has focused on guards for the back end of trucks, which protect car occupants in rear-end collisions. There’s no guarantee that any progress toward new rules next year will include side guards.

In the absence of federal rules requiring side guards for trucks, New York state and local legislators have taken tentative steps toward addressing the problem. Albany’s previous attempts at similar legislation don’t inspire confidence, however. A recently enacted state law mandates “crossover” mirrors to reduce the size of blind spots in front of trucks weighing at least 26,000 pounds that operate on New York City streets. Enforcement of the mirror law is dismal, in part because of a loophole that exempts trucks registered out-of-state. The ultimate fix would be a national crossover mirror mandate, but the federal government has not shown any inclination to take that up.

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DeFazio, Norton, and Larsen Take on Dangerous Street Design

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) is already proving that he’ll put some muscle into the fight for bike and pedestrian safety in his new post as ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Before even starting his new job as Ranking Member on the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Peter DeFazio is going to bat for bike and pedestrian safety. Photo: ##http://bikeportland.org/2012/03/27/rep-defazio-takes-us-inside-the-transportation-fight-and-the-republican-psyche-69482##Jonathan Maus/Bike Portland##

Before even starting his new job as ranking member on the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Peter DeFazio is going to bat for bike and pedestrian safety. Photo: Jonathan Maus/Bike Portland

DeFazio and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), top Democrat on the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, have signed on to fellow T&I Democrat Rick Larsen (D-WA)’s letter asking the Government Accountability Office to look into the recent rise in bike and pedestrian fatalities, which increased 6 percent between 2011 and 2012.

At the state and federal level, efforts to improve the safety of walking and biking often blame the victim — as the Governors Highway Safety Association did when it flagged the recent increase in cyclist fatalities without noting that biking rates have gone up much more. DeFazio and company are emphasizing a much more fundamental problem: street design.

In their letter, they state:

[W]e are concerned that conventional engineering practices have encouraged engineers to design roads at 5-15 miles per hour faster than the posted speed for the street. This typically means roads are designed and built with wider, straighter lanes and have fewer objects near the edges, more turn lanes, and wider turning radii at intersections. While these practices improve driving safety, a suspected unintended consequence is that drivers travel faster when they feel safer. Greater speeds can increase the frequency and severity of crashes with pedestrians and cyclists who are moving at much slower speeds and have much less protection than a motorized vehicle affords.

The GAO responds to lawmaker requests like these by investigating the matter and reporting back to help members of Congress develop a deeper understanding of the issues so they can set better policy. The GAO itself makes recommendations for improvement in the reports.

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Poll: Support for Active Transportation Funding Is High Across Party Lines

Seventy-four percent of Americans want to maintain or increase federal funding for biking and walking. Image: ##http://www.railstotrails.org/resourcehandler.ashx?id=5088##RTC##

Seventy-four percent of Americans want to maintain or increase federal funding for biking and walking. Image: RTC

When will Congress debate a new transportation bill? Your guess is as good as mine (May 31 expiration date of the current extension notwithstanding). But here’s some advice for whenever they do: Increase federal funding for biking and walking. Your voters demand it.

The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy wanted to know whether Americans support this kind of funding, which is subjected to regular attacks from the right. So RTC contracted two leading polling firms — one Democratic, on Republican — to ask 1,000 people what they thought.

Turns out strong majorities support increasing or maintaining current levels of federal investment in walking and biking paths, regardless of party affiliation. Four times as many voters favor boosting or maintaining funding as cutting it:

Republicans support biking and walking too, by a margin better than 2:1. Image: RTC

Republicans support biking and walking too, by a margin better than 2:1. Image: RTC

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Study: Safe Routes to School Programs Boost Walking and Biking 30%

In just two generations, the share of American kids who walk or bike to school has plummeted — dropping from 50 percent in 1969 to 13 percent today. Can the trend be reversed? Yes, according to new research that shows the impact of street safety infrastructure and other programs implemented with federal Safe Routes to School (SRTS) funds.

Photo: United Way

study published in this quarter’s Journal of the American Planning Association found that over time, SRTS programs produce significant increases in the share of children who walk or bike to school — an effect that grows more pronounced over time. The average increase in walking and biking rates attributable to SRTS programs over a five-year period was 31 percent, the researchers concluded.

The authors examined 801 schools in Florida, Oregon, Texas, and the District of Columbia, using data collected by the National Center for Safe Routes to School from 2007 to 2012 — yielding data from 378 schools with SRTS programs and 423 without. They say the study is the first SRTS research based on such a large geographic sample of schools, enabling them to isolate the effect of different types of Safe Routes to School strategies.

The effect of “education and encouragement” programs grew over time, with SRTS schools seeing progressively larger differences in each successive year. Over five years, the researchers found, this tactic led to a 25 percent increase in walking and biking to school, controlling for demographic differences, neighborhood characteristics, and other factors. Meanwhile, infrastructure investments like safer sidewalks or bike lanes led to a one-time 18 percent increase.

While Safe Routes to School programs work, they’re also in jeopardy. Federal funding for SRTS was cut in the last transportation bill, and that fight is expected to resume once Congress takes up the next one.

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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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