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Posts from the "Pedestrian Infrastructure" Category

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Greater Atlanta Continues to Treat Walking Like a Crime

Despite the national outrage over the Raquel Nelson case, officials in metro Atlanta continue to treat pedestrians like criminals.

Simply crossing the street can, and often does, land Atlanta area pedestrians a citation. Photo: Creative Loafing

Last Wednesday, a 35-year-old woman was hospitalized after being struck by a vehicle while attempting to cross a road in northwest Atlanta. A local Fox affiliate reports that the woman suffered injuries and is in “stable” condition. But police have already decided she, not the driver, was at fault. The victim is being charged with ”pedestrian in the roadway,” a legal term for “jaywalking.”

Sally Flocks, director of Atlanta’s pedestrian advocacy organization, PEDS, says it is not unusual for police officers in the region to cite and fault pedestrians involved in collisions, even as they’re lying in hospital beds.

“For the cops, I think it gives them closure” to fault one of the parties, she said. “They could cite the driver for failing to show due care. They tend not to do that.”

Part of the problem is that Georgia has one of the most draconian pedestrian laws in the country. Last year, the Georgia legislature passed a law that made it illegal for pedestrians and runners to use the roadway if there are sidewalks on the road.

“It’s being interpreted by police officers to make it illegal to cross the street,” Flocks said.

The sad fact is that many of Atlanta’s sidewalks are in terrible condition; the city had to pay $4 million in injury settlements last year as a result. Meanwhile, in the suburbs, pedestrians get cited for crossing the street outside of a marked or unmarked crosswalk. But “jaywalking” laws aren’t really designed to be applied outside of downtown areas, Flocks said.

PEDS documented at least one case earlier this year where police misinterpreted the law and wrongly charged a pedestrian. The organization has since begun a campaign to properly inform police officers and judges that every intersection is a crosswalk, even if it’s not marked. Under Georgia law, pedestrians are only required to be inside a crosswalk if they are between two signalized intersections, Flocks said.

Even worse, despite discrimination claims around the Raquel Nelson case, local pedestrian advocates have reason to believe the law is being applied unevenly. Flocks said the citations tend to be concentrated in low-income and Hispanic neighborhoods. Streetsblog has submitted a public records request with the Atlanta Police Department inquiring about the races of those cited for “pedestrian in a roadway.” We will report those results when we receive them.

Atlanta was named the 11th most dangerous metro for walking last year by Transportation for America.

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FHWA: Small Investments in Bike/Ped Infrastructure Can Pay Off in a Big Way

Before and after: Sidewalk on Marshall Avenue, St. Paul. Source: Bike Walk Twin Cities

If you ever doubted whether a small investment in biking and walking could have a large impact, here is your proof.

The last transportation law, SAFETEA-LU, provided four communities with four years of funding to build an infrastructure network for nonmotorized transportation (a fancy way of saying “sidewalks and bike paths”). It wasn’t a lot of money — $25 million each to Columbia, Missouri; Marin County, California; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Sheboygan County, Wisconsin.

The program built 333 miles of on-street biking and walking routes, 23 of off-street facilities, and 5,727 bike parking spaces in the four municipalities — not to mention some outreach and education. Not bad, especially when you consider that $100 million would only buy about five miles of new four-lane highway in an urbanized area [PDF].

Total two-hour bicycling and walking counts for all pilot communities, fall 2007 and fall 2010. Source: FHWA Report to the U.S. Congress on the Outcomes of the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program

FHWA summed up the results in its report on the outcomes of the pilot program [PDF]:
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New WHO Tool Calculates the Health Savings of Bike/Ped Infrastructure

Sidewalks, bike lanes, traffic calming projects — they save lives. Not just by protecting cyclists and pedestrians (not to mention motorists), but by encouraging physical activity that leads to a healthy life.

La Mesa crosswalk

How much will that new traffic calming project benefit society? A new tool from the World Health Organization puts a figure on it. Photo: Tom Fudge/KPBS

Of course, it can be hard to convince politicians to see things in those terms when it’s time to pony up for walking and biking infrastructure. That is the brilliance of this new tool from the World Health Organization.

The WHO, which is on a mission to rein in the worldwide epidemic of traffic deaths and injuries, has developed a tool that measures the health impacts of bike and pedestrian infrastructure projects, calculating cost-benefit analyses as well as the economic value of reduced mortality.

Of course you need to do a little advance preparation before using the tool. You’ll need to have a fair amount of information about local travel habits at your disposal. (For example, you’ll be prompted to estimate the percentage of people who currently take walking trips and the average length of the trip.) But it’s the type of info your local metro planning agency should have publicly available. Worst case scenario, you have to perform a survey.

The tool is recommended for planners and engineers as well as advocacy groups.

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Is Congress Trying to Put the Kibosh on TIGER Funding For Bike/Ped?

Philadelphia's bike/ped network was one of four recipients of exclusively bike/ped TIGER grants. (And no, four is not too many.) Photo: Phila. Ped and Bicycle Plan

Did TIGER spend too much money on bicycle and pedestrian programs? That’s the question Larry Ehl at Transportation Issues Daily is asking. After all, Congress appears to be encouraging USDOT to spend TIGER grant money on something — anything — other than bike/ped.

It’s right there in the 2012 transportation appropriation bill, which President Obama signed into law November 18. The TIGER section includes this mandate: “The conferees direct the Secretary to focus on road, transit, rail and port projects.” It doesn’t specifically say anything about bicycles and pedestrians, but reading between the lines, it’s easy to see what they mean. And as Ehl says, it’s a warning for USDOT to “tread lightly, or risk giving TIGER opponents more reasons to eliminate future funding for the program.”

Ehl suggests we “look at the actual numbers” and decide for ourselves:

  • TIGER I (Recovery Act) allocated $43,500,000 to two exclusively bike-ped projects.  That was about 3% of the $1,498,000,000 awarded and 4% of the 51 projects.
  • TIGER II allocated $25,200,000 to two exclusively bike-ped projects.  That was 4.5% out of the $556,500,000 awarded to capital projects and about 5% of the 42 projects. (TIGER II also awarded $27,500,000 for 33 planning grants.)
In addition to the four bike/ped projects TIGER supported, Ehl notes, there were “quite a few highway, transit and rail projects that included a bike-ped component, such as adding sidewalks.” He lists them all in his post.
Still, that’s 4.5 percent of all TIGER funds that went to exclusively bike/ped projects in the first two rounds. Considering that trips by foot and by bike make up about 12 percent of all trips, a 4.5 percent share of funding doesn’t seem like too much. In fact, it seems like it’s just barely beginning to balance out a transportation system that’s been far too skewed toward road projects for far too long.
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Transforming Tysons Corner: A High-Stakes Suburban Retrofit

This is the old Tysons Corner. Photo: Restonian

“That strip mall just got rezoned for high rise buildings.” “These auto dealerships are going to disappear.”

Those aren’t words you hear very often in suburbia, but if you’re hanging out in Tysons Corner, Virginia, you’d better get used to it. This office enclave, which sits dead center between Washington, DC and Dulles International Airport, is experiencing a rare and dramatic transformation – from traffic-choked “edge city” to walkable urban center.

Fifty years ago this area was dairy farms. But fueled by employment at the headquarters of several major defense contractors, Tysons is now the 12th biggest business district in the country, and the single biggest outside a major city. Even during the recession, office vacancy has stayed comparatively low at 14 percent.

The new Tysons Corner. Image: Fairfax County

Tysons is also a retail heavyweight, with the fifth biggest shopping mall in the U.S. And no wonder – it sits in Fairfax County, consistently ranked one of the wealthiest in the country.

But even with all these jobs and shopping opportunities, it lacks people. There are 105,000 jobs in Tysons but only 17,000 residents. Nobody lives there.

Almost four years ago, Time gave Tysons this back-handed compliment: “That it is also a strip-malled, traffic-clogged mess does not take away from the fact that it is one of the great economic success stories of our time.”

All of this presents a unique opportunity for planners. How do you take an existing business district — dysfunctional but also thriving in its own way — and re-fashion it into a real urban center? And how do you get community support for a project that’s going to mean decades of disruptive construction and the uprooting of much existing infrastructure?

Fairfax County planner Tracy Strunk admits that re-planning something this big is incredibly ambitious. While they looked to development along the much-lauded Rosslyn-Ballston metro corridor for inspiration, “You get a few blocks from Rosslyn station and you’re in single-family detached. This isn’t going to be single-family detached.”

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The Last Mile: How Bike-Ped Improvements Can Connect People to Transit

Whether it’s just a short walk down the street or a five-mile bike ride, the journey between home and station is a major factor in people’s decision to take public transit.

Bike-share can bridge the last mile for public transit. Photo: Flickr/Arlington Country

For the transit officials and livability advocates gathered at the Rail~Volution conference this week, that key piece of the journey is known as the Last Mile. Frequent service and affordable fares, on their own, won’t entice people to make that trip. The route to the station also has to appeal to pedestrians and bicyclists.

Every transit trip is a multi-modal journey, pointed out Alan Lehto, director of project planning for TriMet in Portland, at the start of a panel yesterday. “Everybody who rides transit is a pedestrian or cyclist on at least one end of their trip,” Lehto said. “Getting people to and from the station is fundamentally important.”

But that aspect of transit is often overlooked. In fact, look no further than Portland itself, Lehto said. In a recent study, TriMet evaluated all 7,000 bus and transit stations within the region and found major gaps in bike-ped accessibility. “We realized that 1,500 of those don’t even have a sidewalk,” Lehto said.

Ensuring that transit stations are served by adequate pedestrian infrastructure is the bare minimum required to connect people to transit. Making the Last Mile truly appealing takes more than laying down sidewalks and adding a few bike racks.

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Last-Minute Deal Preserves Bike/Ped Funding. But For How Long?

UPDATED with comments from Sen. Tom Coburn’s staff.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) has relented on his push to strip Transportation Enhancement funding from the six-month surface transportation extension, clearing the way for Senate passage last night and a White House signature today.

Sen. Barbara Boxer says dedicated funding for bike/ped projects is preserved, though Sen. Coburn appears satisfied that Transportation Enhancements is dead. Photo: AP

In exchange for releasing his stranglehold on the Senate (and the estimated 80,000 workers that could lose their jobs, at least temporarily, if the FAA bill lapsed) Coburn will get to insert his language into the long-term bill, when this latest extension expires.

According to CQ Today, Coburn said, “We’ve got an agreement that the next bill will be an opt-out for people on enhancements.” James Inhofe, the top Republican on the EPW committee which wrote the bill, “seems to have played a key role in brokering the deal,” CQ Today reports.

After the vote, Boxer quibbled with Coburn’s description of what will be in the next highway bill. Boxer said she and Inhofe had worked out “reforms” in the transportation enhancements section of the bill and met with Coburn to discuss them before the deal was worked out.

“We felt he would be pleased with the reforms,” she said. “It gives flexibility, without doing damage to the important programs in there.”

Boxer said Coburn made clear that he was “not going to vote for any more extensions” but allowed the current highway funding extension to move forward. “There’s not an opt-out,” she said. “You’ll see what we did. But no, there’s no opt-out. . . . There’s still dedicated funding. It gives more flexibility to the states as to how they will use that funding… It’s flexibility for the states within the transportation enhancements program.”

Clearly, Boxer is in a tight spot, having to placate some of the most conservative members of the Senate while also satisfying the active transportation advocates, in her state and around the country, who have held her feet to the fire on saving dedicated funds for bike/ped programs.

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Coburn Blocks Quick Senate Vote on Transportation Extension

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) has placed a “hold” on the transportation extension, along with a bill to continue sanctions against Burma and to provide disaster relief to areas affected by Hurricane Irene and other storms.

Sen. Tom Coburn. Photo: TPM

When just one senator objects to a “unanimous consent” vote — the quickest way for the body to pass legislation — the leader has to allow for 30 hours of debate. Coburn has an amendment he wants to introduce, and he was concerned that Majority Leader Harry Reid wasn’t going to allow for amendments. Coburn’s action ensures that he will be able to bring his measure to the floor. The amendment, as we have reported, would eliminate the 1.5 percent of federal transportation funds that go to Transportation Enhancements, about half of which is spent on bicycle and pedestrian programs.

Reid isn’t happy about Coburn’s use of the hold to delay important legislation. “It’s a pretty good way to legislate around here, be a dictator and say either take this or leave that,” Reid was quoted as saying in a story by CQ.

In addition to his amendment to strip TE funds, Coburn wants to offer an amendment that would offset the cost of the disaster aid, so that it doesn’t add to the deficit.

As we’ve said, the votes will still go through, just more slowly. And while we at Streetsblog are no experts on the disaster relief bill, we think the odds look good that enough senators will be frustrated with Coburn’s insistence on slowing down the process that they will vote against his push to kill Transportation Enhancements.

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How Dangerous is Sen. Coburn’s Amendment to Kill Bike/Ped Funding?

The 12 programs that make up Transportation Enhancements. Source: National Transportation Enhancements Clearinghouse

For the last few days, we’ve been talking a lot about Sen. Tom Coburn’s crusade to remove bike/ped funding from the transportation bill — even just from the six-month extension that just passed the House and is on its way to the Senate. He’s determined to insert an amendment to take out the funds.

Ever the gentleman, Coburn had his office contact the Rails-to-Trail Conservancy, a principal supporter of Transportation Enhancement funding, since rail-trails are one of a dozen uses for the funds. Coburn’s office let RTC know that the senator would be introducing an amendment to eliminate TE funding.

Kevin Mills, vice president of policy at RTC, emphasizes that Coburn wants to eliminate the federal mandate to spend certain federal dollars on certain programs. There would no longer be dedicated funding for bike and pedestrian projects, but they would still be eligible for federal money. Without a federal mandate, however, many states hardly spend any money on active transportation at all.

Mills said that Coburn’s office left no doubt that the senator would do whatever it takes to force a vote on TE. Senate leadership is determined to pass a clean extension and wanted, like the House, to have a simple, amendment-free process. If leadership refuses to entertain Coburn’s amendment, many expect that Coburn will filibuster, though his office won’t explicitly say so.

If he does filibuster, all that means is that it’ll take 60 senators to bring the extension bill to a vote (without Coburn’s amendment). Bike advocacy groups are clearly worried about this possibility. But the facts are enough to give us hope.

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Boxer Confirms Bike-Ped Funding, Gang of Six Loves infrastructure Spending

At today’s hearing, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee celebrated the bipartisan consensus it has reached on a new transportation reauthorization – but details of that consensus are still not public. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) did confirm that dedicated federal funding for bicycle and pedestrian programs remains in the bill. Addressing LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa:

A full bike rack outside the Senate building where today's EPW hearing was held. Photo: Tanya Snyder.

You’ve worked with us on Safe Routes to Schools, because that’s so crucial, and we kept it, and bike paths, and we kept it, and recreational trails, and we kept it. Tough debates, giving here, taking there. But that has remained in the bill.

The reauthorization negotiations have been largely overshadowed by the ongoing talks over the debt ceiling. For a long time it appeared that if the debt talks had any impact on the transportation program, it would be to institutionalize the 33 percent cuts mandated by House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan’s budget. However, as Boxer mentioned a few times during today’s hearing, the outlook is looking brighter.

The bipartisan Gang of Six has a plan to cut the deficit and raise the debt ceiling. That plan calls for very little spending – but the one area they did see fit to spend on was infrastructure. The Gang of Six plan calls for the following:

Tax reform must be estimated to provide $1 trillion in additional revenue to meet plan targets and generate an additional $133 billion by 2021, without raising the federal gas tax, to ensure improved solvency for the Highway Trust Fund.

According to our sources, that additional revenue would stabilize the trust fund for the next 10 years.

The vote of confidence by the Gang of Six is encouraging and should be a shot in the arm to the Senate. If that debt plan passes, it could even give House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica enough political cover to raise the total price tag of his bill.

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