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Miami’s “Underline” — The Vision for a 10-Mile Greenway Beneath the Rails

Miami's "Underline" proposes making the derelict space under Miami's Metrorail into a "10-mile linear park." Image:

The “Underline” would remake the leftover space beneath Miami’s Metrorail as a 10-mile greenway. Image: The Underline

The idea for Miami’s “Underline” came to Meg Daly after she broke both her arms in 2013.

Unable to drive, Daly, who lives in Coral Gables, started taking Miami’s Metrorail to physical therapy. When she got off at her stop, she would walk the last mile under the shade of the elevated rail platform.

“I just kind of had this moment of discovery,” she told Streetsblog. “I ended up walking beneath the train tracks. I was like, ‘There’s so much space here.'” She thought the neglected but nicely shaded area could make for great walking and biking.

Now, just a few years later, a real plan for a 10-mile linear park called the Underline is moving forward. Daly heads the nonprofit group Friends of the Underline, which is finishing up the master plan for the project. The group received $650,000 for planning and design, funded by the city of Miami, the Knight Foundation, the Miami Foundation, and others.

The Underline would run 10 miles from South Miami, through Coral Gables and on to Miami's Brickell neighborhood under the elevated Metrorail platform by U.S. 1. Map: The Underline

The Underline would run 10 miles from South Miami, through Coral Gables and on to Miami’s Brickell neighborhood under the elevated Metrorail platform by U.S. 1. Map: The Underline

The Friends of the Underline vision is to create an inviting place for active transportation running through one of the most densely populated urban areas in the American South.

Miami’s Metrorail corridor runs 10 miles between South Miami, Coral Gables, and Miami, terminating in the walkable Brickell neighborhood. The corridor roughly parallels US-1, a traffic-clogged urban highway that runs up the eastern coast of Florida.

About 100,000 people live within a 10-minute walk, Daly says. But active transportation options are limited, largely because of South Florida’s notoriously wide, dangerous roads.

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Funds for Walking and Biking Under Attack in Congress This Week

Funds for walking and biking infrastructure account for a tiny portion of federal transportation spending. Safer streets don’t cost much, though, so for the cities and towns that count on these programs, a few dollars from the feds can be a huge help. Despite the relatively small sums at play, walking and biking programs are a constant target for a certain breed of hardline conservative in Congress. This year is no different.

Three proposed amendments to the House transportation bill take aim at programs that fund walking and biking infrastructure.

Georgia Republican Buddy Carter is leading a charge to eliminate the small pool of federal money that helps protect and support cyclists and pedestrians. Photo: Buddy Carter

Georgia Republican Buddy Carter is leading a charge to eliminate the small pool of federal money that supports walking and biking. Photo: Buddy Carter

Tomorrow these amendments will be considered in the Rules Committee, which will decide which get a vote by the full House of Representatives during a markup session Wednesday and Thursday, says Caron Whitaker, vice president of government relations for the League of American Bicyclists. People for Bikes, the League of American Bicyclists, and the Rails to Trails Conservancy are all urging supporters to contact their representatives and tell them to oppose these amendments.

Here’s a summary of what’s proposed:

Amendment 68 — Buddy Carter (R-Georgia)

What’s at stake: The flexibility to spend any funds from the Surface Transportation Program on walking or biking infrastructure.

What it would do: Amendment 68 would forbid funds from the $10 billion Surface Transportation Program from being spent on walking and biking projects. This program accounts for about one fifth of annual federal transportation spending, with a small fraction of that going toward biking and walking projects. In 2014, about $128 million from this program was allocated to walking and biking projects, according to FHWA.

Why it’s a bad idea: States and localities have been choosing to invest more STP money in biking and walking — especially since MAP 21, the current transportation law, reduced the dedicated pool of funding for those activities. That $128 million spent in 2014 represented an 83 percent increase over STP funding for biking and walking in 2009.

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House Dems: We Won’t Support a Transpo Bill That Cuts Bike/Ped Funding

House Democrats won’t stand for any cuts to federal funding for walking and biking infrastructure. That was the gist of a letter signed by every Democratic member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee last week.

Rick Larsen, a congressman representing parts of Washington State, rallied Democrats to support funding for biking, walking and transit. Photo: Rick Larsen

Rick Larsen, a congressman representing parts of Washington state, rallied Democrats to support funding for biking, walking, and transit. Photo: Rick Larsen

Groups aligned with the Koch brothers and their organization Americans for Prosperity have pushed to eliminate all federal funds for walking, biking, and transit. While Democrats are in the minority in the House, by coordinating as a bloc around this issue, they’re making it harder for the extreme elements in the Republican Party to roll back active transportation funding.

The letter, initiated by Washington representative Rick Larsen, states that Democratic committee members won’t support any bill that undermines the “Transportation Alternatives” program — the small pot of money dedicated to walking and biking.

“For the House transportation bill to be bipartisan, it must not cut funding for TAP or make policy changes that undermine the local availability of these dollars,” reads the letter, addressed to the committee’s two ranking Democratic members, Peter DeFazio (OR) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC):

Communities of all shapes and sizes — rural, urban and suburban — are clamoring for TAP dollars to give their residents lower-cost transportation options that reduce road congestion, improve safety for children and families, and boost quality of life. These types of projects are also essential to helping cities and counties increase property values, grow retail sales and attract tourism. While MAP-21 gave states the option of transferring up to half of TAP funds to other transportation priorities, just 10 percent of TAP funds have been transferred — clearly showing the demand for these funds across the country. This is a good program and it deserves to continue.

Congress has yet to make much progress on a long-term transportation bill to replace the previous bill, MAP-21, which expired last year. During the last transportation bill reauthorization process, biking and walking programs took a big hit. In an email to Streetsblog, Larsen said, “I do not want to see that happen again.”

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Surgeon General’s Warning: Unwalkable Places Are Hazardous to Your Health

Physical activity is essential to people’s health, but dangerous streets and spread-out, sprawling communities prevent Americans from getting enough of it, says the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy.

Murthy issued a call to action this morning to highlight how walking — and building walkable places — can benefit a nation where chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis afflict one in two people. Walking (or wheelchair rolling) is a simple and free way for people to get exercise, said Murthy, and even busy people can work it into their lives by making utilitarian trips on foot.

This isn’t the first time a surgeon general has highlighted the health benefits of walking, but it might be the strongest and clearest call to action of its kind so far.

Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued his Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities this morning. Screenshot from event.

Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued his Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities this morning.

The surgeon general’s campaign — #StepItUp — says explicitly that the transportation and planning professions should strive to improve public health through design that fosters walking. The first two goals of the call to action are to “make walking a national priority” and to “design communities that make it safe and easy to walk for people of all ages and abilities.”

“Thirty percent of Americans report they do not have sidewalks in neighborhoods,” Murthy said. “We can change that. We can change it by city planners, transportation professionals and local government leaders working together to improve the safety and walkability of neighborhoods for people with all abilities. Community leaders and the law enforcement can work together to make sure that no American is ever unsafe walking out the door.”

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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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The Top 10 American Cities Where You Can Find Jobs You Can Walk To

Can you hoof it to work? Photo: Public Domain Images

Is your job within walking distance? Photo: Public Domain Images

How many jobs are within a 10-minute walk of your home? How about 20 minutes? Chances are, there’s a lot more if you live in Philadelphia than in Memphis.

A new study [PDF] from the University of Minnesota ranks the 50 largest metro areas in America according to the accessibility of jobs by walking. Using “detailed pedestrian networks,” the researchers measured the number of jobs reachable in a 10-minute walk for the typical worker in each metro. Then they measured how many jobs were reachable within 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60 minutes. To create the city rankings, those figures were then weighted to emphasize the potential for short-distance walk commutes.

In top-rated New York City, for instance, about 5,000 jobs are within a 10-minute walk of the average residence. In lowest-rated Birmingham, it’s only 180 jobs.

You can check out where you city ranks here [PDF]. These are the 10 cities that came out on top:

  1. New York
  2. San Francisco
  3. Los Angeles
  4. Chicago
  5. Washington
  6. Seattle
  7. Boston
  8. Philadelphia
  9. San Jose
  10. Denver

Los Angeles fares a lot better in these rankings than in Walk Score’s, which prioritize the proximity of “amenities” of all types.

Authors Andrew Owen, David Levinson and Brendan Murphy say their rankings are mainly a function of employment and residential density. Cities that ranked highest, they point out, tend to have better transit systems as well. Cities seeking better accessibility have two avenues, the authors say: pursue policies that create more compact development and improve transit.


Russia’s Daredevil Pedestrian Safety Advocates

Have you ever thought about taking matters into your own hands when you see someone drive in the bike lane or block the sidewalk? Well, these Russians are living your vigilante traffic enforcement fantasy — and it looks absolutely terrifying.

A group of men calling themselves the “Stop a Douchebag” movement are willing to risk anything, even a bullet to the head, to protect the sidewalk from entitled drivers.

Wow. Russia’s traffic culture makes south Florida’s look tame.


Tulsa Mayor Hasn’t Ruled Out a Sidewalk Next to New Flagship Park

Earlier this week we reported on Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett’s decision to prevent construction of a sidewalk on Riverside Drive that would provide walking access to a major new city park. Local advocates say the lack of a sidewalk will make the park harder to get to on foot, and they don’t buy the mayor’s explanation that people will be safer if there’s no sidewalk tempting them to walk.

Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett won’t commit to building this sidewalk to provide direct walking access to the city’s major new park, but he hasn’t ruled it out either. Rendering: Smart Growth Tulsa Coalition

Residents who want the sidewalk have charged that the mayor nixed it after wealthy homeowners complained that it would attract “undesirables.”

In response, Bartlett’s office contacted Streetsblog, and the mayor himself insisted that his concerns about the sidewalk are purely safety related. He also said he isn’t opposed to a sidewalk, but he wants to evaluate different options. Here’s what he told us:

The street itself is very narrow and in rush hour traffic it’s very busy. I was born in Tulsa and I’ve lived here my whole life so I’m very aware of how fast people drive on that street. When the whole concept of the sidewalk came up… several people from the neighborhood, as well as several people that are the leaders of a very large homeowners association, expressed concern about the sidewalk, how it might impact their neighborhood.

One thing that did catch my attention, we had a discussion about the concern about public safety. The road itself has had numerous accidents.

The concept that was shown to me of a sidewalk, there’s a few feet between a sidewalk and a curb, and then a 3- or 4-foot-wide sidewalk. And then there would be a large fence. The problem to me is that if someone were to lose control at that point, and jump the curb there would be absolutely no way for a person walking to the park could escape. It could wipe out a lot of people. In the past month and a half there’s been three separate instances, three different cars have jumped the curb and driven into the sidewalk area and struck a telephone pole. If those were people they would have been hurt very badly and probably killed.

I asked Bartlett about implementing a road diet or other traffic calming measures to protect pedestrians. He said he’s asked his planning staff and engineering staff to start evaluating options like that.

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Tulsa Mayor Wants to Cut Off Sidewalk Access to City’s Fabulous New Park

Tulsa's planned $350 million new park, A Gathering Place, promises all the best in urban park amenities. But thanks to the city's mayor, it may lack sidewalk access. Image:

Tulsa’s new park, A Gathering Place, is supposed to provide an oasis to the public, but thanks to the city’s mayor, the public may have a hard time walking there. Image:

Tulsa, Oklahoma, is getting ready to build a new flagship park, called A Gathering Place — a $350 million project supported entirely by private foundations, most notably the Kaiser Family Foundation. The park will contain a skate park, sports fields, a boat house, views of the Arkansas River, a “swing hill” and all sorts of other goodies. But thanks to Mayor Dewey Bartlett, it might lack one very basic amenity: sidewalk access.

A few months ago, Bartlett, who is also president of the Keener Oil and Gas Company, issued an executive order eliminating plans for a sidewalk connection on Riverside Drive, an important north-south street that fronts the park and connects to downtown, not far away.

This rendering shows plans for a sidewalk on Riverside Drive. Image: Smart Growth Tulsa Coalition

Mayor Dewey Bartlett has tossed aside the most basic provision for walking access to the park: a sidewalk on Riverside Drive. Image: Smart Growth Tulsa Coalition

The finished park is expected to draw about 1 million visitors a year. But will any of them walk without adequate pedestrian access?

A growing coalition is demanding the the sidewalk be reinstated. About 300 people packed a City Council meeting late last month urging city officials to maintain pedestrian access. Because of fire codes, supporters actually had to be turned away, says Bill Leighty of the Smart Growth Tulsa Coalition, which has been organizing the campaign for sidewalks.

Leighty says the mayor’s decision violates the city’s complete streets program and seems to have been motivated by prejudice against people who would walk to the park.

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Talking Headways: Pro-Walk Pro-Bike Redux

podcast icon logoAfter a week at the Pro-Walk Pro-Bike Pro-Place Conference in Pittsburgh, it was all I could talk about — and luckily, Jeff was an eager audience.

In this podcast, Jeff and I talk about the relative utility of a character like Isabella, the new character People for Bikes created to make the case for safe, low-stress bikeways. We dig into the announcement that U.S. DOT is going to take on bike and pedestrian safety as one of its top issues. And we debate the pros and cons of holding the next Pro-Walk Pro-Bike in Vancouver.

There were hundreds of workshops, panels, presentations, and tours — not to mention countless side conversations, power lunches, and informal caucuses that were probably at least as energizing as the formal sessions — so my impressions are just one tiny slice of the pie. If you attended this year, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the conference, the host city, and your experience in the comments.

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