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Posts from the "Studies & Reports" Category

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America’s Progress on Street Safety Is Pathetic

This map shows traffic fatalities per 100,000 residents. Image: International Transport Forum

This map shows traffic fatalities per 100,000 residents. Image: International Transport Forum. Click to enlarge

A new report from the International Transport Forum shows America is only falling farther behind all of its peer nations on street safety [PDF].

The traffic fatality rate in the United States (10.7 per 100,000 people) is nearly four times higher than in the United Kingdom (2.8 per 100,000) and close to double that of Canada (5.8). To put that in perspective, if America had the same traffic fatality rate as the U.K., around 25,000 fewer people would be killed every year.

America’s street safety record puts it near the bottom of the ITF’s ranking of 35 countries, far behind most other developed nations.

Image: International Transport Forum

Image: International Transport Forum

Traffic deaths have generally been declining in America, but not nearly as fast as in other countries. From 2000 to 2012, the U.S. managed to lower traffic death rates just 20 percent. Even Australia, another laggard that ITF grouped among nations with the “least success” reducing traffic deaths, still managed to cut fatalities 28.5 percent. Meanwhile, high performers Denmark, Spain, and Portugal all reduced fatality rates 65 percent or more over the same period.

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Removing Center Lines Reduced Speeding on London Streets

Traffic speeds slowed after London removed center lines. Image: Transport for London

Traffic speeds slowed after London resurfaced three streets and didn’t restore center lines, even though resurfacing alone was shown to increase average speeds. Graphic: Transport for London

On some streets, getting drivers to stop speeding might be as easy as eliminating a few stripes. That’s the finding from a new study from Transport for London [PDF].

On Seven Sisters Road, average speeds fell about 7 miles per hour after centerlines were removed. Image: Transport for London

On Seven Sisters Road, average speeds fell after center lines were removed. Photos: Transport for London

TfL recently examined the effect of eliminating center lines on three London streets. The agency found it slowed average driving speeds between 5 and 9 miles per hour, after taking into account the effect of resurfacing. (All three streets were also repaved, which has been shown to increase driving speeds.)

The experiment was performed last year on three 30 mph roads that had just been resurfaced, where center lines were not repainted. A fourth street was resurfaced and had its center lines painted back to serve as a control.

Researchers found that drivers slowed down on all the three streets without center lines. On Seven Sisters Road, for example, after the resurfacing, northbound speeds dropped 2.5 mph and southbound speeds fell 4.1 mph.

Those changes appear to understate the impact of removing the center lines. When TfL observed traffic on the control street, motorist speeds had increased an average of 4.5 mph. Apparently, the smoother road surface encouraged drivers to pick up the speed, making the reductions on the three other streets more impressive.

Researchers suggested that the uncertainty caused by the removal of center lines makes drivers more cautious:

A theory is that centre lines and hatching can provide a psychological sense of confidence to drivers that no vehicles will encroach on ‘their’ side of the road. There can also be a tendency for some drivers to position their vehicles close to a white line regardless of the traffic conditions, believing it is their ‘right’ to be in this position. Centre line removal introduces an element of uncertainty which is reflected in lower speeds.

When it comes to center lines, TfL notes, “most traffic engineers prescribe them by default without questioning the necessity.” London appears to be reevaluating this assumption after a 2009 directive from Mayor Boris Johnson to eliminate as much clutter from the roadways as possible.

Hat tip Jeff Speck.

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The Secrets of Successful Transit Projects — Revealed!

Green Line Trax at Gallivan Plaza

The Trax light rail system in Salt Lake City has the hallmarks of high-ridership transit. Photo: CountyLemonade/Flickr

All across America, cities are investing in new transit lines. Which of these routes will make the biggest impact by attracting large numbers of new riders? A landmark report from a team of researchers with the University of California at Berkeley identifies the factors that set successful transit investments apart from the rest.

The secret sauce is fairly simple, when you get down to it: Place a transit line where it will connect a lot of people to a lot of jobs and give it as much grade-separated right-of-way as possible, and it will attract a lot of riders.

What makes the work of the Berkeley researchers, led by Daniel G. Chatman, remarkable is that it compiles decades of real-world data to predict how many people will ride a given transit route. Their conclusions should bolster efforts to maximize the effectiveness of new transit investments.

The report authors examined 140-plus factors to build these ridership models, based on data collected from 55 “fixed guideway” transit projects, including rail and bus rapid transit routes, built in 18 metropolitan areas between 1974 and 2008.

They found the success of a transit project is almost synonymous with whether it serves areas that are dense in both jobs and population and have expensive parking — in short, lively urban neighborhoods. In the report’s model, the combination of these factors explains fully 62 percent of the ridership difference between transit projects.

Surprisingly, the only design factor that seemed to have a significant effect on ridership was whether the route is grade-separated (in a tunnel or on a viaduct). In isolation, transit speed, frequency, or reliability did not have significant impacts, but the great advantage of grade-separated routes is that they can run quickly and reliably through high-density areas.

While it may seem like common sense to put transit routes where they will connect people to jobs, agencies don’t always choose the best routes — often opting for expedience over effectiveness. Salt Lake City’s FrontRunner commuter rail service, for instance, very closely parallels a newly widened I-15, and many stations are located in low-density industrial or residential areas. Ridership has fallen short of expectations.

Elsewhere in Salt Lake City, the authors identify the University/Medical Center Trax light rail route as a good example of a high-ridership transit project. It connects major high-wage job centers — notably the university, its hospital, and downtown — and also many leisure destinations like museums, sports stadiums, the state fair park, concert halls, and nearly half of the region’s hotel rooms. Locals have embraced light rail as an alternative to costly parking, as well: Parking demand on the growing University of Utah campus has fallen 30 percent since the route opened. The route carries 78 percent more riders than initially projected.

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Protected Bike Lanes Make the “Interested But Concerned” Feel Safer Biking

Portland State University study, June 2014

If you like painted bike lanes, you’ll probably love protected bike lanes.

That’s a key finding from the first academic study of U.S. protected lanes, released this week, which surveyed 1,111 users of eight protected lanes in five cities around the country and 2,301 people who live near them.

Among people whose most important reason for not using a bicycle for transportation is that they feel uncomfortable on the streets — a vast swath of city-dwelling Americans that Portland Bicycle Coordinator Roger Geller dubbed the “interested but concerned” in a famous 2006 white paper — there’s been scientific evidence for a few years that painted bike lanes make them feel slightly more comfortable. As cities across the country have followed Portland’s lead by striping major streets with bike lanes, the science has been verified on both counts: The share of urban bike commuters has risen just about everywhere … slightly.

Now, Monday’s study offers scientific evidence that protected bike lanes make the same group of Americans feel more comfortable.

Fully 96 percent of people surveyed while riding in protected bike lanes said the plastic posts or parked-car barriers increased the safety of biking in the street. In fact, so did 80 percent of nearby residents, whether they ride a bicycle or not.

Among nearby residents who either currently bike for transportation but feel uncomfortable riding in painted bike lanes on major streets, or who want to bike more despite feeling uncomfortable in painted bike lanes — the feeling of increased safety was particularly strong: 88 percent of those people said the protected lanes were safer.

Even among people who said they had previously experienced a “near collision” while riding in the protected lane, 94 percent said the protected lanes had made the streets safer than they were before.

Separation barriers don’t need to be fancy to get the job done.

These projects drew overwhelming safety and comfort ratings even though many stretches of the protected lanes studied used nothing except flexible plastic posts to separate bikes and cars. In fact, when asked to rate their comfort levels from 1 to 6, more users of protected lanes said they felt comfortable with plastic posts than with parked cars or even a raised concrete curb:

Portland State University study, June 2014

We’re not saying that good protected lane intersections are a snap to design or that no one has ever been hurt in them; every type of intersection sees some injuries.

But when 96 percent of people using the lanes report them to be safer, cities should take note.

You can follow The Green Lane Project on Twitter or Facebook or sign up for its weekly news digest about protected bike lanes.

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Get Ready for a Landmark Study of America’s Protected Bike Lanes

portland moody bend 570

pfb logo 100x22

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.

It’s a sign of how new the modern protected bike lane is to the United States that we haven’t actually known very much about them, scientifically speaking.

Until now.

Most academic studies of modern protected lanes have relied on data from countries where culture, land use, street design and social behavior are dramatically different (the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany) or from Canada, which has led the North American protected lane revolution.

Three widely noticed Canadian studies, led by Harvard’s Ann Lusk, the University of British Columbia’s Kay Teschke and Ryerson University’s Anne Harris, focused mostly on safety. And though all three concluded that protected bike lanes greatly improve bike safety (28 percent fewer injuries per mile compared to comparable streets with no bike infrastructure using Lusk’s methodology, 90 percent fewer using Teschke’s; in Harris’s study, protected lanes reduced intersection risk by about 75 percent), they’ve drawn some thoughtful criticism for under-examining the importance of intersections, where most bike-related conflicts arise.

Today, Portland State University’s National Institute of Transportation and Communities released its voluminous findings from a far more wide-ranging study of protected bike lane intersections in five U.S. cities. It’s based on 204 hours of video footage that captured the movement patterns of 16,000 people on bicycles and 20,000 turning cars; on 2,301 surveys with people who live near the facilities; and 1,111 surveys of people using the protected lanes.

“This has never been done on this scale — having five cities and a number of different sites being done at the same time,” NITC spokesman Justin Carinci said in an interview Monday. “The number of hours of video review is unprecedented. But the perceptions piece is really the most definitive of it: This is a big enough sample that we could say for each of the [projects], people feel safe riding them. People say we should have more of them.”

The new study was co-funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Summit Foundation and PeopleForBikes. The team was led by PSU’s Christopher Monsere, Jennifer Dill, Kelly Clifton and Nathan McNeil. You can download the whole report immediately, but if you want the Cliff’s Notes, we’ll be digging into this huge study on the Green Lane Project blog and here on Streetsblog USA one angle at a time, all this week:

  • Tuesday: How protected lanes affect ridership
  • Wednesday: Protected bike lanes and intersection safety
  • Thursday: What protected lanes can’t do
  • Friday: Finally, scientific evidence that changes to auto parking make people crazy

Stay tuned – for those of us who see the potential for bikes to improve cities, the findings are exciting and the notes of caution are useful. We’ll be here all week.

You can follow The Green Lane Project on Twitter or Facebook or sign up for its weekly news digest about protected bike lanes.

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8 Takeaways From the Bike League’s Study of Cyclist Fatalities

Track and field coach and mother Trish Cunningham, age 50, was killed while riding her bike in Annapolis, Maryland, in 2013. Photo: League of American Bicyclists

Track and field coach and mother Trish Cunningham, 50, was killed while riding her bike in Annapolis, Maryland, in 2013. Photo: League of American Bicyclists

When someone is killed while riding a bike in the United States, the most follow-up you’ll usually see is a newspaper article or two. There’s rarely a trial or a detailed examination of what went wrong.

The federal government tracks bike fatalities, but only to a limited extent. We don’t have great data about the wider story: who’s harmed and what factors are leading to these preventable deaths.

The League of American Bicycists wanted to go deeper. Between February 2011 to February 2013, the organization sifted through hundreds of cases from across the country. Using newspaper and television reports and blogs, they were able to get a closer look at 628 individual cases and tease out some patterns.

The cases they examined don’t account for every bike fatality during the study period (more like a third of them), but they are instructive. The League also supplemented its research with data from the NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).

Below are some of the takeaways from the Bike League’s summary of its findings [PDF]:

1. Most fatalities occur on urban arterial roads

Fatalities were concentrated on high-speed “arterials” designed to speed motor vehicle traffic through urban areas. The second most frequent road category for cycling fatalities was local streets in urban areas.

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State DOTs Let Roads Fall Apart While Splurging on Highway Expansion

States spend more than half their money on new construction. Image: Smart Growth America

States spend more than half their road money on adding lanes and new highways. Image: Smart Growth America

Even though 33 percent of its roads are in “poor” condition, West Virginia spends about 73 percent of its road budget building new roads and adding lanes. Mississippi spends 97 percent of its road money on expansion. Texas, 82 percent.

Smart Growth America reports that the 50 states and the District of Columbia, combined, devote 55 percent of their road spending — $20.4 billion a year — to expansions, according to data states provide to the Federal Highway Administration. Between 2009 and 2011, that investment added 8,822 lane miles to the nation’s highway system — meaning that more than half of states’ road dollars were dedicated to less than 1 percent of their roads.

Meanwhile, states spent $16.5 billion annually, or 45 percent of their total road budgets, maintaining and repairing the other 99 percent of the nation’s roads.

In total, 21 percent of America’s roads are in “poor” condition, based on an international index that measures ride quality and surface smoothness. And the condition of the nation’s roads is getting worse. The last time Smart Growth America checked in, in 2008, 41 percent were in “good” condition. By 2011, that figure was down to 37 percent.

“States are adding to a system they are failing to maintain,” said Steve Ellis of the nonpartisan watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, which co-funded the study, in a webinar hosted by SGA this morning. “Every new lane mile is a lane that will eventually have to be repaired.”

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“Really, Dude? Opposition Is So 70s”: Local Officials Talk Bike Policy

Carolyn Szczepanski is the Bike League’s communications director. A version of this post was originally published on the Bike League Blog.

Last year, at the National Bike Summit, Douglas Meyer from Bernuth & Williamson unveiled new research on the perceptions of bicycling on Capitol Hill. Tuesday morning, at the 2014 Summit, Meyer was back with intel from the local level, revealing the results of 40 interviews with mayors and top city administrators from across the country (full presentation above).

The top-line take-away: “Everyone is bought in and support is increasing” for biking and walking in cities of all sizes. In city after city, Meyer emphasized, bicycling is supported, accepted, and acknowledged, and the opposition is in the minority.

“The idea of quality of life came up in every conversation — quality of life as defined by the millennial generation,” he said. Closely tied to economic development, city leaders see better bicycling as a means to attract young talent and the businesses that want to employ them. Bicycling fits into a larger shift to multi-modalism and, in a smaller numbers of cities, the effort to improve health measures.

Here’s are more of Meyer’s conclusions based on what city officials told him.

What messages aren’t working (or not working on a wide scale)?

  • Environmental protection: Not a major driver in the majority of cities
  • Safety: To bring up safety can backfire if it’s seen as questioning the city’s commitment to an essential duty
  • Equity: A positive impact and outcome, but not a critical issue
  • Congestion: Not a pressing topic in many smaller or mid-sized cities

What messages are backfiring?

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Study: All Across America, Car Commuting Is Dropping

Driving is declining and non-driving transportation is increasing in urbanized areas. Image: U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group

Since 2000, car commuting has dropped across the board while other forms of travel have tended to increase in America’s 100 biggest urban areas. Image: U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group

U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group are on a mission to explore the downward trend in driving. In a series of reports, they point to evidence that it isn’t just a temporary blip, but a long-term shift in how Americans get around. Today, the two organizations released a new report, “Transportation in Transition: A Look at Changing Travel Patterns in America’s Biggest Cities,” which shows that these changes are happening in regions all over the country.

In 99 of the nation’s 100 largest regions — the cities and suburbs that are home to more than half the U.S. population — fewer people got to work in a private vehicle in 2010 than in 2000. In the vast majority of those areas, households are shedding cars while more people are getting on the bus and taking up biking. These 100 regions are the engines of the U.S. economy and where most of the nation’s population growth is happening.

Since state DOT data collection leaves much to be desired, PIRG and Frontier Group encountered some situations where they couldn’t do an apples-to-apples comparison. As a result, they examined vehicle miles traveled trends in only 74 of the 100 largest urbanized areas. In 54 of those, VMT had dropped. Across the country, mileage is down 7.6 percent per capita since 2004.

“Each city has a different story,” U.S. PIRG’s Phineas Baxandall said in an email. “Sometimes the stories are hard to see because the data is messy, but the overall picture suggests real changes in how people get around.”

The report kicks off with a lovely tale about one city’s fight to keep a highway from destroying downtown:

When Madison, Wisconsin, was given the opportunity to bring the interstate into the city in the 1960s, local officials decided to keep its downtown highway-free — they believed that a highway running through Madison’s narrow downtown isthmus would make the city less attractive. But without the Interstate, city officials needed to make sure that residents had access to other modes of transportation to travel down-town. So city planners sought to build a multimodal transportation network that promoted bicycling, public transit and walking.

And guess what? Those investments are still paying off. As attitudes about transportation and urban living shifted over the past decade and more people decided to explore life outside the automobile, Madisonians had lots of good options to choose from. On average, each city resident drove 18 percent fewer miles in 2011 than in 2006 — from 8,900 miles down to 7,300. Meanwhile, biking to work soared 88 percent in the last 11 years, and bus ridership is way up.

U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group encourage other places to follow Madison’s lead. Madison started investing in multi-modalism in the 1960s and 70s, when driving was still ascendant. Today, as Americans embrace transit and active transportation in greater numbers, driving declines, and new roads become increasingly poor investments, those same strategies should seem like ordinary common sense.

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Study: Shorter Blocks May Be the Key to Cutting Traffic in Small Cities

It’s well-established that density and mixed-use development reduce driving. Right? But strategies like those don’t work the same way everywhere, according to new research published in the Journal of Transport and Land Use. While in major cities, denser development is linked to lower rates of driving, researchers found that in smaller cities it might not have much effect at all. The research suggests that for smaller cities, a focus on reducing block sizes and improving street connectivity may be the most effective way to cut down on driving, though the authors caution that more research is needed to draw universal conclusions.

According to new research, block sizes help explain why some people drive less than others in Norfolk, Virginia. Photo: Joey Sheely, Wikimedia

The research team, sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration, sought to drill down and identify how urban characteristics affect driving levels in different types of places. They looked at four different case studies: Seattle, WA; Richmond-Petersburg and Norfolk-Virginia Beach, VA (grouped together as one case study); Baltimore, MD; and Washington, DC. Using travel surveys and land use information, they modeled the impact on vehicle miles traveled (VMT) of five factors: residential density, employment density, mixed-use development, average block size (which they use as a stand-in for “measuring transit/walking friendliness”), and infill development (or distance to city center).

While the authors knew from previous research that these five factors all contributed to reducing VMT, they found that the Virginia regions didn’t follow the same patterns as the other three. In the smaller urban areas of Richmond-Petersburg and Norfolk-Virginia Beach, they found, mixed-use development did not have a significant impact on reducing driving.

“This is probably because in smaller urban areas, even those living in neighborhoods with well mixed land development may still need to travel far to reach work and non-work destinations,” the researchers write. “In other words, mixed development areas are less likely to be self-sufficient in smaller urban areas.” Mixing uses proved to be a good way to reduce driving in the larger metros.

These findings would seem to show a major weakness of New Urbanist-style “town centers” developed in otherwise suburban areas. A small walkable area isn’t enough to actually spark a real shift in transportation habits – the urban area has to be big enough that most people’s needs can be satisfied without a car. But lead researcher Lei Zhang said the findings don’t warrant that conclusion. “The paper has a small sample size,” Zhang said. “I wouldn’t want to generalize the results to other places.”

Zhang and his team are working on another paper that broadens the scope of their analysis to 20 urban areas. They hope this bigger data set will help planners evaluate land-use plans and how those decisions affect driving rates in different types of places.

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