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Posts from the Studies & Reports Category

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Study: “Shared Space” Slows Drivers While Letting Traffic Move Efficiently

The idea behind “shared space” street design is that less can be more. By ditching signage, traffic lights, and the grade separation between sidewalk and roadbed, the shared space approach calms traffic and heightens communication between drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists. Instead of following traffic signals on auto-pilot or speeding up to beat the light, motorists have to pay attention to their surroundings.

A "shared space" in Austria. Image: Transportation Research Board

A shared space in Graz, Austria. Image: Transportation Research Board

Shared space design has been shown to calm vehicle traffic and allow more freedom of movement for pedestrians with no increase in traffic injuries. A new study from professor Norman Garrick and Benjamin Wargo at the University of Connecticut finds that in the right conditions shared space also makes intersections more efficient for both pedestrians and motorists.

The study examined six sites around the world that have some degree of “shared space” and where each approach to the intersection has one lane of motor vehicle traffic. Because of the limited number of shared space designs in the U.S., only one American example is included: Uptown Circle in Normal, Illinois.

Using video, the researchers measured driver speeds and pedestrian and vehicle delay. The authors then compared those observations to computer-simulated estimates of how much delay would occur if the streets were designed with more conventional traffic control measures, like stoplights or roundabouts.

They found that in this context, shared space design calmed traffic while also creating less delay for both pedestrians and motorists than traffic signals.

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Highway Boondoggles: Widening I-70 in Denver

The unnecessary widening of I-70 in Denver would cost an additional $58 million. Image: Colorado DOT

Widening I-70 in Denver instead of just repairing it will cost an additional $58 million. Image: Colorado DOT

In a new report, Highway Boondoggles 2 (the original came out in 2014), U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group teamed up to profile the most wasteful highway projects that state DOTs are building. Streetsblog will be serializing the case studies in the report. Today, we look at the widening of I-70 in Denver, a project with a potentially high social and economic cost. 

The need to tear down the viaduct carrying I-70 through the center of Denver is clear, but widening it while while it undergoes much-needed replacement would waste tens of millions of dollars.

The bridge, which was built in 1964, first had detectable cracks in 1981. Since then, it has required many repairs. A major 1997 project installed rods intended to reduce cracking. In 2005, the weight of vehicles on the viaduct was limited in hopes of extending the bridge’s life.

But the bridge continued to crumble. By 2010, the bridge was considered “structurally deficient,” a federal designation indicating significant problems in its structure. A $30 million maintenance project in 2010 was expected to give the viaduct another 10 to 15 years of service. But just four years later, the Colorado Department of Transportation announced that some of the work done in 1997 was failing. The repairs themselves needed to be repaired.

The viaduct is also an eyesore whose removal has been sought by the local community for many years. Since it was built, neighbors have complained that it divides their community, which is one of Denver’s poorest.

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has proposed replacing the viaduct with a trench for the highway, and partially covering the road with a park. In September 2015, CDOT put out a formal call for private companies willing to finance and build the project. However, CDOT is also proposing to widen the highway.

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Highway Boondoggles: Widening I-95 Across Connecticut

Photo: Doug Kerr

Bucking the state’s longstanding recommendations, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy says widening I-95 will fix congestion. Photo: Doug Kerr/Flickr via U.S. PIRG

Last year Congress passed a multi-year transportation bill. Like previous bills, it gives tens of billions of dollars to states every year to spend with almost no strings attached. How much of this federal funding will state DOTs devote to expensive, traffic-inducing highway projects that further entrench car dependence and sprawl?

In a new report, Highway Boondoggles 2 (the original came out in 2014), U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group teamed up to profile the most egregious examples of state DOTs that can’t shake the road expansion habit. Streetsblog will be serializing the case studies in the report, starting with this excerpt about Connecticut, which just lost GE to Boston

A long-dormant idea for a multi-billion-dollar expansion of I-95 is being promoted by the state’s governor as a fix for congestion, despite official studies dating back to 2002 recommending against any expansion of the highway, saying it would make congestion worse, extend traffic delays, and increase pollution.

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy has proposed a 30-year, $100 billion plan to invest in transportation across the state. More than 10 percent of that spending, $11.2 billion, is dedicated to reversing decades of Connecticut’s planning priorities by adding an additional lane to I-95 across the entire state — 110 miles from the New York state line to the Rhode Island border.

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Study: Sharrows Don’t Make Streets Safer for Cycling

Sharrows are the dregs of bike infrastructure — the scraps cities hand out when they can’t muster the will to implement exclusive space for bicycling. They may help with wayfinding, but do sharrows improve the safety of cycling at all? New research presented at the Transportation Review Board Annual Meeting suggests they don’t.

Sharrows are useless and perhaps even harmful, a new study found. Photo: University of Colorado Denver

Sharrows without traffic-calming won’t do much to make cycling safer. Photo: University of Colorado Denver

A study by University of Colorado Denver researchers Nick Ferenchak and Wesley Marshall examined safety outcomes for areas in Chicago that received bike lanes, sharrows, and no bicycling street treatments at all. (The study was conducted before Chicago had much in the way of protected bike lanes, so it did not distinguish between types of bike lanes.) The results suggest that bike lanes encourage more people to bike and make biking safer, while sharrows don’t do much of either.

Ferenchak and Marshall’s study divided Chicago into three geographic categories using Census block groups: areas where bike lanes were added between 2008 and 2010, areas where sharrows were added, and areas where no bike treatments were added. They then looked at how bike commuting and cyclist injuries changed in these areas over time.

They found that bike commute rates more than doubled in areas with new bike lanes, compared to a 27 percent increase in areas with new sharrows and a 43 percent increase in areas where nothing changed.

Meanwhile, the rate of cyclist injuries per bike commuter improved the most where bike lanes were striped, decreasing 42 percent. Areas that got sharrows saw the same metric fall about 20 percent –worse than areas where streets didn’t change (36 percent), although the difference was not great enough to be statistically significant.

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Social Engineering! Cities That Build More Parking Get More Traffic

Cities like Hartford that added a lot of parking over the last few decades saw driving rates increase. Graph: McCahill/TRB

Cities like Hartford that added a lot of parking over the last few decades saw driving rates increase more than in cities where parking volumes stayed flatter. Graph: McCahill/TRB

Build parking spaces and they will come — in cars. New research presented this week at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board finds a direct, causal relationship between the amount of parking in cities and car commuting rates.

University of Wisconsin researcher Chris McCahill and his team examined nine “medium-sized” cities — with relatively stable populations between 100,000 and 300,000. They compared historical parking data with car commuting rates beginning in 1960, finding “a clear, consistent association” between parking levels and car commuting that has “grown stronger” over time.

Using an epidemiological research method, McCahill’s team determined that the relationship was causal. For example, data indicated that increases in parking tended to precede growth in car commuting.

The study brings home the point that by inflating the parking supply via minimum parking mandates and other policies, cities are leading more people to drive and making conditions worse for transit, biking, and walking. It’s what you might call “social engineering.”

Researchers compared five cities with low car commuting rates (Arlington, Virginia; Berkeley, California; Silver Spring, Maryland; and Somerville and Cambridge, Massachusetts) to four cities with relatively high car commuting rates (Albany, New York; Lowell, Massachusetts; and New Haven and Hartford, Connecticut).

McCahill and his team found that for every 10 percentage point increase in parking spaces per capita, the share of workers commuting by car would be expected to increase by 7.7 percentage points. So if a city increased its per capita parking from 0.1 spaces to 0.5 spaces, car commute mode share would rise about 30 percentage points.

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New Evidence That Bus Rapid Transit Done Right Spurs Development

More American cities are considering bus rapid transit, or BRT, as a cost-effective method to expand and improve transit. One of the knocks against BRT, as opposed to rail, is that it supposedly doesn’t affect development patterns. But a new study [PDF] by Arthur C. Nelson of the University of Arizona and released by Transportation for America finds that BRT lines can indeed shape real estate and attract jobs — if the projects are done right.

Bus rapid transit can spur private investment in cities, but it needs to have features that help make it "fixed," like dedicated lanes and level boarding platforms. Image: University of Arizona

BRT can spur walkable development and job growth in cities, but it needs to be designed to a high standard with features like dedicated bus lanes and level boarding platforms. Photo: National Institute for Transportation and Communities

Nelson examined real estate investment, commercial rents, and multi-family housing development around BRT routes during the early 2000s and the first half of this decade. He found that in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and other cities with high-quality BRT lines, real estate near the routes tends to be valued at a premium and is capturing an increasing share of development.

For example, in downtown Cleveland, offices within a quarter-mile of the Healthline BRT rent at prices 18 percent higher than downtown office space outside walking distance of the line. In Eugene, Oregon, the premium is 12 percent.

Proximity to BRT lines appears to be growing more appealing over time. Between 2000 and 2007, Census tracts within a quarter mile of BRT routes captured about 11 percent of total office space development in the regions the authors studied. From 2007 to 2015, that share grew to 15 percent.

“This is not trivial,” said Nelson during a presentation at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board this morning. “My sense is that this distribution will keep gaining share.”

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Real Estate Giant: Suburban Office Parks Increasingly Obsolete

What tenants want in an office building is changing, and the old model of the isolated suburban office park is going the way of the fax machine. That’s according to a new report from Newmark, Grubb, Knight and Frank [PDF], one of the largest commercial real estate firms in the world.

Suburban office parks are losing their luster, industry analysts say. Photo: Wikipedia

Suburban office parks are losing their luster, industry analysts say. Photo: Wikipedia

The old-school office park does “not offer the experience most of today’s tenants are seeking,” according to NGKF. As a result, the suburban office market is confronting “obsolescence” on a “massive scale.” More than 1,150 U.S. office properties — or 95 million square feet — may no longer pencil out, the authors estimate, though a number of those can be salvaged with some changes.

“Walkability and activated environments are at the top of many tenants’ list of must haves,” the report states. Office parks in isolated pockets without a mix of uses around them must have “in-building amenities” — including a conference center, a fitness center, and food service — to remain competitive, according to NGKF: “If tenants are not going to be able to walk to nearby retail or a nearby office property to get lunch, they had better be able to get it at their own building.”

The study took a close look at suburban office submarkets in and around Denver, Washington, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York. In the “southeast suburban” Denver office district, for example, office buildings within a quarter-mile of the new light rail line had a 1.7 percent vacancy rate. For those outside a quarter-mile, vacancy rates were nine percentage points higher.

NGKF’s findings don’t mean that office tenant preferences are in perfect alignment with walkability, however.

Parking was also important to the marketability of buildings in suburban Denver. The report notes that a lot of older management personnel prefer to drive, while younger workers want transit access. So buildings that offered both were in the highest demand.

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Avoid Bikelash By Building More Bike Lanes

Market Street, San Francisco.

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Here’s one reason the modern biking boom is great for everyone: more bicycle trips mean fewer car trips, which can mean less congestion for people in cars and buses.

But there’s a catch. A recent study shows that when bicycle use rises but cities don’t add bike lanes to put the new bikers in, traffic congestion actually gets worse.

In some situations, it gets a lot worse.

A study measured travel delay on a street with bikes but no bike lanes

NE 47th Avenue, Portland.

HOOOONK.

It’s happened to most regular bike users; it happened to me last week. Biking to meet friends at a restaurant, I had to pedal two blocks uphill on a street without bike lanes. As I started to push up the slope, a man zoomed his car around me, straddling the two lanes and laying on his horn as if I’d done something wrong.

I’d love to be out of your way too, I wanted to tell him. But this parking lane would have to go.

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Got Transit Troubles? The Problem Could Be the Chain of Command

Boston's MBTA enjoys unique consolidation, but that hasn't spared it from grave funding challenges. Photo: Eno

Boston’s MBTA consolidates the entire region’s transit network, but that hasn’t spared it from grave funding challenges. Photo: Eno

If you still have to juggle multiple farecards for the various transit systems in your area — or if urgent maintenance issues in the city core are going unattended while the suburbs get a shiny new station — the problem might run deeper than the incompetence everyone is grumbling about. The root of it all might be embedded in the very structure of the agencies that govern your transit system.

Last year, infighting among members of Chicago’s Regional Transportation Authority about how to distribute funds led the agency to seek outside help. A team of researchers, including the Eno Center for Transportation, came to try to figure out what the trouble was. “It soon became clear that RTA did not actually have a funding distribution problem,” Eno wrote in its report.

In fact, the authors concluded, RTA had a governance problem, which in turn had far-reaching consequences beyond funding battles: Governance issues impeded RTA’s ability to coordinate regional transit services and investments and contributed to “chronic underinvestment” in Chicago’s transit network.

The Chicago area is home to three major transit operators: the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra (a regional rail agency), and Pace (a suburban bus agency), all members of the RTA. While the RTA has the power to distribute funding, that’s about all it can do. Even those funding decisions are largely based on outdated formulas set by the state. When there is some money that RTA has the discretion to allocate as it chooses, bitter disputes ensue among the three agencies — disputes like the one Eno and company were called in to mediate.

The RTA doesn’t coordinate or steer Chicago’s transit providers, so all three essentially operate separate fiefdoms. “The inherent problem is that RTA occupies an ambiguous middle ground where it is powerful enough to create challenges and bureaucracy, but not powerful enough to be productive in pursuing regional goals,” reports Eno. The Chicago officials and transit experts Eno interviewed wanted to see RTA either strengthened or eliminated, but they agreed the status quo is not productive, leading to jurisdictional battles without building regional partnerships.

Meanwhile, the state is all but absent in Chicago transit governance, which Eno says is “shortsighted” when “transit has such a large impact on the economic success of the state.” Aside from helping with coordination and regional visioning, the state could be providing needed funds.

Intrigued by the findings in Chicago, Eno then partnered with TransitCenter to study five other cities to see how transit governance structures affect operations.

Here’s a cheat sheet before we go on:

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Why Transit Agencies Should Woo “Bohemian Boomers” and “Metro Moms”

Transit use varies tremendously by age, but not so much by geography. Graphic courtesy TransitCenter.

Transit use varies tremendously by age, but not so much by the region people inhabit. Maps: TransitCenter

A new national survey released today by TransitCenter seeks to understand not just the who, but also the why, of Americans’ increasing transit use. The survey found that Americans’ feelings towards transit and cities vary considerably by age, personal values, and whether transit provides a feasible travel option in their neighborhoods. Factors that don’t have much of an effect on transit use include having children at home, education level, having very high incomes, and the region of the country people inhabit.

The survey also identified several individual factors strongly linked to transit use. Residents of dense, transit-friendly environment, people with jobs or enrolled in school, people of color, low-income Americans, and people with access to high-quality transit are all more likely to ride transit, echoing previous survey findings.

The TransitCenter survey goes beyond prior research by trying to understand personal characteristics that might motivate transit use. Transit users are likely to have grown up in neighborhoods with convenient transit, to be open to new things and experiences, and to want to remain productive while traveling. These motivations are almost as strong as more basic motivations, like relying on transit because no other options are available.

transitcenter poll

The survey also reinforces prior research into the kinds of neighborhoods Americans want, finding that Americans generally want a blend of space and walkability, and that there are significant mismatches between the types of places people would like to live, and the places they actually call home. Only 37 percent of respondents who live in suburban residential areas preferred that type of neighborhood, for instance, and only 28 percent of them wanted to live in such a neighborhood as children. Almost half of all respondents (48 percent) wanted to live in mixed-use suburban or small town areas, and more than half of people who live in those areas are satisfied with their locations.

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