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Could DC Add Bike Lanes to Its Traffic Circles?

London is preparing to add a protected bike lane to one of its famous traffic circles. Image: City of London via Beyond DC

London is adding a bike lane to one of its famous traffic circles. Image: City of London via BeyondDC

Roundabouts can have big safety and environmental benefits, but can they be adapted to be great places for bicycling as well?

“DC’s big traffic circles are notoriously difficult places to bike,” writes Dan Malouff at BeyondDC. “They have multiple lanes of intimidating and zig-zagging car traffic, and sidewalks too packed with pedestrians to be good bike paths.”

Malouff says a city of London plan to add bike lanes to the busy Queens’ Circus traffic circle, pictured above, is interesting but has some drawbacks.

This is sort of a good design. It’s better than nothing. But with so many crossings, it’s still pretty confusing what’s the bike lane and what’s for cars. It seems likely there will still be a lot of intimidating cross traffic.

In fact, the actual design doesn’t even have the green paint; I added that to make the rendering clearer.

The other big problem with the London example is that pedestrians are mostly absent. Unlike DC’s circles that typically have popular parks in the middle, this London circle is just a road. The central grassy section isn’t a useful park, and there are no pedestrian crossings into it. That obviously changes how the entire thing functions.

Malouff says an older example from the Netherlands might actually provide more protection, by placing the bike lane on a wide sidewalk. But the London example might be a more politically realistic goal for DC, he says.

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Architect’s Newspaper reports that Detroit has broken ground on its long-awaited 3.3-mile M1 light rail system. Price of Sprawl attempts to calculate the public cost of a newly approved sprawling development in Palm Beach County, Florida. And Human Transit explains how to develop a liberating transit system in a smaller city.

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Sioux Falls Builds Sidewalk-Free School, Tries to Stop Kids From Walking

Stories like this one help explain why we have a childhood obesity epidemic in the United States.

Sioux Falls' McGovern Middle School is close to many students' homes, which is probably why kids want to walk there. Image: KSFY

Sioux Falls’ George McGovern Middle School is close to many students’ homes, which is probably why kids want to walk there. Image: KSFY

Network blog the MinusCar Project reports that a new school recently opened in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, along two busy thoroughfares that have no sidewalks. A local TV station explains that children are still walking to the middle school because it’s close to their homes, which has parents concerned for their safety.

Here is the principal’s solution:

“[W]e’re trying to problem solve and trying to figure out how to best bus 100% of our student population.”

Principal [LaVonna] Emanuel wants all students to be safe and if anyone is walking to school, wants to find out why.

“We would definitely want to work with the family find out what’s going on, did the child miss the bus? Just what’s going on,” she said.

Granted, Principal Emanuel likely had no say as to whether sidewalks were installed — the school district says that was up to the city — and to her credit she says she wants the school to function as a “neighborhood school” soon. But parents wonder why proper infrastructure wasn’t built at the outset. Said one: “I’m glad they have school buses for everybody, but they should still have it set up so kids can walk. They did take the time to pave the roads and everything around this area that have been dirt and gravel roads. So I think they should take the time to at least put up some sidewalks.”

Elsewhere today: Delaware Bikes reports that a study ranked the First State the country’s most dangerous for pedestrians. The author of Transitized explains how he moved across the country with the help of Amtrak. And Better Cities & Towns offers 12 steps for cities looking to reduce pedestrian deaths.

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Will Spokane Give Downtown Transit Riders the Boot?

Transit in Spokane, Washington, is centered around a well-designed plaza in downtown. While the transit plaza is considered a national example of how to design good amenities for riders, a group of business owners is trying to move it somewhere else, reports Bruce Nourish at Seattle Transit Blog.

Spokane's transit plaza is considered a national example of a dignified waiting environment. Will business leaders succeed in forcing it out of downtown? Photo: Jdubman via Seattle Transit Blog

Spokane’s transit plaza is considered a national example of a dignified waiting environment. Will business leaders succeed in forcing it out of downtown? Photo: Jdubman via Seattle Transit Blog

Nourish says that would be a real blow to the city’s transit system and to downtown itself:

Photos of the Plaza are shown around the world by Jarrett Walker as an example of the kind of civilized, humane waiting-place that transit customers should expect, and which can be built even by not-lavishly-funded agencies. Such facilities are especially important to small-city transit agencies like STA, where there is no rapid transit system around which to organize the rest of the transit network, nor enough money to run a full grid of frequent routes out to the limits of the service area, and thus many customers need to make connections through a single central hub.

Recently, a handful of well-connected downtown Spokane property owners have tried to force STA to move this flagship facility out of the downtown core. The events involved in the lead-up to this are a little complicated: there’s a recently-reactivated plan to refurbish the plaza, the removal (and then replacement) of a smoking area for plaza patrons, and a sudden flare up of concerns about crime, vagrancy and indigence in the retail core. The opposition’s stated reasons will be depressingly familiar to anyone who’s been involved in any major expansion of transit out to suburban areas: Putatively, transit facilities are full of ne’er-do-wells and criminals, loitering around waiting to rob or beg someone of their money, and the solution is to make these people disappear by making the facility disappear — and besides, all those buses are empty anyway. Of course, none of these things are actually true.

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Don’t Blame Hills for Pittsburgh’s Pedestrian Injuries

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently published an in-depth investigation of the city’s pedestrian safety record. The paper reported that 2,100 collisions injured or killed pedestrians in the city between 2006 and 2013.

Being a hilly city doesn't preclude being a great place to walk. Photo: Wikipedia

Being a hilly city doesn’t preclude being a safe place to walk. Photo: Wikipedia

That should be a wake-up call, says Bike PGH Executive Director Scott Bricker on the organization’s blog. But some local traffic engineers are trying to deflect blame to the city’s famously hilly topography. In a letter to the editor published in the Post-Gazette and on the Bike PGH blog, Bricker says blaming the city’s hills is a copout:

The suggestion by Todd Kravits, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation District 11 traffic engineer, that it is our topography that is at fault is confusing and unfounded. He suggests that if Pittsburgh had more streets resembling “nice flat tables,” it would enable our streets to be engineered more safely; in reality, according to the article’s accompanying map, our flattest stretches of roadway are seeing the highest number of crashes with pedestrians. Mr. Kravits’ assertion that our hills are at fault in some way for these crashes simply does not jibe with the data here.

Norway, home of the vertical city of Oslo, has the second-lowest pedestrian fatality rate in Europe. How do they do it? By putting people, not cars, first in their planning and roadway engineering. For 50 years engineers in the United States have done the opposite. Righting this wrong will not only save lives but also create great, walkable places at the same time.

The city of San Francisco, another famously hilly city, recently announced its adoption of “Vision Zero,” a plan to completely eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries by 2024. I urge Pittsburgh and its partners at PennDOT to do the same. Adopting a Vision Zero policy will set in motion the strategies needed to eliminate serious crashes locally by uniting design and engineering, enforcement, legislation and public health into a singular vision for the safety and vibrancy of our streets.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Strong Towns wonders whether it’s wise to count streets as public assets, rather than liabilities. And Mobilizing the Region reports that New Jersey legislators are finally attempting to piece together a solution to the state’s transportation funding problems.

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To Prevent Distracted Driving, New App Distracts Drivers

The new dash-mounted technology system Navdy proposes making texting while driving easier. Image: Navdy

The new windshield display system Navdy aims to make texting while driving easier. Image: Navdy

The new “heads-up” display system Navdy “feels like driving in the future,” according to its producers. The dash-mounted projector displays images from your phone on your windshield. The idea is that you can text and drive while keeping your eyes focused in the right direction. “No more looking down to fumble with knobs, buttons or touch screens,” goes the pitch.

James Sinclair at Stop and Move is not impressed:

What the product does is project information from your phone onto your windshield. Some of that information is relevant to driving, such as map navigation, and possibly in the future parking information from SF Park. The rest? Not so much.

Apparently driving is so boring that drivers cannot resist texting and checking emails for the duration of their trip. Navdy comes to the rescue by blowing up your text messages onto your windshield so you don’t have to deal with the monotony of driving by instead engaging in a titillating text-based conversation.

The worst part is that this group of entrepreneurs is trying to pitch this as a way to PREVENT distracted driving. Their reasoning is that drivers won’t be looking down at their laps, but will continue to look forward. Their video says “you need your eyes in front of you – you need Navdy.” Problem is, that’s not how distraction works.

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Cincinnati Launching a 35-Station Bike-Share System Next Month

This hasn’t been a great year for bike-share launches in America, with the dominant operator, Alta Bicycle Share, struggling with supply chain problems. But there will be a new system coming online soon.

Cincy Bike Share stations will be concentrated in downtown, Over-the-Rhine and Uptown. Image: Alta via Urban Cincy

Cincy Bike Share stations will be concentrated in downtown, Over-the-Rhine, and Uptown. Map: Alta via Urban Cincy

Cincinnati will launch a bike-share system using the B-Cycle platform in the next few weeks, reports Randy Simes at Urban Cincy. The city recently cleared some of the final hurdles, and the initial batch of stations is on the way:

Queen City Bike says that the process will move quickly, with two to three stations being installed daily until all 35 stations planned for Downtown and Uptown are built. At the same time, there will be a volunteer effort to assemble the system’s 300 bikes.

“We hope to assemble at least 200 bike share bikes by Friday,” said Frank Henson, President of Queen City Bike, and member of Cincy Bike Share’s Board of Trustees. “This is being done by area volunteer mechanics under the supervision of B-Cycle.”

The aggressive schedule puts the system on track to open by early September, which is not far off the initial goal of opening by August.

The progress comes after Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley (D) announced $1.1 million to more than half of the initial $2 million in upfront capital costs. At the time, Cincy Bike Share director, Jason Barron, said the commitment from the City of Cincinnati was critical in not only getting things moving, but also showing the private sector that it is all for real.

One strange aspect of the Cincinnati network is the gap between two clusters of stations. Simes says the two areas ”will most likely operate in isolation of one another.” It’s unclear if Cincinnati intends to fill in this gap. After the first 35 stations, the system is expected to expand across the Ohio River to northern Kentucky.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Bike Portland shares a prediction from former Chicago and DC transportation commissioner Gabe Klein, who says driverless cars will eliminate the need for parking in downtown areas. NextSTL explains why Missouri’s proposed sales tax hike for transportation went down in flames. And Better Cities & Towns notes that some Houston suburbs are embracing placemaking.

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Charting the Essential Link Between Walkability and Transit

The most highly used Metro stations in DC are also the most walkable. Image: WMATA

Surprise! The DC Metro stations with the most ridership also have the most people living within walking distance. Image: WMATA

Want to guess which DC Metro stations the most riders walk to? Your best bet is to count apartment buildings nearby.

New data released by WMATA shows the strong link between the number of people who live close to the station and how many people can walk to it. Dan Malouff at BeyondDC isn’t shocked by any means, but he says the data is interesting nonetheless:

According to WMATA’s PlanItMetro blog, “the more people can walk to transit, the more people do walk to transit — and data across Metrorail stations prove it.”

All in all, Metro’s stations fit neatly along a trendline that shows a strong correlation between more households nearby and more riders arriving to stations by foot.

Even the outliers tell a story. U Street and Mount Vernon Square have the 6th and 7th highest number of households nearby, but they under perform on walking Metro ridership. One might speculate that Mount Vernon Square is so close to so many offices that more people simply walk. U Street is a little farther away, but it’s still close enough to downtown that buses and bicycles may be better options for a large portion of riders.

One factoid that may in fact surprise is that three of the five most-walked-to stations are not in DC: Two of those stations are in Arlington (Court House and Ballston) and one is in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Elsewhere on the Network today: PubliCola reports that Seattle has struck a compromise on micro-housing. And Urban Review STL runs the numbers to see what Missouri would be collecting from its state gas tax if it had kept pace with the level of revenue in 1996.

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Why Charging Transit Riders to Transfer Makes No Sense

Paying twice for a transit trip that requires two buses makes no sense, says Jarrett Walker. Photo: Flickr, Mynameisharsha

Paying twice for a single trip that requires two buses makes no sense, says Jarrett Walker. Photo: FMynameisharsha/Flickr

Los Angeles Metro recently eliminated the charge for transferring from from one transit line to another. Eliminating transfer charges is becoming more widespread among transit agencies, and at Human Transit, Jarrett Walker explains why that’s a very good thing:

The core of the Los Angeles transit network is the liberating high-frequency grid, which relies on the assumption that passengers can be asked to change buses once. Until now, the agency’s policy of charging passengers extra to change buses was in direct conflict with the foundational principle of its network design.

Once more with feeling; Charging passengers extra for the inconvenience of connections is insane. It discourages exactly the customer behavior that efficient and liberating networks depend on. It undermines the whole notion of a transit network. It also gives customers a reason to object to network redesigns that deliver both greater efficiency and greater liberty, because by imposing a connection on their trip it has also raised their fare.

For that reason, actual businesses don’t do it. When supposedly business minded bureaucrats tell us we should charge for connections, they are revealing that they have never stopped to think about the geometry of the transit product, but are just assuming it’s like soap or restaurants. Tell them to think about airlines: Airfares that require a connection are frequently cheaper than nonstops. That’s because the connection is something you endure for the sake of an efficient airline network, not an added service that you should pay extra for.

Walker says that in the past, some agencies charged for transfers in order to avoid abuse of the system, such as selling a discounted transfer to a new passenger. But current fare payment technology can eliminate that problem, he says. Transit agencies that still maintain a transfer fee might just be trying to raise extra revenue without raising base fares. But that just masks higher costs while detracting from the usefulness of the system, he says.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Reno Rambler pays tribute to Robin Williams, the cyclist. And Strong Towns explains how the prevalence of pedestrian flags illustrates the second class status of people on foot.

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Rob Ford Isn’t the Only One Holding Back Toronto Bike Infrastructure

New buffered bike lanes were debuted in Toronto late last month. But why aren't they protected? Photo: Brian Gilham via I Bike TO

New buffered bike lanes wdebuted in Toronto late last month. But why aren’t they protected? Photo: Brian Gilham via I Bike TO

Bike advocates in Toronto are frustrated.

Late last month, the city added buffered bike lanes on two major thoroughfares: Richmond and Adelaide. But Toronto officials are hesitating to implement one critical aspect: physical protection that will keep the bike lane clear of cars and get more people to feel comfortable biking.

The City Council approved a protected bike lane design for these two roads 39-0, reports Streetsblog Network member I Bike TO. And Toronto has adopted the NACTO bike guide, which includes engineering standards for protected bike lanes.

So what’s the stumbling block? Herb at I Bike TO zeroes in on Transportation Services chief Stephen Buckley, who has a history of letting motorists invade bike lanes:

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One More Reason Not to Trust Reason’s Attacks on Rail

Amtrak's Acela rail line is profitable, despite averaging "only" 3.4 million passengers per year. Photo: Flicker, Sanfranannie

Amtrak’s Acela service turns an operating profit, despite averaging “only” 3.4 million passengers per year. Photo: sanfranannie/Flickr

The Reason Foundation is one of the most persistent rail opponents in the United States. With remarkable consistency, Reason condemns high-speed rail, private intercity rail projects, and local transit expansions. No matter how shaky its numbers may be, you can count on Reason to undermine any transit project that runs on rails.

Shane Phillips at Better Institutions was looking over an editorial by Reason policy analyst Baruch Feigenbaum published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution last year. He found this passage pretty revealing: ”A U.S. high-speed rail line would need ridership of 6 million to 9 million people per year to break even. The high-speed Acela service, despite operating in the busy Northeast Corridor, averages only 3.4 million passengers per year.”

Phillips says these two sentences encapsulate the sloppiness of Reason’s attacks on rail:

With Acela capturing barely half the “minimum” break-even ridership, one might imagine after reading Feigenbaum’s article that the rail service has been a catastrophic failure. Clearly, we shouldn’t waste our money on any more high-speed rail boondoggles. A quick look at actual facts, however, shows that Acela is doing quite well: despite its trains, which can only travel a maximum of 150 mph; its decrepit tracks, which don’t allow the trains to travel anywhere near its max speed for most of its length; and the fact that it has to share many miles of those tracks with freight, Acela is killing it.

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