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Is Austin’s Central Corridor a Smart Transit Bet?

This November, Austinites will be asked to vote for a $600 million bond issue to bring a new rail line to the Texas capital. Unfortunately, a lot of local urbanists aren’t that enamored with the $1.4 billion Central Corridor plan.

This map shows the relatively low density development surrounding Austin's proposed $1.4 billion Central Corridor rail. Image: Carfree Austin

Development surrounding Austin’s proposed $1.4 billion Central Corridor rail line tends to be relatively low-density. Map: Carfree Austin

Network blog Carfree Austin has been taking a hard look at the proposal in a four-part series (1, 2, 3 and 4). The gist is that the route would run through a lot of very suburban areas that aren’t well-suited for rail service, and where denser development will be tough to build in the future.

Here’s Carfree Austin on the pros and cons of the southern leg of the corridor, for example:

What it’s got going for it: There are plenty of apartment buildings. The new ones being built are denser than those they are replacing. Current residents ride transit more than average Austinites.

What it’s got against it: Existing single family neighborhoods are a substantial part of the station areas. They will likely fight against density, constraining transit oriented development to only certain areas. The Grove Dr. station is basically in an open field. (Austin’s first rural rail station will presumably feature the train yard where vehicles will be stored and serviced.) Other station areas have patchy development with large open lots in between. Existing apartment complexes are sparse and surrounded by seas of parking. Dense development can still be car dependent, and the existing density is decidedly not transit-oriented.

The conclusion? There are smarter ways to spend $1.4 billion to make Austin a less car-dependent, more walkable city:

Read more…

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Mapping Accessibility: What Can You Get to in 20 Minutes?

The map on the left shows the number of destinations available in the Minneapolis region in 20 minutes by car. The map on the right shows the same data but by 20-minute transit trip. Image: Streets.mn

The map on the left shows the density of destinations accessible in the Minneapolis region in a 20-minute car trip. The redder the map, the more stuff you can reach. The map on the right shows what’s accessible in a 20-minute transit trip. Maps: Streets.mn

In the U.S., one metric dominates the public discussion about transportation: traffic congestion. Rankings are published every year assessing how clogged the streets are in different cities, and transportation agencies devote a great deal of resources trying to reduce congestion.

The outcome of all this effort, however, doesn’t even help people get places. In metro areas like St. Louis, for example, average commute times have increased as congestion has fallen. That’s because all the infrastructure devoted to relieving congestion also encouraged people to live farther from work. So now people drive longer, faster — not much of a win no matter how you slice it.

David Levinson, a professor at the University of Minnesota, has developed a different metric — a way to assess “accessibility,” or the ease of reaching destinations.

Andrew Owen, a graduate researcher at UMN, writes at Streets.mn about efforts to formalize the concept so it can be used by local transportation agencies:

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A Milwaukee Suburb Turns to Complete Streets to Spur Business

The redesign of North Avenue in Wauwatosa, just outside Milwaukee, is being credited with spurring a business boom. Photo: Urban Milwaukee

The redesign of North Avenue in Wauwatosa, just outside Milwaukee, is being credited with spurring a business boom. Photo: Urban Milwaukee

North Avenue in the Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa is in the final stages of a redesign. The safety improvements include curb extensions, shorter pedestrian crossings, green-painted bike lanes, and bike boxes.

Dave Schlabowske at Urban Milwaukee calls the 16-block stretch through a neighborhood business district the most bike-friendly street in Wisconsin, outside of Madison. He says even before the redesign is finished, businesses have been flocking to the street, knowing that it would become a better place for people:

This project is a great example of how place-making roadway design combined with demand from residents and a progressive business community can work hand-in-hand with government to spur big gains in economic development. The project all started with a few good businesses on North Ave. and nearby residents who wanted to walk and bike there instead of drive. It was probably five years ago when East Tosa resident Ed Haydin, an architect who specializes in community sensitive design and economic development, came to me to get ideas on how Wauwatosa might improve North Ave. for bicycle and pedestrian traffic. Ed is a bike guy, but he was very clear about his goals: “This isn’t a bike project, this is a neighborhood development project. Our goal is to spur new development on North Ave. to improve our neighborhood. I want my property value to go up and have more places to go where I live.”

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Do Drivers Cover the Cost of Roads? Not By a Long Shot

This chart shows what percent of different kinds of roads is paid for by the gas tax. Image: Pew Research Center

All charts: Pew Charitable Trusts [PDF]

David Alpert at Greater Greater Washington shares this fantastic chart from a new study of transportation funding by the Pew Charitable Trusts [PDF]. Alpert explains:

This chart from Pew shows where the transportation money comes from; it’s not all drivers.

Basically, the bluish areas are revenues which come specifically from drivers: gas taxes, vehicle taxes, and tolls. The greenish ones are other revenues: property taxes, general fund transfers, and other funds.

In this chart, you can see that the levels of government that subsidize roads the most — state and local — also spend more on transportation overall than the feds:

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Portland Tries Out “Advisory Bike Lanes”

"Advisory bike lanes," like the one in the Netherlands, allow drivers to drive in the bike lanes only if there are no cyclists there. Photo: Bike Portland

“Advisory bike lanes,” like this one in the Netherlands, allow drivers to cross into the bike lane when it’s necessary and can be done safely. Photo: Portland Bureau of Transportation via Bike Portland

Portland is importing a new kind of bike lane design from the Netherlands. “Advisory bike lanes” allow drivers to use the bike lane space if they have to — and if it’s safe. Jonathan Maus at Bike Portland reports that advisory bike lanes are intended for streets with high bike traffic but not a high volume of car traffic, where there otherwise wouldn’t be room for bike lanes:

According to PBOT project manager Theresa Boyle, the city is prepping a project that will create “advisory bike lanes” on Caruthers between SE Water and SE 7th.

Boyle says the new bike lanes will be eight-feet wide (compared the existing five-foot wide lanes) and there will be one, 16-foot wide “through auto lane” in the middle. Along the southern curb (where the encroachment problems now occur), PBOT will mark an additional four-foot wide buffer zone.

Advisory bike lanes are not a PBOT invention. They are widely used in Europe (especially The Netherlands) and the City of Minneapolis also uses them. A presentation put together by PBOT Bike Coordinator Roger Geller (PDF here) explains that advisory bike lanes are typically used when standard bike lanes don’t fit. They’re also a good solution, he says, when there is a higher volume of auto traffic than a neighborhood street.

Maus says the city will conduct a public education campaign to inform drivers of how to use them properly.

Elsewhere on the Network today: As Honolulu makes progress on building an elevated, computer-operated rail system, Market Urbanism makes the case for a widespread transition to driverless trains. And BikeWalkLee explains Florida’s new pedestrian and bicycle education program.

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Over Time, Will More Streetcars Get Their Own Lanes?

Atlanta's 2.7-mile streetcar system is expected to start doing test runs in November. Image: Atlanta Streetcar

Atlanta’s 2.7-mile streetcar system is expected to start doing test runs in November. Image: Atlanta Streetcar

CityLab ran an article yesterday describing how Seattle’s new streetcar addition breaks the mold of its peers in one key way: It runs on dedicated lanes, rather than in mixed traffic.

The new wave of streetcars are often criticized for slow average speeds. If the political will doesn’t exist to provide the systems with dedicated right of way, streetcars can get bogged down in vehicle traffic and offer little time savings compared to walking.

Darin at ATLUrbanist writes that Atlanta’s under-construction streetcar won’t run on dedicated lanes, but he thinks it won’t stay that way forever:

The Atlanta Streetcar’s 2.7 mile downtown loop will travel in mixed-traffic lanes with a low operating speed. Because of that, it’s much more of a development tool at this point for places like the long-struggling Auburn Avenue corridor, as well as a means of transporting tourists to major sites. It is, to a lesser degree, a source of effective everyday transportation (though it can certainly serve that purpose for some workers, as well as GSU students, residents and visitors).

In a way, pitting these two streetcar functions — development vs. transportation — against each other is a false argument because nothing stays the same in cities. The development-tool streetcar line of today, if successful in building walkable density around it, could end up becoming an exclusive-lane route of tomorrow, with a focus on transportation.

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Why Cities Should Strive for Streets That “Fail”

What makes a good street? Wide, tree-lined sidewalks? A concentration of businesses and activity? Or an unobstructed path to speed through in a car?

This is the kind of street engineers would give an "A." Photo: Andy Boenau via Urban Times

This street probably gets an “A” for Level of Service. Photo: Andy Boenau via Urban Times

Influential engineering metrics only grade streets according to the last question. But Dave Cieslewicz at the Wisconsin Bike Federation writes that if you want walkable, safe urban streets, that’s a test you should fail:

How do we measure a successful street? Well, traditionally we’ve allowed traffic engineers, focused on moving cars, to create that measure. They’ve developed a grading system for streets called “Level of Service” or LOS.

But here’s the problem. If you look at a LOS map of many of the downtowns and neighborhoods that we love the best you’ll see almost nothing but level of service “D” and “F”. In other words, by the measure of moving cars our streets are failing or nearly failing. And if you ranked streets by friendliness to bicyclists and pedestrians the maps would look very different.

At the Pro Walk/Pro Bike conference in Pittsburgh last week I heard a compelling argument to forget about LOS in most urban environments altogether. After all, a city is not a place for cars to move efficiently. And if you make it that you’ve almost certainly lost all the things that make your city a good place to be.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Grist says electric cars aren’t making California’s air any cleaner. And Copenhagenize rips a feel-good street safety PSA that targets pedestrians rather than drivers.

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Will Florida DOT Pull Off a “Culture Change” and Make Streets Safer?

Holding the distinction of being the most dangerous state for biking and walking seems to have inspired a real reform effort in Florida.

Billy Hattaway, Florida DOT District 1 Secretary and bike and pedestrian coordinator, is responsible for reducing the state's horrible pedestrian fatality rate. Photo: BikeWalkLee

Billy Hattaway, Florida DOT District 1 secretary and bike and pedestrian coordinator, is responsible for reducing the state’s horrible pedestrian fatality rate. Photo: BikeWalkLee

Darla Letourneau at BikeWalkLee recently attended a talk by Bill Hattaway, the Florida DOT’s new statewide bike and pedestrian leader. Hattaway said a multi-pronged “culture change” is underway within the Florida Department of Transportation. As part of that effort, the state is pursuing seven reforms, Letourneau reports:

As we’ve learned from our experience in Lee County, a shift from “business as usual” requires modification to lots of policies and guidance documents.  The state is tackling this by undertaking the revision of many of their guidance and policy documents, as well as adding a bike/ped element to the statewide overall Long Range Transportation Plan and requiring bike/ped statewide plans. In a much anticipated move, FDOT has now approved a complete streets policy and implementation plan which will be incorporated into the various planning and policy manuals and guidelines.

Another tool in the toolbox is road diets, and Hattaway announced that FDOT will be issuing guidance to promote the use of road diets on the state system. He gave as an example the project underway on Robinson Rd. in Orlando which has only 1400 cars day. This state road is being converted to a road diet (from 4 lanes to 2 lanes plus a turn lane). Hattaway noted the national statistics that road diets result in a 30% reduction in crashes…

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Norwegian Town Pays Cyclists and Pedestrians “Reverse Toll” Money

How’s this for bike- and pedestrian-friendly? A town in Norway is paying people to bike and walk.

Norway cyclists got a bonus for their good deed in the form of "reverse tolls." Photo: Wikipedia

Cyclists in Lillestrøm, Norway, got a bonus in the form of “reverse tolls.” Photo: Wikipedia

It only lasted for a week, but Eric Britton at World Streets says it’s a completely rational economic policy response:

As part of Norway’s ongoing European Mobility Week celebrations, around 10,000 NOK (€1,200) was handed out in the town of Lillestrøm to pedestrians and cyclists in “reverse toll money.” The money symbolised the health benefits of walking and cycling, including better fitness, improved air quality and more efficient transport.

Cyclists received around €12, while pedestrians gained €11. Calculations carried out by the Norwegian Directorate of Health shows that active transport provides the state with a saving of 52 NOK (€6) per kilometer for pedestrians and 26 NOK (€3) per kilometer for cyclists. An average bike trip in Norway is 4 kilometers, providing a health benefit of 100 NOK (€12), while an average walking trip is 1.7 km, worth almost 90 NOK (€11)

The only thing I have to say about this is: EXCELLENT!

This is not a light-weight, happy go lucky, feel-good idea. It is world class economics. Full cost pricing: All you have to do is run the numbers and you can see where it is best to spend the taxpayer money.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Rails-to-Trails explains how Florida’s Amendment 1 could be a watershed moment for protecting environmentally sensitive land and expanding trails in the Sunshine State. The Dallas Morning News’ Transportation Blog says Zipcar is moving into the Big D. And Urban Velo has an update on the woman whose “crime” was riding her bike on a Kentucky road — she was jailed this week.

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DC and New Orleans Closing the Bike Commute Gap With Portland

Perennial cycling leaders like Portland and Minneapolis have seen progress slow, while some less well-known biking cities are making gains. Image: Bike Portland

Growth in bike commuting has slowed in Portland and Minneapolis, while some less well-known biking cities are making gains. Graph: Bike Portland

New Census numbers are out, providing fresh data on how Americans are getting to work, and Michael Andersen at BikePortland has noticed a couple of trends.

The mid-size cities best-known for biking haven’t made much progress lately, Andersen writes, while other cities have made rapid gains:

2013 Census estimates released Thursday show the big cities that led the bike spike of the 2000s — Minneapolis, Seattle, Denver and, most of all, Portland — all failing to make meaningful changes to their commuting patterns for three years or more.

Meanwhile, the same figures show a new set of cities rising fast — first among them Washington DC.

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