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Confirmed: Sprawl and Bad Transit Increase Unemployment

Since the 1960s and the earliest days of job sprawl, the theory of “spatial mismatch” — that low-income communities experience higher unemployment because they are isolated from employment centers – has shaped the way people think about urban form and social equity.

But it’s also been challenged. The research that supporting spatial mismatch has suffered from some nagging flaws. For example, many studies focused on job access within a single metropolitan area, so it wasn’t clear if the findings were universal. Other studies looked only at linear distance between jobs and low-income residents, not actual commute times. In addition, researchers including Harvard economist Ed Glaeser have argued that it’s difficult to determine whether neighborhood inaccessibility causes higher unemployment, or whether disconnected areas attract more people who have trouble finding work.

A new study [PDF] from researchers at the U.S. Census Bureau, the Comptroller of the Currency, and Harvard University, however, addresses those shortcomings and confirms the original theory of spatial mismatch: Geographic barriers to employment — sprawl, suburban zoning, poor transit – do indeed depress employment levels.

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Talking Headways Podcast: That Indie Flick You Were Looking For

podcast icon logoIf you’re a Netflix member, you’re part of the downfall of the brick-and-mortar video store. There are all kinds of reasons to be sad about that, but we look at its implications for urbanism and transportation. Besides, now where will you find esoteric foreign films to impress your friends? There are reasons to believe a few hardy indie-shop survivors could keep hanging on for a while (and we encourage you to bike to them).

Next, we shift gears to talk about how Vision Zero is unfolding in New York City. Streetsblog has called attention to the need to go beyond grand policy pronouncements and do the dirty work of changing the very culture that surrounds mobility. Specifically, the police need to stop forgiving deadly “errors” by drivers and start taking death by auto as seriously as other preventable deaths.

And then we called it a day because really, that was a lot.

Tell us about your favorite video store, or your least bike-friendly cop, or whatever you feel like telling us, in the comments.

And find us on iTunesStitcher, and the RSS feed.

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Ohio DOT Hosts Transit Meeting That No One Can Reach Via Transit

Ohio DOT is one of those old-school transportation agencies that’s still just a highway department. The director is a former asphalt industry lobbyist. The state — despite being fairly densely populated and urban (about 1 million people don’t have cars) — spent only $7.3 million supporting transit in 2013, far less than it devotes to mowing highway medians.

The Ohio Department of Transportation is planning to gather feedback about transit service in the Cincinnati region a location (Lebanon) that is entirely inaccessible to people who use transit. Image: Urban Cincy via Google Maps

ODOT is planning to gather feedback about transit service in the Cincinnati region at a location that is entirely inaccessible to people who rely on transit. Map: Urban Cincy via Google Maps

To its credit, however, Ohio DOT is currently hosting a series of meetings asking for feedback about public transit around the state. Unfortunately, writes Paige Malott at Urban Cincy, the meeting for the Cincinnati region will be in exurban Lebanon, essentially impossible to reach without access to a personal automobile:

By car, Lebanon is roughly a one hour drive north of Cincinnati, and a 30-minute drive south from Dayton. It’s also the city where the regional ODOT office is located; understandably why the administration would opt to hold a public involvement meeting here. What went unconsidered are the needs of people that the public meeting is focused on: citizens reliant on public transportation.

The closest Metro bus stop to Lebanon is 8.3 miles away, near Kings Island in Mason. Let’s say we’re feeling ambitious and attempt to take the bus, then bicycle the remaining journey to Lebanon. It would take 48 minutes to cycle to the meeting in addition to the 1 hour, 11 minute ride on the bus. Cincinnati Metro, the region’s bus system, only offers select service to the northern suburbs. In order to arrive on time for the 10am meeting, a person dependent on transit would have to catch the 71x at 7:45 a.m., arrive in Mason at 8:52 a.m., then continue to the meeting on bicycle.

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Today’s Headlines

  • What Will DOTs Look Like in 50 Years? (Next City)
  • AP: Democratic Districts (a.k.a. Urban Areas) Won Bigger Share of TIGER Grants
  • Foxx Talks With The Hill About Congress’s Failures on Transpo Funding
  • Work Continues on Nashville BRT, Even Though Mayor Pressed Pause (Nashville Post, Biz Journal)
  • If Voters Greenlight Light Rail in Pinellas, How Will It Work? (TampaBay.com)
  • Streetcar Debate Looms Large for Arlington, VA, Elections (WJLA)
  • Boston Bike-Share Doesn’t Expect Changes Under New Ownership (Boston.com)
  • Why Is Carroll County, MD, Afraid of Transit? (Baltimore Sun)
  • Light Rail Plans Evolve for Chandler, AZ (Arizona Republic)
  • How Did Memphis Turn Into One of America’s Best Bike Towns? (CityLab)
  • Writer Spends a Full Day Riding the T in Search of Boston’s Spirit (Boston Globe)
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6 Transportation Ballot Initiatives to Watch Next Tuesday

Activists in Clayton County, Georgia, support a ballot measure that would connect the county with the regional transit system. Photo: STAND UP via ##http://saportareport.com/blog/2014/07/as-clayton-commission-gets-a-marta-vote-do-over-spotlight-shines-on-gail-hambrick/##Saporta Report##

Activists in Clayton County, Georgia, support a ballot measure that would connect the county with the regional transit system. Photo: STAND UP via Saporta Report

Next week, voters in Maryland and Wisconsin may tell state officials to keep their greedy paws off transportation funds. Louisianans will consider whether to create an infrastructure bank to help finance projects. Texans will weigh the wisdom of raiding the state’s Rainy Day Fund for — what else? — highways. And Massachusetts activists who have been fighting to repeal the state’s automatic gas tax hikes will finally get their day of reckoning.

Those are just a few of the decisions facing voters as they go to the polls Tuesday. They’re the ones getting the most press and that could have the biggest impact. For instance, if Massachusetts loses its ability to raise the gas tax to keep up with inflation, it could inspire anti-tax activists in other states that would like to gut their own revenue collection mechanisms, too.

There are lots of local initiatives on next Tuesday’s ballot that aren’t generating so much buzz but could still have major implications for the state of transportation in key parts of the country. Here are some contests you should pay attention to.

This is what Pinellas County's rail system could look like in 10 years, if it passes Tuesday's ballot referendum. Image: ##http://greenlightpinellas.com/about/view-the-maps##Greenlight Pinellas##

This is what Pinellas County’s transit system could look like in 10 years, if it passes Tuesday’s ballot referendum. Map: Greenlight Pinellas

Pinellas County, Florida: For years, transit advocates have been trying to correct what they see as a major deficiency in Tampa’s regional transportation network: It is the largest metropolitan area in the country without rail transit. Voters in the three counties that make up the Tampa Bay region — Polk, Pinellas, and Hillsborough — all have to approve a new one-cent sales tax to pay for a potential light rail system and other transit improvements. Voters in Hillsborough rebuffed an attempt to get approval in 2010. Pinellas and Polk are trying this year.

Specifically, Pinellas County voters will decide on Greenlight Pinellas, a plan to increase bus service by 65 percent and build a 24-mile light rail line from downtown St. Petersburg to downtown Clearwater. It would form part of a regional transit system that the three counties are still trying to figure out. It’s by no means a done deal: The Pinellas contest has been one of the most bitterly and loudly contentious of this cycle. But a vote in favor of building the system would be a game-changer.

“The hope is that a positive vote, particularly in Pinellas, would really be a shot in arm for Hillsborough to come back to the voters or to proceed with some other funding mechanism to support the system,” said Jason Jordan, who tracks transit-related ballot initiatives around the country for the Center for Transportation Excellence.

Polk, the least urban of the three counties, will vote on a one-cent sales tax measure that would fund both transit and roads.

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Documentary to Explore Racial Discrimination in Transportation Planning

Beavercreek, Ohio, nabbed its own infamous place in civil rights history last year, when the Federal Highway Administration ruled that the suburb had violated anti-discrimination laws by blocking bus service from nearby Dayton.

The Beavercreek case marked the first time civil rights activists had successfully filed this type of administrative complaint with the FHWA against a public agency for violating Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Since the law was passed, dozens of these complaints have been filed, but not until Beavercreek did advocates use this mechanism to compel action by a local government, according to the maker of a new documentary. The decision gave Dayton area transit riders access to a bus route to a growing, mostly-white suburb that had sought to keep them out.

The Beavercreek case illustrates larger, more widespread problems with America’s transportation system, say researchers at Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. The Kirwan Institute is producing a one-hour documentary exploring the Beavercreek case and how racism can influence transportation decision making. The filmmakers hope to air the show on PBS after its completion this spring.

I got in touch with producer Matt Martin about the project via email. Martin noted that in a Title VI administrative complaint, the plaintiff must only show there was “disparate impact” on protected classes of people, rather than the much-tougher standard of intentional discrimination required in civil rights cases that go to court. Raising awareness of the administrative complaint as a tool for local activists and preserving its usefulness is one of the film’s main goals, Martin says.

Here is our short Q & A.

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The Airtight Case for Road Diets

Converting roads from four lanes to three has been found to reduce collisions anywhere from 20 to 50 percent. That's huge! Image: Streets.mn

Converting roads from four lanes to three has been found to reduce collisions anywhere from 20 to 50 percent. Image: Streets.mn

Bill Lindeke at Streets.mn calls them “death roads.” Four-lane roads in urban areas can indeed be perilous.

An 11-year-old boy was struck by a motorist on one of these roads recently in St. Paul. The media and others responded in typical fashion, deeming the crash an unavoidable “accident.” But the truth is these types of collisions are easy to prevent, Lindeke says.

Converting four-lane roads to three lanes, a change commonly known as a “road diet,” makes them substantially safer, with little downside. Lindeke cites the data.

#1) 3-lane roads are much safer for car drivers. According to a Federal Highway Administration study, changing a 4-lane Death Road™ into a three-lane road reduces automobile traffic accidents from 20% to 50% depending on the context. (Note: this makes intuitive sense if you’ve ever driven on a street like this.) There are dozens of similar studies out there.

#2) 3-lane roads have marginal impact on traffic flow. I’m not going to suggest that a 4-to-3 conversion of a Death Road™ has no impact on traffic flow (though sometimes that turns out to be the case). Rather, fixing a Death Road™ usually sees a reduction in car throughput in the 5% to 10% range. As another Federal Highway Administration report puts it, “under most average daily traffic (ADT) conditions tested, road diets have minimal effects on vehicle capacity.”

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Today’s Headlines

  • Nashville Mayor Puts the Brakes on BRT (Nashville Post)
  • Major Expansion Planned for NYC’s Citi Bike (Streetsblog NYC)
  • Why Aren’t the California Governor Candidates Talking About High-Speed Rail? (LAT)
  • Amtrak Looks Into Chicago Gridlock (Red Eye Chicago, Plain Dealer)
  • Obama Reportedly Searching for New Auto Safety Chief (Reuters)
  • It’s a Good Bet Maryland’s Purple Line Will Beat Ridership Predictions (GGW)
  • Detroit-Chicago Rail Would Travel 110 MPH for 10 Daily Trips (Detroit Free Press)
  • The World’s Most Dangerous Transit Systems for Women (CNN)
  • Providence Journal: Vote Yes on Question 6 for Transportation
  • Downtown Denver Crowdfunds for Bike Lane Design (Denver Biz Journal)
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Man Who Painted Speed Warning on Street Vows to Fight Charges

A Pennsylvania man was charged with criminal mischief for painting this sign in front of his business. Photo: KDKA Channel 2

A Pennsylvania man was charged with criminal mischief for painting this plea in front of his business. Via KDKA Channel 2

A Pennsylvania man faces charges of criminal mischief and disorderly conduct for painting a warning to speeding drivers on his street.

John Cherok appealed to the city about drivers going dangerously fast in front of his bookstore in McDonald, Pennsylvania. The city, for its part, conducted a study and told him speeding wasn’t a problem.

The frustrated Cherok decided to paint a 25 MPH sign and the word “SLOW” in the road. Now he faces misdemeanor charges plus a $536 fine, which he refuses to pay and will fight in court.

“I was fed up,” Cherok told KDKA Channel 2, in a segment picked up by the New York Post. “I don’t know what else to do.”

The footage shows supportive neighbors of Cherok, backing up his claims that speeding is a big problem.

“All he’s trying to do is look out for the welfare of the kids around here,” one neighbor told KDKA Channel 2.

“It’s only right that somebody stood up and tried to do something about it,” said another.

Engineer Charles Marohn of Strong Towns fame praised Cherok as a local hero. The dismissive attitude from the city reflects a wider problem in the rule-bound, unresponsive traffic engineering profession, which Marohn summarized brilliantly a few years ago in a viral video.

“We need more people like this and more cities that get the message,” Marohn said on Facebook. “Some standard in some road manual does not not render us impotent. Or stupid.”

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Don’t Believe the Headlines: Bike Boom Has Been Fantastic for Bike Safety

safety in numbers 77-12 570

The Governors Highway Safety Association released a report Monday that, the organization claimed, showed that the ongoing surge in American biking has increased bike fatalities.

Transportation reporters around the country swung into action.

“Fatal bicycle crashes on the rise, new study shows,” said the Des Moines Register headline.

“Cycling is increasing and that may be reflected by an increase in fatal crashes,” wrote NJ.com.

“Bike riding, particularly among urban commuters, is up, and the trend has led to a 16 percent increase in cyclist fatalities nationwide,” reported the Washington Post.

Bike fatalities are a serious problem that needs to be tackled. The United States has dramatically higher rates of injury and death on bikes than other rich countries, and it would be appropriate for GHSA, an umbrella organization of state departments of transportation, to issue an urgent call to action to make biking safer. So it’s especially troubling that the main thrust of this report is complete baloney.

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