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Will Seattle’s Helmet Law Be a Drag on Its New Bike-Share System?

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray led an inaugural Pronto bike share ride. Everyone wore helmets, as is required by law. Photo: City of Seattle

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray led an inaugural Pronto bike share ride. Everyone wore helmets, as is required by law. Photo: City of Seattle

In what will likely be the largest bike-share expansion in the U.S. this year, Seattle’s Pronto launched last week with 500 bikes.

Local media is reporting the system hosted about 4,000 rides its first week. That’s generally seen as a positive sign, about in line with what DC’s successful Capital Bikeshare’s early totals.

But this bike-share launch is a little more complicated than most, because Seattle has a mandatory helmet law for riders of all ages. Riding a bike in Seattle without the proper head gear can land you an $81 ticket.

Pronto bike-share will eventually have helmet rental equipment, but that won’t be available for about six months, so instead the city is loaning helmets on the honor system. The helmets will be sanitized after each use, and wrapped in a plastic coating. How well that will work remains to be seen.

Seattle’s alt weekly the Stranger pointed out that the helmet law could be a major drawback for the system. The money that is being poured into the experimental helmet vending system could have been used for additional stations, the paper’s Ansel Herz pointed out.

Gordon Price, director of the City Program at Simon Frazier University in British Columbia, wrote on his blog Price Tags that the “only places” around the world where bike-share systems “weren’t wildly successful” were cities that have helmet laws, like Melbourne, Australia.

Mayor Ed Murray has made it pretty clear that he is not in favor of eliminating the city’s helmet law, saying it saves on health care costs. This is highly questionable for a few reasons. Helmet laws have been shown to discourage cycling, and the more cyclists there are, the safer cycling becomes. Furthermore, bike-share has proven to be extremely safe, without a single fatality in more than 23 million total U.S. bike-share trips. Though it was widely misreported, a recent study found a decline in total head injuries following the introduction of bike-sharing in American cities. And of course, exercise, including cycling, improves health overall.

Some cities, like Dallas and Mexico City, have eliminated or modified helmet laws to help ensure the success of their bike-share systems.

Hopefully, Pronto’s success won’t be hindered, but it will be interesting to watch what happens in the coming months.

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WaPo Transpo Forum: America’s Mayors Aren’t Waiting for Washington

Atlanta’s BeltLine of bike and pedestrian trails is raising property values in every place it touches. Denver’s new rail line will create a much-needed link between Union Station downtown and the airport, 23 miles away. Miami is building 500 miles of bike paths and trails. Los Angeles is breaking new ground with everything from rail expansion to traffic light synchronization. And Salt Lake City’s mayor bikes to work and, by increasing investment in bike infrastructure, is encouraging a lot of others to join him.

At this week’s Washington Post forum on transportation, five mayors from this diverse set of cities spoke of the challenges and opportunities they face as they try to improve transportation options without much help or guidance from the federal government.

Speaking of the feds:

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

Mayor Kasim Reed of Atlanta is tired of Congress not doing its job. “Cities don’t get to kick the can,” he said. And even if the feds aren’t ready to make big investments, private and foreign investors are reportedly itching to get a crack at U.S. infrastructure, but there’s been no good process for doing so. Reed wants the federal government to play a convening role, bringing mayors together with private investors they can pitch projects to.

And either way, he said, if the federal government is providing less funding to cities for transportation, “we think they need to have a little less say” — except when it comes to safety. But Denver Mayor Michael Hancock says there’s an upside to the gridlock in Washington: “Cities are being more creative.” And Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker says the Obama administration has been a great partner — pointing especially to the TIGER program and the HUD/DOT/EPA Partnership for Sustainable Communities.

New projects:

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is excited about intelligent transportation technology, like the traffic signal synchronization his predecessor, Antonio Villaraigosa, pioneered. And LA’s Expo line — which he dubbed the Beach-to-Bars line — opens soon, turning a two-hour slog through traffic into a 45-minute pleasure cruise. He says it’ll open up access to the Philharmonic and sports venues that, these days, are often avoided because the trip is too hellish.

But Garcetti is already on to the next thing. To him, that thing is autonomous cars. He thinks LA will be a natural home for those. In fact, he openly acknowledges that his push to build BRT lanes is all in the interest of turning them into autonomous vehicle lanes a few years down the road. That’s right — despite the visionary strategic plan LA just released, Garcetti wants to turn road space over from efficient modes to less efficient ones.

And he does think driverless cars are just a few years away — he estimates that one in every 100 cars will be self-driving in 10 years, and five years after that they’ll be “absolutely mainstream.”

Denver’s Mayor Hancock is especially excited about the “Corridor of Opportunity” between the airport and Union Station because he lives out by the airport — one block inside the city limits, just enough to run for mayor, he admits. He currently drives to work, but he says he’s excited for the chance to take the train instead. “What we’ve decided to do is Denver is create a more multimodal approach to our transportation challenges,” he said. “Not only do you need to plan transit, but you need to plan for bicycles, you need to plan for pedestrian-friendly communities.” (And more lanes on the highway.)

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

Carlos Gimenez, mayor of Miami-Dade County, says they don’t really have a rail transit “system” at all, just one line (with a little detour to the airport). They’re still waiting for a rail link to the beach. The county’s new 10-year transportation plan has been lambasted by advocates as “complete fluff with no substance, future transit vision, or measurable goals.”

Once these projects get going, they have a way of multiplying. Salt Lake City has built 140 miles of urban rail in 15 years, and Mayor Becker says that even the skeptics wanted a light rail line of their own the minute the first line opened. What they still need to do, Becker said, is flesh out the bus system — “we invested in rail to the detriment of a really strong bus system,” he said — and fill in the gaps in the bike trail network.

On financing:

Read more…

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Across the U.S., Poor Job Access Compels Even People Without Cars to Drive

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Metropolitan share of zero-vehicle commuters driving to work, 2013. Source: Brookings analysis of American Community Survey data

Cross-posted from Brookings’ The Avenue blog. This article is the second in a short series examining new Census data on transportation trends.

While more Americans are relying on alternative modes to get to work every day, cars still define most of our commutes. Over time, these high driving rates not only reflect a built environment that continues to promote vehicle usage — despite recent shifts toward city living and job clustering — but also call into question how well our transportation networks offer access to economic opportunity for all workers.

This is especially important for those workers without cars.

The most recent 2013 Census numbers shed light on the commuting habits of the 6.3 million workers who don’t have a private vehicle at home. That’s about 4.5 percent of all workers, up from 4.2 percent in 2007.

Zero-vehicle workers still do quite a bit of driving. Over 20 percent drive alone to work — meaning they find a private car to borrow — and another 12 percent commute via carpool. Both rates jumped between 2007 and 2013, defying national trends toward less driving. This paints a discouraging picture about transportation access across the country for a segment of commuters who must expend extra effort to get to work.

Metropolitan data underscores the breadth of this problem. Transit-rich metros like New York, San Francisco, and Chicago have the most zero-vehicle workers, and they drive less frequently. However, in other large metro areas like Dallas, Detroit, and Riverside, over half the zero-vehicle workers find a car to drive to work. Driving rates jump to over 70 percent in metros like Birmingham, AL; Jackson, MS; and Provo, UT. Across 77 of the 100 largest metro areas, at least 40 percent of zero-vehicle commuters drive to work.

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After 40 Years, Will Atlanta’s MARTA See a Major Suburban Expansion?

Back in the ’70s, Clayton County didn’t want to be part of MARTA, Atlanta’s regional transit service. It was one of the suburban counties that “opted out.” In fact, all of Atlanta’s metro counties opted out except DeKalb and Fulton — the two that share the city of Atlanta proper.

Suburban Clayton County wants to be the first county to join Atlanta's MARTA transit system since the 1970s. Photo: Transportation for America

Suburban Clayton County wants to be the first county to join Atlanta’s MARTA since the 1970s. Photo: Transportation for America

But times are changing. Clayton County, where the population of residents with low incomes is increasing, eliminated its bus service altogether in 2010, during a recession-era budget crisis. Now the county is seeking permission from the state to propose a tax increase to its residents that would make it the first new MARTA county in four decades.

Stephen Lee Davis at the Transportation for America blog has the story:

On Nov. 4, Clayton County voters will decide on a measure to increase the local sales tax by a percent to join MARTA, the regional transit system. Doing so would restore bus service and jumpstart planning for bus rapid transit or a rail extension in the years to come. As county commissioners debated whether or not to put the question on the ballot, they heard hefty support from residents, who turned out to meetings to urge commissioners to make a vote happen. And most of the commissioners saw the need.

Interestingly, state law already provided for Clayton to be a part of MARTA, and as one of the five core counties included in the 1970’s charter actually had a vote on the MARTA board. But Clayton and two other counties declined to pass the sales tax, and only the City of Atlanta, Dekalb and Fulton counties ponied up. In the meantime, Clayton had used its available sales tax percentage — state law caps it — for other purposes. That meant that the state had to waive that cap specifically for Clayton so they could decide on the MARTA tax. (A second piece of legislation was required to restructure the MARTA board to give Clayton County two representatives on the board starting next year.)

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Today’s Headlines

  • Amtrak Weighs Selling Northeast Real Estate to Developers (Bloomberg)
  • Why is Metro Commuting Waning in DC? (WaPo)
  • New “Flyover Bridge” to Reduce Rail Congestion in Chicago (Chicago Trib)
  • EPA Invites Applications for Smart Growth Assistance
  • Do Jobs or Housing Motivate People to Move? (CityLab)
  • Developers and Activists Urge Miami to Ditch Parking Reqs for Small Buildings (Miami Herald)
  • Salt Lake City Mayors Show Off TOD to Christopher Leinberger (Salt Lake Trib)
  • Seattle Bike-Share Hits 4,000 Rides in First Week (Seattle PI)
  • Long Island Shifts Away From the Single-Family Home (WSJ)
  • NTSB to Release Full Report on Metro-North Crash (Stamford Advocate)
  • Can Awards for Urban Innovation Make a Difference? (CityLab)
  • BRT, Metro Extension in Store for Virginia’s Route 1 (Connection Newspapers)
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By a Wide Margin, Americans Favor Transit Expansion Over New Roads

It's not even close. Americans prefer transit spending to road spending. Photo: Wikipedia

It’s not even close. Americans prefer transit spending to road spending. Photo: Wikipedia

If only our nation’s spending priorities more closely tracked public opinion: A new poll [PDF] from ABC News and the Washington Post finds that when presented with the choice, Americans would rather spend transportation resources expanding transit than widening roads.

In a landline and cell phone survey that asked 1,001 randomly selected adults how they prefer “to reduce traffic congestion around
the country,” 54 percent said they would rather see government “providing more public transportation options,” compared to 41 percent who preferred “expanding and building roads.” Five percent offered no opinion on the matter. The survey had a margin of error of 3.5 percent.

Attitudes varied by political leaning, place of residence, and other demographic factors. Urbanites were most likely to prefer transit spending (61 percent), followed by suburbanites (52 percent), then rural residents (49 percent), indicating that transit may be preferred to roads in every setting, though the pollster’s announcement doesn’t include enough detail to say so conclusively.

Among college graduates, racial minorities, people under 40, very high earners, and political liberals and independents, majorities favor transit expansion. Meanwhile, strong conservatives, evangelical white protestants, and white men without college degrees are more likely to favor road spending.

The poll release was timed in conjunction with Tuesday’s Washington Post forum on transportation issues.

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Talking Headways Podcast: Dear Bike People

podcast icon logoDo people of color and low-income people ride bikes? Not as much as they could, given all the great benefits biking offers, particularly to people without a lot of disposable cash. But yes, non-white and non-rich people ride bikes — in high numbers compared to the general population, by some measures.

Even though they’re biking the streets, people of color and those with low incomes are largely missing from the bicycle advocacy world. The League of American Bicyclists, along with many other advocacy organizations around the country, are out to change that. We covered the League’s report on equity in the bicycling movement last week — but there was still lots more to talk about.

So Jeff and I called up Adonia Lugo, who manages the equity initiative at the League. We talked about what local advocacy groups can do if they want to reach out to new constituencies, whether infrastructure design really needs a multicultural perspective, and how the movement can start “seeing” bicyclists that don’t fit the prevailing stereotype.

We know you have strong feelings about these issues. Tell us all about ‘em in the comments  – after you listen.

And find us on  iTunesStitcher, and the RSS feed.

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Fact Checking the Florida Department of Transportation

Quadrille Boulevard in West Palm Beach. Photo: Walkable WPB

The Florida Department of Transportation says its rules prevent a road diet on Quadrille Boulevard in West Palm Beach. Advocates looked up the rules and found the agency was wrong. Photo: Walkable WPB

Quadrille Boulevard in West Palm Beach is what Chuck Marohn of Strong Towns would call a “stroad.” It’s a poorly designed, high-speed chute for cars that is completely hostile to its urban surroundings.

That’s why residents of West Palm Beach were so disappointed to learn that the Florida Department of Transportation plans to resurface the road and put everything back the way it is. When local advocates suggested that Quadrille Boulevard doesn’t need lanes to be 15 feet wide and can go on a road diet, the agency shot them down, saying its rules wouldn’t allow it.

Network blog Walkable West Palm Beach decided to fact check the agency, and it turns out FDOT needs to get a better grip on its own rules:

Frankly, FDOT is wrong in their response to the citizen stating that 10-foot lanes aren’t allowed on state highways. FDOT’s primary design manual is the Plans Preparation Manual (PPM). The PPM contains a very interesting chapter titled Transportation Design for Livable Communities (TDLC). The TDLC chapter is tucked away at the end of the manual far and away from the geometric requirements for highways and stroads. As shown in the following table from the TDLC chapter there is a footnote that allows thru lanes to be reduced from 11 feet to 10 feet in width in highly restricted areas with design speeds less than or equal to 35 MPH, having little or no truck traffic.

Quadrille fits the bill. Look at what 10-foot lanes would make possible for this street:

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Today’s Headlines

  • November Vote Could Integrate Suburban County Into Atlanta Transit (Next City)
  • Chinese Firm Bids for California High-Speed Rail Project, Wins Boston Contract (Gov Tech, Fox Biz)
  • Redfin Buys Walkscore (WiredGeekWire)
  • Basic Questions Still Remain About D.C. Streetcar Plans (WaPo)
  • What Can the U.S. Can Learn From France’s Transit Designs? (CityLab)
  • Maryland and Wisconsin Voters Could Put Transpo Funds on Lockdown (T4America)
  • Bloomberg View: Bullet Trains Won’t Work Unless We Resolve Local Congestion
  • Can Congestion Pricing Be a Solution Where It’s Most Needed? (Roll Call)
  • Colorado Could See Better Rail Connections (Pueblo Chieftain)
  • What Does Dallas Want to Be? (Dallas News)
  • Grand Rapids to Debut New Amtrak Station Next Week (M Live)
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Study: Safe Routes to School Programs Boost Walking and Biking 30%

In just two generations, the share of American kids who walk or bike to school has plummeted — dropping from 50 percent in 1969 to 13 percent today. Can the trend be reversed? Yes, according to new research that shows the impact of street safety infrastructure and other programs implemented with federal Safe Routes to School (SRTS) funds.

Photo: United Way

study published in this quarter’s Journal of the American Planning Association found that over time, SRTS programs produce significant increases in the share of children who walk or bike to school — an effect that grows more pronounced over time. The average increase in walking and biking rates attributable to SRTS programs over a five-year period was 31 percent, the researchers concluded.

The authors examined 801 schools in Florida, Oregon, Texas, and the District of Columbia, using data collected by the National Center for Safe Routes to School from 2007 to 2012 – yielding data from 378 schools with SRTS programs and 423 without. They say the study is the first SRTS research based on such a large geographic sample of schools, enabling them to isolate the effect of different types of Safe Routes to School strategies.

The effect of “education and encouragement” programs grew over time, with SRTS schools seeing progressively larger differences in each successive year. Over five years, the researchers found, this tactic led to a 25 percent increase in walking and biking to school, controlling for demographic differences, neighborhood characteristics, and other factors. Meanwhile, infrastructure investments like safer sidewalks or bike lanes led to a one-time 18 percent increase.

While Safe Routes to School programs work, they’re also in jeopardy. Federal funding for SRTS was cut in the last transportation bill, and that fight is expected to resume once Congress takes up the next one.