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Koch-Funded Groups: Cut All Federal Funding for Walking, Biking, Transit

The Highway Trust Fund is going broke, but a group of conservatives is pretending that the problem is "squirrel sanctuaries." Image: Brookings

As inflation eats away at the gas tax, the Highway Trust Fund is going broke. But a group of conservatives is pretending that the problem is transit and “squirrel sanctuaries.” Image: Brookings

You know it’s time to fight over the federal transportation bill when the fossil fuel-soaked elements of the conservative movement start agitating to stop funding everything except car infrastructure.

Yesterday, a coalition of 50 groups, several funded by the Koch brothers, sent a letter to Congress arguing that the way to fix federal transportation funding is to cut the small portion that goes to walking, biking, and transit [PDF]. The signatories do not want Congress to even think about raising the gas tax, which has been steadily eaten away by inflation since 1993.

The coalition membership includes many stalwarts of the Koch network, including Americans for Prosperity, Freedom Partners, and the Club for Growth. The Koch brothers recently went public with plans to spend nearly $900 million on the 2016 elections.

The billionaire-friendly coalition is trying to play the populist card. Raising the gas tax to pay for roads, they say, is “regressive” because poor people will pay more than rich people if the gas tax is increased. But eliminating all funding for transit, biking, and walking, which people who can’t afford a car rely on? Not a problem to these guys.

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Are You an Incrementalist or a Completionist?

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

A lot of arguments in the world of progressive street design these days aren’t between good and bad. They’re between better and much better.

For example, better:

Kinzie Street, Chicago.

And much better:

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Streetsblog NYC 13 Comments

A New Type of Streetsblog in St. Louis, Ohio, Texas, and the Southeast? Yep.

A little more than six years ago, we launched the Streetsblog Network as a way for people across the country writing about livable streets, sustainable transportation, and smart growth to band together and share ideas. There are many wonderful things about the Streetsblog Network, but I would put this is at the top of my list: It is both profoundly local, full of people working on the nitty-gritty of street design, transit service, and planning issues in their hometowns, and broadly distributed, with hundreds of members operating in cities all over the nation.

For a long time we’ve been thinking about how to build on these strengths. And today we’re going live with a new way to channel the energy of the Streetsblog Network and broadcast it to the world.

We are launching affiliate sites that combine the work of Streetsblog Network members in four regions: St. Louis, Ohio, Texas, and the Southeast. These sites run on a different model than our other city-based Streetsblogs with full-time staff. Each Streetsblog affiliate syndicates material from several blogs in its region and runs a daily dose of headlines to satisfy the universal craving for morning news. Have a look. (Doesn’t it blow your mind to see the words “Streetsblog Texas” in a site banner?)

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Our partners in this endeavor are volunteers writing in their spare time, independent media entrepreneurs, and people working at non-profit advocacy organizations and academic institutions. By running their work in this format, on the Streetsblog platform, we aim to help build their audience both nationally and in their home regions. The geographic scope of most of these sites is bigger than the usual Streetsblog city-based beat, but the writers are addressing overlapping issues — a Paleolithic state DOT, for instance, or city leadership that struggles to get Complete Streets right. We believe there will be strength in numbers like there’s been with the national Streetsblog Network.

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What’s Holding Back Austin Transit Ridership? Look at Where the Jobs Are

Why isn't Austin's transit ridership keeping pace? Graph: Keep Austin Wonky

Why isn’t Austin’s transit ridership keeping pace? Graph: Keep Austin Wonky

A recent post at Keep Austin Wonky asks why transit ridership in Austin seems to be stagnating even as the region grows at a healthy clip. Julio Gonzalez Altamirano says it doesn’t seem to be gas prices or transit funding, but something about the way the city is physically developing that’s hindering ridership growth.

Jeff Wood at the Overhead Wire says perhaps the culprit is job sprawl and the relative lack of growth in downtown employment:

Julio says that for the last 15 years, population has increased 34% in the region. Because data from LED is only available from 2002 on, that leaves us with a 13 year period.  But the growth in jobs in that 13 years has been 26% or ~675K to ~852K according to LED data.

But for downtown, which I looked at as West of I-35, North of Barton Springs Road, East of Lamar, and South of MLK employment growth is much smaller. Only an 18% change, from ~112K in 2002 to ~132K in 2011.  The share of employment that resides in this downtown sector has gone down too.  In 2002 it was 16.5% of total jobs in the region, while in 2011 it was 15.5% of total jobs.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Anthony Foxx Says Lack of Long-Term Funding Threatens Big Transpo Projects (The Hill)
  • Washington Senate Republicans: Abandon Seattle’s Disastrous Deep-Bore Tunnel (The Stranger)
  • Albuquerque Is Getting Complete Streets (Business Journals)
  • A Virginia Law Penalizes Cities That Perform Road Diets (Times-Dispatch)
  • Baton Rouge Considers Bike-share (Nola.com)
  • Massachusetts Woman Sentenced for Driving Into a Crowd of Bicyclists, Killing Two (Seacoast Online)
  • Philly Increased Tickets to Pedestrians 37 Percent Last Year (Philly.com)
  • Why Free Parking Is Like a Tax on People Who Don’t Drive (A Whole Minute)
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Boris Johnson Commits to a Protected “Cycle Superhighway” Crossing London

London's "crossrail for bikes" will be the longest protected bike lane in Europe. Image: London Evening Standard

London’s “crossrail for bikes” will be the longest urban protected bike lane in Europe, according to the London papers. Image: London Evening Standard

London Mayor Boris Johnson is showing cities what it looks like to commit real resources to repurposing car lanes for high-quality bike infrastructure.

Yesterday, Johnson announced the city will begin building a wide, continuous protected bike lane linking east and west London when the weather warms this spring. When complete, it will be the longest protected “urban cycle lane” in Europe, according to Metro UK, carrying riders through the heart of the city and some of its most famous landmarks. The bike lane will be separated from vehicle traffic by a curb, London-based design blog Dezeen reports.

While bike infrastructure is cheap, London is devoting serious resources to ensuring that this bike lane is as safe, spacious, and comfortable as it can be. The central portion of the bike route, about 5.5 miles, will cost £41 to construct ($62 million).

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Pieces in Place for AASHTO to Endorse Protected Bike Lanes… by 2020

Part of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, installed in 2011.

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

The bible of U.S. bikeway engineering, last revised just before the modern American protected bike lane explosion, will almost certainly include protected lanes in its next update.

That’s the implication of a project description released last month from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

AASHTO’s current bikeway guide doesn’t spell out standards for protected bike lanes. Its updated edition is on track to be released in 2018 at the soonest. A long wait? Yes, but that would still shave seven years off the previous 13-year update cycle.

“Back in 2009, we maybe had a few miles of separated bike lanes in this country,” said Jennifer Toole, founder of Toole Design Group and the lead contractor who wrote AASHTO’s current bike guide. “It was written right on the cusp of those new changes. Now we have all kinds of experience with this stuff. And data — we’ve got data for the first time.”

AASHTO’s richly detailed and researched guides are the main resource for most U.S. transportation engineers. Some civil engineers simply will not build anything that lacks AASHTO-approved design guidance.

However, dozens of cities in most U.S. states have now begun building protected lanes with the help of other publications.

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This Is the Kind of Leadership We Need From State DOTs

“A breath of fresh air” — that’s how Chuck Marohn at Strong Towns describes this interview with Tennessee DOT Commissioner John Schroer. In this video, produced by Smart Growth America, Schroer describes what he is doing to make Tennessee’s the ”the best DOT in the country.” Here are some of the highlights:

We did a top-to-bottom review and we looked at everything that we did and we analyzed it from a production standpoint to a financial standpoint. Changed a lot of the leadership within the department, brought in a lot of people from the private sector.

I found when I  moved into this position, a lot of cities did a poor job of long-range planning — in how they did zoning, in how they approved projects — and took very little consideration into the transportation mode. Oftentimes those cities would then call us and say, “We’ve got a problem, you need to help us fix it.” Well, that problem was self-created. It was self-created because they made bad zoning decisions, they put a school in the wrong place without thinking about transportation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to build a bypass to a bypass, and that purely is bad planning. We’ve got a whole division now that is working with communities right now and trying to help them not make those bad decisions, and when that happens the state saves money.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Bernie Sanders Pitches $1 Trillion Infrastructure Bill… But No Funding Source (WaPo)
  • How Low Gas Prices Could Spell Trouble for Obama’s Climate Plan (National Journal)
  • House T&I Committee Announces Subcomittee Assignments
  • Minnesota Gov Slaps Parks Board for Stalling LRT, Plans Tax Hikes for Transpo (F&C, Pioneer Press)
  • Winter Storms Aren’t a Big Deal For Walkable, Transit-Oriented Communities (CT Post)
  • New Amtrak Site Focuses on Northeast Corridor, Makes Case for NYC Gateway Project (TSTC)
  • Mapping D.C.’s Cycling and Pedestrian Injuries (City Paper)
  • Phoenix Mayor a Big Fan of Bike-Share (AZ Central)
  • Timeline Uncertain for Downtown Dallas Streetcar (Dallas Morning News)
  • Why It Makes Sense for Labor Unions to Be Anti-Sprawl (Next City)
  • Light Rail for Birmingham By 2021? (AL.com)
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Cincinnati’s Eastern Corridor: The $1.4 Billion Road No One Seems to Want

The Eastern Corridor is an expensive state DOT highway project searching for a reason to exist.

The highway plan would relocate SR 32 through Mariemont's South 80 Park. Image: Village of Mariemont

The highway plan would reroute SR 32 through Mariemont’s South 80 Park, named for its 80-acre size. Image: Village of Mariemont

The $1.4 billion proposal from Ohio DOT is ostensibly intended to reduce commute times from Cincinnati’s far eastern bedroom communities to downtown. The project, a remnant of 1960s-era road planning, would create a commuter highway through the eastern Cincinnati region by widening and partially rerouting State Route 32, as well as widening Red Bank Road. The plan also contains commuter rail and bike infrastructure elements. Proponents, like the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, say it will shorten car commutes and promote job development in the eastern suburbs [PDF].

But even with those multi-modal goodies, nobody seems to like this highway — not even the towns it is designed to serve, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. Newtown (population 2,600) opposes it. The village of Mariemont (population 3,400) opposes it. Madisonville, an eastern Cincinnati neighborhood that would be served by the road, opposes it.  “We don’t need it,” Newtown Mayor Curt Cosby told the Enquirer.

“The state keeps saying, ‘Well, we hear you and we’re taking that into account.’ But they continue to move forward and spend money. They don’t really hear us.”

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