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The Koch Brothers’ War on Transit

Fanning the flames of Agenda 21 paranoia just scratches the surface of how the Kochs and their political network have undermined transit. Image: screenshot from “Koch Brothers Exposed” via Salon

Transit advocates around the country were transfixed by a story in Tennessee this April, when the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity made a bid to pre-emptively kill Nashville bus rapid transit. It was an especially brazen attempt by Charles and David Koch’s political network to strong-arm local transportation policy makers. But it was far from the only time the Kochs and their surrogates have taken aim at transit.

The Koch brothers, who owe their fortune to fossil fuels, are best known for funding global warming deniers and Republican insurgents aligned with the Tea Party. With their political influence under greater scrutiny during election season, now’s a good time to pull together the various strands of Koch anti-transit activism.

The Kochs fund a wide-ranging network of “think tanks,” non-profits, and political organizations. Their best-known political arm is Americans for Prosperity and its various offshoots and subsidiaries. David Koch was founding chairman of Americans for Prosperity, and both brothers provided funding for its launch. Among other activities, the group does plenty to manufacture Agenda 21 paranoia, which has cable subscribers around the country convinced that smart growth is a United Nations conspiracy that will lead to one-world government.

The Kochs also have plenty of ties to widely quoted, transit-bashing pundits like Randall O’Toole, Wendell Cox, and Stanley Kurtz — people employed by organizations that receive Koch funding, like the Cato Institute and the Reason Foundation, and who spout the same talking points against walkability and smart growth.

Fake experts like O’Toole and Cox have been making the rounds for ages, but the Nashville BRT story raised new questions. How many local transit projects are drawing fire from the Koch political network? And what impact is it having?

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Complete Freeways? Florida Tries Bike Lanes on Highway Bridges

The Julia Tuttle Causeway in Miami. The white stripe between the traffic lane and the bicycle lane will vibrate if a car crosses it, but that's all the protection there is. Photo: Miami-Dade MPO

The Julia Tuttle Causeway in Miami. The white stripe between the traffic lane and the bicycle lane will vibrate if a car crosses it, but that’s all the protection there is. A hand railing was added to the wall after this photo was taken. Photo: Miami-Dade MPO

A few years ago, a person living in a working-class neighborhood of Miami and commuting to the tourism district in Miami Beach could pretty much forget about walking or biking there. Her choices were either to pay for the bus or buy a car, but healthy, active transportation was impossible — or at least, illegal. Biking and walking were banned on the causeways between the mainland and the barrier islands.

But in 2012, the Florida legislature changed that by creating a minimum two-year pilot program permitting and accommodating bikes on limited access roads. The state DOT was directed to choose three roads for the experiment, all of which had to cross bodies of water and lie no less than two miles from the nearest bike crossing.

David Henderson of the Miami-Dade MPO and Stewart Robertson of the design firm Kimley-Horn both worked on the redesign. The presented their results to the Pro-Walk Pro-Bike Pro-Place conference in Pittsburgh earlier this month.

Julia Tuttle Causeway was one of the selected bridges. It’s a six-lane divided interstate highway that connects Miami with Miami Beach. About 105,000 vehicles cross it every day. The posted speed limit is 55 miles an hour.

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Tampa, Florida: A Case Study in Saddling the Poor With Traffic Violence

You can see, on the right hand side of this image, a memorial to one of two teenage girls killed while trying to cross Hillsborough Avenue in Tampa. Image: Google Maps

You can see, on the right hand side of this image, a memorial to one of two teenage girls killed while trying to cross Hillsborough Avenue in Tampa. Image: Google Maps

You’d be hard-pressed to fund a more deadly place for pedestrians in all of the U.S. than Tampa’s Hillsborough Avenue.

On an eight block stretch of this road, 21 bicyclists and pedestrians were hit by drivers between 2008 and 2012. Two of those people, 15-year-old Middleton High School students Shenika Davis and Norma Velasquez-Cabrera, were killed in separate incidents. Another teen, 18-year-old William Hogan, was gravely injured just a month after the second death.

And that’s not the only dangerous road in this low-income community on Tampa’s east side, according to City Council Member Frank Reddick, a lead advocate for safer conditions. Not far away, on 43rd Street, a woman pushing her baby in a stroller was struck and killed recently. The intersection of 34th and Chelsea Streets is another problem area. There have been seven collisions there over the last few years, including a triple fatality — the victims were motor vehicle occupants — during a short time span.

Tampa’s Fifth Ward — Reddick’s district and one of the city’s poorest — exemplifies the neighborhoods Governing Magazine singled out in a recent study that found that poorer communities are disproportionately affected by unsafe road conditions. The study found that pedestrians die at about double the rate in low-income neighborhoods compared to wealthy ones.

The Tampa area, Governing reports, has the second highest pedestrian death rate in the nation. In the metro area, 403 pedestrians were killed between 2008 and 2012. And poor neighborhoods, like Tampa’s Fifth Ward, are paying a high price. In Tampa’s Hillsborough County, people living in low-income neighborhoods are six times more likely to be killed while walking than those living in wealthier areas, according to the report.

In Tampa ... Image: Governing Magazine

Data for Tampa’s Hillsborough County 2008-2012, via Governing Magazine

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The Most Dangerous Places to Walk in America

Pedestrians are especially at risk on wide, fast arterial roads like this. Photo: Smart Growth America/Cheryl Cort

Walking should be the healthiest, most natural activity in the world. It is, after all, one of the first things humans learn to do.

But in far too many places, walking can be fatal, thanks to roads designed for speeding cars.

In 2012, 4,743 pedestrians lost their lives in traffic collisions in the U.S., and over the last decade, nearly 50,000 people have been killed while walking — that’s 16 times more Americans than were killed by natural disasters. Another 670,000 pedestrian were injured over that period, one every eight minutes.

Not all streets are equally dangerous. In a new update of its Dangerous by Design report [PDF], released today, Smart Growth America catalogs the most perilous places in the U.S. to walk. By looking at the places that are especially hazardous, we can determine the factors that are putting people at risk and figure out how to fix them.

Here’s a look at what America’s most dangerous streets for walking tend to have in common.

They’re in the Sunbelt

Don’t let the sunshine lull you into a sense of security. Sunbelt cities have hazardous streets.

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A Crosswalk Too Far: The Hunt for America’s Least Crossable Street

n_military

Good luck walking to church on North Military Trail in West Palm Beach, if you happen to start on the other side of the street.

Last February, Streetsblog readers determined the worst intersection in America. Then you pinpointed a suburban area with streets so windy and disconnected, it would take a seven mile trip to travel between two houses that shared a back yard. And for two years running you’ve helped shame the nation’s most parking-scarred downtowns.

But there’s a special class of shame-worthy street we have yet to fully examine — and they haunt all corners of America. We’re talking about the street with an enticing destination on the other side, but no access, no crosswalk, no safe way to get across. A street that separates more than connects.

Put in this position, a rational person would just make a dash for it rather than walk as much as half a mile out of the way. But that decision can also put you in danger. And that’s the problem.

With some help from our readers and Twitter friends, we’ve put together a little collection of these divisive streets. Please share your own examples in the comments or send them to angie [at] streetsblog [dot] org.

Cincinnati: MLK Boulevard at Vine Street

Here’s an unfortunate scenario in Cincinnati. A key stretch of Martin Luther King Boulevard operates much like a moat. On one side of the street visitors to the University of Cincinnati stay at the Hampton Inn. Almost directly across the street is University Commons — a park area designed to be a “contemplative space.” Wouldn’t it be nice if visitors had access?

But to do that, they have to walk approximately a quarter mile out of the way:

Screen Shot 2014-05-13 at 2.53.23 PM

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It’s Rochester vs. Jacksonville in the Parking Madness Championship!

parking_madness_2014_14

Forget Huskies vs. Wildcats — today is all about parking crater vs. parking crater.

Through 14 matches pitting some of the most hideous parking expanses in the world against each other, two cities are still standing: Rochester and Jacksonville.

These are the worst of the worst downtown asphalt scars. But only one city can claim the Golden Crater, and the teachable moment that comes with it. Now it’s up to Streetsblog readers to choose this year’s champion.

Let’s look at Rochester first:

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Parking Madness Final Four: Chicago vs. Jacksonville

We started with 16 parking craters and now we’re down to the Final Four of Parking Madness.

After two bruising rounds of competition, four hideous parking expanses in Kansas City, Rochester, Chicago, and Jacksonville are still in it to win it. Each one is an ugly and awe-inspiring waste of potential in its own way.

Today’s matchup for a shot at the championship pits Jacksonville against Chicago.

The contender from Florida is a riverfront travesty:

jacksonville1

Jacksonville has been a real force in this tournament, easily knocking off impressive entries from Calgary and Dallas. You can see there are a few very tall buildings in this area, but since it’s been mercilessly carved up by highways, parking has become the land use of choice.

Meanwhile, the Chicago site is a different kind of crater.

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Parking Madness Elite Eight Matchup: Dallas vs. Jacksonville

We’re on to round two of Parking Madness, our search for the worst parking crater in North America. And I have to say, the parking craters in this match do seem to have descended to a new level of horribleness.

Dallas and Jacksonville are both such overachieving parking cities, it’s almost a shame they meet so soon. But them’s the breaks. Let’s see which is worse. The winner of this match will go onto the final four competition for the Golden Crater.

First, here’s Dallas:

original

We swapped out the picture we used in the last round for one that our readers assure us is more up to date. There has been a little bit of infill development since the last one was taken. But the area can’t attract unsubsidized private development, according to Patrick Kennedy of Walkable Dallas-Fort Worth, because it’s been so blighted by I-345, which you can see on right edge of the photo. Kennedy has been one of the loudest advocates for tearing down the freeway.

Now, let’s look at Jacksonville:

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Parking Madness: Calgary vs. Jacksonville

parking_madness_2014_3

Parking Madness has gone international. Today we welcome our first parking crater contender from outside the United States, as Canada’s third largest city faces off against the home of the Gator Bowl. It’s Calgary versus Jacksonville.

So, let’s see what our friends up north have to contribute to the proud American tradition of parking craters. Here’s Calgary:

calgary

Pretty impressive! We don’t have much background on this entry, submitted by Dale Calkins, other than the parking crater’s obvious proximity to some of Calgary’s tallest buildings. Here’s the view of the area on Google Maps.

Can Jacksonville top that? America’s reputation is on the line here:

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Pedestrian Deaths Edge Down, Following Unexplained 3-Year Rise

After three years of rising pedestrian deaths in America, there’s some good news this week about the safety of people on foot.

Has pedestrian safety turned a corner? Photo: New York Times

To really turn the corner on pedestrian safety, roads like this need to be redesigned. Photo: New York Times

Pedestrian deaths fell 8.7 percent in the first six months of 2013 compared to the same period the previous year, according to a report from the Governor’s Highway Safety Association. That means about 190 fewer people were killed while walking in the first part of 2013.

The decline follows a three-year period in which pedestrian deaths rose 15 percent from an all-time low in 2009.

Experts aren’t sure what to make of the decline, just as they had trouble explaining the three-year increase that preceded it. Allan Williams, who completed the report, said the dip may be “an anomaly.”

GHSA Chairman Kendell Poole concurred, saying in a press release,  “the preliminary findings are good news, but it’s too soon to celebrate.”

The increasing prevalence of mobile devices and distracted driving was often cited as a potential factor in the rise in pedestrian fatalities. But driving fatalities fell 3 percent during the same period.

Now that there seems to be some improvement, some cautious, preliminary theories are being floated. One is that greater awareness of pedestrian safety has led to more street designs intended to making walking safer.

Mark Plotz, vice president of Project for Public Spaces, told USA Today he hoped that was the case, “but it’s too early to know.”

Some credit for the improvement may even belong to the state of Florida, which is the deadliest state for pedestrians per capita. Florida has been making some strides to remedy its horrible record; the state recorded a 23 percent drop in pedestrian fatalities in the first half of 2013. Florida has been implementing reforms aimed at protecting pedestrians, including the hiring of two full-time pedestrian and cycling planners to help oversee design at each of its seven district offices, according to USA Today.

California, Texas, and Florida alone accounted for almost a third of the nation’s pedestrian fatalities in the first part of 2013, according to GHSA. Large states with lots of big cities tend to have the most pedestrian fatalities.