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Posts from the "London" Category

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Outer London’s Huge Bike Plan Could Break the Cycle of Bad Suburban Transit

Kingston’s rail station would become a “major cycle hub” under London’s plan to pour tens of millions of dollars into biking improvements in three of its suburbs.

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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.

You may have heard that London has just approved a spectacular crosstown protected bike lane. But another part of its plan has, ironically, gotten little press in the United States.

As London’s regional government begins what may be the biggest municipal bicycling investment in the history of Europe, it’s setting aside $140 million for the suburbs.

“Cycling is, I think the secret weapon of suburban sustainable transport,” says Transport for London Director of Surface Strategy and Planning Ben Plowden. “It is much more like car travel than transit is.”

It’s almost impossible to build car-lite suburbs with transit alone

In the United Kingdom as in the United States, efforts to reduce car dependence have relied mostly on the biggest tool in the shed: transit.

In London and New York, transit reigns supreme. The cities’ woven grids of bus and rail lines carry the overwhelming share of non-car trips in each city.

But in smaller cities and suburbs, transit needs help. With further to walk to each bus stop, fewer people ride. With fewer riders, buses run empty and it becomes cripplingly expensive for agencies to run them frequently. With infrequent buses, even short transit trips can take hours.

It’s a situation familiar to anyone who’s ridden transit in a U.S. suburb or small city — let alone tried to balance the budget of a suburban transit agency.

“You’re not going to have a $125 an hour bus with 43 seats coming through all these cul-de-sacs,” said David Bragdon, a former New York City sustainability chief who now runs Transit Center, a transit-focused policy nonprofit. “It just doesn’t work.”

That’s why London, working to stave off congestion as its population keeps climbing, is looking hard for better ways to improve suburban transit. And that’s what led its transport agency to the bicycle.

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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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Removing Center Lines Reduced Speeding on London Streets

Traffic speeds slowed after London removed center lines. Image: Transport for London

Traffic speeds slowed after London resurfaced three streets and didn’t restore center lines, even though resurfacing alone was shown to increase average speeds. Graphic: Transport for London

On some streets, getting drivers to stop speeding might be as easy as eliminating a few stripes. That’s the finding from a new study from Transport for London [PDF].

On Seven Sisters Road, average speeds fell about 7 miles per hour after centerlines were removed. Image: Transport for London

On Seven Sisters Road, average speeds fell after center lines were removed. Photos: Transport for London

TfL recently examined the effect of eliminating center lines on three London streets. The agency found it slowed average driving speeds between 5 and 9 miles per hour, after taking into account the effect of resurfacing. (All three streets were also repaved, which has been shown to increase driving speeds.)

The experiment was performed last year on three 30 mph roads that had just been resurfaced, where center lines were not repainted. A fourth street was resurfaced and had its center lines painted back to serve as a control.

Researchers found that drivers slowed down on all the three streets without center lines. On Seven Sisters Road, for example, after the resurfacing, northbound speeds dropped 2.5 mph and southbound speeds fell 4.1 mph.

Those changes appear to understate the impact of removing the center lines. When TfL observed traffic on the control street, motorist speeds had increased an average of 4.5 mph. Apparently, the smoother road surface encouraged drivers to pick up the speed, making the reductions on the three other streets more impressive.

Researchers suggested that the uncertainty caused by the removal of center lines makes drivers more cautious:

A theory is that centre lines and hatching can provide a psychological sense of confidence to drivers that no vehicles will encroach on ‘their’ side of the road. There can also be a tendency for some drivers to position their vehicles close to a white line regardless of the traffic conditions, believing it is their ‘right’ to be in this position. Centre line removal introduces an element of uncertainty which is reflected in lower speeds.

When it comes to center lines, TfL notes, “most traffic engineers prescribe them by default without questioning the necessity.” London appears to be reevaluating this assumption after a 2009 directive from Mayor Boris Johnson to eliminate as much clutter from the roadways as possible.

Hat tip Jeff Speck.

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How to Reduce Traffic By 30 Percent: Strike Fear Into Motorists

Roadway and transit congestion actually dropped during the London Olympics, thanks to transportation demand management, and the Big Scare. Photo: ##http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2181313/Deserted-London-2012-Shops-theatres-businesses-visitor-levels-fall-THIRD-fears-Games-travel-chaos.html##Daily Mail##

Roadway and transit congestion actually dropped during the London Olympics, thanks to transportation demand management, and the Big Scare. Photo: Daily Mail

Organizers of major sporting events, from this weekend’s “Mass Transit Super Bowl” to the Sochi Olympics a week from now, may benefit from a lesson learned during the 2012 London Olympics: a tactic transportation planners secretly call “the Big Scare.”

They don’t like to talk about it in public. But Graham Currie, a professor of public transport at Australia’s Monash University and a consultant to London’s Olympic transportation designers in 2012, divulged this secret at the Transportation Research Board earlier this month. In a panel on reducing vehicle miles driven through transportation demand management, Currie acknowledged that the Big Scare is “extremely unpalatable to talk about publicly, but it’s extremely powerful.”

In London, the presence of 14,000 athletes, 21,000 members of the media, and 800,000 spectators for the 2012 summer Olympic games was expected to increase daily travel by about 20 million trips, or about 30 percent over a normal day. And a normal day in London is already pretty congested.

“This is really the best example in all of world history of demand management,” Currie said. “And that works through what we call ‘lowering service quality expectations.’”

So planners employed the biggest Olympic lane network in history to restrict road use. They adjusted traffic signals and boosted transit capacity, even ticketing Olympic events jointly with the rail system.

But the real key to their success was the Big Scare. Without it, they wouldn’t have had the cooperation of Londoners to reduce their impact on the transportation network. And that step is essential. “You cannot do it without less travel by local residents,” Currie said.

Olympic transportation planners reached out to tens of thousands of employers, encouraging them to get their workers to “reduce their overall need to travel, or re-time, re-route or revise their mode of travel.” Their key message was “public transport is king — you’re not going to drive there.” When possible, employers were asked to allow workers to work from home.

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Mapped: Dramatic Changes on London Streets in the Congestion Pricing Era

For the last nine years, private motorists entering central London between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. have paid a fee (currently £10 or US$16.22) to drive on the city’s scarce street space. The revenue from the congestion charge is plowed into the city’s transit system, and as Transport for London has amply documented, many Londoners have changed their commuting habits.

Now a flurry of maps released by ITO World, a British company that specializes in visualizing transport data, shows London’s dramatic shift to more sustainable modes from 2001-2010. (The congestion charge went into effect in February 2003.)

The map above depicts the extraordinary decrease in private motor vehicle traffic, with the bright blue dots showing where driving has gone down more than 30 percent and the bright red dots showing where it’s up more than 30 percent. By the looks of it, the drivable suburbs are still a bastion of private vehicles, but the central city is seeing far less traffic.

Of course, people aren’t just sitting at home. They’ve embraced other ways of getting around. So while there are fewer vehicles in London now than in 2001, one motorized mode has become more ubiquitous: the bus.

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Streetsblog NYC 13 Comments

What’s the Secret to World-Class Transit Systems? Congestion Pricing

Top transportation officials from three global cities — London, Singapore and Stockholm — shared their experiences in expanding the use of transit at a panel at the Regional Plan Association’s annual conference last Friday. Eyeing those cities, it’s easy for Americans to get jealous.

Singapore's massive transit expansion plans -- the dotted lines are all system expansions planned for the next ten years -- wouldn't be possible without congestion pricing. For a larger version, click here.

Singapore is doubling the size of its rail network in the next ten years, according to the Singapore Land Transport Authority’s Lew Yii Der. Using driverless technology, he added, Singapore will soon be running subway trains as little as 90 seconds apart.

London boosted bus ridership by 60 percent in a decade and recently hit an all-time high for Underground use, said Transport for London’s Elaine Seagriff. Projects in the pipeline will add an entire new rail line through the heart of the city and boost capacity in the existing Underground system by 20 percent.

Stockholm plans to spend 8 billion Euros on expansion projects through 2020 for a region of only 2 million people, reported Stockholm Public Transport Managing Director Anders Lindström. In the New York region, per capita spending on that level would come out to $115.5 billion.

It’s hard to imagine the U.S.’s cash-strapped transit agencies ever reaching such lofty levels. How did these other cities do it?

It’s foolish to call anything a silver bullet, but even so, it’s no coincidence that each of these cities do something no U.S. city has done: price the use of scarce road space.

London’s phenomenal growth in bus ridership, for example, can be significantly attributed to the fact that surface transit doesn’t have to sit in gridlocked traffic, thanks to the city’s congestion charge. Analyst Kenneth Small estimates that in the typical American city, bus ridership would jump 31 percent due to the introduction of congestion pricing, without bus service even receiving any of the revenues.

But the money certainly helps. London’s congestion charge generated approximately $240 million in 2009, all dedicated to transportation. Stockholm’s pricing scheme took in about $112 million in a much smaller region.

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Streetsblog NYC 14 Comments

European Parking Policies Leave the U.S. Behind

Grosvenor Square, London, the site of Europe's first parking meter, shows how putting a price on parking clears up the street and makes parking available. Image: ITDP.

Grosvenor Square, London, the site of Europe's first parking meter, shows how putting a price on parking clears up the street and makes parking available. Image: ITDP.

Flashback to Europe, sixty years ago. Only still emerging from the ruin of total war, the continent was in the midst of a nearly unprecedented reconstruction. Over the next decade, however, industry finally was able to turn toward consumer products, from stockings to refrigerators and, of course, the automobile. Italians owned only 342,000 cars in 1950, but ten years later that number had increased to two million, according to historian Tony Judt. In France, the number of cars tripled over the decade.

With mass car-ownership fundamentally new for Europe, parking policy was practically non-existent. The first parking meter — an American invention — only made it to Europe in 1958, arriving in front of the American embassy in London. In most places, cars could park not only for free but wherever they wanted: on the sidewalk, in a public square.

When they realized that simply giving drivers free rein to park anywhere was untenable, Europeans attempted to build enough parking to meet the population’s galloping demand. Public space, from sidewalks to canals, was turned into parking space. Zoning forced all new development to use money and space for parking. All these concessions, however, only made European cities friendlier to cars and further drove up demand.

Today, however, all that is in the past. As outlined in the new report from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, “Europe’s Parking U-Turn: From Accommodation to Regulation,” the continent is now leading the world when it comes to innovative, intelligent and sustainable parking policy [PDF].

Across Europe, cities have come to understand that oversupply or subsidy of parking leads to too much driving. The effect is considerable. In Vienna, for example, when the city began to charge for on-street parking, the number of vehicle kilometers traveled plummeted from 10 million annually to 3 million. In Munich, the introduction of a new parking management system has resulted in 1,700 fewer automobiles owned in the city center each year since 2000.

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Congestion Pricing: Still Good For Basically Everyone

Urbanists often find themselves falling into a pattern of thinking that boils down to the dictum that what's good for drivers must be bad for walkability, and sustainability, and all the things that they prize about well-designed cities. Drivers seem to believe this too, which is interesting because it often isn't true.

28.jpgWhat's good for the driver in the middle is also good for public health. (Photo: FHWA)

Take performance parking. Both urbanists (and drivers) seem to believe that it's good (or bad), because it makes parking more expensive, which is bad (or good) for drivers. But this assumes that a free parking system, where open spots are almost never available, is desirable for drivers.

That's like saying that a store that gives away bread for free -- and which subsequently never has any bread -- is good for people who like eating bread.

For the most part, thinking about congestion pricing follows this same rule. Urbanists tend to like it because it makes driving more costly and raises revenue for transit infrastructure. Drivers tend to oppose it, because they don't want to pay more to drive. In fact, congestion pricing would be good for people who really want to drive and good for people who'd like to have an alternative to driving.

This message has been slow to sink in, but the fact that drivers may benefit from congestion pricing may be beginning to resonate with urbanists. Unfortunately -- and so powerful is the what's-bad-for-drivers-is-good-for-cities mentality -- the absorption of this message has caused some urbanists to conclude that they've been wrong all along, and that congestion pricing really is bad. If drivers might benefit, it must be the case that cities, and the earth, will not.

So writes the New Yorker's David Owen, in an extremely misguided piece in the Wall Street Journal.

By requiring car drivers to pay a fee to drive in a city at peak hours, congestion pricing reduces traffic and raises money that can be used to support public transit—both worthy goals.

Yet congestion pricing has dubious environmental value. Traffic jams, if they’re managed well, can actually be good for the environment. They maintain a level of frustration that turns drivers into subway riders or pedestrians.

He is saying that congestion pricing is a bad idea, because traffic encourages drivers to switch to transit or otherwise get off the roads. But this misses the point that congestion pricing works by ... encouraging drivers to switch to transit or otherwise get off the roads. And as a bonus, it creates revenue which can be used to build more transit alternatives for frustrated drivers.

Owen seems to be arguing that the primary effect of congestion pricing may be to spread driving out over a longer period of time rather rather than to encourage a shift away from driving. But of course, the primary effect of congestion might also be to spread driving out over a longer period of time rather than to encourage a shift away from driving, particularly in places that don’t have good transit systems (which makes the revenue question all the more salient).

The argument doesn't make sense, and it doesn't appear to be supported by actual experience with congestion pricing schemes, as Charles Komanoff points out here. In London, better driving conditions after the adoption of a congestion pricing regime encouraged some drivers to take additional trips, but that increase didn't come close to offsetting the drop in vehicle trips induced by the cordon charge.

As difficult as it may be for all involved to accept, congestion pricing manages to benefit transit riders and drivers. Commutes are faster and emissions are reduced. But the benefits don't stop there.

A new economics paper by Janet Currie and Reed Walker explores what happened to neighborhoods near congested highway toll plazas after those plazas were replaced by the E-ZPass electronic tolling system. Here's the abstract (paragraph breaks mine):

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2008: Year of the Bicycle?

Ahead of this week's National Bike Summit in Washington, DC, syndicated columnist Neal Peirce wonders if 2008 will be "bicycling's best year since the start of the auto age." He writes about developments promoting the bicycle as a legitimate form of transportation around the world, many of which have been featured right here on Streetsblog:

First the trends: oil costs are surpassing $100 a barrel, global warming alarm calls are mounting, polluting autos and trucks increasingly clog city streets, and health concerns about a sedentary and fattening society are mounting.

And now the developments: Handy bike-for-hire stations are proving instant hits in Paris and other European cities and seem poised to invade urban America. Moves to add painted bike lanes along city roadways are being eclipsed by proposals for entire networks of "bike boulevards" -- roadways altered radically to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians. And a companion "Complete Streets" movement -- making roadway space for cyclists and pedestrians, not just cars and trucks -- is gaining traction nationwide.

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“My Other Car Is a Bright Green City”

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As attention turns to the next federal transportation bill, and livable streets fans scan the platforms of presidential candidates for glimpses of what to expect from Washington over the next four years, Alex Steffen, editor and CEO of the blog WorldChanging, has posted an essay-in-progress called "My Other Car is a Bright Green City." Steffen says that reining in fuel standards and auto emissions, for instance, is not nearly as important to present and future generations as developing communities that behave more like cities, which are, by environmental measures, much cleaner than commute-intensive suburbs and exurbs. Here are some excerpts.

Our vehicle emissions are a major climate change contributor, but what comes out of the tailpipe is only a fraction of the total climate impact of driving a car, and the climate impact is in turn only a part of the environmental and social damage cars cause. Improving mileage will not fix these problems.

We can't see most of the ecological and social impacts of our auto-dependence in our daily lives. And those impacts are so massive that arguing about fuel efficiency standards (especially in terms of gradual increases) fails to acknowledge what we're up against with this crisis.

All that driving takes some pretty big social tolls, too, of course. Car accidents are a leading cause of death and disabling injury in the U.S. Auto-dependence is a major contributor to obesity and other chronic illness. In addition, more and more people are finding themselves driving longer commutes: more than 3.5 million Americans now drive more than three hours a day to get to and from work, spending a month of their lives on the road each year. Meanwhile, people who live in the newer fringe-burbs are reportedly the least happiest of Americans, and the long commutes they endure are a major reason why.

We know that density reduces driving. We know that we're capable of building really dense new neighborhoods and even of using good design, infill development and infrastructure investments to transform existing medium-low density neighborhoods into walkable compact communities. It is within our power to build whole metropolitan regions where the vast majority of residents live in communities that eliminate the need for daily driving, and make it possible for many people to live without private cars altogether.

The personal happiness index is not lost on those in Paris and Bogotá, where reclaiming public space from the automobile has worked wonders, as enRoute reports:

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