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Today’s Headlines

  • Miami Republican Rep. Diaz-Balart Will Oversee Money for Transpo (McClatchy)
  • Gabe Klein Talks to Gov Tech About Transit Start-up Bridj
  • Salt Lake City Mayor to Head National League of Cities (AP)
  • After Months of Delays, Phoenix Bike-Share Kicks Off Tomorrow (KTAR)
  • Death of Arlington Streetcar Shows Growing Rift in Transit Movement (Salon)
  • Feds Give Green Light to Minneapolis Orange Line BRT (Finance & Commerce)
  • North Carolina Looks Like the Next Legal Battleground for Uber and Lyft (HuffPo)
  • Honolulu TOD Summit Explores City’s Potential (Civil Beat)
  • 90 Percent of Nike Employees Drive to Work, 78 Percent Solo (Portland Biz Journal)
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ITDP Maps Bus Rapid Transit Successes Worldwide

ITDPmap

Searching for solid examples of Bus Rapid Transit in your slice of the world, or pondering possible ways to solve a particular BRT problem? A new interactive map developed by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy might have your answer.

ITDP, which created the BRT Standard to define high-quality BRT and foster it around the world, has now plotted every city on the planet with a BRT route that has achieved the Standard’s criteria. The map shows that the most, and highest-quality, BRT systems are concentrated in Latin America, where the concept originated, and in fast-growing China. Within the United States, Cleveland, Los Angeles, and Pittsburgh stand out as leaders, but cities around the country are hatching plans for new systems.

North America isn’t the only region where BRT has a lot of room to expand. Fast-growing cities across Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia could also look to BRT to provide more mobility for their citizens at a relatively low cost.

The map also illustrates key examples of how individual cities have addressed the most common challenges of implementing BRT. For instance, it notes the “beautifully designed stations” along Johannesburg’s Rea Vaya line as a case study for level platforms, which eliminate stairs and thus speed bus boarding. As cities like San Francisco face similar challenges in designing and implementing their BRT systems, they can learn from other cities’ experiences.

Edited to reflect that the map only shows systems certified by the BRT Standard, which may not include every system that meets the standard.

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Friday Job Market

Looking to hire a smart, qualified person for a position in transportation planning, engineering, IT, or advocacy? Post a listing on the Streetsblog Jobs Board and reach our national audience of dedicated readers.

Looking for a job? Here are the current listings:

Associate Director, Progressive Transportation Services, District Department of Transportation, Washington, DC
Plans, directs and manages program operations of three divisions: Streetcar Development, Transportation Business, and Mass Transit. Prioritizes and allocates available program resources; review and evaluate program and service delivery; makes recommendation for and execute changes in operations to ensure maximum effective service provision; institute a routine issue and risk management process; proactively monitor progress and critical path, identify potential crises and determine contingency plans; and assists in developing new program function elements, including researching, compiling and analyzing supporting data.

Transportation Safety/Systems Integration Manager, District Department of Transportation, Washington, DC
As the Program Manager for Safety & Systems Integration, the incumbent is responsible for managing the highest level of safety for rail and bus programs within DDOT and PTSA by ensuring that third party contractors comply with Federal Transit Administration, Federal Railroad Administration and local transit oversight policies and procedures. The program manager will supervise the work of subordinate staff responsible for safety and system integration of streetcar operations and maintenance, and will be accountable for future mass transit integration’s for bus, Para transit, and other surface transit systems developed by DDOT and PTSA.

21st Century Transportation Field Director, U.S. PIRG, Based in Boston, DC, or Chicago
Our Field Organizer will work with our people around the country on the transportation campaign, setting them up for campaign tactics or reaching out to the media, public leaders and civic organizations yourself. You will sometimes need to travel — recruiting new groups to join a coalition, speaking in a church basement or town hall to win a new endorsement, organizing a news event or rally, meeting with an editorial board, or doing whatever else it takes to urge our public officials to do the right thing.

21st Century Transportation Campaign Director, U.S. PIRG, Based in Boston, DC, or Chicago
We’re hiring a Transportation Campaign Director to lead our national transportation campaign to advocate against spending so many public dollars on unnecessary highway expansion and to advocate for better public transit, biking and walking infrastructure, and repairing the roads we already have. Led by Millennials, Americans are driving less than they used to, but government policies haven’t caught up with the times. We aim to change that.

Launch Project Manager, Alta Bicycle Share, NYC
We at Alta Bicycle Share, located in NYC, are seeking a Launch Project Manager. This role requires a high level of judgment, decision making, and time management. This is an exciting opportunity for a high performing individual to be part of the Launch Team in a growth environment.

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What Would a National Vision Zero Movement Look Like?

About 300 street safety leaders attended Transportation Alternatives' first-ever symposium on Vision Zero last Friday, Photo courtesy of TA

About 300 street safety leaders attended Transportation Alternatives’ first-ever Vision Zero symposium last Friday. Photo courtesy of TA.

Earlier this week, New York-based Transportation Alternatives released a statement of 10 principles that emerged from the Vision Zero symposium the group sponsored last Friday. It was the first-ever national gathering of thought leaders and advocates committed to spreading Vision Zero’s ethic of eliminating all traffic deaths through better design, enforcement, and education.

I caught up with Noah Budnick, deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, to hear more.

First, let’s talk about last Friday’s event. What was the best thing that happened there?

Noah Budnick. Photo courtesy of TA

Noah Budnick. Photo courtesy of TA

The momentum that was built was incredible. To me, that was the highlight. This was kind of the coming-out party for Vision Zero as a national movement.

What do you see as the goals of a national movement? Would that mean lots of cities working on this, or is there actually a role for the federal government? What could they do to promote Vision Zero?

The federal government could set federal goals and benchmarks in line with Vision Zero, creating policies that require states and cities and metro areas to set goals to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries. And it’s really important that that’s tied to funding.

It starts with a simple matter of leadership, which is stating that traffic deaths and serious injuries are preventable. They’re not accidents. That change in thinking is an incredibly important first step.

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Federal Housing Administration Still Tips the Scales Toward Sprawl

Federal subsidies for housing flow disproportionately to single-family homes. Image: Smart Growth America

The vast majority of federal subsidies for housing flow to single-family homes. Image: Smart Growth America

There’s a notion that remains very pervasive in certain quarters — *cough* Joel Kotkin *cough* — that the reason so many American cities are sprawling and suburban is the natural result of market forces. Essentially, Americans love driving and big yards and so that’s what we get.

But it’s a mistake to characterize American housing markets as anywhere close to perfectly market based. The federal government subsidizes housing to the tune of $450 billion a year. The vast majority of that money is reserved for sprawling, suburban housing.

Mary Newsom at Network blog The Naked City carried this update from Governing Magazine. Even after the housing market collapse, the Federal Housing Administration is still promoting sprawl at the expense of, well, anything else. Here’s how Governing’s Scott Beyer sums up the situation:

Since its 1934 inception, the FHA [Federal Housing Administration] has insured mortgages for more than 34 million properties, facilitating mass homeownership over several generations. But only 47,205 of these plans have been for multifamily projects. This is due to longtime provisions that make it harder for condos to get FHA certification. As late as 2012, 90 percent of a condo’s units had to be owner-occupied and only 25 percent of its space could be for businesses.

Newsom notes that “the FHA has eased that rule a bit in the past two years” — after persistent prodding, FHA relaxed restrictions against mixed-use buildings. The rules that remain, however, are still wildly unbalanced, Beyer says:

Read more…

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Today’s Headlines

  • Dallas-Houston Rail Tough Sell for Rural Communities (Texas Trib)
  • With Streetcar Off the Table, What’s Next for Arlington’s Columbia Pike? (WaPo, GGW)
  • Post-Fallout, Uber Brings in Top Privacy Lawyers (The Hill)
  • Boston Globe Gives New Governor Advice on Transportation
  • How Can Twin Cities Do Better With TOD? (TC Daily Planet)
  • Debut of DC’s New Metro Cars Could Be Delayed (WaPo)
  • Journal-Sentinel: Milwaukee Needs to Get Moving with Streetcar
  • Puget Sound Transit Could Levy New Tax, Fees (Seattle Times)
  • How the Danish Cycling Superhighway Came to Be (City Lab)
  • Philly Maps Out Bike-Share Stations (NewsWorks)
  • “Move Louisville” Aims to Cut Down Solo Car Commutes (WFPL)

Streetsblog will be undergoing routine maintenance this evening at 8 p.m. eastern time and will be temporarily inaccessible.

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The Great Traffic Projection Swindle

This is the final piece in a three-part series about privately-financed roads. In the first two parts of this series, we looked at the Indiana Toll Road as an example of the growth in privately financed highways, and how financial firms can turn these assets into profits, even if the road itself is a big money loser. In this piece, we examine the shaky assumptions that toll road investments are based on, and how that is putting the public at risk.

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A consultant predicted traffic on the Indiana Toll Road would rise 22 percent in seven years. Instead, traffic fell 11 percent in eight years. Photo: Jimmy Emerson/Flickr

For privately financed toll road deals, traffic projections are critical. These forecasts tell investors how much revenue a road will generate, and thus whether they should buy a stake in it, and what price to pay. While traffic projections have underpinned the rapid growth in privately financed highways, the forecasts have a dismal track record, consistently overstating the number of drivers who will pay to use a road.

Private toll roads have been sold to the public as a surefire something-for-nothing bargain — new infrastructure with no taxes — but it turns out that the risk for taxpayers is actually substantial. The firms performing traffic projections have strong incentives to inflate the numbers. And the new breed of private finance deals are structured so that when the forecasts turn out wrong, the public incurs major losses.

Given the large sums of money involved, even small errors in traffic projections can result in huge problems down the line — and, as Streetsblog has reported, traffic projections everywhere have tended to be wildly off-target. A whole financing scheme, meant to last for generations, can easily be sunk in just a few years by exaggerated traffic projections. The Indiana Toll Road, purchased in 2006 for $3.8 billion, is a great example. The firm that owned it, ITR Concession Co. LLC, declared bankruptcy in September.

Wilbur Smith Associates had predicted that traffic volumes on the Indiana Toll Road would increase at a rate of 22 percent over the first seven years. Instead, traffic volumes shrank 11 percent in the first eight. The result was financial disaster for the concession company, owned jointly by Australian firm Macquarie and Spanish firm Ferrovial. By the time they filed for Chapter 11, debt on the road had ballooned to $5.8 billion.

The company blamed the recession for putting a damper on truck traffic. The same story was offered on another bankrupt Macquarie-owned project, San Diego’s South Bay Expressway. But is that explanation sufficient?

UK-based consultant Robert Bain literally wrote the book on traffic projections, warning in 2009 against forecasters who blamed faulty predictions on the economy [PDF]. Commenting on the flurry of global toll highway bankruptcies that was just starting then, Bain said they had “less to do with the present economic climate, and more to do with a market readiness to be seduced by hopelessly optimistic traffic and revenue projections.”

Bain went on to list 21 ways in which forecasters systematically overestimate future traffic. Each one may tilt the forecast by a tiny amount, but cumulatively they result in significant errors. Some of the typical mistakes indicate that forecasters have not yet acknowledged the broader decline in driving and sprawl underway, while others “underestimate the reluctance of some to paying tolls.” Bain argued for a paradigm shift in the use of traffic projections, recognizing that many of them “resemble statements of advocacy rather than unbiased predictions.”

Phineas Baxandall, a senior researcher with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group who’s written extensively for Streetsblog on trends in driving, says the engineering firms that provide the figures know how things work. “Companies seeking investment for privatized toll roads shop for the forecasting they want,” he said. “[There's] no incentive to tell bad news. And if the deal appears promising, then the forecasting company gets other opportunities to sell further analysis, legal advice, raising debt, selling equity, etc.”

Read more…

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Talking Headways Podcast: I’m Not a Scientist

podcast icon logoDo you ever think about the ecology of the city you live in? Not just the parks and the smog. Scientists are starting to examine urban ecosystems more holistically: the trees and the concrete, natural gas lines and soil, water pipes and rivers. The natural and the synthetic feed off each other in surprising ways. We’re not scientists, but we found it interesting.

Then we move from the ecosystem to the highway system — specifically, the argument made by Evan Jenkins in The Week to abolish the National Highway System. Chuck Marohn at Strong Towns thinks it’s a good idea. Jeff and I aren’t so sure. Could rail really pick up the slack? Would states make better decisions? What funding source would replace the federal gas tax?

Enjoy this, our 42nd episode of Talking Headways. Find us on the Twitters already. And oh yeah, also on iTunesStitcher, and the RSS feed.

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The Idea That Families Don’t Belong in the City Is Antiquated and Harmful

The notion of cities as playgrounds for the young and unattached remains a pretty pervasive concept.

Why do so many people think city living has an expiration date? Photo: Wikipedia

Why do so many people think city living has an expiration date? Photo: Wikipedia

The blogger at Family Friendly Cities has encountered it plenty. A young parent, he says that in his circles, the social stigma against raising children in the city remains irrationally strong:

As a young couple we lived in a garden style apartment in a car dominated city with two automobiles in what is one of the most sprawling cities in the country. We wanted more. So after we married we moved to a more urban city, one that still gets a rather unfortunate rap for sprawl but has a thriving urban core. We also dropped one of our cars. We primarily relied on transit except for our grocery store trips. Our home was more urban, and so was our neighborhood. That was fine, we were still young and childless, and we were constantly reminded of it. “Good thing you are doing it now before you have children” was a common sentiment, as if our urban lifestyle had an expiration date. It was set to die the moment we added a new family member. So we did, and it didn’t. Despite the auto-centric place we lived we walked to the hospital to give birth, and to the horrified look on the nurses’ faces we walked our newborn home. Even when we proclaimed that you could probably see our home from any of the windows in the maternity ward they thought we were crazy. Crazy to choose to walk her home the equivalent of three city blocks, rather than drive. And so came more of the comments once she was home; advice, and questions: “Have you looked for a house outside the city,” “Once she gets older you are going to need more space,” “You will need a yard,” “Living in the city is fine while she is so young, but not when she gets older” and the always important “The schools are better in X County.” So we followed their advice. We packed up a yellow truck and moved: to the second most dense census tract in the city smack dab in the heart of downtown, across the country.

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Today’s Headlines

  • House Transpo Panel: Shuster Re-elected Chair, DeFazio Ranking Dem (Herald Mail, Oregonian)
  • Obama Picks NTSB Member as New Highway Safety Chief (The Hill)
  • Foxx Says Feds “Bullish” on High-Speed Rail, as Plans Develop for NEC (USA Today, Philly.com)
  • Does Uber’s PR Snafu Signal Bigger Political Problems? (Politico)
  • Safety Concerns Delay Debut of Atlanta Streetcar (AP)
  • New State Transportation Advocacy Network Kicks Off (T4America)
  • Study: Bike Infrastructure Pays Off More Than Road Maintenance (Bike Portland)
  • After Metro-North Investigation, Feds Recommend Screening for Sleep Disorders (AP)
  • New Jersey Transpo Commissioner Urges Mayors to Find “Revenue Enhancers” (NJ.com)
  • Amtrak Considers Options for New Rail Line Through West Baltimore (Baltimore Sun)
  • Why Isn’t Lansing, Michigan, Talking More About Transit? (Michigan Radio)