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Earth Day Resolution: Stop Building Projects Like the Zoo Interchange

zoo

Leading up to Earth Day, the New York Times ran an editorial, “Time Is Running Out,” lamenting the lack of urgency in the United States to prevent a very urgent problem: catastrophic climate change. Today, Brad Plumer at Vox explained why it may be too late to keep average temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels — the threshold that climate scientists have been warning about.

There are many steps we’ll have to take to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But one of them is most definitely this: America has to stop spending billions on projects like Wisconsin’s Zoo Interchange and start getting serious about building places where people can get around by walking, biking, and taking transit.

The Zoo Interchange embodies America’s broken transportation spending system, which former US DOT official Beth Osborne described on Atlantic Cities today as “an entitlement for state departments of transportation to allocate for their own priorities.”

This single highway interchange, aimed at reducing delays for suburban car commuters in the nation’s 30th largest city, costs more than total federal spending on walking and biking annually.

The Zoo Interchange carries 300,000 cars per day. It is “Wisconsin’s oldest and busiest interchange,” according to the state. A big part of Wisconsin DOT’s justification for the Milwaukee interchange is “safety.” According to WisDOT, there were an average of 2.5 collisions a day on the interchange between 2000 and 2005, and nine were fatal.

By comparison, according to the 2009 National Household Travel Survey, Americans make about 112 million walking trips daily. About 4,000 pedestrians are killed annually on American roads.

And yet, Wisconsin will spend more on this one sprawl-inducing highway project than the feds spend each year on all walking and biking projects combined.

Clearly, our priorities are out of whack — way out of whack.

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Book Excerpt: “Dead End,” a Look at Sprawl and the Rebirth of Urbanism

Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism” is a new book by Ben Ross, longtime president of Maryland’s Action Committee for Transit and a frequent contributor to Greater Greater Washington. This excerpt is preceded by a section describing the post-war expansion into the suburbs and the surrender of public space to automobile traffic. Highways proliferated, congestion worsened, children’s play was prohibited in the street and often in the sidewalk, and pedestrians were engineered out of the roadway. 

There was a subtle but profound alteration in the way street corners are built. Curbs no longer meet at right angles; they swing around in broad curves. It became standard even in cities for the curb to start bending back 25 feet from the cross street. On busy suburban roads, the bend begins even farther from the corner. Those on foot must choose between dangerous crossings of broad asphalt expanses and annoying zigzags to where the road narrows. Cars round the turn at highway speed. The simple act of walking down the street is so perilous that pedestrians are sometimes warned to wear reflective clothing, as if they were in the woods during hunting season.

As cars and highways proliferated far outside the city limits,  the roads became increasingly hostile to pedestrians -- especially children playing. Photo: ##http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2009/Aug/27/after-long-span-footbridge/##U-T San Diego##

As cars and highways proliferated far outside the city limits, the roads became increasingly hostile to pedestrians — especially children playing. Photo: U-T San Diego

These changes were no mere whim of car-loving traffic engineers. Behind them stood the lobbying might of the trucking industry.

The truckers had fought for decades to put bigger vehicles on the roads, but they were long stymied by the railroads. A major battleground was Pennsylvania, where the Pennsylvania Railroad held sway over the legislature and limits on trucks were especially strict. A few weeks before the 1950 election, the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association divided $76,000 between the chairpersons of the state Democratic and Republican parties. It was, the association’s treasurer later conceded under oath, like betting on both teams at a baseball game, but he countered that “nothing was hidden, it was all out in the open.”

The truckers gained ground in the 1970s as their old antagonists weakened. But they still faced strenuous opposition from local governments and the American Automobile Association. Even highway engineers objected; they worried that bridges weren’t built to carry the weight of big trucks. Just before the 1974 election, the Truck Operators Nonpartisan Committee made last-minute campaign contributions to 117 congressional candidates from both parties. Six weeks later, the House of Representatives reversed an earlier vote, and weight limits were raised on interstate highways.

In December 1982, the truckers won full victory. The Reagan administration agreed to their demands in exchange for the industry’s acceptance of a tax increase that hit trucks harder than autos. Weight limits were raised again, and state limits on the length and width of trucks were overruled. Tractor-trailers could have trailers up to 48 feet long; soon the limit in most places was 53 feet.

A key provision, not fully understood by critics when the law was rushed through a lame-duck Congress, legalized the big trucks on many local roads as well as on the interstates. Road-builders had a new justification for designs that encourage cars to speed; pedestrians, ignored when the issue was under debate, were the victims. Lanes grew wider; curbs were pushed back at intersections so that extra-long vehicles could make the turn. And, because it was written into the statute, the neighbors had no way to object.

*****

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How Cities Should Frame the Way They Think About Mobility

Image: Copenhaganize.com

Image: Copenhaganize.com

The evidence that our transportation systems are producing less-than-optimal results speaks for itself — whether it’s grinding congestion, obscene traffic fatality rates, or the greenhouse gases we’re spewing into the atmosphere at catastrophic rates.

The situation warrants a new take on how cities approach mobility, writes Mikael Colville-Andersen today at Copenhagenize:

For almost a century we have been asking the same question in our cities.

“How many cars can we move down a street?”

It’s time to change the question.

If you ask “How many PEOPLE can we move down a street?”, the answer becomes much more modern and visionary. And simple. Oh, and cheaper.

With urbanisation on the rapid rise, we need to think big. Think modern. We need to travel Back to the Future for the solutions that will serve our growing populations best. Cycle tracks. Trams. Wider sidewalks. It’s all right there for the taking if we dare to take it.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Strong Towns explains how Memphis is trying to fix its sprawl problem by increasing street connectivity. Streets.mn goes into the practical limitations of Nice Ride bike-share in the Twin Cities. And The Black Urbanist ponders how “urban” and “suburban” are often misapplied as racial euphemisms.

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Today’s Headlines

  • CBO: President Obama’s $302 Billion Transportation Budget Still $4B Short (LandLine)
  • Outgoing NTSB Chief Deborah Hersman Warns of Complacency (The Hill)
  • Here’s Why We Need to Stop Relying on Alternative Fuels to Save Us From Global Warming (AP)
  • Seattle Votes Today on Measure to Fund Transit (Seattle Transit Blog)
  • Bertha Will Be Back in Business Tunneling Under Seattle… In 11 Months (PI)
  • Public Consultation Is Great, But the Process Over DC’s Zoning Update Is Getting Crazy (GGW)
  • We’re #220! Atlanta’s Saporta Report Examines the Meaning of Smart Growth America’s Sprawl Ranking
  • The New York Times Catches on to Millennials’ Preference for Cities, But Can’t Figure Out Why (Grist)
  • Universities to Measure the “Imagination” of HSR in the US (Phys.org)
  • Want to Enforce the Three-Foot Passing Law? Do It Like This Guy in Houston (Click2Houston)
  • Transportation Jobs Around the World (Gizmodo)
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How Does Your State Stack Up on Funding for Walking and Biking?

state_levels

Click to enlarge. Graphic: Alliance for Biking and Walking

How well does your state fund infrastructure for walking and biking? Or perhaps we should say, how poorly?

The Alliance for Biking and Walking put together this handy chart, showing roughly what proportion of each state’s federal funding goes toward projects for walking and biking.

Obviously, no state is really rolling out the red carpet for active transportation. While walking and biking account for about 11.5 percent of all trips, on average states devote only 2.1 percent of their federal funding to active modes.

But some states are doing better than others, with Delaware, Florida (which has seen big decreases lately in pedestrian fatalities), and Minnesota topping the list. West Virginia, North Dakota, and South Carolina round out the bottom.

The Alliance cautions that the data, which reflects spending between 2009 and 2012, isn’t perfect. For example, if your state builds highways with bike infrastructure on the side, that expenditure might not be included in this total.

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Photo Contest: Send Us Your Soggy, Snowy, Rain-Soaked Walk or Bike Ride!

Share imageThis year has dealt us some crazy weather, from the polar vortex to drenching thunderstorms. We know you didn’t hide all winter in a car. You were out walking the walk and riding the bike, whatever the weather. We hope you got a picture of it!

In honor of April showers — and to celebrate the end of an epic winter — we’re co-sponsoring a Showers & Snow photo contest with the Alliance for Biking & Walking and Ortlieb. Send us your gorgeous photo(s) of walkers or bikers in the rain or snow where you live, and you could win a fabulous set of waterproof Ortlieb panniers and bike bags.

Contest details

Photos: Please send high-resolution files (at least 1,600 pixels wide or tall), without watermarks. Please submit no more than 10 photos for this contest. For inspiration, check out the finalists from our last photo contest.

To enter:

  • If you’re on Flickr, add your pictures to the Ortlieb Showers & Snow photo contest Flickr group. In the photo caption field, provide your name, email, city and state, as well as a caption.
  • If you are not on Flickr, email your pictures as a JPG or PNG file to photocontest@bikewalkalliance.org, with the subject line “Ortlieb Showers & Snow photo contest.” In the body of the email, provide your name, address, telephone number, email address, and photo caption. Please submit your images in as few emails as possible.

In both cases, if you didn’t take the picture yourself, please let us know who did!

Prizes: First and second prize winners each get a full set of awesome, waterproof Ortlieb panniers and mountable bags to turn your bike into a badass hauler.

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The Death Toll From Cars Is Even Higher Than You Thought

Ten days ago, four-year-old Zain Ali Hussain was killed near Houston when a neighbor backed his pickup truck over him. At least 50 times a week, people back their cars over kids in the U.S. On average, two of those 50 incidents are fatal. But you won’t see them represented in official crash statistics.

Four-year-old Zain Ali Hussain's death, like the deaths of an average of 1,621 people per year, will not be counted in NHTSA's traffic death statistics because he was hit in a driveway, not a public road. Photo: ##http://www.click2houston.com/news/deputies-child-hit-and-killed-by-pickup/25434032##Click2Houston##

Four-year-old Zain Ali Hussain’s death will not be counted in NHTSA’s traffic fatality statistics because he was hit in a driveway, not a public road. Photo: Click2Houston

Every year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issues a grim summation of the death toll on American roads: 33,561 killed in 2012. The year before that: 32,479. The year before that: 32,999. But this statistic leaves out many fatalities caused by cars and drivers. And the victims it undercounts the most are pedestrians and cyclists — and children.

NHTSA does track these other deaths, but it categorizes them differently. The agency recently released its “Not-in-Traffic Surveillance” numbers from 2008 to 2011 [PDF] — which measures injuries and deaths in “nontraffic motor vehicle crashes” off public roadways. The agency explains:

These crashes… are mostly single-vehicle crashes on private roads, two-vehicle crashes in parking facilities, or collisions with pedestrians on driveways. Then there are also noncrash incidents such as a vehicle falling on a person underneath or unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning.

So, add to the 37,261 people killed in traffic in 2008 another 1,605 killed in “nontraffic.” Between 2008 and 2011, there were 6,483 such deaths and 91,000 such injuries. About 39 percent of the people killed in these incidents weren’t in cars.

Children like Zain account for a disproportionate share of “nontraffic” fatalities. (NHTSA put out a separate report [PDF] on children involved in nontraffic crashes.) Between 2008 and 2011, 13 percent of the victims were 4 or younger, while kids that young account for about 3.5 percent of the overall population. Almost half the children who die in these kinds of incidents are killed by drivers backing up over them. Three percent are killed by rollaway vehicles that no one is driving. Of all children injured in “nontraffic” crashes, 60 percent are not in a car at the time.

NHTSA didn’t collect information on these crashes until 2007, and the agency still doesn’t include them in its annual traffic fatality reporting. The National Safety Council does, however, which helps explain why the NSC’s numbers are always higher than NHTSA’s. The NSC also considers a death to be traffic-related if it occurs within 12 months of the crash; NHTSA’s window is only 30 days.

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Wisconsin Responds to Public, Dumps Absurdly Wasteful Highway Project

Wisconsin's justification for the $125 million widening of rural Highway 38 was never very clear. Fortunately it looks like the state has dropped the project. Photo: America 2050

Wisconsin’s justification for the $125 million widening of rural Highway 38 was never very clear. Fortunately, the state has dropped the project. Photo: America 2050

“It is difficult to find any merit in the project at all.”

That’s what the Wisconsin Public Interest Group said about the proposed $125 million widening of Highway 38, outside Milwaukee, in a 2011 report [PDF].

The nine-mile rural road widening, from two lanes to four, was indeed a head scratcher. This area of the state is sparsely populated, surrounded by cabbage farms. What’s more, Highway 38 closely parallels Interstate-94.

“It is baffling why a major expansion should be a spending priority,” wrote WisPIRG’s Bruce Speight and Kyle Bailey.

But the Highway 38 road widening was nothing unusual for Wisconsin. The state is pursuing a plan to pour $6.2 billion into highway expansion in the slow-growing Milwaukee region. A review of plans by the Wisconsin Public Interest Group found the state consistently overestimated the need for these projects and that the justification for many of them was shoddy or nonexistent.

That should explain why advocates like Speight are so surprised and encouraged to learn the state has abandoned the plan for Highway 38. WisDOT spokesman Brian DeNeve told Streetsblog the reason was “local opposition to the project.”

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Portland’s Tilikum Crossing, a Bridge for the 21st Century

Photo: Portland's Tilikum Bridge will serve only sustainable transportation, in contrast to the Columbia River Crossing. Photo: Project website

Portland’s Tilikum Crossing will serve only spatially efficient modes, in contrast to the car-centric Columbia River Crossing. Image: Trimet

Tilikum Crossing, a new bridge across the Willamette River in Portland, is everything the hated Columbia River Crossing was not. While the CRC would have devoted billions to expanding car lanes and new highway interchanges, the Tilikum will serve only transit, biking, and walking.

Matthew Nelson at Electric Urbanism says the fact that one bridge — the CRC — was rejected and this other bridge is moving forward says a lot about evolving ideas about transportation in the United States, and how Portland has positioned itself as a leader: 

One one hand, the CRC is representative of business as usual in the United States — cars and trucks are the only modes that count, and their movement must be optimized at the expense of every other form of mobility. On the other hand, the Tilikum is representative of Oregon’s commitment to sustainable transportation policy by putting transit riders first (this priority led a local conservative radio host to label the bridge “the Auto-ban”). While it is being constructed to carry trains to Milwaukie on TriMet’s newest MAX light rail line, it will also likely someday serve a future high capacity transit line down the Powell-Division Corridor as well as buses that currently crawl across nearby auto-clogged bridges and the Streetcar’s new Central Loop.

In this “tale of two crossings,” the rejection of the CRC shows that there is little appetite in the Metro region for the car-centric mega-projects reminiscent of the 20th Century, while the Tilikum will stand as a bold, iconic testament to Portland’s values and to the city’s legacy of transportation innovation.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Stop and Move has a reminder that the Nashville Amp isn’t the only BRT project under threat right now — Tea Party forces in Fresno have basically strangled the city’s proposed BRT routes. Better Institutions argues that limiting density constrains people’s choices about where to live. And Better Cities & Towns! offers 10 compelling reasons why the “American dream” is in need of revision.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Sen. Carper to Lobby Finance Committee for a Gas Tax Increase (News Journal)
  • Sec. Foxx Spreads Doomsday Message on Transpo Tour (Dallas Morning News)
  • Connecticut Senator Nearly Hit By a Train During Press Conference on Rail Safety (Examiner)
  • Lawrence Summers: High Unemployment + Low Interest Rates = Time to Invest in Infrastructure (Globe)
  • Seattle Suspends Its Attack on Ride-Sharing (GeekWire)
  • Lawmaker Seeks to Block Colorado’s 50-Year P3 Contract for Road Widening (Mountain Town News)
  • Red Light Cameras: Rear-End Crashes Up, But Dangerous Crashes Way Down (AP)
  • Santiago, Chile, Has Lots of Biking, But Design Flaws Push Cyclists Onto the Sidewalk (Atlantic Cities)
  • Americans Still Drive the Under-a-Mile Trips That Europeans Walk or Bike (Daily Sun)
  • As Cities Grow Taller, Will Sunlight Become a Scarce Commodity? (Salon)