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Today’s Headlines

  • This LA Times Editorial Seriously Begins “Motorists Unite!”
  • Cincinnati Bike-Share Beats Expectations (Local 12)
  • Is the Architecture at Denver’s Union Station Telling People of Color to Stay Away? (Post)
  • Iowa Bicyclist’s Life Worth $1,500 According to Judge (Register)
  • Is New York City Underpopulated? (Salon)
  • Revelstoke Times Review Examines the Costs of Various Transportation in the Canadian Town
  • Can Apps Bring Intercity Rail Travel Into 21st Century Tech? (FT)
  • Of Course Millennials Are Driving Less — Driving Sucks (Sun Journal)
  • Vision Zero Seeks to Make New York’s Streets Safe for Children (Gotham Gazette)
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Oklahoma DOT Dismisses Highway-to-Street-Grid Proposal in OKC

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation has rejected a proposal championed by residents of Oklahoma City to replace a highway segment with an interconnected street grid.

Instead of restoring the street grid as proposed above, a low-cost solution that will open up more land for development, Oklahoma DOT will replace a highway with a highway-like street. Image: ODOT

Last year, a coalition that includes City Council Member Ed Shadid prevailed on the Federal Highway Administration to compel Oklahoma DOT to consider the consider the highway-street-grid idea, in addition to the various highway-like at-grade roads the agency had proposed.

Given that advocates had to force the issue, it’s not surprising that Oklahoma DOT is back with its final recommendations for the project, and the agency didn’t score the grid concept too highly. Instead, the DOT wants to build a high-speed, four-lane road without the added street connections advocates want.

The grid concept was by far the cheapest to construct and would have opened up the most acres for development, but it lost points for having lower level of service — a measure of motor vehicle delay at intersections. Oklahoma DOT’s “preferred alternative” will cost three times as much to construct and open up 62 percent less land for development.

Gotta move those cars, the agency essentially wrote in its environmental assessment [PDF]:

A primary purpose of the Crosstown Boulevard is to help restore connections that were lost when I-40 was relocated south to its current location. As a result, the Crosstown Boulevard should be easy to drive with little delay which allows for easy access for conducting downtown business while accommodating the planned vision of the downtown area.

OKC residents hope to build a walkable, mixed-use neighborhood on 700 acres in the hollowed out Core to Shore area that the road passes through.

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Peter Norton: We Can Learn From the Movement to Enshrine Car Dependence

It used to be normal to play in the streets. We're just one revolution away from being able to do that again. Photo via Peter Norton

It used to be normal to play in the streets. Photo via Peter Norton

Yesterday, we published part one of my interview with Peter Norton, a historian at the University of Virginia and the author of Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City. We talked about whether the push for infrastructure investment is always code for increasing car capacity, and how the Vision Zero campaign bears the legacy of 100-year-old movements to make streets safe for everyone.

Norton will be speaking on November 13 at the opening reception of Transportation Alternatives’ national Vision Zero for Cities Symposium in New York City.

Below is the audio of our conversation, which went on long after this written transcript. Feel free to take a listen, and forgive the background noise — we were talking in Lafayette Square, across from the White House, one of DC’s most iconic urban green spaces.

Here is a transcript of part two of the interview, lightly edited for length and clarity.

We keep calling [the current movement for Vision Zero and livable streets] a “fundamental restructuring,” and I’m curious whether you think that’s accurate. What you’re talking about at the beginning of the last century, which you wrote about in “Fighting Traffic,” was a much more fundamental questioning — because it was new — of the role of cars on streets and in cities. And I’m wondering if you think what’s happening now really gets to those questions or whether it’s just, “Oh, can we just have a little space; we just want some accommodation; we want the buses to be a little better, we want a little bike lane”?

Such an interesting question, because I think that dilemma that we’re in right now in 2014, between fundamental rethinking and just fixes here and fixes there, is the same dilemma that advocates of the automobile found themselves in, especially in the early- to mid-1920s. At first a lot of them said, “We need to take the street as it is and do some fine tuning, things like optimize the traffic signal timings–”

The same solutions we’re looking at!

Exactly! The first synchronized traffic lights for motor vehicles were timed in Chicago in 1926, and at the meeting I was just in, they were still talking about getting the timing right.

Then there were others who began to say, “Stop talking about just retooling the streets to make cars fit in them better; we need to actually re-concieve this.” There was an editorial in Engineering News Record in 1920 — Engineering News Record then and now is the journal of the civil engineers — and the editorial said, “We need a fundamental re-conception of what a city street is for.”

Read more…

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Will Miami Take the First Step Toward Parking Reform?

It’s been a long time coming, says Felipe Azenha at Transit Miami, but finally the topic of parking reform is getting some attention in Miami.

Proposed parking reforms would be a boon for housing affordability in Miami. Photo: Mark Hogan via Flickr

Eliminating parking requirements for small buildings in Miami could lead to larger reforms — and the elimination of bigger garages like this one — later on. Photo: Mark Hogan via Flickr

A public hearing next week will consider the elimination of minimum parking requirements for small buildings along transit corridors. Azena says it’s just the thing this car-clogged, increasingly-unaffordable city needs:

Minimum parking requirements are killing good urban development in Miami. Luckily, there has been a push to eliminate parking requirements for small urban buildings (<10,000 sq ft) in recent months. This is a good first step in the right direction if Miami really aspires to become a walkable and less autocentric city.

Minimum parking requirements perpetuate more automobile use and it also makes housing less affordable since the cost of building and maintaining required parking is passed on to renters and buyers. A few months ago Zillow released a housing report that cited Miami as the 2nd most expensive city for renters. The average Miami resident spends 43.2% of their income on rent.

Combine expensive housing with lack of public transit and minimum parking requirements that only serve to perpetuate the use of the automobile; it’s no wonder why Miami is one of the most expensive car dominated cities in the US.

A better move for Miami would be to entirely eliminate parking requirements and let developers decide how much parking to build. But in the meantime, this proposal is a step in the right direction, Azenha says.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Wash Cycle maps out the locations of bike fatalities in the nation’s capital. Urban Milwaukee reports that universal driver’s ed has been proposed to help combat racial segregation in that region. And Greater Greater Washington says that DC’s regional planners aren’t acting boldly enough to achieve local climate action goals.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Biden’s Infrastructure Speech Highlights the Administration’s Disappointing Record (CFRAP)
  • “Possible” Presidential Candidates Still Trading Barbs About the Auto Bailout (WaPo)
  • Sen. Susan Collins Pushes to Raise Trucker Limit From 70 to 82 Hours a Week (The Hill)
  • Let’s All Calm the Heck Down About Ebola on Public Transportation (Yahoo News)
  • When Oil Prices Rise, Pols Call for Gas Tax Holiday. Oil Prices Are Low Now. (Bloomberg)
  • Chicago Gets Major Upgrade in Farecard Technology, Consolidation (GovTechBizJournal)
  • DC’s 11th Street Park Will Literally Bridge Two Very Different Neighborhoods (CityLab)
  • Miamians Spend Bigger Share of Their Income on Housing + Transpo Than New Yorkers (New Times)
  • Toronto Needs More Transit But Isn’t Willing to Pay For It (Global News)
  • Strong Towns‘ Chuck Marohn Lays Out the Conservative Case Against the Suburbs
  • Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman Talks to CityLab About the New Rail Bill
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Exposing the Deep-Seated Bias in Transportation Decision Making

Transportation engineers think of themselves as detached and data driven. But bias is built in to many of the profession’s key metrics, write Eric Dumbaugh, Jeffrey Tumlin, and Wesley Marshall in an excellent report recently published by the Institute for Transportation Engineers Journal [PDF]. You can trace this bias all the way back to the dawn of the automotive era.

The authors use Level of Service — the ubiquitous engineering metric that assigns letter grades to streets according to how much traffic delay motorists face — as the overarching example. LOS is often presented as a neutral piece of data that informs rigorous, impartial decision making. But in truth, it is steeped in subjectivity and a bias toward automobility.

LOS measures the ratio of road capacity to motor vehicle traffic volume, which is then presented as an A to F ranking system, like a school report card. ”Asserting that a roadway has failed is not a descriptive statement, it is a call to action,” write the authors.

The problem with basing decisions on LOS is that it only tells us about one thing, vehicle delay, while sidestepping other metrics like safety or economic performance. When transportation planners rely on LOS above all other metrics, as they so often do, they are making a judgment that moving cars quickly should be the primary aim of the transportation system.

Since LOS only measures motor vehicle delay, it entirely ignores the experiences of bicyclists and pedestrians. Transit riders get shortchanged too, because their high-occupancy vehicle is considered no different for the purposes of the measure than a car carrying a single person.

Rather than serving as a neutral piece of data, “the current reliance on level of service is based on two philosophical assumptions,” the authors write. “The first is that a region’s economic performance is linked to vehicle delay, or stated another way that traffic congestion is a drag on our economy that should be eliminated. The second is the assumption that we could resolve the problem of traffic congestion if only we made sufficient investments in transportation infrastructure and operational enhancements.”

Neither of those assumptions are supported by the available data. Instead, the inertia of outdated traditions has simply carried forward to the present day, all the way from advocacy by the automobile industry in the early years of transportation engineering, write Dumbaugh, Tumlin, and Wesley. They note that the first endowed chair of transportation engineering at an American university was sponsored by the Studebaker Motor Company.

Instead of establishing LOS as the primary performance measure for streets, as so many transportation departments do, the authors say planners should take time to consider local values. Many urban neighborhoods would prioritize enhancing the experience of cyclists, pedestrians, and transit riders, which has been shown to increase land values and economic performance, as well as safety.

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Zurich: Where People Are Welcome and Cars Are Not

When it comes to smart transportation options and city planning, Zurich can credibly claim to be the global champ. This Swiss city has enacted a number of policies and practices that have produced streets where people come first. Getting around and simply experiencing the city is a pleasure.

How did they do it? In a 1996 city decree referred to as “a historic ompromise,” Zurich decided to cap the number of parking spaces. From then on, when new parking spaces were built anywhere in Zurich, an equivalent number of spaces had to be eliminated elsewhere within the city limits. Many of the new spaces that have been built since then come in the form of underground garages, which allow for more car-free areas, plazas, and shared-space streets.

Zurich also has an intricate system of more than 4,500 sensors that monitor the number of cars entering the city. When that number exceeds the level Zurich’s streets can comfortably accommodate, all cars are halted on highways and main roads into the city until congestion is relieved. Thus, there is never significant traffic back-up in the city itself.

It’s tough to top the city’s transit options. Zurich has a network of comfortable commuter trains and buses, plus the magnificent gem of the city: its 15-line tram system. Trams run everywhere frequently and are easy to hop on and off. The coordination of the lines is a wonder to behold. And it’s the preferred way to travel in the city center – business men in suits traveling to the richest banks in the world ride next to moms and skateboarders.

That’s only the beginning of some of the great things going on in Zurich. Bike mode share is now 6 percent and climbing. People flock to the amazing parks and rivers that have been cleaned up. Car-free and car-lite streets are filled with restaurants and people at all times of day. If you can never get to Zurich yourself, I hope you’ll be able to experience a bit of what it’s like via this Streetfilm.

Note: All stats in the video are from the Mobility and Transport Microcencus of 2010 by the Federal Government of Switzerland. The survey on travel behavior has been conducted every five years since 1974.

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Q&A With Peter Norton: History Is on the Side of Vision Zero

speed-demon

Public safety posters like these fought against the pervasive violence of motor vehicles on public city streets in the first part of the 20th century. Images via Peter Norton

Last week, a bunch of bigwigs gathered to talk infrastructure in one of Washington’s most historic and prestigious sites, the Hay-Adams Hotel across the street from the White House. I was offered an opportunity to interview former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and a host of other VIPs. But — no offense to those guys — the person I wanted to talk to was Peter Norton, listed as the “lead scholar” of the Miller Center’s new commission to “develop innovative, bipartisan ideas on how to create and sustain middle-class jobs through infrastructure policy.”

Peter Norton. Photo: ##http://www.virginia.edu/topnews/releases2006/20060627PeterNorton.html##UVA##

Peter Norton. Photo: UVA

Norton is a professor at the University of Virginia (where the Miller Center is housed) and the author of Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City. The book is a chronicle of the battle over who and what streets were for as automobiles were proliferating at the beginning of the 20th century. It’s a conversation worth revisiting today.

We had that conversation on a shady park bench in Lafayette Square, one of Washington’s most iconic green spaces, between the Hay-Adams and the White House.

If our interview piques your interest, you can catch Norton in person at the opening reception of the upcoming Vision Zero for Cities Symposium, a national gathering organized by Transportation Alternatives in New York City next month (November 13-15), where public officials and street safety advocates will strategize about “how to achieve Vision Zero in cities around the world.”

First let me ask about the Infrastructure campaign that you’re part of here as the lead scholar –

That’s the title!

I have questions about the push for infrastructure investment from the point of view of someone who is skeptical of increasing car infrastructure. Not to start on a negative note, but a lot of the push for increased infrastructure investment is not necessarily choosy about whether that infrastructure goes toward sustainable, ethical, environmentally friendly, city-friendly infrastructure, or whether it’s highways and cars.

Right. When I was invited to this thing, that question that you’re asking was foremost in my mind. And you find yourself thinking, I could stay out of it as a way of saying I don’t really think these discussions are being held in an inclusive way that includes all kinds of ideas, including ones that haven’t been on the table before — or I could join in and see if I could work in some of those less orthodox perspectives. And I chose the latter. I had some opportunities over the last two days to work in some points of view that weren’t being represented there.

Read more…

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A New Bike Network Takes Shape, and Atlantans Turn Out in Droves

pfb logo 100x22

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 capital of the New South is working on its latest “highway” network. This one is going to be a lot quieter.

The massive Beltline trail and an impressive grid of protected lanes that will connect the trail system to key urban destinations are poised to remake transportation in the city that anchors the country’s ninth-largest metro area. Striving for Mayor Kasim Reed’s goal of making Atlanta one of the country’s top ten cities for biking, Atlantans have shown their enthusiasm with their feet: An estimated 95,000 to 106,000 people attended the open-streets event Atlanta Streets Alive on September 28 — shattering the previous record by at least 12,000 people.

For comparison’s sake, Portland’s Sunday Parkways festivals also set an attendance record in 2014 — by drawing 109,000 attendees to all five events combined.

As the video above shows, Atlanta’s embrace of open streets is part of a bigger shift in a city that’s shaking off its old “Sprawlville, USA” image with a combination of new housing and bike and transit infrastructure.

“It’s really shifting the way people think about living in the City of Atlanta,” says Rebecca Serna, executive director of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition. “The focus is on the core of the city.”

You can follow The Green Lane Project on Twitter or Facebook or sign up for its weekly news digest about protected bike lanes.

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Dallas Transport Agency Cooks Up Fishy Traffic Projections for a New Road

We’ve reported on the way state agencies justify spending on expensive road expansions by overestimating the traffic that will materialize in the future. In an encouraging sign, one local press outfit is calling out the fishy traffic projections before a project gets built.

Image: Northeastgateway.com

The regional transportation agency for Dallas justifies this highway project with traffic projections that far exceed even the estimates from the notorious sprawl enablers at Texas DOT. Map: Northeastgateway.com

Brandon Formby of the Dallas Morning News‘ Transportation Blog (yes, it’s a long-time member of the Streetsblog Network) has been taking a critical look at traffic projections from the North Central Texas Council of Governments, the Big D’s regional planning agency. Residents who oppose the 28-mile Northeast Gateway-Blackland Prairie toll road – planned for a rural area between Garland and Greenville — question the assumptions behind the project.

The numbers certainly do look suspicious. Here are some excerpts from Formby’s reporting (emphasis added):

  • “Some of the council of governments predictions are hundreds of percentage points higher than the Texas Department of Transportation’s forecasts.”
  • “NCTCOG predicts that 72,300 drivers will use State Highway 66 at County Road 6 in Lavon in 2035. That’s six times as many as the 12,000 drivers the agency says used it last year. It’s also more than triple the 22,880 drivers TxDOT estimates for the same spot in 2030, the closest year to the NCTCOG estimates for which the state has forecasts.”
  • “While the regional agency’s traffic estimates for spots in the corridor predict anywhere from a 70 percent to 503 percent increase in drivers, the state predicts population increases in the four counties to be between 23.3 percent and 65.1 percent.”

Formby reports that NCTCOG has been reluctant to divulge how its traffic projections were developed. No wonder, because they seem to be practicing highway voodoo.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Systemic Failure, responding to an absurd case of police overreach in San Francisco, points out that  places where it’s safe for children to be on bikes don’t require them to wear helmets. And Delaware Bikes outlines data from Active Living Research that shows the many health benefits of biking and walking for transportation.