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Someone Has Built the Ultimate 1950s Fantasy Vehicle All Over Again

Terrafugia's prototype blocks the bike lane . Photo: Mary Jordan/Flick

Congestion? This flying car will fix it! Photo: @Mary Jordan

UPDATE in fourth paragraph about takeoff and landing space.

This photo pretty much says everything that needs to be said about the absurdity of the flying car.

I wouldn’t even bring it up except a flying car salesman was the man of the hour at an otherwise (mostly, er, somewhat) serious daylong forum on transportation issues yesterday sponsored by the Washington Post. The flying car in question was parked outside the building, blocking a bike lane on 14th Street.

Carl Dietrich of Terrafugia (“escape the earth” in Latin) worked hard to convince the audience that what he acknowledged has long been a “pop culture joke” was a real, serious answer to the real-world problem of traffic congestion.

Not that we need to get into the numbers, but a Terrafugia plane required a third of a mile of empty runway to take off when it first — ahem — launched in 2009. More recent reports put it at 100 feet. I tried calling Terrafugia to confirm the figure, but no one picked up. I’ll let you know if I get a response to my email. (UPDATE 10/23: Alex Min of Terrafugia replied, “The TF-X will be a Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) vehicle so there will be no need for a runway. Much like a helicopter, any suitable landing area will be sufficient, but you still have to abide by FAA regulations.”)

Indeed, all of Terrafugia’s promotional materials show personal airplanes flying above farmland, and when the wings retract the pilot retreats home to a suburban single-family McMansion where the vehicle fits conveniently inside a standard-size garage.

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Tucson Region Poised to Slash Bike/Ped Funding

Disappointing news from America’s hottest, driest bike city: Regional planners in Tucson are poised to take an axe to an important pot of money for bike and pedestrian improvements, even while they maintain spending on much more expensive road widenings.

Tucson's funds for bike and pedestrian improvements are drying up, some advocates say. Photo: Bicycle Tucson

It doesn’t cost much to make streets safer for walking and biking, but Tucson’s regional transportation agency would rather widen roads. Photo: Bicycle Tucson

Michael McKisson at Network blog Bicycle Tucson reports on how Tucson’s Regional Transportation Authority is dealing with lower-than-expected revenues from a regional sales tax enacted in 2006. Even though active transportation projects are just a drop in the bucket, the RTA has targeted them for steep cuts, McKisson writes:

It’s about to get a lot harder for Tucson-area bicycle and pedestrian planners to find funding for projects after a decision by the Regional Transportation Authority slashed more than $14 million from the RTA’s bicycle and pedestrian budgets.

Pima Association of Governments deputy director Jim Degrood told the RTA’s bicycle and pedestrian subcommittee that revenue from the 2006 voter-approved half-cent sales tax was coming in 17 percent lower than the group expected.

“The economy tanked — as we all know,” Degrood told the committee.  “And that has had a profoundly negative impact on our collection.”

McKisson reports active transportation is the big loser because RTA officials say they are committed to the projects that were outlined before the 2006 vote. Namely, road widening projects:

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Today’s Headlines

  • D.C. Mayor Lays Out Action Plan for Transportation (WaPo, GGW)
  • Feds, MARTA Move Forward With Study of New 8.8-Mile Light Rail (Atlanta Biz Journal)
  • Texans Get Their First Glimpse of Potential High-Speed Rail Routes (Dallas News)
  • LA Times Thinks More Parking Is the Answer for City’s Rail Stations
  • In the Southwest, Long-Term Plan Emerges for Passenger Rail Network (RT&S)
  • Some Conservatives Embrace Urbanism, But Then It Falls on Deaf Ears (Grist)
  • D.C. to Baltimore at 311 MPH? (Bloomberg)
  • Small Towns Fail to Capture Millennials (NPR)
  • Will Norfolk’s Light Rail Connect to Neighborhoods, or Run Along Highways? (GGW)
  • Americans More Concerned About ISIS and Ebola Than a Much Bigger Threat: Traffic Violence (Vox)
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NYC Bike-on-Sidewalk Tickets Most Common in Black and Latino Communities

Chart by Harry Levine and Loren Siegel. Full data, including summonses as a share of population, available on their website.

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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.

Of all the possible ways to break the law on a bicycle, pedaling on the sidewalk ought to be one of the most sympathetic.

Yes, sidewalk biking is unpleasant and potentially dangerous to everyone involved. But people wouldn’t bike on sidewalks if they weren’t in search of something they want: physical protection from auto traffic.

A person biking on a sidewalk is just trying to use the protected bike lane that isn’t there. That’s why sidewalk biking falls dramatically the moment a protected lane is installed. When a bike rider fails to follow this law, it’s not good. But it’s usually because the street has already failed to help the rider.

All of which makes it especially disturbing that bans on sidewalk biking seem to be enforced disproportionately on black and Latino riders.

That’s the implication of a recent study from New York City. City University of New York sociologist Harry Levine and civil rights attorney Loren Siegel coded the neighborhoods with the most and fewest bike-on-sidewalk court summonses by whether or not most residents are black or Latino.

Of the 15 neighborhoods with the most such summonses, he found, 12 were mostly black or Latino. Of the 15 neighborhoods with the fewest summonses, 14 did not have a black or Latino majority.

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It’s Happening: Washington State Revises Traffic Forecasts to Reflect Reality

Washington State has revised traffic projections downward, to reflect changing patterns. Image: Washington State via Sightline

The Washington State Office of Fiscal Management has revised its traffic projections downward to reflect changing patterns. Graph Washington OFM via Sightline

The amount that the average American drives each year has been declining for nearly a decade, yet most transportation agencies are still making decisions based on the notion that a new era of ceaseless traffic growth is right around the corner.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation, for example, has overestimated traffic on its roads by an average of 73 percent, according to a recent study. And Dallas-area planners recently produced traffic projections that predicted a much larger increase in driving than the state DOT was even predicting.

That’s why a new traffic forecast from the Washington State Office of Fiscal Management is so interesting: It actually acknowledges how travel habits are changing. Seattle-based environmental think tank Sightline spotted the above traffic projection in a new government report. In its most recent financial forecast, the agency has abandoned the assumption of never-ending traffic growth that it employed as recently as last year. Instead, the agency has responded to recent trends, even projecting that total traffic will start to decline within the next ten years.

Sightline’s Clark Williams-Derry says that’s huge:

By undermining both the rationale for new roads and the belief that we’ll be able to pay for them, a forecast of flat traffic should help inject a needed dose of reality into the state’s transportation debates.

Of course, there’s no telling whether this forecast will be right. As Yogi Berra allegedly said, predictions are hard, especially about the future. But if it turns out that this forecast underestimates traffic growth, budgeters won’t find it such an unpleasant surprise, since more traffic will bring more revenue from drivers.

Update: This post has been amended to reflect that the traffic forecast was published by the Washington State Office of Financial Management, not the Washington State DOT, as originally reported. According to the OFM report, however, the projections were produced by a division of the DOT.

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The Surprisingly Rare Sanctuary From Urban Freeway Noise

There are precious few places in the Minneapolis region where you can escape the whirr of speeding cars. Map: Adam Froehlig at Streets.mn

There are precious few places in the Minneapolis region where you can escape the whir of speeding cars. Map: Adam Froehlig at Streets.mn

Bill Lindeke at Network blog Twin City Sidewalks says he grew up in a rather bucolic setting. Even so, he wasn’t able to escape the constant whir of speeding cars. The old farmhouse on a half-acre lot where he grew up is just three-quarters of a mile from Interstate 35E. And in that way, he was like almost everyone else in the Twin Cities, he points out:

It made me realize that freeways are surprisingly close to most houses. It’s increasingly difficult to find anywhere within the 494-694 ring of the Twin Cities where you can’t hear the high pitched whir of tires all hours of the day and night… Cars are a backdrop to every outdoor conversation, every rustle of leaves, and every birdsong day in and day out forever.

The other day at streets.mn, Adam Froehlig made a map that answered one of the questions that’s been nagging at my earlobe for years: Where are the respites from the whir? Is there anywhere in Minneapolis or Saint Paul where you can escape the sound of tires, if even for a brief moment in the middle of the night?

While it’s not perfect, Alex’s map [above] does point to a few small places where freeways might be at least a mile off.

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Today’s Headlines

  • U.S. DOT Kicks Off Teen Traffic Safety Week 
  • Seniors Should Consider Transportation Options When Planning Retirement (NYT)
  • Texas Republicans Want Welfare for Their Roads (WSJ)
  • Work Begins on Freeing Bertha, the Tunnel Borer Stuck Under Seattle (PI)
  • Citing Safety, New Jersey Cities Beg to Keep Red Light Cameras (NJ.com)
  • Portland Needs to Maintain Protected Space for Bicyclists During Road Work (Bike Portland)
  • Transit Union Rebels Against MARTA’s Plans to Privatize Atlanta Paratransit (Creative Loafing)
  • These Eight Victims of New York City Traffic Violence Will Be Commemorated (NY Mag)
  • How to Build an Intersection for Pedestrians: Six Options (Next City)
  • Go Ahead and Panic, But For God’s Sakes, Not About Ebola (Sightline)
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Center Cities Drawing Young College Grads Even in Shrinking Regions

The central cities of America's urban areas have seen a 34 percent increase in young college-educated residents over the last decade. Image: City Observatory

The central cities of America’s urban areas have seen a 37 percent increase in young, college-educated residents over the last decade. Image: City Observatory

In another striking sign of shifting generational preferences, the number of young college graduates is on the rise in central cities across the country — even in regions that are shrinking overall.

That’s according to a new report from City Observatory [PDF], which found the number of 25- to 34-year-olds with college degrees living within three miles of a downtown area has increased dramatically — 37 percent nationally — over roughly the last decade. America’s total population increased about 11 percent in the same period.

College-educated millennials are even more likely to live in central city areas than their Generation X predecessors. And the trendline is among 51 metro areas examined, just two — Detroit and Birmingham — saw a net loss in 25- to 34-year-old college grads living within three miles of downtown.

Interestingly, the total number of people living in America’s core cities remained roughly unchanged between 2000 and 2012, at about 9.4 million people. (There was, however, enormous variation by metro region.) The millennial generation is also a larger cohort than the Gen X group that came before them, and more likely to have a college degree, but that doesn’t fully explain the trend.

Clearly, shifting preferences are at work, says study author Joe Cortright. The number of young college graduates increased twice as fast in core cities as it did in American metro areas overall.

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New Jersey’s Response to Suicide Attempt: Close Bridge to Pedestrians

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Without access to the Route 35 Victory Bridge, the path between Perth Amboy and Sayreville gets a whole lot longer. Via WalkBikeJersey/Google Maps

Today’s featured post from the Streetsblog Network is a case study in overreaction and unintended consequences.

John Boyle at WalkBikeJersey reports that after a suicide attempt on the Route 35 Victory Bridge, officials in New Jersey want to sever this important walking and biking link entirely:

On September 20th the body of 16 year old Giancarlo Taveras was recovered from the Raritan River after he jumped off the Route 35 Victory Bridge. The death of the teenager drew an outpouring of grief from the Perth Amboy community. As a result the annual suicide awareness walk over the bridge included more than 500 participants on September 28th. Then on September 29th a 19 year old miraculously survived his suicide attempt with a broken leg. That chain of events along, with pressure from the mayor of Perth Amboy finally spurred NJDOT to do something about the issue. Their solution — set up barricades and close the bridge to bicyclists and pedestrians. Along with a vague promise to put up a fence for the walkway at some point in the future.

The bridge closure severs the only pedestrian and bicycle access between Perth Amboy and Sayreville. A 2 mile bike ride over the bridge is now a 23 mile detour via New Brunswick and a pedestrian’s only option is to use the infrequent bus service that crosses the bridge.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Using examples from the Netherlands, A View from the Cycle Path explains why the “there’s no room for bike lanes” argument doesn’t hold up. The Dallas Morning News’ Transportation Blog has good news: The toll road that regional transportation officials justified with absurd traffic projections will probably be shelved. And Urban Cincy reports that Denver is trying to tackle the food desert problem with healthy corner stores.

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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)