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Pieces in Place for AASHTO to Endorse Protected Bike Lanes… by 2020

Part of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, installed in 2011.

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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.

The bible of U.S. bikeway engineering, last revised just before the modern American protected bike lane explosion, will almost certainly include protected lanes in its next update.

That’s the implication of a project description released last month from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

AASHTO’s current bikeway guide doesn’t spell out standards for protected bike lanes. Its updated edition is on track to be released in 2018 at the soonest. A long wait? Yes, but that would still shave seven years off the previous 13-year update cycle.

“Back in 2009, we maybe had a few miles of separated bike lanes in this country,” said Jennifer Toole, founder of Toole Design Group and the lead contractor who wrote AASHTO’s current bike guide. “It was written right on the cusp of those new changes. Now we have all kinds of experience with this stuff. And data — we’ve got data for the first time.”

AASHTO’s richly detailed and researched guides are the main resource for most U.S. transportation engineers. Some civil engineers simply will not build anything that lacks AASHTO-approved design guidance.

However, dozens of cities in most U.S. states have now begun building protected lanes with the help of other publications.

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This Is the Kind of Leadership We Need From State DOTs

“A breath of fresh air” — that’s how Chuck Marohn at Strong Towns describes this interview with Tennessee DOT Commissioner John Schroer. In this video, produced by Smart Growth America, Schroer describes what he is doing to make Tennessee’s the ”the best DOT in the country.” Here are some of the highlights:

We did a top-to-bottom review and we looked at everything that we did and we analyzed it from a production standpoint to a financial standpoint. Changed a lot of the leadership within the department, brought in a lot of people from the private sector.

I found when I  moved into this position, a lot of cities did a poor job of long-range planning — in how they did zoning, in how they approved projects — and took very little consideration into the transportation mode. Oftentimes those cities would then call us and say, “We’ve got a problem, you need to help us fix it.” Well, that problem was self-created. It was self-created because they made bad zoning decisions, they put a school in the wrong place without thinking about transportation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to build a bypass to a bypass, and that purely is bad planning. We’ve got a whole division now that is working with communities right now and trying to help them not make those bad decisions, and when that happens the state saves money.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Bernie Sanders Pitches $1 Trillion Infrastructure Bill… But No Funding Source (WaPo)
  • How Low Gas Prices Could Spell Trouble for Obama’s Climate Plan (National Journal)
  • House T&I Committee Announces Subcomittee Assignments
  • Minnesota Gov Slaps Parks Board for Stalling LRT, Plans Tax Hikes for Transpo (F&C, Pioneer Press)
  • Winter Storms Aren’t a Big Deal For Walkable, Transit-Oriented Communities (CT Post)
  • New Amtrak Site Focuses on Northeast Corridor, Makes Case for NYC Gateway Project (TSTC)
  • Mapping D.C.’s Cycling and Pedestrian Injuries (City Paper)
  • Phoenix Mayor a Big Fan of Bike-Share (AZ Central)
  • Timeline Uncertain for Downtown Dallas Streetcar (Dallas Morning News)
  • Why It Makes Sense for Labor Unions to Be Anti-Sprawl (Next City)
  • Light Rail for Birmingham By 2021? (AL.com)
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Cincinnati’s Eastern Corridor: The $1.4 Billion Road No One Seems to Want

The Eastern Corridor is an expensive state DOT highway project searching for a reason to exist.

The highway plan would relocate SR 32 through Mariemont's South 80 Park. Image: Village of Mariemont

The highway plan would reroute SR 32 through Mariemont’s South 80 Park, named for its 80-acre size. Image: Village of Mariemont

The $1.4 billion proposal from Ohio DOT is ostensibly intended to reduce commute times from Cincinnati’s far eastern bedroom communities to downtown. The project, a remnant of 1960s-era road planning, would create a commuter highway through the eastern Cincinnati region by widening and partially rerouting State Route 32, as well as widening Red Bank Road. The plan also contains commuter rail and bike infrastructure elements. Proponents, like the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, say it will shorten car commutes and promote job development in the eastern suburbs [PDF].

But even with those multi-modal goodies, nobody seems to like this highway — not even the towns it is designed to serve, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. Newtown (population 2,600) opposes it. The village of Mariemont (population 3,400) opposes it. Madisonville, an eastern Cincinnati neighborhood that would be served by the road, opposes it.  “We don’t need it,” Newtown Mayor Curt Cosby told the Enquirer.

“The state keeps saying, ‘Well, we hear you and we’re taking that into account.’ But they continue to move forward and spend money. They don’t really hear us.”

Read more…

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Help Streetsblog Find the Sorriest Bus Stop in America

Atlanta's Buford Highway, via ATL Urbanist.

Atlanta’s Buford Highway, via ATL Urbanist

It’s contest time again, and competition is going to be stiff for this one. After handing out a Streetsie award for the best street transformation in America at the end of 2014, we’re going to do some good old public shaming this time: Help us find the most neglected, dangerous, and all around sorriest bus stop in the United States.

Most bus stops don’t amount to much more than a stick in the ground. No shelter, no schedule, and nowhere to sit. Better bus stops would mean people could walk to transit without taking their life in their hands, and that transit riders could wait for the bus with dignity. This contest will provide definitive evidence that transit agencies and DOTs have to do a lot better.

The above example comes from Atlanta’s notorious Buford Highway, where pedestrian infrastructure of all types has been completely neglected in favor of wide open asphalt.

It will be hard to top the example below, however. That’s an actual bus stop in Cleveland. The only indication is a very small RTA logo under the highway sign for 71 South (you might have to zoom in to actually spot it). What exactly people are supposed to do when they get off the bus here is unclear, but it’s a sorry statement about how seriously Ohio DOT takes bus riders’ needs.

This is an actual bus stop in Cleveland. We swear. Image: Google Maps via Tim Kovach

An actual bus stop in Cleveland. We swear. Image: Google Maps via Tim Kovach

If there’s an awful bus stop where you live, send us your pictures of it along with a written description of the context, and we’ll put the worst up to a popular vote. You can leave an entry in the comments or email it to angie [at] streetsblog [dot] org.

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Are More Families With Kids Choosing to Live in Walkable Areas?

Overall, walkable places lost ground with families over the last decade, according to this analysis by Family Friendly Cities.

According to an analysis by Family Friendly Cities, in walkable American neighborhoods the number of children is shrinking.

Bradley Calvert at Family Friendly Cities has done some impressive number-crunching to identify trends in where families with children are living. Using Walk Score and Census data, he analyzed the 50 largest metro areas in the U.S. to determine whether the population of children is growing or shrinking in walkable and unwalkable areas. (Some regions had to be excluded because they didn’t have any places with a Walk Score over 70.)

Calvert found that the total number of kids under 18 living in walkable areas is shrinking, but the trend is not as pronounced among parents with young children:

Overall the growth of families, measured by number of residents under the age of 18, in walkable communities has been unimpressive. Walkable communities lost 11.99 percent of residents under 18 while non-walkable communities posted a gain of 2.78 percent. The difference signifies that families are not finding their way into our most walkable communities. While most of the nation’s largest cities have shown growth in residents under 18, particularly in more recent years, they are not choosing more walkable communities. Of the cities studied only Charlotte and Seattle posted growth in all residents under 18 in walkable communities.

The outlook for our youngest families, those with children under the age of 5, was slightly more optimistic. While of the 50 largest cities they still posted a loss of 2.98 percent, 13 cities posted growth. Still, non-walkable communities experienced a growth rate of 3.78 percent.  Of the 13 that posted growth it was a smattering of Sun Belt boomtowns, Pacific Northwest growth, and Mid-Atlantic & Midwestern staples. The growth in these 13 cities hints that younger families, particularly young professionals that are now having children might be more inclined to stay in more urban walkable areas. Being that their children are still below school age, there is still the concern that they could leave much like a report earlier this month from Washington, D.C. suggested.

Read more…

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Today’s Headlines

  • Trio of Highway-Focused Lobbying Groups Pressure Congress on Gas Tax (The Hill)
  • Cities Attempt to Bridge the Bike-Share Income Gap (City Lab)
  • Is Nashville BRT 100% Dead? Maybe Not (Nashville Biz Journal)
  • Study: Chicago’s Transit Infrastructure Requires $36B (RT&S)
  • Little-Known Agency Keeps SoCal’s Commuter Rail Running Smoothly (LAT)
  • Tracking D.C.’s Incomes Via Metro Routes (WaPo)
  • Richmond, VA’s Cycling Network Won’t Develop Overnight (Times-Dispatch)
  • Thinking About Riding Your Bike in the Snow? (Next City)
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Talking Headways: Tune In and Find Out How You Can Support This Podcast

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In this week’s Talking Headways, Tanya and I discuss Uber’s planned data release, wondering whether it’s a boon to cities or just a clever PR move on the part of a company trying to deal with poor public perception.

Also, why do people think it’s cute when a dog rides transit on its own, but when kids walk by themselves in their own neighborhood, it’s labeled neglect? We discuss parenting and the growth of confidence that comes from going out on your own for the first time.

Finally, we have some news about the future of Talking Headways — while Streetsblog can continue to distribute the podcast, the funding to produce it will have to come from other sources going forward. If you love the show and can’t wait to hear it each week AND are interested in sponsoring it, please get in touch.

You can find Jeff on twitter @theoverheadwire or you can email jswood at theoverheadwire dot com.

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The Suburbs Aren’t Dying — They’re Growing Differently

Cross-posted from the Frontier Group.

(data: 1990, 2000, 2010: Metropolitan Area Planning Council, 2013 Census estimates: UMass Donahue Institute)

In the Boston region, the fringes are still growing, but not like they used to. 1990, 2000, 2010 data: Metropolitan Area Planning Council; 2013 Census estimates: UMass Donahue Institute

Sommer Mathis said much of what needed to be said about the recent round of “the suburbs are back, baby!” stories on housing trends, including this analysis from Jed Kolko, housing economist at Trulia.com, and the related commentary from Matt Yglesias at Vox. Mathis argues that the concept of a battle for supremacy between cities and suburbs is fundamentally silly, especially at a time in history when the terms “city” and “suburb” each represent a wide variety of built forms and socioeconomic conditions.

There is another problem, however, with these stories, which is that they play into the narrative — recently championed by the likes of Wendell Cox and Joel Kotkin — that when it comes to housing trends, little meaningful (other than the recession) has really changed in the United States in recent years. Kolko, for example, states that, after a brief period in which urban population growth outpaced that of the suburbs, “old patterns have returned,” while Yglesias states that “the trajectory of American housing growth is still all about the suburbs.” But the “old patterns” have not returned. Far from it.

The old pattern of development, which prevailed during the second half of the 20th century (and the first few years of the 21st), was one of rapid suburbanization characterized by the universal spread of a particular kind of segregated-use, automobile-oriented development known colloquially as “sprawl.”

As Kolko notes, suburbs today are adding population a wee bit faster than cities, a shift from earlier this decade when cities were growing a wee bit faster than suburbs. But for most of the 20th century, suburbs weren’t just beating cities by a nose in the hypothetical growth contest, they were trouncing them like Secretariat at the Belmont.

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Tentative Good News for Maryland’s Purple and Red Lines

The Purple line, connecting suburban Maryland to DC, is expected to generate a development boom around its stations, like the Silver Line has in Virginia. Image: Rethink College Park

The Purple Line, connecting Montgomery County to DC, is expected to generate walkable development around its stations. Image: Rethink College Park

Since Republican Larry Hogan was elected governor in November, transit advocates in Maryland have been holding their breath.

During the campaign, Hogan threatened to kill the mostly-funded and ready-to-go Red Line in Baltimore and the Purple Line in the DC suburbs — two of the biggest transit projects on tap in the U.S.

A budget document recently released by the Hogan administration on Friday avoids the worst-case scenario of immediately abandoning both projects. Dan Reed at Greater Greater Washington reports that Hogan is setting aside $313 million for the Purple Line and $106 million for the Red Line — enough to keep the projects progressing.

But it’s too soon to declare victory, Reed says:

Hogan campaigned on a platform of reducing government spending and building roads instead of transit, so this news is a blessing for transit supporters. But the Purple and Red lines aren’t done deals yet.

For the Purple Line, it’s likely that Hogan is waiting to see the bids for a public-private partnership to build and run the project. Maryland wants the private partner to provide between $500 and $900 million, but if the bid is too low and the state has to provide more money than Hogan’s budgeted, then the Purple Line may be in trouble. The bids are due March 12.

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