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Could DC Add Bike Lanes to Its Traffic Circles?

London is preparing to add a protected bike lane to one of its famous traffic circles. Image: City of London via Beyond DC

London is adding a bike lane to one of its famous traffic circles. Image: City of London via BeyondDC

Roundabouts can have big safety and environmental benefits, but can they be adapted to be great places for bicycling as well?

“DC’s big traffic circles are notoriously difficult places to bike,” writes Dan Malouff at BeyondDC. “They have multiple lanes of intimidating and zig-zagging car traffic, and sidewalks too packed with pedestrians to be good bike paths.”

Malouff says a city of London plan to add bike lanes to the busy Queens’ Circus traffic circle, pictured above, is interesting but has some drawbacks.

This is sort of a good design. It’s better than nothing. But with so many crossings, it’s still pretty confusing what’s the bike lane and what’s for cars. It seems likely there will still be a lot of intimidating cross traffic.

In fact, the actual design doesn’t even have the green paint; I added that to make the rendering clearer.

The other big problem with the London example is that pedestrians are mostly absent. Unlike DC’s circles that typically have popular parks in the middle, this London circle is just a road. The central grassy section isn’t a useful park, and there are no pedestrian crossings into it. That obviously changes how the entire thing functions.

Malouff says an older example from the Netherlands might actually provide more protection, by placing the bike lane on a wide sidewalk. But the London example might be a more politically realistic goal for DC, he says.

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Architect’s Newspaper reports that Detroit has broken ground on its long-awaited 3.3-mile M1 light rail system. Price of Sprawl attempts to calculate the public cost of a newly approved sprawling development in Palm Beach County, Florida. And Human Transit explains how to develop a liberating transit system in a smaller city.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Indiana Reaches Deal to Preserve Amtrak’s Hoosier State Line (The Hill)
  • WaPo: Major Infrastructure Investment Should Drive Country’s Growth
  • High-Speed Rail Weighs Into Florida Governor’s Election (Next City)
  • China Heads the Pack With Bike-Sharing (Bloomberg)
  • Mat-Su, Alaska, Hopes to Settle With FTA Over Unused Ferry (Alaska Dispatch News)
  • Report: Philly Leads Big Cities in Bike Commuting (Philly Mag)
  •  Honolulu Rail Inspires Neighborhood TOD Plans (Pacific Biz News)
  •  DC May Be Bike-Friendly Today, But Not So Much in ’82 (WaPo, Washingtonian)
  • How “Sprawl Retrofitting” Could Help Phoenix (Citiscope)
  • Northern Kentucky Shows Interest in Streetcar (River City News)
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Study: Transit Commuters Have Less Body Fat Than Those Who Drive to Work

Those who commute by car are piling on the pounds faster than people who ride bikes — and take transit — to work, according to a recent study published in the British Medical Journal.

Those who take transit to work in the UK have less body fat, according to a new study. Photo: ##http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:London.underground.arp.750pix.jpg##Wikimedia##

Those who take transit to work in the UK have less body fat, according to a new study. Photo: Wikimedia

The study looked at health and commuting data over time for about 7,500 people in the United Kingdom. When controlling for factors like income, level of activity at work, and age, researchers found that commuting by foot, bike, or public transit was “significantly associated” with lower obesity metrics.

This finding might not be all that surprising, but researchers say scientific evidence that active commuting helps maintain a healthy body weight has been scant. The study also found that transit riders had slightly better numbers than those who walked or rode bikes to work.

After adjusting for other factors, researchers found that men who used public transportation to get to work had about 1.5 percentage points less body fat than men who drove. For men who commuted by foot or bike, the advantage was 1.35 percent. For women, transit riders had about 2 percent lower body fat, and bike commuters had 1.4 percent less.

The results were similar for another important measure of obesity: body mass index. For men, active commuting and transit use were associated with a lower body mass index of about 1 point — that translates to 10 pounds for a man who is 5′ 10″ tall or a woman who is 5′ 5″. In women, active or transit commuting translated to about .75 points lower BMI.

“There are potentially large population-level health gains to be made by shifting to more active modes of travel,” researchers said.

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DOTs Now Have No Excuse for Ignoring Changing Transportation Trends

As report titles go, you could hardly get less sexy than “NHCRP Report 750: Strategic Issues Facing Transportation, Volume 6: The Effects of Socio-Demographics on Future Travel Demand.” But buried within this wonky new document from the Transportation Research Board are ideas that can — and should — upend the way local, state, and federal officials plan for future transportation needs.

Two different scenarios foretell two very different futures for the Atlanta region. Image: NCHRP

Two different scenarios foretell two very different futures for the Atlanta region. Image: NCHRP

It’s no secret that our current transportation models have done a lousy job of accounting for the recent decline in driving in the United States. The most glaring example is the U.S. Department of Transportation’s biennial “Conditions and Performance“ report to Congress, which has repeatedly forecast a return to rapid growth in driving that has repeatedly failed to materialize.

Bad forecasts lead to bad decisions – specifically, the investment of vast amounts of public resources in new and expanded highways that we probably don’t need (e.g. in Wisconsin).

At first, the transportation policy establishment chalked up the decline in driving to the economic recession and assumed it was only temporary. That is despite the fact that, as Robert Puentes and Adie Tomer from the Brookings Institution pointed out as early as 2008, the drop in per-capita driving began well before the recession. And it’s continued during the recovery.

Over time, however, experts have come to recognize the multiple factors – including changes in the composition of the workforce, an aging population, technological changes, and shifts in housing and travel preferences among Millennials – that have contributed to the recent fall in driving and that make further stagnation in vehicle travel likely.

The new TRB report (which we could refer to by the catchy acronym SIFTV6:TESDFTD, but won’t) explicitly acknowledges these fundamental changes, identifying eight socio-demographic trends that will influence demand for vehicle travel through 2050. Of those eight trends, only one (changes in the nation’s racial and ethnic mix) is expected to contribute to an increase in per-capita driving, while at least five (the “graying” of America, technological change, workforce change, the “blurring of city and suburb,” and slow growth in households) will tend to reduce per-capita driving. (The impacts of the other two trends are ambiguous or unspecified.)

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Sioux Falls Builds Sidewalk-Free School, Tries to Stop Kids From Walking

Stories like this one help explain why we have a childhood obesity epidemic in the United States.

Sioux Falls' McGovern Middle School is close to many students' homes, which is probably why kids want to walk there. Image: KSFY

Sioux Falls’ George McGovern Middle School is close to many students’ homes, which is probably why kids want to walk there. Image: KSFY

Network blog the MinusCar Project reports that a new school recently opened in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, along two busy thoroughfares that have no sidewalks. A local TV station explains that children are still walking to the middle school because it’s close to their homes, which has parents concerned for their safety.

Here is the principal’s solution:

“[W]e’re trying to problem solve and trying to figure out how to best bus 100% of our student population.”

Principal [LaVonna] Emanuel wants all students to be safe and if anyone is walking to school, wants to find out why.

“We would definitely want to work with the family find out what’s going on, did the child miss the bus? Just what’s going on,” she said.

Granted, Principal Emanuel likely had no say as to whether sidewalks were installed — the school district says that was up to the city — and to her credit she says she wants the school to function as a “neighborhood school” soon. But parents wonder why proper infrastructure wasn’t built at the outset. Said one: “I’m glad they have school buses for everybody, but they should still have it set up so kids can walk. They did take the time to pave the roads and everything around this area that have been dirt and gravel roads. So I think they should take the time to at least put up some sidewalks.”

Elsewhere today: Delaware Bikes reports that a study ranked the First State the country’s most dangerous for pedestrians. The author of Transitized explains how he moved across the country with the help of Amtrak. And Better Cities & Towns offers 12 steps for cities looking to reduce pedestrian deaths.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Feds Give $1.2B to Silver Line Phase II (GSN)
  • GOP Senators Predict New Funding Source for Transpo (The Hill)
  • Developers Take Interest in Twin Cities Light Rail (Finance & Commerce)
  • DC Metro Pays Nearly $5M to Settle Suit Over No-Bid Contract (WaPo)
  • Gov Tech: U.S. Can’t Keep Tolerating Transportation Mediocrity
  • UK Study: Transit Riders Weigh Less (Health Central)
  • Math Finds Capitol Hill Seattle the Most Walkable Yet Affordable Neighborhood (Munson City, Curbed)
  • Nashville Sees “Guerilla Urbanism” (Nashville Scene)
  • Cleveland Advocates Promote Convenient But Underused Bus Line (Plain Dealer)
  • Chesapeake, VA, Wants in on Light Rail (Pilot)
  • How Can Downtown Stamford, CT, Become Safer for Pedestrians? (WHSU)
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Is Your City a Great Place to Raise Kids? Could It Be?

Jennifer Langston of the Sightline Institute in Seattle has so far published eight articles in a series called Family-Friendly Cities. She shows that while Seattle has a lower share of the population under age 15 than the rest of the state of Washington, that gap is closing. The number of kids in Seattle is growing far faster than in the rest of the state.

Image: Sightline

Image: Sightline

“Whatever the underlying causes, the data certainly make intuitive sense, given the expectant parents I know searching for cribs that will fit in the closets of their Capitol Hill apartments and downtown daycares with open infant slots (harder to find than a magical unicorn!),” wrote Langston. “In my own Seattle neighborhood, the new elementary school that opened four years ago to handle our local baby boom filled up so fast that there’s now a lottery to get in.”

In fact, while all over the country, demographic factors — delayed fertility, lower birth rates, the silver tsunami — are raising the median age, Seattle is unusual in seeing the share of its population under 15 rise — and dramatically.

Image: Sightline

Image: Sightline

Read more…

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America’s Progress on Street Safety Is Pathetic

This map shows traffic fatalities per 100,000 residents. Image: International Transport Forum

This map shows traffic fatalities per 100,000 residents. Image: International Transport Forum. Click to enlarge

A new report from the International Transport Forum shows America is only falling farther behind all of its peer nations on street safety [PDF].

The traffic fatality rate in the United States (10.7 per 100,000 people) is nearly four times higher than in the United Kingdom (2.8 per 100,000) and close to double that of Canada (5.8). To put that in perspective, if America had the same traffic fatality rate as the U.K., around 25,000 fewer people would be killed every year.

America’s street safety record puts it near the bottom of the ITF’s ranking of 35 countries, far behind most other developed nations.

Image: International Transport Forum

Image: International Transport Forum

Traffic deaths have generally been declining in America, but not nearly as fast as in other countries. From 2000 to 2012, the U.S. managed to lower traffic death rates just 20 percent. Even Australia, another laggard that ITF grouped among nations with the “least success” reducing traffic deaths, still managed to cut fatalities 28.5 percent. Meanwhile, high performers Denmark, Spain, and Portugal all reduced fatality rates 65 percent or more over the same period.

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Are Children Parasites on Cities’ Finances?

Photo: Bruce Chan

Photo: Bruce Chan

No sooner did Streetsblog LA roll out its new series (and hashtag) #streetsr4families than the Washington Post asked whether it really benefits cities to attract families with kids at all. After all, wrote Lydia DePillis yesterday, while single twenty-somethings freely spend their money on $12 cocktails and $50 concert tickets, parents avail themselves of taxpayer-funded services like public schools and parks. Parasites on the system.

DePillis referenced a 2001 Brookings Institution study, “Envisioning a Future Washington,” [PDF] which put a price tag on attracting different types of new residents. The researchers found that a two-parent family with two kids would cost the city $6,200 annually, mostly because they use public schools, while a childless couple generates a net gain for the city of $13,000.

As someone who takes it on faith that children truly are an indicator species of a healthy city, reading that shook me. Could it be that we parents are, after all, a drain on the cities we love?

The topic is especially salient right now, as I’ve been engrossed in the Sightline Institute’s ongoing series, “Family-Friendly Cities.” In it, author Jennifer Langston writes at length about what cities can do to attract families with children. (More on that later.) But DePillis’s words made me suddenly uncomfortable with the whole proposition. Why should cities bend over backwards for families with kids — letting valuable real estate become children’s play areas, sullying its eateries with crayons and kids’ menus, preserving three-bedroom row houses amid the rush to build studio apartments — when those families actually end up bringing the city down?

DePillis answered her own question, of course. Parents are often in their prime earning years, and they buy expensive houses. Those houses become more expensive when the schools improve — “Trulia crunched the numbers, and found that homes in districts with highly-rated schools are a third more expensive than the metro average, while those in districts with poor schools are much cheaper,” DePillis wrote. That relegates lower-income kids to the city’s worst schools — but if we’re just looking through a lens of GDP, those pricey homes add to the city’s bottom line.

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Will Spokane Give Downtown Transit Riders the Boot?

Transit in Spokane, Washington, is centered around a well-designed plaza in downtown. While the transit plaza is considered a national example of how to design good amenities for riders, a group of business owners is trying to move it somewhere else, reports Bruce Nourish at Seattle Transit Blog.

Spokane's transit plaza is considered a national example of a dignified waiting environment. Will business leaders succeed in forcing it out of downtown? Photo: Jdubman via Seattle Transit Blog

Spokane’s transit plaza is considered a national example of a dignified waiting environment. Will business leaders succeed in forcing it out of downtown? Photo: Jdubman via Seattle Transit Blog

Nourish says that would be a real blow to the city’s transit system and to downtown itself:

Photos of the Plaza are shown around the world by Jarrett Walker as an example of the kind of civilized, humane waiting-place that transit customers should expect, and which can be built even by not-lavishly-funded agencies. Such facilities are especially important to small-city transit agencies like STA, where there is no rapid transit system around which to organize the rest of the transit network, nor enough money to run a full grid of frequent routes out to the limits of the service area, and thus many customers need to make connections through a single central hub.

Recently, a handful of well-connected downtown Spokane property owners have tried to force STA to move this flagship facility out of the downtown core. The events involved in the lead-up to this are a little complicated: there’s a recently-reactivated plan to refurbish the plaza, the removal (and then replacement) of a smoking area for plaza patrons, and a sudden flare up of concerns about crime, vagrancy and indigence in the retail core. The opposition’s stated reasons will be depressingly familiar to anyone who’s been involved in any major expansion of transit out to suburban areas: Putatively, transit facilities are full of ne’er-do-wells and criminals, loitering around waiting to rob or beg someone of their money, and the solution is to make these people disappear by making the facility disappear — and besides, all those buses are empty anyway. Of course, none of these things are actually true.

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