Skip to content

2 Comments

Building Cloverleafs Won’t Inspire Americans to Pay More for Transportation

This post by Ben Ross was originally posted at Dissent.

The federal transportation fund is running out of money, threatening the country with potholes, stopped construction, and economic downturn. Congress, which has kept the program solvent with short-term patches for years, now finds itself unable to do more than buy a few months’ time.

Mainstream opinion pins the blame for this state of affairs on partisanship and anti-tax extremism. But the crisis has a deeper cause. In transportation, as in so many areas of American politics, the terms of debate are controlled by an elite that has lost touch with the rest of the country.

Voters on both the Tea Party right and the urban left have lost the desire to pay higher taxes for new roads. Yet powerful highway bureaucracies and their political allies insist that added revenues must go toward ever more cloverleafs and interstates. They keep searching for money to build what voters don’t want to pay for, a quest doomed to end in futility.

The roots of the congressional deadlock are best seen far from Washington.

When Texas Governor Rick Perry took office in 2000, he found himself caught between campaign contributors’ yearning to build expressways and conservative hostility to tax increases. He sought a way out with an aggressive program of toll-road building.

But when the highways opened, drivers rebelled against the stiff fees. Revenue fell far below forecasts, and grassroots activists launched an anti-toll campaign. At last month’s state Republican convention, the insurgents triumphed. The state party platform now calls for no new tolls (as well as no new taxes).

Read more…

1 Comment

Talking Headways Podcast: Square Footage

Welcome to Episode 29 of the Talking Headways podcast. In it, we evaluate the potential of Boston’s attempt to “gentrification-proof” the Fairmount Line, building affordable housing to keep transit from displacing people with low incomes. Too often, the allure of transit raises rents, bringing in a new demographic of people who can pay them — and who, ironically, usually have cars.

podcast icon logoOne innovative way to build affordable housing — and keep your not-quite-grown kids under your watch at the same time — is to build accessory dwelling units, or backyard cottages. They’re a great way to increase density without bringing a lot of cars into the neighborhood, but see if you agree with our conclusion that they have limited utility.

On the other side of the spectrum is the McMansion, object of desire and scorn in equal measure. You might be surprised to hear Jeff’s defense of the 3,000-square-foot house. And as a bonus, you’ll get his distance runner’s analysis of the difference between runability and walkability, in which he circles back yet again to the idyllic nature of his McMansiony suburban upbringing.

Tell us about your childhood and your square footage in the comments. Check us out on iTunes and Stitcher, or sign up for our RSS feed.

Streetsblog.net No Comments

Why People Who Love Nature Should Live Apart From It

osho_quote

If you care about the natural environment, where should you live?

Surrounding yourself with the trappings of nature, writes Shane Phillips at Better Institutions today, is a far cry from respecting and protecting the wilderness: 

Much like the flower, for many of us, to love nature is to destroy it. We move from the city to the suburb or the rural town to be closer to nature, and to make it habitable (for us) we clear-cut it for new development, pave it over and turn woods and grasslands into manicured lawns, pollute it with our vehicles, etc. In our efforts to possess a small slice of “nature,” we change the meaning of the word, leaving us with something beautiful, perhaps, but far from natural. This strain of thinking is very popular in places like the Bay Area, where there’s a belief that we have to sharply limit development in cities in order to preserve some semblance of nature — ”how can a place so gray possibly be green?”

But environmentalism is about much more than surrounding ourselves with greenery; in fact, its true meaning is exactly the opposite. Real environmentalism means surrounding ourselves with steel, concrete, and other human beings, leaving nature to itself instead of attempting to own it and shape it to our own selfish needs. What makes cities so important is that they allow us to express our love and appreciation for nature in a healthy way: from a distance, as a societal and environmental resource that can be preserved far into the future.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Seattle Transit Blog says the city’s efforts to secure a streetcar are gaining momentum. The Transportationist prices out the economic costs of slower-than-expected travel times on the Twin Cities’ new Green Line. And This Big City looks at the impact of AirBnB on cities.

No Comments

Today’s Headlines

  • Senate to Vote on Highway Trust Fund This Week (The Hill)
  • With the Bill, Congress Gives a High-Profile Example of Kicking the Can (Politico)
  • Could a Carbon Tax Help Replenish the Fund? (The Energy Collective)
  • Remembering a Failed Anti-Freeway Crusade in L.A. (City Lab)
  • Libertarian Think Tank Agrees With Tolls Funding Transpo Projects (The Hill)
  • In Denver, $200M Extension of Southeast Rail Moves Forward (RT&S)
  • 10 Different Views on California High-Speed Rail (Atlantic)
  • Grist: Good Public Transpo Doesn’t Have to Be Just an Urban Thing
  • Repairs Slated for Failing MetroNorth Bridge (The Hour)
  • Florida Works to Connect SunRail to Orlando Airport (AP)
No Comments

Getting Rural Kids Walking and Biking: A Case Study From Northeast Iowa

This post is part of a series featuring stories and research that will be presented at the Pro-Walk/Pro-Bike/Pro-Place conference September 8-11 in Pittsburgh.

Nationally, more than 14,000 schools have taken part in Safe Routes to School programs. Though dedicated federal funding was stripped out in the current transportation law, SRTS funds have helped improve sidewalks, crosswalks, bike lanes, and other infrastructure near schools, as well as education and enforcement. However, most SRTS projects are in urban and suburban settings. Rural areas have their own distinct challenges when it comes to walking and biking.

Six counties in Northeast Iowa benefit from an unprecedented push for Safe Routes to School. Image: ##http://uerpc.org/uploads/PDF_File_64511658.pdf##UERPC##

Six counties in Northeast Iowa participated in the push for Safe Routes to School. Photo: UERPC

One rural region is trying to overcome those challenges. Ashley Christensen, the regional SRTS liaison for a six-county area in northeastern Iowa known as Upper Explorerland, says that when the state DOT and the non-profit Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative started the region’s Safe Routes program in 2008, there was no information out there with guidance about how to build a SRTS program in a rural setting.

“We know no other region in Iowa had worked on one when we started and are pretty confident that statement holds true for the rest of the U.S., too,” Christensen told Streetsblog.

With distances between home and school far longer than in urban areas and safe walking infrastructure far less common, Upper Explorerland’s SRTS program had its work cut out for it. “Rural areas typically do not have the sidewalks, crosswalks, etc. that urban settings do, so SRTS work in a rural setting has the unique challenge — or opportunity, as I like to think of it — of utilizing what is available and advocating for more pedestrian accommodations,” Christensen said.

The Northeast Iowa schools do similar activities to other Safe Routes locations: walking school buses and bicycle trains chaperoned by parents; bike rodeos to teach bicycle safety and road skills. But they also use techniques that might not be needed in denser areas, like remote drop-offs. A remote drop-off functions like a park-and-ride, where parents meet in a parking lot and walk their kids the rest of the way to school. All told, the programs reach 10,000 students from 20 school districts and six private schools in a rural area the size of Connecticut.

While some of the schools in the Upper Explorerland SRTS jurisdiction are located in walkable communities, others are “located along major highways in the middle of a cornfield, miles away from the nearest community,” Christensen reports.

Read more…

3 Comments

Satirical “Bicycle Lobby” Twitter Account Fakes Out Media Giants

The parody Twitter account "Bicycle Lobby" jokingly claimed to have placed white flags on top of the Brooklyn bridge this week. Reporters from the AP and New York Daily News didn't get it.

Reporters from the AP and New York Daily News took a tweet from the @BicycleLobby account a little too seriously.

The @BicycleLobby Twitter account is a parody inspired by last year’s unhinged rant about bike-share from Wall Street Journal columnist Dorothy Rabinowitz. Its running joke for the past 13 months has been that “the all-powerful bike lobby” envisioned by Rabinowitz is real — and yes, it controls the universe.

Sample tweet from July 20: “Today is the 45th anniversary of the day we faked the Moon landing.”

So when someone noticed this morning that the American flags atop the Brooklyn Bridge had been replaced with white flags, naturally @BicycleLobby took credit:

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 1.50.49 PM

The funny thing is, some big news organizations took the bait. First the New York Daily News and then the Associated Press reported that bicyclists had claimed credit for the prank. Not long after, those early reports were scrubbed from the Daily News site and the paper was calling it a mystery. But News 1130 in Vancouver, BC, was still carrying the AP story at 2 p.m.

Read more…

Streetsblog.net No Comments

America’s Myopic Public Debate About Tolling Roads

A tolling holiday on the SR 520 bridge in Seattle would likely make traffic worse during a construction project, but that's what some have demanded. Photo: Marc Smith, Flickr

Suspending tolls on the SR 520 bridge in Seattle would likely make traffic worse during a construction project, but that’s what some motorists say they want. Photo: Marc Smith/Flickr

Seattle is getting ready to embark on a construction project that will put the squeeze on a few of its major highways. This event, ironically, served as a jumping off point for local media to indignantly demand a tolling “holiday” on the SR 520 floating bridge.

Martin Duke at Seattle Transit Blog said the episode illustrates the absurdity of the debate about highway tolling:

The idea that tolling is some insidious stealth tax, or a fundamental violation of the inalienable right to drive anywhere, for free, with unlimited subsidy is a well-established cancer on the Puget Sound’s discourse.

Spending hundreds of millions of dollars to expand our highway capacity and “ease congestion” does massive damage to the environment and ends up inducing the same congestion. But in that debate, the establishment wrings its hands about the economy and the need to move freight around, because time is money. When maintenance dramatically reduces highway capacity, however, no one cares enough about businesses to do the one thing that might help.

I agree that freight operators, the handyman with his tools, and so on need uncongested highways. And because shorter trips on the highway feed directly into their bottom line, tolls are but a fraction of the cost of sitting in traffic because there’s no alternative. The answer, if policymakers really care about businesses like PCC Logistics, is not to suspend the toll but raise the toll to whatever level keeps 520 free-flowing this week.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Counting Pantographs offers an interesting discussion about how sprawl affects the Mormon Church. Greater Greater Washington talks to activists trying to improve the impact of a Metro construction project on public space in Silver Spring. And the City Fix explains how congestion pricing could help reduce inequality in Beijing.

No Comments

Today’s Headlines

  • Foxx and 11 Former Transpo Secretaries Send Open Letter to Congress (DOT)
  • Video: In Press Club Speech, Foxx Pushes for Investment, Celebrates Biking to Work (Examiner, Roll Call)
  • The Transpo Funding Patch Spells Bad News for Unemployment Benefits (Daily Kos)
  • Atlanta Considers Covering Its Park-and-Rides with Housing (CityLab)
  • Ann Arbor Gives Free Transit Passes to Downtown Workers (Trans4M)
  • Chicago NIMBYs Win Prize for Ridiculousness With “No More Traffic!” Cry Against Bikes (Chicagoist)
  • Anonymous Silver Spring Activists Urge Better Public Space Near Metro (Just Up the Pike)
  • Uber Reveals Data Supporting Claim That It Takes Drunk Drivers Off the Road (WaPo)
  • Is It Better to Have a Few Fast Transit Lines Than Many Slow Ones? (Transport Politic)
  • Photo Gallery: NEA Grants Spur Placemaking (Next City)
  • Will a Driverless-Car Future Be More or Less Sprawling? (BusinessWeek)
8 Comments

Study: People Living Near Biking and Walking Paths Get More Exercise

Walking and biking activity increased for people living near new facilities, in three U.K. communities examined. Connect2 is the name of the nonprofit group that helped install the infrastructure. Image: American Journal of Public Health

New bike/ped infrastructure in three UK communities (labeled “Connect2″ — the name of the nonprofit group that helped install the infrastructure) led to more physical activity. Graph: American Journal of Public Health

People who live near safe, high-quality biking and walking infrastructure tend to get more exercise than people who don’t, according to a study published last week in the American Journal of Public Health.

Researchers surveyed randomly selected adults before and after new bike/ped infrastructure was built in three communities in the U.K. Two of the selected communities opened bike and pedestrian bridges with well-connected “feeder” infrastructure. The other community upgraded “an informal riverside footpath” into a boardwalk during the study period.

Over two years, about 1,500 people responded to annual surveys about their walking and biking habits as well as other exercise behavior. During the first year of the survey — before the bike/ped improvements had been completed — there was no difference in biking and walking levels between people living close to the project areas and people living farther away. But by the final survey year, after the new infrastructure had been built, a disparity began to emerge.

Researchers found that people living within 0.6 miles of a protected bikeway got about 45 minutes more exercise biking and walking per week than people living 2.5 miles away. For every kilometer (0.6 miles) closer respondents lived to the infrastructure improvement, they exercised roughly 15 minutes more per week. People without access to a car were most likely to exercise more in response to the infrastructure improvements.

Read more…

3 Comments

Answers to Your Top 6 Questions About Obama’s New Infrastructure Initiative

Last week, President Obama announced that amid Congressional dysfunction around transportation funding, he was taking action to foster infrastructure investment and economic growth. The Build America Investment Initiative will provide technical assistance to communities looking for guidance on how to leverage private dollars to build public works. But the initiative doesn’t actually provide any dollars itself.

Here’s the scoop.

President Obama announced his new infrastructure investment initiative in Delaware last week. It doesn't solve the funding problem, but it could be helpful.

President Obama announced his new infrastructure investment initiative in Delaware last week. Screenshot from video of announcement.

What’s the idea? Public-private partnerships, or P3s, have become a hot trend in infrastructure investment, but they get talked about a lot more than they get done. The allure is clear: Private industry can help build needed infrastructure projects when the public money is inadequate, as it is now, with Congress refusing to increase investment. The U.S. hasn’t done a good job providing a platform for the private sector to get involved, and Obama is trying to focus some federal resources on changing that.

Is it actually helpful? P3s are a way to finance infrastructure projects, but they’re no substitute for public funding. So this initiative doesn’t really speak to ongoing efforts to backfill the Highway Trust Fund for a few more months and perhaps someday even pass a long-term bill with a sustainable funding source. This is a solution to a whole different problem. That said, Robert Puentes of the Brookings Institution says without reservation that the White House’s initiative does serve an important purpose. “There is a real problem of lack of expertise on the public side to begin to negotiate these kinds of deals, to explore what it means to engage in public-private partnerships,” he told Streetsblog. The local and state officials being tasked with figuring out P3s, as a way to try to make up for the lack of federal funding, aren’t necessarily schooled in the finer points of contractual arrangements or up to date with the latest new ways of sharing risks and rewards. A go-to place for guidance at the federal level could be a big help.

Read more…