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Today’s Headlines

  • Pedestrian Deaths in Michigan Increased 41% Last Year (Detroit News)
  • Scientists Find Link Between Car Exhaust and Heart Disease (LA Times)
  • Taking Transit Healthier for Your Brain Than Driving to Work, Science Says (Business Insider)
  • Governing: Transportation Agencies Need More Female Engineers
  • Is Chicago BRT Getting Watered Down Too Much? (CityLab)
  • How Much Money Does Minnesota Need For Roads? That’s a Political Question (MinnPost)
  • Hartford Busway Gets Nod in Connecticut Governor’s Budget (Courant)
  • Las Vegas Caps Off Three-Year Transit Planning Effort (Las Vegas Review Journal)
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Utah Restaurants: If You’re Not Driving, Spend Your Money Somewhere Else

Restaurants in Salt Lake City are winning their battle to keep people without cars from ordering at drive-thru windows.

Salt Lake City restaurants banded together to prevent customers without cars from purchasing products through drive-thru windows. Photo: WIkipedia

Salt Lake City restaurants banded together to prevent customers without cars from purchasing products through drive-thru windows. Photo: Wikipedia

Lawmakers in Salt Lake City had passed a law mandating access to drive-thru windows for people walking and biking. Drive-thrus often stay open later than the indoor restaurant, and serve customers faster.

The law was met with a major lobbying effort by the Utah Restaurants Association, which apparently feared it would leave them open to lawsuits, according to the trade publication Associations Now.

“We cannot mix bikes and pedestrians with vehicles in our service lanes,” URA CEO Melva Sine told the National Restaurant Association in August. “What if someone slips or gets run over? The city doesn’t get sued, the restaurant gets sued. Restaurant owners need the flexibility to manage their own risk, just like the city manages its own risk.”

State legislation overruling the city law was introduced by Rep. Johnny Anderson, a Republican representing Taylorsville, a Salt Lake City suburb. The bill has cleared the legislature but the governor could still choose to veto it, according to Associations Now.

It says something about the system we’ve designed when it’s perceived to be so dangerous that business associations lobby to prevent people from buying their stuff.

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Talking Headways Podcast: Green Trippin’

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This week Ann Cheng of the California advocacy group Transform joins me to talk about their GreenTRIP program. Ann is a planner and the former mayor of El Cerrito, as well as one of San Francisco Business Times “40 Under Forty” in 2014. On the podcast she discusses how housing developers can build less parking and more housing by giving residents better travel options through GreenTRIP Certification.

If you haven’t heard of GreenTRIP, it’s a certification process that helps developers eschew massively expensive parking spaces in exchange for car trip-reducing alternatives. It’s an awesome program and after hearing more you’ll want to bring it to your town! Especially since they’ve just released GreenTRIP Platinum Certification.

I was super excited to hear about the Garden Village project in Berkeley, which has zero auto parking, a bike fix-it station, free car-share membership, and two bike storage hooks for each of its 77 housing units.

Listen in and let us know what you think in the comments!

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Koch Brothers Loom Over Maryland’s Purple Line Fight

Look whose envoy has been dispatched to undermine Maryland’s Purple Line. Once again, Randal O’Toole of the Koch brothers-funded Cato Institute has been deployed to attack a light rail project in distress.

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Newly appointed Maryland DOT chief Pete Rahn will play a large role in deciding the fate of the Purple Line. At Rahn’s confirmation hearing, lawmakers questioned him about a fishy contract awarded to Koch Industries when he was running New Mexico DOT.

On Monday, the Maryland Public Policy Institute, a right-wing think tank, is hosting a debate on whether to construct the light rail project in the DC suburbs, which newly elected Governor Larry Hogan has threatened to kill. The debate will pair Rich Parson, vice chair of the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance, with O’Toole, professional rail critic.

O’Toole works for the Cato Institute, founded and funded by the Koch brothers. Cato dispatches O’Toole to political squabbles involving rail transit around the country, from Indianapolis to Honolulu. He’s so rabidly anti-rail that after Hurricane Sandy, he suggested New York City should replace its subway system with a network of underground buses.

Despite dispensing ridiculous advice, O’Toole continues to be treated as a serious thinker by American media outlets. The Washington Business Journal recently printed an O’Toole broadside against the Purple Line, replete with his typical arguments, like light rail is worse for the environment than driving.

Hogan’s appointee to head the state DOT, Pete Rahn, was scheduled to give opening remarks at the MPPI event. But sources tell us that Rahn has since backed out prior to a bruising confirmation hearing with Maryland’s Democratically controlled legislature.

At the hearing, Maryland lawmakers raised questions about a highway project in New Mexico, where Rahn was previously DOT chief. NM-44, a 118-mile, $420 million road-widening that Rahn oversaw in New Mexico — the most expensive highway project in the state’s history at the time — awarded a huge and unusual contract to Koch Industries.

An investigation by the Albuquerque Business Journal [PDF] reported that Koch Industries was the only bidder on the project and approached Rahn directly with the proposal before bids had been requested. Koch Industries was also awarded an unprecedented $62 million contract for a 20-year maintenance warranty.

Former New Mexico Republican State Senator Billy McKibben told the Illinois Business Journal (which reported on the controversy after Rahn was installed as the head of Missouri DOT) that the deal would have bankrupted the state if it wasn’t for a well-timed oil and natural gas boom.

Correction 2:51 p.m. February 26: The original version of this story included the wrong date for the Maryland Public Policy Institute debate. It is March 2. 

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The Remarkable Drop in Car Commuting to Downtown Seattle

Seattle has made impressive strides in promoting healthy transportation. Image: Commute Seattle

As Seattle has invested more in transit and developed housing downtown, the share of workers who commute without driving has quickly grown. Image: Commute Seattle

In a testament to how quickly travel behavior can change, new stats out of Seattle show that the share of downtown workers who commute alone by car has dropped significantly in the last 15 years.

The rate of solo car commuting to downtown Seattle was 50 percent in 2000. Now it’s down to 31 percent, report the Downtown Seattle Association and Commute Seattle.

Owen Pickford at The Urbanist provides some context:

The mode split by type has changed significantly since the last survey, which was completed in 2012. Nearly 4% fewer people drove alone compared to that survey and it seems likely that Seattle will reach its goal of 30% or less by 2016. The largest companies (100+ employees) in Downtown still had the lowest drive alone rate, but medium sized companies (20-99 employees) saw the most progress, reducing rates from 37% to 30% since the last survey.

Perhaps the most impressive statistic is that non-motorized modes have seen the largest increase. This is also great news for the city because it means people are living closer to work, which is likely only possible due to the immense amount of development that is occurring in Seattle’s downtown core.

Read more…

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Today’s Headlines

  • Senate EPW Committee Weighs Approaches to Transpo Funding Bill (WaPo)
  • Foxx, State Business Lobby Push for Long-Term Funding Solution (The Hill, WaPo)
  • Is The Phrase “Smart Growth” Dead at This Point? (GGW)
  • Amtrak Bill Isn’t Promising for Northeast Corridor (Skift)
  • Twin Cities Light Rail Issues Play Out in Federal Court (Minn Post)
  • The Most Economically Segregated Cities in the U.S. (CityLab)
  • SunRail Expansion Pushed Back to Summer 2017 (Orlando Sentinel)
  • Solo Driving Declines in Seattle Commutes (Seattle Times)
  • Ford Experiments With Uber-Like Service (WaPo)
  • Cargo-Carrying Could Be the Next Frontier for Bike-Share (Fleet Owner)
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Outer London’s Huge Bike Plan Could Break the Cycle of Bad Suburban Transit

Kingston’s rail station would become a “major cycle hub” under London’s plan to pour tens of millions of dollars into biking improvements in three of its suburbs.

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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.

You may have heard that London has just approved a spectacular crosstown protected bike lane. But another part of its plan has, ironically, gotten little press in the United States.

As London’s regional government begins what may be the biggest municipal bicycling investment in the history of Europe, it’s setting aside $140 million for the suburbs.

“Cycling is, I think the secret weapon of suburban sustainable transport,” says Transport for London Director of Surface Strategy and Planning Ben Plowden. “It is much more like car travel than transit is.”

It’s almost impossible to build car-lite suburbs with transit alone

In the United Kingdom as in the United States, efforts to reduce car dependence have relied mostly on the biggest tool in the shed: transit.

In London and New York, transit reigns supreme. The cities’ woven grids of bus and rail lines carry the overwhelming share of non-car trips in each city.

But in smaller cities and suburbs, transit needs help. With further to walk to each bus stop, fewer people ride. With fewer riders, buses run empty and it becomes cripplingly expensive for agencies to run them frequently. With infrequent buses, even short transit trips can take hours.

It’s a situation familiar to anyone who’s ridden transit in a U.S. suburb or small city — let alone tried to balance the budget of a suburban transit agency.

“You’re not going to have a $125 an hour bus with 43 seats coming through all these cul-de-sacs,” said David Bragdon, a former New York City sustainability chief who now runs Transit Center, a transit-focused policy nonprofit. “It just doesn’t work.”

That’s why London, working to stave off congestion as its population keeps climbing, is looking hard for better ways to improve suburban transit. And that’s what led its transport agency to the bicycle.

Read more…

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Cincinnati’s Highway Revolt on the Verge of Victory

Ohio State Rep. Tom Brinkman, a Republican who believes in lower taxes, is taking a principled stance against a wasteful highway project. Photo: Wikipedia

Ohio State Rep. Tom Brinkman, a Republican who believes in lower taxes, is taking a principled stance against a wasteful highway project. Photo: Wikipedia

Could the end be near for the $1.4 billion Eastern Corridor highway project proposed for eastern Cincinnati? Language added to Ohio’s transportation budget, which is being debated right now, would specifically “prohibit [Ohio DOT] from funding the Eastern Corridor Project in Hamilton County.”

The amendment was introduced by Republican state lawmaker Tom Brinkman, who represents an eastern portion of Cincinnati. Brinkman told the Cincinnati Enquirer, ”I am representing constituents who say, ‘We don’t want to tear down our communities.’” The boondoggle highway project is opposed by residents in Newton, Mariemont, Madisonville, and other towns east of Cincinnati.

The highway does have its defenders in the legislature. At a House Finance Committee meeting Monday, Democrat Denise Driehaus, who represents Cincinnati, signaled her concerns about Brinkman’s amendment.

“It’s been going on for about a decade and so there has been significant investment at both the state and local level,” she said. “It seems to me this sets a precedent that the legislature prohibits ODOT from spending on a local project that has been vetted locally.”

Ryan Smith, a Republican from southeastern Ohio, countered: “This project has gone on for a decade but I think everyone can agree that heading down the wrong path and continuing down the wrong path may be problematic.” As to whether it would represent some kind of dangerous precedent for elected leaders to direct state transportation officials not to fund specific projects, he said, “This is the first time I can remember somebody asking not to be funded on a project.” (For what it’s worth, Governor Kasich added legislation to a previous budget that forbid state money from being spent on the Cincinnati Streetcar.)

You can watch the exchange between Driehaus and Smith here at about the 8:30 mark.

Read more…

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The “Urban Renewal Mindset” Persists in St. Louis

This building would be razed to make way for National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency relocation in St. Louis. Photo: Urban Review STL

This building would be razed to make way for a new National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency campus in St. Louis. Photo: Urban Review STL

St. Louis is home to one of the more notorious failures of the “urban renewal” era: the Pruitt-Igoe housing project. When these towers were demolished a generation ago, it seemed like the end of an era in city planning. The clearance of city blocks to make way for mega-development projects is now considered a colossal failure.

But that doesn’t mean American cities have actually stopped doing it. The urban renewal mentality is still alive and well in St. Louis, writes Steve Patterson at Urban Review STL.

A current example: The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is looking for a new location for its St. Louis facilities, and Patterson says it’s nearly a foregone conclusion that a large portion of the city will be razed to make room for the agency:

Jane Jacobs’ 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities rebuked the ongoing land clearance policies advocated by supporters of urban renewal. By the late 1960s one of St. Louis’ most prominent urban renewal projects – Pruitt-Igoe – was a disaster. Before the 20th anniversary the first of 33 towers were imploded in 1972 — urban renewal was unofficially over.

But forty plus years later the St. Louis leadership continues as if nothing changed. The old idea of marking off an area on a map to clear everything (homes, schools, businesses, churches, roads, sidewalks) within the red lined box remains as it did in the 1950s. The message from city hall is clear: don’t invest in North St. Louis because they can and will walk in and take it away.

Here is a likely scenario for the relocation of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Patterson says:

Read more…

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Today’s Headlines

  • States Watch as Oregon Pioneers Road-Usage Fee (Transport TopicsRoll Call)
  • Why Are Developers Still Building Sprawl? (Atlantic)
  • 86 Cities Have Accepted DOT’s “Mayors’ Challenge” for Safer Streets (Fast Lane)
  • Shouldn’t Phoenix Focus on Transit Instead of Freeways? (Phoenix Biz Journal)
  • Bus Start-up Bridj to Launch in DC This Spring (WaPo)
  • Boston Globe Rides the Rails With MBTA’s New Point Man
  • Better Bikeways Coming to Maryland (GGW)
  • Center for American Progress Tackles Heritage Foundation’s “Tortured Logic” on Transit