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The Test of a Great Bikeway

What separates a great bikeway from one that makes you wonder why anyone even bothered?

Map: Transport Providence

Bike route fail: A bikeway proposed for Central Falls is indirect and wouldn’t take people to places they would want to go. Map: Transport Providence

James Kennedy at Transport Providence has put together a litmus test in response to a bike route planned for Central Falls, Rhode Island, which, he says, “sucks.”

Here’s the question set Kennedy put together and how he thinks the Central Falls route stacks up.

*Does it take you someplace useful?

I think there should be bike access everywhere, and there are some things that a person could go to here, so for some people this might serve a purpose. But for the vast majority, this is a useless route. The river cuts off access from the eastern part of Pawtucket, and the railroad cuts off access to the rest of Central Falls.

*Is the route easy to follow?

Looking at this on a map, it’s really clear that because of what I said above in point #1, in a sense it’s impossible to get lost on this route (it’s all technically on High Street, a prime example of a Rhode Island Street that goes a million directions getting one name, while some other streets that are completely contiguous and straight get six). There is nowhere useful to branch off to, so where could you get lost? At the same time, for a new person on this route, or even someone who’s taken a few times, the constant bends back and forth are disorienting. Imagine this from the perspective of a visitor: do you want to give this route your trust? The answer is no.

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Today’s Headlines

  • EIA Says Gas Prices Don’t Actually Have Much Impact on How Much Americans Drive (UT San Diego)
  • …Which Is Good, Because Oil Just Hit a New Low (The Hill)
  • There Are Seven Environmental Lawsuits Against California HSR. They’re All Futile (Fresno Bee)
  • San Diego Transpo Planners Trying to Subvert Climate Laws, Expand Highways (Voice of San Diego)
  • Feds Threaten Consequences for California’s Jammed Carpool Lanes (OC Register)
  • WaPo‘s Ashley Halsey Blames Sprawl for Deadly Crash at Hemmed-In Airport
  • Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine Streetcar Loop Complete (WLWT)
  • Will $100 Million Rail Improvement End Up Worsening Delays in Indiana? (WISHTV)
  • Waze Isn’t the Problem. Unpriced Roads Are the Problem (Cyclelicio.us)
  • Just In Case You Were Ever Fooled By the Myth That More CO2 Helps Trees Grow Faster (Grist)
  • Dutch Intelligent Bike Warns Cyclists of Impending Danger (Phys.org)
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Congress Trims TIGER (But Doesn’t Hack It to Pieces) in 2015 Spending Bill

Transformations like this one, in Lee County, Florida, are what TIGER is all about. Images: ##http://www.leegov.com/gov/dept/sustainability/Documents/Lee%20County%20TIGER%20v%20Grant%20Narrative.pdf##Lee County##

Transformations like this one, in Lee County, Florida, are what TIGER is all about. Image: Lee County

The drama is over; the House and Senate have both passed the “cromnibus” spending bill [PDF] that funds government operations through the end of fiscal year 2015. And the Department of Transportation’s TIGER program survived.

While small, TIGER has proven to be a significant source of funding for local transit and active transportation projects, enabling cities, regions, and transit agencies to directly access federal support without going through state DOTs.

Back in May, Republicans proposed to cut the discretionary TIGER grant program by 83 percent and to limit TIGER grants to the GOP’s own myopic view of transportation priorities: roads, bridges, ports, and freight rail. They explicitly stated that the funds should not be used for “non-essential purposes, such as street-scaping, or bike and pedestrian paths.” As Streetsblog reported in May, they also wanted to cut eligibility for a bunch of projects related to transit, sidewalks, carpooling, safety, planning, and congestion pricing.

The final outcome is better than that but worse than 2014. TIGER got trimmed from $600 million in funding this year to $500 million in 2015, while the House didn’t get the ban on funding for active transportation projects that it wanted.

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The High Cost of Unwalkable School Districts

A consequence of unwalkable schools: big transportation bills for school districts. Photo: Zemilinki!

Another consequence of unwalkable schools: big transportation bills for school districts. Photo: Zemlinki!/Flickr

About a generation ago, many American school districts started shuttering and abandoning walkable neighborhood schools and building replacements in sprawling, undeveloped locations where the land was cheap.

But by opting for cheap land costs in the short term, they incurred much higher transportation costs in the long term. Now many school districts are struggling under the financial weight of busing students, notes Richard Layman at Network blog Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space. While the negative health effects of siting schools where kids can’t walk or bike have long been apparent, Layman says it’s past time to focus on the financial drawbacks as well:

According to various studies, it typically costs at least $500 per year to bus one student to and from school.

During the recession, more school districts began enforcing regulations concerning access to bus transportation–with some exceptions, most districts won’t provide bus service for students living within one mile of a school–and increasing the distance from school before bus transportation would be provided.

Some school districts have imposed transportation fees, which some residents have opposed as illegal. There is a case pending before the Indiana Supreme Court (“Fair fees? Facing cuts, more schools charge for busing,” USA Today) on this issue. Also see the Indianapolis Star piece, “Indiana Supreme Court to hear case on school bus fees.”

Missed in the discussion is how school systems developed on the sprawl land use paradigm end up being financially crushed by the financial implication — dependent on school buses, diesel gasoline, and drivers.

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Today’s Headlines

  • USA Today Calls Transpo Bill a “Big Maybe” on Boehner, McConnell’s To-Do List
  • Senate Still to Vote on Transit Benefit (WaPo)
  • Crude Oil Rail Transport Expands Over Objections of Unprepared Communities (Business Insider)
  • State Officials Insist on Removing Trees for “Road Safety” in Louisville (WHAS11)
  • 78 Years Later, Spokane Regrets Burning that Streetcar, Turns Back to Transit (Spokesman-Review)
  • Retired Army Official Slams George Will for Criticizing Safe Routes to School (Post-Gazette)
  • “Vancouver 24 Hrs” Publishes Pro and Con on Sales Tax for Transit
  • Why Is Paris Restricting Driving? Because the Champs-Elysées is a “Canyon of Pollution” (Salon)
  • Add Poland to the List of Countries With More Advanced Rail Than the U.S. (PressTV)
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Talking Headways: Level of Disservice

podcast icon logoIn California, whether you’re building an office tower or a new transit line, you’re going to run up against the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The law determines how much environmental analysis you need to do for new projects. But sadly, in practice it’s better at propagating car-oriented development than improving the quality of the environment.

That’s because instead of looking at a project’s effect on the environment, CEQA looks mostly at its effect on traffic. And the measures CEQA uses to determine traffic impacts focus on individual intersections, instead of the region as a whole. As a result, they end up penalizing urban infill development and transit projects while promoting sprawl and road expansion.

Here’s the good news: The core traffic metric embedded in CEQA, known as Level of Service (LOS), is set to be overhauled in California. Last year, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law SB743. One thing that bill does is allow the Sacramento Kings to build a new stadium. But the other thing it does is allow for the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research to come up with a new metric to replace LOS — a very hot topic on Streetsblog.

This week’s Talking Headways is a special one-hour episode all about how LOS works against sustainable development patterns and what is being done to change it.

Jeff produced this podcast for the NRDC Urban Solutions Program. Guests include Jeff Tumlin of Nelson\Nygaard, Amanda Eaken of NRDC, and Chris Ganson of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research. Hope you enjoy it.

Catch us on iTunesStitcher, and the RSS feed. And we’ll see you on Twitter.

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Whoops! How Planners and Engineers Badly Overestimate Car Traffic

How much car traffic will a new building generate? Engineers and planners are constantly trying to divine the answer to this question in the belief that it will tell them the “right” number of parking spaces to build, or how to adjust streets to accommodate more cars.

This is the bible for planning infrastructure around new developments. Is it wildly wrong? Image: Access Magazine

This is the bible for planning infrastructure around new developments. Is it wildly wrong? Image: Access Magazine

The standard reference to guide these decisions is the Trip Generation Manual published by the Institute for Transportation Engineers. But the manual has come under fire for overestimating the traffic produced by mixed-use developments. A team of transportation engineers aligned with the Congress for the New Urbanism has been working on a fix for that.

Meanwhile, a new study by University of California professor Adam Millard-Ball takes the critique of ITE a lot further. In a new article for Access Magazine, Millard-Ball argues persuasively that ITE is overestimating traffic not just on mixed-use projects, but on all developments — and not by a little.

This has been the case for a long time, he says, and it’s only gotten worse as driving levels have declined across the country in recent years. Millard-Ball calculates that the ITE method of predicting trips based on development would have forecast an increase of 90 million trips during an eight-year periods in the 2000s. The actual increase? Just 2 million trips, as reported in the National Household Travel Survey.

Robert Steuteville at Network blog Better Cities & Towns explains the significance of Millard-Ball’s research:

For those who are keeping track, that’s a discrepancy of 4,500 percent. As US travel habits change, the ITE data keeps pointing to ever-increasing traffic, as developers pay impact fees and transportation planners anticipate more congestion.

Use of the ITE manual has a profound affect on new development–opposition often centers around traffic generation. But the bigger impact is on overbuilt roads and the construction of too much parking. Not only is this wasteful, but also it diminishes sense of place and walkability, which in turn affect quality of life and economic development. The design of the road itself can result in more cars on the road. Safety is affected–streets that are too large encourage speeding, which boosts the severity of collisions and ultimately injuries and deaths.

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Today’s Headlines

  • How Does Rail Fare in the House Spending Bill? (RT&S)
  • The Battle of the Purple Line Intensifies as Hogan Preps for Office in MD (WaPo)
  • ATU Slams Trucker Safety Setback in Spending Bill (The Hill)
  • 40% Drop in Crude Oil Prices Opens Door for Gas Tax Increase (Bond Buyer)
  • Amtrak Board Chair Pushes Congress for “Predictable, Dedicated Funding” (Railway Age)
  • The Myth Linking Transit and Crime Persists in Atlanta (CityLab)
  • Winning Team Comes in With Low Bid for Next Phase of California High-Speed Rail (AP)
  • In Philly: Tokens Phased Out; Rail to Return to Franklin Square? (AP)
  • Pinellas County, FL, Contemplates Transit Future After Greenlight Defeat (Suncoast News)
  • Walkability Linked to All Sorts of Benefits (CityLab)

Streetsblog editors are meeting in NYC and the publishing schedule will be light today.

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Keep Streetsblog Going Strong – Donate and Enter to Win a New PUBLIC Bike

If you look at the state of American streets, the scale of our transportation dysfunction is epic. Nothing conveys the failure of the car-based system better than this: More than 30,000 people lose their lives in traffic annually — which means the U.S. could prevent about 20,000 premature deaths each year if we catch up to the nations that are leading the way on street safety.

Can we do it? Well, when you look at the changes happening on city streets, you know this is a time of tremendous ferment and progress. Deadly, car-centric streets are being replaced by human-centric designs that barely existed in America a few years ago. More cities are waking up to the fact that they can’t address issues of transportation, housing demand, and access to jobs by building more parking and highways — they need better transit, biking, and walking.

Streetsblog and Streetfilms are playing a critical role in this transition. Our reporting, commentary, and videos connect people to the information they need to be effective advocates for safe, livable streets. We create pressure on public officials to shake up the way streets work instead of letting the status quo continue. We expose the failures of bad transportation policy. We help good ideas spread fast.

And we need the support of our readers to make it all work. Streetsblog is powerful because elected officials know that our readers care deeply about the issues we cover. And the whole site functions, on the most basic level, because readers fund what we do.

Our year-end pledge drive starts today, so if you value the impact of Streetsblog and Streetfilms, I hope you’ll contribute. The shift to a safer, more sustainable transportation system is just getting started, and we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.

For good measure, our friends at PUBLIC Bikes have donated a brand new R16 bicycle that we’ll be giving away to one lucky reader who contributes before the end of the year. Thank you PUBLIC! Here’s a look at their handiwork:

publicR16

 

Thanks as always for supporting Streetsblog and Streetfilms.

– Ben

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Tulsa Mayor Hasn’t Ruled Out a Sidewalk Next to New Flagship Park

Earlier this week we reported on Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett’s decision to prevent construction of a sidewalk on Riverside Drive that would provide walking access to a major new city park. Local advocates say the lack of a sidewalk will make the park harder to get to on foot, and they don’t buy the mayor’s explanation that people will be safer if there’s no sidewalk tempting them to walk.

Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett won’t commit to building this sidewalk to provide direct walking access to the city’s major new park, but he hasn’t ruled it out either. Rendering: Smart Growth Tulsa Coalition

Residents who want the sidewalk have charged that the mayor nixed it after wealthy homeowners complained that it would attract “undesirables.”

In response, Bartlett’s office contacted Streetsblog, and the mayor himself insisted that his concerns about the sidewalk are purely safety related. He also said he isn’t opposed to a sidewalk, but he wants to evaluate different options. Here’s what he told us:

The street itself is very narrow and in rush hour traffic it’s very busy. I was born in Tulsa and I’ve lived here my whole life so I’m very aware of how fast people drive on that street. When the whole concept of the sidewalk came up… several people from the neighborhood, as well as several people that are the leaders of a very large homeowners association, expressed concern about the sidewalk, how it might impact their neighborhood.

One thing that did catch my attention, we had a discussion about the concern about public safety. The road itself has had numerous accidents.

The concept that was shown to me of a sidewalk, there’s a few feet between a sidewalk and a curb, and then a 3- or 4-foot-wide sidewalk. And then there would be a large fence. The problem to me is that if someone were to lose control at that point, and jump the curb there would be absolutely no way for a person walking to the park could escape. It could wipe out a lot of people. In the past month and a half there’s been three separate instances, three different cars have jumped the curb and driven into the sidewalk area and struck a telephone pole. If those were people they would have been hurt very badly and probably killed.

I asked Bartlett about implementing a road diet or other traffic calming measures to protect pedestrians. He said he’s asked his planning staff and engineering staff to start evaluating options like that.

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