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NACTO to Take Safer Street Designs to Developing World Cities

Last year, the National Association of City Transportation Officials brought us the Urban Street Design Guide, and now it’s going global.

A Delhi traffic jam. Photo: Wikipedia

A Delhi traffic jam. Traffic collisions kill about 250,000 per year in India. Photo: Wikipedia

During the organization’s national conference in San Francisco last Thursday, NACTO chair and former New York City transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan announced that it will be developing a “Global Street Design Guide” to help developing nations set standards for safe, livable streets.

Executive Director Linda Bailey said the guide will take principles from NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide and adapt them for cities in places like India and East Asia. Streets and travel patterns in those nations are very different than in America, with much higher levels of walking and scooter use, for instance, as well as the looming threat of rapid growth in private automobiles.

“The U.S. is already influencing heavily many developing countries,” Bailey said. “The idea is to try to skip over any lag time… Under the same principles as the Urban Street Design Guide, how does this work in a country that has a very different mode split?”

The organization hopes to release the guide in early 2016. NACTO will also be working with a group of selected global cities interested in implementing safer street designs, much like the organization has done in the U.S., Bailey said. NACTO noted that 1.2 million people die globally from traffic collisions and that the guide is seen as an international public health tool.

“One of the things that’s exciting about working in an international context is you already have a high pedestrian mode share,” said Bailey. “Just making things more comfortable for pedestrians could make a huge difference.”

The design guide is being supported in part by the Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety.

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Sources: Alta Buyout a Done Deal; New York Citi Bike Fleet to Double

The REQX Alta purchase bodes well for bike-share in NYC and beyond. Photo: Brad Aaron

The REQX purchase of Alta bodes well for bike-share in NYC and beyond. Photo: Brad Aaron

The buyout of Alta Bicycle Share rumored since July is finally a done deal. Alta — which operates New York’s Citi Bike, Washington, DC’s Capital Bikeshare, Chicago’s Divvy, and several other cities’ systems — will be purchased by REQX Ventures, an affiliate of the Related Companies and its Equinox unit.

The injection of capital from REQX is expected to help resolve lingering problems with Citi Bike’s supply chain, software system, and operations, which until now have prevented any expansion of the bike-share network.

The sale was reported Friday by Capital New York’s Dana Rubinstein, and Streetsblog has confirmation from two people with knowledge of the deal.

Rubinstein reported that REQX plans to double the size of the Citi Bike fleet to 12,000 bikes. Annual membership prices are expected to increase about 50 percent.

New management and an infusion of funds from REQX bodes well for all Alta bike-share programs over the next year after a stagnant 2014. Alta’s supply chain troubles have hampered system expansions in Chicago, DC, Boston, and San Francisco, among other cities.

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Is the U.S. Ready for Seniors Who Want to Stop Driving?

A recent New York Times article urged baby boomers preparing for retirement to consider their future transportation needs. The average American woman is living 10 years beyond the point when she is physically able to drive, and the average man is living seven years longer, the Times reported.

Why is it so hard to create senior housing in walkable locations? Photo: Brett VA via Flickr

It’s time to plan for seniors who want walkable housing. Photo: Brett VA via Flickr

But as important and practical as it is for older Americans to seek housing in walkable, transit friendly locations, it’s not always easy. The article featured a couple in San Diego who were considering a cross-country move to find the right mix of amenities.

Dave Alden has been digging into walkable senior housing at Network blog Vibrant Bay Area. Today he offers an example of one development that fell through. The 200-unit project, planned for “an attractive parcel of land, near a viable and active downtown,” was to include a walkable boulevard, with development costs shared by the local government.

I thought the proposal was exceptional. The city appeared to agree and offered to help facilitate the project. First, they agreed to help secure the land rights for the boulevard, some of which were still privately held. Second, in exchange for a concession by the developer on a related land-use issue, they agreed to an expedited entitlement process as permitted under state law.

And then, it all came unwound. After a year of delay, and long after the developer’s concession had been banked, the city withdrew their promise of expedited entitlement.

After an unexpected staff shakeup, the city ceased assisting with land acquisition for the boulevard. Relieved of the city’s jawboning, one property owner promptly increased his asking price by a factor of fifty. The land was never acquired.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Administration Will Investigate Whether NHTSA Is Too Close to Auto Industry (NYTThe Hill)
  • Sen. Blumenthal’s Bill Would Shine Light on Overseer/Industry Ties (ABC)
  • How the Rail Industry Funds Anti-CA HSR Rep. Jeff Denham’s Rise to Power (Modesto Bee)
  • Charlotte Observer Takes a Look at How Former Mayor Foxx Is Doing at U.S. DOT
  • WaPo‘s Dr. Gridlock on the Lessons of Last Week’s Forum: Whatever the Future, Fix-It-First
  • Illinois Gas Tax Crackdown Recoups $100M From Delinquent Stations (NBC5)
  • DDOT Outlines First Steps in Pro-Bike/Walk/Transit MoveDC Plan (WaPo)
  • Nevada Slams the Door on Uber (KOLO8)
  • The Price of Winter Driving Includes Over-Salinated Watersheds (Press Republican)
  • Coast-to-Coast Florida Bike Trail Project Has Powerful Supporters (Tampa Bay Times)
  • Calgary-Area “Ranchettes” Risk Spreading Urban Sprawl All the Way to the Rockies (Troy)
  • How’s This for a Transit Benefit: Nine Pounds of Gold for Dubai Straphangers (NYDN)
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Will Seattle’s Helmet Law Be a Drag on Its New Bike-Share System?

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray led an inaugural Pronto bike share ride. Everyone wore helmets, as is required by law. Photo: City of Seattle

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray led an inaugural Pronto bike share ride. Everyone wore helmets, as is required by law. Photo: City of Seattle

In what will likely be the largest bike-share expansion in the U.S. this year, Seattle’s Pronto launched last week with 500 bikes.

Local media is reporting the system hosted about 4,000 rides its first week. That’s generally seen as a positive sign, about in line with what DC’s successful Capital Bikeshare’s early totals.

But this bike-share launch is a little more complicated than most, because Seattle has a mandatory helmet law for riders of all ages. Riding a bike in Seattle without the proper head gear can land you an $81 ticket.

Pronto bike-share will eventually have helmet rental equipment, but that won’t be available for about six months, so instead the city is loaning helmets on the honor system. The helmets will be sanitized after each use, and wrapped in a plastic coating. How well that will work remains to be seen.

Seattle’s alt weekly the Stranger pointed out that the helmet law could be a major drawback for the system. The money that is being poured into the experimental helmet vending system could have been used for additional stations, the paper’s Ansel Herz pointed out.

Gordon Price, director of the City Program at Simon Frazier University in British Columbia, wrote on his blog Price Tags that the “only places” around the world where bike-share systems “weren’t wildly successful” were cities that have helmet laws, like Melbourne, Australia.

Mayor Ed Murray has made it pretty clear that he is not in favor of eliminating the city’s helmet law, saying it saves on health care costs. This is highly questionable for a few reasons. Helmet laws have been shown to discourage cycling, and the more cyclists there are, the safer cycling becomes. Furthermore, bike-share has proven to be extremely safe, without a single fatality in more than 23 million total U.S. bike-share trips. Though it was widely misreported, a recent study found a decline in total head injuries following the introduction of bike-sharing in American cities. And of course, exercise, including cycling, improves health overall.

Some cities, like Dallas and Mexico City, have eliminated or modified helmet laws to help ensure the success of their bike-share systems.

Hopefully, Pronto’s success won’t be hindered, but it will be interesting to watch what happens in the coming months.

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WaPo Transpo Forum: America’s Mayors Aren’t Waiting for Washington

Atlanta’s BeltLine of bike and pedestrian trails is raising property values in every place it touches. Denver’s new rail line will create a much-needed link between Union Station downtown and the airport, 23 miles away. Miami is building 500 miles of bike paths and trails. Los Angeles is breaking new ground with everything from rail expansion to traffic light synchronization. And Salt Lake City’s mayor bikes to work and, by increasing investment in bike infrastructure, is encouraging a lot of others to join him.

At this week’s Washington Post forum on transportation, five mayors from this diverse set of cities spoke of the challenges and opportunities they face as they try to improve transportation options without much help or guidance from the federal government.

Speaking of the feds:

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

Mayor Kasim Reed of Atlanta is tired of Congress not doing its job. “Cities don’t get to kick the can,” he said. And even if the feds aren’t ready to make big investments, private and foreign investors are reportedly itching to get a crack at U.S. infrastructure, but there’s been no good process for doing so. Reed wants the federal government to play a convening role, bringing mayors together with private investors they can pitch projects to.

And either way, he said, if the federal government is providing less funding to cities for transportation, “we think they need to have a little less say” — except when it comes to safety. But Denver Mayor Michael Hancock says there’s an upside to the gridlock in Washington: “Cities are being more creative.” And Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker says the Obama administration has been a great partner — pointing especially to the TIGER program and the HUD/DOT/EPA Partnership for Sustainable Communities.

New projects:

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is excited about intelligent transportation technology, like the traffic signal synchronization his predecessor, Antonio Villaraigosa, pioneered. And LA’s Expo line — which he dubbed the Beach-to-Bars line — opens soon, turning a two-hour slog through traffic into a 45-minute pleasure cruise. He says it’ll open up access to the Philharmonic and sports venues that, these days, are often avoided because the trip is too hellish.

But Garcetti is already on to the next thing. To him, that thing is autonomous cars. He thinks LA will be a natural home for those. In fact, he openly acknowledges that his push to build BRT lanes is all in the interest of turning them into autonomous vehicle lanes a few years down the road. That’s right — despite the visionary strategic plan LA just released, Garcetti wants to turn road space over from efficient modes to less efficient ones.

And he does think driverless cars are just a few years away — he estimates that one in every 100 cars will be self-driving in 10 years, and five years after that they’ll be “absolutely mainstream.”

Denver’s Mayor Hancock is especially excited about the “Corridor of Opportunity” between the airport and Union Station because he lives out by the airport — one block inside the city limits, just enough to run for mayor, he admits. He currently drives to work, but he says he’s excited for the chance to take the train instead. “What we’ve decided to do is Denver is create a more multimodal approach to our transportation challenges,” he said. “Not only do you need to plan transit, but you need to plan for bicycles, you need to plan for pedestrian-friendly communities.” (And more lanes on the highway.)

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

Carlos Gimenez, mayor of Miami-Dade County, says they don’t really have a rail transit “system” at all, just one line (with a little detour to the airport). They’re still waiting for a rail link to the beach. The county’s new 10-year transportation plan has been lambasted by advocates as “complete fluff with no substance, future transit vision, or measurable goals.”

Once these projects get going, they have a way of multiplying. Salt Lake City has built 140 miles of urban rail in 15 years, and Mayor Becker says that even the skeptics wanted a light rail line of their own the minute the first line opened. What they still need to do, Becker said, is flesh out the bus system — “we invested in rail to the detriment of a really strong bus system,” he said — and fill in the gaps in the bike trail network.

On financing:

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Across the U.S., Poor Job Access Compels Even People Without Cars to Drive

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Metropolitan share of zero-vehicle commuters driving to work, 2013. Source: Brookings analysis of American Community Survey data

Cross-posted from Brookings’ The Avenue blog. This article is the second in a short series examining new Census data on transportation trends.

While more Americans are relying on alternative modes to get to work every day, cars still define most of our commutes. Over time, these high driving rates not only reflect a built environment that continues to promote vehicle usage — despite recent shifts toward city living and job clustering — but also call into question how well our transportation networks offer access to economic opportunity for all workers.

This is especially important for those workers without cars.

The most recent 2013 Census numbers shed light on the commuting habits of the 6.3 million workers who don’t have a private vehicle at home. That’s about 4.5 percent of all workers, up from 4.2 percent in 2007.

Zero-vehicle workers still do quite a bit of driving. Over 20 percent drive alone to work — meaning they find a private car to borrow — and another 12 percent commute via carpool. Both rates jumped between 2007 and 2013, defying national trends toward less driving. This paints a discouraging picture about transportation access across the country for a segment of commuters who must expend extra effort to get to work.

Metropolitan data underscores the breadth of this problem. Transit-rich metros like New York, San Francisco, and Chicago have the most zero-vehicle workers, and they drive less frequently. However, in other large metro areas like Dallas, Detroit, and Riverside, over half the zero-vehicle workers find a car to drive to work. Driving rates jump to over 70 percent in metros like Birmingham, AL; Jackson, MS; and Provo, UT. Across 77 of the 100 largest metro areas, at least 40 percent of zero-vehicle commuters drive to work.

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After 40 Years, Will Atlanta’s MARTA See a Major Suburban Expansion?

Back in the ’70s, Clayton County didn’t want to be part of MARTA, Atlanta’s regional transit service. It was one of the suburban counties that “opted out.” In fact, all of Atlanta’s metro counties opted out except DeKalb and Fulton — the two that share the city of Atlanta proper.

Suburban Clayton County wants to be the first county to join Atlanta's MARTA transit system since the 1970s. Photo: Transportation for America

Suburban Clayton County wants to be the first county to join Atlanta’s MARTA since the 1970s. Photo: Transportation for America

But times are changing. Clayton County, where the population of residents with low incomes is increasing, eliminated its bus service altogether in 2010, during a recession-era budget crisis. Now the county is seeking permission from the state to propose a tax increase to its residents that would make it the first new MARTA county in four decades.

Stephen Lee Davis at the Transportation for America blog has the story:

On Nov. 4, Clayton County voters will decide on a measure to increase the local sales tax by a percent to join MARTA, the regional transit system. Doing so would restore bus service and jumpstart planning for bus rapid transit or a rail extension in the years to come. As county commissioners debated whether or not to put the question on the ballot, they heard hefty support from residents, who turned out to meetings to urge commissioners to make a vote happen. And most of the commissioners saw the need.

Interestingly, state law already provided for Clayton to be a part of MARTA, and as one of the five core counties included in the 1970’s charter actually had a vote on the MARTA board. But Clayton and two other counties declined to pass the sales tax, and only the City of Atlanta, Dekalb and Fulton counties ponied up. In the meantime, Clayton had used its available sales tax percentage — state law caps it — for other purposes. That meant that the state had to waive that cap specifically for Clayton so they could decide on the MARTA tax. (A second piece of legislation was required to restructure the MARTA board to give Clayton County two representatives on the board starting next year.)

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Today’s Headlines

  • Amtrak Weighs Selling Northeast Real Estate to Developers (Bloomberg)
  • Why is Metro Commuting Waning in DC? (WaPo)
  • New “Flyover Bridge” to Reduce Rail Congestion in Chicago (Chicago Trib)
  • EPA Invites Applications for Smart Growth Assistance
  • Do Jobs or Housing Motivate People to Move? (CityLab)
  • Developers and Activists Urge Miami to Ditch Parking Reqs for Small Buildings (Miami Herald)
  • Salt Lake City Mayors Show Off TOD to Christopher Leinberger (Salt Lake Trib)
  • Seattle Bike-Share Hits 4,000 Rides in First Week (Seattle PI)
  • Long Island Shifts Away From the Single-Family Home (WSJ)
  • NTSB to Release Full Report on Metro-North Crash (Stamford Advocate)
  • Can Awards for Urban Innovation Make a Difference? (CityLab)
  • BRT, Metro Extension in Store for Virginia’s Route 1 (Connection Newspapers)
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By a Wide Margin, Americans Favor Transit Expansion Over New Roads

It's not even close. Americans prefer transit spending to road spending. Photo: Wikipedia

It’s not even close. Americans prefer transit spending to road spending. Photo: Wikipedia

If only our nation’s spending priorities more closely tracked public opinion: A new poll [PDF] from ABC News and the Washington Post finds that when presented with the choice, Americans would rather spend transportation resources expanding transit than widening roads.

In a landline and cell phone survey that asked 1,001 randomly selected adults how they prefer “to reduce traffic congestion around
the country,” 54 percent said they would rather see government “providing more public transportation options,” compared to 41 percent who preferred “expanding and building roads.” Five percent offered no opinion on the matter. The survey had a margin of error of 3.5 percent.

Attitudes varied by political leaning, place of residence, and other demographic factors. Urbanites were most likely to prefer transit spending (61 percent), followed by suburbanites (52 percent), then rural residents (49 percent), indicating that transit may be preferred to roads in every setting, though the pollster’s announcement doesn’t include enough detail to say so conclusively.

Among college graduates, racial minorities, people under 40, very high earners, and political liberals and independents, majorities favor transit expansion. Meanwhile, strong conservatives, evangelical white protestants, and white men without college degrees are more likely to favor road spending.

The poll release was timed in conjunction with Tuesday’s Washington Post forum on transportation issues.