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Today’s Headlines

  • House Transpo Committee Approves Amtrak Bill (The Hill)
  • …And Finalizes Recommendations for New PPP Office at DOT (Transport Topics)
  • Foxx Quashes Rumors of a 2016 Senate Run (Washington Examiner)
  • Hurricane Sandy Aid Package Brings $630M+ to NJ Transit Projects (NJ.com)
  • Mesa, AZ, Shows What GOP Urbanism Can Look Like (Politico)
  • Report: Global Shift to Transit Could Save $100 Trillion By 2050 (Phys.org)
  • Survey Confirms Generational Divide on Transit Ridership (CityLab)
  • Faulty CT Rail Bridge Gets Half the Funding Sought from Feds (Hartford Courant)
  • TIGER Grant Expected to Boost Economy in Lower Roxbury, MA (Bay State Banner)
  • Towson, MD, Debuts Bike Beltway (Baltimore Sun)
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Will NCDOT Break the Bank on an 8-Lane Highway Through Asheville?

North Carolina thinks this justifies doubling highway capacity through a walkable, bikeable city. Image: U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group

North Carolina thinks this justifies doubling highway capacity through a walkable, bikeable city. Image: U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group

Tomorrow, U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group will release a report titled, “Highway Boondoggles: Wasted Money and America’s Transportation Future.” In it, they examine 11 of the most wasteful, least needed road projects underway in America right now.

Yesterday we published our first preview of the report, the story of the bizarre wishful thinking behind the proposed Effingham Parkway in Savannah, Georgia. Here we continue with a look at North Carolina’s bright idea to expand a road through a thriving city for no reason. 

North Carolina officials have proposed expanding I-240, which runs through downtown Asheville and connects I-26 southwest of Asheville to other highway routes northwest of the city. Local residents, however, have questioned whether the project as currently designed would damage a mature, livable neighborhood to build road space that is not actually needed.

The I-26 project is a complex mix of reconstruction, rerouting and expansion of Asheville’s highway network. The $400 million to $600 million project is divided into three major subsections — each of which has been the subject of intense debate — including the proposed widening of 4.3 miles of four-lane highway through West Asheville to eight lanes, plus an additional auxiliary lane on each side and widened shoulders.

Read more…

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When Highways Are Barriers to Opportunity

Looking at a map of commute times, Patrick Kennedy at Walkable Dallas-Fort Worth finds that people who live in census tracts with some of that region’s lowest household incomes spend the most time traveling to and from work. Many commutes are more than an hour each way.

Kennedy says this is what happens when road-building guides private investment — and it’s a vicious circle. As Dallas sprawls northward away from the urban core, he writes, places of employment become less and less accessible for those who can least afford “to get cars and get on the road.”

The darker the purple, the longer the drive. The poorest residents of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro region have some of the longest commute times. Image: Walkable DFW

The darker the purple, the longer the drive. The poorest residents of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro region have some of the longest commute times. Image: Walkable DFW

With swaths of the city losing jobs and population, Kennedy says all those highways built to connect are, in reality, serving as barriers.

We have cut off opportunity from entire parts of the city, specifically with the notion of trying to connect people with highways. We’ve done the opposite. It’s obvious that highways disconnect across them, but the constant job and population creep northward is indicative of a deeper, systemic, and more pernicious form of disconnection: distance. Traversing that distance is not the answer, particularly when our solutions to traversing that distance, more highways, only serves to exacerbate the problem, by moving things further and further away.

The highway builders, thinking they’re serving populations as they exist, don’t realize that they themselves are the scientist with their finger in the petri dish stirring it around and affecting the very results they’re supposedly objective about.

Elsewhere on the Network: Bicycle Transportation Alliance discovers that Daimler employees in Portland are very much into biking to work. Second Avenue Sagas comments on the gondola fad in NYC. And Greater Greater Washington reports on a Washington Post columnist and his war on traffic enforcement.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Shuster: “Nobody Got Everything” With Amtrak Bill (The Hill)
  • Report Released at UN Shows Climate Change Action Boosts Economic Growth (VOA)
  • Environmental Study Begins for Houston-Dallas High-Speed Rail (Community Impact)
  • Omaha to Use $15M TIGER for BRT (AP)
  • Why Do Houstonians Tend to Sprawl? (Houstonia)
  • What Richmond Can Learn From BRT Failures in Other Cities (RVA News)
  • With Transit Tax Vote Approaching, Pinellas County, FL, Breaks Bus Ride Records (Tampa Biz Journal)
  • Arkansas Works on Statewide Rail Plan (KATV)
  • In Seattle, New Bikeway Triples Cycling Numbers (Seattle Times)
  • Florida Governor Candidate Says It’s Not Too Late for Orlando-Tampa Rail (Orlando Sentinel)
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Don’t Look Now, But the House Amtrak Bill Actually Has Some Good Ideas

The House's rail authorization proposal is harsh, but not as harsh as it would have been under the previous chair. Photo: ##http://transportation.house.gov/uploadedfiles/railpacket.pdf##House Transportation Committee##

The House’s Amtrak proposal isn’t going to transform American passenger rail, but it might actually help around the margins. Photo: House Transportation Committee

Tomorrow, the House Transportation Committee will consider a bill that changes the nation’s policies on passenger rail. The proposal, while it includes some cuts, is a departure from the senseless vendetta many House Republicans have waged against Amtrak in the past. The National Association of Railroad Passengers, NARP, says the plan contains “commonsense regulatory and governance reforms.”

In an encouraging act of bipartisanship, the bill was crafted and introduced jointly by Committee Chair Bill Shuster (R-PA), Ranking Member Nick Rahall (D-WV), and the chair and ranking member of the rail subcommittee, Jeff Denham (R-CA) and Corrine Brown (D-FL). You can read the bill summary here [PDF] and the full text here [PDF].

The Republicans’ talking point that the House bill cuts Amtrak funding by 40 percent is being widely reported, but the reality isn’t so draconian. The bill does reduce the amount authorized for Amtrak, but Congress wasn’t appropriating nearly that much in recent years anyway. Congress was authorized to spend $1.96 billion on Amtrak in 2013, for instance, but the House only appropriated $1.41 billion. The authorized amount in the PRRIA bill is actually a slight increase over what Amtrak got in 2013.

The bill stops short of pushing for full privatization of the Northeast Corridor, the main part of the network that turns a profit, which Shuster and Amtrak Hater-in-Chief John Mica had pushed for previously. It does further separate the Northeast Corridor from the rest of the system, requiring Amtrak to reinvest NEC profits back into the NEC. House Republicans say the idea is to “eliminate Amtrak’s black-box accounting,” in which Amtrak (quite transparently, I may add) subsidizes money-losing long-distance service with the profits from the NEC.

Meanwhile, the bill continues the very long-distance services that come under constant fire from the GOP for inefficiency. After all, key GOP constituencies live in rural areas whose only long-distance transportation option may be Amtrak. Brookings has recommended dispensing with these routes, but Congress has found the politics of that too burdensome.

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”Bikelash!” The Streetfilm

Six months ago, Dr. Doug Gordon and Dr. Aaron Naparstek charmed audiences at the 2014 National Bike Summit with a great routine called “Moving Beyond the Bikelash,” sharing what they’ve learned from the pushback to New York City’s bike network expansion.

So last week, while at the Pro-Walk Pro-Bike Pro-Place conference, I thought it would be interesting to ask advocates from across the country about the state of bikelash in their cities and how they combat it. Here’s what they told me.

Streetsblog NYC 16 Comments

EPA Rejects New York’s Clean Water Money Grab for Highway Bridge

This morning, the Environmental Protection Agency rejected the $510.9 million federal loan New York state had requested from a clean water program to pay for the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project. Only $29 million worth of TZB work is eligible for clean water money, the EPA’s regional office ruled, averting a dangerous precedent that could have let governors across the country raid environmental funds to pay for highways.

Building a new highway bridge with clean water funds? Forget about it, says the EPA. Photo: D. Robert Wolcheck/Flickr

Using clean water funds to replace this highway bridge? Forget about it, says the EPA. Photo: D. Robert Wolcheck/Flickr

“New York’s request presents a unique circumstance that is unprecedented… no other state has made a request of this type or magnitude,” wrote Joan Leary Matthews, regional director of EPA’s clean water division [PDF]. “There is no evidence… that the [Clean Water State Revolving Fund] was intended to fund mitigation for major construction projects within an estuary. Construction activities arising from transportation projects do not advance water quality, and CWSRF funding should not be used for these purposes.”

The Thruway Authority had planned on using the $510.9 million loan on twelve projects. Today, EPA rejected seven of those projects, totaling $481.8 million, because they are directly tied to building the new bridge. The projects deemed ineligible are: removal of the existing bridge, dredging for construction vessels, armoring the river bottom, installation of an underwater noise attenuation system, construction of a bike-pedestrian path on the new bridge, restoration of oyster beds, and the installation of a falcon nest box.

The state will be able to receive funding for five projects, totaling $29.1 million: the restoration of Gay’s Point and Piermont Marsh, the installation of stormwater management measures, and the creation of a conservation benefit plan, including an Atlantic sturgeon outreach program.

Environmental advocates and good government groups staunchly opposed the loan, saying that allowing clean water funds to be used for highway construction would set a dangerous precedent. “It’s great that the agency in charge of calling balls and strikes has called the state out,” said Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York. “But we shouldn’t have gotten here in the first place.”

Read more…

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Highway Boondoggle Case Study #1: Georgia’s Effingham Parkway

?The Effingham Parkway expansion is premised on the idea that the Panama Canal expansion will see more cargo coming through Georgia ports -- but there are many holes in that logic. Image: Georgia Ports Authority via U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group

The Effingham Parkway expansion is premised on the idea that the Panama Canal expansion will see more cargo coming through Georgia ports — but there are many holes in that logic. Image: Georgia Ports Authority via U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group

This week, U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group will release a report titled, “Highway Boondoggles: Wasted Money and America’s Transportation Future.” In it, they examine 11 case studies of some of the more wasteful, least needed roads being built in America right now.

At a time when Americans are driving less and government traffic projections are alarmingly out of sync with actual trends, states should be cautious about costly highway expansion. Instead, many states are charging ahead with misguided projects that will empty their coffers of funds needed to maintain existing infrastructure, among other things.

Between 2009 and 2011, states spent 55 percent of their road dollars on expansions to less than 1 percent of their roads, underfunding the other 99 percent to the point where many roads and bridges fell into dangerous disrepair.

Here’s a preview of the report’s exposé of reckless state road spending. We begin with an effing doozy: the Effingham Parkway in Savannah, Georgia.

Transportation officials in a rural area northwest of Savannah, Georgia, are worried that an existing state highway will be unable to cope with growing traffic volumes if the hoped-for industrial expansion and resulting population increase occur. Their proposal is a new $37.4 million highway. Recent trends, however, suggest that traffic isn’t growing as quickly as anticipated, raising questions about whether the new highway is necessary.

The proposed Effingham Parkway is a $37.4 million road that would run parallel to the existing Georgia Route 21. Connecting the new highway to other existing local roads will require spending an additional $11.5 million on nearby road work. State plans include expansion to four lanes in the future, and specify a total price tag of $100 million.

Traffic on Route 21, however, has failed to grow at the rate anticipated by officials along most of the relevant length. Of five locations on Route 21 parallel to the proposed parkway where both projections and traffic counts were available, only one saw traffic increase at an average rate higher than is expected to happen if the Effingham Parkway is not built. The other locations saw traffic rise far less than projected, stay flat, or even drop.

Read more…

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How to Improve 3-Foot Passing Laws

After a couple of vetoes by Governor Jerry Brown, California finally has a 3-foot passing law.

As of June, 24 states plus the District of Columbia have such a law, which requires drivers to give cyclists a minimum buffer of 3 feet when passing from behind. With California’s law in effect as of today, Rick Bernardi of Bob Mionske’s bike law blog says 3-foot laws are good for cycling, but could be improved.

There's room to improve 3-foot passing laws, like the one that takes effect in California today. Photo: ##https://www.flickr.com/photos/sfbike/7000434589/in/set-72157629263668356/##SF Bike Coalition/Flickr##

There’s room to improve 3-foot passing laws, like the one that took effect in California today. Photo: SF Bike Coalition/Flickr

Bernardo points out that some laws, including California’s, provide exceptions for drivers that weaken cyclist protections. Minimum passing distances should be commensurate with motorist speed, he says, and intentional “buzzing” should be criminalized.

The law should also make collisions prima facie evidence of an illegal pass, Bernardi writes.

When drivers collide with a cyclist while passing, they will often attempt to shift the blame to the cyclist: “The cyclist came out of nowhere” is one common explanation for a crash. “The cyclist suddenly swerved into my path” is another commonly heard explanation. If the cyclist is seriously injured or killed, the driver’s explanation may be the only explanation we hear. More often than not, when a driver says that the pass was “safe” but the cyclist did something that doesn’t make any sense, it really means that the driver wasn’t paying attention, or was passing too close. But under the law, injured cyclists must prove that the driver’s pass was unsafe. 3 foot laws can be strengthened by making collisions prima facie evidence of an illegal pass. This means that when a driver is passing a cyclist and a collision results, the law would presume that the pass was too close. The driver could still rebut this presumption with evidence to show that the pass was not too close, but now the burden of proof would be where it properly belongs — on the driver who has the responsibility to pass at a safe distance.

Also on the Network today: Streets.MN says investing in transit for “millennials” and “millennials” alone is a bad idea, and the Wash Cycle takes a tour of the Capital Bikeshare warehouse.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Rail~Volution About to Get Underway in the Twin Cities (Strib)
  • Detroit Cheers TIGER Grant for Woodward Avenue Streetcar Line (Detroit News)
  • Scientist Praises Blumenauer’s Call to Replace Gas Tax With VMT Fee (Roll Call)
  • Coalition Forms to Address New Jersey Transportation Funding Crisis (NJ.com)
  • Study of Housing + Transportation Costs Show Low-Income People Struggling (NLIHC)
  • What Happened at FutureBike After Pro-Walk Pro-Bike? Here’s a Twitter Recap (Bike League)
  • Sidecar Quietly Positions Itself to Conquer the Transportation Market (GeekWire)
  • The Bikelash Means You’re Winning (CityLabStreetfilms)
  • How to Love Your Alley So It Loves You Back (Next City)
  • “MinuteEarth” — the Perfect Elevator Speech on How Better Policies Can Save the Planet (ScienceAlert)
  • People Are Psyched to Get Hardcover NYC Subway Signage Guide from 1970 (Slate)