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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.

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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.

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Will Texas DOT Gouge Another Highway Through Dallas?

A proposal for the $1.3 billion Trinity Toll Road in Dallas. Image: North Texas Tolling Authority

A proposal for the $1.3 billion Trinity Toll Road in Dallas. Image: North Texas Tolling Authority

The Trinity Toll Road embodies Texas’s destructive compulsion for expanding highways.

The proposed $1.3 billion highway project will likely increase sprawl and weaken central Dallas. It’s part of a $5 billion package of road projects to ostensibly reduce congestion. Because tackling congestion by building always works out well.

If you need another reason to feel leery of the Trinity Toll Road, here’s a good one: The Dallas region can’t afford it. But while it looks like local agencies may never put together the money to make the project happen, now the state — which also can’t afford it — may get involved, reports Brandon Formby at the Dallas Morning News’ Transportation Blog:

TxDOT’s involvement could move the long-delayed and consistently divisive project closer to completion if the [North Texas Tolling Authority] and the city can’t come up with the money needed to build it. So far, a source for the bulk of construction costs hasn’t been identified. But TxDOT chipping in would also push the project farther, once again, from the narrative city leaders sold to voters who narrowly approved the project seven years ago. The road was portrayed in 2007 as a project that would largely be paid for by the drivers who would eventually use it.

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Today’s Headlines

  • White House Gathers Praise for Its Infrastructure Investment Initiative
  • Trust Fund Extension Just Another Crisis in Congress’s Unending Drama (NPR)
  • The Future of U.S. Transportation Funding Is in Tolling (Salon)
  • No-New-Taxes Pledges Are Handcuffing Congress (Athens Banner-Herald)
  • The GOP Betrays the Founding Fathers’ (and Their Own Party’s) Infrastructure Commitment (Salon)
  • New Orleans Lays Out 2030 Transit Plan (Times-Picayune)
  • Inferior Transit and Bikeability Keeps Miami From “World-Class City” Status (Herald)
  • New Twin Cities Green Line Beats Projections (Pioneer Press)
  • “This Bicycle Kills Patriarchy”: The Long Love Affair Between Women and Bikes (Neon Tommy)
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Contraflow Bike Lanes Finally Get Nod From U.S. Engineering Establishment

Contraflow bike lanes -- of bike lanes that are directed the opposite way of vehicle traffic, look to be on their way to the nation's leading traffic engineering guide. Photo: NACTO

Contraflow bike lanes could soon be included in an influential traffic engineering guide. Photo: NACTO

Buffered bike lanes have been used in some American cities for decades now, and an increasing number of cities are implementing contraflow bike lanes. But only just now are these street designs getting official recognition from powerful standard-setters inside the U.S. engineering establishment.

Bike lane markings in the intersection space may soon be part of important engineering guidance. Image: Bike Delaware

Bike lane markings through intersections may soon be part of important engineering guidance. Image: Bike Delaware

Late last month, the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices gave its approval to 11 treatments, including these two bike lane configurations. Committee members also, as anticipated, approved bike boxes and bike signals, which had been considered “experimental,” as well as bike lane markings that continue through intersections.

This opens the way for these designs to be included in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Without recognition in the MUTCD, engineers in many cities are reluctant to install these treatments. Official acceptance in the leading design manual would help make these treatments more widespread — and that will help make American streets safer for biking.

That’s still not a done deal. The committee approval is advisory, and the group’s recommendation will now be sent to the Federal Highway Administration for potential inclusion in the MUTCD. To get final approval, the new guidelines must undergo a rule-making period where they are reviewed by other engineering institutions that have historically been averse to change, like the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

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Best Bike Cities? Forget the Census, Let’s Start Asking Mobile Apps

Bicycling patterns in Boston, created by users of activity-tracking app Human.

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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.

The most popular bicycle transportation measurement system in the country is hopelessly skewed toward a niche activity.

We refer, of course, to the U.S. Census.

The niche activity: going to work.

Most Americans have jobs, of course. But going to and from work, which is the only bicycle activity the Census measures across the United States, accounts for less than 20 percent of our trips. Huge swaths of the population, including many of those with the most to gain from biking (the old, the young, the broke), don’t have jobs at all.

What’s more, our commutes tend to be the longest trips we take on a regular basis, which puts bicycling out of reach for millions of Americans. Census statistics provide a useful clue about which cities are doing biking right, but a flawed one — especially for the less intensely motivated bike users that U.S. cities have been redesigning their streets to serve.

A 10-month-old computer chip for the Apple iPhone may already be creating a better alternative.

The M7, a chip introduced last year that lets users gather data about their movements even while their smartphones are asleep, is the hardware behind Human, an activity-tracking mobile app that made a splash this month by using its users’ movement speed to create maps of walking, biking, running and motor vehicle transport in 30 cities around the world.

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Other Cities Look to Tear Down Their Old Highways, But Not Denver

Denver's plan for I-70 is to bury it, widen it and cap it. Image: I70east.com

Denver’s plan for I-70 is to widen it, bury it, and cap a small part of it. Photo: I70east.com

Denver has one of those golden opportunities that many American cities are seizing: An elevated highway that damaged neighborhoods is nearing the end of its life, giving the city an opening to repair the harm.

Unfortunately, as Tanya has reported, Denver seems poised to double down on highway building instead. The city is looking to bury and widen Interstate 70 through the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood, then cap a small section. The $1.8 billion proposal would add four lanes to I-70 — two in each direction — for a total of 10 lanes.

This visualization shows how the highway would look widened and with a cap. Image: I70east.com

A look at the proposal to sink and widen I-70 and put an 800-foot-long park on it. Image: I70east.com

While Denver has been booming in general, the neighborhoods bisected by I-70, which was laid down through the city in the 1950s, haven’t shared in the good fortune. Thanks to the many trucks roaring through and the eyesore of the elevated highway, Elyria-Swansea and nearby communities suffer from excessive traffic, environmental problems, and disinvestment.

Proponents of the highway plan call it a “corridor of opportunity” and are promising a network of parks, open space, and transit. A big sweetener is the proposed 800-foot-long park they say would be built on the highway lid.

But according to community activist and  former City Council member Susan Barnes-Gelt, the design does little to mend connections between the two neighborhoods. She says there’s no excuse for widening highways through urban neighborhoods in an age when many cities are choosing to tear them down.

In a Denver Post editorial earlier this year, Barnes-Gelt wrote that under Mayor Michael Hancock, what could have been a big step forward for the city is “morphing back into a highway project.” It’s especially disappointing considering Denver’s recent history of smart planning, she said.

“This is what happens when people that can make a difference don’t pay attention,” she told Streetsblog.

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We Need a New Term to Describe Uber and Lyft

Companies like Uber and Lyft make any car owner a potential paid chauffeur, and their services are increasingly widespread in American cities.

Is "ridesharing" the right term for services like Lyft? Photo: Alfredo Mendez on Flickr

Is “ride-share” the right term for services like Lyft? Photo: Alfredo Mendez on Flickr

So what should we call these new companies? Abigail Zenner at Greater Greater Washington says the current nomenclature is a bit muddled:

Companies like Uber and Lyft have been dubbing their services “ridesharing.” These companies contract with drivers who can make money by offering rides. Jason Pavluchuk from the Association for Commuter Transportation argued that calling these services “rideshare” made it harder to advocate for other models that more aptly deserve the term, like carpool and vanpool services where people actually ride together.

Uber and Lyft are really new variants on taxi service. They let people use a car they might already own (though Uber is also offering loans to drivers to get new cars), but they are still doing it as a job. If you use such a service, you’re not sharing someone’s car; you’re paying them to give you a ride.

Other companies like Sidecar have envisioned a model where people already driving from one place to another offer rides to someone who happens to be going the same way. That’s a little bit more “sharing” than the app-based taxi-like services.

GGW is asking readers to weigh in on what these services should be called. If not “ride-share,” then what?

Elsewhere on the Network today: Rights of Way reports that Maine DOT still needs to get the hang of accommodating pedestrians and cyclists during construction projects. Naked City writes that North Carolina lawmakers have figured out a new way to potentially derail proposed passenger rail service between Chapel Hill, Raleigh, and Durham. And Strong Towns weighs in on the debate about whether a new sales tax to support transportation projects is the right solution for Missouri.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Obama Calls for Private Investment in Infrastructure (NYT)
  • …But Some Officials Say It’s Not That Easy (Roll Call)
  • Can New Orleans Grow Along With Its Transit? (Times-Picayune)
  • Isn’t There a Better Term Than “Ridesharing” for Uber and Lyft? (GGW)
  • In Seattle, Transit Funding Package Makes It Onto November Ballot (Seattle Times)
  • Detroit Prepares to Build Its Streetcar (Detroit News)
  • StarTrib Offers a Peek at Future Minneapolis Light Rail Stations
  • Denver Area Gets Money Together for Rail Extension (Denver Biz Journal)
  • Census Doesn’t Cut It for Tracking Biking Rates (People for Bikes)
  • What the U.S. Can Learn From Strasbourg’s Complete Streets (GGW)
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Toyota Official: Driverless Cars Could Encourage Sprawl

For all the hype surrounding driverless cars, no one knows exactly what their broader implications may be. This week one car designer suggested automated vehicles could deal a setback to trends in the U.S. toward less driving and more sustainable modes.

Will driverless cars promote further urban sprawl? Photo: Wikipedia

Will driverless cars promote more sprawl? Photo: Wikipedia

At the Automated Vehicles Symposium in San Francisco, Ken Laberteaux, senior principal scientist for Toyota’s North American team studying future transportation, spoke with a Bloomberg reporter about the potential for unwelcome outcomes, including more sprawl.

“U.S. history shows that anytime you make driving easier, there seems to be this inexhaustible desire to live further from things,” Laberteaux said. “The pattern we’ve seen for a century is people turn more speed into more travel, rather than maybe saying ‘I’m going to use my reduced travel time by spending more time with my family.’”

He said tolling could be a potential solution, but then went on to question the political practicality of that approach. “We’ve created an entire culture and economy based on the notion that transportation is cheap,” he said.