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Talking Headways Podcast: Dear Bike People

podcast icon logoDo people of color and low-income people ride bikes? Not as much as they could, given all the great benefits biking offers, particularly to people without a lot of disposable cash. But yes, non-white and non-rich people ride bikes — in high numbers compared to the general population, by some measures.

Even though they’re biking the streets, people of color and those with low incomes are largely missing from the bicycle advocacy world. The League of American Bicyclists, along with many other advocacy organizations around the country, are out to change that. We covered the League’s report on equity in the bicycling movement last week — but there was still lots more to talk about.

So Jeff and I called up Adonia Lugo, who manages the equity initiative at the League. We talked about what local advocacy groups can do if they want to reach out to new constituencies, whether infrastructure design really needs a multicultural perspective, and how the movement can start “seeing” bicyclists that don’t fit the prevailing stereotype.

We know you have strong feelings about these issues. Tell us all about ‘em in the comments  – after you listen.

And find us on  iTunesStitcher, and the RSS feed.

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Fact Checking the Florida Department of Transportation

Quadrille Boulevard in West Palm Beach. Photo: Walkable WPB

The Florida Department of Transportation says its rules prevent a road diet on Quadrille Boulevard in West Palm Beach. Advocates looked up the rules and found the agency was wrong. Photo: Walkable WPB

Quadrille Boulevard in West Palm Beach is what Chuck Marohn of Strong Towns would call a “stroad.” It’s a poorly designed, high-speed chute for cars that is completely hostile to its urban surroundings.

That’s why residents of West Palm Beach were so disappointed to learn that the Florida Department of Transportation plans to resurface the road and put everything back the way it is. When local advocates suggested that Quadrille Boulevard doesn’t need lanes to be 15 feet wide and can go on a road diet, the agency shot them down, saying its rules wouldn’t allow it.

Network blog Walkable West Palm Beach decided to fact check the agency, and it turns out FDOT needs to get a better grip on its own rules:

Frankly, FDOT is wrong in their response to the citizen stating that 10-foot lanes aren’t allowed on state highways. FDOT’s primary design manual is the Plans Preparation Manual (PPM). The PPM contains a very interesting chapter titled Transportation Design for Livable Communities (TDLC). The TDLC chapter is tucked away at the end of the manual far and away from the geometric requirements for highways and stroads. As shown in the following table from the TDLC chapter there is a footnote that allows thru lanes to be reduced from 11 feet to 10 feet in width in highly restricted areas with design speeds less than or equal to 35 MPH, having little or no truck traffic.

Quadrille fits the bill. Look at what 10-foot lanes would make possible for this street:

Read more…

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Today’s Headlines

  • November Vote Could Integrate Suburban County Into Atlanta Transit (Next City)
  • Chinese Firm Bids for California High-Speed Rail Project, Wins Boston Contract (Gov Tech, Fox Biz)
  • Redfin Buys Walkscore (WiredGeekWire)
  • Basic Questions Still Remain About D.C. Streetcar Plans (WaPo)
  • What Can the U.S. Can Learn From France’s Transit Designs? (CityLab)
  • Maryland and Wisconsin Voters Could Put Transpo Funds on Lockdown (T4America)
  • Bloomberg View: Bullet Trains Won’t Work Unless We Resolve Local Congestion
  • Can Congestion Pricing Be a Solution Where It’s Most Needed? (Roll Call)
  • Colorado Could See Better Rail Connections (Pueblo Chieftain)
  • What Does Dallas Want to Be? (Dallas News)
  • Grand Rapids to Debut New Amtrak Station Next Week (M Live)
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Study: Safe Routes to School Programs Boost Walking and Biking 30%

In just two generations, the share of American kids who walk or bike to school has plummeted — dropping from 50 percent in 1969 to 13 percent today. Can the trend be reversed? Yes, according to new research that shows the impact of street safety infrastructure and other programs implemented with federal Safe Routes to School (SRTS) funds.

Photo: United Way

study published in this quarter’s Journal of the American Planning Association found that over time, SRTS programs produce significant increases in the share of children who walk or bike to school — an effect that grows more pronounced over time. The average increase in walking and biking rates attributable to SRTS programs over a five-year period was 31 percent, the researchers concluded.

The authors examined 801 schools in Florida, Oregon, Texas, and the District of Columbia, using data collected by the National Center for Safe Routes to School from 2007 to 2012 – yielding data from 378 schools with SRTS programs and 423 without. They say the study is the first SRTS research based on such a large geographic sample of schools, enabling them to isolate the effect of different types of Safe Routes to School strategies.

The effect of “education and encouragement” programs grew over time, with SRTS schools seeing progressively larger differences in each successive year. Over five years, the researchers found, this tactic led to a 25 percent increase in walking and biking to school, controlling for demographic differences, neighborhood characteristics, and other factors. Meanwhile, infrastructure investments like safer sidewalks or bike lanes led to a one-time 18 percent increase.

While Safe Routes to School programs work, they’re also in jeopardy. Federal funding for SRTS was cut in the last transportation bill, and that fight is expected to resume once Congress takes up the next one.

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Someone Has Built the Ultimate 1950s Fantasy Vehicle All Over Again

Terrafugia's prototype blocks the bike lane . Photo: Mary Jordan/Flick

Congestion? This flying car will fix it! Photo: @Mary Jordan

UPDATE in fourth paragraph about takeoff and landing space.

This photo pretty much says everything that needs to be said about the absurdity of the flying car.

I wouldn’t even bring it up except a flying car salesman was the man of the hour at an otherwise (mostly, er, somewhat) serious daylong forum on transportation issues yesterday sponsored by the Washington Post. The flying car in question was parked outside the building, blocking a bike lane on 14th Street.

Carl Dietrich of Terrafugia (“escape the earth” in Latin) worked hard to convince the audience that what he acknowledged has long been a “pop culture joke” was a real, serious answer to the real-world problem of traffic congestion.

Not that we need to get into the numbers, but a Terrafugia plane required a third of a mile of empty runway to take off when it first — ahem — launched in 2009. More recent reports put it at 100 feet. I tried calling Terrafugia to confirm the figure, but no one picked up. I’ll let you know if I get a response to my email. (UPDATE 10/23: Alex Min of Terrafugia replied, “The TF-X will be a Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) vehicle so there will be no need for a runway. Much like a helicopter, any suitable landing area will be sufficient, but you still have to abide by FAA regulations.”)

Indeed, all of Terrafugia’s promotional materials show personal airplanes flying above farmland, and when the wings retract the pilot retreats home to a suburban single-family McMansion where the vehicle fits conveniently inside a standard-size garage.

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Tucson Region Poised to Slash Bike/Ped Funding

Disappointing news from America’s hottest, driest bike city: Regional planners in Tucson are poised to take an axe to an important pot of money for bike and pedestrian improvements, even while they maintain spending on much more expensive road widenings.

Tucson's funds for bike and pedestrian improvements are drying up, some advocates say. Photo: Bicycle Tucson

It doesn’t cost much to make streets safer for walking and biking, but Tucson’s regional transportation agency would rather widen roads. Photo: Bicycle Tucson

Michael McKisson at Network blog Bicycle Tucson reports on how Tucson’s Regional Transportation Authority is dealing with lower-than-expected revenues from a regional sales tax enacted in 2006. Even though active transportation projects are just a drop in the bucket, the RTA has targeted them for steep cuts, McKisson writes:

It’s about to get a lot harder for Tucson-area bicycle and pedestrian planners to find funding for projects after a decision by the Regional Transportation Authority slashed more than $14 million from the RTA’s bicycle and pedestrian budgets.

Pima Association of Governments deputy director Jim Degrood told the RTA’s bicycle and pedestrian subcommittee that revenue from the 2006 voter-approved half-cent sales tax was coming in 17 percent lower than the group expected.

“The economy tanked — as we all know,” Degrood told the committee.  “And that has had a profoundly negative impact on our collection.”

McKisson reports active transportation is the big loser because RTA officials say they are committed to the projects that were outlined before the 2006 vote. Namely, road widening projects:

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Today’s Headlines

  • D.C. Mayor Lays Out Action Plan for Transportation (WaPo, GGW)
  • Feds, MARTA Move Forward With Study of New 8.8-Mile Light Rail (Atlanta Biz Journal)
  • Texans Get Their First Glimpse of Potential High-Speed Rail Routes (Dallas News)
  • LA Times Thinks More Parking Is the Answer for City’s Rail Stations
  • In the Southwest, Long-Term Plan Emerges for Passenger Rail Network (RT&S)
  • Some Conservatives Embrace Urbanism, But Then It Falls on Deaf Ears (Grist)
  • D.C. to Baltimore at 311 MPH? (Bloomberg)
  • Small Towns Fail to Capture Millennials (NPR)
  • Will Norfolk’s Light Rail Connect to Neighborhoods, or Run Along Highways? (GGW)
  • Americans More Concerned About ISIS and Ebola Than a Much Bigger Threat: Traffic Violence (Vox)
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NYC Bike-on-Sidewalk Tickets Most Common in Black and Latino Communities

Chart by Harry Levine and Loren Siegel. Full data, including summonses as a share of population, available on their website.

pfb logo 100x22

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.

Of all the possible ways to break the law on a bicycle, pedaling on the sidewalk ought to be one of the most sympathetic.

Yes, sidewalk biking is unpleasant and potentially dangerous to everyone involved. But people wouldn’t bike on sidewalks if they weren’t in search of something they want: physical protection from auto traffic.

A person biking on a sidewalk is just trying to use the protected bike lane that isn’t there. That’s why sidewalk biking falls dramatically the moment a protected lane is installed. When a bike rider fails to follow this law, it’s not good. But it’s usually because the street has already failed to help the rider.

All of which makes it especially disturbing that bans on sidewalk biking seem to be enforced disproportionately on black and Latino riders.

That’s the implication of a recent study from New York City. City University of New York sociologist Harry Levine and civil rights attorney Loren Siegel coded the neighborhoods with the most and fewest bike-on-sidewalk court summonses by whether or not most residents are black or Latino.

Of the 15 neighborhoods with the most such summonses, he found, 12 were mostly black or Latino. Of the 15 neighborhoods with the fewest summonses, 14 did not have a black or Latino majority.

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It’s Happening: Washington State Revises Traffic Forecasts to Reflect Reality

Washington State has revised traffic projections downward, to reflect changing patterns. Image: Washington State via Sightline

The Washington State Office of Fiscal Management has revised its traffic projections downward to reflect changing patterns. Graph Washington OFM via Sightline

The amount that the average American drives each year has been declining for nearly a decade, yet most transportation agencies are still making decisions based on the notion that a new era of ceaseless traffic growth is right around the corner.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation, for example, has overestimated traffic on its roads by an average of 73 percent, according to a recent study. And Dallas-area planners recently produced traffic projections that predicted a much larger increase in driving than the state DOT was even predicting.

That’s why a new traffic forecast from the Washington State Office of Fiscal Management is so interesting: It actually acknowledges how travel habits are changing. Seattle-based environmental think tank Sightline spotted the above traffic projection in a new government report. In its most recent financial forecast, the agency has abandoned the assumption of never-ending traffic growth that it employed as recently as last year. Instead, the agency has responded to recent trends, even projecting that total traffic will start to decline within the next ten years.

Sightline’s Clark Williams-Derry says that’s huge:

By undermining both the rationale for new roads and the belief that we’ll be able to pay for them, a forecast of flat traffic should help inject a needed dose of reality into the state’s transportation debates.

Of course, there’s no telling whether this forecast will be right. As Yogi Berra allegedly said, predictions are hard, especially about the future. But if it turns out that this forecast underestimates traffic growth, budgeters won’t find it such an unpleasant surprise, since more traffic will bring more revenue from drivers.

Update: This post has been amended to reflect that the traffic forecast was published by the Washington State Office of Financial Management, not the Washington State DOT, as originally reported. According to the OFM report, however, the projections were produced by a division of the DOT.

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The Surprisingly Rare Sanctuary From Urban Freeway Noise

There are precious few places in the Minneapolis region where you can escape the whirr of speeding cars. Map: Adam Froehlig at Streets.mn

There are precious few places in the Minneapolis region where you can escape the whir of speeding cars. Map: Adam Froehlig at Streets.mn

Bill Lindeke at Network blog Twin City Sidewalks says he grew up in a rather bucolic setting. Even so, he wasn’t able to escape the constant whir of speeding cars. The old farmhouse on a half-acre lot where he grew up is just three-quarters of a mile from Interstate 35E. And in that way, he was like almost everyone else in the Twin Cities, he points out:

It made me realize that freeways are surprisingly close to most houses. It’s increasingly difficult to find anywhere within the 494-694 ring of the Twin Cities where you can’t hear the high pitched whir of tires all hours of the day and night… Cars are a backdrop to every outdoor conversation, every rustle of leaves, and every birdsong day in and day out forever.

The other day at streets.mn, Adam Froehlig made a map that answered one of the questions that’s been nagging at my earlobe for years: Where are the respites from the whir? Is there anywhere in Minneapolis or Saint Paul where you can escape the sound of tires, if even for a brief moment in the middle of the night?

While it’s not perfect, Alex’s map [above] does point to a few small places where freeways might be at least a mile off.

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