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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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How to Make Transit Succeed in a Sprawling City

In many ways, Calgary, Canada’s third-largest city, is very much like a sprawling American city. But in one way, it’s very different: It’s a huge transit city. Despite being composed mostly of sprawling single-family homes, in this Canadian energy boomtown, 50 percent of downtown workers arrive by transit and another 11 percent by bike — way higher than what you see in its American counterparts.

Calgary is Canada's Dallas, but it has transit ridership to rival San Francisco. Photo: Calgary Reviews

Calgary is the Dallas of Canada, but it has transit ridership to rival San Francisco. Photo: Calgary Reviews

Yonah Freemark at the Transport Politic says the secret sauce for for Calgary transit seems to be limiting car use in the downtown area:

In 2013, Calgary’s transit services provided about 168 million annual trips, compared to about 70 million each in Dallas and Phoenix. Those metropolitan areas each have more than four times the population of Calgary. In other words, people in Calgary — an energy-driven, Western sprawl town — are using transit at about 10 times the rate of people in U.S. peers.

The difference between Calgary and a city like Dallas is not simply a reflection of differences in investment (after all, Calgary could be paying for sensational transit offerings that are simply not offered in the American sunbelt). While both Calgary and Dallas have spent hundreds of millions of dollars building out their light rail system, Calgary’s provides three times the daily rides on less than half the track miles. What gives?

At the heart of the matter seems to be a radically different view about how to manage automobiles downtown. Decades of progressive thinking about how to run downtown have produced a Calgary where there are no freeways entering the central city. Citizens there have been vocally opposed to building highways there since the 1950s, with the consequence that it is simply not that quick to get into downtown by car. This has a number of related effects, including the incentivization of non-automobile modes and the reduction in outward suburban sprawl (since it takes a longer amount of time to get to the center of downtown).

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Today’s Headlines

  • What the Federal Spending Bill Offers for Transit (Roll Call)
  • Bill Includes $100M for MD’s Purple Line (WaPo)
  • Even GOP-Run States Debate Higher Taxes for Infrastructure (Bloomberg)
  • Troubles Mount for Uber, Including Lawsuits from L.A., San Francisco (NPR, L.A. Times)
  • Is Lyft “Too Cute” to Step Up to the Plate? (NYT)
  • Does Amtrak Have Authority to Craft Federal Regulations For Its Trains? (APThe Economist)
  • Austin City Council Votes Today on Funding for 120-Mile Lone Star Rail (KXAN)
  • New Orleans Streetcar Named National Historic Landmark (AP)
  • NJ Tries to Promote More Ferry Commuting (NJ.com)
  • Bethesda, MD, Plans for Better Bike Connections (Bethesda Mag)
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5 Techniques That Guide the Best Regional Planning Agencies

“Metropolitan Planning Organization” is the wonky name for an obscure but oh-so-important breed of public agency — the regional planning bodies charged with distributing federal transportation funds. MPOs can be powerful, transformative agencies that enhance economic growth, save people time, and improve public health. Or they can do the bare minimum required by law and continue to collect federal money year after year, merely serving as one more level of bureaucracy. Even worse, they can distribute funds in a way that hastens sprawl and urban decline.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments conducting community outreach. Photo: MWCOG via T4A

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments conducting community outreach. Photo: MWCOG via T4A

If you look at healthy, growing regions like Minneapolis and Salt Lake City, they tend to have more enlightened regional planning agencies. Still, there’s a lot of room for improvement. Many MPOs — and their close cousins, councils of government, or COGs — have been slow to adapt to the 21st century, with its new and more complicated set of transportation demands that extends far beyond highway construction.

To help regional planners catch up on best practices, Transportation for America has released a new guide, The Innovative MPO. Here’s some of the sage advice inside.

1. Don’t limit the job to managing congestion.

Federal laws actually specify that MPOs should address a broad range of goals, including safety, accessibility, and quality of life. Still, many MPOs have zeroed in on eliminating congestion, which isn’t even one of the eight factors the feds recommend focusing on. The problem is that addressing congestion, without a thought to how those decisions may lead to more sprawl and generate more traffic, can undermine other goals like improving public health.

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Stockton CA Wants Better Transit, Biking, and Sidewalks, Not Wider Roads

Stockton, California's residents told the city they want active transportation amenities, not car infrastructure. Image: City of Stockton via Stockton City Limits

Residents of Stockton, CA, told the city they want better transit and active transportation, not more car infrastructure. Image: City of Stockton via Stockton City Limits

What happens when you ask people point blank what they want from their local transportation system?

In California’s San Joaquin Valley, the city of Stockton recently asked people at a public meeting what types of transportation investments they’d prefer. Stockton, population 300,000, was especially hard hit when the housing bubble burst, declaring bankruptcy in 2012. With the city regathering itself and embarking on a new general plan, David Garcia reports at Network blog Stockton City Limits that residents left no doubt about the types of transportation options they want:

The findings of this exercise are crystal clear: Stocktonians want more walking, biking and public transportation options.

As you can see, the overwhelming majority of votes cast were in favor of active transportation. 19% of votes were cast in favor of “Pedestrian Sidewalks & Walkability,” 14% for “Mass Transit,” and a combined 25% for cycling for commuting and recreation. Road widening—the only true auto-oriented option—doesn’t register until near the bottom with 6%. While this is by no means a scientific survey, it’s very telling. About 60 residents participated in the exercise according to the city, ranging from the usual advocates as well as private citizens who simply wanted their voices heard.

It is clear that Stocktonians are ready for a more progressive approach to planning, an approach that emphasizes pedestrians and cyclists over the private automobile. It’s up to the citizens to continue to demand these changes and to stay actively involved in this General Plan process.

Elsewhere on the Network today: ATL Urbanist shares the words of an Atlanta developer trying to convince the region to embrace transit. And The Political Environment reports that Wisconsin is building a $1.7 billion interchange project exclusively for the region’s suburban commuters, but those commuters are unhappy with the construction delays.

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Today’s Headlines

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Tulsa Mayor Wants to Cut Off Sidewalk Access to City’s Fabulous New Park

Tulsa's planned $350 million new park, A Gathering Place, promises all the best in urban park amenities. But thanks to the city's mayor, it may lack sidewalk access. Image: Agatheringplacefortulsa.com

Tulsa’s new park, A Gathering Place, is supposed to provide an oasis to the public, but thanks to the city’s mayor, the public may have a hard time walking there. Image: Agatheringplacefortulsa.com

Tulsa, Oklahoma, is getting ready to build a new flagship park, called A Gathering Place — a $350 million project supported entirely by private foundations, most notably the Kaiser Family Foundation. The park will contain a skate park, sports fields, a boat house, views of the Arkansas River, a “swing hill” and all sorts of other goodies. But thanks to Mayor Dewey Bartlett, it might lack one very basic amenity: sidewalk access.

A few months ago, Bartlett, who is also president of the Keener Oil and Gas Company, issued an executive order eliminating plans for a sidewalk connection on Riverside Drive, an important north-south street that fronts the park and connects to downtown, not far away.

This rendering shows plans for a sidewalk on Riverside Drive. Image: Smart Growth Tulsa Coalition

Mayor Dewey Bartlett has tossed aside the most basic provision for walking access to the park: a sidewalk on Riverside Drive. Image: Smart Growth Tulsa Coalition

The finished park is expected to draw about 1 million visitors a year. But will any of them walk without adequate pedestrian access?

A growing coalition is demanding the the sidewalk be reinstated. About 300 people packed a City Council meeting late last month urging city officials to maintain pedestrian access. Because of fire codes, supporters actually had to be turned away, says Bill Leighty of the Smart Growth Tulsa Coalition, which has been organizing the campaign for sidewalks.

Leighty says the mayor’s decision violates the city’s complete streets program and seems to have been motivated by prejudice against people who would walk to the park.

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