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Today’s Headlines

  • U.S. DOT Announces $3.6B for Transit Resiliency on East Coast (AP)
  • Dem Lawmakers Kick Off Rail~Volution With Plea For More Money (Finance & Commerce)
  • U.S. DOT Sued Over Failure to Produce Truck Driver Training Rule (Go By Truck)
  • Distracted Walking Causing Rise in Ped Fatalities? Nobody Knows But WaPo Says Yes
  • Ann Arbor Transit Expands Hours, Increases Ridership (WEMU)
  • Indiana Toll Road Operator Goes Belly Up (Planetizen)
  • DC Mayoral Frontrunner Calls For Vision Zero… But GGW Commenters Don’t Buy It
  • Virginia Probably Won’t Get to Build Its New Toll Road Along Route 460 (Register Guard)
  • A Bike-Share Model For Cities Where Traditional Bike-Share Doesn’t Work (Next City)
  • City Clock Ranks America’s Most Car-Independent Neighborhoods
  • A City’s Footprint Is Intimately Linked to Its Carbon Footprint (WaPo)
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The Dallas Trinity Parkway Plan Horrifies Even Its Earliest Champions

Every river needs a nine-lane highway running alongside it to enhance its scenic qualities, don't you think? Image from a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers briefing presented to the Dallas City Council last August

Every river needs a nine-lane highway running alongside it to enhance its scenic qualities, don’t you think? This gauzy rendering comes from a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers briefing presented to the Dallas City Council last August.

A recent report by U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group, “Highway Boondoggles: Wasted Money and America’s Transportation Future,” examines 11 of the most wasteful, least justifiable road projects underway in America right now. Here’s the latest installment in our series profiling the various bad decisions that funnel so much money to infrastructure that does no good. 

The Trinity Parkway is a proposed nine-mile, six-lane urban highway (with tolls) that would run along the Trinity River through the heart of Dallas. Proponents claim that it is needed to relieve crushing regional traffic congestion that they expect will only worsen over time. But planning documents suggest that the $1.5 billion project would have only very limited impact on congestion and would be susceptible to flood damage.

A growing chorus of city leaders is asking whether the highway is really compatible with a Dallas that is experiencing major urban revitalization driven in part by expansion of public transportation and quality of life improvements that would be hampered by a vast new highway.

This project has been justified in part by forecasts of rapid growth in traffic in the project area in the decades to come. In most parts of the project area, however, planners are anticipating far greater growth in driving between now and 2035 than actually took place between 2007 and 2012, the most recent years for which traffic data are publicly available. Indeed, traffic actually declined between 2007 and 2012 at eight of 12 specific locations affected by the route where officials forecast traffic to increase by 2035.

Would you trust these models to tell you where to build a highway? Image: U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group

Would you trust these models to tell you where to build a highway? Image: U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group

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Bi-partisan Senate Bill Would Give Locals More Say Over Transpo Spending

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Improving local access to transportation funds would help build project’s like the multi-modal Atlanta BeltLine. Rendering: Atlanta BeltLine

When it comes to transportation funding, cities and towns occupy the bottom of the totem pole. The vast majority of federal transportation money goes to states, to the exclusion of local governments. That means state DOTs get tens of billions to spend on highways each year, while mayors and local agencies have to scrounge for money to improve transit, build sidewalks, or add bike lanes.

A bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate Thursday could give local governments greater access to federal funding. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) introduced the Innovation in Surface Transportation Act — Senate Bill 2891 [PDF] — which would set aside some federal transportation money for states to redistribute to cities and towns on a competitive basis.

Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker says municipalities around his state want access to federal transportation funds. Photo: Senator Wicker

Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker says municipalities around his state want access to federal transportation funds. Photo: Senator Wicker

The legislation would devote 10 percent of federal surface transportation funding — or about $5 billion per year — to local-level projects. The funds would be split up between the states, and in each state a panel would distribute the money on a competitive basis to local governments, transit agencies, and regional planning agencies.

Senator Wicker said the bill is supported by localities across Mississippi as well as the Mississippi Municipal League.

“Local officials in Mississippi are on the front lines of America’s transportation challenges but often lack the resources to pay for critical improvements,” he said in a statement. “This measure would enable these local leaders to have a larger role in deciding which projects merit consideration. In doing so, leaders could implement the most targeted and cost-effective solutions to meet unique and urgent infrastructure needs.”

Three other senators — Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania), and Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi) — have also signed on as sponsors. The Senate bill has a companion in the House – HR 4726, which has been held up in committee.

David Goldberg, communications director for Transportation for America, a leading supporter of the measure, said he doesn’t expect the bill to be passed into law before the holiday recess. But support for the bill today, he said, could help shape the next transportation bill.

Transportation for America is asking supporters to email their senators and urge them to support the measure.

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Mayor Bill Peduto Wants to “Leapfrog” Your City on Bicycling and Livability

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto is putting the rest of the United States on notice. His city is on the rise, and he fully intends to keep it that way.

For the first time in over half a century, Pittsburgh is expecting an increase in residents as the number of people moving back to the city grows. Complete streets policies are high on Peduto’s agenda for managing this growth and making the city more attractive. Earlier this month, the ProWalk ProBike ProPlace conference took place in Pittsburgh, and the energy of the city was on full display. So was Peduto, who was very active at the event.

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Mayor Bill Peduto soaks up some rays at Park(ing) Day 2014. Photo: City of Pittsburgh

Peduto is now at the forefront of a new wave of American mayors who understand how reforming the design and function of urban streets is key to growing a city. When talking to him, it’s clear right off the bat that he’s well-versed in urbanism and the history of cities. Even so, he wants to learn more. This summer, he went on a study tour with The Green Lane Project to check out the best bike infrastructure Copenhagen has to offer.

Local advocates have high hopes for Peduto’s administration, which has already delivered some high-profile improvements. According to the latest stats, Pittsburgh has the 11th highest bike mode share in the country, and there is solid momentum to build on that. Pittsburgh recently implemented its first true protected bike lanes downtown, part of Peduto’s push to create a more multi-modal city.

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Will Florida DOT Pull Off a “Culture Change” and Make Streets Safer?

Holding the distinction of being the most dangerous state for biking and walking seems to have inspired a real reform effort in Florida.

Billy Hattaway, Florida DOT District 1 Secretary and bike and pedestrian coordinator, is responsible for reducing the state's horrible pedestrian fatality rate. Photo: BikeWalkLee

Billy Hattaway, Florida DOT District 1 secretary and bike and pedestrian coordinator, is responsible for reducing the state’s horrible pedestrian fatality rate. Photo: BikeWalkLee

Darla Letourneau at BikeWalkLee recently attended a talk by Bill Hattaway, the Florida DOT’s new statewide bike and pedestrian leader. Hattaway said a multi-pronged “culture change” is underway within the Florida Department of Transportation. As part of that effort, the state is pursuing seven reforms, Letourneau reports:

As we’ve learned from our experience in Lee County, a shift from “business as usual” requires modification to lots of policies and guidance documents.  The state is tackling this by undertaking the revision of many of their guidance and policy documents, as well as adding a bike/ped element to the statewide overall Long Range Transportation Plan and requiring bike/ped statewide plans. In a much anticipated move, FDOT has now approved a complete streets policy and implementation plan which will be incorporated into the various planning and policy manuals and guidelines.

Another tool in the toolbox is road diets, and Hattaway announced that FDOT will be issuing guidance to promote the use of road diets on the state system. He gave as an example the project underway on Robinson Rd. in Orlando which has only 1400 cars day. This state road is being converted to a road diet (from 4 lanes to 2 lanes plus a turn lane). Hattaway noted the national statistics that road diets result in a 30% reduction in crashes…

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Today’s Headlines

  • New Budget Threat for the U.S.: Climate Change (WaPo, ThinkProgress)
  • Environmental Study Released for All Aboard Florida; Miami Expects Retail Impact (WPTV, Biz Journal)
  • New Bills in L.A. Aim to Improve Cycling Network (LAT)
  • Rep. Titus Explores Restoring Vegas-California Amtrak (Review-Journal)
  • Should Cyclists and Drivers Share the Same Rules of the Road? (Vox)
  • Texas Citizens to Hear More About High-Speed Rail (Texas Trib)
  • A Conversation With Nashville’s New Transit Chief (Memphis Daily News)
  • GGW: Best Approach for Regulating Ride-share Is Transparency
  • Is Cincinnati a Good Biking City or Not? (Enquirer)
  • “Shared Space” Principle Guides Future Road Design (CNN)
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In Tenth Year of Park(ing) Day, Parklets Bloom on Six Continents

Cities on six continents are celebrating Park(ing) Day today, now in its tenth year of temporarily transforming curbside space for cars into public spaces for people. Some of the pop-up parks that caught our eye this Park(ing) Day include:

Providence pulled out all of the stops this year, with 32 parklets — and a pop-up protected bike lane down Broadway — gracing a city with fewer than 200,000 residents. The parklet sponsors include not just local design firms, retailers, and schools, but also the campaign of Jorge Elorza, the Democratic nominee for mayor in this November’s election. What’s more, Park(ing) Day will have lasting policy impacts in Providence. James P. Kennedy of Network blog Transport Providence points out that Elorza has endorsed making the bike lane permanent, and that both major-party candidates have endorsed a parking tax.

The construction process for Resurfaced. Photos by City Collective, via Broken Sidewalk.

One group in Louisville “drew some inspiration from Angie Schmitt’s work with Streetsblog looking at Parking Craters” and decided to tackle a vacant lot amidst the otherwise unbroken line of buildings along the city’s historic West Main Street. Today, City Collaborative will open ReSurfaced, a six-week plaza and beer garden, on a vacant lot where a skyscraper had been proposed. The plaza offers interactive computer games laser-projected onto adjacent walls, a portable makerspace, and even its own brewed-for-the-occasion Kentucky Common beer.

The NoMa neighborhood BID in Washington, D.C. offered $200 micro-grants to individuals or groups who set up parklets along 1st Street NE, the main street of the developing neighborhood (and already home to a curb-protected bike lane). The BID’s Ali Newman said that having “a network of parks means that so many more people can interact with and enjoy the public space,” and that having multiple groups programming the space “gets people outside and engages the neighborhood in a new way.” One organizer, Do Tank DC, set up an outdoor game room to celebrate the successful launch of its new card game, Cards Against Urbanity.

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WisDOT Falls Back on Old Data to Justify Double-Decker Urban Highway

Does this chart cry out for more roadway capacity to you? Image: U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group

Does this chart cry out for more roadway capacity to you? Image: U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group

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

Here’s the latest installment in our series profiling the various bad decisions that funnel so much money to infrastructure that does no good. Of course, at least one of these case studies was bound to be about Wisconsin…

In Milwaukee, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation has proposed expanding a segment of I-94 that runs east-west through the city. WisDOT wants to increase the capacity of I-94, widening the road in places and adding a second deck to the highway for a narrow stretch that is bounded by three cemeteries — at a cost of $800 million over and above just repairing the existing road.

Local officials have registered their opposition publicly, and have asked WisDOT to study alternatives, including those that would not expand the highway. Members of the community have advocated against the widening and in support of transit, bicycle and pedestrian projects — as well as repair of existing roads — instead. WisDOT projects that traffic will increase in the corridor, but traffic counts have been declining in recent years.

Other transportation modes could use significant investment. State funding for the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) budget has been slashed, leading to route restructuring, curtailment of service and fare increases, all of which have made MCTS buses less convenient and less useful. Research by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Economic Development found that at least 77,000 jobs in the Milwaukee metropolitan area became inaccessible by transit due to cuts in service since 2001. (Fully 43 percent of MCTS riders use its buses to get to work; 52 percent do not have a valid driver’s license and 23 percent choose to ride the bus despite the availability of a car.)

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What AASHTO’s “Top Projects” Tell Us About State DOT Leadership

If you can build a project fast and under budget, AASHTO will love it, no matter how little sense it makes. Photo: Citizens Transportation Commission

Who can build the biggest road slab the fastest? Those seem to be the major criteria used by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials to determine the “best” projects by state DOTs across the country.

In another sign that most state Departments of Transportation should still be called “highway departments,” there are no transit projects on AASHTO’s “top 10″ projects list this year. The closest thing to one is California’s Oakland-Bay Bridge, which was “built to accommodate future expansions in light rail, bus, and other modes of transportation.”

Many of the projects listed are bridge repairs (and emergency bridge repairs), which are important. But the list is also larded with highway expansions.

In Ohio, AASHTO showers praise on a $200 million project to bypass the town of Nelsonville, population 5,400. The project earned a nod for “reliev[ing] a major congestion problem” in rural southeast Ohio.

The most ludicrous selection is probably Segment E of Houston’s Grand Parkway. This is a $320 million portion of a proposed 185-mile third outerbelt for the city. Proponents of the project have openly admitted it is more about inducing sprawl than addressing any transportation problem. The Texas Department of Transportation, mired in financial woes, has allowed real estate interests in Houston to more or less dictate where money will be spent. Whether the state will be able to find the funds to complete the $5.4 billion loop is an open question.

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Norwegian Town Pays Cyclists and Pedestrians “Reverse Toll” Money

How’s this for bike- and pedestrian-friendly? A town in Norway is paying people to bike and walk.

Norway cyclists got a bonus for their good deed in the form of "reverse tolls." Photo: Wikipedia

Cyclists in Lillestrøm, Norway, got a bonus in the form of “reverse tolls.” Photo: Wikipedia

It only lasted for a week, but Eric Britton at World Streets says it’s a completely rational economic policy response:

As part of Norway’s ongoing European Mobility Week celebrations, around 10,000 NOK (€1,200) was handed out in the town of Lillestrøm to pedestrians and cyclists in “reverse toll money.” The money symbolised the health benefits of walking and cycling, including better fitness, improved air quality and more efficient transport.

Cyclists received around €12, while pedestrians gained €11. Calculations carried out by the Norwegian Directorate of Health shows that active transport provides the state with a saving of 52 NOK (€6) per kilometer for pedestrians and 26 NOK (€3) per kilometer for cyclists. An average bike trip in Norway is 4 kilometers, providing a health benefit of 100 NOK (€12), while an average walking trip is 1.7 km, worth almost 90 NOK (€11)

The only thing I have to say about this is: EXCELLENT!

This is not a light-weight, happy go lucky, feel-good idea. It is world class economics. Full cost pricing: All you have to do is run the numbers and you can see where it is best to spend the taxpayer money.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Rails-to-Trails explains how Florida’s Amendment 1 could be a watershed moment for protecting environmentally sensitive land and expanding trails in the Sunshine State. The Dallas Morning News’ Transportation Blog says Zipcar is moving into the Big D. And Urban Velo has an update on the woman whose “crime” was riding her bike on a Kentucky road — she was jailed this week.