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Dance Performance Celebrates Temporarily Car-Free Lombard Street

This week, cars once again took over SF’s crooked block of Lombard Street, following the last of a series of weekend trials that banned most cars from the street and opened it up to people instead. The Bay Area Flash Mob celebrated the last car-free day with a choreographed dance all the way down the winding road, set to the tune of Pharrell’s song “Happy.”

Deland Chan, one of the initiators of the dance, said the group wanted to “create a moment of joy” on the street that would become impossible once it’s re-opened to cars.

“Some of the tourists actually jumped in and started dancing. The street is a lot steeper than we thought it would be, so it was an intense workout,” said Chan, who lives four blocks away and is an urban studies lecturer at Stanford University. She recently held a workshop in Chinatown on “public spaces and how different communities play,” and previously worked as a senior planner at the Chinatown Community Development Center.

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Protected Bike Lanes Grow in CA as Cities Face Down Old Concerns

A protected bike lane in Long Beach, California. Photo: Allan Crawford

More and more California cities are looking to bring protected bike lanes to their streets, and a growing body of research showing the benefits they provide are giving city leaders a stronger case in the face of opposition to change.

The demand to make streets better for walking and biking is clear: local jurisdictions in California applied for more than $1 billion in funds from the state’s Active Transportation Program to build bike and pedestrian projects, triple the amount of funding available for the program.

Protected bike lanes, also known as protected bikeways or “cycletracks,” are lanes set aside for people on bikes, separated from motor traffic by physical barriers such as curbs, planters, or parked cars.

A bill currently in the California legislature, A.B, 1193, would remove some state-imposed barriers to building protected bike lanes by requiring Caltrans to establish design guidelines for them, which currently don’t exist. But even without Caltrans guidance, several cities are already building protected lanes, including Long Beach, San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, and even smaller cities like Alameda and Temple City.

To earn approval from Caltrans, some of these projects have been legally categorized as “experiments,” built with easily-removable materials. This has also given planners some leeway when faced with objections from people who fear the street design changes.

A year after Long Beach installed protected bike lanes on the one-way couplet of Broadway and Third Streets, the city published a study [PDF] that found numerous benefits from the project. Crash rates decreased for all street users, bicycling and walking increased, and vehicle traffic slowed down. There was no increase in congestion, even with the removal of a traffic lane.

These findings are in line with a recent landmark study of protected bike lanes around the country, which provided new statistics showing that wherever they are implemented, they make nearly everyone on bikes and on foot feel safer and increase bicycling. In San Francisco, protected bike lanes on Market and Fell streets contributed to big jumps in bicycling; cyclist counts were up 43 percent and 50 percent on those streets, respectively, in the year after the lanes went in.

But since protected bikeways often remove a traffic lane and/or parking, cities still meet resistance from residents and merchants who fear that removing parking will hurt businesses, and that removing a traffic lane will worsen car congestion.

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Study: People Living Near Biking and Walking Paths Get More Exercise

Walking and biking activity increased among people living near new bike/ped infrastructure in three UK communities. (Connect2 is the name of the nonprofit group that helped install the infrastructure. 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. 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

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

  • Car-Free Weekend Trials for Lombard Street Come to an End (KTVU)
  • Broadway in Chinatown to Get Final Phase of Streetscape Redesign This Fall (SF Examiner)
  • How Residents at the Treasure Island Development Will Be Discouraged From Driving (SFGate)
  • Planning Commission Discusses Proposal for an Embarcadero Protected Bikeway (SFBay)
  • …Streetsblog Founder Aaron Naparstek Also Weighs in With SF Examiner Reporter Jessica Kwong
  • Guess How Many More Disabled Parking Placards Than Parking Meters SF Has (SFGate)
  • Placard Abusers Complain About Prosecution; BART Board’s Fang Faces Challenger (SFGate – Scroll)
  • SFPD Officer Seen on Driver “Ticketing Frenzy” at California and 22nd Ave (Richmond SF)
  • Will SF’s Steep Hills Ever Get Norwegian-Style “Bike Elevators”? (SF Weekly)
  • Man Dumps U-Haul Truck Blocking Three Lanes on GG Bridge, Caught Fleeing on Bike (CBS)
  • Op-Ed: Bike Infrastructure Has Caused a “Sea Change” For Bike Commuting in Marin (Marin IJ)
  • Jury Deadlocked on Charges for San Mateo Driver Who Slammed Trash Can, Killing Man (SM Daily)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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SFMTA Says Van Ness BRT Can’t Have High Platforms for Level Boarding

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A rendering of Van Ness BRT. Image: SFMTA

The SFMTA says it’s impossible for stations on the coming Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit route to have one of the key recommended features of BRT: High platforms, at the same level as bus floors, that allow passengers to quickly step onto the bus. SFMTA planners say that complications with the design of Muni’s buses mean there’s no practical way to make high platforms work, at least without adding high costs associated with new equipment.

Platform-level boarding is on the list of “BRT Basics” included in the Insitute for Transportation and Development Policy’s BRT ”Scorecard”:

Having the bus-station platform level with the bus floor is one of the most important ways of reducing boarding and alighting times per passenger. Passengers climbing even relatively minor steps can mean significant delay, particularly for the elderly, disabled, or people with suitcases or strollers. The reduction or elimination of the vehicle-to-platform gap is also key to customer safety and comfort.

But according to an SFMTA report [PDF], a 14-inch high platform, matching the height of a Muni bus floor, “increases capital and operational costs, reduces operational reliability and passenger comfort, and provides no discernable benefit.” Instead, SFMTA planners recommend 6-inch high platforms, the same as those on Market Street.

High platforms would be scratched by the “wheel lugs” that stick out from the side of bus wheel wells, the report says. The American Disabilities Act apparently requires buses to stop with no more than a three-inch gap between the bus and platform. Otherwise, a “bridge plate” must be deployed from the side of the bus to the platform for wheelchair users. The wheel lugs apparently stick out five inches.

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Initiative to Stop Downtown Menlo Park Growth Lands on Ballot

Stanford University has proposed to build this residential building and a public plaza at El Camino Real and Middle Avenue. Image: Stanford University

On Tuesday evening, Menlo Park’s City Council reluctantly forwarded to the November 4 ballot an initiative that would reject two proposed developments that would replace largely-vacant auto dealerships with walkable offices, retail space, and apartments, and slow or stop future development along El Camino Real.

The proposed developments would boost transit ridership by bringing thousands more people within a ten-minute walk of the city’s downtown Caltrain station. They would improve the city’s pedestrian and bicycle networks with new, 15-foot wide sidewalks along the east side of El Camino, safer pedestrian crossings for El Camino, and a new ped/bike tunnel under the Caltrain tracks at Middle Avenue.

The anti-growth initiative, titled the “El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan Area Livable, Walking Community Development Standards Act”, was drafted by the volunteer group Save Menlo and qualified for the city-wide ballot by collecting nearly 2,400 voter signatures by mid-May, more than 1,780 signature requirement. 65 percent of the signature-gathering campaign’s $30,000 budget was donated by Atherton resident Gary Lauder, who serves on the neighboring town’s Transportation Committee and fears ”congestion, urban canyons, and related unintended consequences” from continued development in Atherton’s vicinity.

If approved, the initiative would make significant changes to the El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan that the city adopted in June 2012, which guides downtown Menlo Park’s development over the next 20 to 30 years. The plan envisions a mix of office, retail, hotel, housing, and open space, with a maximum of 680 units of residential and 474,000 square feet of non-residential development. The initiative would introduce additional caps on commercial development, including 100,000 square feet of office space per project and 240,820 square feet of office space in total. It would also require voter approval to override those caps.
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Contraflow Bike Lanes Finally Get Nod From U.S. Engineering Establishment

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 the 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.

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.

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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