Skip to content

Streetsblog USA No Comments

The Importance of Driving to the U.S. Economy Started Waning in the 70s

Americans drive much less per unit of economic output than we did a generation ago.

Earlier this year, following a slight uptick in U.S. traffic volumes, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a press release, “More people driving means our economy is picking up speed.” He’s not the only person to equate traffic with economic growth. Even former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg once said, “We like traffic, it means economic activity,” before his administration embraced ideas like congestion pricing, bus lanes, and protected bikeways.

In fact, the amount Americans drive is an increasingly poor reflection of the nation’s economic output. A forthcoming analysis from Michael Sivak at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (sorry, no link available yet) finds that by some measures, driving has been “decoupling” from U.S. economic growth for a generation.

Sivak looked at two measures of driving activity in relation to economic growth: mileage per unit of gross domestic product and fuel consumed per unit of GDP. On both of those metrics, when GDP is adjusted for inflation, the amount of driving relative to economic output peaked in the 1970s.

Distance driven relative to economic output was highest in 1977. After that, it more or less plateaued until the 1990s, when it began to decline sharply, Sivak reports. Today it stands at about where it did in the 1940s.

Read more…

Streetsblog USA No Comments

House Reps DeFazio, Norton, and Larsen Take on Dangerous Street Design

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) is already proving that he’ll put some muscle into the fight for bike and pedestrian safety in his new post as ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Before even starting his new job as ranking member on the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Peter DeFazio is going to bat for bike and pedestrian safety. Photo: Jonathan Maus/Bike Portland

DeFazio and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), top Democrat on the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, have signed on to fellow T&I Democrat Rick Larsen (D-WA)’s letter asking the Government Accountability Office to look into the recent rise in bike and pedestrian fatalities, which increased 6 percent between 2011 and 2012.

At the state and federal level, efforts to improve the safety of walking and biking often blame the victim — as the Governors Highway Safety Association did when it flagged the recent increase in cyclist fatalities without noting that biking rates have gone up much more. DeFazio and company are emphasizing a much more fundamental problem: street design.

In their letter, they state:

[W]e are concerned that conventional engineering practices have encouraged engineers to design roads at 5-15 miles per hour faster than the posted speed for the street. This typically means roads are designed and built with wider, straighter lanes and have fewer objects near the edges, more turn lanes, and wider turning radii at intersections. While these practices improve driving safety, a suspected unintended consequence is that drivers travel faster when they feel safer. Greater speeds can increase the frequency and severity of crashes with pedestrians and cyclists who are moving at much slower speeds and have much less protection than a motorized vehicle affords.

The GAO responds to lawmaker requests like these by investigating the matter and reporting back to help members of Congress develop a deeper understanding of the issues so they can set better policy. The GAO itself makes recommendations for improvement in the reports.

Read more…

Streetsblog.net No Comments

Cities Won’t Turn Out the Way Highway Builders Predict

What if the driving slump continues apace forever, asks Patrick Kennedy. Image: Street Smarts

The highway lobby in Dallas keeps beating the same drum: They talk about projected population growth and predict that highways will become a massive logjam. So they argue Dallas should be building, building, building new highways for these future drivers at a furious pace.

But Patrick Kennedy at Street Smart notes that if you look at more recent trends, they actually make the case for fewer highways. Ultimately, he says, basing complex decisions on simplistic trend line projections is just a bad way to plan for the future:

Let’s play a game then, if we’re following trend lines continually up and to the right. How much will DFW residents be driving in 2035 based on current trends? Well, according to Texas Transportation Institute, DFW averaged 13.26 miles driven per person per day in 2006. That number has since fallen to 11.90. Wha?! How could that be? All of our driving models show VMT going up (and therefore we base transportation funding and policy on said models). They couldn’t possibly be wrong. What is wrong is people. Who change and adapt and live and do things differently based on their time and circumstances which also change, unlike our models, which are exquisite and perfect and say we need moar damn highways.

If we’re dropping VMT per capita by 32% every 5 years certainly that trend line will continue for ever and ever. If it keeps dropping by 32% every 5 years, the average DFW resident will be driving 1.37 miles per day, about half as much as the average current New York City metro resident. Sounds ridiculous right?

Read more…

No Comments

Today’s Headlines

  • Supes Approve Muni’s Purchase of 61 Long, Low-Floor Hybrid Buses (SFBay)
  • More on the “Early” Improvements Planned for Geary BRT (SFBay)
  • A Breakdown of the Possibilities Studied for a Central Subway Extension to Fisherman’s Wharf (SPUR)
  • Photos of Construction Progress on the Transbay Transit Center (Curbed SF)
  • BART Oakland Airport Connector Was Shut Down by Plastic on Tracks, Blown Circuit Breaker (SFGate)
  • Bay Bridge “Bay Lights” to Become a Permanent Fixture After Funding is Raised (SFGate)
  • Oversight Panel Says Bay Bridge Bolts Are Safe to Stay, With Inspection and Maintenance (SFGate)
  • People Behaving Badly: Drunk Driver in Rain on Bay Bridge Cuts Off CHP Officer
  • Caltrain Raises One-Way Fares by $.25, Day Passes $.50 (ABC); More on the Crash in Atherton (PAO)
  • Pleasanton Named a Bronze-Level “Bicycle-Friendly Community” (Mercury News)
  • SMART Looks to Fund Extension,  Bike/Ped Path From Larkspur to Cloverdale (Marin IJ)
  • Daly City Police Still Looking for Driver Who Killed 77-Year-Old Man in Crosswalk on Skyline (KTVU)
  • SideCar Lets Riders Choose Drivers’ Sex (CBS); Uber Says it Will Focus on Safe Drivers (BizABC)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

11 Comments

How SFPD Caught One of the Violent Panhandle Bike Thieves

This post supported by

Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SFPD says it has arrested one of the bike thieves who assaulted six people biking on the Panhandle in October and stole their bikes. Lieutenant Jason Sawyer of SFPD Park Station’s Investigations Unit said police “have no doubt” that the juvenile male was one of the assailants who threw bottles at bike commuters and jammed sticks into their spokes late at night.

Sawyer said police caught the suspect by setting up a sting after one of the victims saw their bike on sale on Craigslist. The victim contacted police, who initiated a faux sale to arrest him. Typically, bike thieves sell the bikes to a third party first, he said.

“He was not the smartest crook,” said Sawyer. “He basically committed the crime, and was right there selling the bike as well.”

Police must still prove that the suspect was directly involved with the attacks, but they “have no doubt,” Sawyer said. “As soon as he knew we were looking at him, all these robberies stopped. There were a rash of them within a few days — all very violent. Nothing since.”

In a blog post, the SF Bicycle Coalition gave “many thanks to the SFPD for responding swiftly to our calls, and for following through on the investigation.”

“Biking on the Panhandle needs to remain safe and comfortable, serving as a busy and important connector for people biking between the Eastern and Western neighborhoods of our city,” the SFBC wrote.

Sawyer said police can’t release many details on the ongoing investigation, or information about the suspect, because he’s a juvenile. He has been charged with possession of stolen property in the juvenile court system, but charges for the robberies haven’t been brought yet since the victims haven’t been able to identify their assailants. “It was dark and they were very terrified,” he said.

“We know he did it; he knows that we know he did it,” said Sawyer.

10 Comments

Caltrain Struggles to Meet Bike Parking Demand at 4th and King Station

CalTrain’s Bike Hub facility will soon give commuters a choice between valet or self parking. Photo: Yelp.

The Caltrain Bike Station parking facility outside its terminal at Fourth and King streets is set to be remodeled and slightly expanded to accommodate the growing number of Peninsula train commuters who are arriving by bike. But demand from bike-to-Caltrain commuters may continue to overwhelm the small, staffed bike station.

Paltry funding over the years proved insufficient for Warm Planet Bikes, the original parking station operator, even after Caltrain approved an additional $50,000 in 2012. Warm Planet operated the space as both a bike shop and parking station from 2008 until last year, but parked bikes blocked merchandise and cut into their revenue.

Within the first six months, the facility was already over its capacity. “When we opened the facility, we knew that the space was smaller than the original project required,” said Kash, the owner and president of Warm Planet Bikes, now operating as a full-time bike shop on mid-Market Street.

In 2013, Caltrain selected BikeHub through a competitive bid for a 3-year, $245,000 contract to operate the space. Despite a doubling of capacity to 200 spots, demand has not let up. Josh Carroll, who manages the bike station, says he has squeezed in up to 250 bikes on the busiest days.

Caltrain now intends to remodel the bike station to accommodate more overflow bike parking, said Caltrain spokesperson Christine Dunn. The remodeled facility will offer a combination of valet and self parking for Caltrain commuters, allowing riders to park their own bikes while the station is unstaffed, whether early in the morning or late at night.

Read more…

Streetsblog USA No Comments

Vote to Decide the Best Urban Street Transformation of 2014

streetsie_2014

If you’re searching for reasons to feel positive about the future, the street transformations pictured below are a good start. Earlier this month we asked readers to send in their nominations for the best American street redesigns of 2014. These five are the finalists selected by Streetsblog staff. They include new car-free zones, substantial sidewalk expansions, superb bike infrastructure, awesome safety upgrades, and exclusive transit lanes.

Which deserves the distinction of being named the “Best Urban Street Transformation of 2014″? We’re starting the voting today and will post a reminder when we run the rest of the Streetsblog USA Streetsie Award polls next Tuesday. Without further ado, here are the contenders:

Western Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Before

Before

After. (We're using a rendering because the project is not quite yet 100% complete.)

After. (We’re using a rendering because the project is not quite 100 percent complete.)

The Western Avenue road diet narrowed dangerously wide traffic lanes on this one-way street to make room for safer pedestrian crossings, a raised bike lane, and bus bulbs. Brian DeChambeau of the Cambridge Community Development Department, the lead agency on the project, adds these details about the redesign:

Read more…

Streetsblog.net No Comments

Using a Construction Project to Predict the Effect of a Road Diet

Portland’s dangerous Barbur Boulevard got a temporary road diet during a recent paving project, and speeding dropped dramatically. Photo: Bike Portland

Barbur Boulevard in Portland is one of the city’s most deadly streets, and advocates there have pushed for a road diet that would slow traffic and provide comfortable space for biking and walking. But the state DOT has refused to change the road, in large part due to objections from the local chamber of commerce.

But in an interesting natural experiment, a recent construction project on Barbur Boulevard took a lane out of commission. Michael Andersen at Bike Portland reports that the data from the construction period in many ways confirms what street safety advocates have said all along:

Converting one northbound traffic lane on 1.9 miles of SW Barbur Boulevard to two protected bike lanes with sidewalks would apparently prevent unsafe weaving during off-peak hours without massive impacts to morning traffic.

That’s one conclusion from data released Friday that analyzed changes to people’s driving habits during construction work on Barbur this summer. A repaving project had temporarily closed one traffic lane in each direction.

Read more…

1 Comment

Today’s Headlines

  • Supervisors Approve the “LightRail” Art Installation to Light Up Market Street (SFistCurbedKTVU)
  • SFMTA Has Folded Up 1,434 Seats on Muni Buses Due to Awareness of Injury Liability (SF Examiner)
  • More on the Juvenile Arrested in Connection With Panhandle Bike Theft Attacks (CBS, Hoodline)
  • Bay Area Writer Shows How to Haul a Christmas Tree By Bike (CityLab)
  • Motorcyclist Fleeing CHP Crashes, Dies on Bay Bridge Treasure Island Onramp (SF Examiner)
  • New “Midnight Express” Service Shuttles Late-Nighters From SF to South Bay (Mission Local)
  • Caltrain in Atherton Crashes Into Car, Another in San Jose, 25 Minutes Apart (CBS)
  • Woodside Town Council Rejects Crosswalk for Kids Walking to School (Almanac)
  • Video Shows Man Biking Down Hill, Hitting Deer That Jumped On to Road Near Sausalito (CBS)
  • Marin County Bans Large Tour Buses on Some Residential Streets in Tamalpais Valley (Marin IJ)
  • Berkeley Asks Whether Development’s Public Space is “Significant Community Benefit” (Inside Bay Area)
  • Central Valley Agricultural Workers Hope to Get Jobs in CAHSR Construction, With Training (KQED)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

3 Comments

SFMTA’s Tom Maguire Promises Reforms to Streamline Safe Street Fixes

Tom Maguire, the SFMTA’s new Sustainable Streets Director, said he’s working on reforms that will fast-track implementation of numerous street safety fixes that will help SF accomplish Vision Zero.

Tom Maguire. Photo: SFGovTV

Maguire, who started at the SFMTA two months ago after serving in an executive role in New York City’s Department of Transportation, told the supervisors’ Vision Zero Committee last week that he’s taking on the 10 “primary challenges” [PDF] that delay small infrastructure projects. The primary challenges were identified in last year’s SF 2040 Transportation Plan.

Street safety advocates have long pushed for the SFMTA, and other agencies, to cut the red tape and lack of coordination that result in the painstakingly slow roll-out of pedestrian and bike safety measures.

“I certainly walked into a situation here where project delivery was the primary challenge,” Maguire told the committee. As a veteran of NYC DOT, where safety projects seemingly appeared overnight under former DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, Maguire is expected to both bring a fresh perspective and improve the SFMTA’s tempo.

While SFMTA officials haven’t set specific targets that would measure progress on bureaucratic reforms, their current goal is to implement safety fixes on at least 13 miles in each of next two years. Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider pointed out that that falls well short of the 18 mile goal (targeted to “high-injury” streets) requested by the Vision Zero Coalition of advocates at a recent rally. However, it does best the SF Pedestrian Strategy adopted last year, which calls for fixes on five high-injury miles per year.

Tim Papandreou, SFMTA’s director of strategic planning and policy, said a goal of 13 miles annually — not necessarily along high-injury corridors — seems to be a realistic expectation. ”At least there’s one bar that we can cross, and say ‘we did that,’ ” said Papandreou. “Anything above that would be great.”

Read more…