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Is Austin’s Central Corridor a Smart Transit Bet?

This November, Austinites will be asked to vote for a $600 million bond issue to bring a new rail line to the Texas capital. Unfortunately, a lot of local urbanists aren’t that enamored with the $1.4 billion Central Corridor plan.

This map shows the relatively low density development surrounding Austin's proposed $1.4 billion Central Corridor rail. Image: Carfree Austin

Development surrounding Austin’s proposed $1.4 billion Central Corridor rail line tends to be relatively low-density. Map: Carfree Austin

Network blog Carfree Austin has been taking a hard look at the proposal in a four-part series (1, 2, 3 and 4). The gist is that the route would run through a lot of very suburban areas that aren’t well-suited for rail service, and where denser development will be tough to build in the future.

Here’s Carfree Austin on the pros and cons of the southern leg of the corridor, for example:

What it’s got going for it: There are plenty of apartment buildings. The new ones being built are denser than those they are replacing. Current residents ride transit more than average Austinites.

What it’s got against it: Existing single family neighborhoods are a substantial part of the station areas. They will likely fight against density, constraining transit oriented development to only certain areas. The Grove Dr. station is basically in an open field. (Austin’s first rural rail station will presumably feature the train yard where vehicles will be stored and serviced.) Other station areas have patchy development with large open lots in between. Existing apartment complexes are sparse and surrounded by seas of parking. Dense development can still be car dependent, and the existing density is decidedly not transit-oriented.

The conclusion? There are smarter ways to spend $1.4 billion to make Austin a less car-dependent, more walkable city:

No route in Austin is going to be perfect or even close to perfect. The city has been damaged by decades of near car-dependence, and that will take time to heal. However, there are opportunity costs for every dollar spent. If our goal is to get people out of their cars and getting around via more sustainable and healthy modes, could we spend $1.4 billion more effectively? Maybe completing Austin’s dismal sidewalks would get more people walking and allow them to better access existing transit. It would certainly spread the benefits of such a mammoth investment more evenly. Maybe more frequent bus service with additional dedicated lanes could accomplish more for less. There is a saying about putting all your eggs in one basket. Without support from the state government, and with limited federal funds to go around there just aren’t that many eggs. Prop. 1 indeed asks Austin voters to put all of our transit eggs in the central corridor basket. This line is not good enough for that kind of high stakes bet.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Forward Lookout says a proposed constitutional amendment to “protect” Wisconsin’s transportation funds is unnecessary, given how general taxpayer dollars have subsidized roads recently. Notes for the Underground issues an admirable manifesto on how a regional planning agency should operate. And Delaware Bikes reports that a driver who killed a young cyclist and then fled the scene may escape jail time entirely even if convicted of criminally negligent homicide.

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Brown Vetoes Road User Safety Laws Including Hit-and-Run, Vulnerable User

Jose Vasquez leaves a candle at the ghost bike memorial for Andy Garcia, killed in a vicious hit-and-run last year.  Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Jose Vasquez leaves a candle at the ghost bike memorial for Andy Garcia, killed in a vicious hit-and-run last year. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

In the last hours before the deadline for signing legislation from this year’s legislative session, California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a batch of bills that could have improved safety for bicyclists, pedestrians, and other road users.

Included in the list of today’s vetoes are three bills addressing the problem of hit-and-run crimes. Two of them would have increased penalties for convictions, and one would have made it easier to catch hit-and-run perpetrators. This brings to a total of four bills on the issue that passed both houses of the legislature with very few no votes—some unanimously—only to end up on the governor’s chopping block.

The governor’s general objection to creating new crime categories and increasing penalties was his excuse for declining these bills.

For similar reasons, Brown also vetoed Assemblymember Mark Levine’s “vulnerable user” bill that would have defined bicyclists and pedestrians, and a few other groups, as a special category of road users, and raised fines for conviction of violations that result in injury to them.

Another bill vetoed today was one that would have assessed a violation point against a driver’s record if convicted of using a cell phone or texting while driving. A second provision of the bill, requiring the Department of Motor Vehicles to include at least one question on the driver’s license exam addressing the dangers of distracted driving, may happen anyway. Brown, in his veto message [PDF], writes that he has directed the DMV to add such a question.

Here’s a full list of bills that would have made the roads safer that were axed by the Governor:

  • Assembly Bill 2337, from Assemblymember Eric Linder (R-Corona), which would have increased the automatic driver’s license suspension for a hit-and-run conviction from one to two years. Governor Brown vetoed this bill last week, writing that he thought current penalties seemed appropriate—thus hinting that he would be likely to veto the others as well.
  • A.B. 1532, from Assemblymember Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), which would have required an automatic six-month license suspension for anyone convicted of a hit-and-run collision in which a person was hit, whether that person was injured or not. Assemblymember Gatto’s intent was to enforce the notion that people must stop when they are involved in a crash, no matter what. The governor disagreed, citing his usual reluctance to create new categories of crime and stiffen penalties. “I don’t find sufficient justification for creating a new crime when no injury to person or property occurred. I think the current law is adequate,” says his veto message [PDF].
  • A.B. 47, also from Gatto, which would have created a new “Yellow Alert” system, similar to the existing Amber Alert that broadcasts information about child abductions quickly throughout the state. The Yellow Alert would have broadcast descriptions of vehicles suspected of being involved in hit-and-run crimes using freeway changeable message signs and other outlets to help law enforcement apprehend criminals who leave the scene of a collision. Governor Brown refused to sign this bill because of another bill, which he did sign, that adds developmentally disabled people to the groups for which the Amber Alert system can be used. “This expansion should be tested before adding more categories of individuals that could overload the system,” he wrote [PDF]. It’s doubtful that the families and friends of hit-and-run victims would agree that this wait-and-see approach is sensible.
  • A.B. 2673, from Assemblymember Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), which would have removed the possibility of a civil compromise in the case of a hit-and-run conviction. Assemblymember Bradford wanted to remove this loophole that allows people with expensive lawyers to get off the hook for criminal prosecution if they make up with the injured party. Governor Brown’s concern, according to his veto message [PDF], is the backlog of court cases in the state, with this law removing a “means for parties to settle their disputes outside the criminal court system.”
  • A.B. 2398, from Mark Levine (D-San Rafael), which would have raised fines for violations when certain “vulnerable road users,” including bicyclists and pedestrians, were injured as a result of the violation. Brown’s veto message reads: “I think the current laws are sufficient.” [PDF]
  • A.B. 1646, from Assemblymember Jim Frazier (D-Oakley), which would have added a point to a driver’s record for using a cell phone or texting while driving. The governor, yet again, disagreed that the bill was necessary to curb cell phone use and texting while driving [PDF]. He would rather wait until the DMV finishes an analysis of its data on distracted driving than enact this safety measure.

Email tips, alerts, press releases, ideas, etc. about transportation in California to melanie@streetsblog.org.
For social media coverage focused on state-wide issues, follow Melanie @currymel on Twitter or like our Facebook page here.

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Today’s Headlines

  • 2 Muni Crashes Injure 5: #44, Tour Bus Collide in GG Park; Driver Cuts Off T-Third in Bayview (KTVU)
  • SFBG: Mega-Lobbyist Willie Brown Doesn’t Need Chron Column
  • SFPD Writing 62% More Citations This Year, as Part of Vision Zero Safety Efforts (CBS)
  • New Paint Jobs: Red Bus Lane on Haight Near Market (Hoodline); Rainbow Crosswalks on Castro (SFist)
  • More on BART’s Late-Night Bus Pilot (CBS, NBC)
  • Bernal Heights Resident: Revive Bus Service on Cesar Chavez to Caltrain (Bernalwood)
  • Non-Profit That Turned Muni Bus Into Mobile Shower for Homeless Needs a Second Bus (IndieGoGo)
  • (Illegal) Uber and Lyft Carpool Apps Increasingly Popular (Biz Times)
  • Caltrans Says Moist Bay Bridge Bolts Are Just Fine (CBSKTVU, SFGate)
  • Caltrain and CHSR Agree to Coordinate on Level Boarding at Stations (Green Caltrain)
  • Family of Girl Killed in Bike Crash Settles Lawsuits Against Driver, Novato (KTVU)
  • People Behaving Badly: Motorcycle Sideshows Block Traffic in Oakland

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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The (Not-So) Odd Reasons Why SFPD Parks Cars All Around Park Station

This path outside SFPD’s Park Station is blocked by an SUV — for an unusual reason. Photo: Aaron Bialick

A few years ago, SFPD’s Park Station in Golden Gate Park started storing police trucks and vans on a short section of pathway adjacent to the station’s fence. I first noticed this while biking on Kezar Drive several years ago, and since then I’ve never seen the path without a police vehicle and/or barricade in the way. The section is at a fork between a pedestrian-only path and a shared ped/bike path, so people can still walk around the barricade to take the fork.

The explanation for the SUV storage, however, was unusual — stay with me and we’ll get to it below.

Around the same time, I also noticed stencils on the clear part of the bike/ped path, warning pedestrians and bicyclists to watch out for drivers entering and exiting the station — putting the onus on the vulnerable users going straight through, rather than the trained police officers making a turn. This absurdity wasn’t too surprising, given former Park Station Captain Greg Corrales’ reputed low regard for people on bikes. He was known, for instance, to order his limited enforcement staff to conduct stings of bike commuters rolling stop signs on the Wiggle. The “watch out” stencils on the path have mostly worn off by now.

But there’s another, more blatantly egregious use of park land nearby. Private automobiles, apparently owned by police officers, have long been parked on a patch of dirt (would-be grass), next to the footpath outside the station. Police cruisers also routinely drive down the path to get to the Stanyan and Waller Street intersection — circumventing the closure of Waller Street to all other motor vehicles years ago, when it was disconnected from Kezar inside the park.

Officers’ private cars are stored on park land. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Read more…

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Governor Vetoes One of Four Hit-and-Run Bills; Deadline for Others: Today

hit and run

Glendale Police released a video showing a woman being struck by a car in a hit-and-run last week.

Governor Jerry Brown vetoed one of four hit-and-run bills passed by the California Senate and Assembly. A.B. 2337, by Assemblymember Eric Linder (R-Corona), would have increased the automatic driver’s license suspension for a hit-and-run conviction from one to two years.

Despite near unanimous support in both houses of the legislature, Brown vetoed the bill on Thursday, writing in his veto message [PDF], “While I consider hit-and-run collisions to be very significant events, current penalties seem to be at appropriate levels.”

A.B. 2337 was one of four bills addressing the issue of hit-and-run crimes that the legislature passed this year; the other three have neither been signed nor vetoed as of this morning. Today is the deadline for the governor to sign bills from the current session.

Assemblymember Linder’s bill “would’ve given some real teeth to current hit-and-run penalties,” wrote Damian Kevitt in response to the veto. Kevitt was seriously injured in 2013 in a hit-and-run collision. Since his crash he has been actively involved in campaigning for better laws and better enforcement of hit-and-runs through his organization, Finish the Ride–which was originally named after his personal goal of completing the ride he started on the day he was hit.

The driver of the car that dragged him on the freeway, broke multiple bones, and caused him to loose a leg has never been caught.

“The current penalties for hit and runs are scaled based on severity of injury of the hit, not the fact of having made a conscious decision to run from the scene in the first place. This makes about as much sense as penalizing someone for DUI based on their blood alcohol level instead of for … having made that moral choice to recklessly drive drunk in the first place,” wrote Kevitt.

Drivers involved in hit and runs often act out of fear of being prosecuted not just for the collision but also for something else, such as driving without a license or driving under the influence. Kevitt points out that, “if they’re ever caught, usually the penalties … are mitigated to save legal time and money, meaning perpetrators can in some cases get off with only a fine and no felony record — not exactly what I would call proper justice.”

“I’d like to give Governor Brown the benefit of the doubt and hope that [his staff has] severely underplayed the epidemic of hit and runs occurring throughout the state,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, Kevitt’s organization, Finish the Ride, is working with the California Bicycle Coalition, LACBC, and “other like-minded organizations,” to “galvanize a maelstrom of well-informed citizens” to convince the governor to sign the other hit-and-run bills on his desk:

  • A.B. 1532, from Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles): would require an automatic six-month license suspension for anyone convicted of a hit-and-run collision in which a person was hit, whether that person is injured or not.
  • A.B. 47, also from Gatto: would allow law enforcement authorities to use existing alert systems to broadcast information about vehicles suspected of being involved in a hit-and-run collision, to help catch perpetrators.
  • A.B. 2673, from Assemblymember Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), would remove the possibility of a civil compromise in the case of a hit-and-run conviction.

Email tips, alerts, press releases, ideas, etc. about California transportation to melanie@streetsblog.org.

For social media coverage focused on statewide issues, follow Melanie @currymel on Twitter or like our Facebook page here.

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Mapping Accessibility: What Can You Get to in 20 Minutes?

The map on the left shows the number of destinations available in the Minneapolis region in 20 minutes by car. The map on the right shows the same data but by 20-minute transit trip. Image: Streets.mn

The map on the left shows the density of destinations accessible in the Minneapolis region in a 20-minute car trip. The redder the map, the more stuff you can reach. The map on the right shows what’s accessible in a 20-minute transit trip. Maps: Streets.mn

In the U.S., one metric dominates the public discussion about transportation: traffic congestion. Rankings are published every year assessing how clogged the streets are in different cities, and transportation agencies devote a great deal of resources trying to reduce congestion.

The outcome of all this effort, however, doesn’t even help people get places. In metro areas like St. Louis, for example, average commute times have increased as congestion has fallen. That’s because all the infrastructure devoted to relieving congestion also encouraged people to live farther from work. So now people drive longer, faster — not much of a win no matter how you slice it.

David Levinson, a professor at the University of Minnesota, has developed a different metric — a way to assess “accessibility,” or the ease of reaching destinations.

Andrew Owen, a graduate researcher at UMN, writes at Streets.mn about efforts to formalize the concept so it can be used by local transportation agencies:

The goal of the “Annual Accessibility Measure” project was to develop a method that MnDOT could use on an annual basis to measure accessibility in the Twin Cities. The idea is that it would be a useful performance metric to measure over time. If, in 2013, MnDOT is able to say that more people in the Twin Cities are able to reach more valuable destinations more easily than in 2012, that would be a pretty clear sign that our transportation system is serving us well.

As part of the project, Owen developed the above maps. He explains:

The map [above] shows the number of jobs reachable within 20 minutes of travel by car. People who live in red areas can drive to over a million job locations in 20 minutes, while people in blue or green areas can reach only a fraction of that. This is measured during the AM peak period (7:00 – 9:00), and it accounts for average speeds on roads and highways during that period.

Taking a look at accessibility to jobs by transit, we see a strikingly different picture.

At any given location in the Twin Cities, the transit network provides only a very small fraction of the jobs accessibility that can be achieved by driving. Due to the lower speeds of transit compared to driving, accessibility by transit is less continuous across the region, forming distinct clusters around major job centers. When speeds are low, proximity becomes a more important determinant of accessibility.

It will be interesting to see how accessibility changes for drivers and transit riders in the Twin Cities over time.

Elsewhere on the Network today: West North looks at how the protests in Hong Kong have gravitated to city streets. Strong Towns challenges readers to walk to the grocery store and document obstacles they encounter along the way. And the State Smart Transportation Initiative wonders whether a downturn in carpooling is linked to growth in commuting without a car.

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Today’s Headlines

  • 18-Year-Old Man on Bike Struck by Hit-and-Run Driver at Embarcadero and Harrison (SF Examiner)
  • SFMTA Plans Pedestrian Safety Improvements at Sacramento and Stockton (KTVU)
  • BART to Test Expanded Late-Night Bus Service (SFGate)
  • Federal Grant to SFMTA Will Pay for Longer, Articulated Buses (SFGate)
  • D.A. Gascón Concerned Over “Ride-Share” Safety (Examiner); Uber CEO Won’t Wait for Regulators (NBC)
  • Google Bus Drivers Work Long Hours for Low Pay (SFGate)
  • Castro Street Getting Rainbow Crosswalks This Week (Hoodline)
  • Oakland City Councilman Wants Sideshow Crackdown After Weekend Crash (KTVU)
  • Joseph and Anna Stivala Identified as Couple Killed in San Mateo SamTrans Collision (Daily Journal)
  • Drunk Driver Crashes into Family’s Backyard in Concord (KTVU)
  • Millbrae BART Housing Moves Forward with Environmental Impact Report (Daily Journal)
  • More Bike Riders Counted Along San Jose’s Trails (Cyclelicious)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Students Suggest Ways to Get Peers Biking to SF State University

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SF State University’s Bike Barn can park up to 200 bikes. However, its out-of-the-way location and poor maintenance make it both impractical for many students. Photo: Amanda Peterson / GG Xpress

Northern California is home to the two most bicycle-friendly universities in the entire country, according to the League of American Bicyclists — and yet a mere 9.5 percent of students pedal to San Francisco State University, the Bay Area’s second largest campus. The university’s new Bicycle Geographies class sought to understand why so few students cycle to school, and published a report in May detailing the students’ findings and recommendations.

“The intent was to use the campus as a living laboratory,” said professor Jason Henderson, author of Street Fight, who created the class so that students could help address the problem of access to the ever-growing university.

As part of an agreement with city agencies, SFSU is required to take measurable steps to minimize the transportation impacts of the growing student population, mainly by reducing drive-alone commutes. The Transportation Demand Management Plan of 2009 [PDF] showed that 33 percent of students drove alone at some point in their journey to campus — more than the 27 percent of commuters citywide who drive.

Students began by collecting information on what barriers prevent students and faculty from biking to school. A survey conducted by the students found that, while 48 percent of respondents owned a bicycle, only 9.5 percent use their bike to get to campus. That’s even though many survey respondents live less than three miles away.

Bicycle Geographies students ride alongside transportation professionals on a field study. Photo: Bicycle Geographies.

“Bicycle Geographies” students ride alongside transportation professionals as part of a field study.

About 60 percent of respondents said they came by transit: Students pack Muni’s M-Ocean View and 28-19th Avenue lines despite their unreliability. The SF County Transportation Authority has studied speeding up the M by moving the light-rail line underneath busy 19th Avenue, and the SFMTA plans to speed up the 28 with transit bulb-outs and consolidated stops. But transit improvements may not suffice to seriously reduce driving to SF State.

“There’s got to be another way,” said Henderson. “Bike infrastructure is a practical and relatively inexpensive way to mitigate traffic impacts from [student population] expansion,” said Henderson. But if millennials are so much more keen on biking than their parentswhat keeps these 20-somethings from pedaling?
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Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct: King of the Highway Boondoggles

The Alaskan Way Viaduct, damaged decades ago, will be rebuilt as a double-decker highway, even though a transit-heavy alternative would have been at least as effective at reducing congestion. Photo: Rootology/##http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alaskan_Way_Viaduct#mediaviewer/File:The_Alaskan_Way_Viaduct.jpg##Wikimedia##

The Alaskan Way Viaduct, damaged decades ago, will be rebuilt as a double-decker highway, even though a transit-heavy alternative would have been at least as effective at reducing congestion. Photo: Rootology/Wikimedia

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. 

Seattle’s aging Alaskan Way Viaduct is a crumbling and seismically vulnerable elevated highway along the city’s downtown waterfront. After an earthquake damaged the structure in 2001, state engineers decided that the highway needed to come down, but the question of how (and whether) to replace it sparked nearly a decade of heated debate. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) rejected calls to replace the viaduct with a combination of surface street and transit improvements, choosing instead an option that would result in more capacity: boring a mammoth tunnel underneath the city’s urban core. At 57 feet in diameter, it would be the widest bored tunnel ever attempted, with the full project carrying an estimated cost of at least $3.1 billion and perhaps as much as $4.1 billion.

Digging a double-decker tunnel was always the riskiest option for replacing the viaduct. The tunnel carried a high risk of going over even its exorbitant budget. In 2010, WSDOT acknowledged a 40 percent chance of a cost overrun, with a 5 percent risk that overruns could top $415 million.

With Bertha trapped underground, cost overruns could go into Big Dig territory. Image: U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group

With Bertha trapped underground, cost overruns could go into Big Dig territory. Image: U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group

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Livable Streets Events

This Week: Safer Market Street

Tuesday is packed with important meetings about making biking and walking safer and more convenient. The first Safer Market Street meeting will preview Vision Zero improvements to SF’s premier street. Across town, long-awaited preferred designs for the Marina Path will be unveiled.

Here are this week’s highlights from the Streetsblog calendar:

  • Tuesday: SFMTA staff needs public input at the first community meeting about proposed turn restrictions on Market Street (part of a broader set of Vision Zero safety improvements), as well as new loading zones and wayfinding signage along the corridor. 6 p.m.
  • Also Tuesday: Give feedback on the preferred design for the Marina Path at the long-delayed Final Bay Trail Community Meeting. This bicycle and pedestrian path past the Marina should be designed to prioritize the 98 percent of users who walk and bike along it, rather than the two percent driving or parking. 6 p.m.
  • Even more on Tuesday: Join the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition and Stanford Healthcare for the Silicon Valley Bike Summit, a forum to discuss how local government, police, and advocates can cooperate to make streets safer and more inviting for people on bikes. 10 a.m.

Keep an eye on the calendar for updated listings. Got an event we should know about? Drop us a line.