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What If “Commuter Rail” Was for Everyone, Not Just 9-to-5 Commuters?

Rhode Island has been investing in commuter rail — long distance service connecting Providence to Boston and towns in between. But lackluster ridership at a new park-and-ride rail station at the end of the line (by a Walmart!) is sapping support for much more useful investments, reports Sandy Johnston at Itinerant Urbanist.

This is the area that will be served by Pawtucket-Providence commuter rail. Photo: Google Maps via Sandy Johnson

The area that would be served by the Pawtucket-Central Falls rail station is one of the most walkable parts of Rhode Island. Photo: Google Maps via Sandy Johnson

Anti-rail critics are piling on. The libertarian Rhode Island Center for Freedom has come out against an infill station at the much more walkable Pawtucket/Central Falls border, for instance, on the basis that spending on the commuter rail service relegates Rhode Island to being a suburb of Boston.

Johnston doesn’t agree with that take, but he says it “unintentionally touches on a serious critique of the ‘commuter rail’ mode: it serves one kind of trip, and one kind of trip only.” And that critique can lead to a better kind of rail service:

When the Providence Foundation studied intrastate commuter rail from Woonsocket to Providence in 2009, the project team met with planners along the route to gauge interest in the potential new service. All showed interest, except for the town planner in Lincoln, where a station was proposed in the hamlet of Manville. The reasons given were fascinating, and a little bit sad:

The proposed Manville site is located near a low-income neighborhood, where residents could typically be expected to benefit from additional transit services. However, commuter rail — with its peak-oriented services — may not be a good fit for these residents who tend to work at jobs with nontraditional schedules. Moreover, the town planner in Lincoln indicated the most town residents were not interested in a new commuter rail station. (p. 71)

Justifiably or not, Lincoln’s town planner believed that commuter rail, as a mode, is not for “us” (us being anyone working in a job that is not white collar or 9-to-5). That’s not too far off from the idea that investing state money in a commuter rail station would only increase Rhode Island’s dependency on Boston, if we assume that “Boston” here stands in for white-collar jobs with little access for middle- or working-class Rhode Islanders. It may not be entirely apparent to the people I’m quoting here, but I believe the pattern indicates the very tiny glimmer of a kernel of a coherent, trenchant critique of the commuter rail paradigm.

Johnston says it doesn’t have to be that way:

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
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4 Ways Road Builders Game the Numbers to Justify Highways

The people who make the case for highways often present themselves as unbiased technicians, simply providing evidence to an audience subject to irrational bias.

Greenville's Southern Connector, a PPP toll road, was predicted to attract 21,000 vehicles per day. It attracted less than 9,000. Map via Toll Road News

Forecasts said motorists would make 21,000 trips per day on Greenville’s Southern Connector, a public-private toll road. In real life they made fewer than 9,000. Map via Toll Road News

But traffic forecasting is not a neutral, dispassionate exercise. It is subject to all sorts of incentives, beliefs, and assumptions that can skew the results in a particular direction.

Intentionally or not, forecasters frequently exaggerate predicted traffic volumes to make the case for building toll roads, according to industry consultant Robert Bain [PDF]. Bain has catalogued 21 ways in which forecasters manipulate data to make toll road financing look attractive [PDF]. Gaming numbers isn’t limited to toll roads — DOTs do it for taxpayer-funded projects too.

Here are a few tricks Bain says forecasters use on private projects to make highways seem like a good bet to investors:

1. Pick a time frame that suits you

Maybe looking at the last 10 years of traffic doesn’t make that great a case for widening a highway. Why not just pick a different time frame?

To justify its $850 million I-94 expansion project, Wisconsin DOT used traffic data from 1999 through 2010, leaving out two years. But traffic was flat on the road between 2009 and 2012, according to a Wisconsin PIRG analysis, which has pointed out the agency is a notoriously overoptimistic forecaster [PDF].

Read more…

Via Streetsblog California
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#DamienTalks 40 – Brown’s Housing Legislation with Jason Islas

Support Streetsblog California today. Click on image to make a donation.

Support Streetsblog California today. Click on image to make a donation.

Today, #DamienTalks with Jason Islas, the editor of Santa Monica Next. This podcast featured Islas a couple of months ago to discuss a proposal by Assemblymember Richard Bloom to make it easier to build more housing.

#DamienTalksThe spirit of Bloom’s proposal lives on in a rider to the California Budget by Governor Jerry Brown. Islas will discuss that rider and why, in his view, the legislation would help ease the affordable housing crisis in California, especially the overheated markets in Los Angeles and the Greater Bay Area.

The legislation is controversial, next week we’ll have someone in opposition featured on the podcast. We’re going to try and cover both sides of this issue, as there are a lot of good people on both sides of the conversation trying to protect communities and increase our state’s housing stock.

This week’s #DamienTalks is also the first interview given by Islas since Santa Monica Next was awarded the “Excellence in Communication” prize from the American Planning Association in Los Angeles. Just in time for our fundraising drive, “Next’s excellence” is a credit to the work done by the entire Streetsblog California team. So if you support our efforts, please consider donating today!

We’re always looking for sponsors, show ideas, and feedback. You can contact me at damien@streetsblog.org, at twitter @damientypes, online at Streetsblog California or on Facebook at StreetsblogCA.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Mayor “Outraged” by Road Carnage (SFGate)
  • Advocates Call Out Mayor’s Hollow Words (KQED)
  • More on Bicycle Deaths (SFExaminer)
  • More on SoMa Hit and Run (Hoodline)
  • More on Twisty Folsom Tower (SFChron)
  • SF Housing Market Slipping? (Socketsite)
  • BART Police Strategy and Controversy over Seat Hog Issue (SFGate, CBSLocal)
  • Support the Coming BART Bond (BizJournal)
  • More Oakland Infil in Downtown (Socketsite)
  • Pride Parade Detours (SFExaminer)
  • Deal Reached on San Rafael Transit Center and Road Widening (MarinIJ)

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Get state headlines at Streetsblog CA

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Two Hit-and-Run Killings Last Night Plus Another Death This Morning

Three more people killed while cycling in the Bay Area in just the past 24 hours. Photo: SFBP Community Vigil Ride.

How many more vigils are needed before we get real change to our streets? Photo: SFBP Community Vigil Ride.

Editor’s note: it’s positively numbing that I can’t finish writing a piece about two cycling deaths in 24 hours, when a third cyclist is killed, this morning, this time in Pleasanton

Wednesday evening, word came down that a woman was killed in Golden Gate Park while riding her bike. And in a separate incident, a woman was killed in SoMa at 7th and Howard Streets.

The names of two three more beautiful people will be added to the sites visited in the next Rides of Silence. Speeches will be given. There will be vigils.

Two three more families and groups of friends will endure unbearable absences. For them, the agony never ends.

And yet, the legislative priority is to slash fines for motorists blowing through red lights.  Tone-deaf law makers boast about making it easier for law-breaking drivers to restore suspended licenses. And every time hard-fought safety measures are put in, our politicians and city planners cow to angry motorists clamoring to roll them back.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, in a statement, put it this way:

We know what our city’s streets need; we need the SFMTA to deliver. Ultimately, we need leadership at the top, and Mayor Ed Lee is failing as a leader. Where we need transformative safety improvements and transformative leadership, we have vague promises and a void of action… We need protected bike lanes on JFK Drive. And across SoMa, we need physically protected bike lanes and intersections. These crashes were preventable, and the city should urgently act to see that such tragedies are not repeated.

San Francisco State University geography professor, writer, and Streetsblog contributor Jason Henderson summed it up too:

There are too many cars in the city and it is too easy to drive them fast and violently. Every day I observe it getting worse. Every single day is worse than the previous. This is a political problem with a political solution. Golden Gate Park could and should be completely car free. South of Market should have fully-separated and wide cycletracks on every street. But the SF mayor-BOS-SFMTA-SF Planning Commission simply pander to angry motorists and give them more parking.

Read more…

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Menlo Park El Camino Real Bike Lanes Delayed Again

This proposed expansion of El Camino Real to six lanes at Ravenswood Avenue was cancelled in early May, freeing up $1 million for other transportation projects in Menlo Park. Image: City of Menlo Park

This proposed expansion of El Camino Real to six lanes at Ravenswood Avenue was cancelled in early May, freeing up $1 million for other transportation projects. Image: City of Menlo Park

Menlo Park’s plans to fix El Camino Real’s safety hazards were postponed yet again by a city council that is now split on whether to go ahead with the installation of even a bike lane pilot project. Proponents continue to demand that the city take action to prevent injuries suffered by residents in traffic collisions.

“The goals of Menlo Park roadway infrastructure changes should be to serve more people and to make our roadways safer for everyone,” said Bicycle Commission Chair Cindy Welton at the May 3 City Council meeting. “Our status quo street design that we’ve inherited is not working. No one is served by our high collision rates.”

Citing concerns the city is making too many safety improvements too fast, and under continued pressure from the Menlo Park Fire Protection District to cancel the ambitious project altogether, the council voted to postpone it until after the city installs bike lanes on Oak Grove Avenue later this year. A total of 112 car parking spaces will be removed for the Oak Grove bike lanes.

Read more…

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Today’s Headlines

  • Two Cyclists Killed in Separate Incidents (Hoodline, NBCBayArea, SFGate)
  • More on Mission Street Red Carpet Lanes (SFExaminer)
  • Comparing BART and the Nations Rail Systems (Marketplace)
  • Adjustment in the SF Housing Market? (SFChron)
  • Housing Prices Peak (SFBay)
  • Possible In Law Unit Ballot Measure? (Socketsite)
  • Forum Talks Transit and Traffic in Marin (KQED)
  • Seven Year Sentence for DUI Murders (SFGate)
  • Bill to Authorize High Speed Rail Bond Sale for Caltrain Upgrades (KCRA)
  • Editorial: Don’t Reroute Caltrain Transbay Extension (SFExaminer)

Get national headlines at Streetsblog USA
Get state headlines at Streetsblog CA

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Streetsblog Talks With SF Bicycle Coalition Incoming Director Brian Wiedenmeier

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BriansmilingEarlier this week, the SF Bike Coalition announced it is tapping its development director, Brian Wiedenmeier, as its new executive director. Wiedenmeier takes the reigns from Margaret McCarthy, who had served as the organization’s interim director during a search to replace Noah Budnick, who resigned last year.

Streetsblog sat down with Wiedenmeier to find out more about him and his goals for the organization.

Streetsblog: So why bike advocacy?

Brian Wiedenmeier: I associate cycling with joy and freedom, I began riding a bike as a child and as someone who grew up in a small town in the Midwest. It’s not cool after 16, so I bought a car to get to my job. But when I went to college at the University of Minnesota a car was not something I could afford, so I started biking again out of necessity. But then I realized what a freeing, amazing thing it was–this simple machine that let me experience the city in a new way.

SB: Tell us about cycling in Minnesota.

BW: Minneapolis is a great city that’s blessed with a network of fully separated bike paths that run through parks. And they have the midtown Greenway which is an old piece of rail infrastructure, a freight line that ran in a trench through the city. It’s been re-purposed exclusively for the use of bicycles and pedestrians. It’s a magic thing with bicycle on-ramps and off-ramps that get you cross town in no time flat.

SB: But you decided to move to San Francisco. How was that, cycling-wise? Read more…

Streetsblog USA
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Columbus Wins $50 Million “Smart City” Grant. What Put It Over the Top?

Columbus has been chosen to help pioneer innovation in transportation technology. Image: Columbus

U.S. DOT chose Columbus to model how new technologies can improve urban transportation. Image: City of Columbus

U.S. DOT announced the winner of its $50 million “Smart City” grant yesterday, and Columbus, Ohio, bested finalists San Francisco, Portland, Austin, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Denver for the prize. Many other cities had applied for this federal funding to demonstrate how new technologies can improve urban streets and transportation.

In its application, Columbus focused on improving job access for low-income residents via shared cars and autonomous buses. Michael Andersen at Bike Portland considered the winning bid from the perspective of his city’s close-but-no-cigar application. Here’s what he thinks set Columbus apart:

Though many of the elements of Columbus’s proposal are similar to Portland’s ultimately unsuccessful one — a multimodal mobility app, electric vehicle charging stations — two things jump out as being absent from Portland’s proposal:

• Local Columbus companies pledged $90 million of their own investment in smart transportation technology as part of the matching-fund total.

It’s hard to say how much of this is just clever repackaging of money that would have been spent anyway, but it’s a very impressive sum. Portland’s application drew lots of letters of support but no local financial commitments like that.

Read more…

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Today’s Headlines

  • SF Fails to Get National Smart City Grant (SFExaminer)
  • Hsu Confirmed for SFMTA Board (SFBay)
  • SFMTA May Roll Back Turn Restrictions on Mission (SFExaminer)
  • SF Transit Dream Map (SFGate)
  • Delay on Affordable Housing Vote (SFGate)
  • More Details on Twisting Transbay Tower (Socketsite)
  • Housing Market Continues on Hot Streak (Socketsite)
  • The Caltrain Atherton Quiet Zone Fight (Almanac)
  • Advocates Urge Safety Measures at Deadly San Rafael Crossing (MarinIJ)
  • Did Presidential Politics Trump SF Smart City Application? (SFGate)

Get national headlines at Streetsblog USA
Get state headlines at Streetsblog CA