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More Walking and Biking, Better Health: New Evidence From American Cities

States with higher rates of walking and biking to work tend to have lower rates of diabetes. Click to enlarge. All graphics: Alliance for Biking and Walking

New data from the Alliance for Biking and Walking’s 2014 Benchmarking report bears out the notion that people tend to be healthier in cities where walking and biking are more prevalent.

The Alliance compiled active commuting rates in the 50 largest American cities as measured by the U.S. Census. Then it compared that data with health information from the CDC. On health outcomes like diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure, a pretty clear correlation emerges.

Not all of it can be explained by active commuting, of course. But notice how, in the top chart, as statewide active transportation rates increase, diabetes rates decline.

About 9 percent of Americans have diabetes, but the incidence varies greatly between different places. Diabetes tracks closely enough with walk and bike commute rates that the Alliance and other researchers have concluded there’s a strong correlation.

Rates of elevated blood pressure display a similar pattern:

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Targeted Spending Helps Boost Kansas City’s Walkability

The Alliance for Biking and Walking released a big new report yesterday that measures the nation’s progress on active transportation.

Kansas City has been investing in safer streets, and it's moving up in walkability rankings. Photo: BikeWalkKC

Kansas City has been investing in safer streets, and it’s moving up in walkability rankings. Photo: BikeWalkKC

There’s a ton of data to nerd out on, but one thing that might be particularly interesting to local advocates is that the report shows biking and walking statistics for individual cities. It has details on safety, public spending, and income and gender demographics for active transportation in 50 large cities and 17 mid-sized cities across the U.S.

Rachel Kraus at BikeWalkKC dove into the data, and she found that a conscious effort to improve conditions in Kansas City seems to be paying off:

Moving Up in the Rankings
In 2012, Kansas City ranked 33rd out of the 52 most populous US cities for walking to work. In 2014, KC jumped to #30. Our closest neighbors include Omaha at #26, Chicago at #8 and Wichita at #50. Nationally the top five walking cities are Boston, Washington D.C., New York City, San Francisco and Honolulu. Our bike commuting ranking also improved from #42 to #41.

Still Room for Improvement
KC’s bicyclist safety ranking dropped from #34 in 2012 to #37 in 2014. Our closest neighbors include Omaha at #45, Chicago at #19 and Wichita at #2. (Safety rankings are based on crashes and fatalities.) KC also still lags behind on rankings of residents getting the recommended amount of physical activity. We ranked #38 in 2014.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Woman in Her 60s Hit by Taxi Driver at Bush and Stockton (ABC)
  • SFPD Rescinds Jaywalking Ticket Issued to Injured Man, 86, Due to “Policy Omission” (Examiner)
  • Driver Who Killed Elderly Woman in Bayshore Blvd Hit-and-Run Pleads Not Guilty (CBS)
  • BeyondChron: SFMTA’s Budget Falls Short of What’s Needed to Get to Vision Zero
  • SF Weekly‘s Joe Eskanazi: Sunday Meter Repeal Shows SFMTA’s Schizophrenia
  • Interactive Map Visualizes Bicycle Crashes in San Francisco (Curbed)
  • Next Week is Bike and Roll to School Week (SFGate)
  • Construction Update on Contra-Flow Bus Lane Project at Haight and Market (Hoodline)
  • BART Showcases New Train Car at Ferry Plaza; Disability Advocates Protest Poles (ABCAppeal, KQED)
  • No Charges for Driver Who Killed Former NRDC Treasurer Joy Covey on Bike in San Mateo (Almanac)
  • A Look at the First SMART Train Cars Tested, Approved in Japan (Press Democrat)
  • Construction to Start on Bike/Ped Path to Larkspur Ferry Over Sir Francis Drake Blvd (Marin IJ)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Pandering to the Parking-First Contingent Won’t Win Transport Funding

Some pretty specious rationales are being used to peddle some pretty terrible recent transportation policy decisions in San Francisco. Yesterday, the SFMTA Board of Directors repealed Sunday parking metering, caving to pressure from Mayor Ed Lee. Board members said they bought into the mayor’s thinking that bringing back free Sunday parking would help win support for transportation funding measures on the November ballot.

We’ve explained why the mayor’s claims of an anti-meter popular backlash are unfounded, as the real push appeared to come from church leaders. But at City Hall, this faulty strategy of backtracking on solid efforts to improve transit and street safety seems to be popular among among decision-makers besides the mayor. In another recent case of the city watering down a great project, the SFMTA downsized transit bulb-outs in the Inner Sunset to preserve parking for a vocal minority who complained. Supervisor London Breed basically said that tip-toeing around the parking-first contingent is necessary to ensure that voters approve new funding for transit improvements down the line.

“They’re pandering to a specific group of motorists — the loudest opponents — who are never going to support these programs,” said Jason Henderson, author of “Street Fight: The Politics of Mobility in San Francisco.”

Supervisors Breed and Wiener debated the merits of pandering to cars-first voters last week. Photo left: Office of London Breed, Photo right: Aaron Bialick

At a supervisors committee meeting last week on the SFMTA’s budget, which relies heavily on the ballot measures to fund planned transit and safety improvements, Breed said she’s ”trying to understand how we’re going to convince voters, especially drivers, to spend a lot of money.”

Breed said that while city officials like her might understand the connection between making walking, biking, and transit more attractive and cutting congestion and parking demand, many voters may not be so savvy. ”We’re asking drivers to basically foot the bill for all of the improvements, and we’re taking away parking spaces, making things a lot more — what drivers believe, and have expressed in my district — more difficult,” Breed told SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin.

Breed also said she was concerned that the city doesn’t have a plan B for funding the Bicycle Strategy, the WalkFirst pedestrian strategy upgrades, and the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project. The three ballot measures would fund about half of the bicycle and pedestrian improvements called for, and most of the Muni TEP. “It sounds like we’re taking it for granted that this is actually going to pass,” said Breed.

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TransForm to Host Third Transportation Choices Summit in Sacramento

TransFormLogoTransForm, an organization that advocates for sustainable transportation, smart growth, and affordable housing throughout California, will host its third annual summit next week to discuss the state’s transportation priorities. The Transportation Choices Summit will take place in Sacramento on Tuesday, April 22, and feature speakers from advocacy organizations including the Greenlining Institute, Move LA, and Safe Routes to Schools, as well as state legislators and representatives from state agencies.

The summit’s agenda includes panel discussions on opportunities and challenges in 2014, including cap-and-trade funds and Caltrans reform. Senator Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), the keynote speaker, will discuss the connection between climate change and equity issues. De Leon authored S.B. 535, passed in 2012, which requires that at least 10 percent of funds earmarked for greenhouse gas reduction go directly to disadvantaged communities, and that 25 percent of them be spent in a way that benefits those communities.

Other highlights from the conference include a breakout session on increasing funding for walking and bicycling, led by Jeanie Ward-Waller, the California Advocacy Organizer for the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership. Another session will feature Kate White, Deputy Secretary of Environmental Policy and Housing Coordination at the California State Transportation Agency, who will talk about Caltrans reform with TransForm Executive Director Stuart Cohen. You can see the other speakers listed on the agenda [PDF].

Two related events will bookend the summit: On Monday, the day before the summit, Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates Executive Director Jim Brown will lead summit attendees on two local bike tours. One will showcase the innovative bicycle master plan in West Sacramento. The other will focus on issues around new infill housing in the city.

On Wednesday, after the summit, Transportation Choices Advocacy Day will bring advocates and volunteers to the offices of legislators to talk about biking, walking, transit, and affordable, accessible housing near transit. This event is free and all are invited, but pre-registration is required.

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Local Climate Doesn’t Exert Much Influence on Biking and Walking

There is no link between colder temperatures and levels of walking and biking to work. Click to enlarge. All graphics: Alliance for Biking and Walking

Which state has the highest share of people who walk to work? It’s not temperate California.

Actually, Alaska, the coldest state in the U.S., has the highest rate of active commuting. About 8 percent of workers there commute by foot and another 1 percent by bike.

That illustrates something that researchers have noticed for a long time — climate isn’t a strong indicator of where people walk and bike a lot, or where they do not.

In its big biannual benchmarking report, the Alliance for Biking and Walking cross-referenced climate data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with walk and bike commutes rates in U.S. cities. They found only a “weak relationship” between climate and active commuting.

The top chart shows major American cities on a spectrum from the most cold-weather days to the fewest. Note that biking and walking rates are scattered all over the place, even as the cities grow colder from left to right.

When you look at cities that have lots of hot days, though, a relationship does appear. As this chart shows, some of the cities with the lowest bike and walk commuting rates also have some of the hottest days — Forth Worth, Jacksonville, Las Vegas.

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5 Things You Should Know About the State of Walking and Biking in the U.S

bike_walk_commute

While walk and bike commute rates aren’t changing rapidly, since 2005 walking to work has ceased a long-term decline, and biking to work has started to rise after many years of stagnation. All graphics: Alliance for Walking and Biking.

The Alliance for Biking and Walking released its big biannual benchmarking report today, a 200-page document that measures the scope, status, and benefits of biking and walking across the United States, using 2011 and 2012 data to update its previous reports.

Streetsblog will be running a series of posts looking at the Alliance’s findings over the next few days. To start it all off, here are a few of the key takeaways:

1. Biking and walking are growing — slowly

Nationwide, 3.4 percent of commuters got to work by foot or bike in 2011 and 2012.

In those two years, walking accounted for 2.8 percent of work trips, up from 2.5 percent in 2005 but not perceptibly different than any year since. Nationwide, bike commute mode share stood at 0.6 percent in 2012, up from 0.4 percent in 2005 but not much different than when the previous benchmarking report came out two years ago.

The Alliance calls this a continuation of the “very gradual trend of increasing biking and walking to work.”

2. But walking to work is growing more noticeably in cities

In the 50 largest cities, however, a recent increase in walking is somewhat more discernible. The walking commute share rose to 5 percent in 2012 — half a percentage point higher than in 2005. Meanwhile, bike commuting in the 50 largest cities rose to 1 percent mode share in 2012 from 0.7 percent in 2005.

Boston had the highest share of walking commuters at 15 percent, and Portland had the highest share of bike commuters at 6.1 percent.

Keep in mind that these mode-share numbers are based on the Census, which only counts people who bike or walk for the longest part of their commute more than three days a week. As we’ll see, this understates total biking and walking activity.

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Why a Portland Domino’s Started Delivering Pizza By Trike

As bicycling has come to account for a greater share of trips in Portland, the shift is also noticeable among deliveries and cargo hauling.

Scott Kealer’s Domino’s franchise in Portland has started delivering pizza by cargo trike. Photo: Bike Portland

While delivering pizza by bike is not exactly new, Michael Andersen at Bike Portland offers a great example of why it makes sense for businesses to get stuff done using human-powered vehicles:

Cheap, fast and classy, cargo bikes and trikes have been in use for years from Old Town Pizza to Good Neighbor Pizzeria. Last fall, Scott Kealer did the math and decided his downtown Portland Domino’s Pizza franchise should join their ranks.

“I’ve got a corporate name on the front of the door that says ‘Domino’s,’ but it’s really my pizza shop,” said Kealer, owner of the local store on 4th Avenue near Portland State University.

“We’ve been kicking the idea around for a year or two,” said Robert Ricker, the weekday manager. “Depending on who’s pedaling, it can be faster than a car… Maintenance has been low on it and it’s really helped out in a pinch.”

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Today’s Headlines

  • Woman in Wheelchair Struck by Driver at Leavenworth and McAllister (CBS)
  • More on SFMTA’s Sunday Parking Meter Repeal and Budget (SF ExaminerSFBGNBCKTVU)
  • More on the SFMTA’s Planned 24 Vision Zero Projects for 24 Months (SF Examiner)
  • People Behaving Badly: Speeding Drivers on Outer Fulton Street Where Child Was Hit
  • An Exhaustive Explanation of SF’s Housing Crisis and the Google Bus Protests (TechCrunch)
  • Curbed SF Maps All of the City’s 43 Fantastic Parklets
  • Surveillance Video Shows Woman Jumped Under BART Train at Montgomery Station (KTVU)
  • Disabled Advocates to Protest Poles on New BART Train Car Design (SF Weekly)
  • BART Rider Asks Why Parking Lot Lights Are On During the Day at Concord Station (KRON)
  • MTC Collecting Input on Integrated Fare Proposals for Clipper Card “2.0″ (Green Caltrain)
  • New VTA Pilot Program Gives Discounted Passes to Low-Income Riders (CoCo Times)
  • San Jose’s Tree Removal for Santa Clara-Alum Rock “BRT” Line Upsetting Some Residents (CBS)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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SFMTA Board Repeals Sunday Parking Meters

Get ready for the return of Sunday traffic dysfunction and double parking. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SFMTA Board of Directors today caved to pressure from Mayor Ed Lee by removing Sunday parking meters, a move folded into its approval of the agency’s two-year budget.

The Sunday meter reversal was supported by all but one of the SFMTA’s board members, who are appointed by the mayor. Board member Cristina Rubke said she thought reversing Sunday metering is “a mistake.”

But the change went unopposed even by other progressive board members, like Cheryl Brinkman and Joél Ramos, who had supported Sunday parking metering when the policy was approved in 2012. Brinkman and Ramos said they agreed with Mayor Lee’s stated strategy of bringing back free Sunday parking to win support for transportation funding measures headed to the ballot in November, and that SFMTA needed to do more education about the rationale behind parking metering.

“I know Mayor Lee has some of the best political minds in the city working with him in his office, and that they are very focused on helping to solve the city’s transportation funding issues,” said Brinkman, who is up for re-appointment at the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee on Thursday. “It sounds like the mayor’s office is certain that this is going to help us in November.”

Brinkman said she’s “calling upon the mayor’s office to work with the MTA Board around education and community involvement in San Francisco’s parking problems. I feel we need to step back and find a way to work with our communities to really explain the reasons behind, and the need for, progressive parking management.”

“We have failed, frankly, to convince the great majority of people” of the benefits of Sunday meters, said Ramos. “You can listen to Matier and Ross, or read the papers, and see that the general sentiment of it is a negative one.”

Mainstream news reporters who have covered the Sunday metering issue, like columnists Phil Matier and Andrew Ross at the SF Chronicle and CBS affiliate KPIX, typically don’t mention that the SFMTA found that meters cut cruising times for parking in half and increased turnover for businesses by at least 20 percent. Instead, parking meters have typically been framed as a way to collect revenue, even in the Chronicle report on today’s vote.

Mayor Lee issued this statement about “reinstating free Sunday parking in San Francisco”:

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