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With Big Levy Vote, Seattle is Ready to Lead the Nation on Bike Infrastructure

Dexter Avenue.

pfb logo 100x22Michael 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 last two years have revealed a very clear new superstar in the country’s progress toward protected bike lane networks.

It’s the Emerald City: Seattle.

In the last two years, Seattle has completed seven protected bike lane projects, more than any other city in the country in that period except New York.

Seattle heaved through a significant “bikelash” a few years ago, and it’s discovered an ocean of political support on the other side.

On Tuesday night, the city’s voters did something remarkable: By 56 percent to 44 percent, they approved a property tax increase that will spend $65 million on a 50-mile protected bike lane network and a 60-mile neighborhood greenway network over the next nine years. It’ll also put $71 million toward Seattle’s goal of eliminating serious and fatal crashes, $15 million to repair 225 blocks of damaged sidewalks, $250 million to maintain existing roads, and $140 million to maintain existing bridges.

The project list goes on. But it never stoops to the mistaken claim that a fast-growing city can fix its transportation problems by building more and more lanes for cars, always hoping that the next lane will be the one that never fills up.

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Funds for San Diego “Park” Go Mostly to Free Parking for County Employees

Nobody’s going to give San Diego County an award for park planning — we hope! — on its “Waterfront Park project,” which is more accurately described as the “subsidized garage project.”

Bike SD

The top photo shows the county administration building pre-park. The bottom photo shows the site of the new $36 million garage built with park funds. Images: Bike SD

Grinning county officials recently cut the ribbon on a $36 million parking garage that will be free for county employees. With 640 spaces, the cost works out to $56,250 per space. The parking garage cost about three times what was spent to build the actual park on the nearby surface lot that the garage replaced, writes John Anderson at Network blog Bike SD

He explains:

The new county parking garage is the second portion of the “Waterfront Park project” that created a 12-acre park across Harbor Drive from San Diego Bay, replacing 8 acres of surface level parking lots adjacent the County Administration Building. That project cost $49.4 million dollars after an initial project cost estimate of $44.2M with $19.7M for building the park, $18.5M for building underground parking, and $6M for design and administration costs.

In total, between the two projects $54.5M was spent on moving parking spaces and $18.5M was spent on the actual park that people enjoy. This is excluding the $5.2M of difference from the original estimate to the actual construction costs and the $6M of design and administration costs. Those cost breakdowns yield a result of 75% of funds used to move spots for empty cars and 25% of funds used to build a park. For purposes of this article let’s assume the admin and cost over-run figures split on the same lines. The vast majority of the funds used for these joint projects was for moving parking spaces, not for building a park.

This project was sold as a project to build a great park – it would seem fitting if most of the funds were actually used to build a great park. Instead we spent 75% of the funds to relocate parking spaces, not creating new spaces but moving existing parking spaces. 251 spaces moved approximately 15 feet, they were undergrounded in the same location as the previous surface level lots.

To make matters worse, a beautiful historic building was demolished — of course — to make way for the subsidized garage with the extra-wide stalls. Little Italy was thriving without it, and the giant monolithic structure will probably just make the neighborhood less attractive, writes Anderson. Well done, San Diego!

Elsewhere on the Network today: You’ll never believe what’s blocking the bike lane in Louisville, via Broken Sidewalk. And Seattle Bike Blog says that voter approval of the “Move Seattle” transportation levy will lead to an “unprecedented effort to end traffic violence.”

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Salt Lake City’s Groundbreaking Protected Intersection Is Open

The second protected intersection in the country is open in Salt Lake City, another milestone for American bike infrastructure.

Using paint and concrete islands, the intersection of 200 West and 300 South lowers the stress level for cyclists, makes them more visible to drivers, and reduces turning conflicts:

Salt Lake City’s protected intersection comes two months after Davis, California, rolled out the first one in America in August.

Alta Planning led the design of the project, and you can see a few scenes of people biking, walking, and driving through it in their clip above.

Salt Lake City's new protected intersection. Photo: Alta Planning

Salt Lake City’s new protected intersection. Photo: Alta Planning


San Mateo County TA Rejects Ped Safety Projects But Not Highway Expansions

San Mateo County TA awarded $108 million on October 1 to eight highway expansion projects, still believing we can "build our way out of congestion" on Highway 101. Photo: Andrew Boone

San Mateo County TA awarded $108 million on October 1 to eight highway expansion projects, still believing we can “build our way out of congestion” on Highway 101. Photo: Andrew Boone

With $125 million to lavish on it’s Highway Program this year, the San Mateo County Transportation Authority (TA) has decided to spend $108 million on highway expansion projects while denying funds for major pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements [PDF].

On October 1, the TA Board approved $11 million to reconstruct the Holly/101 Interchange in San Carlos as a partial cloverleaf to accommodate higher traffic volumes, but rejected the city’s $3 million request to include a ped/bike bridge. Scheduled for completion in 2018, the interchange will force people crossing the highway on foot or by bicycle to navigate a series of hazards.

“With the new design of Holly/101, people on bikes still must cross and weave with [auto traffic from] high-speed on and off ramps, and it won’t make people safe and comfortable enough to use walking and bicycling,” Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC) Policy Manager Emma Shlaes told the board. “If a true Complete Streets design cannot achieved on the interchange itself, then funding should be provided to alternatives, in this case, the bike and pedestrian overcrossing.”

The pedestrian bridge was declared “not eligible to be funded from the Highway Program” by TA staff, even though the Highway Program has funded many safety improvements included in other projects.

“I certainly would not go so far as to say it would be illegal,” said TA Legal Council Joan Cassman at the board meeting. “But I would say that given the confines of this call for projects, and the rules we established in seeking proposals from sponsor cities to submit requests for grants from this agency for highway projects, we were quite clear that the requests for the projects we were seeking would not include separate bicycle overpass facilities.”

TA staff also defended their decision to deny funds on grounds that several ped/bike-specific funding sources could be used instead [PDF]. But those grant programs are tiny — dwarfed by sums heaped on highway expansions — so most critical safety projects remain unfunded for years or even decades.

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A Downtown Oakland for Everyone

Egon Terplan is SPUR’s regional planning director. This piece is reprinted with permission from the October 2015 of The Urbanist.

Photo: Sergio Ruiz

Franklin Square. Photo: Sergio Ruiz

After years of struggling to attract investment, downtown Oakland is enjoying a renaissance. Organic, bottom-up growth and targeted public investment are resulting in new cultural events, art galleries, restaurants, bars and retail stores. The population and job base are growing, companies are relocating or expanding downtown (including Uber, which in September, announced its purchase of the former Sear’s building), and commercial vacancies are declining.

Oakland’s urban center is poised to take on a more important role in the region. We believe that the best path forward is to plan for growth — and to shape that growth to make downtown Oakland a great place that provides benefits to all. Downtown Oakland is an opportunity to demonstrate that equity and economic growth can go hand in hand.

Downtown faces key challenges today. While the number of jobs is growing, the economy remains fragile. Institutional lenders have been hesitant to invest in downtown projects, large anchor tenants are scarce and commercial rents are rarely high enough to cover the cost of new office construction. Many in downtown, and Oakland generally, struggle to secure affordable housing and high quality employment. Downtown’s parks, plazas and streets need upgrading and maintenance. Its centers of activity — such as City Center and Jack London — are spread out and density is uneven, contributing to a final challenge: Public safety concerns deter some from spending time and investing in downtown.

SPUR’s new report, “A Downtown for Everyone: Shaping the Future of Downtown Oakland,” from which this article is excerpted, looks at solutions to these challenges, as well as ways to take advantage of unique opportunities. Unlike many urban centers, downtown Oakland has the infrastructure in place to support growth. It is at the center of the Northern California rail network and has more BART trains passing through it than any city in the region. Downtown’s streets are largely without congestion and could be reimagined to provide more space for buses, bicycles and pedestrians. There are also many acres of vacant land and surface parking lots right in the middle of downtown. This means downtown could add thousands of new jobs and residents without displacing any current homes or businesses. Add to these opportunities the creativity and energy of Oakland’s residents, and there is an opening for downtown Oakland to demonstrate a new path forward for cities.

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Salt Lake City Cuts Car Parking, Adds Bike Lanes, Sees Retail Boost

The new 300 South, a.k.a. Broadway. Photos: Salt Lake City.

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Protected bike lanes require space on the street, and removing curbside auto parking is one of several ways to find it. But whenever cities propose parking removal, retailers understandably worry.

A growing body of evidence suggests that if bike lanes and parking removal contribute to a street with calmer traffic and a better pedestrian environment, everybody can win.

In an in-house study of its new protected bike lane, Salt Lake City found that when parking removal was done as part of a wide-ranging investment in the streetscape — including street planters, better crosswalks, public art, and colored pavement — converting parking spaces to high-quality bike lanes coincided with a jump in retail sales.

On 300 South, a street that’s also known as Broadway, SLC converted six blocks of diagonal parking to parallel parking and also shifted parallel parking away from the curb on three blocks to create nine blocks of protected bike lanes on its historic downtown business corridor.

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Peninsula Advocates Push For Vision Zero

Safe streets advocates and local government officials met at the Silicon Valley Bike Summit in Palo Alto. Photo: Andrew Boone

A coalition of advocacy groups, local government agencies, and cycling clubs called on cities across Santa Clara and San Mateo counties to adopt Vision Zero goals to eliminate traffic fatalities at the recent Silicon Valley Bike Summit in Palo Alto.

In the ten years from 2004 through 2013, 1,236 people lost their lives in car crashes in the two counties, according to the California Highway Patrol. Every year, more than 1,800 people are injured by drivers while walking or biking. In San Jose, the region’s largest city, 44 people were killed in car crashes in 2014, and another 30 people were killed in the first eight months of 2015 – with pedestrians accounting for more than half the victims.

“No fatality and no major life-altering injury on our roadways is acceptable,” said Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC) Deputy Director Colin Heyne.

SVBC and California Walks released their Vision Zero Toolkit [PDF] at the summit, a how-to guide for advocates and city officials based on the “Five E’s” – Engineering, Education, Enforcement, Encouragement, and Evaluation. The guide describes how cities can prevent serious traffic injuries and deaths resulting from car crashes, based on current best practices in other cities and US Department of Transportation recommendations.

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San Mateo County to Appoint Five-Member Bike/Ped Advisory Committee

Bike commuters heading south along San Mateo County's popular SF Bay Trail route. The new bike/ped committee will be tasked with improving such regional bike routes. Photo: Andrew Boone

Bike commuters head south along San Mateo County’s popular SF Bay Trail route on Bike to Work Day, May 8, 2014. The new County BPAC will be tasked with improving such regional bike routes. Photo: Andrew Boone

Last week, San Mateo County established a new Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC). Its stated mission: to improve public health, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and extend mobility for children, seniors, people with disabilities, and those who live in disadvantaged communities.

The committee’s five volunteer members will be charged with providing recommendations not only to the county’s Board of Supervisors, but also to “committees, commissions, and departments on issues related to bicycling, walking, and complete streets,” including funding priorities.

“We applaud the County for taking this positive step in ensuring that the needs of all roadway users are considered when determining projects and priorities,” wrote Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC) Policy Manager Emma Shlaes in an e-mail to the Board. “This committee will contribute to transparency and accountability in policy decisions, ease the decision making process and ensure community support.”

San Mateo County’s 2011 bike/ped plan [PDF] points out that major roadways such as El Camino Real, Highway 92, Highway 1, and Woodside Road “prioritize motor vehicle traffic flow with minimal consideration of impacts on bicyclists and pedestrians,” and that Highways 101, 280, and 380 also create barriers to active transportation, with most interchanges remaining hazardous for people walking and bicycling.

The new committee is expected to help guide investments and recommend infrastructure projects that address these barriers and “increase rates of active transportation and to improve the quality of facilities that serve people making daily trips by walking and bicycling,” according to last week’s resolution establishing the advisory group [PDF].

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Menlo Park Fire District Opposes Protected Bike Lanes on El Camino Real

Menlo Park’s Fire District is fighting a trial project to install protected or buffered bike lanes on El Camino Real. Image: City of Menlo Park

Menlo Park’s proposal for protected bike lanes on El Camino Real is meeting resistance from the top brass at the city’s Fire Protection District, who would rather see the road become wider and more dangerous.

In a recent letter to the Menlo Park City Council, Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman completely missed the point of installing protected bike lanes — to make making bicycling safer and more attractive. “I cannot recommend the use of El Camino Real in Menlo Park to bicyclists because it is a fairly dangerous route,” he wrote. “In my 35-year career, bicyclists almost always ‘lose’ when they are involved with an accident involving a vehicle, no matter who is at fault or to blame.”

Instead, Schapelhouman said it would be “interesting” to expand the street-level highway to six lanes and synchronize traffic signals to let drivers speed through downtown Menlo Park.

Three city advisory commissions have endorsed the conceptual plan to install bike lanes, either physically protected from motor traffic by curbs and landscaped traffic islands, or an alternative with just a painted buffer zone.

At an August 25 meeting, Menlo Park City Council members refrained from voting on those proposals but did say they favor a trial version of the protected bike lanes, which would replace 156 parking spaces along all 1.3 miles of El Camino Real within the city.

“Until we as a city envision transportation differently and implement actually very simple infrastructure… it’s just going to always be easier to jump in your car,” said Cindy Walton, vice chair of the Menlo Park Bicycle Commission, told the City Council. “We have to do things that are transformative in order to enable people to ride their bikes, or take buses, or walk.”

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Menlo Park Gets One Step Closer to Protected Bike Lanes on El Camino Real

A report from Menlo Park planners recommends a Dutch-inspired “protected intersection” design at three El Camino Real intersections. Image: City of Menlo Park

A report released by Menlo Park’s Public Works Department last week [PDF] recommends protected bike lanes and Dutch-style “protected intersections” on El Camino Real.

The two-year El Camino Real Corridor Study, led by transportation consulting firm W-Trans, said building bike lanes protected from car traffic by a curb would provide “the most optimum safety conditions for bicycling” and walking while reducing car traffic on the city’s 1.3-mile section of the highway.

The study looked at three bike lane options on El Camino Real, any of which would replace the 156 on-street car parking spaces that currently line the curb on the segment. Only one-third of those parking spaces are used, at most, according to a counts taken last September.

Menlo Park joins San Mateo as the second city in San Mateo County to envision physically protected bike lanes on El Camino Real, the deadly street-level highway owned by Caltrans that runs up the Peninsula.

Menlo Park’s Public Works Department would take it a step further with a “protected intersection” design at three intersections: Santa Cruz, Valparaiso/Glenwood, and Oak Grove Avenues. That design, common in the Netherlands, minimizes potential conflicts between people biking, driving, and walking and makes cyclists more visible to motorists.

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