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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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Should Caltrain Add Bathrooms On-Board or at Its Stations?

The great controversy roils on. Photo: Yelp/Michael W.

On-board restrooms could be cut from Caltrain’s electric trains after the agency’s Board of Directors rejected a proposal to include one bathroom on every six-car train last month. The agency is exploring the costs of adding bathrooms, and while some riders say they’re crucial, there’s little support from board members or disability advocates.

The Americans with Disabilities Act “is a very important part of this,” said Tom Nolan, a Caltrain board member and chair of the SFMTA Board, at the July meeting. “If somebody’s in a wheelchair in the back of the train and they have to go through five cars, that’s not really equal access.”

Malia Cohen, also a Caltrain board member and San Francisco supervisor, agreed with Nolan, noting that Carla Johnson, director of the SF Mayor’s Office on Disability, favors adding bathrooms at stations — which are currently scarce — rather than on trains.

“If there are bathrooms on the train, then we want the passengers with mobility issues to have the convenience of using those bathrooms just like everybody else,” Johnson told Streetsblog. “If some passengers can only travel between train cars with a lift, then it actually makes more sense to have the bathrooms at the stations so that everyone has equal access.”

“I think that it’s not uncommon for trains of this kind that are doing relatively short regional trips to not have bathrooms, because it is a rather dramatic loss of seats,” said Ash Karla, a Caltrain board member who sits on the San Jose City Council.

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Millbrae’s Transit Hub Plans: Lots of Parking, Same Car-Dominated Streets

Housing for about 850 new residents and offices for 868 workers are slated to rise where these Millbrae Station parking lots currently stand — but so are more than 2,000 new parking spaces. Photo: City of Millbrae

BART and the City of Millbrae are moving ahead with plans for two major mixed-use developments on the Millbrae BART/Caltrain Station’s surface parking lots and along El Camino Real just west of the station.

The projects are expected to bring over 2,000 new residents and 2,000 jobs within walking distance of San Mateo County’s busiest transit hub. The developer in the running for one of the sites promises it would become an urban center friendly for walking and biking.

But without a bolder vision from Millbrae officials, the plan has fundamental flaws that could undermine the purpose of transit-oriented development: to make it easier for people to get around without cars. The development, as proposed, would add about 2,200 car parking spots and make no substantial changes to the surrounding car-dominated streets to allow people to safely get around the area by foot and bike.

New residents and workers are expected to drive for 69 percent of trips, according to the environmental review for a proposed update to the Millbrae Station Area Precise Plan, which must be approved by the City Council.

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SMCTA: East Palo Alto Can’t Use Highway Money for Safe Crossing at Less Cost

East Palo Alto wants to save money and build a ped/bike bridge over Highway 101 at the University Avenue interchange, but the SMCTA says it can’t use its highway grant for that. Image: AECOM

East Palo Alto is the latest city to be prohibited by the San Mateo County Transportation Authority (TA) from using highway funds to build a bike and pedestrian bridge across a highway.

In this case, city planners actually found a way to cut costs on a planned ramp expansion at the Highway 101 interchange at University Avenue and use the savings to build an overcrossing for people on foot and bike. But according to East Palo Alto officials, the TA insists that its $5 million Highway Program grant must be spent primarily on highway lanes — not safe highway crossings.

Rather than build a new off-ramp, the city wants to add a second right turn lane to its existing off-ramp, which would move cars at least as quickly, according to a 2014 traffic study. (A note of clarification: This project is separate from the bike/ped bridge planned to the south of the University interchange, at Newell Road and Clarke Avenue.)

“The TA feels that the funding for Measure A highway operations is not flexible and cannot be used towards ped/bike improvements,” East Palo Alto Senior Engineer Maziar Bozorginia wrote in an email to Streetsblog. “The City believes that by providing a safer ped/bike route through this section, it would help to reduce conflicts and congestion on the highway system.”

With the money saved from forgoing construction of a new highway ramp, East Palo Alto could build a new bike/ped bridge. The rest of the funds for the interchange project would come from a $1.8 million federal grant awarded to the city in 2003.

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Streetsblog NYC
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New York City Now Has Permanently Car-Free Roads in Two Major Parks

Photo: Ben Fried

Photo: Ben Fried

A week after New York City’s Central Park went mostly car-free, today marked the beginning of the permanent car-free zone on the west side of Prospect Park [PDF].

Leading up to today, the traffic shortcuts through Prospect Park had been gradually winnowed down to one lane on the west side during the evening rush and one lane on the east side during the morning rush, thanks to persistent advocacy. Campaigns in 2008 and 2002 each collected 10,000 signatures in support of a car-free park.

Before Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration made the West Drive car-free, the most recent victory was a 2012 road diet that expanded space for pedestrians and cyclists on the park loop. Before that, the city closed the 3rd Street entrance to cars in 2009.

The job’s still not done as long as the park’s East Drive, which is closer to the less affluent neighborhoods on the east side of the park, continues to be a shortcut for car commuters on weekdays between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. DOT says it is concerned that higher traffic volumes on the East Drive would lead to congestion in nearby neighborhoods if the park were made completely car-free.

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, who marked the occasion this morning by walking her two beagles to a press conference in the park, said a permanently car-free East Drive could happen “at some point in the coming years.”

“Car traffic has continued to go down,” she told WNYC. “So we’ve done it in stages and we may be back again for the final phase.”

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Looking to Curb Traffic, Palo Alto Rebuffs County’s Plans for Wider Roads

Santa Clara County planners want to widen Page Mill Road in Palo Alto. Palo Alto wants to reduce driving instead. Photo: Santa Clara County

Santa Clara County’s plans to widen expressways are out of step with cities like Palo Alto that are striving to curb traffic by reducing car commuting. Last week, Palo Alto City Council members balked at the county’s $98 million plan to expand Page Mill Road near Highway 280, which would only encourage more driving. If any expansion of the road should be studied, the council said, it should only be to add carpool lanes.

Last year, Palo Alto created a Transportation Management Association (TMA) aimed at reducing solo driving by 30 percent in three years through commuter benefits like free Caltrain passes or employee shuttles, which would be provided by employers. Such programs, including one at Stanford Universityhave proven effective at alleviating traffic and are far cheaper than building more roads and parking.

But when crafting the $3 billion Expressway Plan 2040, Santa Clara County didn’t account for local transportation demand management programs like Palo Alto’s because the county doesn’t fund or operate those services, county planner Dawn Cameron recently told the Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission.

“The county’s responsibility is to operate the expressways,” said Cameron. “The kind of TDM programs that you’re discussing are typically implemented locally, by employers… We can’t require them to operate shuttles, or to provide passes to their employees.”

But the county’s prescription for wider roads will only result in more driving, Council Member Greg Schmid noted. “With your improvements, the [traffic] numbers actually go up.”

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San Mateo County Officials Insist on Failed Strategy of Widening Highway 101

San Mateo County wants to add two more lanes to Highway 101, a strategy that has failed to reduce traffic congestion. Photo: Andrew Boone

San Mateo County officials are moving forward with plans to widen Highway 101 in a futile attempt to pave their way out of traffic congestion.

The City/County Association of Governments (C/CAG) has dismissed a more effective and less costly proposal to avoid highway expansion by converting two existing traffic lanes to high-occupancy toll lanes, also known as express lanes.

“If we build more capacity for cars, what we’ll end up with is more cars,” said Joseph Kott, vice president of Transportation Choices for Sustainable Communities and a former transportation planning manager for C/CAG. “We’ll have spent a lot of money to get more cars, and will live with all the consequences of having more cars. It’s just not very sensible.”

Rather than convert two of Highway 101’s eight lanes to express lanes between San Bruno and Redwood City, C/CAG wants to keep all existing lanes free for solo drivers while expanding the roadway to 10 lanes.

C/CAG plans to conduct an environmental review that will only evaluate the addition of carpool lanes, which could then be converted to express toll lanes. The agency’s board passed a resolution greenlighting the study on June 11.

But according to a 2013 report from Kott and TransForm called “Innovation Required: Moving More People with Less Traffic,” converting existing lanes to express lanes would move 75 percent more people on 101 using 10 percent fewer vehicles, at far less cost, compared to building new, un-tolled carpool lanes. Even C/CAG admits that widening Highway 101 would increase driving and air pollution, and result in less transit ridership.

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Redwood City’s Plan for Wider Roads Will Confound Its Bid to Cut Traffic

Redwood City’s vision for a dense, walkable downtown would be undermined by its plans to induce more driving. Image: Redwood City

As Redwood City plans to develop a more compact, walkable downtown, the city is ramping up efforts to encourage transit, bicycling, walking, and carpooling to avert the surge in car traffic that many residents fear would come as a result. At the same time, the city plans to spend tens of millions of dollars on infrastructure that will pump more car traffic into downtown.

Redwood’s new Transportation Demand Management (TDM) Ordinance, expected to be approved by the City Council this summer, would place stricter requirements on large companies to reduce driving by their employees. But Redwood City also plans to spend big on widening roads, which would induce more car traffic.

In December, the City Council considered increasing allowable office space downtown from 500,000 square feet to 670,000 square feet while reducing space for housing and retail development, but hasn’t gone through with the proposal.

Aaron Aknin, Redwood City’s director of community development, said the city can accommodate this growth without increasing traffic. “In the long run there is a way to maintain or even reduce vehicle trips,” he told Streetsblog. “We can minimize traffic resulting from new office projects, and we can draw on our existing employee base to reduce vehicle trips.”

Under Redwood City’s TDM ordinance, businesses with 50 or more employees would have to figure out a way to reduce solo driving.

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Google “Bike Vision” in Limbo After Mountain View Rejects Office Expansion

Northern Santa Clara County's many streets with "moderate to high traffic stress" and hazardous intersections discourage many local commuters from bicycling. Image: Alta Planning + Design

Northern Santa Clara County’s many streets with “moderate to high traffic stress” and hazardous intersections discourage many local commuters from bicycling. Image: Alta Planning + Design

Google’s “Bike Vision Plan” [PDF], which calls for a network of bike-friendly streets in and around its Mountain View campus, may not become a reality if the Mountain View City Council rejects the company’s plans to expand office space.

On May 5, the council approved just one office building, at Landings Avenue, and held off on approval of the other three expansion sites. Without those approvals, Google won’t cover the costs of several major improvements for walking and biking.

Image: Google Bike Vision Plan [PDF]

Image: Google Bike Vision Plan [PDF]

Google envisions a regional network of low-stress “Bicycle Priority Corridors” in Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos, Sunnyvale, and western Santa Clara that would enable 20 percent of its employees to bike to work, up from 10 percent today.

“Bicycle networks should be safe enough, complete enough, and comfortable enough for people of all ages to ride on them,” Google’s Bike Plan says.

“Google is committed to reducing single-occupancy vehicle trips and encouraging healthy transportation options for their employees,” the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition wrote of the company’s proposal, which aims to keep the current number of car parking spaces available to employees and visitors fixed as Google expands in Mountain View’s North Bayshore office district.

As tech company campuses grow, the SVBC “recognize[s] the tremendous impact their land use decisions can have on changing every day behavior,” the organization wrote on its website:

As the saying goes, if you build it they will come — A company that builds a sprawling campus with ample amounts of car parking will perpetuate a car culture and continue to apply the brakes to our ability to create a community that values, includes, and encourages bicycling for all purposes for all people.

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Streetsblog USA
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Five Key Lessons From Europe’s Vision Zero Success

Cross-posted from the Vision Zero Network

Berlin, Germany

From the moment that Vision Zero began capturing attention in American cities, we’ve heard many admiring references to its success in Europe, particularly in its birthplace of Sweden.

I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to research those experiences and their lessons for the growing number of American communities working to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries. As part of a fellowship with the German Marshall Fund, I’m spending two months visiting Stockholm, Sweden; Rotterdam, Netherlands; and Berlin, Germany to interview experts and observe first-hand their approaches to traffic safety. The goal of my research: to gather and share replicable lessons for American communities, particularly in urban areas, where we’re seeing the most momentum for Vision Zero.

First, a disclaimer: I’m still actively researching and interviewing, so it’s too soon to share my sense of the “full story.” Please consider these early impressions.

And, second, a clarification: What the Swedes — and to a lesser extent the Germans — call Vision Zero, the Dutch call Sustainable Safety. While there are many similarities to what can generally be termed a “safe systems approach” to transportation, there are more differences than I realized between their efforts. (But more on that in a future post…)

So what have I observed thus far? Here are five initial  takeaways, focusing on areas that seem relevant to the U.S. experience and worthy of more exploration.

1) Managing speeds — and speed differentials — is a top priority

In all three of these countries, the leaders of traffic safety efforts emphasize that managing speed is the number one determinant in their successes in improving safety.

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