Skip to content

Posts from the "Cities, Counties, and Countries" Category

Streetsblog LA 31 Comments

Meet Our New Sacramento Teammate: Melanie Curry

melatbridge

Melanie Curry

Streetsblog SF and Los Angeles have a new hire starting on February 1 that will dramatically expand our coverage. I am pleased to announce that Melanie Curry will be as full-time writer covering news out of the California capitol and across the state.

Melanie will be covering statewide issues that impact transportation, open space, livability and public health. Her focus will be watching laws as move through the legislature, policies as they advance through the executive branch, regional plans as they are adopted by regional planning organizations, projects as they advance through Caltrans, the California High Speed Rail Project and anything else that pops up.

Her work will appear on Streetsblog Los Angeles, Streetsblog San Francisco, sometimes on the other Streetsblogs, and on other Southern California Streets Initiative publications including Santa Monica Next and LongBeachize.

Melanie worked for many years as an editor, most recently for Access, the University of California-published transportation research magazine. She has a Masters degree in City and Regional Planning from UC Berkeley and has worked in transportation consulting and at the San Francisco County Transportation Authority.

Her preferred mode of transportation is a bicycle, although buses and trains can be useful too. Her daughter’s first commutes were in a child seat on the back of a bike.Melanie has lived in Culver City, Mexico City, Cordoba (Spain), Singapore, Oakland, and Berkeley, where she now makes her home with husband and nearly grownup daughter. Her goal is to change the perception that bicycles are dangerous, and wants everyone to have the chance to experience the joy and freedom of that perfect transportation machine.

6 Comments

Vote to Hand Latham Square Back to Cars Bodes Ill for Downtown Oakland

Latham Square as it exists today. Photo: Alec MacDonald

After a trial public plaza at Latham Square was undercut by Oakland’s Planning and Building Manager, the Oakland City Council voted last week to reinstate two-way car traffic on the small, southernmost block of Telegraph Avenue, caving to merchants and developers pushing for unfettered car access.

At their January 7 City Council meeting, Oakland council members considered different proposals for the layout of Telegraph at Broadway, a key gateway linking the bustling offices around City Center BART with the burgeoning Uptown dining and entertainment scene. Besides the critical role Latham Square Plaza will serve in the ongoing revitalization of the area, it also stands as a flashpoint in the broader movement to make Oakland more people-friendly. The council’s vote to maintain lanes for car traffic was undeniably a setback for that movement.

Last summer, the city closed off vehicular lanes along the 1500 block of Telegraph and filled the space with seating, planters, and other pedestrian amenities as part of a six-month pilot project intended to gauge the feasibility of a permanent street closure. Complaints from nearby business owners, however, prompted the city to prematurely reopen one southbound lane of Telegraph after just six weeks.

The council’s final decision last week undermined the effort to create a people-friendly space in the heart of downtown Oakland. Although the proposal that city leaders adopted will still expand the plaza’s square footage from 2,500 (before the pilot project) to 9,500, livable streets advocates feel the restoration of two-way auto traffic will undercut the appeal of the space and create a safety hazard for people who use it. Altogether, two of the three original traffic lanes will be reinstated.

Read more…

No Comments

Sidewalk-Jumping Driver Claims Children He Hurt Were “Reckless”

This fall, 90-year-old Edward Nelson lost control of his vehicle, jumped the curb, and pinned two six-year-old twins against a wall with his BMW SUV in Menlo Park, California.

Collision scene: In October a 90-year-old driver struck three boys walking on the sidewalk in Menlo Park, California. Now the driver claims the boys were behaving “recklessly.” Image: Palo Alto Online

One of the twin brothers suffered a broken arm. The other was hospitalized in critical condition; he wasn’t released from the hospital until five weeks and multiple surgeries later. A third brother, 9 years old, was also injured in the collision.

Perhaps you would expect Nelson to be ashamed? Beg the family for forgiveness? Not so much.

In response to a lawsuit from the family, Nelson’s attorney has accused the boys of “reckless, careless and negligent” behavior. According to The Almanac, the family is seeking damages from Nelson, a retired attorney, for the injuries and emotional trauma the boys suffered. Some of the injuries may be permanent, they say.

Read more…

2 Comments

Don’t Widen 101: How SM County Could Move More People With Less Traffic

San Mateo County agencies are studying the “Planned HOV” scenario for Highway 101 — a road widening — even though the “Optimized HOT” scenario is much cheaper and more effective. Image: TransForm

San Mateo County is poised to spend more than a hundred million dollars on an expansion of Highway 101 while passing over more effective, less expensive options to improve people’s commutes.

Even as total traffic volumes have remained flat over the past decade on Highway 101 in San Mateo County, the City/County Association of Governments (C/CAG) is conducting a $2 million study of expanding the highway with new carpool lanes. But highway expansions of already very large highways are simply not effective.

“If we had unlimited amounts of money and no concerns about our impact on the environment, we could keep doing that,” said Jeff Hobson, deputy director of TransForm. “But the last 50 years of experience suggests that paving our way of out congestion is not working.”

Highway 101, facing north from Ralston Avenue in Belmont during the evening rush hour. Photo: Andrew Boone

In a new report, “Innovation Required: Moving More People with Less Traffic,” TransForm calls on C/CAG to consider an alternative that they say would be cheaper, more effective at reducing traffic congestion, and would improve public transit. Instead of adding carpool lanes, TransForm is pushing for conversion of one existing highway lane in each direction into “optimized high occupancy toll lanes” (Optimized HOT), also called express lanes.

These lanes are free for carpoolers but also available to solo drivers for a fee, which is varied based on demand to ensure that they remain free-flowing. The report, which includes a traffic analysis of this option and two others, conducted by former C/CAG Transportation Programs and Planning Manager Joseph Kott, concludes that converting one existing lane in each direction to an express lane would move more people with less traffic at just one-tenth the cost of the agency’s current plans.

Building the more expensive, less efficient options would waste a lot of revenue from the county’s half-cent transportation sales tax, Measure A, that could fund an expansion of transportation choices for residents and workers. With an estimated $130 – $160 million in construction cost savings, as well as new toll revenue, converted express lanes could provide a windfall of funds to improve non-driving commute options in San Mateo County, such as Caltrain, SamTrans, and the county’s disjointed bicycle and pedestrian network.

Compared to C/CAG’s proposed carpool lanes, converting existing 101 lanes into express lanes would carry 75 percent more people in 10 percent fewer vehicles, while costing less than one-tenth as much to build, according to TransForm. Although it seems un-intuitive that a Highway 101 with an additional standard travel lane would end up more congested than converting an existing lane to a carpool lane, it works because the variable fee charged to solo drivers ensures that as many solo drivers are always in the carpool lane as possible without congesting it. Because the new express lanes, or “variable-fee-for-solo-drivers-carpool-lanes”, would also provide a congestion-free lane for buses and carpoolers, the number of people using buses and carpooling would increase because they would be faster driving alone. This results in fewer total vehicles and thus less traffic congestion.

The 75 percent more people in 10 percent fewer vehicles figures are based on the same assumptions used by C/CAG for other traffic analyses but include factors ignored in C/CAG’s June 2012 carpool lane feasibility study, such as demand variable with pricing and mode shift from solo driving to transit. Kott, the former C/CAG planner, said transportation agencies also usually neglect to account for factors such as growing demand for public and private transit, walking, bicycling, and the potential for Transportation Demand Management (TDM) programs to provide financial incentives for non-driving commutes, since these are all relatively recent trends.

“We’re still stuck in this mode of saying that all we can do is provide for private motor vehicle travel on our highways and that’s all we can forecast,” said Kott. “We can do multi-modal forecasts too, but we have to have the right assumptions.”

Read more…

Streetsblog NYC 8 Comments

How to Measure the Economic Effect of Livable Streets

Retail sales on the section of Columbus Avenue with a protected bike lane (the green line) outperformed retail sales on a parallel stretch of Amsterdam Avenue and an adjacent part of Columbus with no bike lane (the pink line). Image: NYC DOT

When a street redesign to prioritize walking, biking, or transit is introduced, the headlines are predictable: A handful of business owners scream bloody murder. Anecdotes from grumpy merchants tend to dominate the news coverage, but what’s the real economic impact of projects like Select Bus Service, pedestrian plazas, road diets and protected bike lanes? How can it be measured?

A report released by NYC DOT last Friday [PDF] describes a new method to measure the economic effect of street redesigns, using sales tax receipts to compare retail activity before and after a project is implemented. DOT and consultants at Bennett Midland examined seven street redesigns — including road diets, plazas, protected bike lanes, and Select Bus Service routes — and compiled data on retail sales in the project areas as well as similar nearby streets where no design changes were implemented.

While the authors do not claim that all of the improvement in sales is directly caused by street redesigns (there are a lot of factors at work), they did conclude that a street’s “gain in retail sales can at least in part be attributed to changes stemming from the higher quality street environment.” The study also found that the impact becomes apparent relatively quickly: Retailers often see a change in sales within a year of a project being implemented.

While it makes intuitive sense that a better pedestrian environment and high-quality transit and bikeways will draw more foot traffic in a city environment than a car-dominated street, evidence that livable streets are good for business tends to be indirect. Customer intercept surveys have shown that most people in urban areas (including New York) walk, bike, or take transit to go shopping. While customers who drive spend more per trip, they also visit less often than shoppers who don’t drive. The net result: Car-free shoppers spend more than their driving counterparts and have a bigger impact on the bottom line of local businesses. Nevertheless, merchants tend to overestimate the percentage of customers arriving by car and insist on the primacy of car parking as means of access.

With this study, DOT used a third-party data source to see how well sales are actually doing in two large categories: retail outlets like grocery stores, clothing stores and florists, and hospitality services like bars, restaurants, and hotels. The study uses state sales tax receipts because they are available on a quarterly basis can be categorized by business type, allowing for an up-to-date and detailed understanding of how retailers are faring on a particular street. Results can be examined before and after a street design change, and compared with sales trends both borough-wide and and on “control streets” nearby that did not receive street design changes.

Read more…

No Comments

A Thousand Cyclists Hold “Die-in” to Demand Safer Streets in London

One thousand cyclists held a "die-in" in front of London's transportation offices on Friday to dramatize the dangers faced by the city's cyclists. Image: ##https://twitter.com/MeredithFrost/status/407286714835955712/photo/1## Meredith Frost/ABC##

One thousand cyclists held a “die-in” in front of London’s transportation offices on Friday to protest dangerous streets. Image: Meredith Frost/ABC

In a potent demonstration for safer streets, 1,000 Londoners staged a “die-in” with their bikes in front of the city’s transportation offices Friday. ABC producer Meredith Frost snapped the above image, which has been going viral on the Internet. The protest lasted a brief 15 minutes.

Demands for safer streets have gained urgency in London following the death of six cyclists in a two-week period. Organizers are demanding 10 percent of the city’s transportation funds for safe bike infrastructure.

“We want a real budget, at the moment we’re getting crumbs,” organizer Donnachadh McCarthy told the BBC. “We want an integrated cycling network in London within five years and we want a say at the top table.”

The die-in tactic has some detractors, who think it will scare people from cycling and obscure evidence that cycling has recently become safer in London. But the BBC points out that similarly blunt and aggressive protests were key to the success of the 1970s-era safe streets movement in the Netherlands. They have also been used, with some success, to demand better infrastructure in American cities such as San Diego.

1 Comment

Streetsblog Hiring a Reporter to Cover Statewide News Out of Sacramento

Streetsblog is happy to announce the opening of a new, full-time Sacramento-based reporting position to cover livable streets news from around California and the state capitol beginning in early 2014.

streetsblog-logo-sxsw

The writer would cover the state legislature, executive branch, Caltrans, high-speed rail, and other issues outside of the greater Los Angeles and Bay Areas, working closely with the editors of Streetsblog LA and San Francisco, as well as the team at OpenPlans, Streetsblog’s parent organization.

Major funding for the position comes from the California Endowment and a generous anonymous donor. And, of course, none of this would be possible without the support of our readers.

Streetsblog LA is also hiring a local reporter in that area. You can find the text of the applications for the Sacramento position and LA position on Google Drive. They will be posted tomorrow on the Streetsblog jobs board.

18 Comments

Packed Meeting About Future of Oakland’s Latham Square Shut Down Early

Two design proposals for Latham Square — one with cars (left) and one without (right). Image: City of Oakland

After public pressure, the City of Oakland held a second community meeting Wednesday about the design of the Latham Square pilot plaza, where a lane of car traffic was reinstated prematurely at the behest of Planning and Building Director Rachel Flynn. Despite a standing room-only crowd of attendees showing up to weigh in, the meeting was shut down 45 minutes early.

For city officials, the proposal to widen sidewalks but permanently reinstate two-way car traffic at Latham Square appears to be a done deal — though no pedestrian usage data was presented to the public after a six-week car-free pilot period.

“I don’t see us going back to the closure” of Telegraph, said Brooke Levin, interim director of the Oakland Public Works Agency. In fact, she added, it is likely the city will reopen the northbound traffic before construction begins on the final design next summer.

Before Wednesday’s public meeting, city staffers held an invitation-only meeting on November 15 with City Manager Deana Santana. Invitees included several business owners who oppose the car-free plaza, along with representatives of the Downtown Oakland Association (which supports the pedestrian plaza), Popuphood, Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, and Oakland’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

But attendees who packed the public meeting, which was not announced on the city’s website until the day before, appeared evenly divided between supporters of the car-free plaza and those who want to bring back two-way car traffic. “We’re not going to satisfy everybody,” Levin told the crowd.

City planners’ recommended permanent design for the plaza includes restoration of two-way traffic on Telegraph with narrower auto lanes and an expansion of the existing sidewalk in the triangle between Broadway and Telegraph. Opinions and suggestions for the design were mixed among the 50-plus Oakland residents, merchants, property owners, and downtown workers at the meeting.

Read more…

Streetsblog NYC 2 Comments

NYC DOT Shares Its Five Principles for Designing Safer Streets

At Madison Avenue and 135th Street, a mix of additional pedestrian space and crossing time, turn restrictions, clearer markings, and tighter corners led to an 18 percent reduction in injuries. Photos: NYC DOT

Earlier this month, NYC DOT put out a major new report, Making Safer Streets [PDF], that collects before-and-after data from dozens of street redesigns and distills five key principles to reduce traffic injuries. The excitement of election week overshadowed the release, but this is an important document that livable streets supporters will want to bookmark. It’s an accessible guide to how DOT approaches the task of re-engineering streets for greater safety.

Under Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, DOT has elevated safety as a departmental priority, and it often follows up a redesign by reporting on the change in traffic injuries after six months or a year. After six years of implementing these projects, the department now has an especially compelling data set – multiple years of before-and-after safety records from dozens of redesigns. Reviewing these projects and what has worked best, the report authors distilled DOT’s approach to safety improvements into a design philosophy.

Deputy Commissioner for Traffic and Planning Bruce Schaller, the lead author, says Making Safer Streets is “the most comprehensive data-driven report on safety we’ve put together.” What makes it especially notable for New Yorkers and residents of other major cities, he said, is its focus on urban streets. “When we look at safety and the elements of design that make safe streets, [other studies] are still not a clear guide to what we should expect to work in NYC.”

The DOT team hopes the report will serve as a reference not only for planners and engineers, but for any city resident who cares about street safety and wants to evaluate how streets are functioning and what would make them better. It’s written in accessible language and comes in at under 30 pages, with a raft of graphics and photos doing much of the communication.

The guiding idea in the report is that greater simplicity, order, and predictability will make streets safer:

Read more…

47 Comments

Oakland Planning Director Cuts Off Latham Square Pilot, Lets Cars Back In

Photo: Laura McCamy

The crowning achievement for Oakland’s new planning and building director so far might be ensuring that cars are being driven through the Latham Square pilot plaza once again.

The Latham Square pilot was supposed to last for six months, but after just six weeks, the widely-lauded, one-block plaza at the foot of Telegraph Avenue is no longer car-free. “The pilot program of having the pedestrian-only area was cut short and one southbound lane was reopened to cars without any warning to pedestrians,” said Jonathan Bair, board president of Walk Oakland Bike Oakland. The current configuration leaves some reclaimed pedestrian space in the middle of the street, but it is no longer connected to the sidewalk. Now the City Council will consider whether to keep it that way.

Rachel Flynn became Oakland's planning and building director in March. Photo: SF Business Times

Oakland Planning and Building Director Rachel Flynn told Streetsblog the car-free pilot had been given enough time, and that “there’s only so many people that are going to come into Oakland at this time.”

“If all you’re doing is blocking off the vehicles but not increasing the bikes and pedestrians, are you achieving your goal?” said Flynn. When asked for data on Latham Square’s use, she said, “We don’t know how to measure pedestrian and bicycle activity.”

“It’s not like we’ve seen hundreds of new bikes there, while we’ve seen hundreds of vehicles not going to this area.”

Flynn came to Oakland in March, having previously worked at a planning firm based in Abu Dhabi, following a stint as planning director of Richmond, Virginia, in 2011.

Oakland Planning staff will present a proposal to the City Council later this month for a permanent plaza design that includes two-way car traffic on Telegraph. The plan, which has not been released to the public yet, would expand the current sidewalk space from 2,500 to 9,000 square feet, but leave Latham Square bisected by lanes of motor traffic.

When it was proposed, the pilot plaza project was touted as an effort to emulate the success of on-street plaza projects implemented in New York City and San Francisco.

“The purpose of the plaza is to establish safer traffic patterns,” said Sarah Filley of Popuphood, which curates vending spots on Latham Square. “By opening up both of the traffic lanes, you’re not prototyping anything. You’ve just added a nicer median.”

Read more…