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What Oakland Mayor’s Proposal for a Department of Transportation Means

Oakland

For the city of Oakland, the creation of a Department of Transportation is a first step towards formulating a cohesive transportation policy. Photo: Telegraph Avenue, looking towards downtown Oakland. Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

This week, Streetsblog California takes a look at changes occurring in Oakland, California, related to the way the city plans and implements transportation projects.

Today, Ruth Miller, a local planner, former Streetsblog contributor, and a member of Transport Oakland, writes about what the formation of a Department of Transportation will mean for Oakland. Later this week look for Streetsblog’s interview with Matt Nichols, the city’s newly hired Director of Transportation Policy.

Like a surprising number of other cities, despite its size, Oakland, California, currently does not have a Department of Transportation. Decisions about transportation projects from signal timing, to paving, to designing and applying for grants to fund a bike and pedestrian bridge over the estuary leading to Lake Merritt, have been made within either the Planning Department or the Department of Public Works — or both.

But if Oakland’s new mayor, Libby Schaaf, has her way, this will change soon. Her proposed 2015-17 budget, currently under discussion, includes within it a reorganization of city departments to create one specifically for overseeing transportation policy and decisions — a Department of Transportation. Advocates for better transportation choices in Oakland, including the advocacy group Transport Oakland, believe that creating a DOT could help the city better plan for and manage its transportation.

DOTs often publish mission statements.

For example, the Los Angeles DOT “leads transportation planning, design, construction, maintenance, and operations in the City of Los Angeles.” The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which is equivalent to a DOT, works “to plan, build, operate, regulate, and maintain the transportation network” [PDF]. Essentially, these and most other city DOTs lead transportation projects from policy through planning, implementation, and maintenance. Because they govern the full life cycle of transportation projects, DOTs have the ability, and thus a certain obligation, to work strategically.

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Streetsblog USA
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Can LA Make “Great Streets” If the Mayor Won’t Stand Up for Good Design?

This plan for the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge was preferred by neighborhood residents. But the city capitulated to a more status quo design. Photo: KCET via Los Angeles Walks

Residents preferred this plan for the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge across the Los Angeles River, with bike lanes, sidewalks, and a road diet, but appointees of Mayor Eric Garcetti opted for more space for traffic instead. Image via Los Angeles Walks

Los Angeles, with its expanding transit network, is supposed to be in the process of shedding its cocoon of car-centricity and emerging, in the words of a recent Fast Company headline, as America’s “next great walkable city.” The city’s streets, however, didn’t change a whole lot under former mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. When Eric Garcetti was elected mayor in 2013, advocates thought he could provide the leadership to finally prioritize walking, biking, and transit on LA’s streets.

And Garcetti got off to a great start. He chose Seleta Reynolds, a standout from the San Francisco MTA’s Livable Streets program, to lead LADOT. The city retained groundbreaking former New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan to help shape its Great Streets strategic plan. The city is expected to adopt a Vision Zero policy in just a few weeks.

Garcetti himself has said, “As city leaders, we need the backbone to make the bold changes necessary to build great streets.” But the mayor’s failure to go to bat for a pedestrian-friendly redesign of the critical Glendale-Hyperion Bridge calls into question the strength of his commitment to changing streets — and with it, Los Angeles’s potential to become a walkable, bikeable, transit-rich city.

Last week, the city’s Public Works Board, whose members are all appointed by the mayor, rejected the bridge design that neighborhood advocates favor. That design, reported Streetsblog LA, would have repurposed one motor vehicle lane to create safe access for walking and biking on both sides of the bridge. The mayoral appointees, bowing to pressure from City Council members Mitch O’Farrell and Tom LaBonge, went a different route, voting for a design that preserves all the car lanes while removing an existing sidewalk from one side of the bridge.

About 1,200 people had signed a petition supporting the proposal with bike lanes and sidewalks on both sides of the bridge, as had dozens of businesses, nearby schools and the neighborhood councils in two of the three surrounding districts. Traffic studies showed that reducing the road to three lanes wouldn’t affect car congestion significantly. But the Public Works Board voted for a proposal that maintains four traffic lanes and leaves pedestrians with just one sidewalk — and a long, uncomfortable detour.

Advocates did not expect a decision so soon. LaBonge is at the end of his tenure in the council, and the leading candidates vying for his seat favor the more pedestrian- and bike-friendly design. With elections this week, the local politics were guaranteed to shift in favor of the better design in a matter of days. Instead, Garcetti’s appointees rushed through a decision the week before the election.

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StreetFilms
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The Philadelphia Bike Story

Of U.S. cities with more than a million residents, the one where people bike the most is Philadelphia. In 2012, the U.S. Census estimated Philadelphia’s bicycle commute rate at 2.3 percent [PDF], higher than Chicago (1.6 percent) and New York (1.0 percent).

It’s just about always been that way. That comes as a surprise to many people, since Philadelphia doesn’t have a lot of bike infrastructure. But there are other street design and urban design factors at work, many due to the fact that Philadelphia is an old city.

For one, the city has a lot of narrow streets. That makes it tougher to add bike lanes, but it also means motorists tend to travel at speeds that don’t intimidate people on bikes. On average, people also live closer to their jobs than in most other places, making bike commuting a better option. Stop signs are more prevalent than signals, and where there are traffic lights, the sequencing is short, so people on bikes don’t have to wait long at intersections. In the end, most people bike because it is the fastest, most convenient option.

Thanks to Alex Doty, executive director of the Bike Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, and all the other bicyclists I got to speak with. They’ll tell you plenty more reasons why biking is good there, and how it could be better.

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San Jose to Adopt Vision Zero But No Target Date to End Traffic Deaths

Vision Zero San Jose As Soon As Possible Logo

San Jose’s Vision Zero plan doesn’t set a target date to eliminate traffic fatalities, only declaring a goal of “ASAP” — as soon as possible. Image: City of San Jose

The San Jose City Council is expected to adopt a Vision Zero plan [PDF] tomorrow, making it the third major city in the Bay Area and the tenth in the nation to commit to ending traffic deaths. But San Jose isn’t setting a timeline to achieve this goal.

“For years, San Jose created a roadway system exclusively for cars — not for people on bikes, pedestrians, or transit,” said Mayor Sam Liccardo in a statement. “Vision Zero is San Jose’s commitment to prioritize street safety and ensure all road users – whether you walk, bike, drive, or ride transit – are safe.”

Unlike San Francisco and New York City, which adopted ten-years goals, San Jose’s version of Vision Zero doesn’t include a target date. Instead the plan calls for an end to traffic fatalities “ASAP”:

Vision Zero San Jose purposely has avoided setting a particular timeline as a practical matter and has instead chosen to pursue Vision Zero goals, as soon as possible (ASAP). The history of change particularly with regards to state and federal policy makes 10-years seem “unrealistic.” However, the urgency for safe streets makes a 10-year goal seem “too slow.” For now, our goal is to continue to make progress with advocacy, action and results, ASAP!

“While we understand concerns that a 10-year timeline may be too ambitious,” said California Walks Planning and Policy Manager Jaime Fearer, “we need to commit to a date for our goal, even if it is 15 or 20 years.”

Elijah Alvitre, 3, was killed in a crosswalk at Vine and Oak streets. The driver who struck him faced no legal penalties. Photo: Legacy.com

Dozens of supporters, including friends and relatives of people killed by reckless drivers, packed a committee meeting last week to plead for an end to the city’s traffic violence.

“Anything that can be done to improve safety should not only be considered but embraced, to help prevent this from happening to anyone else,” said Jenny Alvitre, whose 3-year-old grandson Elijah was killed in November 2013 by the driver of a pickup truck. The driver was not cited or charged for failing to yield to the 13-year-old girl pushing Elijah’s stroller in a crosswalk, hitting both of them, as well as a six-year-old girl holding the older girl’s hand.

Just hours later, 14-year-old Bianca Valdez was killed by a driver while walking across White Road near Hyland Avenue in east San Jose. A week later, 17-year-old Anthony Garcia was killed by an SUV driver while riding his bicycle on Branham Lane in south San Jose.

The death toll on San Jose’s dangerously-designed streets has risen in recent years, and a growing proportion of victims are killed by drivers while walking and biking. In 2013, 44 people were killed on San Jose streets, and 42 in 2014. In both years, 21 of the victims were killed while walking. Most fatal crash victims in SJ are now people walking or biking. That wasn’t the case between 2008 and 2012, when an average of 31 people were killed each year, 46 percent of whom were pedestrians or cyclists.

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Money Abounds for Highways, Not Safe Crossings, at San Mateo County TA

The proposed expansion of the Highway 101 interchange at Holly Street will make a dangerous area more hazardous, but the SMCTA won’t use highway funds to provide a safer crossing. Image: City of San Carlos

The San Mateo County Transportation Authority is still throwing tens of millions of dollars at freeway widenings in a futile attempt to build its way out of traffic congestion. But when it comes to building a safe passage for people to cross a frightening interchange, don’t expect the agency to spend a dime.

The planned expansion of the Highway 101 interchange at Holly Street is San Carlos will cost $11 million, most of which is slated to come from the SMCTA’s $60 million-a-year Highway Program. But the agency won’t use that pot of money to fund a $5 million bridge for people to walk and bike safely across the wider interchange. If the money for the bridge isn’t secured by late next year, the freeway expansion could be built by mid-2017 without a safe crossing.

To design the bridge, San Carlos plans to spend scarce “active transportation” funds from another county agency. But the bridge wouldn’t be necessary without the dangerous cloverleaf interchange, which was built 28 years ago — and city planners know it.

“There’s a very small sidewalk on one side of the interchange, it’s a very dangerous situation for bicycles,” explained San Carlos Associate Engineer Kaveh Forouhi in a February review of the bike/ped bridge design [PDF]. “People don’t use the interchange because they’re fearful of it.”

“Even experienced, skilled cyclists are intimidated by the combination of multiple turn lanes, short merge sections, high automobile speeds, and poor sight lines,” wrote San Carlos Public Works Director Jay Walter. The proposed bridge “directly addresses inadequate sidewalks, lack of bicycle facilities, and an overall lack of pedestrian/bicycle connectivity.”

Because the SMCTA keeps its money in “silos” for limited purposes, the agency has repeatedly rejected highway-related projects that would encourage walking and bicycling, even though those projects can help reduce congestion by making driving less necessary.

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Santa Clara OKs Road Diet, Bike Lanes on “Ludicrously Overbuilt” Tasman Dr.

Even with two fewer auto traffic lanes, Santa Clara’s Tasman Drive could still carry more than twice the number of cars it handles during rush hour. Image: Google Maps

Santa Clara’s City Council unanimously approved a road diet last week on the city’s 1.5-mile section of Tasman Drive. Tasman, east of Great America Parkway, will have two of its six traffic lanes re-purposed for wide buffered bike lanes and permanent median fences to protect Valley Transportation Authority (VTA)’s light-rail tracks. West of Great American Parkway, where Tasman was has four lanes, only striped bike lanes would be added.

Tasman is “ludicrously overbuilt,” Cyclelicious author Richard Masoner wrote in a blog post the day before the vote. Masoner wrote at the time that the council seemed “reluctant” to approve the project at a meeting in late March. “There is literally no downside for this project no matter which mode of transportation you use, so what’s the problem?,” he wrote.

The council approved the project unanimously and without discussion last Tuesday.

At the March meeting, Council Member Patrick Kolstad asked if transportation planners would consider removing the Tasman bike lanes in 10 years if there are more cars to move. Council Member Lisa Gillmor claimed the road diet is “going to be a nightmare during traffic hour,” pointing to Pruneridge Avenue, where one of four traffic lanes was removed to add bike lanes in late 2011.

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Daly City Police’s Idea of Vision Zero: Ticketing “Jaywalkers” at BART

Daly City police officers recently targeted people crossing against the walk signal on John Daly Boulevard to reach the Daly City BART Station, just south of the San Francisco border, as seen in a KRON 4 “People Behaving Badly” segment last week.

Commuters crossing against the light when John Daly is clear of traffic are not known to be a major cause of pedestrian crashes. But DCPD’s traffic sergeant told Streetsblog these types of operations are common and driven by collision data, though the data wasn’t on hand.

Officer Rey Asuncion was seen in the segment apparently trying to scare violators into not running into a driver’s path by describing a recent hit-and-run crash that killed an elderly man.

There was no evidence the victim in that crash crossed against a signal, and Asuncion’s description contained several inaccurate details.

“About a month ago, we had a Chinese gentleman who got hit at an intersection in Daly City,” Asuncion said in the segment. “He got struck at that intersection. The vehicle got away, and we have not found the driver, but unfortunately for that gentleman, he died right there at the scene.”

Here are the known facts of the crash he was referring to, according to media reports and DCPD’s traffic sergeant. On Highway 35 near Westridge Avenue on December 14 (four months ago), a driver hit and killed 77-year-old Daly City resident Jose Rosel in a crosswalk. The driver, 40-year-old Joro Petrovmoray, was arrested in February and charged with felony hit-and-run causing death. His vehicle was found an auto body shop where he allegedly sold it after the crash. He has plead not guilty.

DCPD Traffic Division Sergeant Matthew Fox acknowledged that Asuncion “might not be apprised of what detectives have done with that case… maybe he misspoke, but the message was to be safe along these corridors.”

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Belmont Police Blame Cyclist for Getting in the Way of Driver’s Left Turn

An emergency crew treats an injured 29-year-old man who was hit on his bike by a driver who turned left into his path. Police blamed the victim for carrying bags and talking on a phone. Photo: Belmont Police Department

When a 90-year-old driver turned left into the path of a man bicycling on Ralston Avenue, the Belmont Police Department blamed the victim for talking on a cell phone and not wearing a helmet. The department also warned people on bikes against “carrying packages and bags” in its press release.

None of those behaviors are illegal, nor would they have stopped the driver from turning left into the victim’s path — which, by the way, she didn’t receive a citation for.

The crash on Saturday afternoon occurred on Ralston, where city officials refused to include bike lanes and a road diet in a plan for safety improvements last year.

“Cars come first,” Belmont City Council Member Coralin Feierbach declared in 2013. Feierbach acknowledged that “when you ride your bike on Ralston you take your life into your own hands,” but concluded that there is nothing to be done about it. She deemed it “impossible” to reduce speeding, ignoring the evidence that road diets do just that [PDF].

Victims of Belmont’s failure to implement proven safety measures won’t get any help from the local police department, which issued its statement on Monday to “remind cyclists to drive defensively.”

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Menlo Park’s Plan to Ruin Downtown With Parking Garages

Menlo Park's popular Parking Plaza 3, one of three sites proposed for a new public parking garage. Photo: Andrew Boone

Menlo Park’s Parking Plaza 3, one of three sites proposed for a new public parking garage. Photo: Andrew Boone

Building new parking garages in downtown Menlo Park will cost tens of millions of dollars while clogging streets with more traffic. But that’s what municipal leaders are seriously considering in an attempt to boost business, apparently oblivious to modern parking policies that have paid off for other Peninsula cities.

Last month, the Menlo Park City Council voiced support for building a new five-level parking garage on top of one of the city’s surface parking lots, called “parking plazas.” The project is estimated to cost between $29,000 and $43,000 per parking space — adding up to several million dollars. The council is also considering extending time limits for downtown parking spaces, having concluded that the current time limits on free parking discourage shoppers from visiting businesses on Santa Cruz Avenue.

Menlo Park maintains 1,595 free parking spaces in its downtown core (the area bounded by El Camino Real, University Drive, Oak Grove Avenue, and Menlo Avenue). The current time limits, set in 2011, are 15 minutes, one hour, or two hours, depending on location. In some spaces, drivers can exceed the two-hour limit by paying $1 per hour after it expires. Also available are $10 daily permits and $592 annual permits.

The council proposed doubling the time limits on the 15-minute and one-hour spaces and extending the two-hour spaces to a three hour limit, with the intention of giving customers arriving by car more time to spend at Santa Cruz Avenue businesses.

“We have the foot traffic, and then we take a stick and chase [customers] away as soon as they finish lunch,” said Mayor Catherine Carlton of the current time limits.

“I just want to make it as easy as possible for families and our seniors to patronize our local business and our restaurants downtown,” said Council Member Ray Mueller, who described the current time limits as outdated, based on parking data collected in 2009 during an economic recession.

But what’s really outdated is the idea that giving away more free parking will be good for downtown. Time limits are a blunt and ineffective means to ration access to parking. For years, UCLA professor Donald Shoup, the nation’s leading expert on parking policy, has counseled cities to instead manage parking by pricing it properly, so that some spaces are always available.

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Better Bike Parking Options Can Alleviate Crowding On-Board Caltrain

Caltrain bike cars frequently fill up on rush hour trains, bumping passengers wishing to board with bikes to the next train.

Facing a continuing surge of nearly 5,000 additional weekday passengers each year, Caltrain is looking into better bike parking to alleviate overcrowding on the trains while improving access to its stations. The agency was awarded a $150,000 state grant in early April to write a bicycle parking management plan that aims to prioritize the next phase of bike improvements at stations.

Current bike parking facilities include standard bike racks at 29 stations, bike lockers that can only be rented out by a single person at 26 stations, shared bike lockers at 10 stations, and indoor bike parking areas at three stations, including attended bike parking at San Francisco’s Fourth and King Station. The addition of more bike parking has lagged behind demand, with the number of passengers with bikes more than doubling from 2010 to 2015. Caltrain now logs over 6,000 bike boardings on an average weekday, accounting for between 11 and 13 percent of the agency’s total weekday ridership, which has grown by 60 percent in the same five-year period.

In a survey Caltrain conducted last year [PDF], 49 percent of passengers who bring a bike on-board said they would consider using “secure bike parking in a self-serve locker,” 39 percent would consider “convenient bike sharing kiosks,” and 47 percent would consider “a shuttle or other means of transit.”

Last December, Caltrain’s Bike Plan Implementation Strategy [PDF] reported “mixed progress” on bike parking improvements since 2008, citing inadequate funds and the ad-hoc nature of the many small city-led projects that are completed only as grant money and staff time become available. The new plan recommends investing $2 million in 500 new electronic bike lockers at Caltrain’s nine busiest stations, and $1 million on various access improvements, including new ramps and stairs at a few stations.

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