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Four Nice Touches in U.S. DOT’s New “Mayors’ Challenge” for Bike Safety

Denver Transportation Director Crissy Fanganello, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard in 2014.

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

There’s a difference between bike-safety warnings that focus on blaming victims and warnings that recommend actual systemic improvements. The launch of a Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People, Safer Streets by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx is the good kind of warning.

Yes, it’d be nice if it weren’t being pegged on the dubious claim that biking has gotten more dangerous in the last few years. Also if U.S. DOT were offering any money for cities that take its advice.

That said, there’s a lot to love in this initiative launched Friday. Let’s count a few of the ways.

The feds want cities to measure successful bike trips, not just bad ones.

Austin, Texas.

In many cities, the only times bikes show up in the official statistics is when something goes wrong.

When a person collides with a car or a curb while biking, they enter the public record. When they roll happily back to work after meeting a friend for tacos, they’re invisible to the spreadsheets that drive traffic engineering decisions.

This is the sort of logic that sometimes leads people to the conclusion that on-street bicycle facilities decrease road safety. What they’re actually doing is increasing bike usage, which in turn is the most important way to increase bike safety. When our primary metric of biking success is the number of people biking rather than the number of people dying, we’re making our cities better across the board, not merely safer.

Foxx’s lead recommendation that cities “count the number of people walking and biking” shouldn’t be revolutionary. But if every city did, it would be.

Read more…

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Anthony Foxx Challenges Mayors to Protect Pedestrians and Cyclists

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx speaking at the U.S. Conference of Mayors yesterday. Photo: Building America’s Future

With pedestrian and cyclist deaths accounting for a rising share of U.S. traffic fatalities and Congress not exactly raring to take action, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is issuing a direct challenge to America’s mayors to improve street safety. Yesterday Foxx unveiled the “Mayor’s Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets” at the U.S. Conference of Mayors Transportation Committee meeting in Washington.

Overall traffic deaths are on a downward trend in the U.S., but the reduction in pedestrian and cyclist fatalities is not keeping pace with improvements for car occupants. Pedestrians and bicyclists now account for 17 percent of all traffic fatalities in the U.S., and most of these deaths are in urban areas, Foxx noted.

Back in September, Foxx told the Pro-Walk/Pro-Bike/Pro-Place conference in Pittsburgh that U.S. DOT is “putting together the most comprehensive, forward-leaning initiative U.S. DOT has ever put forward on bike/ped issues.” The Mayor’s Challenge fleshes out that initiative to some extent.

Foxx wants mayors to implement seven key recommendations from U.S. DOT. In March, mayors and local leaders will convene at DOT headquarters to discuss how to put the recommendations into practice. Participating cities will implement the strategies in the following year, with assistance from U.S. DOT.

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Polk Street Redesign Delayed a Year, Interim Measures Coming in Spring

The already watered-down redesign of Polk Street, with a protected bike lane only on one segment, will begin construction in Spring 2016 – a full year behind the original schedule. The SFMTA announced that final approval of the project is approaching with a preliminary hearing next Friday, January 30, followed by a vote at the SFMTA Board of Directors in February or March.

The SFMTA did say in an email blast, however, that Polk will get some interim improvements starting this spring:

These improvements will include a southbound bike lane between Union Street and Post Street, leading pedestrian intervals which allow pedestrians a few seconds of a “WALK” signal before vehicles receive a green light at certain intersections, and red curb “daylighting” to increase pedestrian visibility at certain intersection approaches.

Additionally, painted bulb outs at certain locations of future concrete bulb outs, bicycle safety measures at key intersection approaches, and new loading zones to reduce the amount and frequency of double parking on some blocks will all be installed.

The delay only adds insult to injury after original plans for protected bike lanes along the vital north-south corridor were largely scuttled due to vociferous opposition from parking-obsessed merchants. And the SFMTA is reportedly not planning to move forward with the full-length bike lane pilot option requested by the SFMTA Board in November 2013.

Chema Hernández Gil, community organizer for the SF Bicycle Coalition, said that despite the “positive elements” planned in the project, “this half-hearted approach calls into question the city’s commitment to achieving Vision Zero.”

“It is dismaying to see the SFMTA ignore the community’s desires for a safety-first approach by neglecting to include a safe design for people biking between Pine and Union Streets — half of the project area — even though it ranks as one of the most dangerous bike routes according to the SF Department of Health’s Cyclist High Injury Corridor network,” said Hernández Gil in a statement. “For the sake of a vibrant, thriving and safe Polk Street, we urge the SFMTA to put forth an improved design that includes continuous protected bikeways from McAllister to Union Streets. We also urge them to advance the implementation to prevent injuries and provide safe, comfortable access on one of the city’s most important north-south bike routes.”

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Designs From Dutch Burbs Should Unite Vehicular Cyclists and Bike Lane Fans

Photos from Dutch suburban areas and countryside by Marven Norman.

This is the second in a two-post series about Dutch suburbs.

It’s understandable why vehicular cycling techniques thrive in suburban America. In the absence of good bike infrastructure, taking the middle of the travel lane really is the safest way to ride — uncomfortable though that is for many of us.

But if American suburbs are ever going to be made truly better for biking, today’s suburban bicycle drivers will need to find common ground with me and my fellow fans of Dutch infrastructure.

Here’s what that might look like.

1) Infrastructure opponents should take the time to offer meaningful suggestions beyond “no”

Sharrows in Indianapolis. Photo: Michael Andersen/PeopleForBikes

I’ve seen it myself numerous times: The bicycle drivers only demand “Bicycles May Use Full Lane” signs and sharrows while shunning anything else exclusively for bikes. Meanwhile, the planners and engineers are hearing from the rest of society that they want “more bike lanes.” But without any valuable input about design features, they resort to their manuals… and the result is bad infrastructure.

It’s long past time for the more experienced riders to adopt an approach of pragmatism.

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Eyes on the Street: New Bike/Ped Safety Tweaks on Upper Market, Valencia

The Market Street bike lane was widened and painted green between Octavia Boulevard and the Wiggle, among other tweaks in the neighborhood. Photos: Aaron Bialick

The SFMTA recently made some upgrades to bike lanes and pedestrian crossings around Valencia Street and Market Street.

Near Octavia Boulevard, the Market bike lanes were widened and painted green, and a buffer zone was added, making it a bit more comfortable for commuters pedaling up the hill from lower to upper Market towards the Wiggle. The traffic lanes, formerly 12 feet wide (which encourages drivers to speed and is unusual in SF) were narrowed to 10 feet to make room for the bike lanes, said SFMTA Livable Streets spokesperson Ben Jose. Continuing east toward downtown, the Market bike lanes got a fresh coat of green paint and some new plastic posts at Tenth Street.

Cheryl Brinkman, a member of the SFMTA Board of Directors, was spotted in a platoon of bike commuters climbing the hill in the newly widened Market bike lane.

“I think it feels more welcoming for cyclists, and it helps drivers realize that that’s a different kind of space,” said Brinkman. “I think for San Francisco, the green has really come to symbolize that that’s a space where there’s going to be a bicycle. And extra buffer zone is really nice because you can really ride out of the door zone.”

A couple of relatively new treatments (for SF) were also implemented on northern Valencia, at the intersections of Duboce Avenue and McCoppin Streets.

Duboce, which Jose noted sees “the fifth highest number of injury collisions citywide” (fourth highest for bicycle injuries), received a number of safety tweaks. Jose said these are the first of two phases for “Vision Zero improvements” planned for the intersection.

At Valencia and Duboce, a “mixing zone” was created by widening the bike lane approach.

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Trucker Who Killed Amelie Le Moullac Deemed “Negligent” in Civil Suit

A civil jury has determined that a truck driver was negligent when he killed Amelie Le Moullac as she rode her bike at Folsom and Sixth Streets in August 2013, KQED’s Bryan Goebel (Streetsblog SF’s first editor) reported today:

Amelie Le Moullac. Photo: Voce Communications

A San Francisco Superior Court jury has found the driver of a big rig truck negligent for striking and killing a 24-year-old woman who was bicycling to Caltrain in the city’s South of Market.

Amelie Le Moullac’s family had sought $20 million in damages from the driver, Gilberto Alcantar, 47, and Milpitas-based Daylight Foods. The jury awarded the family $4 million, and also found Daylight Foods legally responsible for the August 2013 crash at 6th and Folsom streets.

“This was not a mere accident, and I’m relieved to hear from the jury that something wrong was done, and I’m very sorry that the police missed that,” Denis Le Moullac, Amelie’s father, told KQED. “One can only be relieved to hear that our daughter had done nothing wrong. This is not really something that deeply consoles us, but it satisfies us.”

The finding that Le Moullac was not at fault for her own death reinforces the finding of SFPD investigators after footage of the crash was presented to them by Marc Caswell, then a staffer for the SF Bicycle Coalition, who tracked down the video himself after a memorial and rally held at the scene of the crash. Earlier that day, SFPD Sergeant Richard Ernst had parked in the bike lane to make a point of blaming Le Moullac for her own death.

“After we held the memorial for Ms. Le Moullac, and Sergeant Ernst had acted so outrageously, we were standing on the corner cleaning up when I had a pang of doubt that the SFPD had treated this case as seriously as I would have hoped they would,” Caswell recalled. “So, I decided to just ask the businesses — and I am so honored that my small action led to some amount of resolution for the Le Moullac family from this terrible injustice.”

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Dutch Suburbs Are Like America’s, and Protected Bike Lanes Work Fine There

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This post is part of The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

This is the first in a two-post series on Dutch suburbs.

People the in U.S. street design world — sometimes even people who write for this very website — regularly say that U.S. development patterns mean that Dutch street designs can’t be immediately adopted in the States.

That’s a lot less true than you might think.

Of course some ideas can’t/won’t port over wholesale. But especially by European standards, the Netherlands is actually probably one of the most spatially similar places to much of the U.S. Guess where this is:

Count the fast food signs, the car lanes all leading up to a big freeway underpass. If not for the protected bike lane this could be Anywhere, North America. But this is actually in Amsterdam proper.

The reality is that only a minority of Dutch people live in the medieval centers of Amsterdam, Gouda, and Utrecht. Though many tourists visiting Amsterdam for a couple of days don’t typically see this, many Dutch people’s daily reality includes stuff much more like this:

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Jay Walder on What’s Next for America’s Biggest Bike-Share Company

Last fall, former MTA chief Jay Walder took over as CEO of Alta Bicycle Share, part of a restructuring that injected new resources and expertise into a company that had struggled to keep up with the demands of running bike-share systems in half a dozen major American cities.

Jay Walder. Photo: fortunelivemedia/Flickr

This morning, the company came out with a new name, Motivate, one of the first public announcements in what’s expected to be a year of rapid improvement and growth. (Another piece of news dropped earlier this week: Jersey City has picked the company to run its new bike-share system, which will be accessible to Citi Bike members.)

I got a few minutes this afternoon to chat with Walder about the new name, the status of the Citi Bike overhaul, and his vision for the company. Here’s our Q&A, edited for length and clarity.

What led to renaming the company and why did you go with “Motivate”?

It was a requirement to rename the company after taking over. We engaged in a discussion of our values, and what we want to achieve. We think it fits in with the way people think of [bike-share] in their life. When I think about it, I use words like “action” and “energy” and “movement.” I think it also reflects that as a company we have to be continually moving and changing and evolving in the cities and urban areas where we are.

After we ran a short post this morning about the name change, readers immediately wanted to know more about efforts to make Citi Bike more reliable. What can you tell us about how that’s going?

When we took over, we said we would be working over the winter to use this time to make Citi Bike more reliable. We said we would overhaul all 6,000 bikes in our fleet, and that is underway right now.

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New Name for Alta Bicycle Share: “Motivate”

With a new name, Motivate is telling cities more bike-share stations are on the way. Photo: Citi Bike

After new management took over in 2014, injecting capital and expertise that’s expected to turn around a sputtering operation, the company formerly known as Alta Bicycle Share has adopted a new name: Motivate. (A verb! Very active transportation-y.)

Motivate operates bike-share systems in New York, DC, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and Seattle, making it the dominant player in the American bike-share market. While the company isn’t releasing details about how it plans to upgrade the problematic software and equipment that’s held back system growth in those cities and stalled the launch of systems elsewhere, today’s announcement promised a new wave of expansion.

“As cities change and grow more rapidly than ever, only bike share is flexible and personalized to keep pace,” CEO Jay Walder said in the statement. “Now, with the backing of new ownership, Motivate is positioned to deliver even better service to cities and bring bike share to scale.”

Walder told U.S. News that changes are underway now in preparation for peak bike-share season. “We’re trying to use the winter to be able to get things done,” he said.

Public presentations about adding Citi Bike stations started up last month in New York.

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Coming to Caltrain: Longer Trains With More Room for Bikes

Caltrain Bombarier Bike Car With Folding Bikes

Caltrain’s Bombardier trains currently only carry 48 bikes each. With trains receiving a third bike car, 72 bikes can fit on board. Photo: John Woodell/Twitter

Caltrain will add a third bike car to all six of its Bombardier trains, Executive Director Michael Scanlon announced at the transit agency’s monthly board of directors meeting last week. With the new cars, bike capacity will increase from 48 to 72 on each of the Bombardier trains. But it could take up to one year to place the six-car trains into service.

The new bike cars are part of a larger $15 million project to acquire and refurbish 16 used rail cars from Los Angeles Metrolink, adding about 2,000 seats across Caltrain’s fleet. The agency’s 15 older gallery-style trains already carry 80 bikes each, since seats are not placed in the center of the two bike cars on those trains, and will not receive more bike capacity.

Crowding on Caltrain is becoming increasingly severe during the morning and evening rush. A record 61,670 passengers packed into the agency’s five-car trains on an average weekday in October 2014, and “standing room only” is now the norm during peak hours. With ridership growing more than 10 percent each year since 2009, the trend shows no sign of stopping. New office space and housing construction in San Francisco, along El Camino Real in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, and within walking distance of Caltrain stations are also quickly filling up any remaining passenger capacity even on trains running outside the traditional commute times.

The number of passengers bringing bicycles on Caltrain has grown four times faster than overall ridership since 2008. Strong growth in the Bay Area’s tech and finance economies continues to bring thousands more workers every year to suburban office developments located far from any practical rail or bus services — making train-plus-bike the only feasible alternative to commuting by car.

Caltrain officials were initially leaning toward adding refurbished rail cars to the Bombardier fleet with total seating for about 650 passengers but no spaces for bikes. That would have actually cut the share of passengers who can bring a bike on board compared to the status quo, even as bike-plus-train trips continue to outpace overall Caltrain ridership growth.

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