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Finally, a Little Accountability for State DOTs on Bike and Pedestrian Safety

In a win for bike and pedestrian safety, the Federal Highway Administration announced yesterday that it will require state transportation agencies to do something they have never had to do before: set goals to reduce bike and pedestrian fatalities, and track progress toward attaining those goals.

The news is part of FHWA’s roll-out of several “performance measures” for state and regional transportation agencies. The system of metrics is supposed to make the agencies more accountable for the billions of dollars in federal transportation funds they receive every year.

Advocates for walking and biking pressed FHWA to include bike and pedestrian safety measures in the performance standards, after they were initially excluded. Andy Clarke, former head of the League of American Bicyclists, now with the Toole Design Group, said the League helped solicit more than 11,000 comments in favor of creating performance measures for bike and pedestrian safety.

FHWA must have been listening. In its announcement, the agency said, “Non-motorized safety is of particular concern and improving conditions and safety for bicycling and walking will help create an integrated, intermodal transportation system that provides travelers with real choices.” Translation: The feds value walking and biking.

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SF Moves to Next Round in Competition for Federal “Smart City” Grant

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Self-driving cars are one of many technologies that may change transportation in the Bay Area. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Self-driving cars are one of many technologies that Bay Area leaders are preparing for in a submission to the Smart City Challenge. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Over the weekend, San Francisco and six other finalists made it to the next round of the US Department of Transportation’s “Smart City Challenge” grant competition.

It’s part of a USDOT program to get cities thinking about new technology. In a few months, USDOT will announce the winner of the ultimate prize: $50 million for implementation of the best idea for using technology to improve transportation. The award includes a $40 million grant from the government and $10 million more from Vulcan, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s philanthropy.

“We received applications from 78 cities that fully embraced the Challenge,” wrote Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a blog post. Originally, the USDOT was going to work with five cities, but the Secretary wrote that they invited two more to join. “Each of these finalists will receive $100,000 to build out their vision, including submitting budgets and expanding their proposals.”

Of course, this was a perfect opportunity for SFMTA’s new “Office of Innovation,” led by Timothy Papandreou, Chief Innovation Officer at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. “That’s why the office of innovation was created.” San Francisco’s proposal aims to get in front of the next phase of the sharing economy, he said. “We learned our lesson from the last couple of years.” The rapid rise of Uber and Lyft taught city transportation agencies just how quickly things are changing.

He added that San Francisco’s entry will have them partnering with tech, communications, and transportation companies to start planning for integration of ride-hailing with existing transit assets. “We want to make it mature so ride-hailing is folded into transit as a step towards shifting behaviors from personal cars, and to get access to everyone,” he said. That means that, as shown in the USDOT video below, in the future someone who buys a Muni or Caltrain ticket will be able to get off the train and find a ride-share–perhaps one day an automated car–waiting right there.

Despite a recent small setback, self-driving cars seem tantalizingly close to ready for the road. And what will that mean for the future of transportation? Will it mean more cars? Probably not. But will these new automated cars draw people away from transit, and consume more energy in the end? That will depend. Rather than wait until the technology is in widespread use before formulating policies, as transportation agencies ended up doing with Uber and Lyft, San Francisco is hoping to shape the use of new tech to reduce Vehicle Miles Traveled and CO2 emissions.

Papandreou also envisions a day when automated vehicles respond to demand, so a five-person or fifty-person vehicle will show up depending how many people want to travel and where. By making ride-hailing more dominant, there will be less need for parking and parking structures for private automobiles, which sit around doing nothing most of the time. That will free up more room for more important uses, such as housing, he explained.
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Streetsblog USA
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American Sharrow Inventor: “I Was Always Under Pressure to Do Less”

Sharrows, what are they good for? A recent study suggests that one thing shared lane markings don’t do is improve safety for cyclists. The conclusion has sparked an online debate and some detailed defense of sharrows in the right conditions.

The original sharrow, developed by a Denver bike planning in the early 1990s. Image: The Bicycle Story

The original American sharrow, developed in Denver in the early 1990s. Image: The Bicycle Story

Seattle-based journalist Josh Cohen produces the Bicycle Story podcast, and in his new episode he digs into some of the history of sharrows in America. It’s illuminating stuff.

Cohen interviewed traffic engineer James Mackay, who pioneered the use of sharrows in America when he worked for the city of Denver’s bike program in the early 1990s. Mackay said the agency culture — one that resisted taking any risks to improve conditions for cycling — was a factor in the design:

I thought at that time of a sign to define that bicyclists were intended users of the road and define lane position and to confirm that jurisdictional agencies understood that bicyclists would be using the road there. We came up with a design that had the bicycle symbol, the bicyclists with the wheels, inside an arrow outline and it was quickly called the bike in the house with the man jumping barrels at home.

Part of it was the city of Denver’s reluctance to do much of anything for bicycles. So I figured, this would be a less expensive approach versus the conventional bike lane markings. A lot of the agencies don’t want to do anything involving change or spending money for bicycles. I was always under pressure to do less as the Denver bicycle planner.

He told Cohen that he even had to fight with city officials to implement sharrows properly:

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Streetsblog USA
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It’s True: The Typical Car Is Parked 95 Percent of the Time

Cars are a very inefficient transportation technology for too many reasons to count. They take up huge amounts of space but get driven around mostly empty — the average private car in the U.S. carries only 1.6 people. A lot of the time, people drive distances that are short enough to easily walk or bike — 28 percent of car trips are a mile or less, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Photo: Clive Perrin via Reinventing Parking

Photo: Clive Perrin via Reinventing Parking

But perhaps the most profound inefficiency is that cars mostly just sit there. Early on in Donald Shoup’s influential tome, The High Cost of Free Parking, he points out that cars are parked 95 percent of the time.

Paul Barter at Network blog Reinventing Parking wanted to show the basis for this assertion. Turns out, it’s a surprisingly bullet-proof figure that holds up across different methods of calculation and in different countries. He crunched the numbers three ways:

Option #1: based on the number of cars, the number of car trips and the average time duration of car trips: 

A UK report on parking put out last year by the RAC Foundation (and well worth a read by the way!) uses this method based on data from the UK National Travel Survey (NTS) (see p.23):

“… there are about 25 billion car trips per year, and with some 27 million cars, this suggests an average of just under 18 trips per car every week. Since the duration of the average car trip is about 20 minutes, the typical car is only on the move for 6 hours in the week: for the remaining 162 hours it is stationary – parked.”

Since there are 168 hours in a week, the typical UK car is parked 96.5% of the time –  even higher than Shoup’s US estimate!

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SF Planning Commission Officially Prioritizes Humans over Cars

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Adopting the new environmental criteria should make it easier to dedicate lanes for transit vehicles. Image: SFMTA.

Adopting the new environmental criteria should make it easier to dedicate lanes for transit vehicles. Image: SFMTA.

Late last week, the San Francisco Planning Commission unanimously adopted a resolution to replace “Level of Service” (LOS) with “Vehicle Miles Traveled” (VMT). That’s bureaucratese for measuring a project’s overall effect on moving people, instead of just counting automobiles. As explained in a previous post, environmental law has long forced transportation planners to grade projects by how they impact traffic flow. “This will streamline California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review for projects that are designed to encourage public transit, promote pedestrian safety and help reduce the need for traveling long distances by car,” said John Rahaim, Director of San Francisco Planning, in an official release. “We are pleased to be the first city in California to adopt these new guidelines.”

LOS often jammed up projects such as bike and transit lanes, which–arguably–reduce the number of cars that flow through a given area by taking lane space, but increase the number of people who can get from A to B. In short, the new rules, in the process of being adopted at the state level, make it so something as benign as a bike lane doesn’t trigger an expensive and time consuming environmental review.

“This is exciting news for public transit in San Francisco. VMT is not only a better metric for assessing overall environmental impact of our streets, but it also clears the way to waste less time and money implementing great Transit First projects,” said Reed Martin, a member of the Executive Board of the San Francisco Transit Riders Union. “Van Ness BRT took an extra six years and almost $8 million just to study traffic impacts based on the car-biased LOS metric.

This will go a long way towards “speeding up critically needed street projects to achieve Vision Zero, increasing our public resources by decreasing the time and staff needed for environmental review processes, and ensuring California’s goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prioritize biking, walking, and transit as sustainable modes of transportation are met,” said Margaret McCarthy Interim Executive Director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.
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Via Streetsblog California
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More Californians Are Commuting by Bike

Screen shot 2016-03-08 at 12.02.28 PMThe Alliance for Biking and Walking just published its 2016 Benchmarking Report, which ranks states and cities on key statistics including the percentage of people commuting by bike. Every biannual report is a little bit different, as states develop their data collection and the Alliance is better able to compare statistics across fields.

California’s bike commute mode share now ranks fourth among the fifty states, up from sixth in 2014. At 1.1 percent of all California commuters, the number of bike commuters is slightly up from the 1 percent in the 2014 report. But it still has a ways to go to get to the tripling of bike mode share that Caltrans and the California Bicycle Coalition have set as goals for the state (to 4.5 percent of all trips by 2020).

The Alliance’s Benchmarking Report promotes good data collection about bicycling and walking, and makes that data available to support informed decisions about policy, infrastructure, and funding. It also seeks to make the connection between health and active transportation. To that end this report includes data about health markers including obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.

There are caveats. For one thing, the data is very general, comparing population-wide statistics that may or may not have a causal relationship. It is also limited by its sources; for example, the bike and pedestrian mode share data comes from the U.S. Census, which limits travel mode questions to the commute trip. This not only leaves out the considerable number of other trips people make—thus likely undercounting these modes in particular—but the census only gives people one choice when they answer, so that a person who walks to transit will report that as a transit trip, not a walking trip.

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One of the very useful charts in the 2016 Benchmarking Report.

Furthermore, much of the data is self-reported. It is not necessarily wrong, but in some cases it can be inconsistent, especially when comparing between different states.

Keeping these caveats in mind, the Alliance’s Benchmarking Report is still a key source of nationwide data about bicycle and pedestrian trips. Though more and better data is needed, this report is a great place to start and getting better every time.

California’s 1.1 percent bike commute mode share is smaller than cyclists want it to be, but it is nothing to sneeze at. California is, by a long shot, the most populous state in the nation. At 38 million, CA is 12 million more than the next most populous state, Texas—which only has a 0.3 percent bike commute mode share. At 1.1 percent, that’s a lot more bicycle commuters on our roads than in many other states.

The report has a fascinating story to tell, buried in its statistics, about poverty, gender, race, and mode choice was well. For example, Read more…

Via Streetsblog California
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Legislative Update: CalBike Agenda for 2016

bikeatCapitollabel2The California Bicycle Coalition, aka CalBike, continues to push for increasing funding for the Active Transportation Program, which currently receives $120 million per year. The bike coalition wants the state to add $100 million to the program, which sounds like a lot but is roughly one percent of the total transportation budget—even though bike and walking trips make up nearly 19 percent of all trips made in California. The state budget planning process, in which the two legislative houses and the governor negotiate a final budget by June, is one avenue for getting more funding.

Also in play are several bills that were introduced in last year’s Special Session on Transportation. Senator Jim Beall’s (D-Campbell) proposal to raise transportation funds through higher gas taxes, S.B. X1-1, would limit highway expansions and require complete streets improvements. Senator Jim Frazier’s (D-Oakley) transportation funding bill, A.B. 1591, has some similarities. The Special Session on Transportation lost steam at the end of last year’s session and these two bills were left hanging. However, now that the other Special Session—on health care funding—has successfully concluded, attention will soon turn to the unfinished business of transportation funding—so stay tuned.

Additionally, CalBike is sponsoring a couple of bills that will benefit bike riders in other ways. One, A.B. 1982 from Streetsblog California Streetsie winner, Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), calls for traffic signals to be timed to give bike riders a “green wave”—that is, any vehicle traveling at an average speed of 12 to 15 miles per hour would get a green light as it arrives at intersections. Under Bloom’s bill, when money from the state’s cap-and-trade program is used to fix signal timing so that traffic runs smoothly—thus reducing emissions, a requirement for receiving cap and trade funds—the signal timing must be set to match the speed of the average bike rider. That would give bike riders a big advantage, speeding up and smoothing bike commutes. “Green waves” have been successfully implemented in San Francisco along Valencia street, where they make bike and car speeds about the same. That is another advantage of “green waves” at that speed: they encourage slower, safer driving by all vehicles.

Bloom is also co-author, with Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley), of A.B. 2796, which would require the California Transportation Commission (CTC) to award Active Transportation Program funds for planning and community engagement in disadvantaged communities, as well as other non-infrastructure projects. This has long been a subject of some contention in workshops on guidelines for the Active Transportation Program. The CTC tends to award money to infrastructure projects, and Commissioner Carl Guardino, who was recently reappointed, has made it clear he doesn’t want to allocate any money for planning. However, it’s hard to build infrastructure if you can’t plan it, and many areas of the state have very little capacity (that is, money) to support planning for bikes, let alone conduct real community outreach that lets planners know what would work best for people.

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Streetsblog USA
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Bike Counts Rising Fast at Automated Counters Around the World

Medellín, Columbia. The country has two Eco-Counters.

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 battle to make biking a viable transportation or recreation choice for more people is fought mostly at the local level: a protected bike lane here, a BMX course there, a new mom-and-pop bike shop down the street.

But it’s sometimes nice to remember that this fight is happening, on some level, every day in every country around the world.

And at least in the industrialized world, Team Bike is generally winning.

That’s the takeaway from the first three years of data from Eco-Counter, a France-based firm that has installed 12,000 automated people-counters around the world to measure bike and foot traffic. One is in front of the Strathmore Building on the campus of UCLA; another is on the Avenida Figueroa Alcorta protected bike lanes in Buenos Aires; a third is on the car-free Sillsteg Bridge in Innsbruck, Austria.

Starting in 2013, the company began analyzing data from 1,500 of these counters to create something unique: an index that tracks changes in bike counts across all these locations year after year.

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Are Outdated Regulations Holding Back Safety Changes on Market?

Family, friends and advocates attend a memorial for Thu Phan. Photo: JikaiahStevens.

Family, friends, and advocates attend a memorial for Thu Phan. Photo: JikaiahStevens.

Today, advocates for livable streets attended the memorial service for Thu Phan, a woman killed in a crosswalk on Market Street on February 5. Yesterday Streetsblog urged SFMTA to stop compromising on safety improvements, a theme echoed at the event.

“In the first two months of 2016, five people have already died in traffic crashes – and over half of those were killed on or near our most dangerous streets,” said Walk SF executive director, Nicole Ferrara. “While the recent changes to Market Street are important first steps in making San Francisco’s streets safer, they do not go far enough, especially to protect people who are most at risk, including seniors and people with disabilities. Thu Phan’s tragic death could have been prevented, if stronger safety measures were in place.”

The tragedy highlighted something else that’s painfully obvious: Market Street will always be a dangerous place as long as there are automobiles on it. Between the streetcars, bicycles, buses, pedestrians and—above all else—automobiles, it’s not so much that there’s a particular intersection that’s problematic. The entire street, as currently configured, is a conflict generator.
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Trains Boats and Bikes: Sonoma-Marin Rail and Bike Path Update

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SMART rail rolling stock is delivered and testing, with the first service starting late this year

SMART rail rolling stock is delivered and testing, with the first service starting late this year. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Streetsblog was given a tour of the southernmost segment of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) project, which is currently doing finishing work and testing on the initial 43 miles of line, running from near Sonoma County Airport to downtown San Rafael. SMART is re-purposing the historic Northwestern Pacific Railroad corridor, an old 70-mile rail line that hasn’t had passenger service for half a century. SMART has replaced all tracks and put in modern signal and safety systems. Service on this first phase will start late this year.

“65 percent of greenhouse gases come out of our tailpipes,” explained Matt Stevens, SMART’s Community Education and Outreach manager. “This is a way to make a contribution.” But for drivers who crave something beyond helping the environment, there are other reasons to take the train. “It’s got WIFI, tables, plugs for chargers and a bar,” he added. Stevens also said the counties have plans to focus future development around station hubs. It’s hoped the train will alleviate–or at least give people an alternative to–the heavily trafficked 101.

SMART uses Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) trains, built by an American subsidiary of Japan’s oldest train car maker, Nippon Sharyo. DMUs are essentially buses running on train tracks; they combine the interior space, speed and comfort of a train, with the low operational costs of a bus. That’s because unlike Caltrain and other commuter railroads, they don’t require big, bulky locomotives to pull them. Instead, each car has its own on-board diesel engine for propulsion.

The advantage of DMU is flexibility. Trains can be made as short or as long as demand requires, with no impact on performance. So SMART can run single-car trains very early in the morning or late at night, when ridership is low, or long trains during rush hour when ridership is high. And the system, if ridership is high enough, can be electrified later, which would permit even faster speeds and more frequent, BART-like service. Unlike BART, though, the trains are standard gauge, so freight trains can share the tracks for local deliveries. Meanwhile, DMUs, which are commonplace overseas, are starting to gain in popularity in the U.S. The “eBART” extension of Bay Area Rapid Transit to Antioch is employing them, as does the Sprinter train in North San Diego.
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