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Posts from the "Commuting" Category

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Study: All Across America, Car Commuting Is Dropping

Driving is declining and non-driving transportation is increasing in urbanized areas. Image: U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group

Since 2000, car commuting has dropped across the board while other forms of travel have tended to increase in America’s 100 biggest urban areas. Image: U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group

U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group are on a mission to explore the downward trend in driving. In a series of reports, they point to evidence that it isn’t just a temporary blip, but a long-term shift in how Americans get around. Today, the two organizations released a new report, “Transportation in Transition: A Look at Changing Travel Patterns in America’s Biggest Cities,” which shows that these changes are happening in regions all over the country.

In 99 of the nation’s 100 largest regions — the cities and suburbs that are home to more than half the U.S. population — fewer people got to work in a private vehicle in 2010 than in 2000. In the vast majority of those areas, households are shedding cars while more people are getting on the bus and taking up biking. These 100 regions are the engines of the U.S. economy and where most of the nation’s population growth is happening.

Since state DOT data collection leaves much to be desired, PIRG and Frontier Group encountered some situations where they couldn’t do an apples-to-apples comparison. As a result, they examined vehicle miles traveled trends in only 74 of the 100 largest urbanized areas. In 54 of those, VMT had dropped. Across the country, mileage is down 7.6 percent per capita since 2004.

“Each city has a different story,” U.S. PIRG’s Phineas Baxandall said in an email. “Sometimes the stories are hard to see because the data is messy, but the overall picture suggests real changes in how people get around.”

The report kicks off with a lovely tale about one city’s fight to keep a highway from destroying downtown:

When Madison, Wisconsin, was given the opportunity to bring the interstate into the city in the 1960s, local officials decided to keep its downtown highway-free — they believed that a highway running through Madison’s narrow downtown isthmus would make the city less attractive. But without the Interstate, city officials needed to make sure that residents had access to other modes of transportation to travel down-town. So city planners sought to build a multimodal transportation network that promoted bicycling, public transit and walking.

And guess what? Those investments are still paying off. As attitudes about transportation and urban living shifted over the past decade and more people decided to explore life outside the automobile, Madisonians had lots of good options to choose from. On average, each city resident drove 18 percent fewer miles in 2011 than in 2006 — from 8,900 miles down to 7,300. Meanwhile, biking to work soared 88 percent in the last 11 years, and bus ridership is way up.

U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group encourage other places to follow Madison’s lead. Madison started investing in multi-modalism in the 1960s and 70s, when driving was still ascendant. Today, as Americans embrace transit and active transportation in greater numbers, driving declines, and new roads become increasingly poor investments, those same strategies should seem like ordinary common sense.

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San Francisco’s Downtown Commute Patterns, Animated

Note: Use the top left drop-down menu to select “Bay Area” and get a view of San Francisco.

A new interactive map provides a glimpse into how San Francisco workers and residents commute — where they go, which modes of transport they use, and how much money they make. The map, created by UC Berkeley planning Ph.D. student Fletcher Foti, uses travel survey data to display transportation patterns using colored dots that designate respondents’ transport mode and the rough location of their home. Foti created maps of the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and New York regions.

The map helps illustrate some of the findings in the SF County Transportation Authority’s congestion pricing study, which reported that 97 percent of driving in downtown SF is done by people with household incomes of more than $50,000 per year. Using the map to sort commuters by annual household income, very few blue dots (car commuters) can be seen in SoMa and the Financial District below the $75,000 bracket. There are a whole lot of red and yellow dots — walking and transit trips — commuting into downtown among all income brackets, but it’s apparent that among households earning less than $75,000, most avoid car commuting.

There’s a lot more to be gleaned from this map. A couple of other observations that jump out to me are that much of the car commuting in SF is between neighborhoods that lack convenient transit and bike routes. Meanwhile, some commuters appear to drive very short distances that could be done by Muni, bicycling, or walking if those options were more enticing.

Catch any other observations on commute patterns in SF or the rest of the Bay Area? Share them in the comments.

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Ripping on Silicon Valley Shuttles Won’t Solve SF’s Parking-Induced Problems

The corporate shuttles that whisk tech workers from the highly-valued urban habitat of San Francisco down to the burgeoning suburban campus job centers of Silicon Valley are the newest additions to San Francisco’s streets. But while it’s become convenient for critics to point the finger at this increasingly-visible symbol of gentrification as the cause of everything from skyrocketing rents to blocked Muni stops, that anger is misdirected.

A corporate shuttle and Muni bus compete for use of a curbside stop, while the vast majority of curbside space (not pictured) remains devoted to personal automobile storage. Photo: Joe Eskenazi, SF Weekly

In a new article in the Business Insider, editor Owen Thomas blasts writer Rebecca Solnit for her piece in the London Review of Books, in which she blames corporate shuttles for making housing-starved San Francisco a more attractive place to live for well-paid Peninsula tech workers, creating a housing market that is more and more difficult for other prospective residents to compete in.

Rather than blame companies for providing car-free commute options to supplement inadequate public transit, Thomas points the finger at San Francisco’s outdated parking requirements, as well as the free parking provided by Silicon Valley companies, as the real contributors to San Francisco’s housing crisis.

Complaining about a “brilliant innovation like workplace shuttles when the real problem holding back San Francisco is private cars and the way we accommodate them,” Thomas writes, is “monumentally stupid”:

The reason why Google, Apple, Facebook, and other tech companies have instituted shuttles to carry employees to and from San Francisco to their Silicon Valley campuses is because they cannot retain employees who are forced to slog in traffic for an hour or more a day, each way — then spend almost as much time circling trying to find scarce parking when they get home.

Meanwhile, the reason why those campuses exist is because the suburbs are the only places where they can situate low-slung office buildings surrounded by seas of parking lots.

There’s an easy way to fix this: Stop allowing companies to give employees free parking at work, and stop requiring parking in housing developments in San Francisco. In fact, San Francisco ought to rewrite its zoning to discourage parking in all new housing developments, if not ban it altogether.

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Transit Incentives Can’t Make Up for Parking Glut at Cathedral Hill CPMC

A rendering of CPMC's proposed 555-bed hospital and medical office building at Van Ness and Geary. Image: Rebuild CPMC

Nearly 10,000 additional cars [PDF] are predicted to travel every day to the gigantic Cathedral Hill California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) at Van Ness and Geary after it opens in 2016. While the city is negotiating how much the institution will pay to help mitigate the impacts those cars will have on Muni and pedestrian and bicycle safety, some advocates argue that won’t make up for a fundamental flaw: The medical center will include too much parking.

The 555-bed hospital and medical office building will include more than 1,200 parking spaces. CPMC projects half the visitors and employees to come by transit, foot or bike. But based on CPMC’s track record at three of its existing sites in the city, Marlayne Morgan of the Cathedral Hill Neighborhood Association doesn’t think that’s likely.

CPMC’s transit incentives for employees aren’t enough, says Morgan. “Even with giving $100 to take public transit, they can’t get 50 percent of their employees out of their cars,” she told the SF Board of Supervisors at a four-hour hearing last week on the transparency of CPMC’s negotiations with the city. “There’s no way to mitigate the impact of this facility unless you take it down in size.”

Cathedral Hill’s staff will be comprised largely of current CPMC employees at its other San Francisco locations, just under half of whom live outside the city, according to the transportation analysis in the CPMC’s Institutional Master Plan [PDF].

“They’re taking three hospitals and putting them in one location,” said Morgan. “It’s hard to believe that this is going to change the patterns at Cathedral Hill.”

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Supervisor Avalos Introduces Landmark Bicycle Access Legislation

Photo: sfbike

Groundbreaking legislation introduced by Supervisor and mayoral candidate John Avalos yesterday would allow the thousands of people who pedal to work in San Francisco to bring their bikes into the office.  The “Bicycle Access and Safety Ordinance” [pdf] would require the owners and managers of all commercial buildings to allow bikes in the building if there is no secure bike parking.

“Creating a safe, secure place for cyclists to store their bicycles while at work will help to promote alternative modes of transportation and contribute to the City’s effort to cut emissions, improve air quality, maximize public transportation and ease congestion,” the legislation reads. “Allowing bicycles in office buildings is an effective way to encourage cycling.”

The legislation is an improved version of a 2009 bill passed in New York City, the only U.S. city with a bicycle access law. One big difference is that SF’s version wouldn’t only apply to buildings with freight elevators. Bike commuters would not be forced to enter work through dark, garbage strewn alleys and could roll their bikes into front lobbies along with strollers, wheeled briefcases and all the other belongings workers schlep in on a daily basis. If approved, San Francisco would have the country’s strongest bicycle access ordinance.

“I think this is a great step toward ensuring more secure bike parking for the growing number of people riding to work in San Francisco. It’s sorely needed,” said Leah Shahum, the executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “We’ve heard a lot of unfortunate stories from people who would bike to work if they had secure bike parking at their office, and there’s a lot of buildings that don’t allow it.”

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SFMTA Launches Nx Judah Express Bus Pilot to Supplement Rail Service

Image: SFMTA

Squeezing onto a packed N-Judah train during rush hour is an all too common challenge for many riders of Muni’s busiest line. The SF Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), hoping to provide some relief, launched an express bus pilot program this week to supplement rail service. Dubbed the Nx Judah Express, it carries Outer Sunset commuters to the Financial District and back.

“The Nx Judah Express Bus Pilot aims to reduce crowding on the N-Judah for customers along the entire length of the route,” said SFMTA Transit Service Planning Manager Julie Kirschbaum. “It also provides an additional service choice for Outer Sunset customers traveling during commute hours.”

The dedicated fleet of buses is scheduled to run every ten minutes, but only during morning and evening peak hours. It stops only between 48th and 19th Avenues before streamlining riders to a final stop in the Financial District near Montgomery Station, traveling along some the city’s motor expressways [pdf].

Forty percent of N-Judah riders board west of 19th Avenue in the morning rush, said Kirschbaum. By the time trains reach later stops like Carl and Cole Streets, they are often already overfilled, leaving commuters stranded.

“We believe that providing the express service in the outer avenues will be the most successful because the long express portion of the route maximizes the travel time benefits of the bus relative to the train,” she said. “Further east, the subway portions of the N-Judah make the bus travel times less competitive with the rail.”

The Nx is scheduled to take passengers to their destination about as quickly as the N-Judah would. Car congestion seems to be a potential obstacle on routes like Lincoln Way and Park Presidio, but Kirschbaum said they’ve already been tested. “We will be evaluating travel time throughout the pilot and will shift to an alternate routing if needed,” she said.

The project was created by the Service Restoration Task Force, which seeks to find ways to effectively improve Muni service following cuts made in recent years. “It comes from an examination of the ridership and loads on our busiest rail line,” said Kirschbaum.

SFMTA staff will be evaluating the effectiveness of the pilot in the coming weeks.

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If You Come, They Will Build It: Notes on Livability From Rail~volution

Those looking for hope in this era of transit service cuts took heart from the words of William Millar, President of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), at Rail~volution yesterday. In his keynote speech, Millar reasons to hope for a better future — despite the fact that 84 percent of APTA members were cutting service, raising fares, laying off personnel, or delaying projects this year due to budget cuts.

Obama is a "breath of fresh air," according to APTA President William Millar, but Congress needs to step up. ##http://www.apta.com/GAP/Pages/default.aspx##WMATA via APTA##

Obama is a "breath of fresh air," according to APTA President William Millar, but Congress needs to step up. WMATA via APTA

Around the country, Millar said, voters have chosen again and again to raise their own taxes for increased service. And, he added, “it’s a breath of fresh air” to see a U.S. President get behind infrastructure investment the way Obama has.

After Millar, a panel of officials from HUD, DOT, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Portland Development Commission gave another reason for hope: the very “unnatural” action that federal agencies are beginning to take cooperating with each other.

DOT’s Beth Osborne said it’s easier for each agency to stay in its silo – and the challenges to collaboration are often surprising. “It’s not getting your high leadership agreeing to pool money or to relinquish some control over the decision-making process,” she said. “It becomes, your budget systems are different, or your computer systems don’t coordinate and communicate.” But as the TIGER II and HUD Sustainable Communities grant programs show, agencies are beginning to address those challenges and work together.

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New Study Recommends Augmenting the Benefits of Private Shuttle Service

shuttle.jpgPhoto: Matt Baume

With Bay Area public transit languishing, market forces have evolved a "shadow industry" solution: fleets of shuttle buses, operating outside of any agreement with public transit agencies, carrying employees between work and home with greater efficiency and comfort than Muni could ever hope to offer.

Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Genentech, Adobe, and Advent are among the companies offering shuttle services. An estimated two thousand people are transported on private shuttles around the city, spanning as many as fifty different stops.

Recently, Supervisor Bevan Dufty asked the San Francisco County Transportation Authority to conduct a first-of-its-kind study into the local shuttle industry. The Strategic Analysis Report: The Role of Shuttle Services in San Francisco makes several important observations about the augmentation of public transit with private services, and suggests innovative solutions to problems like idling, conflicts at transit stops, and cross-company collaboration.

Among the recommendations are coordinating shared stops with transit agencies, or establishing dedicated shuttle zones. Shared parking at bus yards is another possibility, as is a "Muni Partners" program, whereby shuttles would coordinate operations and schedules with public transit. Such a collaboration could benefit shuttle operators by facilitating access to grants and public infrastructure such as charging stations and battery-swaps.

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Jack Fleck on Market Street, Muni, Global Warming and Traffic

Jack_Fleck_.jpgPhoto: Bryan Goebel.

What does San Francisco's retired top traffic engineer think about Market Street, Muni and global warming? We sat down with Jack Fleck recently for an extended interview. The 62-year-old retired last week after more than 25 years with the former Department of Parking and Traffic and the current San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA).

Fleck expounded on a number of topics and his answers offer some insight into his thinking over the years as the city's lead traffic engineer.

On cars and driving:

As a student I started connecting all these problems with the automobile and the first one was related to the urban riots, I mean the fact that at that time equal housing laws didn't exist. So, African Americans were pretty much confined to the inner city, at the same time the freeways were crisscrossing the cities and making them much less livable, destroying neighborhoods and creating noise and pollution and all of that, and they became like pressure cookers and they exploded, and so the inner city blight and the white flight were something I paid a lot of attention to in the '60s. But then also reading Jane Jacob's book, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," and how she contrasted Robert Moses, who was the big freeway builder. His vision of how the freeway was always good versus the reality, and not just freeways, but parking lots and widening streets and all the things that she talked about to create the fabric of a city and the way that the automobile was part of the problem. It wasn't like that was the only problem, but that was something she talked a lot about and I learned the word 'livability' I think from Don Appleyard when I took classes at Berkeley. I went to grad school in City Planning at Berkeley.

So that sort of struck home as that's what I want to do, make cities livable and I don't know that it was really a word that was used a lot until more recently, but it does make sense. That's from all the days that I've been involved in this is trying to make this city a better place to live. But then there were other problems with cars obviously, the wars for oil and I think I learned the word ecology in about 1969, it was the first time I heard that word. I was like 'oh, that's a good one', because air pollution, oil spills which obviously are still a problem. So all of that sort of compounded to make me much more anti-automobile, but still, I was like 'yes, cars are still convenient and people love cars.' I was never a person that loved cars like they were my baby or something, like some people their whole identity is caught up in their cars and that's still true today, but they are very convenient to get around and so it's a love/hate thing.

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Car-Dependent States Hit Hardest by Obesity Epidemic

driving_obesity.pngStates where more people drive to work
face an even worse obesity crisis. Graphic: Noah Kazis and Carly Clark

Transportation
is a public health issue. As profiled in the recently released report
from the Trust for America’s Health, "F as in Fat,"
obesity rates continue to rise across the nation, increasing the risk
of serious health problems like diabetes and hypertension. To solve the
obesity epidemic, the data suggest, we need to rethink our dependence on
the automobile. 

"F as in Fat" breaks out obesity numbers state by state. After
glancing at their
map
, it seemed like transit and pedestrian-friendly states were
doing better than the national average. To get more precise, we decided
to compare adult obesity rates, as gathered in the report, to commuting
statistics in the U.S. Census. You
can download our spreadsheet here

The result is the scatterplot shown above, which clearly shows that
states where more people drive to work have higher obesity rates.
Caveats abound — correlation isn’t causation and state-level data can
obscure important patterns visible only through a closer microscope –
but the result is provocative. The two outliers are D.C. and New York
State; they imply that while a large shift away from driving can make a
big difference, it can’t solve the obesity crisis on its own.

Although "F as in Fat" doesn’t analyze transportation behavior
itself, the authors agree that moving away from a reliance on the
automobile is a critical component in curbing obesity. Their
recommendations include: passing
legislation supporting non-motorized transportation
, such as an
expansion of the Safe Routes to School program or a national complete
streets bill; building more safe pedestrian space and bike paths to
encourage active transport; and supporting mixed-use, walkable, and
transit-oriented development.