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Posts from the Commuting Category


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

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
, 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.


Bay Area Counties Compete to Curb Solo Auto Commutes

traffic_small.jpgYuck. Photo: izahorsky
In an effort to curb solo commuting and educate employees at various city and county agencies, and at several touchstone regional employers, and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District are sponsoring the "Great Race for Clean Air" in August and September. The event is similar to TransForm's CarFree Challenge or the SFBC's Gas-Free Fridays, but the focus is more on employers and education in the workplace.

Lilian Chan, a Transportation Demand Management Coordinator for the San Francisco Department of the Environment, said the goal is not only to get employers to sign up and engage in friendly competition to reduce greenhouse gas emission from employee commutes over two months this summer, but to engage with them in longer-term education campaigns and ultimately alter commute patterns. 

"We're hoping to get larger employers involved to get their support in encouraging alternative transportation for their employees," she said.

The employers will compete with similar-sized companies in each county and the winners will receive a special commendation by county authorities. Though this is the first year the event will be held, the various resource teams in each county hope the Great Race catches on and becomes an annual tradition.

Be sure to sign up before the July 15th deadline and encourage your employer to promote the event if they don't already.

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TransForm’s Car-Free Challenge Starts June 1st

TransForm's annual Car-Free Challenge is coming up in a few weeks and they've produced this video to get you in the spirit. If you'll remember last year we profiled several inspirational participants who demonstrated that you don't need a ride to raise a family and the mystique of a driver's license as personal ticket to freedom doesn't hold sway for some teenagers in the East Bay.

If you're already car-free or car-lite, they still want you to sign up and give inspiration to those who might not think it's possible to drive less or not at all.

As TransForm's Susanna Handow noted, the "walk-bike-transit-athon" was a real inspiration last year for participants and they expect a larger pool of challengers this year. Beyond a week of reduced driving, said Handow, they hope the event inspires year-long changes to habits that encourage better health and a lower carbon footprint. We'll be tracking the stories and highlighting some of them on Streetsblog. Hopefully you'll be among them.

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Streetfilms: Tom Vanderbilt Talks “Traffic”

Whether you're a transportation geek or just curious about the psychology and behavior of drivers, Tom Vanderbilt's "Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)" is one of the most fascinating books you can pick up.

Tom sat down recently for an hour conversation with OpenPlans founder Mark Gorton about his vast research into the world of car and driver. The chat - which we think we've edited down to an entertaining ten minutes -  covered topics as diverse as an Invisible Gorilla to intense DriveCam footage of automobile crashes to H.W. Heinrich's Industrial Accident Pyramid. From texting-while-driving to noise-canceling technology, Tom gives us the skinny on everything traffic.

Tom also writes the very popular blog How We Drive.


MTC Report Shows Dismal Future for Transit Operators

cost_to_run_small.jpgImage: MTC
The 2009 Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) Annual Report paints a sobering picture of funding crises at nearly every Bay Area Transit operator -- crises we've covered extensively on Streetsblog -- and sums up the situation bluntly: "There is no way to sugarcoat it: These are difficult, daunting days for public transit in the Bay Area."

The report rightly points to endemic land-use and auto-centric development problems in the Bay Area that make transit less attractive for many than driving: "The Bay Area's transit system operates under the difficult combination of unpredictable revenue sources and unsustainable cost structure on the one hand, and underpriced auto alternatives and insufficiently transit-supportive land uses on the other."

One of the more troubling aspects of the report, as KALW's Nathanael Johnson wrote on the Bay Area Transit blog, is that the picture is only going to get worse without a significant change in course. Operators have already cut service and raised fares, but new capital costs will add additional burden and farebox recovery rates aren't going up.

"The MTC added up the projected budgets of the agencies and found that operating costs would exceed revenues by $8 billion over the next 25 years, while planned improvements (like new buses and the Warm Springs BART station) will require someone to dig up an additional $17 billion in spare change from under the couch," wrote Johnson.

The report also contends that transit operators have fallen short in performance. Since 1997, after adjusting for inflation, transit costs in the Bay Area have increased by 52 percent, while revenue hours of service increased by only 16 percent and ridership increased by only 7 percent.

"That is a terrible return on our regions' transit investment and it should cause us to think long and hard before committing future funds to such a low-yield strategy," the report concludes.

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National Survey: Driving Down in 2009, Sustainable Transport Up

nhts0109.jpgNHTS data from 2001 and 2009 shows a major increase in sustainable transportation. Image via Mobilizing the Region.
Between 2001 and 2009, the share of trips that Americans made in cars dropped by more than four percent, with walking, bicycling and transit use picking up the slack, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Last year, 11.9 percent of all trips were on foot or by bike, while 4.2 percent of trips were on transit. Both figures signify major increases.

The National Household Travel Survey, the source of the new stats, is the gold-standard for transportation data. As Mobilizing the Region reported, while the Census only tracks how people get to work, the NHTS gathers data on all trips taken. It also distinguishes between, say, driving to a park-and-ride bus area and walking to the local bus stop.

The downside to the NHTS is how infrequently the survey is conducted, which makes it difficult to determine how much the 2009 data reflects a larger trend, and how much may be due to temporary changes brought on by fluctuating gas prices and the recession.


“The Highway to Play a Vital Role in the Progress of Civilization”

Disney's Magic Highway USA is one of the more extraordinary examples of the myopic devotion to automobility and its infrastructure I've ever seen. It's probably also required viewing at the Reason Foundation and among Senator James Inhofe's staff in Washington DC.

"As in the past, the highway will continue to play a vital role in the progress of civilization," the narrator tells us. "It will be our magic carpet to new hopes, new dreams, and a better way of life for the future."

If you don't have nine minutes to watch, I can tell you it proffers some choice gender-role limitations characteristic of the era and it predicts some of the more deleterious development patterns that would result from the completion of the Interstate Highway system, which had begun only two years before the film aired in 1958. Rather than the Le Corbusier-inspired decentralized urban centers depicted lovingly in the film, we've got Atlanta and Phoenix.

Magic Highway USA also predicts that highways of the future will automatically light up the roads at night and radiant heat in the asphalt will keep the surfaces dry through ice and snow. "When visibility is poor, our windshields become a radar screen," says the narrator. "Fog may be eliminated by 'dispelling devises' along the right-of-way."

And how about "preserving the beauty and candor of mountain travel" with the cantilevered roadways stapled to the side of Monument Valley sandstone monoliths?

The only mention of walking in this unfortunately familiar dystopia is a snide joke, when the narrator quips: "From his private parking space, Father will probably have to walk to his desk."

The animated film was directed by Ward Kimble, the Academy-Award Winning Disney animator who gave us Jiminy Cricket and many of the characters in Peter Pan and who worked on numerous Disney classics.  Ironically, Kimble was a collector of train ephemera and owned a 3-acre train track circuit on his property in San Gabriel, California, nicknamed the Grizzly Flats Railroad. He is even credited for inspiring the Disneyland Railroad at Disneyland.

Of course, with no walking or any other unnecessary physical activity, the characters in the film turn out to be far too hale and trim. The people of this future should probably look more like those from this recent Disney animated film:



Santa Cruz Non-Profit Now Offers Ride Insurance to Car-Free Commuters

Transit and bike commuters in many cities are able to rush home
quickly if an emergency strikes — but for commuters looking to give up
their cars in less dense areas, an emergency often means a pricey cab
ride. One California county that falls in the latter camp, Santa Cruz,
has come up with a unique solution: "ride insurance."

Ecology Action, a local non-profit, has begun offering
a program that guarantees taxi transport for non-car-owning commuters
who experience a family emergency, a personal crisis, or the premature
departure of an office carpool.

The service costs $24 per
year and has a cap of four rides annually, or $100. Ecology Action,
which also helps local businesses collaborate on shared ride insurance
for transit- or bike-riding commuters, sees potential in the new
product. From today’s San Jose Mercury News:

expect the insurance program to resonate with those who fear leaving
the car behind in the event they need to pick up a child unexpectedly
or deal with an unforeseen emergency.

"It’s a little more incentive not to drive," Bustos said. …

"This is a new
concept, absolutely," said Tegan Speiser, a senior transportation
planner for the Regional Transportation Commission, a partner in the
RideSurance program.

Speiser said such individual ride insurance
plans could come to play an equally viable role in commuting life as
roadside assistance plans, like AAA.

The program is now funded by grant money from the area’s air pollution control district, though its goals would make it a good match for green transportation benefits under consideration for inclusion in the Senate climate change bill.


BART Transit Operators Announce Strike by End of Day Sunday

Jesse_Hunt.jpgATU 1555 President Jesse Hunt announcing strike. Photo: Matthew Roth

Standing in front of union headquarters in downtown Oakland this afternoon, leadership for BART's Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1555 announced that their rank and file would walk off the job after the last trains finish their run this Sunday night, effectively shutting down BART across the Bay Area.  ATU 1555 represents train operators and station agents and is the second largest union working for BART, representing roughly 900 employees.

ATU 1555 President Jesse Hunt said that after four months of negotiating, his members turned down a contract proposal and took the members concerns to BART's negotiating team, thinking the negotiations were fruitful, so he was upset and surprised by the unanimous vote by BART's Board of Directors to impose a one-year contract on them after an executive session this morning.

"The contract that the BART Board has decided to impose is far worse than the contract that was in front of our members this week.  It's a regressive proposal that will net a seven percent pay cut as well as eliminate what is our social security to members. Regrettably, they have taken action to end negotiations."

BART Directors announced they would force the work rules on the ATU's members after an executive session this morning. 

“This was not an action we wanted to take,” BART Board of Directors President Thomas M. Blalock said. “We worked tirelessly to reach a settlement through the negotiation process but after four very long months of talks we have reached an impasse. As a result, ATU has left this Board with no other choice but to implement terms and conditions of employment. This is a regrettable but necessary step that we must take in order to immediately begin the urgent process of addressing BART’s rapidly deteriorating financial situation.”

Hunt said the other BART unions would honor the picket line and that ATU was being asked to shoulder too much burden. "The BART Board's imposition of this contract calls for cuts, only from the members of ATU,. in ways that have not been discussed at the negotiating table."