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Posts from the "Out of Town" Category

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Are We Smarter Than a Third Grader? On Livable Streets, Maybe Not.

The inspiring and, in a way, infuriating story of Elli Giammona popped up on the Streetsblog Network over the weekend.

MT.jpgLivable streets prodigy Elli Giammona. Photo: The Missoulian

Elli is a 9-year-old in Missoula, Montana who a couple of years ago began to question why she couldn’t bike to school.
When her mother explained that it wasn’t safe because the road leading
from their home to Hellgate Elementary — a typical suburban arterial,
from the looks of it — didn’t have a sidewalk, Elli took action.

With
encouragement from her mom and the help of her younger sister and older
brother, she petitioned Missoula County, gathering signatures and
composing a letter explaining the benefits of a walkable Mullan Road. The Missoulian reports:

The letter is dated Jan. 14, 2009, around the time [county public works director Greg] Robertson was
looking for a project eligible for American Reinvestment and
Recovery Act dollars. Criteria? A quick turnaround, a project in
the urban area, and one uncomplicated by problems like right-of-way
negotiations and extra environmental reviews.

"Honestly, I didn’t have any other projects for consideration at
the time that would have met the criteria," he said.

Long story short: A new trail is expected to be finished in time for Elli to ride it to school next fall.

Not
only has Elli made it safer for herself and her neighbors to ride a
bike or take a walk, she’s also made plain how completely the stars
must align for something as simple as a car-free ribbon of asphalt to
become reality. (Even now, the planned Missoula trail won’t connect
with the school because of right-of-way costs.) Just a few decades ago
a kid riding or walking to school would be considered the epitome of
American wholesomeness. Now it’s a symptom of child neglect, in part because of infrastructure so obviously inhospitable that even a 7-year-old gets it.

Maybe,
above all, Elli Giammona and her family have given us hope for a future
in which full-grown adults get it too. One where it won’t take an act
of Congress to get a child to school safely.

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San Francisco Launches Ambitious Parking Reform Program

2276908926_03b9c31df5.jpgSan Francisco is lunging out of the parking dark ages. Backed by the mayor and city council, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is launching "SFpark," a comprehensive, curbside parking reform project encompassing ten city neighborhoods.

Starting in September, the $23 million SFpark program will use an array of new policies and technologies to raise meter prices during peak periods, so as to make parking more easily available, thereby reducing rush hour driving, cruising for spaces and double parking. SFpark will include 6,435 curbside spots. This is a quarter of San Francisco's curbside parking, and is roughly comparable to the 6,500 metered curbside spots in Manhattan south of 60th Street. The project also includes variable pricing for the 11,677 off-street spots managed by the city.

According to San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom,"The idea is to give people more choice, more convenience and to reduce congestion."

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More Park(ing) Day: San Fran Rolls Out the Parkcycle

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I was pretty sure that New York City had San Francisco beat for this year's Park(ing) Day, what, with the children's reading hour and the on-street gymnasium in Brooklyn; Staten Island and Queens getting in on the act; and German tourists frolicking on the sod in front of the MoMA (all captured by StreetFilms, of course). Then I saw photos of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome admiring Rebar Group's Parkcycle -- literally, a pedal-powered park on wheels -- and I realized that we had been foiled again. Back to the drawing board New York City Park(ing) fans. We've got 12 months to come up with something better than this...

Honorable mention this year goes to Los Angeles. The hometown of international parking guru Donald Shoup put together quite a Park(ing) Day with somewhere around 35 spots set up all over the city. You can download their map, read about it in the Los Angeles Times and look at photos on Flickr.

Finally, a Streetsblog tipster points us to some Park(ing) criticism from an unexpected source. Over at ESPN.com we get an inside-the-beltway, baby-boomerish perspective on Park(ing) Day from Gregg Easterbrook, a contributing editor of The Atlantic Monthly and New Republic, and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Perhaps unaware of real-world experience in places like Copenhagen, Paris and London, where traffic congestion has been reduced and quality of life improved by transforming on-street parking space into express bus lanes, bike paths, public plazas and even playgrounds, Easterbrook writes, "However on-street parking is priced, the core of the problem is the need to build more parking spaces and parking garages." Without providing much in the way of facts, data or best practices from other cities to back up his argument, he continues:

The idea that parking "only encourages more cars" is fallacious in the same way it's fallacious to argue that building roads only encourages cars. More cars are coming in any case: the questions are whether they will have places to park, and whether traffic will get a lot worse or only somewhat worse. Traffic jams and parking hassles are leading causes of modern stress. Stress is bad for us; thoughtful government planning should seek to make people's lives less stressful; this means more roads and a lot more parking spaces should be built. Roughly 2 percent of the global GDP is dedicated to parking costs. That's not enough!

Photo: Squash on Flickr
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Dude, Where’s My Bike Lane?

 

Here is another clever video from San Francisco; this one chronicles the case of the missing bike lane. I think it is safe to say that gas stations and bike lanes don't mix.

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Transit-Oriented America, Part 5: Wrap-Up

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Thanks all for reading and commenting on our non-motorized honeymoon travel series (see parts 1, 2, 3 and 4). Below is a table Susan put together to briefly summarize some of our observations on the cities we visited.

 

Transit

Bike Accesibity

Amtrak
Station

Street life
and art

Chicago

Loop El made all connections we needed

Pedicabs exist, but are limited; Lakefront greenway; Bikers are seen on most of the city streets too. Flat.

Great station, however the grand hall seems to be off to the side and therefore less used.

Bustling city; monumental public artwork.

Seattle

Many bus routes, some electrified

Lots of hills, didn't see many bikers.

Renovations to the ceiling will make this station a better place.

Pigs everywhere painted different colors; tech money allows for amenities

Portland

Modern light rail (two systems?)

Great greenway system and tons of on-street bike paths.

Classy bustling station. "Go By Train" sign on the clock tower was a welcome sight.

"Keep Portland Weird" is less a slogan, more a way of life

San Francisco

An amazing variety of buses and trains, some vintage

Hills, but cyclists persevere.

Amtrak serves the city only with buses; use Oakland, Emeryville or San Jose for trains.

Tons of performers, packed sidewalks, awesome walk-in fountain.

Los Angeles

Has light rail and clean new subway.

More time needed for additional study.

Amazing old station like a Hollywood movie set surrounded by palms with deco style, but some parts are closed.

Well-done graffiti and murals; few pedestrians.

New Orleans

Sexy vintage streetcars with big windows, grassy right-of-way

Flat. Lots of small streets and many bikers. Coaster bikes seem to be the regional favorite.

Functional but drab station right downtown. Service to Florida is suspended indefinitely.

Lots of street musicians, lots of tourists in French Quarter

For those of you who want some more U.S. transit-oriented travel stories, check out Twin City Sidewalks' visits to Chicago and Washington, Babylon, L.I., Savannah, Ga. and Durham, N.C., and also visit Dave KCMO, who liveblogged his 8,789 miles on Amtrak and VIA Rail Canada.

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Transit-Oriented America, Part 4: The Trains

This is Part 4 of a five-part series on U.S. rail travel. (Parts 1, 2 and 3.)

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Susan Donovan boarding Metro-North Train No. 737 on July 11, beginning an 8,000-mile rail journey at Grand Central Terminal.

I always find it a little amazing that a handful of times a day, one can descend into Penn Station -- the place where you go to catch the 6:13 to Babylon or the 7:37 to Upper Montclair -- and from the same platforms catch a train with beds and a dining car that will take you to Chicago, or Miami or Atlanta. In this case, we forsook that little pleasure for the much greater pleasure of departing for a transcontinental honeymoon from the grandeur of Grand Central Terminal, where we ran into a friend getting his shoes shined who took our picture and good-naturedly warned us about what married life was like.

After the departure, we transferred at Croton-Harmon to the Lake Shore Limited to Chicago. This is a train that ought to be used more for business travel than it is. If you can afford to leave New York in the late afternoon, this train gets you into Chicago at a quarter to 10, refreshed, well fed and relaxed, in time for your morning meeting or power lunch. Yes, I suppose it needs a better on-time rating to be used more by business travelers, but it is not uncommon for planes to run late as well. Our train arrived at 10:28, 43 minutes late.

The train's name, evocative of the Lake Erie coastline, is a bit of a misnomer. You travel along the lake at night, so you never really see it (at least I never have and I've taken this train quite a few times to Cleveland). But can see something with majestic views that more than makes up for it. The wide and mighty Hudson, which the train hugs all the way to Albany.

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View of ship traffic on the Hudson River from the Lake Shore Limited.

After spending time in Chicago we caught the Empire Builder for a three-day, two-night trip to Seattle. Pulling through Chicagoland's suburbs, I noticed a number of shipping warehouses with spur tracks going into them that were buried and weedy, while trucks in large parking lots had taken over rail-marshalling yards. The freight railroads stock was on the rise for years before Warren Buffet started buying (look up BNI, UNP, CSX or NSC for some examples), and these warehouses indicate that they have plenty of room for continued growth if shippers continue to switch to fuel efficient freight rail. An hour and a half later, we were in Milwaukee, which seemed like a city we would have liked:

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Transit-Oriented America, Part 3: Three More Cities

Part 3 in a series on rail and transit-only travel across the United States focuses on the final three cities of our journey. Part 2 looked at the first three and Part 1 presented an overview of our travel. 

San Francisco

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Fully restored streetcars, cable cars, buses with and without pantographs, submerged and at-grade light rail, a regional subway and two commuter rail lines all make for a dizzying array of often very scenic public transportation. (Although, with a $5 fare, the cable cars seem more like a tourist draw and less like a form of public transit.) But even in a city that like New York derives much of its appeal from having a walkable, pre-automobile environment, we read about how pro-traffic forces are trying to reshape the city to accommodate more cars. There's apparently a big vote coming up in November on whether to continue transit-first policies or build a lot of parking garages (which would seem to counteract the $159 million San Francisco just won for congestion pricing).

Los Angeles

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Making fun of Los Angeles car dependency was already a cliche decades ago. We didn't want to fall into that trap. We arrived in L.A. with open minds, hoping that it just might pleasantly surprise us. It did and it didn't.

L.A.'s Amtrak station is spectacular, way better than ours (not that that says anything). High ceilings, wide corridors and open concourses with a warm, inviting feeling and soft armchairs for waiting. (Wikipedia's photo does it justice.) It was also busier than we expected, serving morning commuters when we arrived but still busy in the afternoon. It's Amtrak's fifth busiest station (scroll).

Then we exited the station and found ourselves feeling like second class citizens walking with our luggage along wide, busy boulevards and buildings that were distant from one another. Pedestrians are actually forbidden from crossing the street right in front of the station, so we had to take some kind of circuitous route to get back to the station, crossing extra streets unnecessarily. Because of a little bit of a snafu that I'll describe tomorrow, we spent less time in L.A. than we had planned: just five hours. We spent most of it struggling with a crossword puzzle outside a Starbucks three blocks from Union Station.

New Orleans

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New Orleans is recovering from Katrina. We stayed across the street from a monument to General Robert E. Lee in the Central Business District, three blocks from Amtrak. This area, like the French Quarter, was never flooded and the Quarter was bustling as always on the weekend we were there. Most of the many cyclists we saw in New Orleans were riding one-speed coaster bikes, which is a trend we didn't see anywhere else. There was also a fair proportion of trikes used to haul stuff. But the transportation highlight was definitely the streetcars, which have friendly drivers, friendly fellow passengers, and tall, wide windows that allow you to see the great panorama before you. Their grassy right-of-way does its little part at reducing the portion of our country paved with the impervious surfaces like asphalt, which are so harmful to drinking water supplies. The oldest and longest streetcar line in NOLA, along St. Charles Avenue, is now running as a short downtown shuttle until the rest of the line can be put back into service. Because I love them so much: two more photos of New Orleans streetcars below the jump.

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Transit-Oriented America, Part 2: Three Cities

This is the second installment in a five-part rail travel series that began yesterday.

In between all that fun Amtrak travel I described yesterday, my wife Susan and I stopped on our honeymoon at six great cities with an eye toward observing their built environments and transportation systems (but mostly just being plain old tourists). Below are photos and brief observations from the first three, in the order we visited.

Chicago 

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The railroading capital of the United States is a great, great town, loved by New Yorkers for generations. We love it too, right?

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Chicago had a lakefront exhibit of great big globes encouraging people to adopt environmentally friendly but inoffensive habits, like setting one's washing machine to cold or switching to compact florescent light bulbs. But next to the exhibit, when we tried to hail a pedicab to take us downtown, we were told that pedicabs are not allowed in the Loop. Ouch. Our recently imposed pedicab restrictions were bad enough, but this takes it to a whole new level. On the plus side, Chicago has the coolest-sounding train-related terminology that we found: the Metra Electric District.

Seattle

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We had hoped not to get into a single automobile on the whole trip, but in Seattle (and only in Seattle), that broke down, mostly because we had a friend in town who owned a car and was putting us up at his place. This city has what seems like hundreds of bus routes, but the one we needed never came, even though two drivers on other routes and other passengers all swore it was running on the Sunday we arrived. After we got off the train we waited and waited for our bus. Then we took a different bus to a more central stop to try our luck there. Then our friend Matt offered to pick us up from the bus stop. We accepted because he said he completely understood our motivating principle, but was downtown anyway and would be burning the same amount of gasoline either way. He drove us again a few more times, including to Lake Union go kayaking, which was worth it.

However we still wanted to explore Seattle on foot, so we walked through downtown, adjacent Belltown, where new condos are going up like mad, and residential Queen Anne Hill. Somewhere in there we noticed the signs all around Seattle encouraging people to ride transit. They have sayings like "Take the monorail, Abigail," and "Take the bus and relax, Max." Slogans aside, Seattle already had what Ted Kheel knows is a better incentive. At least downtown, its buses are free.

Portland

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Like Seattle's downtown buses, Portland's downtown light rail does not charge a fare. Our hotel was in the free zone, and we felt a little guilty riding so much for free, so we vowed to spend our extra money in various Portland businesses, like the worker-owned bicycle cooperative where we rented bikes. The bikes were great, as they allowed us to really see the city and its nearby bike trails up close and personal. As I stood watching cyclists pass by on a fully-separated bike lane next to a light rail line and a aerial tram depot, I realized why it is said that Portland has the most diverse multimodal transportation network in the country for a city its size. One of those modes is the automobile, which in places is catered to as much as any suburb. On the way to the rail, we'd pass curb cuts used by cars and SUVs in the drive-thru restaurant and drive-thru Starbucks across from our hotel, engines idling as their occupants awaited their morning venti mocha frap. Portland leads the nation in many ways, but hey, it's not perfect.

And even in Portland, we learned, bike and transit networks are under attack. This newspaper article described the efforts of one Craig Flynn, a local activist and one-time city council candidate who "thinks city transportation funds should go toward relieving congestion on freeways and other main roads, specifically adding lanes or building new freeways." He told the paper: "I feel like honking my horn going over a speed bump to irritate the people who want them there."

In tomorrow's installment, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New Orleans.

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Transit-Oriented America, Part 1: Eight Thousand Miles

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My wife and I were married last month in Brooklyn. For our honeymoon, we wanted to see as many great American cities as we could. In 19 days of travel, we visited Chicago, Seattle, Portland (Ore.), San Francisco, Los Angeles and New Orleans (and also stopped briefly in Cleveland, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Houston, Atlanta, Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia).

How could two people as obsessed as we are with minimizing our transportation carbon footprints possibly justify taking so many flights for leisure travel? We didn't take any flights. We also didn't rent any cars or even set foot in a single taxi. We learned that thanks to the magic of transit-oriented hotel development (often inadvertent), it is entirely possible to travel this great country from sea to shining sea without any of those carbon-belching modes of travel -- and still have a fantastic time.

Our intercity travel consisted of 33 miles on Metro-North (because we couldn't allow ourselves to depart for such a historic trip from Penn Station), 48 miles on CalTrain, and 7,840 miles on our underfunded national railroad, Amtrak. To travel about in town, we rented bikes in Portland but mostly used an amazing variety of light rail, bus and subway transportation, including trips on Chicago's El, Portland's TriMet light rail, San Francisco's Muni and BART and New Orleans' streetcars. All of which worked perfectly well for our purposes.

Despite the large number of transit providers, it was Amtrak that did the heavy lifting and made our vacation possible. Amtrak employees are painfully aware of the railroad's reputation as habitually late. They desperately wanted to provide an on-time, high quality service, but were demoralized when the trains ran late and frustrated because it was almost always for reasons beyond their control.

We took six Amtrak trains more or less through the entire length of their routes: The Lake Shore Limited, the Empire Builder, the Cascades, the Coast Starlight, the Sunset Limited and the Crescent. All of these trains left their departure stations on time to the minute. It wasn't until we got moving that delays occured, and these were caused by chronic underinvestment in rail infrastructure that has left many lines with just a single track. The lines are owned by freight railroads, which Amtrak pays for the rights use. The freight railroads are in increasingly intense competition with one another for customers, and have a habit of having passenger trains wait at a siding while freight trains roll through. Despite this, the Empire Builder managed to travel 2,206 miles from Chicago to Seattle and still arrive 38 minutes ahead of schedule. If our national government invested in rail improvements just a fraction of the billions of dollars it spends annually on highway maintenance and widening, Amtrak would run on time and more people would ride it.

As gasoline prices have gone up and congestion at airports has increased, Amtrak has had record ridership for multiple years in a row, despite being starved by the Bush administration, which wanted to disband the railroad, and the Republican-led Congress. Many threats remain. On the day we rode rode the Sunset Limited across Texas, a Republican congressman from Texas introduced legislation that would have eliminated the Sunset Limited. (It was defeated with the help of our region's congressional delegation by a vote of 299-130.)

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But the trains are still running and we had the time of our lives on this trip. Even if its running late, and even if they've replaced the chefs in the dining car with microwave ovens, there remains something inherently enjoyable and relaxing about riding on a train across vast distances. You have time to yourself to sit and watch the world roll by, completely stress free, and sleeping in a real honest-to-God bed while rolling along through the undulating darkness is just incomparable to anything else experienced in travel. Now with the addition of laptop computers, you can watch a DVD or play tetris to pass the time, but I prefer to leave the screen off and look out the window.

This is the first part of a five-part series on our travels to run this week. Parts two and three will focus on the cities we visited, with brief updates on their struggles for livable streets. Part four will describe in greater detail the trains we rode and the sights we saw. Part five will compare the cities to one another in terms of livable streets, pedestrian-friendly development and intermodal transportation.

The great American poet Robert Hunter has written that he and the other members of the Grateful Dead had the greatest time of their lives aboard a train across Canada that carried themselves, Janice Joplin, The Band and many other musicians. That's high praise from people who spent their lives rocking out. The trip inspired Hunter to write some lines that became the motto for our honeymoon:

No big hurry
What do you say
Might as well travel
The elegant way

UPDATE: Here are the other entries in this series:

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Bike Parking on Steroids

 



"Cyclists are so used to doing with scraps and they've been that way for so long that they are shocked when they get anything that satisfies their needs."

Barry Bonds may almost have the home run record, but the San Francisco Giants have another milestone that is much more admirable: the first free, convienent, attended bike parking facility at a U.S. stadium.

Over half of the people who attend Giants games do not travel by car, a somewhat remarkable fact in car-crazy California. (Note to Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards bosses: Look at what San Fran is doing to encourage people not to bring their automobile to the stadium).

As part of an arrangement with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, you can bicycle to a Giants game at AT&T Park, check your bike with up to 200+ other fans, and go catch America’s pastime. Kash, Valet Bike Parking Coordinator for SFBC, runs the operation and gives us the scoop. As you’ll see, fans overwhelmingly endorse it.

A regulation passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1999 states all events incurring a street closure require monitored bicycle parking if the event anticipates 2000 or more participants. This only makes sense in a city like New York, too. Why not encourage something like this at Madison Square Garden, Yankee or Shea Stadium? Or at the very least, some quality racks in a secure, protected location.