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Washington State’s Faustian Bargain to Fund Transit

Washington Governor Jay Inslee and state legislators have agreed to enable funding for a major Seattle transit expansion, but the deal comes with drawbacks.

The Sound Transit 3 package would fund a $15 billion light rail expansion. Photo: Wikimedia

The Sound Transit 3 package would fund a $15 billion light rail expansion. Photo: Wikimedia

If approved, the state would fund a $15 billion package of transportation projects and, separately, authorize Sound Transit to raise $15 billion to expand light rail via regional taxes.

Martin H. Duke at Seattle Transit Blog reports that, as a concession to Republican lawmakers, Inslee accepted a “poison pill” that would prevent the state from adopting low-carbon fuel standards.

In addition, Duke says the agreement would fund road-building projects that have support from Republicans and Democrats.

[T]he package doesn’t adequately fund highway maintenance and actually makes the problem worse by adding many more decaying lane-miles on SR 520, I-405, SR 167, and in North Spokane. Highway expansion is a futile response to congestion, encourages environmentally damaging driving, and literally destroys neighborhoods. About the only good thing to say about it is that it’s funded by gas taxes, which in a small way offsets a little of the environmental carnage.

The poison pill and the highway funding have turned off some environmental orgs, according to Duke, and they’re lobbying lawmakers to reject the deal.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Greater Greater Washington reports on potential cuts to Metro service, and Mobilizing the Region says Governor Chris Christie and state lawmakers have officially doomed New Jersey transit users to fare hikes and service cuts.

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DC’s Silver Line: A Transit Expansion 34 Years in the Making

Image via Greater Greater Washington

Image via Greater Greater Washington. Click to enlarge

When a politician like Maryland Governor Larry Hogan kills off a transit project, not only does he rob citizens of anticipated improvements, he could be wiping out decades of intricate planning.

Dan Malouff at Greater Greater Washington notes that by 2019 it will have taken 34 years to complete the Metro’s Silver Line, which will connect DC and suburban counties with Dulles Airport.

Malouff explains the above graphic:

The timeline begins in 1985, when the idea of a Metro line to Dulles Airport went from vague concept to serious planning initiative following a study that determined it would be feasible.

Planning (yellow on the timeline) and environmental work (green) took the next 21 years, until 2006. It took another 3 years for officials to finalize funding (blue) before construction (purple) could begin in 2009.

Plopping a rail line down the middle of a gargantuan suburban highway with a capacious median is easy compared to putting one virtually anywhere else. Almost any other potential Metrorail expansion imaginable will be harder to plan, fund, and build.

“That doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing,” Malouff writes. “But it’s definitely going to be hard.”

Elsewhere on the Network today: Streets.mn tests whether motorists are yielding to pedestrians; and Biking Toronto reports that there is fresh green paint, but no physical separation, on a much-needed bike lane.

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Maryland Governor Larry Hogan: Purple Line for DC, Bupkis for Baltimore

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan says the Purple Line, a long-planned light rail expansion of the DC transit system in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, will move forward. But Hogan stiffed the people of Baltimore by canceling the Red Line in favor of road projects.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan

Dan Malouff at Greater Greater Washington reports that Hogan made his announcement yesterday.

To reduce costs, trains on the Purple Line will come every seven and half minutes rather than every six. The state will not change the alignment, nor the number or location of stations.

The longer headways mean there need to be fewer trains, saving money, and also cutting out the need for one staging area. Hogan also announced that the state would now pay only $168 million, rather than, he said, the original $700 million (but the state’s future contribution had only been $333 million). Montgomery and Prince George’s would have to pay more, though the exact amount, and whether they can do so, was not yet clear.

Malouff notes that the Purple Line was in the works for decades, with construction set to begin this year, before Hogan threatened to nix the project.

As for the Red Line, according to Malouff, “Hogan said the line is not cost-effective.” Funds to add light rail in Baltimore “will instead go toward nearly $2 billion in road and bridge projects all across the state, including widening Route 404 on the Eastern Shore, some unspecified ‘congestion reduction’ on I-270, and new ramps to and from the Greeenbelt Metro to accommodate a future FBI headquarters.”

Elsewhere on the Network today: Mobilizing the Region reports that Albany’s failure to fund transit in New York City also hurts upstate economies, and the League of American Bicyclists examines what it takes to nurture bike-friendly businesses.

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Atlanta’s Big Turnaround in Walkable Development

Graph via ATL Urbanist

Graph via ATL Urbanist

A new report that quantifies development in walkable urban places (“WalkUPs”) has good news for Atlanta.

Darin at ATL Urbanist reports:

A full 50 percent of new properties developed in the Atlanta region from 2009-2014 happened in walkable urban places, which is not only a higher amount than what’s happening in the other regions as charted here, it also shows a much bigger jump between that time period versus what was happening in 1992-2000, when the Atlanta region was really lagging behind and producing a lot of new construction in sprawling patterns

The studies are showing a shift away from car-centric development patterns that dominated development in US metros during the latter half of the 20th century.

According to the report, 73 percent of WalkUP development from 2009 to 2013 occurred in areas served by MARTA.

“[T]here’s also a trend happening in the absorption of empty office space in Atlanta’s walkable intown areas that are near transit,” writes Darin. “Just this week we have news that Coke is moving another 500 employees from suburbs to existing offices in Downtown Atlanta — this comes on top of another recent shift that saw Coke relocating 2,000 workers to the downtown locations.”

Elsewhere on the Network today: Streets.mn notes the discrepancy between riders and seats on Minneapolis Metro, and Washington Area Bicyclist Association says a pending DC Council bill would help cyclists recover damages after a crash.

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Anatomy of a Dangerous Intersection

Image via Where the Sidewalk Starts

Image via Where the Sidewalk Starts

Streets designed to facilitate fast driving are not suitable for safe walking.

Unfortunately, transportation engineers often don’t design for safety unless a catastrophic event triggers public outcry. Katie Matchett at Where the Sidewalk Starts says the city of San Diego is planning changes at one intersection in an area where motorists routinely hit and injure people, but only after a driver killed an infant.

“We say it so often that it’s cliche,” writes Matchett, “but it shouldn’t take the death of child to fix intersections that are so obviously dangerous.”

Notice that the northbound right “turn” isn’t really a turn at all, more of a channelized “veer” that aims high-speed traffic straight at a crosswalk. Moreover, the crosswalk is set back just enough from the intersection to make pedestrians less visible to drivers. This is a space designed for cars, and cars alone. Is it any surprise that people are hurt and killed here?

The most frustrating part is that there really isn’t much purpose to this stretch of roadway, other than moving cars as quickly as possible at the expense of walkability and pedestrian safety — a point neighbors have picked up on. They’ve asked the City to close down the road and make the entire space into a park. Let’s hope the City listens, before someone else is killed at this crossing.

Even now it’s not clear that San Diego officials are serious about fixing the crossing. A local TV station reports: “City officials say they are putting up another traffic signal and re-stripe the crosswalk, but neighbors do not think it will be enough.”

Elsewhere on the Network today: Greater Greater Washington on the power of positive transportation messaging, the League of American Bicyclists says small towns want better infrastructure too, and Enrique Peñalosa tells TheCityFix that the constant fear of dying in traffic is not a normal way to live.

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Inhofe’s DRIVE Act — Not as Big a Disaster as You Might Think

Sen. Barbara Boxer unveils yet another stab at a long-term transportation authorization bill -- this time, as the minority party. Photo: ##https://twitter.com/AliABCNews/status/613351204559699972/photo/1##Ali Weinberg/Twitter##

Sen. Barbara Boxer unveils another stab at a long-term transportation authorization bill — this time as a member of the minority party. Photo: Ali Weinberg/Twitter

No, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s new six-year bill, obnoxiously named the DRIVE Act (Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy) [PDF], won’t usher in a more enlightened era of federal transportation policy. But neither would it be a significant step backward. And with the realization setting in that further extensions of current law might be impossible, the DRIVE Act could actually become the nation’s first long-term transportation authorization in a decade.

As Brad relayed in his post this morning, the “big takeaway” from the new bill, according to the League of American Bicyclists, is that it “is not a coherent vision of the future, or even of the present.” True that.

Note that this bill does not include the transit title — it’s up to the Banking Committee to draft that.

What the bill does, mainly, is continue existing policies related to streets and highways — meaning it’s not the nightmare you might have expected under the chairmanship of climate denying Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe. When you look closely, the DRIVE Act actually makes some improvements at the margins. Here are a few examples:

Design Standards: The bill explicitly sanctions the use of the NACTO street design guide along with the old FHWA and AASHTO engineering manuals. The NACTO guide includes designs that are much more appropriate for city streets where people outside of cars need safe and reliable transportation option.

Read more…

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The Name Says It All: U.S. Senate Unveils the DRIVE Act

What does Congress envision for the future of transportation in the U.S.? Hint: The Senate’s transportation bill is called the DRIVE Act.

The future, according to the U.S. Senate. Photo: U.S. National Archives/Flickr

Caron Whitaker at the League of American Bicyclists reports:

As is evident in the acronym, The Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy Act, or DRIVE Act, is not focused on improving multi-modal transportation but rather on the interstate and highway system. The U.S. Senate introduced its version of the new transportation bill this week and it is set for a hearing on Wednesday.

While we were successful in getting some small changes to the Transportation Alternative Program (TAP), we do not see any real innovation or vision to really grapple with transportation needs of [the] 21st century.

Whitaker says the DRIVE Act proposes to increase TAP funding — which can be used for projects that encourage walking and biking — but does not restore cuts made since 2011, when the program was funded at $1.2 billion. Further, the bill identifies no funding source for the proposed increase.

The bill decreases the percentage of funds dedicated to road safety, says Whitaker. It would allow states to take TAP funds away from local Metropolitan Planning Organizations, making it difficult to plan projects.

NACTO design guidelines for safer streets get a “mention,” says Whitaker, “But the big takeaway is this bill is not a coherent vision of the future, or even of the present.”

Read more…

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Even Amsterdam Wasn’t Always “Amsterdam”


If you live in a city where people are trying to make it easier and safer to get around on foot, by bike, or via transit, you’ve probably heard that what works in other towns won’t work in yours.

Amsterdam is often held up as a place where people magically move about using bicycles, trams, and their own two feet, as if the city as it exists today was created from whole cloth.

But before Amsterdam chose to prioritize people over private motor vehicle traffic, it ceded its streets to cars. Matty Lang at Streets.mn posted the above video, which dates from the 1940s.

This short film shows a police officer patrolling the streets of Amsterdam in a Jeep with megaphone amplification telling women how to cross the street, telling people how to use the tram, exhorting a woman bicycling to keep to the right, and telling a young boy to get on the sidewalk with his scooter.

Of course, Amsterdam didn’t become a world leader in livable streets by shouting at people, but by designing a city for walking and biking. Cities in the U.S. — where we’re still shouting — would do well to follow Amsterdam’s lead.

Elsewhere on the Network: FABB Blog reports that WMATA is adding bike parking facilities at Metro stations, and Market Urbanism chronicles urban decay in Havana.

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The Kindness of Safer Streets


Is this really the best we can do?

Dave Alden at Vibrant Bay Area writes that the above ad from Dignity Health (dignity!) depicting a driver getting out of his car to help a senior avoid being run over in a crosswalk is a pretty skewed notion of “human kindness.”

[I]sn’t there something unkind about forcing the woman to cross the busy street in the first place?

How about if we instead define “humankindness” to include the building of neighborhoods where senior citizens of limited mobility don’t need to cross four-lane streets to do daily shopping? Or if we at least include traffic calming on four-lane streets so the vehicular speed are slowed, making respect for crosswalks more likely? That seems a better standard of “humankindness.”

Of course, more walkable destinations and slower traffic speeds are both part of the urbanist toolkit. I must be hanging out with kind people.

The bitter irony of this ad is that, in reality, good Samaritans who try to help other people in traffic often become victims themselves.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Washington Bikes on what it means to be a “bicycle-friendly” community; Biking Toronto reports on the possibility of new downtown separated bike lanes; and Cap’n Transit wonders why the NYC bus drivers union, now waging war on a traffic safety law, remains silent when it comes to preserving transit service.

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Milwaukee Could Pay Big Bucks for Downtown NBA Arena, and Its Parking

Rendering of proposed Milwaukee Bucks arena. Image via Urban Milwaukee

Rendering of proposed Milwaukee Bucks arena. Image via Urban Milwaukee

Publicly-financed arenas for privately-owned sports franchises are usually a bad deal for taxpayers. And the proposal for a new Milwaukee Bucks facility looks like a humdinger.

Patrick Small at Urban Milwaukee reports that city officials, including Mayor Tom Barrett, haven’t told residents exactly how much they could be on the hook for — though so far the Bucks have agreed to cover just $150 million of the arena’s $500 million price tag. “[T]here is still no public document with specific details,” writes Small, “and the numbers keep changing.”

When the New York Yankees built a new stadium in the Bronx, the city and state subsidized the development of thousands of parking spots with tax-exempt bonds. Small says parking for the new downtown Milwaukee arena figures into the Bucks deal as well.

[W]hen Ald. Nik Kovac asked why the mayor agreed to give the Bucks half the income from a parking facility the city would build for the team, Barrett revealed that the Bucks first demanded all the parking revenue, and also wanted to control the facility and have it be tax exempt.

The Bucks will nominally contribute $8 million for the parking facility and land it sits on, but under the deal that amount will later be returned to the Bucks from property taxes collected in a tax incremental financing (TIF) district the city will create for the Bucks project. In short, the Bucks will have no out-of-pocket costs the for parking facility while the city would take on $35 million in bonding to build it, yet would only get half the income, with the other half going to the Bucks. The city’s estimated take of $350,000 a year means it would take 100 years (and that would be with zero percent interest) to pay off the bonds. By that time there may be at least two more new arena projects, given the current average life span of NBA arenas.

Read more…