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Obama’s Politically Impossible Transpo Plan Is Just What America Needs

Even with a tax on oil, the U.S.'s effective gas tax rate would be the lowest in the industrialized world. Graph: Tony Dutzik via FHWA

Even with a tax on oil, the U.S.’s effective gas tax rate would be the lowest in the industrialized world. Graph: Tony Dutzik via FHWA

It may be “seven years too late,” as tactical urbanist Mike Lydon put it, but President Obama has released a transportation proposal that calls for big shifts in the country’s spending priorities.

Obama’s proposal would generate $30 billion annually from a $10-per-barrel surcharge assessed on oil companies. More importantly, the revenue is linked to a substantial shift in what transportation projects get funded. It’s the kind of thorough proposal, on both the revenue and spending sides of the equation, that Obama shied away from for most of his presidency. (It would only have stood a chance during his first two years in office.) While this Congress would never pass it, the proposal does lay down a marker for what smart federal transportation policy could be.

In a rough sketch laid out by the White House yesterday of the upcoming proposal, Obama calls for major increases in transit funding and investing in a network of efficient high-speed rail. Perhaps even more innovative is a $10 billion program to reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector. This program, among other things, would fund states to better coordinate housing and job development with transportation. Obama’s proposal also calls for $2 billion to support research and development and the implementation of autonomous vehicles.

Not surprisingly, what has gotten the most press is the oil tax, which even Obama admits would likely be passed on to consumers through higher gas prices. Already, Republican Congressional leaders have called the proposal “DOA.”

Obama’s people have acknowledged the bill faces long odds in Congress, describing it as a conversation starter. An unnamed administration official told Politico the plan would help shift the nation’s transportation policy out of the Eisenhower era.

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
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Which Cities Are Adding Walkable Housing the Fastest?

Since 1970, most American metros have seen their share or walkable urban housing decline, according to this analysis by data guru Kasey Klimes.

Since 1970, most American metros have seen walkable housing decline as a share of total housing. Chart: Kasey Klimes

As more Americans look for walkable places to live, cities are struggling to deliver, and a lot of neighborhoods are becoming less affordable. A new analysis by Kasey Klimes of Copenhagen’s Gehl Studio illustrates how major metro areas have let their supply of walkable housing shrink over the years, contributing to today’s housing crunch.

In this chart, Klimes shows how much walkable neighborhoods, which he defines as places with 10 or more housing units per acre, have grown or declined as a share of total housing in the nation’s 51 largest regions, from 1970 through 2010.

In most places, Klimes writes, the trend since 1970 has left cities in bad shape to handle the increasing demand for walkable neighborhoods:

The percentage of housing in walkable neighborhoods has dropped from 19.4% to 12% since 1970. Overall, though the number of housing units in America has outpaced population at a ratio of 3:2 since 1970, the number of housing units in walkable neighborhoods has trailed behind population growth at a ratio of 3:1. Now that market preference has returned to dense housing, this mismatch has left us far behind in adequate supply.

The silver lining is an uptick in decade to decade construction of dense housing. The net gain of housing in walkable neighborhoods as a fraction of total net housing gain by decade has increased from just 0.3% in the 1970’s to 10.7% in the 2000’s.

Despite some recent progress, the mismatch between low supply and high demand is contributing to rising housing prices and burdening people with rents they can’t afford in many cities and neighborhoods. Zoning that outlaws walkable development and the disproportionate political power of development-averse property owners are two factors that have hindered housing development where it is most in demand.

Read more…

Via Streetsblog California
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Crowdsource Bicycling App ‘Ride Report’ Goes National Today

Crowdsourced map xxxx

Example Ride Report crowdsourced map of Portland streets. Redder streets are more stressful, greener streets more chill. Image via BikePortland.

Since last September, Portland cyclists have been generating bike trip data via the free Ride Report app. Today, Ride Report has completed its Portland beta and is now open for use throughout the United States.

Ride Report, currently available for iPhone only (Android coming soon), runs in the background. The app knows when riders are riding their bikes, and tracks these trips. After each trip it prompts a short one-question survey: was the last trip “stressful” or “chill”? The app aggregates survey data to form a crowdsourced bicycling map showing which routes cyclists rate best and worst. End users–likely to be mostly folks who are already regular riders, according to Ride Report co-founder William Henderson–can track their trips and can view crowdsourced maps. Ride Report also works with municipalities to license data for bicycle planning. Much of the data is available free in an open source format; for full data, cities contract with Ride Report.

BikePortland’s Michael Andersen writes that Ride Report is “simple, seamless, and some of the messages are gently funny, which makes it a pleasure to use.” Andersen’s recent article reviewed Ride Report data maps for Portland, identifying which streets are stressful at which times of day.

There are a few apps that are helping cities better understand cycling patterns. For example, Strava has licensed its trip data to cities. With its trip evaluation tool, Ride Report builds in the additional data layer of the bicyclist experience.

These apps are still in their early stages; none are perfect. They, of course, only track the trips of people who are well enough off to own a smart phone, hence low income riders and low income neighborhoods are very likely underrepresented in their data. Andersen mentions that during the past week Ride Report “accounted for 7% of my battery power. It turns off automatically when I’m under 20%, which is nice.”

Cyclists – are you using Ride Report and/or other apps to track your trips? What do you like or dislike about the app? What additional features could make your trips, your neighborhoods, and your region better?

Via Streetsblog California
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Take CalBike’s Survey About California’s June Primary

California needs elected representatives that understand the importance of stress-free, connected bikeways. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog LA

The California Bicycle Coalition is in the process of planning candidate endorsements in the 35 state races that are up for election in the June 7th California primary. CalBike knows that it is crucial to elect representatives who understand the importance of strong complete streets policies and of building good low-stress bike networks for everyone to use.

To help it formulate an endorsement strategy, CalBike is looking for feedback on candidates and issues that matter to bicyclists in the state. Fill out the survey here—it takes about ten minutes, and asks about your affiliations and interests.

Who doesn’t want to share their opinions?

While you’re at it, if you’re not registered or you’ve moved in the past year, register to vote.

Streetsblog USA
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A University Built Around the Car Sees the Light

Fresno State University was, until very recently, your prototypical car commuting school. The school began as an isolated agricultural institution and is still connected to a large university farm. Its transportation services haven’t extended much beyond subsidized parking.

Fresno State University is trying to transition from a drive-to campus to one with a more balanced menu of transportation options. This pedestrian scramble is designed to reduce pedestrian injuries. Photo: Stop and Move

Fresno State University is trying to transition from a drive-to campus to one with a more balanced menu of transportation options. This pedestrian scramble is designed to reduce injuries. Photo: Stop and Move

But over time, writes James Sinclair at Streetsblog Network member Stop and Move, the area around Fresno State became more residential. And the university’s transportation systems began to creak under the weight of increasing traffic.

Now, Sinclair reports, the university seems to be getting serious about moving beyond the car, and it’s rolling out a respectable Transportation Demand Management program.

He outlines what’s included:

Free Bus Passes

Also new as of last summer, Fresno State students and staff now have unlimited free access to FAX and the Clovis bus systems!

Scramble Crosswalk

This one was a very pleasant surprise, and another example of Fresno State finally (FINALLY) realizing that the infrastructure around the campus influences which mode of transport people use…

Unfortunately, the walking/biking facilities are poor. Very bad lighting at night, narrow sidewalks, and then an intersection which strongly favors cars.

Read more…

Streetsblog NYC
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Transit Investments and the Failure of Randal O’Toole’s Short-Term Thinking

The Los Angeles Times' recent story about transit ridership ...

The Los Angeles Times has been making a recent dip in transit ridership out to be a devastating failure. Graph: LA Times

The Los Angeles Times recently ran a big story to the effect that the region’s major investments in transit are not paying off, since ridership has recently declined.

But there are a lot of problems with the paper’s analysis, which Streetsblog LA looked at last week. Jarrett Walker at Human Transit has also taken issue with how the LA Times published sweeping conclusions about long-term investments based on just a year or two of data.

When professional transit critic Randall O’Toole seized on the LA Times piece to characterize transit investment as wasteful, Walker put together an epic rebuttal.

The claim that transit ridership has peaked, Walker points out, relies on a dubious reading of the numbers:

When he tells us that ridership “peaked,” he’s confessing that he’s playing the “arbitrary starting year” game. To get the biggest possible failure story, he compares current ridership to a past year that he selected because ridership was especially high then. This is a standard way of exploiting the natural volatility of ridership to create exaggerated trends. Again, the Los Angeles Times article that got O’Toole going made a big deal out of how ridership is down since 1985 and 2006, without mentioning that ridership is up since 1989 and up since 2004 and 2011. Whether ridership is up or down depends on which past year you choose, which is to say, it’s about what story the writer wants to tell.

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Streetsblog.net
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Chris Christie Sticks It to Pedestrians for No Discernible Reason

In 2014, 170 people were killed while walking on New Jersey streets, accounting for 31 percent of total traffic deaths in the state (about double the national share). In addition, 13 people were killed while biking that year.

To address the problem, lawmakers and advocates in New Jersey have been working on a bill to establish a Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Advisory Council to advise multiple agencies in state government.

The measure sailed through the state legislature, but Governor Chris Christie had other ideas. Cyndi Steiner and Aaron Hyndman at New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition report that Christie, the same guy who stopped the ARC transit tunnel, issued a “pocket veto” to kill the measure:

Legislation sponsored by state Senators Nia Gill and Diane Allen, as well as Pamela R. Lampitt, Daniel R. Benson, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, and Tim Eustace in the Assembly, to create a Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Advisory Council had won unanimous approval from the Senate (October 2015) and Assembly (January 2016), and with the Governor’s signature, would have established a new commission designed to carry on the work of the NJDOT’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Council (BPAC). The new Council would have examined issues related to pedestrian and bicycle safety and would advise the governor, legislature, NJ Department of Transportation and other state agencies on solutions that will make New Jersey communities safer and friendlier for bicyclists and pedestrians.

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Streetsblog.net
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Will Toronto Get Cars Out of the Way of the King Street Streetcar?

Toronto's King Street, despite running through some of the city's most densely populated areas, has been designed more like a suburban thoroughfare. But that is about to change. Photo: Wikipedia

Toronto’s King Street will be redesigned to prioritize transit and walking. Photo: Wikipedia

Despite running through some of Toronto’s most densely populated areas, King Street is designed like a suburban road. Cars have dominion while the city’s streetcar has no dedicated right-of-way despite high ridership — so it sits in heavy traffic. But it looks that’s about to change.

Toronto recently announced plans to overhaul King Street by 2017 with a pilot project to shift space from cars to pedestrians and transit. The specifics have yet to be worked out, but Brandon Donnelly at Network blog Architect this City says it sounds very promising:

This isn’t to say the street will be closed to cars. I would imagine that at least 1 lane would remain for cars going each way. Instead it will be redesigned to prioritize transit, pedestrians, and cyclists.

So why is this exciting?

The King streetcar is currently broken. If you’ve ever taken it across downtown during rush hour, you know exactly what I mean. It’s infuriating. You might as well be crawling on your hands and knees. One of the goals of this initiative will be to get it working again. Good.

Read more…

Streetsblog.net
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Sacramento Freeways and the “Small Town Mindset”

“It’s time to drop the small-town mindset and go for a big fix.”

The street grid is in tact under Sacramento's Capital City Freeway. Image: Systemic Failure

The street grid is intact underneath Sacramento’s Capital City Freeway. Photo: Systemic Failure

That’s how Tony Bizjak of the Sacramento Bee described plans to widen the gridlocked Capital City Freeway through the city at a cost of $700 million. Highway widening, to him, must be emblematic of a “big-city mindset.”

But as Network blog Systemic Failure points out, other California cities have taken the opposite approach — achieving growth by tearing down elevated highways:

When San Francisco removed the Embarcadero and Central freeways, it helped launch a property boom that made the city’s real estate some of the most valuable in the country. Across the Bay, Oakland is seeing a similar renaissance with the removal of Lake Merritt’s 12th Street Viaduct and the Cypress freeway relocation. Oakland (yes Oakland) has now passed San Jose to become the nation’s 4th hottest rental market. There is now talk in Oakland of removing I980 as well.

Inner-city highway removal has been so successful, you have to wonder why many cities cling to their outdated design.

Systemic Failure says the Capital City Freeway is a great candidate for this kind of teardown, if only city leaders would recognize it:

Read more…

Streetsblog.net
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If Congress Cared About Climate, Its Transport Bill Would Look Much Different

Breezewood,_Pennsylvania_road

The politics of gas prices and truck industry lobbying factor into federal transportation policy more than the prospect of an overheated planet and rising oceans. Photo: Ben Schumin/Wikimedia

With a few exceptions, the five-year transportation bill heading to President Obama’s desk continues what has been the core function of federal transportation policy for more than 60 years — sending a ton of money to the states to spend on highways.

Preventing a big step backward was about as much as you could hope for, given the climate denying, anti-urban strain of the party controlling Congress. Still, writes Yonah Freemark at The Transport Politic, the bill amounts to an abdication of responsibility for preventing catastrophic climate change:

In light of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP-21) currently underway in Paris, the FAST legislation’s adherence to the federal policy of spending the large majority of transportation funding on highways is a disappointment, to say the least. Coming from a Congress whose members have openly expressed their contempt for any American responsibility for reducing carbon emissions, it is hardly a surprising move.

Nonetheless, in intentionally choosing to support transportation modes that are worse for the climate, the Congress has chosen to use its legislative powers to reinforce our country’s negative contribution to a darkening planetary nightmare. By holding a sheet over our collective heads, our Congress is perhaps hoping no one will notice the inconvenient truth that funding for more highways represents.

Read more…