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Portland Suburb: To Fight Climate Change, Expand Highways!

Is more of this the way to reduce carbon emissions in the Portland region? Photo: Bike Portland

Clackamas County, outside of Portland, has some opinions about the region’s plan to address climate change. According to Michael Andersen at Bike Portland, county commissioners have drafted a letter to regional planners saying the right way to control carbon emissions is to build more highways.

Scratching your head? Well, the misguided belief that building more roads reduces congestion, and thus emissions, is still deeply entrenched in American transportation bureaucracies.

Clackamas County wants more roads to be included in the climate plan from Metro, Portland’s regional planning agency. But get this — Metro’s plan already has a lot of road work in the name of reducing emissions, Andersen reports:

Metro’s draft version of that plan (PDF) calls for the region to dedicate 58 percent of related funding over the next 20 years — about $20 billion — to roads, even though the report says that “adding lane miles to relieve congestion … will not solve congestion on its own.”

Metro’s draft plan calls for $12.4 billion to be spent on transit, which it rates as enough to achieve a 16 to 20 percent cut in per-capita carbon emissions. The plan calls for $2 billion to go to improving biking and walking, which it rates as enough for a 3 to 6 percent reduction.

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Ohio DOT Hosts Transit Meeting That No One Can Reach Via Transit

Ohio DOT is one of those old-school transportation agencies that’s still just a highway department. The director is a former asphalt industry lobbyist. The state — despite being fairly densely populated and urban (about 1 million people don’t have cars) — spent only $7.3 million supporting transit in 2013, far less than it devotes to mowing highway medians.

ODOT is planning to gather feedback about transit service in the Cincinnati region at a location that is entirely inaccessible to people who rely on transit. Map: Urban Cincy via Google Maps

To its credit, however, Ohio DOT is currently hosting a series of meetings asking for feedback about public transit around the state. Unfortunately, writes Paige Malott at Urban Cincy, the meeting for the Cincinnati region will be in exurban Lebanon, essentially impossible to reach without access to a personal automobile:

By car, Lebanon is roughly a one hour drive north of Cincinnati, and a 30-minute drive south from Dayton. It’s also the city where the regional ODOT office is located; understandably why the administration would opt to hold a public involvement meeting here. What went unconsidered are the needs of people that the public meeting is focused on: citizens reliant on public transportation.

The closest Metro bus stop to Lebanon is 8.3 miles away, near Kings Island in Mason. Let’s say we’re feeling ambitious and attempt to take the bus, then bicycle the remaining journey to Lebanon. It would take 48 minutes to cycle to the meeting in addition to the 1 hour, 11 minute ride on the bus. Cincinnati Metro, the region’s bus system, only offers select service to the northern suburbs. In order to arrive on time for the 10am meeting, a person dependent on transit would have to catch the 71x at 7:45 a.m., arrive in Mason at 8:52 a.m., then continue to the meeting on bicycle.

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The Airtight Case for Road Diets

Converting roads from four lanes to three has been found to reduce collisions anywhere from 20 to 50 percent. Image: Streets.mn

Bill Lindeke at Streets.mn calls them “death roads.” Four-lane roads in urban areas can indeed be perilous.

An 11-year-old boy was struck by a motorist on one of these roads recently in St. Paul. The media and others responded in typical fashion, deeming the crash an unavoidable “accident.” But the truth is these types of collisions are easy to prevent, Lindeke says.

Converting four-lane roads to three lanes, a change commonly known as a “road diet,” makes them substantially safer, with little downside. Lindeke cites the data.

#1) 3-lane roads are much safer for car drivers. According to a Federal Highway Administration study, changing a 4-lane Death Road™ into a three-lane road reduces automobile traffic accidents from 20% to 50% depending on the context. (Note: this makes intuitive sense if you’ve ever driven on a street like this.) There are dozens of similar studies out there.

#2) 3-lane roads have marginal impact on traffic flow. I’m not going to suggest that a 4-to-3 conversion of a Death Road™ has no impact on traffic flow (though sometimes that turns out to be the case). Rather, fixing a Death Road™ usually sees a reduction in car throughput in the 5% to 10% range. As another Federal Highway Administration report puts it, “under most average daily traffic (ADT) conditions tested, road diets have minimal effects on vehicle capacity.”

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Why a Street Designed for Transit Is Also Great for People

In Minneapolis, Washington Avenue prioritizes transit, biking, and walking. Photo: Michael Hicks/Flickr

When cities devote street space exclusively to buses or trains, they usually encounter some stiff resistance to change. Dan Reed at Greater Greater Washington has been giving the topic some thought, because many of the DC region’s upcoming transit projects will require reallocating some lanes from cars to transit.

Reed cites Minneapolis’s Green Line, which runs through the University of Minnesota (“The U”), as an example of how this type of redesign can work out beautifully. Initially some local players were nervous to see space for cars on Washington Avenue turn into space for transit, biking, and walking. But the results have been more than reassuring:

The U’s cooperation with the Metropolitan Council meant that the Green Line could transform Washington Avenue from a traffic sewer to a gathering place. Today, the street feels like a natural extension of the campus. Trains run down the middle of the street, and there are shared bus and bike lanes on either side. The sidewalks are wider, and the crosswalks have special paving materials to make them more visible.

There’s also more green space than there was before. Since the Green Line stations are in the center of the street, there’s a space between the tracks. It would have been easy to just make it a grassy median, or find a way to squeeze in a car lane. Instead, it’s a plaza with tables, chairs, and lush landscaping.

A significant amount of development is happening around the Green Line as a result. Over 2,500 apartments have been built around the U’s three Green Line stations, with another 2,000 in the pipeline. New shops and restaurants have opened along the tracks to cater to the influx of students.

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Is the U.S. Ready for Seniors Who Want to Stop Driving?

A recent New York Times article urged baby boomers preparing for retirement to consider their future transportation needs. The average American woman is living 10 years beyond the point when she is physically able to drive, and the average man is living seven years longer, the Times reported.

It’s time to plan for seniors who want walkable housing. Photo: Brett VA via Flickr

But as important and practical as it is for older Americans to seek housing in walkable, transit friendly locations, it’s not always easy. The article featured a couple in San Diego who were considering a cross-country move to find the right mix of amenities.

Dave Alden has been digging into walkable senior housing at Network blog Vibrant Bay Area. Today he offers an example of one development that fell through. The 200-unit project, planned for “an attractive parcel of land, near a viable and active downtown,” was to include a walkable boulevard, with development costs shared by the local government.

I thought the proposal was exceptional. The city appeared to agree and offered to help facilitate the project. First, they agreed to help secure the land rights for the boulevard, some of which were still privately held. Second, in exchange for a concession by the developer on a related land-use issue, they agreed to an expedited entitlement process as permitted under state law.

And then, it all came unwound. After a year of delay, and long after the developer’s concession had been banked, the city withdrew their promise of expedited entitlement.

After an unexpected staff shakeup, the city ceased assisting with land acquisition for the boulevard. Relieved of the city’s jawboning, one property owner promptly increased his asking price by a factor of fifty. The land was never acquired.

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After 40 Years, Will Atlanta’s MARTA See a Major Suburban Expansion?

Back in the ’70s, Clayton County didn’t want to be part of MARTA, Atlanta’s regional transit service. It was one of the suburban counties that “opted out.” In fact, all of Atlanta’s metro counties opted out except DeKalb and Fulton — the two that share the city of Atlanta proper.

Suburban Clayton County wants to be the first county to join Atlanta’s MARTA since the 1970s. Photo: Transportation for America

But times are changing. Clayton County, where the population of residents with low incomes is increasing, eliminated its bus service altogether in 2010, during a recession-era budget crisis. Now the county is seeking permission from the state to propose a tax increase to its residents that would make it the first new MARTA county in four decades.

Stephen Lee Davis at the Transportation for America blog has the story:

On Nov. 4, Clayton County voters will decide on a measure to increase the local sales tax by a percent to join MARTA, the regional transit system. Doing so would restore bus service and jumpstart planning for bus rapid transit or a rail extension in the years to come. As county commissioners debated whether or not to put the question on the ballot, they heard hefty support from residents, who turned out to meetings to urge commissioners to make a vote happen. And most of the commissioners saw the need.

Interestingly, state law already provided for Clayton to be a part of MARTA, and as one of the five core counties included in the 1970’s charter actually had a vote on the MARTA board. But Clayton and two other counties declined to pass the sales tax, and only the City of Atlanta, Dekalb and Fulton counties ponied up. In the meantime, Clayton had used its available sales tax percentage — state law caps it — for other purposes. That meant that the state had to waive that cap specifically for Clayton so they could decide on the MARTA tax. (A second piece of legislation was required to restructure the MARTA board to give Clayton County two representatives on the board starting next year.)

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Fact Checking the Florida Department of Transportation

Quadrille Boulevard in West Palm Beach. Photo: Walkable WPB

The Florida Department of Transportation says its rules prevent a road diet on Quadrille Boulevard in West Palm Beach. Advocates looked up the rules and found the agency was wrong. Photo: Walkable WPB

Quadrille Boulevard in West Palm Beach is what Chuck Marohn of Strong Towns would call a “stroad.” It’s a poorly designed, high-speed chute for cars that is completely hostile to its urban surroundings.

That’s why residents of West Palm Beach were so disappointed to learn that the Florida Department of Transportation plans to resurface the road and put everything back the way it is. When local advocates suggested that Quadrille Boulevard doesn’t need lanes to be 15 feet wide and can go on a road diet, the agency shot them down, saying its rules wouldn’t allow it.

Network blog Walkable West Palm Beach decided to fact check the agency, and it turns out FDOT needs to get a better grip on its own rules:

Frankly, FDOT is wrong in their response to the citizen stating that 10-foot lanes aren’t allowed on state highways. FDOT’s primary design manual is the Plans Preparation Manual (PPM). The PPM contains a very interesting chapter titled Transportation Design for Livable Communities (TDLC). The TDLC chapter is tucked away at the end of the manual far and away from the geometric requirements for highways and stroads. As shown in the following table from the TDLC chapter there is a footnote that allows thru lanes to be reduced from 11 feet to 10 feet in width in highly restricted areas with design speeds less than or equal to 35 MPH, having little or no truck traffic.

Quadrille fits the bill. Look at what 10-foot lanes would make possible for this street:

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Tucson Region Poised to Slash Bike/Ped Funding

Disappointing news from America’s hottest, driest bike city: Regional planners in Tucson are poised to take an axe to an important pot of money for bike and pedestrian improvements, even while they maintain spending on much more expensive road widenings.

It doesn’t cost much to make streets safer for walking and biking, but Tucson’s regional transportation agency would rather widen roads. Photo: Bicycle Tucson

Michael McKisson at Network blog Bicycle Tucson reports on how Tucson’s Regional Transportation Authority is dealing with lower-than-expected revenues from a regional sales tax enacted in 2006. Even though active transportation projects are just a drop in the bucket, the RTA has targeted them for steep cuts, McKisson writes:

It’s about to get a lot harder for Tucson-area bicycle and pedestrian planners to find funding for projects after a decision by the Regional Transportation Authority slashed more than $14 million from the RTA’s bicycle and pedestrian budgets.

Pima Association of Governments deputy director Jim Degrood told the RTA’s bicycle and pedestrian subcommittee that revenue from the 2006 voter-approved half-cent sales tax was coming in 17 percent lower than the group expected.

“The economy tanked — as we all know,” Degrood told the committee.  “And that has had a profoundly negative impact on our collection.”

McKisson reports active transportation is the big loser because RTA officials say they are committed to the projects that were outlined before the 2006 vote. Namely, road widening projects:

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The Surprisingly Rare Sanctuary From Urban Freeway Noise

There are precious few places in the Minneapolis region where you can escape the whir of speeding cars. Map: Adam Froehlig at Streets.mn

Bill Lindeke at Network blog Twin City Sidewalks says he grew up in a rather bucolic setting. Even so, he wasn’t able to escape the constant whir of speeding cars. The old farmhouse on a half-acre lot where he grew up is just three-quarters of a mile from Interstate 35E. And in that way, he was like almost everyone else in the Twin Cities, he points out:

It made me realize that freeways are surprisingly close to most houses. It’s increasingly difficult to find anywhere within the 494-694 ring of the Twin Cities where you can’t hear the high pitched whir of tires all hours of the day and night… Cars are a backdrop to every outdoor conversation, every rustle of leaves, and every birdsong day in and day out forever.

The other day at streets.mn, Adam Froehlig made a map that answered one of the questions that’s been nagging at my earlobe for years: Where are the respites from the whir? Is there anywhere in Minneapolis or Saint Paul where you can escape the sound of tires, if even for a brief moment in the middle of the night?

While it’s not perfect, Alex’s map [above] does point to a few small places where freeways might be at least a mile off.

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New Jersey’s Response to Suicide Attempt: Close Bridge to Pedestrians

Without access to the Route 35 Victory Bridge, the path between Perth Amboy and Sayreville gets a whole lot longer. Via WalkBikeJersey/Google Maps

Today’s featured post from the Streetsblog Network is a case study in overreaction and unintended consequences.

John Boyle at WalkBikeJersey reports that after a suicide attempt on the Route 35 Victory Bridge, officials in New Jersey want to sever this important walking and biking link entirely:

On September 20th the body of 16 year old Giancarlo Taveras was recovered from the Raritan River after he jumped off the Route 35 Victory Bridge. The death of the teenager drew an outpouring of grief from the Perth Amboy community. As a result the annual suicide awareness walk over the bridge included more than 500 participants on September 28th. Then on September 29th a 19 year old miraculously survived his suicide attempt with a broken leg. That chain of events along, with pressure from the mayor of Perth Amboy finally spurred NJDOT to do something about the issue. Their solution — set up barricades and close the bridge to bicyclists and pedestrians. Along with a vague promise to put up a fence for the walkway at some point in the future.

The bridge closure severs the only pedestrian and bicycle access between Perth Amboy and Sayreville. A 2 mile bike ride over the bridge is now a 23 mile detour via New Brunswick and a pedestrian’s only option is to use the infrequent bus service that crosses the bridge.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Using examples from the Netherlands, A View from the Cycle Path explains why the “there’s no room for bike lanes” argument doesn’t hold up. The Dallas Morning News’ Transportation Blog has good news: The toll road that regional transportation officials justified with absurd traffic projections will probably be shelved. And Urban Cincy reports that Denver is trying to tackle the food desert problem with healthy corner stores.