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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.

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Will Miami Take the First Step Toward Parking Reform?

It’s been a long time coming, says Felipe Azenha at Transit Miami, but finally the topic of parking reform is getting some attention in Miami.

Proposed parking reforms would be a boon for housing affordability in Miami. Photo: Mark Hogan via Flickr

Eliminating parking requirements for small buildings in Miami could lead to larger reforms — and the elimination of bigger garages like this one — later on. Photo: Mark Hogan via Flickr

A public hearing next week will consider the elimination of minimum parking requirements for small buildings along transit corridors. Azena says it’s just the thing this car-clogged, increasingly-unaffordable city needs:

Minimum parking requirements are killing good urban development in Miami. Luckily, there has been a push to eliminate parking requirements for small urban buildings (<10,000 sq ft) in recent months. This is a good first step in the right direction if Miami really aspires to become a walkable and less autocentric city.

Minimum parking requirements perpetuate more automobile use and it also makes housing less affordable since the cost of building and maintaining required parking is passed on to renters and buyers. A few months ago Zillow released a housing report that cited Miami as the 2nd most expensive city for renters. The average Miami resident spends 43.2% of their income on rent.

Combine expensive housing with lack of public transit and minimum parking requirements that only serve to perpetuate the use of the automobile; it’s no wonder why Miami is one of the most expensive car dominated cities in the US.

A better move for Miami would be to entirely eliminate parking requirements and let developers decide how much parking to build. But in the meantime, this proposal is a step in the right direction, Azenha says.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Wash Cycle maps out the locations of bike fatalities in the nation’s capital. Urban Milwaukee reports that universal driver’s ed has been proposed to help combat racial segregation in that region. And Greater Greater Washington says that DC’s regional planners aren’t acting boldly enough to achieve local climate action goals.

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Dallas Transport Agency Cooks Up Fishy Traffic Projections for a New Road

We’ve reported on the way state agencies justify spending on expensive road expansions by overestimating the traffic that will materialize in the future. In an encouraging sign, one local press outfit is calling out the fishy traffic projections before a project gets built.

The regional transportation agency for Dallas justifies this highway project with traffic projections that far exceed even the estimates from the notorious sprawl enablers at Texas DOT. Map: Northeastgateway.com

Brandon Formby of the Dallas Morning News‘ Transportation Blog (yes, it’s a long-time member of the Streetsblog Network) has been taking a critical look at traffic projections from the North Central Texas Council of Governments, the Big D’s regional planning agency. Residents who oppose the 28-mile Northeast Gateway-Blackland Prairie toll road – planned for a rural area between Garland and Greenville — question the assumptions behind the project.

The numbers certainly do look suspicious. Here are some excerpts from Formby’s reporting (emphasis added):

  • “Some of the council of governments predictions are hundreds of percentage points higher than the Texas Department of Transportation’s forecasts.”
  • “NCTCOG predicts that 72,300 drivers will use State Highway 66 at County Road 6 in Lavon in 2035. That’s six times as many as the 12,000 drivers the agency says used it last year. It’s also more than triple the 22,880 drivers TxDOT estimates for the same spot in 2030, the closest year to the NCTCOG estimates for which the state has forecasts.”
  • “While the regional agency’s traffic estimates for spots in the corridor predict anywhere from a 70 percent to 503 percent increase in drivers, the state predicts population increases in the four counties to be between 23.3 percent and 65.1 percent.”

Formby reports that NCTCOG has been reluctant to divulge how its traffic projections were developed. No wonder, because they seem to be practicing highway voodoo.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Systemic Failure, responding to an absurd case of police overreach in San Francisco, points out that  places where it’s safe for children to be on bikes don’t require them to wear helmets. And Delaware Bikes outlines data from Active Living Research that shows the many health benefits of biking and walking for transportation.

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What’s Your City’s Ratio of Places to Non-Places?

 Andrew Price used a sunburn map to highlight the places (blue) and “non-places” (red) in downtown Phoenix. Image: Strong Towns

Here’s a really interesting way to look at cities. Andrew Price at Strong Towns has developed a graphically compelling way to break down developed areas into what he calls “places” and “non-places.”

He explains:

Places are for people. Places are destinations. Whether it is a place to sleep, a place to shop, a place of employment, or simply a place to relax – it has a purpose and adds a destination to the city. Building interiors are the most common form of Places found in cities. Examples of outdoor Places include;

  • Parks and gardens
  • Plazas
  • Human-oriented streets

Non-Places are the padding between destinations. Examples of Non-Places include:

  • Roads
  • Freeways
  • Parking Lots
  • Greenspace

Price has developed a method that instantly conveys the ratio of places to non-places. Below he compares part of San Francisco to a suburban area of Little Rock.

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Portland Shows How to Get More Bang for Your Traffic Safety Buck

Three road diets in Portland have prevented a total of 525 collisions. Graphic: Bike Portland

State DOTs like to justify hugely expensive highway-widening projects, like Milwaukee’s $1.7 billion Zoo Interchange, partly on the grounds of safety. But if we really want to get a big bang for our transportation safety buck, fixing city streets makes a lot more sense.

Michael Andersen at Bike Portland reports that three local road diets completed between 1997 and 2003 cost a combined total of just $500,000 and have prevented more than 500 collisions:

A new city study shows the big payoff the city has quietly seen from a few uses of one of the least-understood tricks in traffic engineering: the 4-3 road diet.

Converting four general travel lanes to two plus a turn lane and (in some cases) painted bike lanes have prevented about 525 crashes on three Portland streets — Northeast Glisan from 22nd to 32nd; Southeast 7th from Division to Washington; and Southeast Tacoma from 6th to 11th — during the 16 years studied, the analysis released this week found. The number of traffic crashes on those streets dropped 37 percent.

Traffic volumes on those three streets, meanwhile, fell by an average 7.7 percent, suggesting that the safety and access improvements weren’t accompanied by major new burdens on drivers’ mobility.

The number of crashes being prevented on each of those streets, of course, continues to rise: by about 37 more every year among the three of them.

Now imagine if that money from the one highway widening project in Milwaukee was used instead to do 10,200 road diets.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Seattle Bike Blog announces the opening of the city’s new Pronto bike-share system. Strong Towns shares readers’ stories of trying to walk to the nearest grocery store. And Forward Lookout shares some data detailing the declining rate of return on highway spending.

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After Traffic Count Drops Off a Cliff, Albuquerque Rushes to Widen Road

Traffic has taken a nose dive on Albuquerque’s Osuna Road. So why is the city so anxious to widen it? Image: Urban ABQ

Given limited budget resources and competing demands, what makes some transportation projects rise to the top of a city’s wish list? Dan Majewski at Urban ABQ says that in his hometown of Albuquerque, there doesn’t seem to be much sense to it.

For example, one of the projects in line for funding locally is the $7 million widening of Osuna Road — where, as shown in the above graph, traffic has declined precipitously. Writes Majewski:

Osuna is an interesting road. It starts as a major arterial with an interstate highway off-ramp and eventually dwindles down to a minor neighborhood street. During the early 2000s, traffic counts were increasing dramatically, but recently, they have dropped to early 1990s levels.

According to the regional TIP (transportation improvement program), Osuna is listed as an approved project. The TIP goes through a hypothetically public process, though mid day meetings, which are not heavily advertised, hardly count as such.

[Above] is a chart of traffic counts on Osuna Road between I-25 and 2nd Street, the segment which the City of Albuquerque is trying to expand.

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