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What If “Commuter Rail” Was for Everyone, Not Just 9-to-5 Commuters?

Rhode Island has been investing in commuter rail — long distance service connecting Providence to Boston and towns in between. But lackluster ridership at a new park-and-ride rail station at the end of the line (by a Walmart!) is sapping support for much more useful investments, reports Sandy Johnston at Itinerant Urbanist.

This is the area that will be served by Pawtucket-Providence commuter rail. Photo: Google Maps via Sandy Johnson

The area that would be served by the Pawtucket-Central Falls rail station is one of the most walkable parts of Rhode Island. Photo: Google Maps via Sandy Johnson

Anti-rail critics are piling on. The libertarian Rhode Island Center for Freedom has come out against an infill station at the much more walkable Pawtucket/Central Falls border, for instance, on the basis that spending on the commuter rail service relegates Rhode Island to being a suburb of Boston.

Johnston doesn’t agree with that take, but he says it “unintentionally touches on a serious critique of the ‘commuter rail’ mode: it serves one kind of trip, and one kind of trip only.” And that critique can lead to a better kind of rail service:

When the Providence Foundation studied intrastate commuter rail from Woonsocket to Providence in 2009, the project team met with planners along the route to gauge interest in the potential new service. All showed interest, except for the town planner in Lincoln, where a station was proposed in the hamlet of Manville. The reasons given were fascinating, and a little bit sad:

The proposed Manville site is located near a low-income neighborhood, where residents could typically be expected to benefit from additional transit services. However, commuter rail — with its peak-oriented services — may not be a good fit for these residents who tend to work at jobs with nontraditional schedules. Moreover, the town planner in Lincoln indicated the most town residents were not interested in a new commuter rail station. (p. 71)

Justifiably or not, Lincoln’s town planner believed that commuter rail, as a mode, is not for “us” (us being anyone working in a job that is not white collar or 9-to-5). That’s not too far off from the idea that investing state money in a commuter rail station would only increase Rhode Island’s dependency on Boston, if we assume that “Boston” here stands in for white-collar jobs with little access for middle- or working-class Rhode Islanders. It may not be entirely apparent to the people I’m quoting here, but I believe the pattern indicates the very tiny glimmer of a kernel of a coherent, trenchant critique of the commuter rail paradigm.

Johnston says it doesn’t have to be that way:

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
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4 Ways Road Builders Game the Numbers to Justify Highways

The people who make the case for highways often present themselves as unbiased technicians, simply providing evidence to an audience subject to irrational bias.

Greenville's Southern Connector, a PPP toll road, was predicted to attract 21,000 vehicles per day. It attracted less than 9,000. Map via Toll Road News

Forecasts said motorists would make 21,000 trips per day on Greenville’s Southern Connector, a public-private toll road. In real life they made fewer than 9,000. Map via Toll Road News

But traffic forecasting is not a neutral, dispassionate exercise. It is subject to all sorts of incentives, beliefs, and assumptions that can skew the results in a particular direction.

Intentionally or not, forecasters frequently exaggerate predicted traffic volumes to make the case for building toll roads, according to industry consultant Robert Bain [PDF]. Bain has catalogued 21 ways in which forecasters manipulate data to make toll road financing look attractive [PDF]. Gaming numbers isn’t limited to toll roads — DOTs do it for taxpayer-funded projects too.

Here are a few tricks Bain says forecasters use on private projects to make highways seem like a good bet to investors:

1. Pick a time frame that suits you

Maybe looking at the last 10 years of traffic doesn’t make that great a case for widening a highway. Why not just pick a different time frame?

To justify its $850 million I-94 expansion project, Wisconsin DOT used traffic data from 1999 through 2010, leaving out two years. But traffic was flat on the road between 2009 and 2012, according to a Wisconsin PIRG analysis, which has pointed out the agency is a notoriously overoptimistic forecaster [PDF].

Read more…

Via Streetsblog California
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#DamienTalks 40 – Brown’s Housing Legislation with Jason Islas

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Support Streetsblog California today. Click on image to make a donation.

Today, #DamienTalks with Jason Islas, the editor of Santa Monica Next. This podcast featured Islas a couple of months ago to discuss a proposal by Assemblymember Richard Bloom to make it easier to build more housing.

#DamienTalksThe spirit of Bloom’s proposal lives on in a rider to the California Budget by Governor Jerry Brown. Islas will discuss that rider and why, in his view, the legislation would help ease the affordable housing crisis in California, especially the overheated markets in Los Angeles and the Greater Bay Area.

The legislation is controversial, next week we’ll have someone in opposition featured on the podcast. We’re going to try and cover both sides of this issue, as there are a lot of good people on both sides of the conversation trying to protect communities and increase our state’s housing stock.

This week’s #DamienTalks is also the first interview given by Islas since Santa Monica Next was awarded the “Excellence in Communication” prize from the American Planning Association in Los Angeles. Just in time for our fundraising drive, “Next’s excellence” is a credit to the work done by the entire Streetsblog California team. So if you support our efforts, please consider donating today!

We’re always looking for sponsors, show ideas, and feedback. You can contact me at damien@streetsblog.org, at twitter @damientypes, online at Streetsblog California or on Facebook at StreetsblogCA.

Streetsblog USA
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Columbus Wins $50 Million “Smart City” Grant. What Put It Over the Top?

Columbus has been chosen to help pioneer innovation in transportation technology. Image: Columbus

U.S. DOT chose Columbus to model how new technologies can improve urban transportation. Image: City of Columbus

U.S. DOT announced the winner of its $50 million “Smart City” grant yesterday, and Columbus, Ohio, bested finalists San Francisco, Portland, Austin, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Denver for the prize. Many other cities had applied for this federal funding to demonstrate how new technologies can improve urban streets and transportation.

In its application, Columbus focused on improving job access for low-income residents via shared cars and autonomous buses. Michael Andersen at Bike Portland considered the winning bid from the perspective of his city’s close-but-no-cigar application. Here’s what he thinks set Columbus apart:

Though many of the elements of Columbus’s proposal are similar to Portland’s ultimately unsuccessful one — a multimodal mobility app, electric vehicle charging stations — two things jump out as being absent from Portland’s proposal:

• Local Columbus companies pledged $90 million of their own investment in smart transportation technology as part of the matching-fund total.

It’s hard to say how much of this is just clever repackaging of money that would have been spent anyway, but it’s a very impressive sum. Portland’s application drew lots of letters of support but no local financial commitments like that.

Read more…

Via Streetsblog California
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Caltrans Bicycling/Walking Survey Closing Soon, Draft CA Plan This Fall

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Support continuing coverage of Caltrans and statewide bicycle and pedestrian issues on Streetsblog California. Click on image to make a donation.

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 1.50.56 PM

Caltrans is developing the first-ever statewide effort to provide guidance on bicycle and pedestrian planning

As part of the process to develop the first-ever statewide bike and pedestrian plan, Caltrans has been collecting general information from people about their current walking and bicycling experience. The survey, available here, closes on June 30.

So far the department has collected about 2,500 responses from around the state. The information will be used to help formulate a draft California State Bike and Ped Plan, with the completed plan due in February 2017.

While at the State Bike and Ped Plan website, sign up for updates on the next phase of public outreach. A webinar about the plan is being put together for some time in late July or August. When the draft plan is released this fall, there will be “another round of public engagement,” according to Scott Forsythe, who is managing the effort for Caltrans.

The plan’s website is also due for an update in the next few weeks.

So far Caltrans has held ten regional workshops—well, nine, with the tenth happening in Eureka tomorrow—with local agency partners to gather feedback about coordinating on bike and pedestrian issues. The regional workshops gathered about 170 representatives from cities, counties, metropolitan planning organizations, health departments, and law enforcement agencies. Bicycle and pedestrian advocates were invited to attend as well. See earlier SBCA coverage of a recent state plan workshop in Los Angeles.

The regional forums were an “early outreach effort,” according to Forsythe. A summary of the input from the forums will inform the draft plan. Then, in the fall, “there will be further opportunities for public input to the plan. We’re still looking for the best way to reach out to get the most effective input,” said Forsythe.

Currently Caltrans is developing draft objectives for the plan, with the help of a technical advisory committee made up of representatives of about forty planning agencies, state agencies, and advocates. The advisory committee “is a good cross section of California,” said Forsythe. “It includes representatives from urban areas and rural areas, mountain communities, coastal communities.” The advisory committee provides feedback on the draft objectives, and will help with developing strategies to meet those objectives and performance measures to evaluate whether they are being met.

The plan’s objectives are based on the six goals already developed for the statewide California Transportation Plan 2040. “There was an extensive statewide effort to develop the CTP goals,” said Forsythe, “and they apply to this plan.”

The goals in the CTP are a good start for a bike/ped plan. They are to: Read more…

Streetsblog USA
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Beyond Fitness: The Social Benefits of Open Streets Events

Milwaukee's Ciclovia was planned in part to help bring together different groups in a Hispanic neighborhood. Urban MIlwaukee

One goal of Milwaukee’s Ciclovia is to bring neighbors together in public space. Photo: Urban Milwaukee

It’s a beautiful thing to witness just how much neighborhood streets can change when you remove car traffic. As open streets events, modeled after Bogotá’s Ciclovia, have spread across the U.S. in the past several years, they’ve brought not just opportunities for physical activity, but a joyful new way to use streets as public spaces.

In Milwaukee, this year’s Ciclovia overlapped with the city’s Pride parade. Writing at Urban Milwaukee, Dave Schlabowske of the Wisconsin Bike Federation says the combination of the two events underscored how open streets are about so much more than biking:

Our Ciclovía ended at 4 p.m. and I packed up the van with the now empty bike racks and put them back in the basement of our office. Pedaling home from our office after such a successful day, I kept reliving the smiles of all the cute kids, the infectious beat of the Zumba, and generally basking in a day that made me proud to work for the Wisconsin Bike Fed and be part of such a wonderful, healthy, community building event. It was one of those days I couldn’t imagine living anywhere but Milwaukee.

Then I got home and my wife told me the news about the mass shooting in Orlando. I was shocked. I can’t believe our event and the Pridefest Parade overlapped and yet I had no idea of the horrific attack on the LGBT community the night before. It took me awhile to write about this. At first I felt guilty for being so self-absorbed that I missed learning about the biggest mass murder in our nation’s history while busy with a “bike event.”

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
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Talking Headways Podcast: Ghosts of Motordom’s Past and Future

This week we’re doing something a little different with the podcast. It’s the morning plenary from last month’s Live.Ride.Share conference in Denver. You’ll hear Jill Locantore of WalkDenver introduce University of Virginia Professor Peter Norton, author of Fighting Traffic, who discusses how automobiles were sold to the public at the beginning of the motor age. Following Norton is Gabe Klein, former transportation director in Washington DC and Chicago, who talks about how cars are changing and what that means for streets and cities.

Norton starts at the 5-minute mark and Klein starts at 28:15, then questions from the audience and an open discussion come at 1:02:15.

Streetsblog USA
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Anthony Foxx to Local Officials: Transport Policy Should Tackle Segregation

Local transportation officials should actively work to reduce segregation and promote equal access to quality schools, three Cabinet members say in a “dear colleague” letter released last week [PDF].

Are good schools accessible by transit, or foot and bike safely? Federal officials say transportation officials have a role to play in improving equality. Image: Streetfilms

Are good schools accessible by walking, biking, and transit? Cabinet members say they should be. Image: Streetfilms

The message from Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, HUD Secretary Julián Castro, and Education Secretary John King urges transportation, housing, and education officials at all levels of government to work together to ensure that people aren’t excluded from economic and educational opportunities.

The call to action builds on HUD’s 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which requires local governments that receive federal housing funds to analyze segregation patterns and develop plans to reduce it.

“We recognize that a growing body of research supports the benefits of socioeconomic and racial diversity in schools and communities, and that such diversity can help establish access points for opportunity and mobility,” Foxx, Castro, and King wrote. “We also recognize that children raised in concentrated poverty or in communities segregated by socioeconomic status or race or ethnicity have significantly lower social and economic mobility than those growing up in integrated communities.”

In the transportation sphere, the letter recommends a few steps to take. To paraphrase:

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
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A Bike Bell That Maps Where Cyclists Feel Unsafe and Pings the Mayor

This map shows where cyclists felt unsafe biking in London. Map: Hövding

A user-generated map of where people felt unsafe biking in London, via Hövding

London cyclists who encounter stressful, dangerous conditions can crowdsource a map of weaknesses in the city’s bike network by simply tapping button on their handlebars. Brandon G. Donnelly at Architect This City has more:

Hövding — a Swedish company best known for its radical airbag cycling helmets (definitely check these out) — is currently crowdsourcing unsafe conditions and cyclist frustration in London.

Working with the London Cyclist Campaign, they distributed 500 yellow handlebar buttons. Cyclists were then instructed to tap these buttons whenever they felt unsafe or frustrated with current cycling conditions.

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
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Walkable Cities Are More Affordable Than You Think – We Need More of Them

People living in walkable cities may have high housing costs, but they also tend to have low transportation costs and better access to jobs, according to a new study from Smart Growth America [PDF].

The most walkable metro areas have better job access and lower transportation costs, helping cancel out the effects of high housing costs. Graph: Smart Growth America

The most walkable metro areas have better job access and lower transportation costs, lightening the burden of high housing costs. Table: Smart Growth America

SGA ranked the 30 largest American regions according to the share of rental housing, office space, and retail located in areas with high Walk Scores. Then, using data from the Center for Neighborhood Technology, each region was also assigned a “social equity index” score based on housing and transportation costs for moderate-income households, as well as the number of jobs residents can access.

SGA found a significant link between walkability and its equity index, even though housing costs tend to be higher in walkable places.

In the areas with the highest walkable urbanism score, housing costs per square foot are indeed quite a bit higher than in car-oriented places — 93 percent higher, according to SGA. But moderate-income households in those six regions also have lower transportation costs — about 19 percent of their income, on average, compared to 28 percent in the least walkable places. Residents of compact places likely pay for less square footage than residents of spread-out places.

All told, SGA found that moderate-income households in the six most walkable regions spend about the same share of their income on housing and transportation combined as moderate-income households across all 30 metros — about 42 percent and 41 percent, respectively.

Read more…