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How Cities Should Frame the Way They Think About Mobility

Image: Copenhaganize.com

The evidence that our transportation systems are producing less-than-optimal results speaks for itself — whether it’s grinding congestion, obscene traffic fatality rates, or the greenhouse gases we’re spewing into the atmosphere at catastrophic rates.

The situation warrants a new take on how cities approach mobility, writes Mikael Colville-Andersen today at Copenhagenize:

For almost a century we have been asking the same question in our cities.

“How many cars can we move down a street?”

It’s time to change the question.

If you ask “How many PEOPLE can we move down a street?”, the answer becomes much more modern and visionary. And simple. Oh, and cheaper.

With urbanisation on the rapid rise, we need to think big. Think modern. We need to travel Back to the Future for the solutions that will serve our growing populations best. Cycle tracks. Trams. Wider sidewalks. It’s all right there for the taking if we dare to take it.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Strong Towns explains how Memphis is trying to fix its sprawl problem by increasing street connectivity. Streets.mn goes into the practical limitations of Nice Ride bike-share in the Twin Cities. And The Black Urbanist ponders how “urban” and “suburban” are often misapplied as racial euphemisms.

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Portland’s Tilikum Crossing, a Bridge for the 21st Century

Photo: Portland's Tilikum Bridge will serve only sustainable transportation, in contrast to the Columbia River Crossing. Photo: Project website

Portland’s Tilikum Crossing will serve only spatially efficient modes, in contrast to the car-centric Columbia River Crossing. Image: Trimet

Tilikum Crossing, a new bridge across the Willamette River in Portland, is everything the hated Columbia River Crossing was not. While the CRC would have devoted billions to expanding car lanes and new highway interchanges, the Tilikum will serve only transit, biking, and walking.

Matthew Nelson at Electric Urbanism says the fact that one bridge — the CRC — was rejected and this other bridge is moving forward says a lot about evolving ideas about transportation in the United States, and how Portland has positioned itself as a leader: 

One one hand, the CRC is representative of business as usual in the United States — cars and trucks are the only modes that count, and their movement must be optimized at the expense of every other form of mobility. On the other hand, the Tilikum is representative of Oregon’s commitment to sustainable transportation policy by putting transit riders first (this priority led a local conservative radio host to label the bridge “the Auto-ban”). While it is being constructed to carry trains to Milwaukie on TriMet’s newest MAX light rail line, it will also likely someday serve a future high capacity transit line down the Powell-Division Corridor as well as buses that currently crawl across nearby auto-clogged bridges and the Streetcar’s new Central Loop.

In this “tale of two crossings,” the rejection of the CRC shows that there is little appetite in the Metro region for the car-centric mega-projects reminiscent of the 20th Century, while the Tilikum will stand as a bold, iconic testament to Portland’s values and to the city’s legacy of transportation innovation.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Stop and Move has a reminder that the Nashville Amp isn’t the only BRT project under threat right now — Tea Party forces in Fresno have basically strangled the city’s proposed BRT routes. Better Institutions argues that limiting density constrains people’s choices about where to live. And Better Cities & Towns! offers 10 compelling reasons why the “American dream” is in need of revision.

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Suppressing the Housing Supply in Cities Isn’t Progressive

The housing affordability crisis in cities like San Francisco is a big progressive cause. But not everyone agrees about what’s causing the problem, and that makes it harder to address.

High housing prices in San Francisco are partly a result of constraints on new construction. Photo: Wikipedia

With so may constraints on housing construction, rents in cities like San Francisco have been skyrocketing. Photo: Wikipedia

Alex Block at Network blog City Block has a good roundup of recent articles exploring the pheonomenon. The authors — Kim-Mai Cutler at Tech Crunch, Ryan Avent at the Economist, and the blog Let’s Go L.A. — agree that the root of the problem is insufficient supply. Essentially, land use and zoning constraints that limit development of new housing are driving up prices for everyone:

Cutler’s article lists a whole host of other potential actions, but concludes that any path forward must work towards adding more housing units to the region’s overall supply. Unfortunately, even this broad conclusion isn’t shared by everyone. In section #5 of Cutler’s article, she notes “parts of the progressive community do not believe in supply and demand.”

Ryan Avent notes that this denial of the market dynamics, no matter the motive, is not only misguided but also counter-productive: “However altruistic they perceive their mission to be, the result is similar to what you’d get if fat cat industrialists lobbied the government to drive their competition out of business.”

Without agreement on the nature of the problem, it’s hard to even talk about potential policy solutions. And there are a whole host of potential policy solutions once we get over that hump. Unfortunately, discussion about supply constraints in cities (via exclusionary zoning, high construction costs, neighborhood opposition to development, etc) means the conversation naturally focuses on the constraint. Advocating for loosening the constraints can easily be mistaken for (or misconstrued as) mere supply-side economics, a kind of trickle-down urbanism.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Voice of San Diego relays news about compromises to a local bus rapid transit project. And Flat Iron Bike introduces a new paper that looks at how to make “managed lanes” on highways more equitable by incorporating transit.

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Targeted Spending Helps Boost Kansas City’s Walkability

The Alliance for Biking and Walking released a big new report yesterday that measures the nation’s progress on active transportation.

Kansas City has been investing in safer streets, and it's moving up in walkability rankings. Photo: BikeWalkKC

Kansas City has been investing in safer streets, and it’s moving up in walkability rankings. Photo: BikeWalkKC

There’s a ton of data to nerd out on, but one thing that might be particularly interesting to local advocates is that the report shows biking and walking statistics for individual cities. It has details on safety, public spending, and income and gender demographics for active transportation in 50 large cities and 17 mid-sized cities across the U.S.

Rachel Kraus at BikeWalkKC dove into the data, and she found that a conscious effort to improve conditions in Kansas City seems to be paying off:

Moving Up in the Rankings
In 2012, Kansas City ranked 33rd out of the 52 most populous US cities for walking to work. In 2014, KC jumped to #30. Our closest neighbors include Omaha at #26, Chicago at #8 and Wichita at #50. Nationally the top five walking cities are Boston, Washington D.C., New York City, San Francisco and Honolulu. Our bike commuting ranking also improved from #42 to #41.

Still Room for Improvement
KC’s bicyclist safety ranking dropped from #34 in 2012 to #37 in 2014. Our closest neighbors include Omaha at #45, Chicago at #19 and Wichita at #2. (Safety rankings are based on crashes and fatalities.) KC also still lags behind on rankings of residents getting the recommended amount of physical activity. We ranked #38 in 2014.

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Why a Portland Domino’s Started Delivering Pizza By Trike

As bicycling has come to account for a greater share of trips in Portland, the shift is also noticeable among deliveries and cargo hauling.

Scott Kealer’s Domino’s franchise in Portland has started delivering pizza by cargo trike. Photo: Bike Portland

While delivering pizza by bike is not exactly new, Michael Andersen at Bike Portland offers a great example of why it makes sense for businesses to get stuff done using human-powered vehicles:

Cheap, fast and classy, cargo bikes and trikes have been in use for years from Old Town Pizza to Good Neighbor Pizzeria. Last fall, Scott Kealer did the math and decided his downtown Portland Domino’s Pizza franchise should join their ranks.

“I’ve got a corporate name on the front of the door that says ‘Domino’s,’ but it’s really my pizza shop,” said Kealer, owner of the local store on 4th Avenue near Portland State University.

“We’ve been kicking the idea around for a year or two,” said Robert Ricker, the weekday manager. “Depending on who’s pedaling, it can be faster than a car… Maintenance has been low on it and it’s really helped out in a pinch.”

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DC Inspires Bike Lane Envy With Curb-Protected Cycling

The new 1st Street curb-protected bike lane takes shape. Photo: BeyondDC/Flickr

Here’s a good sign that protected bike lanes are here to stay in American cities: Cities are increasingly trading plastic bollards for concrete curbs, making the lanes a more permanent feature of the landscape.

As I reported for People for Bikes last year, Chicago, Austin, Seattle, New York and Portland have all either installed or plan to install curb-protected bike lanes. The latest city to join this elite group is Washington, DC.

Dan Malouff at Greater Greater Washington explains the new bike lanes coming to M Street and 1st Street in the nation’s capital:

Their designs are a step up from previous DC cycletracks, since they each include spots — though on M, a very brief spot — where a full concrete curb separates bikes from cars.

The 1st Street NE cycletrack connects the Metropolitan Branch Trail to Union Station and downtown DC. DDOT installed its curb last week, from K Street to M Street. Crews are still working on striping and signals, but the project is close to opening.

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How Will a New FRA Rule Affect Commuter Rail?

Misguided safety rules from the Federal Railroad Administration are cited as the cause for all sorts of problems, from high-construction costs to pedestrian hazards to, ironically, worse safety outcomes.

Transit observers are concerned that a new FRA regulation may hamper commuter rail expansion. Photo: Richard Masoner/Flickr

Which helps explain why Jarret Walker at Network blog Human Transit is alarmed about a new rule “requiring two-person train crews… for most main line freight and passenger rail operations.” It’s “much too soon to panic,” Walker says, but he was still compelled to send the FRA his concerns about how this might play out for commuter rail:

The language creates a reasonable suspicion you are about to ban one-person crews on urban commuter rail services regulated by the FRA, which usually fall within FRA’s use of the term “passenger rail.” While the text is unclear about what “minimum crew size” standard it proposes for “passenger rail,” it makes no sense that you would need to “establish minimum crew size standards” if the intended minimum were one.

Your release mentions later that the rule is expected to contain “appropriate exceptions.” It would be wise to give the transit and urban development worlds some assurance that you don’t plan to shut down the possibility of one-person-crew urban transit — using FRA-regulated rail corridors — through this rule. Such services — similar to existing commuter rail but with higher frequency and smaller vehicles — are one of the best hopes for cost-effective new rail transit in the US.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Urban Velo reports that Indianapolis is getting ready to launch its bike-share system. Strong Towns gives advice for communities that don’t have much of a biking and walking culture but are trying to change that. And Urban Review STL reports that a new hospital expansion in St. Louis is coming with an immense parking garage.

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Wisconsin DOT Raises the Cost of Fighting Highway Projects

Wasteful and unnecessary.” That’s how citizens of Waukesha and Washington counties in Wisconsin have described a state plan to fill in wetlands for an 18-mile road widening project on Highway 164.

Highway 164 in Wisconsin, as you can see, is in desperate need of widening. Photo: State Truck Tour

But the Highway J Citizens Coalition isn’t taking it lying down. Along with an environmental group, they took the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to court and the judge sided in their favor recently, finding that the state’s documentation, studies, and hearings for this project had serious flaws.

James Rowen at the Political Environment reports that now the “tone deaf,” “arrogant” state agency appears to be making it punitively expensive for these citizens to challenge its actions:

The Highway J Citizens Coalition, (HJCG), had won a significant victory in federal court, but despite the ruling and direction it gave to WisDOT legal project construction and planning, WisDOT is picking a further fight with the coalition by charging it more than $10,000 in advance for public records as the case continues.

The coalition says in a major filing Monday with Madison prosecutors that WisDOT is withholding the records in part because it doesn’t like how highway critics have portrayed WisDOT.

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Do Modern Churches Facilitate Isolation or Community?

Is a bike lane really a threat to this church? Image: Strong Towns

Is a bike lane really a threat to this church? Image: Strong Towns

The last few decades have been difficult on the neighborhood church.

As population dispersed, many houses of worship built by tight-knit communities have given way to buildings surrounded by parking, so people can drive from miles away. Chuck Marohn of Strong Towns is a regular churchgoer at a one such car-oriented church. He says it sometimes reminds him of sociologist Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, the celebrated book on isolation in modern America:

It is more than a little ironic that I’ve had more conversations with our next door neighbors of the past sixteen years in the brief moments walking in and out of church than I’ve ever had on our street or, perhaps more amazingly, in each other’s homes. When either of us travel to church, we back out of our garages, hit the automatic garage door opener to close it, drive to church, park in one of the convenient parking lots, attend church and then do the trip home in reverse. Essentially, we’re Churching Alone.

[The church] was built in the 1960’s with the typical architecture of the time; horizontal construction in a field on the edge of town with lots of parking. It met all the needs of the new, auto-based parishioner who could arrive by car, avoid the traffic rush by leaving right after communion — but before the closing hymn — and be home by kickoff. While the church can be a vibrant and communally beautiful place at times, those times are always intentional. There is no passive, deep church community vibrating in and around St. Andrews.

Marohn’s priest says his church is now “threatened” by a city proposal to install bike lanes on the street outside. The church is encouraging members to express opposition to this proposal. Marohn writes:

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The Fiscal Insanity of Highway Building

Dallas. Photo: David Herrara via Flicker (CC)

Highways crisscross highways in Dallas, yet transportation officials never seem to think there are enough. Photo: David Herrera/Flicker (CC)

To peer inside the minds of highway builders, take a look at what’s happening in Dallas.

Patrick Kennedy at Network blog Walkable Dallas Fort Worth has been poring over a 2007 document produced by regional planners at the North Central Texas Council of Governments. Interestingly, this seven-year-old document proclaimed an urgent need for the as-yet-unbuilt Trinity Toll Road, which highway builders are still trying to push through today.

Kennedy points out that without the Trinity Toll Road, Dallas has somehow avoided collapsing into chaos in the past seven years. He proceeds to attack the arguments for highway building, starting with the notion that Dallas needs a multi-billion dollar highway to reduce $66 million in congestion costs:

You’re telling me we need to spend $5 billion in order to save $66 million? And that’s just to build the roads, let alone the life cycle costs. This math and logic is why TxDOT is $35 billion in the hole right now. Congestion can’t be fought with more highway capacity. It can only be diminished by getting people out of cars and building more walkable communities. DFW is tied with Detroit for most car-dependent major city in the country…

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