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What’s the Best Way to Tax Parking?

Taxing parking, the way Pittsburgh does, can make downtowns livelier and encourage a healthier mix of transportation options.

An inventory of parking in downtown Providence. Image: Greater City Providence

Of course, implementing these policies can get tricky. A recent report from the Victoria Transport Policy Institute [PDF] delves into the issue and sorts out the best way to go about it.

At his blog, Transport Providence, James Kennedy considers what the conclusions mean for his city:

The long and short of it is that it’s politically easiest to tax parking on dedicated lots, rather than to do a “per space” tax on all parking, but this way of taxing parking has problems. We might be tempted, for instance, to tax the lots in downtown Providence but not tax the lot attached to, say, the Whole Foods, because our instinctive thought would be that though we don’t like a surface lot next to a grocery store, it’s much better than a bare lot serving nothing but parking alone.

The problem comes with the fact that the lot parking attached to businesses is free to customers and employees. Of course, it’s not actually free. It costs money which is passed into lost wages or higher prices. But to the worker or consumer, it appears free. When the price of commercial parking, i.e., the lots downtown that charge per hour, becomes more expensive without putting an equal burden on these other parking lots, it gives a stronger incentive for businesses to include free parking into their design as a benefit to customers or workers. This is not what we want.

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How to Breathe Cleaner Air While Biking: Ride at 11 MPH

Portland State University Ph.D candidate Alex Bigazzi has been biking around Portland with a $300 homebuilt air quality monitor. His goal: to get a sense of how much pollution he was breathing and how to minimize exposure to harmful fumes. Bigazzi has recently been sharing his findings around Portland.

On a flat (zero percent) grade, riding at 11 mph minimizes the pollution you breathe. On uphills, the optimum speed is slower. Graph: Alex Bigazzi via Bike Portland

Michael Andersen at Bike Portland reports today that Bigazzi’s first tip is to not ride very fast:

The biggest contributor to pollution intake, Bigazzi found, isn’t actually how dirty the air around you is. It’s how much of it you breathe.

“Ventilation completely dominates the exposure differences,” Bigazzi said. “The exposure differences are not that big.”

That creates an interesting mathematical puzzle: the harder your body works, the more pollution you breathe in. But the faster you move, the less time you’ll spend in the dirty air.

So assuming you’re headed to a place where the air is cleaner than it is along a roadway (Precision Castparts commuters, take note), here’s a curve Bigazzi constructed that shows the optimum speed to ride for various bikeway slopes. It’s expressed in kilometers per hour; the 17.5 kph “minimum ventilation speed” for a flat 0 percent grade is 11 mph.

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Why People Who Love Nature Should Live Apart From It

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If you care about the natural environment, where should you live?

Surrounding yourself with the trappings of nature, writes Shane Phillips at Better Institutions today, is a far cry from respecting and protecting the wilderness: 

Much like the flower, for many of us, to love nature is to destroy it. We move from the city to the suburb or the rural town to be closer to nature, and to make it habitable (for us) we clear-cut it for new development, pave it over and turn woods and grasslands into manicured lawns, pollute it with our vehicles, etc. In our efforts to possess a small slice of “nature,” we change the meaning of the word, leaving us with something beautiful, perhaps, but far from natural. This strain of thinking is very popular in places like the Bay Area, where there’s a belief that we have to sharply limit development in cities in order to preserve some semblance of nature — ”how can a place so gray possibly be green?”

But environmentalism is about much more than surrounding ourselves with greenery; in fact, its true meaning is exactly the opposite. Real environmentalism means surrounding ourselves with steel, concrete, and other human beings, leaving nature to itself instead of attempting to own it and shape it to our own selfish needs. What makes cities so important is that they allow us to express our love and appreciation for nature in a healthy way: from a distance, as a societal and environmental resource that can be preserved far into the future.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Seattle Transit Blog says the city’s efforts to secure a streetcar are gaining momentum. The Transportationist prices out the economic costs of slower-than-expected travel times on the Twin Cities’ new Green Line. And This Big City looks at the impact of AirBnB on cities.

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America’s Myopic Public Debate About Tolling Roads

Suspending tolls on the SR 520 bridge in Seattle would likely make traffic worse during a construction project, but that’s what some motorists say they want. Photo: Marc Smith/Flickr

Seattle is getting ready to embark on a construction project that will put the squeeze on a few of its major highways. This event, ironically, served as a jumping off point for local media to indignantly demand a tolling “holiday” on the SR 520 floating bridge.

Martin Duke at Seattle Transit Blog said the episode illustrates the absurdity of the debate about highway tolling:

The idea that tolling is some insidious stealth tax, or a fundamental violation of the inalienable right to drive anywhere, for free, with unlimited subsidy is a well-established cancer on the Puget Sound’s discourse.

Spending hundreds of millions of dollars to expand our highway capacity and “ease congestion” does massive damage to the environment and ends up inducing the same congestion. But in that debate, the establishment wrings its hands about the economy and the need to move freight around, because time is money. When maintenance dramatically reduces highway capacity, however, no one cares enough about businesses to do the one thing that might help.

I agree that freight operators, the handyman with his tools, and so on need uncongested highways. And because shorter trips on the highway feed directly into their bottom line, tolls are but a fraction of the cost of sitting in traffic because there’s no alternative. The answer, if policymakers really care about businesses like PCC Logistics, is not to suspend the toll but raise the toll to whatever level keeps 520 free-flowing this week.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Counting Pantographs offers an interesting discussion about how sprawl affects the Mormon Church. Greater Greater Washington talks to activists trying to improve the impact of a Metro construction project on public space in Silver Spring. And the City Fix explains how congestion pricing could help reduce inequality in Beijing.

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Will Texas DOT Gouge Another Highway Through Dallas?

A proposal for the $1.3 billion Trinity Toll Road in Dallas. Image: North Texas Tolling Authority

The Trinity Toll Road embodies Texas’s destructive compulsion for expanding highways.

The proposed $1.3 billion highway project will likely increase sprawl and weaken central Dallas. It’s part of a $5 billion package of road projects to ostensibly reduce congestion. Because tackling congestion by building always works out well.

If you need another reason to feel leery of the Trinity Toll Road, here’s a good one: The Dallas region can’t afford it. But while it looks like local agencies may never put together the money to make the project happen, now the state — which also can’t afford it — may get involved, reports Brandon Formby at the Dallas Morning News’ Transportation Blog:

TxDOT’s involvement could move the long-delayed and consistently divisive project closer to completion if the [North Texas Tolling Authority] and the city can’t come up with the money needed to build it. So far, a source for the bulk of construction costs hasn’t been identified. But TxDOT chipping in would also push the project farther, once again, from the narrative city leaders sold to voters who narrowly approved the project seven years ago. The road was portrayed in 2007 as a project that would largely be paid for by the drivers who would eventually use it.

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We Need a New Term to Describe Uber and Lyft

Companies like Uber and Lyft make any car owner a potential paid chauffeur, and their services are increasingly widespread in American cities.

Is “ride-share” the right term for services like Lyft? Photo: Alfredo Mendez on Flickr

So what should we call these new companies? Abigail Zenner at Greater Greater Washington says the current nomenclature is a bit muddled:

Companies like Uber and Lyft have been dubbing their services “ridesharing.” These companies contract with drivers who can make money by offering rides. Jason Pavluchuk from the Association for Commuter Transportation argued that calling these services “rideshare” made it harder to advocate for other models that more aptly deserve the term, like carpool and vanpool services where people actually ride together.

Uber and Lyft are really new variants on taxi service. They let people use a car they might already own (though Uber is also offering loans to drivers to get new cars), but they are still doing it as a job. If you use such a service, you’re not sharing someone’s car; you’re paying them to give you a ride.

Other companies like Sidecar have envisioned a model where people already driving from one place to another offer rides to someone who happens to be going the same way. That’s a little bit more “sharing” than the app-based taxi-like services.

GGW is asking readers to weigh in on what these services should be called. If not “ride-share,” then what?

Elsewhere on the Network today: Rights of Way reports that Maine DOT still needs to get the hang of accommodating pedestrians and cyclists during construction projects. Naked City writes that North Carolina lawmakers have figured out a new way to potentially derail proposed passenger rail service between Chapel Hill, Raleigh, and Durham. And Strong Towns weighs in on the debate about whether a new sales tax to support transportation projects is the right solution for Missouri.

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St. Louis to Pedestrians: Drop Dead

A busy crosswalk has been erased in St. Louis, and the city is doing everything it can to prevent people from walking across the street here. Photo: NextSTL

Here’s a great example of the wrong way to handle a tricky pedestrian crossing in your town.

At the request of a local hospital, the city of St. Louis recently removed a frequently-used crosswalk for at least the next two years, apparently in conjunction with nearby construction. The city didn’t just scrub away the markings — to completely ensure that pedestrians get the message, it installed a barrier and even posted a police officer at the location.

Alex Ihnen at NextSTL says the whole thing is a symptom of a myopic mindset that sees people on foot as a problem:

We’re petitioning for the crosswalk to be returned immediately, a pedestrian study to be conducted, and added pedestrian infrastructure to be added to this intersection. Input from those using the intersection should be considered and their voices included in future planning, as well as interim solutions. For some reason, “temporarily” inconveniencing pedestrians for two years while ensuring a clear path for cars appears to be the perfectly acceptable default.

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Connecting Detroit Neighborhoods With Better Streets and Public Spaces

This intersection redesign calls for sidewalk extensions, bike lanes, high-visibility crosswalks, and landscape improvements to make it safer and more comfortable. Image: Economics of Place

Can safer streets and livelier public spaces help knit Detroit back together?

The Michigan Municipal League thinks so, and it is working hard to show southeast Michigan how. Recently the organization teamed up with some partners to address a problem area in southwest Detroit, or Mexicantown.

Sarah Craft at the Economics of Place blog explains:

Vernor is Southwest Detroit’s main street and is populated with densely packed storefronts, restaurants, and independent businesses. Due to Southwest Detroit’s proximity to Canada and the international bridge crossing, the area unfortunately has quite a bit of industrial land use and suffers from a high volume of truck traffic.

Vernor’s vibrant commercial district is divided by about a half mile “gap,” created by complicated intersections, a former industrial complex, wide one-way roads, a viaduct, and an unnatural bend in the road. In an effort to better connect the east and west sides of Vernor, the League partnered with Southwest Detroit Business Association (SDBA) and Archive DS to collect resident ideas, concerns, and desires to reduce the gap and better connect the community.

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Fixing One of Florida’s Deadly Roads With a Protected Bikeway

A new vision for Florida’s deadly Rickenbacker Causeway. Image: Bernard Zyscovich via Architect’s Newspaper

Our friends at Transit Miami have been writing for years about the horrible conditions on the Rickenbacker Causeway, a key transportation link for the city. In 2010, they wrote that, without any intervention, the car-centric design would continue to cause loss of life and limb: “As long as we have a roadway designed to induce speed, the speeding will continue and bicyclists and pedestrians will continue to get hurt.”

Current conditions: Rickenbacker Causeway. Image: Architect's Newspaper

Current conditions on the Rickenbacker Causeway. Image: Architect’s Newspaper

They were right. The following February, Aaron Cohen, a young father, was struck and killed while he was riding his bike by a hit-and-run driver with a suspended license and a bag full of cocaine.

That incident helped inspire a new vision for the road: transforming it into a multi-modal street by adding a protected bike lane. Erik Douds at the Architect’s Newspaper reports:

Architect and avid cyclist Bernard Zyscovich has proposed such an infrastructure upgrade in Miami-Dade, Florida that would convert a killer expressway into a cycle super highway.

Rickenbacker Causeway — linking Miami to Key Biscayne — currently holds three car lanes in each direction, but Zyscovich’s plan would convert the divided highway to two lanes for automobile traffic and a landscape-buffered lane for cyclists and pedestrians. Hardwood trees and bushes that would be planted along the cycle track would increase safety by separating the various modes of transportation.

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Re-imagining Parking Spaces as Micro-Apartments

These 300-square-foot micro apartments, designed by Savannah art students, were installed in Atlanta parking spaces. Photo: SCADpad.com

This 135-square-foot micro apartment was one of three designed by Savannah art students that were recently installed in an Atlanta parking garage. Photo: SCADpad.com

Can parking spaces get a second life? A student project in Atlanta helps demonstrate the possibilities in every stall.

Students at the Savannah College of Art and Design created three “SCADpads:” 135-square-foot micro-apartments designed to fit in the space defined by a single parking spot. Three prototypes for these modular homes, which cost $40-$60,000 to construct, were installed in an Atlanta garage this spring, to help model what might be a more sustainable paradigm for the city.

Each micro-apartment was designed by the students to reflect the culture of a different continent: Asia, North America, and Europe. Each was outfitted with a small kitchen, a sleeper-sofa, a bathroom, and some high-tech features like iPad-controlled “smart glass” windows that can be obscured for privacy. In addition, each apartment included a “porch” area, the size of an additional parking space, and a shared community garden that harvests “grey water” from the sink and shower.

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