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Will US DOT’s Self-Driving Car Rules Make Streets Safe for Walking and Biking?

This week, U.S. DOT released guidelines for self-driving cars, a significant step as regulators prepare for companies to bring this new technology to market. Autonomous vehicles raise all sorts of questions about urban transportation systems. It’s up to advocates to ensure that the technology helps accomplish broader goals like safer streets and more efficient use of urban space, instead of letting private companies dictate the terms.

Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

The rules that the feds put out will be revised over time, and the public can weigh in during that process. With that in mind, I’ve been reviewing the guidelines and talking to experts about the implications for city streets — and especially for pedestrian and cyclist safety. Here are a few key things to consider as regulations for self-driving cars get fleshed out.

Fully autonomous cars can’t break traffic laws.

The feds say self-driving cars should adhere to all traffic laws. In practice, this means they’ll have to do things like obey the speed limit and yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. Following the rules may be a pretty low bar to clear, but it’s more than most human drivers can say for themselves.

Transit advocate Ben Ross points out, however, that this standard will only apply to “highly automated vehicles” (HAVs). Cars that are lower down on the autonomy spectrum — where a person is deemed the driver, not a machine — wouldn’t need to have features that override human error.

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
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Restrictive Housing Policies in a Few Cities Hurt the Whole U.S. Economy

The San Francisco Bay Area is not building nearly enough housing to keep pace with job growth. The result is an affordability crisis. Graphic: Plan Bay Area 2040 via Kim-Mai Cutler

The San Francisco Bay Area is not building nearly enough housing to keep pace with job growth. The result is an affordability crisis. Graphic: Plan Bay Area 2040 via Kim-Mai Cutler [PDF]

It’s no secret that major coastal cities are dealing with a housing shortage that’s causing runaway rents. What’s less well understood, however, is how low-density zoning not only limits the supply of housing but affects the U.S. economy more broadly.

Pete Rodrigue at Greater Greater Washington points to a study estimating the economic impact of policies like single-family zoning and height limits, which restrict access to places where economic opportunity is greatest. Even looking at just three regions, the effect is huge:

Economists Enrico Moretti and Chang-Tai Hsieh find that if we lowered restrictions that keep people from building new housing in just three cities (New York, San Jose, and San Francisco) to the level of the median American city, US GDP would have been 9.7% higher in 2009—about $1.4 trillion, or $6,300 for every American worker…

Just changing zoning practices in those three cities would lead to some massive shifts, according to the authors. One-third of workers would change cities (although they wouldn’t necessarily move to those three metros). Even under a less drastic scenario, in which 20% of US workers were able to move, GDP would be 6.5% higher. Fewer people would live in places like Detroit, Phoenix, or Atlanta, but those who remained would earn higher wages. And, of course, the likely reduction in sprawl would help address local air pollution, global warming, and habitat loss.

Rodrigue suggests how the implications of this work should be applied in the DC region:

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
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The Threat of Racial Profiling in Traffic Enforcement

This map shows the streets where 50 percent of fatal traffic crashes occur in San Jose. But in yellow, we see there's a strong overlap with "disadvantaged" areas, where immigrants, low-income people and people of color are concentrated. Map via Cyclelicious

The blue lines are streets where fatal traffic crashes occur in San Jose. There’s a lot of overlap with the areas in yellow, areas with large numbers of immigrants, low-income residents, and people of color. Map via Cyclelicious

Can urban police forces with histories of racial profiling and brutality be entrusted to carry out traffic enforcement as part of Vision Zero initiatives? In a Twitter chat yesterday, the Safe Routes to School National Partnership asked how to ensure that “law enforcement doesn’t profile or discriminate” when asked to uphold traffic laws.

Responding on Cyclelicious, Richard Masoner offers some data that illustrates the tension in San Jose:

As part of their Vision Zero effort, the city of San Jose, CA Police Traffic Enforcement Unit has adopted a data driven approach to enforcing traffic infractions. 50% of traffic fatalities in San Jose occur on just 3% of city streets. These “Safety Priority Streets” are portions of Almaden Expressway, Alum Rock Avenue, Blossom Hill Road, Branham Lane, Capitol Expressway, Jackson Avenue, King Road, McKee Road, McLaughlin Avenue, Monterey Road, Senter Road, Story Road, Tully Road, and White Road. Both cyclist fatalities in 2014 occurred on one of these streets, and the majority of cycling deaths in San Jose continue to occur on those roads.

JPD love this data, and it was very easy to convince them to use their very limited resources to target enforcement where they can do the most good.

But see what happens when we overlay the map of what our regional planning agency identifies as “Communities of Concern,” which are neighborhoods with a high proportion of minorities, recent immigrants, and low-income households.

Read more…

Via Streetsblog California
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High Speed Rail Update: Animations of Potential Palmdale-Burbank Routes

Animation of one of the proposed HSR routes through the San Gabriel Mountains. The E2 alignment has a long tunnel in the valley, under the community of Shadow Hills. Image: Screengrab from HSR Blog.

Animation of one of the proposed HSR routes through the San Gabriel Mountains. The E2 alignment features a long underground section in the San Fernando Valley, under the community of Shadow Hills. Image: Screengrab from HSR Blog.

The California High Speed Rail Authority released three simple animations showing possible routes for the Palmdale to Burbank section. The animations appear on separate maps, so it’s hard to compare them side-by-side, but they give a pretty good idea of how very, very long the proposed tunnels are.

The routes vary slightly in the San Fernando Valley. They all begin in a tunnel, and cut either under Pacoima, emerging to pass around Hansen Dam, or under Shadow Hills, emerging for a moment in the recreation area before dipping back underground to cut through the San Gabriel Mountains. The routes also differ as they approach Palmdale, with the train emerging from the tunnels in a few places and then going back underground before finally emerging just west of Palmdale itself.

All three routes feature extensive tunnels through the San Gabriel Mountains. Estimated costs for the different HSRA segments were released in its 2016 Business Plan, but the cost differences between these three potential routes are buried in a Supplemental Alternatives Analysis. Buried deeply. The short version is that the most expensive of the three is Route E1, the middle route that passes close to the Pacoima Dam and steers mostly clear of Highway 14.

Check out the routes.

Note that there is a public meeting on the alignments tomorrow night, Thursday, September 22, from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Fernangeles Recreation Center, 8851 Laurel Canyon Boulevard in Sun Valley.

Streetsblog USA
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Justice-Oriented Mobility Advocates to “Untokenize” Active Transportation Movement at November Convening

spicy shoes

In lower-income communities of color in Los Angeles, cycling is largely a matter of necessity, not choice.

The Token One
He was so glad I had “talked about people of color committing violence against other people of color,” he gushed, shaking my hand.

My eyebrows shot up.

The focus of my talk at last October’s CalBike’s annual summit had been the extent to which the socio-economic and cultural landscapes of a community are inextricably intertwined with the physical one. Using the installation of amenities in a historically disenfranchised lower-income community of color as an example, I had explained how chronic insecurity in the public space – generated thanks to decades of disinvestment, discrimination, suppressive policing, and denial of opportunity – meant that many residents were still unable to access these “improvements.” Our stories about mobility, I concluded, must therefore also address questions of access, equity, justice, and a wider range of barriers in order to be truly inclusive.

At no point did I ever offer support for the artificial and highly problematic construct of “black-on-black violence.”

And yet, here was this white gentleman in front of me, congratulating me for having done so.

The advocates of color I spoke with afterwards had understood exactly what I was going for. They got the placement of mobility in a community context. And they got the call to think beyond bicycles to the constraints contexts imposed on the actual bodies moving through space on those two wheels. These were frameworks they understood intuitively.

But much like the guy shaking my hand, many of the white advocates in the room had filtered the presentation through their own experiences. And what they had come away with was very different.

A few said they had never considered the idea that certain streets might not be accessible to some people for reasons that had nothing to do with cars. Was this really true? Others seemed to think certain communities were unapproachable. How would one even begin to engage people in such a community? How would you know who to talk to? some asked. It seemed so dangerous to some, but also kind of edgy and exciting to others. Are you giving tours?

I wasn’t sure I could have expected better.

Despite being spot-on-topic at the “Equity in Motion”-themed summit, my presentation had been a major outlier.

The panel had been focused on how to pitch stories about the positive aspects of cycling – the joy, sense of well-being, freedom, and links to community it can bring. But as a reporter whose beat is specifically tied to two transit-dependent and historically disenfranchised lower-income communities of color in Los Angeles, mobility meant something different to me.

And given the theme, I had argued to the panel organizer, it seemed appropriate to explore the extent to which a choice framework both excluded those who cycle out of need – largely lower-income people of color – and rendered important questions of accessibility to the margins.

The organizer and the other panelists were enthusiastic about including an equity perspective. But in the weeks leading up to the event, it was clear that being open to including equity and actually creating the space for that topic to be properly explored are two very different things. And the more I tried to explain my critical approach to the organizer, the longer and more involved my emails became, and the more consternation I felt I was causing.

People don’t like to be told what isn’t working, I was admonished at one point.

But I didn’t see where I had a choice.

I have to speak to current frameworks to be heard. And I have to spend most of my time deconstructing said frameworks just to explain why I should not be dismissed out of hand. And every single time I have to proceed this way – every time I post another 3,000 – 5,000 word story trying to justify the incorporation of marginalized voices and realities, compose yet another lengthy explanatory email, or look around the room where I am speaking – I wonder if this will be the last time I will be invited to opine on this topic.

The More Things Change, the More They Really Don’t
It’s an odd thing to observe that the more popular the topic of equity has become over the last few years, the less genuine space there is to truly address it in a meaningful way.

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
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What Can a Mileage Tax Tell Us That a Gas Tax Can’t?

Can taxes on driving mileage replace gas taxes as a source of transportation funds? Right now the state of Oregon is testing a mileage tax with an opt-in pilot program called “OreGo.” Participants install a device that tracks their driving and pay 1.5 cents per mile, which is assessed from a special account.

This Oregon DOT image shows the equipment required for "Orego," the state's pilot per-mile tax on driving.

This device tracks driving for Oregon’s pilot mileage tax. Image: Oregon DOT

Jerry Zelada is one of the 891 people testing out the tax. He writes at Bike Portland that the mileage tax system captures a lot of information that a gas tax never could. But putting that information to good use depends on the values of the agency collecting it:

There are some secondary benefits that can accompany this program. I can log into my account and see my own behavior: jack-rabbit starts; hard braking; a map of every trip my car has made. It even asks me, Why didn’t you walk for such a short drive? My MapMyRide and Strava do the same thing: nag that today’s average speed was 11.5 rather than 12 miles an hour. There are more possibilities for this Black Box of road use: assess pre-crash data, document erratic behavior for solo deaths due to distraction, find stolen cars, find lost elders, parental tracking of kids, or track employee behaviors using company vehicles. These are individual issues.

Another secondary benefit is aggregate information that can assist policy decisions; where to spend money to ameliorate congestion, creating incentives for staggered employee arrivals, etc. Imagine plotting all the three-mile or shorter trips and find that people drove instead of walked due to poor lane crossings. OreGo can collect substantial information that could reveal community patterns not understood. It is a possibility that the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) would see how widening roads may not be the answer when other options could pull those ‘three mile trip drivers’ away from large arterials.

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
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How Transit Agencies Can Offer Better Paratransit Service at Lower Costs

Paratransit costs are rising fast for transit agencies and riders aren't particularly satisfied. Graph: Rudin Center

Paratransit costs are rising fast. Graph: Brookings via Rudin Center

Paratransit service for people with disabilities is a big part of what modern transit agencies do, and it’s getting bigger all the time. As the population ages and more people rely on paratransit to get around, agencies need to get smart about how they provide the service — or else rising costs will eat into their capacity to run buses and trains.

A new report from the Rudin Center for Transportation at NYU lays out how to provide quality paratransit service without breaking the bank.

The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act required cities to provide paratransit service for residents with disabilities but provided no operating funds. Nationally, paratransit now accounts about 12 percent of transit budgets, according to the report. It typically costs far more to operate than bus or train service — the national average is $29 per paratransit trip, compared to a little more than $8 per trip for fixed-route services.

The Rudin Center report explores how transit agencies can reduce costs while simultaneously improving service for paratransit users. Here are the four main recommendations.

1. Partner with ride-hailing services

Contracting with taxi services or ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft could benefit both transit agencies and paratransit riders.

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
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Where Walkability and Affordability Overlap in the D.C. Region

This social equity analysis identifies walkable places that are also affordable and transit accessible. The "sweet spot" is the upper right-hand corner. Graph: Tracy Hadden Loh via GGwash

Places in the lower right quadrant are where rents are lower and people can get around without a car. Chart: Tracy Hadden Loh via GGwash

Neighborhoods that are walkable, affordable for lower-income households, and provide access to jobs for people without a car are far too rare.

Tracy Hadden Loh, a data scientist at George Washington University, recently completed a study sorting out which places meet this criteria in the D.C. region. She writes at Greater Greater Washington that some walkable areas do remain affordable:

In the plot, the economic index is a weighted average of rents for office, retail, and multifamily residential buildings (per square foot), compared to a region-wide average for the baseline and discounted for vacancy; the social equity index is a five-part index based on transit-accessible jobs (10%), housing supply (15%), percentage of income spent on housing for a household earning 80% of the area median income (40%), percentage of income spent on transportation for same (20%), and public space per capita (15%).

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Via Streetsblog California
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#DamienTalks 41 – Chanell Fletcher and the Next Steps for Fighting Climate Change

Welcome back to #DamienTalks. Today, #DamienTalks with Chanell Fletcher, the associate director of Climate Plan. With the the California legislature passing and the governor signing new legislation this year furthering the state’s efforts to clean the air and slow global warming, we discuss what’s next for the movement to impact man-made climate change.

#DamienTalks

We try to cover both bases: what should be done from a policy perspective and what impact will existing laws have on people’s day to day lives. Last we discuss what you and me can do to improve the environment and fight climate change in our own lives.

Good news! Smart transportation choices are a big part of the solution, both in terms of policy and in terms of what we, as individuals, can do.

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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Talking Headways Podcast: A Different Look at Transportation

Our guest this week is Rob Puentes of the Eno Center for Transportation, an organization that has focused on better transportation outcomes for 95 years. Rob touches on a number of topics that we don’t usually explore in-depth, like aviation, freight, and coordinating automated vehicle policy. With November 8 less than two months away, we also discuss the presidential election. Enjoy.