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Why Cities Should Strive for Streets That “Fail”

What makes a good street? Wide, tree-lined sidewalks? A concentration of businesses and activity? Or an unobstructed path to speed through in a car?

This street probably gets an “A” for Level of Service. Photo: Andy Boenau via Urban Times

Influential engineering metrics only grade streets according to the last question. But Dave Cieslewicz at the Wisconsin Bike Federation writes that if you want walkable, safe urban streets, that’s a test you should fail:

How do we measure a successful street? Well, traditionally we’ve allowed traffic engineers, focused on moving cars, to create that measure. They’ve developed a grading system for streets called “Level of Service” or LOS.

But here’s the problem. If you look at a LOS map of many of the downtowns and neighborhoods that we love the best you’ll see almost nothing but level of service “D” and “F”. In other words, by the measure of moving cars our streets are failing or nearly failing. And if you ranked streets by friendliness to bicyclists and pedestrians the maps would look very different.

At the Pro Walk/Pro Bike conference in Pittsburgh last week I heard a compelling argument to forget about LOS in most urban environments altogether. After all, a city is not a place for cars to move efficiently. And if you make it that you’ve almost certainly lost all the things that make your city a good place to be.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Grist says electric cars aren’t making California’s air any cleaner. And Copenhagenize rips a feel-good street safety PSA that targets pedestrians rather than drivers.

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Will Florida DOT Pull Off a “Culture Change” and Make Streets Safer?

Holding the distinction of being the most dangerous state for biking and walking seems to have inspired a real reform effort in Florida.

Billy Hattaway, Florida DOT District 1 secretary and bike and pedestrian coordinator, is responsible for reducing the state’s horrible pedestrian fatality rate. Photo: BikeWalkLee

Darla Letourneau at BikeWalkLee recently attended a talk by Bill Hattaway, the Florida DOT’s new statewide bike and pedestrian leader. Hattaway said a multi-pronged “culture change” is underway within the Florida Department of Transportation. As part of that effort, the state is pursuing seven reforms, Letourneau reports:

As we’ve learned from our experience in Lee County, a shift from “business as usual” requires modification to lots of policies and guidance documents.  The state is tackling this by undertaking the revision of many of their guidance and policy documents, as well as adding a bike/ped element to the statewide overall Long Range Transportation Plan and requiring bike/ped statewide plans. In a much anticipated move, FDOT has now approved a complete streets policy and implementation plan which will be incorporated into the various planning and policy manuals and guidelines.

Another tool in the toolbox is road diets, and Hattaway announced that FDOT will be issuing guidance to promote the use of road diets on the state system. He gave as an example the project underway on Robinson Rd. in Orlando which has only 1400 cars day. This state road is being converted to a road diet (from 4 lanes to 2 lanes plus a turn lane). Hattaway noted the national statistics that road diets result in a 30% reduction in crashes…

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Norwegian Town Pays Cyclists and Pedestrians “Reverse Toll” Money

How’s this for bike- and pedestrian-friendly? A town in Norway is paying people to bike and walk.

Cyclists in Lillestrøm, Norway, got a bonus in the form of “reverse tolls.” Photo: Wikipedia

It only lasted for a week, but Eric Britton at World Streets says it’s a completely rational economic policy response:

As part of Norway’s ongoing European Mobility Week celebrations, around 10,000 NOK (€1,200) was handed out in the town of Lillestrøm to pedestrians and cyclists in “reverse toll money.” The money symbolised the health benefits of walking and cycling, including better fitness, improved air quality and more efficient transport.

Cyclists received around €12, while pedestrians gained €11. Calculations carried out by the Norwegian Directorate of Health shows that active transport provides the state with a saving of 52 NOK (€6) per kilometer for pedestrians and 26 NOK (€3) per kilometer for cyclists. An average bike trip in Norway is 4 kilometers, providing a health benefit of 100 NOK (€12), while an average walking trip is 1.7 km, worth almost 90 NOK (€11)

The only thing I have to say about this is: EXCELLENT!

This is not a light-weight, happy go lucky, feel-good idea. It is world class economics. Full cost pricing: All you have to do is run the numbers and you can see where it is best to spend the taxpayer money.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Rails-to-Trails explains how Florida’s Amendment 1 could be a watershed moment for protecting environmentally sensitive land and expanding trails in the Sunshine State. The Dallas Morning News’ Transportation Blog says Zipcar is moving into the Big D. And Urban Velo has an update on the woman whose “crime” was riding her bike on a Kentucky road — she was jailed this week.

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DC and New Orleans Closing the Bike Commute Gap With Portland

Growth in bike commuting has slowed in Portland and Minneapolis, while some less well-known biking cities are making gains. Graph: Bike Portland

New Census numbers are out, providing fresh data on how Americans are getting to work, and Michael Andersen at BikePortland has noticed a couple of trends.

The mid-size cities best-known for biking haven’t made much progress lately, Andersen writes, while other cities have made rapid gains:

2013 Census estimates released Thursday show the big cities that led the bike spike of the 2000s — Minneapolis, Seattle, Denver and, most of all, Portland — all failing to make meaningful changes to their commuting patterns for three years or more.

Meanwhile, the same figures show a new set of cities rising fast — first among them Washington DC.

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When Highways Are Barriers to Opportunity

Looking at a map of commute times, Patrick Kennedy at Walkable Dallas-Fort Worth finds that people who live in census tracts with some of that region’s lowest household incomes spend the most time traveling to and from work. Many commutes are more than an hour each way.

Kennedy says this is what happens when road-building guides private investment — and it’s a vicious circle. As Dallas sprawls northward away from the urban core, he writes, places of employment become less and less accessible for those who can least afford “to get cars and get on the road.”

The darker the purple, the longer the drive. The poorest residents of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro region have some of the longest commute times. Image: Walkable DFW

With swaths of the city losing jobs and population, Kennedy says all those highways built to connect are, in reality, serving as barriers.

We have cut off opportunity from entire parts of the city, specifically with the notion of trying to connect people with highways. We’ve done the opposite. It’s obvious that highways disconnect across them, but the constant job and population creep northward is indicative of a deeper, systemic, and more pernicious form of disconnection: distance. Traversing that distance is not the answer, particularly when our solutions to traversing that distance, more highways, only serves to exacerbate the problem, by moving things further and further away.

The highway builders, thinking they’re serving populations as they exist, don’t realize that they themselves are the scientist with their finger in the petri dish stirring it around and affecting the very results they’re supposedly objective about.

Elsewhere on the Network: Bicycle Transportation Alliance discovers that Daimler employees in Portland are very much into biking to work. Second Avenue Sagas comments on the gondola fad in NYC. And Greater Greater Washington reports on a Washington Post columnist and his war on traffic enforcement.

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How to Improve 3-Foot Passing Laws

After a couple of vetoes by Governor Jerry Brown, California finally has a 3-foot passing law.

As of June, 24 states plus the District of Columbia have such a law, which requires drivers to give cyclists a minimum buffer of 3 feet when passing from behind. With California’s law in effect as of today, Rick Bernardi of Bob Mionske’s bike law blog says 3-foot laws are good for cycling, but could be improved.

There’s room to improve 3-foot passing laws, like the one that took effect in California today. Photo: SF Bike Coalition/Flickr

Bernardo points out that some laws, including California’s, provide exceptions for drivers that weaken cyclist protections. Minimum passing distances should be commensurate with motorist speed, he says, and intentional “buzzing” should be criminalized.

The law should also make collisions prima facie evidence of an illegal pass, Bernardi writes.

When drivers collide with a cyclist while passing, they will often attempt to shift the blame to the cyclist: “The cyclist came out of nowhere” is one common explanation for a crash. “The cyclist suddenly swerved into my path” is another commonly heard explanation. If the cyclist is seriously injured or killed, the driver’s explanation may be the only explanation we hear. More often than not, when a driver says that the pass was “safe” but the cyclist did something that doesn’t make any sense, it really means that the driver wasn’t paying attention, or was passing too close. But under the law, injured cyclists must prove that the driver’s pass was unsafe. 3 foot laws can be strengthened by making collisions prima facie evidence of an illegal pass. This means that when a driver is passing a cyclist and a collision results, the law would presume that the pass was too close. The driver could still rebut this presumption with evidence to show that the pass was not too close, but now the burden of proof would be where it properly belongs — on the driver who has the responsibility to pass at a safe distance.

Also on the Network today: Streets.MN says investing in transit for “millennials” and “millennials” alone is a bad idea, and the Wash Cycle takes a tour of the Capital Bikeshare warehouse.

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With Permit Parking, John Cranley Could Help Cincinnati Despite Himself

Chalk this one up as a worthwhile proposal offered in bad faith.

Streetsblog readers may remember Mayor John Cranley as the pol who wasted a ton of taxpayer money trying to kill the Cincinnati streetcar. But lately Cranley has come out as a would-be parking reformer, proposing a $300 annual fee for on-street parking in Over-the-Rhine, a historic neighborhood on the streetcar route.

Mayor John Cranley’s proposal to charge for curbside parking could help Cincinnati neighborhoods more than he realizes. Photo: Travis Estell/Flickr

Not surprisingly, Cranley is getting blowback from some quarters. But Randy A. Simes at UrbanCincy says the plan is right on the merits.

To better understand how this proposed permit fee stacks up, let’s consider that it averages out to approximately $25 per month. According to the most recent State of Downtown report, the average monthly parking rate in the Central Business District, Over-the-Rhine and Pendleton is $89. This average accounts for approximately 36,400 monthly parking spaces available in 2013.

While this average monthly parking rate is skewed by much higher rates in the Central Business District, many lots and garages reserved for residential parking in Over-the-Rhine charge between $40 and $110 per month. This means that Mayor Cranley’s proposal would put the city’s on-street parking spaces nearly in-line with their private counterparts.

This is a smart move. We should stop subsidizing parking as much as possible. Therefore, such a proposal should not only be examined in greater depth for Over-the-Rhine, but all of Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods.

All well and good. The thing is, Cranley makes no bones about the fact that he considers the fee as retribution against streetcar supporters. “They should be asked to pay a much higher fee for cars they still have on the street,” Cranley said on a local radio show. “[It] is consistent with the philosophy of the folks who are pushing the streetcar, which is this will reduce the need for cars, so those who want to bring cars into Over-the-Rhine … should pay for the amenity that they so desperately wanted.”

Cranley’s motives may be suspect, but ironically, by placing a value on curbside parking he may end up helping constituents he holds in contempt.

Elsewhere on the Network: Bike PGH welcomes Pittsburgh’s new bike and pedestrian coordinator, and Rights of Way celebrates the arrival of the first bike corral in Portland, Maine.

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The Link Between Northeast Ohio’s Flooding and Its Sprawl

As Cuyahoga County has sprawled since 1948, with roughly the same population now covering nearly four times the land area, it’s become more susceptible to flooding. Map: Cuyahoga County Planning Commission via Tim Kovach

After a string of major flooding events, residents of Northeast Ohio are looking for someone to blame, reports Tim Kovach. Are local governments at fault for the property damage from these floods? Or should residents, as a great poet once said, blame it on the rain?

Neither question really gets to the heart of the matter, says Kovach. If Northeast Ohio hadn’t spent the last 60 years spreading out ever farther, covering huge areas with impermeable pavement and developing every last inch of land, then the region would be much more resilient in the face of torrential storms, he writes:

…a recent study out of the University of Utah suggests that from 2000-2010, the Cleveland metro area became even more sprawling (PDF). Using Smart Growth America’s sprawl index, the authors examined the rate of change for the 162 largest metro areas (paywalled) during this period. While Akron actually became 2.7% more compact, Cleveland sprawled by another 13.3%, the 10th worst change of any metro area…

So why does this all matter for flooding? Well, simply put, areas that follow sprawl-based development models are more likely to suffer from flooding problems. Sprawl increases the percentage of land area that is covered with impervious surfaces, such as parking lots, roads, and driveways. As the extent of impervious surfaces rises, so too does the amount of precipitation that winds up as surface runoff during storms. Forested areas are excellent at controlling stormwater (PDF); trees enable 50% of precipitation to infiltrate the soil and allow another 40% to return to the atmosphere through evapotranspiration. Urbanized areas, in contrast, drastically reduce the amount of water that can infiltrate into the soil, guaranteeing that 35-55% of precipitation ends up as runoff.

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Lagos Bus Rapid Transit Handles 25 Percent of All Commuters

Six years after Lagos, Nigeria, launched the first Bus Rapid Transit program in all of Africa, the system handles a whopping 25 percent of all commutes and plays a key role in the city’s ongoing effort to reduce stifling vehicle congestion.

Lagos BRT connects the mainland to the central business district on Lagos Island. Map: World Bank

The average Lagos commuter spends over three hours in traffic each day, writes the City Fix. Installed on a wide 22-kilometer (13.6-mile) north-south highway that connects to the central business district, Lagos BRT is modeled on South American systems like those in Curitiba, Bogotá, and Santiago. Though it doesn’t incorporate all elements of full-scale BRT, bus riders pay before boarding and wait for buses in newly-constructed shelters. A physically separated bus lane was implemented along 65 percent of the route.

From the City Fix:

This BRT service has had a significant impact on transport in Lagos, and already has daily ridership of 200,000 people. Despite accounting for 25% of commuters, the BRT system contributes only 4% of all traffic. Further, the system was constructed at the relatively low cost of USD $1.7 million per kilometer. In comparison, Bogotá’s TransMilenio cost about USD $6 million per kilometer.

Lagos is building on its BRT system with investments in a range of other sustainable transport options. In a speech at last month’s Mail & Guardian conference on urban migration and renewal, Lagos Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola outlined six areas of infrastructural investment in mass transit. These included a light rail project called “Eko Rail,” a suspended cable car system, and improvements to the existing ferry system.

The light rail system is planned to encompass seven routes and will be integrated with the BRT corridor, hugely expanding the city’s transit capacity. The City Fix suggests Lagos focus on transit-oriented development and congestion pricing to go along with the new transit lines.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Transportation for America is bracing for another last-minute budget scramble from Washington, and A/N Blog highlights the latest TIGER grant recipients.

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Two Visions for a Closed DC Freeway, But Only One Shows Any Vision

Image: Greater Greater Washington

David Alpert at Greater Greater Washington reports that city traffic engineers and city planners have very different ideas on what to do with a closed freeway segment in southeast DC.

The District Department of Transportation came up with a range of proposals for the Southeast Freeway between the 11th Street Bridge and the Barney Circle neighborhood. But all of them, writes Alpert, “primarily focused around moving cars fast, and … would be, at best, unpleasant to cross on foot.”

Unhappy with the DDOT offerings, residents and a city council member enlisted the Office of Planning to give it a shot.

“OP’s options still look at four-lane boulevards and even four-lane parkways, but much with much more appealing designs like a big park next to and partly on top of the road,” says Alpert. Other renderings from the planning department show the street grid extending into the freeway, with townhouses, larger buildings, and a mix of the two.

But regardless of configuration, says Alpert, the city hasn’t put forth a proposal to reduce the number of lanes designated for driving: ”[E]ven OP’s study assumed that there need to be four lanes of traffic, as that’s what DDOT insists on.” Alpert continues:

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