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The Surprisingly Rare Sanctuary From Urban Freeway Noise

There are precious few places in the Minneapolis region where you can escape the whir of speeding cars. Map: Adam Froehlig at Streets.mn

Bill Lindeke at Network blog Twin City Sidewalks says he grew up in a rather bucolic setting. Even so, he wasn’t able to escape the constant whir of speeding cars. The old farmhouse on a half-acre lot where he grew up is just three-quarters of a mile from Interstate 35E. And in that way, he was like almost everyone else in the Twin Cities, he points out:

It made me realize that freeways are surprisingly close to most houses. It’s increasingly difficult to find anywhere within the 494-694 ring of the Twin Cities where you can’t hear the high pitched whir of tires all hours of the day and night… Cars are a backdrop to every outdoor conversation, every rustle of leaves, and every birdsong day in and day out forever.

The other day at streets.mn, Adam Froehlig made a map that answered one of the questions that’s been nagging at my earlobe for years: Where are the respites from the whir? Is there anywhere in Minneapolis or Saint Paul where you can escape the sound of tires, if even for a brief moment in the middle of the night?

While it’s not perfect, Alex’s map [above] does point to a few small places where freeways might be at least a mile off.

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New Jersey’s Response to Suicide Attempt: Close Bridge to Pedestrians

Without access to the Route 35 Victory Bridge, the path between Perth Amboy and Sayreville gets a whole lot longer. Via WalkBikeJersey/Google Maps

Today’s featured post from the Streetsblog Network is a case study in overreaction and unintended consequences.

John Boyle at WalkBikeJersey reports that after a suicide attempt on the Route 35 Victory Bridge, officials in New Jersey want to sever this important walking and biking link entirely:

On September 20th the body of 16 year old Giancarlo Taveras was recovered from the Raritan River after he jumped off the Route 35 Victory Bridge. The death of the teenager drew an outpouring of grief from the Perth Amboy community. As a result the annual suicide awareness walk over the bridge included more than 500 participants on September 28th. Then on September 29th a 19 year old miraculously survived his suicide attempt with a broken leg. That chain of events along, with pressure from the mayor of Perth Amboy finally spurred NJDOT to do something about the issue. Their solution — set up barricades and close the bridge to bicyclists and pedestrians. Along with a vague promise to put up a fence for the walkway at some point in the future.

The bridge closure severs the only pedestrian and bicycle access between Perth Amboy and Sayreville. A 2 mile bike ride over the bridge is now a 23 mile detour via New Brunswick and a pedestrian’s only option is to use the infrequent bus service that crosses the bridge.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Using examples from the Netherlands, A View from the Cycle Path explains why the “there’s no room for bike lanes” argument doesn’t hold up. The Dallas Morning News’ Transportation Blog has good news: The toll road that regional transportation officials justified with absurd traffic projections will probably be shelved. And Urban Cincy reports that Denver is trying to tackle the food desert problem with healthy corner stores.

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Will Miami Take the First Step Toward Parking Reform?

It’s been a long time coming, says Felipe Azenha at Transit Miami, but finally the topic of parking reform is getting some attention in Miami.

Proposed parking reforms would be a boon for housing affordability in Miami. Photo: Mark Hogan via Flickr

Eliminating parking requirements for small buildings in Miami could lead to larger reforms — and the elimination of bigger garages like this one — later on. Photo: Mark Hogan via Flickr

A public hearing next week will consider the elimination of minimum parking requirements for small buildings along transit corridors. Azena says it’s just the thing this car-clogged, increasingly-unaffordable city needs:

Minimum parking requirements are killing good urban development in Miami. Luckily, there has been a push to eliminate parking requirements for small urban buildings (<10,000 sq ft) in recent months. This is a good first step in the right direction if Miami really aspires to become a walkable and less autocentric city.

Minimum parking requirements perpetuate more automobile use and it also makes housing less affordable since the cost of building and maintaining required parking is passed on to renters and buyers. A few months ago Zillow released a housing report that cited Miami as the 2nd most expensive city for renters. The average Miami resident spends 43.2% of their income on rent.

Combine expensive housing with lack of public transit and minimum parking requirements that only serve to perpetuate the use of the automobile; it’s no wonder why Miami is one of the most expensive car dominated cities in the US.

A better move for Miami would be to entirely eliminate parking requirements and let developers decide how much parking to build. But in the meantime, this proposal is a step in the right direction, Azenha says.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Wash Cycle maps out the locations of bike fatalities in the nation’s capital. Urban Milwaukee reports that universal driver’s ed has been proposed to help combat racial segregation in that region. And Greater Greater Washington says that DC’s regional planners aren’t acting boldly enough to achieve local climate action goals.

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Dallas Transport Agency Cooks Up Fishy Traffic Projections for a New Road

We’ve reported on the way state agencies justify spending on expensive road expansions by overestimating the traffic that will materialize in the future. In an encouraging sign, one local press outfit is calling out the fishy traffic projections before a project gets built.

The regional transportation agency for Dallas justifies this highway project with traffic projections that far exceed even the estimates from the notorious sprawl enablers at Texas DOT. Map: Northeastgateway.com

Brandon Formby of the Dallas Morning News‘ Transportation Blog (yes, it’s a long-time member of the Streetsblog Network) has been taking a critical look at traffic projections from the North Central Texas Council of Governments, the Big D’s regional planning agency. Residents who oppose the 28-mile Northeast Gateway-Blackland Prairie toll road – planned for a rural area between Garland and Greenville — question the assumptions behind the project.

The numbers certainly do look suspicious. Here are some excerpts from Formby’s reporting (emphasis added):

  • “Some of the council of governments predictions are hundreds of percentage points higher than the Texas Department of Transportation’s forecasts.”
  • “NCTCOG predicts that 72,300 drivers will use State Highway 66 at County Road 6 in Lavon in 2035. That’s six times as many as the 12,000 drivers the agency says used it last year. It’s also more than triple the 22,880 drivers TxDOT estimates for the same spot in 2030, the closest year to the NCTCOG estimates for which the state has forecasts.”
  • “While the regional agency’s traffic estimates for spots in the corridor predict anywhere from a 70 percent to 503 percent increase in drivers, the state predicts population increases in the four counties to be between 23.3 percent and 65.1 percent.”

Formby reports that NCTCOG has been reluctant to divulge how its traffic projections were developed. No wonder, because they seem to be practicing highway voodoo.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Systemic Failure, responding to an absurd case of police overreach in San Francisco, points out that  places where it’s safe for children to be on bikes don’t require them to wear helmets. And Delaware Bikes outlines data from Active Living Research that shows the many health benefits of biking and walking for transportation.

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What’s Your City’s Ratio of Places to Non-Places?

 Andrew Price used a sunburn map to highlight the places (blue) and “non-places” (red) in downtown Phoenix. Image: Strong Towns

Here’s a really interesting way to look at cities. Andrew Price at Strong Towns has developed a graphically compelling way to break down developed areas into what he calls “places” and “non-places.”

He explains:

Places are for people. Places are destinations. Whether it is a place to sleep, a place to shop, a place of employment, or simply a place to relax – it has a purpose and adds a destination to the city. Building interiors are the most common form of Places found in cities. Examples of outdoor Places include;

  • Parks and gardens
  • Plazas
  • Human-oriented streets

Non-Places are the padding between destinations. Examples of Non-Places include:

  • Roads
  • Freeways
  • Parking Lots
  • Greenspace

Price has developed a method that instantly conveys the ratio of places to non-places. Below he compares part of San Francisco to a suburban area of Little Rock.

Read more…

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Portland Shows How to Get More Bang for Your Traffic Safety Buck

Three road diets in Portland have prevented a total of 525 collisions. Graphic: Bike Portland

State DOTs like to justify hugely expensive highway-widening projects, like Milwaukee’s $1.7 billion Zoo Interchange, partly on the grounds of safety. But if we really want to get a big bang for our transportation safety buck, fixing city streets makes a lot more sense.

Michael Andersen at Bike Portland reports that three local road diets completed between 1997 and 2003 cost a combined total of just $500,000 and have prevented more than 500 collisions:

A new city study shows the big payoff the city has quietly seen from a few uses of one of the least-understood tricks in traffic engineering: the 4-3 road diet.

Converting four general travel lanes to two plus a turn lane and (in some cases) painted bike lanes have prevented about 525 crashes on three Portland streets — Northeast Glisan from 22nd to 32nd; Southeast 7th from Division to Washington; and Southeast Tacoma from 6th to 11th — during the 16 years studied, the analysis released this week found. The number of traffic crashes on those streets dropped 37 percent.

Traffic volumes on those three streets, meanwhile, fell by an average 7.7 percent, suggesting that the safety and access improvements weren’t accompanied by major new burdens on drivers’ mobility.

The number of crashes being prevented on each of those streets, of course, continues to rise: by about 37 more every year among the three of them.

Now imagine if that money from the one highway widening project in Milwaukee was used instead to do 10,200 road diets.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Seattle Bike Blog announces the opening of the city’s new Pronto bike-share system. Strong Towns shares readers’ stories of trying to walk to the nearest grocery store. And Forward Lookout shares some data detailing the declining rate of return on highway spending.

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After Traffic Count Drops Off a Cliff, Albuquerque Rushes to Widen Road

Traffic has taken a nose dive on Albuquerque’s Osuna Road. So why is the city so anxious to widen it? Image: Urban ABQ

Given limited budget resources and competing demands, what makes some transportation projects rise to the top of a city’s wish list? Dan Majewski at Urban ABQ says that in his hometown of Albuquerque, there doesn’t seem to be much sense to it.

For example, one of the projects in line for funding locally is the $7 million widening of Osuna Road — where, as shown in the above graph, traffic has declined precipitously. Writes Majewski:

Osuna is an interesting road. It starts as a major arterial with an interstate highway off-ramp and eventually dwindles down to a minor neighborhood street. During the early 2000s, traffic counts were increasing dramatically, but recently, they have dropped to early 1990s levels.

According to the regional TIP (transportation improvement program), Osuna is listed as an approved project. The TIP goes through a hypothetically public process, though mid day meetings, which are not heavily advertised, hardly count as such.

[Above] is a chart of traffic counts on Osuna Road between I-25 and 2nd Street, the segment which the City of Albuquerque is trying to expand.

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Progress on Parking Reform Could Make DC More Walkable and Affordable

A few key changes to the DC zoning code could help make housing more affordable, streets more walkable, transit more convenient, and healthy foods more accessible. Years of debate and delay have watered down the reforms somewhat, but they still represent substantial progress. And now it looks like they will pass.

New zoning rules will cut parking requirements in half near metro stops and frequent bus corridors. Photo: Virtual Tourist

Cheryl Cort of the Coalition for Smarter Growth files a status report at Greater Greater Washington:

The DC Zoning Commission has been deliberating on the zoning update this week. The commissioners embraced most of the DC Office of Planning’s proposals while even rejecting at least one of OP’s recent steps backward.

Buildings near transit (including priority bus corridors) will be able to have half the parking that’s otherwise required if they are willing to forego residential parking permits. Homeowners will be able to put accessory apartments inside their houses without a special hearing, but will have to go through one to use a carriage house. And corner grocery stores will be able to open in residential row house areas if they sell fresh food.

This is a major milestone in the grueling zoning regulations revision process that began in 2007 just after the DC Council adopted the 2006 Comprehensive Plan. Opponents of the update repeatedly asked the commission and the Office of Planning and for more outreach, more meetings, and more delay. In response, officials stretched out the process and added dozens of meetings, fact sheets, and hearings throughout the city. But the process now has an end in sight.

After a few more discussions, a new draft zoning code will be prepared for the city and presented for public comment. These reforms sound like no-brainers to help increase the number of housing units available at lower prices and reduce the share of valuable transit-accesible land consumed by parked cars.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Urban Indy thinks that Indianapolis should hesitate to gloat about all the riders Pacers Bikeshare is attracting six months after opening. ATL Urbanist reports that Atlanta’s MARTA will use elements of tactical urbanism to incorporate public feedback into the redesign of two stations. And FABB Blog shares new data showing how residents of metro DC are flocking toward transit hubs.

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How the Lure of “Free Money” Leads to Highway Boondoggles

Northeast Ohio has lost 7 percent of its population since the 1970s, but has continued to steadily add highway miles. Chart: NEOSCC

Why do transportation agencies spend so much money building new highways while letting their existing roads and bridges fall apart?

Jason Segedy, the head of Akron’s metropolitan planning agency (AMATS), shared a few thoughts on that question at his blog Notes from the Underground. A big problem, he says, is that regional and state agencies see federal transportation funding as “free money” for highway expansions:

I think that the federal government should transform most (if not all) of the [Surface Transportation Program] into a road and bridge maintenance program. I don’t think much (if any) of this funding should be available for highway capacity expansion projects.

I think that if state or local governments want to do those projects, it should largely be on their own dime. Too many states and local governments see the federal dollars as “free money” and undertake capacity expansions that they probably wouldn’t embark upon if these federal funds were unavailable for this purpose.

While there are always individual project exceptions, I think that most roadway capacity-adding projects (especially in a shrinking region like ours) are not cost-effective, especially given our changing demographics and our increasingly precarious fiscal position at the local, state, and federal level.

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Suburbs in the Twin Cities Feel Persecuted — Here’s Why They’re Not

Suburban Woodbury is one of the communities complaining about how Minneapolis and St. Paul are supposedly raking in the transportation dough. Photo: Twin City Sidewalks

Suburban leaders in the Twin Cities region are angry. They believe too much money is being spent on transit in the city and not enough is being spent on highways in the region’s outer reaches.

Political leaders from the five outlying suburban counties recently laid out these concerns for regional planners in what Twin City Sidewalks blogger Bill Lindeke calls a “manifesto” [PDF]. Lindeke went ahead and translated the document into less technical language here.

Lindeke says he’s actually thrilled the suburban leaders brought up this fascinating topic:

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