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Milwaukee Transit to Get a Desperately Needed Boost

If there’s one region in the country that desperately needs better transit, it’s Milwaukee. And there are a ton of places that badly need better transit.

This new route, the 30X, will run along the system's most widely ridden route, carrying 4 million rides a year. Image: Urban Milwaukee via MCTS

This new route, the 30X, will run along the system’s most widely ridden route, carrying 4 million rides a year. Image: Urban Milwaukee via MCTS

The notoriously segregated Milwaukee region lacks strong transit connections between the city and growing suburban job centers. About 47 percent of the region’s African American population, mostly concentrated in a few Milwaukee neighborhoods, lacks driver’s licenses. Among African Americans living in the city of Milwaukee, the unemployment rate is a staggering 24 percent.

Jeramey Jannene at Urban Milwaukee writes that the region has wrangled the funding to expand transit service with four new frequently running express routes, despite a lack of political support from high places:

Funding for the express new routes comes from a $17 million federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant that provides operating support through 2017. A prior CMAQ grant funded the Blue, Green and Red lines that began service in 2012. The new Route 61 will be funded in part by the financial settlement of the suit by the Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope and Black Health Coalition of Wisocnsin against the Wisconsin Department of Transportation which argued that it discriminated against minorities for spending so much money on the Zoo Interchange project and doing little for transportation of urban minority residents who depend on bus transit.

The new express routes will achieve speed gains primarily by stopping once every quarter mile where there is no underlying service (such as the western end of GoldLine Wisconsin – UWM Express route where Route 10 service will be eliminated), and once every half mile where there is underlying service (such as the PuprleLine with the existing Route 27). Today’s bus service generally stops once every two blocks or eighth of a mile.

But in a few years, writes Jannene, the funding will run out:

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What Are Cities Doing to Hold on to Families With Kids?

Kids playing at Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park. Photo: Curtis Palmer

Kids playing at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park. Photo: Curtis Palmer

In Atlanta, the regional planning commission recently created a “millennial advisory committee” in response to lackluster retention of young college grads. Bradley Calvert at Family Friendly Cities notes that the agency should be even more alarmed by the drop in the population of kids in the city:

Between 2000 and 2010 nearly 12,000 children plus their parents left the City of Atlanta, a loss of almost 12.5% of the under 18 population. In Midtown Atlanta and Downtown Atlanta the rate was double with nearly 25% of residents under the age of 18 leaving. Meanwhile, from 2000 to 2012 the number of college graduates between 25 and 34 increased by only 3%, besting only Cleveland and Detroit of the 51 largest metros. This created interesting conversation in blogs, the local newspaper, and other interested parties in Atlanta. In an age where young professionals are flocking to our cities, nearly every major metropolitan region outperformed Atlanta. The response? Questions were raised on livability, transportation, and amenities. And now the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) is forming a task force, a Millennial Advisory committee. Atlanta’s response to losing nearly 25% of its children? Not a thing.

This is by no means an attempt to isolate Atlanta or their regional planning commission as the only city and planning agency guilty of the allure of the young professional and neglecting to consider the needs of families. There are many cities across the country that have or are facing the same dilemma of losing families to competing cities. And Atlanta has made tremendous strides to improve livability while attempting to correct years of uncontrolled sprawl. But zeroing in on young professionals, as the savior of our cities, has become the only strategy of many cities, while not giving full consideration to their livability for all residents.

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Tracing the Life-Altering Injuries of Two Young Girls to Dangerous Design

This is the street next to the library in Springfield, Massachusetts, where two young girls were struck earlier this week. Image: Strong Towns

A 7-year-old girl was critically injured in Springfield, Massachusetts, last night trying to cross the street to reach the library. Her 8-year-old cousin was also seriously injured in the collision. The younger girl is not expected to live, according to reports.

Charles Marohn of Strong Towns was visiting the area at the time, and he says that this crash struck him not only because he has a daughter the same age, but because as a traffic engineer he understands how preventable it was:

Let me show you what is going on. In the picture [above] you will note the library on the right side, the parking lot on the left. Look way down the street and you will see the signalized intersection. The engineers here have determined that the flow of traffic on this despotic, over-designed urban stroad cannot be inconvenienced by being forced to slow down to a humane speed. Instead, they erect hedges, fences and other barriers to force the inconvenience on the mother and her two children, who — it should be noted — were walking in the sleet after spending some time at the public library.

The right thing to do here is pretty obvious: SLOW DOWN THE CARS! When you enter into an urban environment, the expectation must be that travel speeds are very slow (I think a 20 mph design speed is too fast – 15 mph would be the top in my opinion) because we need to FORGIVE the common mistakes of humans, both in their cars and out. In a complex urban environment, the only way to do that is to slow down the speed of travel. We must lower the cost of a mistake.

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Why Smaller Delivery Vehicles Could Be Huge for Cities

Smaller delivery trucks could make cities a lot safer. Photo: Flickr, Jason Lawrence

Using small delivery vehicles instead of big rigs could make cities a lot safer. Photo: Jason Lawrence/Flickr

CityLab ran an article recently about how smaller delivery trucks could be coming to U.S. cities, with the makers of 15-foot cargo vans used in many European cities poised to begin marketing them in the United States.

That is important not just because these smaller vehicles are inherently safer, but because it could mean safer road designs altogether. Michael Andersen at Bike Portland elaborates:

Here in Portland, the fact that most cargo vehicles are big and dangerous to be around is a subtle influence on almost everything we do with our streets.

Last week, discussing chaotic behavior on North Williams Avenue, city project manager Rich Newlands wrote in an email that although it’d be “better” to run a concrete curb alongside a green-painted bike lane just north of Broadway, that would be impossible because of the “the turning radius of large trucks.”

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What If Every McDonald’s Had Really Good Bike Parking?

Have you ever been to a McDonald’s and noticed bikes locked to trees, fences, or signposts? Andrew Besold at WalkBikeJersey has, and he thinks a campaign to get fast food restaurants to adopt standards for good bike parking could have a very far-reaching impact:

If you’re “bike aware” (and likely you are because you’re reading this blog) and have ever visited a fast food restaurant you’ve undoubtedly seen bikes haphazardly parked to anything secure all around the restaurant site. A vast majority of these bikes are undoubtedly owned by members of restaurant staff who depend on their bikes to get to their jobs in the restaurant.

Knowing that a number of their employees rely on a bike to get to work everyday, one would think that these fast food restaurants would provided some official organized bicycle parking that preferably meets the basic APBP bike parking standards. Unfortunately this is almost always not the case and the sight of bikes parked to whatever the owner can find is common sight not only in New Jersey but at most fast food and chain sit-down restaurants all across the country.

So this is why we ask, “What would it say to America if McDonalds became ‘Bike Friendly’?” We are not picking on McDonalds. Far from it! We focus on McDonalds because they are clearly the industry leader and we respect them for that. If McDonalds makes the move to standardize bike parking for their employees and guests, WalkBikeJersey believes that it would send a message across the entire restaurant industry. Their engineering consultants that do their local site plans would also be educated about proper bike parking design and hopefully the message would get out to the towns that do the site plan review and then possibly even to McDonalds’ competition. There is clearly the potential for a positive feedback loop here.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Human Transit shares some reasons why driverless vehicle tech will be a bigger deal for buses than for private vehicles. Spacing Toronto looks back at when the city first introduced crosswalks — it wasn’t exactly a victory for pedestrians. And Systemic Failure highlights a criminal misuse of the term “transit-oriented development” in Milford, Connecticut.

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Why Ferguson Protests Spilled Onto Highways

Protesters in Los Angeles Monday night. Photo: D Magazine

Protests following a Missouri grand jury’s failure to indict Officer Darren Wilson for shooting and killing Michael Brown spilled out onto highways in several American cities on Monday evening and Tuesday. Protesters occupied freeways in Los Angeles, Seattle, Oakland, Milwaukee, Atlanta, St. Louis, Cleveland, New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago. (One reported incident of road rage at the protests — a Minnesota man who ran over a woman in downtown Minneapolis — happened on a surface street.)

Patrick Kennedy, a Streetsblog Network member who now writes at D Magazine’s Street Smart column, sees special significance in the use of highways as a protest venue. It is less tidy and harder to ignore than staying on the surface:

These aren’t exactly Tahrir or Taksim Squares, large spaces at a central convergence point for all the city making for natural gathering places. Those occur in still urban places that promote gathering rather than dispersal. We’ve replaced city, and its inherent ability to foster foment just as easily as its day-to-day intended purpose of human progress through social and economic exchange, with car-dependent, isolated anti-city, fragmented by these hulking concrete structures…

The highways are the centerless epicenter of American life. What better place to disrupt? What else better represents the very literal as well as underlying divide, displacement, and disenfranchisement…

My point here is not to debate the specifics of the incident in Ferguson. Any one incident belies the deeper issues at hand leading to such widespread convulsion that registers nationally. Instead, it is to take issue with the belief that protesters should go back to the fenced in area so we never have to hear from them again nor pay attention.

Here are a few more scenes of the direct action on highways.

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Seattle Advocates Convince City to Make Major Avenue Safe for Biking

Roosevelt Way in Seattle is slated for a slew of safety improvements, including a protected bike lane. Image: The Urbanist

Roosevelt Way in Seattle is slated for a slew of safety improvements, including a protected bike lane. Map: The Urbanist

A crucial Seattle street is getting the protected bike lane treatment thanks to the hard work of local advocates.

Roosevelt Way is a direct and convenient bike route to get downtown, writes Scott Bonjukian at Network blog The Urbanist, but it also has a high rate of cyclist injuries. At first, a proposed redesign did not include a protected bikeway, but timely advocacy convinced the city to upgrade its plans, Bonjukian reports:

Roosevelt Way is a one-way southbound street with two drive lanes, two parking lanes, and a painted bike lane. The street carries bus routes and the speed limit is 30 mph. Roosevelt is one of the most dangerous streets for cyclists in the entire city; between 2007 and 2014, the street has seen at least 63 bike-car collisions. But Roosevelt Way is popular with bicyclists because it is the fastest and most direct route to Downtown via the University Bridge, which is one of only two Ship Canal crossings in the area.

University Greenways, a neighborhood group that advocates on bike and walking safety, examined the 30 percent design drawings (PDF) last month. (Disclosure: I am a volunteer with the group.) At that point, the project did not include a protected bike lane at all, despite the City’s Bicycle Master Plan designating the route for a buffered facility. The group also conducted a walking audit of the project area. In a letter to SDOT (PDF) and a guest post on Seattle Bike Blog, they highlighted a laundry list of problems that the City should focus on, and some of those are being addressed. Many new curb ramps and sidewalk bulbouts will be built at intersections to comply with ADA guidelines and to reduce crossing distances.

In a surprising response, the 60 percent design drawings (PDF) released this month shows SDOT will remove the right-side parking lane south of NE 45th Street (where the most bike-car collisions have been) and replace it with a 7-foot bike lane and 5-foot buffer with plastic, reflective bollards. Similar to the rapid construction of Downtown’s 2nd Avenue cycle track in September, SDOT is going above and beyond by creating this lane almost immediately instead of waiting until the full repaving next year. This is a great victory for bicyclists both in the neighborhood and citywide, and illustrates how grassroots efforts can influence the outcome of multi-million dollar projects.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Greater Greater Washington reports that Montgomery County, Maryland, is considering legislation to mandate safer design standards for all streets in urban areas. The City Fix explains why Brazil’s streets are getting a little safer, though they remain extremely dangerous compared to European countries. And Urban Milwaukee says that plans are progressing for that city’s long-awaited streetcar.

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Rochester Residents Add Their Own Bus Stop Seating

This "bus stop cube" was one of two tested recently in Rochester to help give bus riders a place to rest. Photo: Rochester Subway

Reconnect Rochester put out this “bus stop cube” to give riders a place to take a load off. Photo: Rochester Subway

Rochester residents are experimenting with a simple idea to make riding the bus a little more comfortable.

Mike Governale at Rochester Subway reports that a group called Reconnect Rochester is testing out two brightly colored “bus stop cubes” to give bus riders a place to rest at stops that currently have no seating. Governale went around interviewing bus riders at cube sites. Here’s what they had to say:

The volunteers at Reconnect Rochester recently tested a prototype bus stop seat shaped like a cube at two locations: The PriceRite at Dewey & Driving Park and N. Union St. at the Public Market. As the video above shows, the results were very positive.

These women [pictured above] had just finished shopping and were waiting for their #10 bus when they were introduced to the CUBE seat. One of the women said that when she’s waiting for her bus, sometimes her legs give out. And she says the bus stop cube is the perfect height for her. She said many of the standard benches throughout the city are actually too low for her to get up out of easily.

Reconnect Rochester also shot this video of live interviews with bus riders — the reviews were mostly good. The group is asking community members to pin spots on an interactive map to recommend future locations for cubes. They’re also seeking donations to support the project.

Elsewhere on the Streetsblog Network today: Bike Walk Lee says the principles outlined at the recent Vision Zero symposium in New York should help guide street safety efforts in Southwest Florida. I Bike TO asks whether Toronto should build bike infrastructure for “cyclists” or for people of all ages and abilities. And the Urbanophile weighs in on Tony Hsieh’s bid to transform downtown Las Vegas into a live-work neighborhood.

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Federal Housing Administration Still Tips the Scales Toward Sprawl

Federal subsidies for housing flow disproportionately to single-family homes. Image: Smart Growth America

The vast majority of federal subsidies for housing flow to single-family homes. Image: Smart Growth America

There’s a notion that remains very pervasive in certain quarters — *cough* Joel Kotkin *cough* — that the reason so many American cities are sprawling and suburban is the natural result of market forces. Essentially, Americans love driving and big yards and so that’s what we get.

But it’s a mistake to characterize American housing markets as anywhere close to perfectly market based. The federal government subsidizes housing to the tune of $450 billion a year. The vast majority of that money is reserved for sprawling, suburban housing.

Mary Newsom at Network blog The Naked City carried this update from Governing Magazine. Even after the housing market collapse, the Federal Housing Administration is still promoting sprawl at the expense of, well, anything else. Here’s how Governing’s Scott Beyer sums up the situation:

Since its 1934 inception, the FHA [Federal Housing Administration] has insured mortgages for more than 34 million properties, facilitating mass homeownership over several generations. But only 47,205 of these plans have been for multifamily projects. This is due to longtime provisions that make it harder for condos to get FHA certification. As late as 2012, 90 percent of a condo’s units had to be owner-occupied and only 25 percent of its space could be for businesses.

Newsom notes that “the FHA has eased that rule a bit in the past two years” — after persistent prodding, FHA relaxed restrictions against mixed-use buildings. The rules that remain, however, are still wildly unbalanced, Beyer says:

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The Idea That Families Don’t Belong in the City Is Antiquated and Harmful

The notion of cities as playgrounds for the young and unattached remains a pretty pervasive concept.

Why do so many people think city living has an expiration date? Photo: Wikipedia

The blogger at Family Friendly Cities has encountered it plenty. A young parent, he says that in his circles, the social stigma against raising children in the city remains irrationally strong:

As a young couple we lived in a garden style apartment in a car dominated city with two automobiles in what is one of the most sprawling cities in the country. We wanted more. So after we married we moved to a more urban city, one that still gets a rather unfortunate rap for sprawl but has a thriving urban core. We also dropped one of our cars. We primarily relied on transit except for our grocery store trips. Our home was more urban, and so was our neighborhood. That was fine, we were still young and childless, and we were constantly reminded of it. “Good thing you are doing it now before you have children” was a common sentiment, as if our urban lifestyle had an expiration date. It was set to die the moment we added a new family member. So we did, and it didn’t. Despite the auto-centric place we lived we walked to the hospital to give birth, and to the horrified look on the nurses’ faces we walked our newborn home. Even when we proclaimed that you could probably see our home from any of the windows in the maternity ward they thought we were crazy. Crazy to choose to walk her home the equivalent of three city blocks, rather than drive. And so came more of the comments once she was home; advice, and questions: “Have you looked for a house outside the city,” “Once she gets older you are going to need more space,” “You will need a yard,” “Living in the city is fine while she is so young, but not when she gets older” and the always important “The schools are better in X County.” So we followed their advice. We packed up a yellow truck and moved: to the second most dense census tract in the city smack dab in the heart of downtown, across the country.

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