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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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Misplaced Priorities: Spending $20 Million for 1,200 Drivers

Minnesota is planning to spend $20 million to widen and straighten the state highway through the town of Good Thunder, population 600. Photo: Wikipedia

Even a lot of routine road projects don’t make much sense when you apply a little critical analysis.

Here’s a great example from the Minneapolis area, via Matthias Leyrer at Network blog Streets.mn. Minnesota DOT is gearing up to pour $20 million into a state highway so the road will have 12-foot lanes, 6-foot shoulders, and fewer curves. But hardly anyone uses this road:

MNDOT recently announced that it will be spending roughly 20 million to fix up Highway 66 which connects Good Thunder with Mankato.

Now I’m no economist, but Good Thunder isn’t exactly a burgeoning center of local commerce. The residency as of the 2010 census stood at 583 people. Yes, 583, as in less than 600. As in I have enough money to give everyone in that city a dollar–scratch that–THREE DOLLARS.

Why spend $20 million on improving a route to a city that small? Great question, reader, here’s the answer: THERE IS NONE.

The AADT (Average Annual Daily Traffic) for this road is 1,100 cars. Roughly double the residency of Good Thunder or essentially every citizen coming to and from Mankato every day. If you want, think about it as $20,000 per car. Oh, did I mention that the road is about 12 miles long? So yet another way of thinking about it is roughly $1.6m a mile.

It would actually be cheaper to spend 10 million on the road and then just PAY those 1,100 cars 5k a year to take a different route (only for one year, but you get the idea).

Elsewhere on the Network today: World Streets relays the news that Helsinki has a plan to make private cars obsolete. The Wash Cycle is skeptical that GPS directions are a major factor in the decline of vehicle miles traveled. And Bike Pittsburgh announces that the city’s bike-share has been delayed until 2015.

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Denver’s Big Opportunity for World-Class Streets

Denver could transform Broadway with transit enhancements and a two-way protected bike lane. Photosim: Bike5280

Just a few months ago, Denver opened its first protected bike lane on 15th Street. But was that a one-off project or will the Mile High City change the way it designs streets citywide?

The city’s approach to the redesign of Broadway will give a pretty strong indication of how serious Denver leaders are about making safer, multi-modal streets. David Mintzer at Network blog Bike5280 reports that there are some transformative designs (including the one above) kicking around:

Given the high speed of traffic, few cyclists feel safe riding down this corridor and it is unlikely that a 5 foot wide striped bike lane would provide much comfort. Currently Broadway is an expanse of concrete with 5 lanes of speeding traffic. But there is the potential to be so much more.

The newly released Golden Triangle Neighborhood Plan has published an ambitious design for transforming Broadway into a grand multimodal boulevard. Here we see [pictured above] a protected two-way bike lane conveniently placed alongside a B-Cycle bike share station and a separated bus lane on the right.

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In Portland, Merchants Lead the Charge for New Protected Bike Lanes

A bike lane protected from traffic by a row of planters, like this one from Vancouver, BC, is one option being considered for 2nd and 3rd avenues in Portland. Photo: Bike Portland

Here’s a group of business owners who understand the power of safe, multi-modal city streets.

Michael Andersen at Bike Portland is reporting that, rather than squawk over the potential loss of parking, a group of business owners on Portand’s 2nd and 3rd avenues is actively lobbying the city for protected bike lanes that would remove space for motor vehicles.

Why? Because they’ve seen it work:

A coalition of 30 Old Town bars, restaurants and entertainment venues is proposing adding a quarter-mile of planter-protected bike lanes and street cafe seating to 2nd and/or 3rd avenues.

Inspired by nearby projects on SW Ankeny and NE Multnomah, the six-month-old Old Town Hospitality Group sees their experimental road diet concept, which could narrow the streets’ car-oriented area from three travel lanes to one or two and might remove some on-street auto parking, as a way to make the neighborhood safer, more comfortable and better to do business in.

Dan Lenzen, owner of the Dixie Tavern at NW Couch and 3rd (“Downtown’s biggest party every Fri & Sat night”), said the recently redesigned Multnomah Street, which converted two general travel lanes to planter-protected bike lanes, is “our model.”

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DUI Arrests Dropped in Philly After Ride-Share Companies Came to Town

Philadelphia saw DUI arrests drop after ride sharing companies like Urber and Lyft began offering service. Image vis Plan Philly

Philadelphia saw DUI arrests drop after ride-sharing companies began offering service. Graph: Plan Philly

There’s a big political battle in Pittsburgh over the introduction of ride-sharing businesses like Uber and Lyft.

Pittsburgh’s progressive new mayor, Bill Peduto, has been a strong proponent of the services, which allow users to buy rides from drivers using a cell phone app. But the Pennsylvania Utilities Commission, the agency responsible for regulating taxis, recently issued an order preventing the companies from operating. Now the issue is being debated in the statehouse.

Meanwhile, Jon Geeting at Plan Philly reports some interesting new information has come to light showing a possible safety effect of the introduction of ride-sharing services in 2012 in Philadelphia, where the taxi industry is not under the purview of the state Utilities Commission:

This issue raises some legitimately challenging questions about safety and liability, but to date there hasn’t been much discussion about the safety implications of not allowing these apps.

Pittsburgh-based computer science professional Nate Good has been trying to move this debate forward in his city, and he released a few infographics he made about ride-sharing and DUI arrests in Philly (where, unlike Pittsburgh, the companies have been around long enough to draw some conclusions about their impact.) What he found is that there’s a correlation between ride-sharing services coming on the market and a reduction in DUI arrests, particularly for the under-30 demographic that uses them the most.

Good says:

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Comeback Time for DC’s Forgotten Bus Lane Network?

Washington’s 1976 dedicated bus lane network is in red. Additional transit lanes planned in the 1970s are shown in blue and grey. Image: Beyond DC via Metro

It’s barely even remembered today, but in the 1970s Washington, DC, had a substantial network of dedicated bus lanes, with plans to expand. Dan Malouff at Beyond DC explains what was lost, and how priority for transit could come back to the city’s streets:

Prior to 1976 the DC region had at least 60 miles of bus-only lanes, with even more proposed. This map shows where they were. On the map, the red lines show existing bus lanes as of 1976. Blue and black lines show proposals that never materialized. The network reached throughout DC, Northern Virginia, and into Maryland.

Unfortunately, all the bus lanes were converted to other purposes after the Metrorail system was built.

It’s no coincidence or surprise that some of the old bus lanes were on the same streets where they’re now proposed again, like 16th Street and H and I Streets downtown. Those are natural transit corridors, with great need for quality service.

Will we ever get this system back? The region is off to a good start, with moveDC’s 25 miles of proposed transit lanes, and the upcoming Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway. But the 60-mile system from the 1970s shows we still have a lot of work to do.

Elsewhere on the Network today: BicycleLaw says Michigan may require driver’s ed students to learn about bicycle laws. ATL Urbanist tries to make sense of two studies that come to seemingly opposite conclusions about sprawl in Atlanta. And PubliCola wonders whether it’s time to pull the plug on Bertha, the deep-bore tunnel digging machine, and stop Seattle’s disastrous experiment with a buried highway.

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Why Did Copenhagen’s Biking Rate Surge in One Year?

Copenhagen is famous for being a city where a lot of people bike.

More people are biking these days in Copenhagen, but why? Photo: Mikael Colville-Andersen

But for years the bike commuting rate has remained roughly steady at just over a third of trips. Then last year the city’s bike commute mode share increased from 36 percent to 41 percent. Meanwhile, driving declined 3 percent as a share of commuting trips.

The unexpected increase had a lot of people baffled. But Mikael Colville-Andersen at Copenhagenize thinks he knows what happened:

When the results of the travel survey came out, journalists were scrambling for answers. Two researchers at DTU were “surprised.” They were quoted in the Danish press as saying things like, “uh… the City’s new bridges and traffic calming on certain streets seem to have worked. Giving cyclists carrots encourage cycling.”

The detail they forgot was that the new cycling bridges aren’t finished yet, nor is the traffic calming on Amagerbrogade. The Nørrebrogade stretch is from 2008. Cycling rose on that street by 15% but that was BEFORE 2012. Duh. Bascially, there hasn’t been much carrot dangling in this city for a few years. So forget about THAT hastily thunk up theory. Things are happening NOW, in 2013 and 2014, sure, but that has nothing to do with the data from 2012 to 2013. Double Duh.

What HAS happened is that 17 huge construction sites fell out of the sky all at once. Not something that happens every day. In addition, most of central Copenhagen — between 2012 and 2013 — was under further construction because of the upgrading of district heating pipes under many streets that had to be ripped up.

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Can Oklahoma City Become a Great Cycling City?

This is a pretty typical Oklahoma City street -- wide, flat and relatively empty. The city recently added a buffered bike lane, below. Photo: BikeOKC

This is a pretty typical Oklahoma City street — wide, flat and relatively empty. The city recently added a buffered bike lane, below. Photo: BikeOKC

Portland. Minneapolis. Oklahoma City? Ok, so you probably won’t find that last one on any lists of the most bike-friendly cities in the U.S. But with a little bit of effort, the city could change, says Eric Dryer at Bike OKC. In a lot of ways, Oklahoma City has all the right ingredients to be a great city for cycling, he says:

NW 39th Street after the addition of a buffered bike lane. Photo: BikeOKC

NW 39th Street after the addition of a buffered bike lane. Photo: BikeOKC

First, our wide, overbuilt roads are too big for the speed and volume of car traffic in the city.  The majority of the streets, especially Downtown and in the neighborhoods, have 11-12-foot-wide lanes and cars don’t really need more than 9 feet per lane. Some of that extra space could be used for bike lanes. By reducing the width of the driving lanes, drivers will instinctively slow down making it much safer for cyclists and pedestrians alike.

Many other streets in the city simply have too many lanes for the amount of traffic per day on the road. Many of these streets may be busy for 15 – 30 minutes per day, but the rest of the time they are empty. Reducing 4 lane streets to 3 lanes (or even 2 lanes) can help traffic flow more efficiently and frees up space for cycling infrastructure. Streets like NW 10th St, Hudson Ave, and Shartel Ave. could all lose a lane to make way for bike lanes or protected cycle tracks. We have already seen a “road diet” like this take effect and the result is a wonderful buffered bike lane on NW 39th St [right].

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