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Streetsblog USA
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You Don’t Have to Trash BRT to Make the Case for Light Rail, and Vice Versa

In cities considering a light rail project, it’s common for transit opponents to suddenly cast themselves as big believers in bus rapid transit. They don’t really want to build BRT, they just want to derail the transit expansion. The light rail advocates then have to make their case not only on the merits of the project, but also in relation to the strawman BRT project.

That’s the position supporters of Seattle’s big transit expansion ballot measure, ST3, find themselves in right now. Taking on the faux pro-BRT crowd in a recent post, Anton Babadjanov at Seattle Transit Blog argues that building a BRT equivalent of the proposed light rail lines wouldn’t be that simple or cheap:

How do we get this? We can’t simply reallocate a general purpose lane for this. This is a political non-starter. While it is relatively cheap to implement, no car commuter wants to lengthen their commute so that “somebody else” can have a better transit or carpool trip. People have never supported this en masse.

The only option we have is to build the new right-of-way — either widen the freeway or build the lanes in a separate structure using viaducts and tunnels as appropriate.

Babadjanov concludes that building BRT with new rights-of-way could save 20 percent compared to light rail, but its capacity would be lower. It’s a reasonable argument for the specific situation Seattle transit advocates are in right now. But I’ve seen the post’s headline — “BRT Is Not Cheaper Than Light Rail” — shared online as though it applies in every situation, which is just not true.

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
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Transit Vote 2016: Seattle’s Huge, Imperfect Transit Expansion

We continue our overview of what’s at stake in the big transit ballot initiatives this November with a look at Seattle. The first installment of this series examined Indianapolis.

The transit expansion plan on the ballot in Seattle this November is a big one.

Seattle's "ST3" plan would add 62 miles of grade-separated light rail. Map: SoundTransit3

Seattle’s “ST3” plan would add 62 miles of grade-separated light rail. Map: SoundTransit3

Known as ST3, the proposal calls for a 62-mile expansion of grade-separated light rail extending across three counties, including about four miles that will run underground in central Seattle. Also included: bus rapid transit routes along two highway corridors, and $20 million to plan transit-oriented development.

The total package comes to $54 billion, which will be paid for by a mix of property taxes, sales taxes, and excise taxes. And it will take more than 20 years to complete.

Sound Transit estimates that under this plan, ridership will nearly double by 2040 to 800,000 daily trips, and that 361 million miles of driving will be averted each year [PDF].

There are some downsides to the plan, which has drawn criticism for devoting too much to park-and-ride transit in car-centric areas. While expanding the transit network could create new walkable communities across the region, different suburbs have shown varying levels of commitment to transit-oriented development.

ST3 calls for spending $661 million on parking at suburban stations, which works out to $80,000 per space. And much of the suburban light rail will run along highway rights-of-way, which is a bad fit for walkable development.

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Streetsblog USA
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How Cities Like Cleveland Can Grow and Tackle Climate Change

City leaders from around the world are meeting right now in Quito, Ecuador, for the summit known as Habitat III — convened by the United Nations to map out a strategy for sustainable urbanization as more people flock to cities.

If the next 1 billion urban residents live in sprawl like this, the planet is in serious trouble. Photo: Future Atlas via Flickr.

If urban growth is funneled into sprawl like this, the planet is in serious trouble. Photo: Future Atlas/Flickr

Demographers forecast enormous populations shifts to urban areas in the coming decades. The nature of this growth will have profound effects on the climate. Will it be walkable and served by transit? Or will it be haphazard sprawl?

Another factor is whether a region’s ecology is well-suited for a bigger population. Marc Lefkowitz at Network blog Green City Blue Lake says cities like Cleveland have the right natural characteristics to sustain more people. But regional growth isn’t happening the right way:

In an article, “Where to put the next billion people” Harvard’s Richard Forman and Arizona State University professor of sustainability science, Jianguo Wu, note that “for people and nature to thrive, the arrangement of land systems and water across the urban region must be managed holistically.”

For water-rich regions like Cleveland, this holds true. But a regional plan should probably be developed this time to “limit the loss of valuable (farm) land.”

A temperate climate, abundant water and rich soils are assets that Greater Cleveland has. By contrast, the authors predict that water stress in the West and Southwestern U.S. and Mexico will limit their growth.

Cleveland could play a significant role in the fight against climate change by developing a strategy for more compact communities and with a more open and encouraging immigration policy, the report concludes.

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Streetsblog USA
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American Traffic Engineering Establishment Finally Approves Bike Boxes

Bike boxes are going to become part of the standard street design guidance. Photo: NACTO

Bike boxes are on their way toward becoming a standard street design measure. Photo: NACTO

The wheels of change grind slowly at the institutions that guide the American traffic engineering establishment, but they are moving forward.

This week, U.S. DOT issued interim approval for bike boxes [PDF], a treatment that positions cyclists ahead of cars at intersections.

Dozens of American cities currently use bike boxes — some for the better part of the past decade — and the federal government is now satisfied enough by the results to conclude that they lead to “reductions in conflicts between bikes and turning drivers” and less crosswalk encroachment by both drivers and cyclists.

Cities installing bike boxes will still have to submit a request for “interim approval” to the Federal Highway Administration until a final rule is adopted, but now bike boxes will be perceived as less risky by transportation engineers.

The committee responsible for approving new bike infrastructure treatments for the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices recommended approval of bike boxes nearly three years ago. The same group has been dragging its feet on protected bike lanes, a key obstacle to their widespread installation.

Streetsblog USA
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Talking Headways Podcast: Remixing the Future of Transit Planning

This week I’m joined by Tiffany Chu, co-founder of the transit planning software firm Remix, which helps agencies quickly assess the impact of potential changes in service. Tiffany discusses the response the company has received from the transit industry and what got it started. We also talk about the possible policy implications of Remix, as well as the movement towards open data.

Streetsblog USA
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Affordable Transportation and Affordable Housing Need to Go Hand-in-Hand

In Pittsburgh, combined housing and transportation costs are still lower in urban areas. Map: Center for Neighborhood Technology

In Pittsburgh, combined housing and transportation costs tend to be lower in central areas, but rents are rising in central neighborhoods. Map: Center for Neighborhood Technology

Rents continue to rise in cities across the U.S., and Pittsburgh is no exception. Noting the escalating housing costs in walkable neighborhoods, Alex Shewczyk at Bike Pittsburgh looks at how transportation and housing policy can coordinate to make places more affordable.

We know from resources like the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s Housing+Transportation Index that transportation costs are a large household expense and closely tied to housing location. If you live somewhere with good options besides driving, you can save a lot. But these places are where housing costs are rising. To address the challenge of affordability, cities need to use both transportation strategies and housing strategies — and there’s a lot of overlap between the two, Shewczyk writes:

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Guidebook for Creating Connected Communities, typical households in auto-dependent neighborhoods spend about 25 percent of their income on transportation costs, but this number drops to 9 percent in neighborhoods that are more connected with a variety of mobility options.

Recently, the Obama Administration’s “toolkit” on housing development made local zoning and land-use regulations a national issue. The White House reports, “Significant barriers to new housing development can cause working families to be pushed out of the job markets with the best opportunities for them, or prevent them from moving to regions with higher — paying jobs and stronger career tracks. Excessive barriers to housing development result in increasing drag on national economic growth and exacerbate income inequality.”

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Streetsblog LA
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New Bruce Schaller Report: Recommendations for Regulating Taxi & Ride-Hail

Bruce Schaller speaking at UCLA yesterday. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Bruce Schaller speaking at UCLA yesterday. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Transportation consultant Bruce Schaller released a new report with valuable advice for states and municipalities as they work to ensure that ride-hail companies best serve the common good. Ride-hail, or TNCs (Transportation Network Companies), includes primarily Uber and Lyft. Schaller was one of Janette Sadik-Khan’s key deputy commissioners in the New York City Department of Transportation. His report, titled Unfinished Business: A Blueprint for Uber, Lyft and Taxi Regulation, was the subject of a talk Schaller gave yesterday at the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies.

Throughout the report, Schaller recaps successful examples where regulations and programs are solving problems. He also provides a primer on the tangled taxi-TNC relationship in California, where state legislators tried to level the playing field by passing A.B. 650. That bill attempted to bring taxi regulation into the hands of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which already regulates TNCs. A.B. 650 passed at the last minute, but was vetoed by Governor Brown.

Growth in the U.S. taxi industry. Graph via Schaller report

Growth in the U.S. taxi industry. Graph via Schaller report

Schaller provides worthwhile context for the current changes in the taxi industry. Despite some perception to the contrary, prior to the advent of technology-enabled ride-hail about a half-dozen years ago, the taxi industry’s growth has been relatively healthy. Per the report, the number of taxicabs in the United States increased by at least 20 percent between 2002 and 2016. With the advent of Uber and Lyft, Los Angeles taxi ridership fell 43 percent, and revenue was down 24 percent, between 2013 and 2016.

Schaller makes the case that there are significant differences between “dispatch” and “flag” systems. Flag service–in which riders get rides from taxis already onsite (such as at airports)–are less subject to market competition and more in need of regulation. Dispatch markets, in which hailing was historically done by phone, now commonly via app, are less prone to individual abuse, hence less in need of regulation.

Schaller makes recommendations in five key areas:  Read more…

Streetsblog USA
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DC Metro Doomsday Scenario Also Warning to Bay Area

A proposal from Washington's WMATA suggests closing 20 Metro stations, outside of rush hour, cutting bus service and raising fares to close a $275 million budget gap. Image: WMATA via Greater Greater Washington

WMATA says that without new revenue it will have to close 20 Metro stations outside of rush hour and cut bus service. Image: WMATA via Greater Greater Washington

WMATA, the DC region’s transit agency, is in crisis.

DC is a rarity among major American cities, with transit mode share declining over the last decade. In the past year, the federal government took over WMATA’s safety oversight authority after a number of embarrassing failures, culminating in the whole Metro being temporarily shut down. Confidence in the agency is in short supply.

On top of everything, WMATA now faces a $275 million budget shortfall. Jonathan Neeley at Greater Greater Washington reports that the agency just outlined an alarming doomsday scenario, including cutting service on high-profile recent expansion projects:

On Thursday, WMATA’s staff will give a presentation to the Board of Directors on potential ways to close a $275 million budget gap. Or, put another way, staff warn the board that without more money, some drastic measures may be inevitable.

The draft presentation that came out on Tuesday lists options like closing 20 stations during off-peak hours (nine of them on the east end of the Orange, Blue, and Silver Lines, along with three on the west end of the Silver Line) and shutting down a number of bus lines, including the brand new Potomac Yard Metroway.

The first thing to remember is that this isn’t an official proposal; it’s a cry for help. It’s WMATA saying that it needs more money to operate the entire rail system, and if that money doesn’t come in, these are possible options for cutting costs to a level commensurate with current funding.

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
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Edmonton’s Quick-Build Protected Bike Lane Grid: “A New Model” for Change


pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities connect high-comfort biking networks.

Two years ago, the sprawling Canadian prairie metropolis of Calgary decided to buck tradition and test an entire “minimum grid” of protected bike lanes through its downtown, all at once. Calgary’s proposal survived a nailbiting 8-7 council vote thanks to a first-rate campaign by local advocates and the swing vote of a suburban conservative who said he’d simply been persuaded that for just $7 million, a quick-build biking network was worth a try.

It worked. Bike counts doubled almost immediately; at last count they’re up 132 percent across downtown and biking is up citywide by every available measure, a win in Calgary’s war on congestion.

On Monday, Edmonton proved how contagious a good idea can be.

Edmonton’s council voted unanimously to do essentially the same thing, creating a connected system of comfortable bike routes in its downtown.

An overhead view of the post-protected bike lane planned for 102nd Avenue. Image: City of Edmonton.

“A new model of public consultation”

Read more…

Via Streetsblog California
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Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Projects Funded by SGC

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The Downtown Loop was one of 25 projects awarded funding under the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program.

Today the Strategic Growth Council approved 25 projects for funding under the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities (AHSC) program. All of them combine affordable housing development and transportation improvements for either transit, walking, biking, or a combination of all three modes.

The council also briefly discussed preliminary rulemaking for a new program, the Transformative Climate Communities program (TCC), and draft guidelines for a pilot grant program to encourage local governments and agencies to plan for sustainable development.

The TCC is funded from a one-time allocation of $140 million from cap-and-trade as specified by A.B. 2722. Currently the proposed rulemaking calls for investing half of the money in Fresno, 25 percent in Los Angeles, with the remaining portion to be determined. Representatives from Fresno, including Mayor Ashley Swearingen and Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula, showed up to praise this decision to invest in Fresno’s efforts to revitalize itself.

There will be a meeting on the proposed rulemaking, which precedes development of guidelines, on November 7 in Fresno. The SGC is welcoming comments until then by email to: tccpubliccomments [at]

The main event at today’s meeting was the vote on AHSC allocations. The goal of the AHSC program is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and vehicle miles traveled by bringing housing closer to destinations and providing ways for residents can get around without adding to the overall amount of driving. This is in keeping with the program’s funding source, the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, which is fed by money the state raises through its cap-and-trade program.

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SGC staff showed this map of the distribution of projects awarded AHSC funding for 2015-16.

The projects recommended by staff and approved today by the council—see list after the jump—went through a complicated scoring process that took into account the presence of disadvantaged communities and differing urban and rural needs and realities. The approved projects are more or less evenly distributed throughout the state, with a similar number of projects awarded in the Bay Area, L.A., and across the Central Valley, with a few scattered farther north and throughout the state.

From an original 130 concept proposals, staff narrowed the field to 74 invited applicants requesting a total of $691 million. Of those, 25 projects were awarded a total of $289 million. The AHSC is one of the few sources of funding for affordable housing since Governor Brown closed redevelopment agencies, and this amount doesn’t come close to fulfilling the need.

Comments at the meeting reflected frustration from applicants who were not awarded funds, but there were other issues raised about this second round of funding.

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