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Bike Commute Rate in Portland Reaches a New High

In the race among America's top biking cities, Portland is still the leader of the pack. Graph: Bike Portland

In the race to be America’s top biking city, Portland is still ahead of the pack. Graph: Bike Portland

New Census data out this week shows that the bike commute rate in Portland, is higher than ever, exceeding the 7 percent threshold for the first time. Meanwhile, in the tier below Portland, about half a dozen large and mid-sized cities are neck and neck, Tom Fucoloro at Seattle Bike Blog reports:

Seattle (3.7 percent) is now in a bike commute race against Minneapolis (4.6) in the Mid-West, DC (3.9) on the East Coast, New Orleans (3.4) in the South, San Francisco (4.4) and Oakland (3.7) on the West Coast, and Tucson (3.5) in the Southwest. How cool is that?

Portland, meanwhile, cracked the 7 percent ceiling that has been taunting them for years. Among big US cities, Portland remains in a league of their own.

Unfortunately, Seattle is falling back further and further in the pack. This isn’t because biking in Seattle is falling, but because biking in these other cities is growing like crazy.

Michael Andersen at Bike Portland gets into more detail about Portland’s numbers:

Read more…
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Toronto Leaders Say They Hate Congestion — So Will They Support New Tolls?

Toronto fumbled on creating a more walkable, connected city when city leaders chose not to tear down the Gardiner East elevated waterfront highway. Mayor John Tory said it was important to rebuild the Gardiner “to keep congestion under control,” even though experience suggests traffic would have returned to its former levels as drivers adjusted to the new situation.

The Gardiner lives on but it could work better, for a small price. Photo: Greg Patterson via Architect this City

Toronto’s Don Valley Parkway could be this traffic-free much more often with the introduction of tolls. Photo: Greg Patterson via Architect This City

Brandon Donnelly at Network blog Architect This City says the move showed the city is “not yet ready to be an urban leader.” Meanwhile, Vancouver is considering tearing down the last two tiny remains of freeway infrastructure anywhere in the city.

The silver lining of the Toronto decision, says Donnelly, is that the City Council will consider tolling both the Gardiner and the Don Valley Parkway. Studies of those highway tolls have now been released, and Donnelly asks whether the fervor for saving motorists time — which was the whole justification for lavishing money on rebuilding the Gardiner — will carry over to the debate over tolling:

The Coles Notes version (CliffNotes for you Americans) is that a $3 flat toll on both the Gardiner and the DVP — the same cost as riding transit in this city — would be expected to reduce vehicles on the highways by 9% and 12%, as well reduce end-to-end travel times by 3 minutes and 5 minutes, respectively. There’s obviously a lot more in the report, but these figures stood out for me.

Given how monumental the 3 minute delay was in the Gardiner East debates, it will be interesting to see whether people treat a 3 minute time savings in a similar way. I suspect they won’t. The cost will be the larger issue.

Elsewhere on the Network today: lists five ways the media frequently “walk shames” people struck by drivers while walking. Seattle Bike Blog reports that the city is planning a record 50 pop-up parks for tomorrow’s Park(ing) Day festivities. And Wash Cycle writes that DC City Council is considering a “bicycle and pedestrian safety act” that would provide additional protections for vulnerable road users.
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Ferguson Commission Report Calls for Better Transit

What are the underlying problems that helped produce unrest in Ferguson? A new report examines. Photo: Wikipedia

The Ferguson Commission Report examines the factors that contribute to racial inequity in the St. Louis region. Photo: Wikipedia

The police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, touched off a protest movement that gripped the country and elevated the profile of racism and police violence as a national issue. It also raised questions about a host of factors that have shaped Ferguson and communities like it: the suburbanization of poverty, inequality, and residential segregation.

This week the state of Missouri released the Ferguson Commission Report, put together by a 16-member panel appointed by Governor Jay Nixon to examine the “social and economic conditions” in Ferguson and recommend a path to make the region “a stronger, fairer place for everyone.” The 150-page report addresses a wide range of issues that have contributed to racial inequity in Ferguson.

One of the group’s key recommendations is for the state and region to improve access to economic opportunity by investing in transit. St. Louis-based Citizens for Modern Transit has more on this aspect of the report:

The Commission directly calls for Missouri to develop a state funding plan for public transportation projects. The report notes that in the St. Louis region, a shortage of funding is a significant reason keeping St. Louis from pursuing any of various transportation proposals and from moving forward with transit expansion. A state funding plan is essential, the report explains, because “State funded transit development matches are required to compete for necessary federal funding and such a plan will make Missouri eligible for federal matching funds for transportation infrastructure. Federal funds, as part of a broader funding plan, are critical to the long-term success of transportation development.”

The report also cites CMT’s recently commissioned Transit Funding study when it calls for stakeholders to work together to determine which transit project(s) the region will prioritize. The report notes that such prioritization is necessary in order for the region to focus resources to successfully expand transit, and to get regional “buy-in” by elevating the importance of key projects for the region and making tangible the need and potential benefits of transit.

In the full report, the Commission expands upon its recommendations for enhancing access to transit by suggesting that use of public transportation might be incentivized by:

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Seattle Will Let Neighborhoods Design Their Own Crosswalks

A crosswalk with a pan-African theme near Seattle's Powell Barnett Park. Photo: Seattle Bike Blog

A crosswalk with the colors of the Pan-African flag near Seattle’s Powell Barnett Park. Photo: Seattle Bike Blog

Here’s a great idea from Seattle that can help serve as a reminder that streets are community spaces — not just avenues to speed through on the way from one place to another. The city has adopted a new program that allows neighborhoods to design their own crosswalks.

Tom Fucoloro at Seattle Bike Blog reports the program was inspired by a group of neighbors who painted a crosswalk in their neighborhood red, black, and green — the colors of the Pan-African flag — as a response to gentrification pressures. He says:

Today, SDOT announced a new program to allow neighborhoods to officially implement custom crosswalks. It’s certainly a longer process than buying some paint and doing it yourself, but it will also last longer and the city will make sure it meets safety standards.

Of course, the crosswalk painters were not making a statement about the need for a community crosswalk program at SDOT/Department of Neighborhoods. In the words of the United Hood Movement: “We didn’t get $100,000 to do it. We just knew it would give people a sense ownership back to our community since gentrification has changed it so rapidly, and dramatically it’s hard to recognize the place we call… Home.”

But it is a cool side-effect of the action that now communities have this new option for creating public art or identity markings right in the middle of their streets. It will take some fundraising or winning a Neighborhood Matching Fund grant, but that’s a small price to pay for a community-building addition like this. Because the streets belong to everyone, and this is just one more way to say so.

Elsewhere on the Network today: City Notes compares zoning in America with other countries. And Strong Towns says the Missouri Department of Transportation’s response to its budget problem goes to show how out of touch it is with the needs and desires of citizens.
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Does Your Hospital Make Accommodations for Smoking But Not Bicycling?

Recognizing their responsibility to address the chronic health problems plaguing the nation, a lot of hospitals are making internal changes to avoid contributing to unhealthy choices. The Cleveland Clinic, for example, recently banished McDonald’s from its food court. But even that hospital, like many, many others, has been slow to consider how its physical layout abets sedentary lifestyles.

This aerial photo shows Southcoast Health Hospital in Fairhaven, Massachusetts -- a massive sea of car parking, but not a single bike rack. Image: Miles Grant

Southcoast Health Hospital in Fairhaven, Massachusetts — a massive sea of car parking, but not a single bike rack. Image via Miles Grant

With enormous parking garages and unwalkable, single-use campuses, hospitals too often typify the kind of unhealthy design condemned by the Surgeon General last week.

Miles Grant at Network blog The Green Miles points out a great example in a town on the south coast of Massachusetts:

The other day I rode my bike to my local medical facility, Southcoast Health in Fairhaven, to get blood drawn for my annual physical. While it has a massive parking lot for somewhere around 500 vehicles, Southcoast Health in Fairhaven doesn’t have even one bicycle rack.

But it does have a picnic table outside of its back door for smoke breaks.

It’s a small thing, but you’d think a health care facility with a massive parking lot could at least set up some racks for people to lock their bikes too.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Greater City Providence ponders how car dependence affects social connections in smaller cities. Vibrant Bay Area explores how school choice affects transportation costs. And Bike Portland reports on a new app that will crowdsource street conditions reported by cyclists into a master map.
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Why Cities Should “Steal” the Indianapolis Cultural Trail

Indianapolis' Cultural Trail puts safe, comfortable connections right where people want to be. Image: NextSTL

The Indianapolis Cultural Trail puts safe, comfortable biking and walking connections right where people want to be. Photo: Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center via NextSTL

Indianapolis has set a great example for other cities with its “Cultural Trail,” eight miles of biking and walking routes through the heart of the city. According to a recent study, the $63 million project has been well worth it, drawing people downtown and leading to a surge in local business creation and hiring along the trail route.

Alex Ihnen at NextSTL sees lessons for his own city in the success of the Indy Cultural Trail. While St. Louis is developing greenways, Ihnen says its routes are missing the key element of what makes Indy’s example so successful:

The investment in St. Louis is being spent in out-of-the-way places, next to Interstate highways, along old rail lines in residential areas, on side streets and empty land on the edges of successful development, and not as a part of it, in the middle of it, where people want to go. We’re not capitalizing on our investment.

The key is building the trail where it will be used, where it will catalyze development and where it can augment the built environment and existing investment. This is more expensive and more difficult than greenways under power lines next to an Interstate, but it also has an exponentially greater impact.

Ihnen says St. Louis should “steal” the ideas that guided the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. It’s a wonder more cities aren’t trying to do the same thing.

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Political Environment reports that Midwestern newspapers are lining up against a precedent-setting proposal that would drain water from the Great Lakes to bail out a poorly planned sprawling suburb of Milwaukee. And We Are Mode Shift reports that Detroit is nearing completion of its extension of the awesome Dequindre Cut rail-trail — which is part of a larger network of planned biking and walking paths called Link Detroit.
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Portland’s Bike-Share System Will Be an Interesting One to Watch

Portland’s system will use “smart bikes,” like this one, which don’t have to be docked at fixed station locations. Photo via NYC Bike Blog

Next week, leaders in Portland will decide whether to move forward with a long-awaited bike-share system. Assuming it proceeds, Portland’s bike-share is going to be an unusual one.

Michael Andersen of BikePortland has everything you need to know in a series of posts on the proposed system (check them all out here). He reports that it would launch next summer with 600 bikes and 60 stations in the central city. It would be one of the biggest systems to incorporate “smart bike” technology — self-locking bikes equipped with GPS that don’t have to be returned to a fixed station location.

Getting bike-share off the ground has been slow going in Portland, with one source of delay being the city’s hesitance to subsidize it, combined with difficulties finding a sponsor. Here’s how the agreement Portland reached with Motivate, the company that will operate the system, addresses those issues, Andersen reports:

The city says that if a corporate sponsor is not found, the system will probably lose money. But New York-based Motivate has agreed to eat any losses itself for the first three years — a shift in responsibility intended to light a fire under Motivate to recruit a sponsor.

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Suburban Atlanta Pol: Why Fund Transit When We Can Wait for Robo-Cars?

Gwinnett County chair Charlotte Nash and her preferred mode of transport.

Gwinnett County chair Charlotte Nash and her preferred mode of transport.

Gwinnett County is outpacing the Atlanta region in population growth. People who live there need transit to get to work, so much so that a recent poll found that 63 percent of likely voters were in favor of expanding MARTA service into the county.

Gwinnett’s transportation director has asked for funds to restore bus service after cuts enacted some eight years ago. Fortunately, notes Darin Givens at ATL Urbanist, this year Georgia voters gave counties the okay to hold referenda on a local sales tax to be used for transportation projects, transit included.

Sounds like a no-brainer for Gwinnett. But Givens, citing a story in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, writes that a key political figure has something else in mind.

Despite percolating interest, though, Gwinnett County chairman Charlotte Nash said it is still too soon for the county to take a large step forward when it comes to public transportation.

“Quite honestly, I’d just as soon not be the first,” Nash said of the referendum.

And who knows — with the advent of self-driving vehicles and services like Uber, she said, the transportation needs of Gwinnett County and the region could quickly change. People may be less interested in rail, she said, if they can relax in a private pod.

So, yeah. The leader of the Gwinnett County government and one of the “100 most influential Atlantans” would rather wait for the pods than invest in transit, which exists.

Here’s Givens:

Read more…
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How the Baltimore Red Line Could Rise Again

Proposed Baltimore Red Line, circa 2002. Image via Baltimore InnerSpace

The Red Line was part of a bigger regional rail plan adopted in 2002 with multiple routes that were never built. Image via Baltimore InnerSpace

Today on the Network, Gerald Neily at Baltimore InnerSpace has the back story on the ill-fated Red Line, the rail project axed by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.

Neily writes that the Red Line’s roots date to the 1960s, “when a 1.5 mile swath of West Baltimore was condemned and quickly destroyed for what is now the ‘Highway to Nowhere’ [Interstate 70], with the median reserved for transit.” In 2002, a version of the Red Line that would span more of the city was incorporated into a regional rail plan, which Neily faults for superseding a more realistic transit expansion plan developed in the 1990s.

Neily describes the demise of the Red Line as death by a thousand cuts, mostly related to neighborhood politics and ballooning cost estimates for proposed tunnel work.

In 1999, Governor Glendening presided over an incremental plan that created a sound financial basis for transit growth, but then almost immediately the hype-meisters pushed that strategy aside in favor of the indulgent 2002 comprehensive regional rail plan. Since then, the Red Line has been dying a slow death.

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How Baltimore Could Improve Rail After Larry Hogan’s Red Line Debacle

A 2007 plan called for new stations along the MARC Penn Line, shown here in relation to the cancelled Red Line. Image: GGW

A 2007 plan called for new stations along the MARC Penn Line, shown here in relation to the cancelled Red Line. Image: GGW

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan killed Baltimore’s long-awaited Red Line so he could build a highway to the beach, but sitting on the shelf is another plan to augment rail service in the city.

Writing for Greater Greater Washington, Jeff La Noue says the proposal includes three new infill stations on the MARC Penn Line commuter rail: one in Bayview, and one each in East and West Baltimore.

The Red Line would have linked Baltimore residents with job centers, and though the Penn Line is three miles north, La Noue believes it could provide “an economic jolt” for city neighborhoods.

Assembled by the Maryland Transit Administration, the 2007 MARC Growth & Investment Plan featured a number of rail projects, many of which would invest heavily in Baltimore. Adding more MARC stations to Baltimore would also amount to intracity service, removing some of the sting of losing the Red Line investment.

A 2013 draft update omits stations and improvements planned for the city. There isn’t an explanation for why.

The MARC lines are regional in scope, but by adding stations in densely populated neighborhoods outside of downtown on both sides of the city, more of Baltimore’s residents could access the system. Those coming into Baltimore would also have a greater slate of options that might be closer to their destinations.

As the state and city discuss transportation improvements for Baltimore, the 2007 MARC Investment Plan for Baltimore should be on the table. Adding MARC service and stations in Baltimore is not a substitute for the Red Line, but it would do a lot of good in different areas of the city.

Elsewhere on the Network: Better! Cities & Towns reports that the surgeon general will soon call on the country to invest in walkable communities, and Bike Pittsburgh has the lowdown on the Steel City’s latest bike projects.