Skip to content

Posts from the Category

Via Streetsblog California
View Comments

Bike-Share Can Get State Funding to Reach Low-Income Communities

CARB staff check out electric bikes at a recent demo in the capitol. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

CARB staff check out electric bikes at a recent demo in the capitol. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

At its meeting a few weeks ago, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) agreed to include bike-share in its Car Sharing and Mobility Options pilot program. That means that areas that are figuring out how to get bike-share into low income areas now have a new funding option.

The Car Sharing and Mobility Options program funded car-sharing in low-income communities last year with $2.5 million. As the board was considering increasing this year’s allocation to $8 million, the California Bicycle Coalition was trying to get it to also include incentives for buying electric bikes. Pilot programs created last year provided grants and rebates to buy electric motorcycles and electric “neighborhood vehicles”—basically golf carts—but not bikes.

CalBike has argued that a separate pilot program focusing on bicycles, which could include incentives to buy electric bicycles, grants for bike-share, grants for bike repair, and the like, would give more bang for the buck in terms of getting people to switch to clean vehicles. There would also be advantages to creating a program that focuses solely on bikes, in that at least someone at CARB would take bicycles seriously and understand their usefulness as the ultimate clean vehicles.

Instead of a separate bike pilot program, the CARB board decided to allow bike-share programs to apply for funding within the existing Mobility Options program. How much money ultimately goes to bike-share will depend on how many areas apply for funding.

“We applaud CARB for showing leadership by expanding the scope and funding of this pilot program to include bike-sharing, and appreciate the innovative twist of adding electric bike-sharing,” said Dave Snyder, executive director of the California Bicycle Coalition.

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
View Comments

When Will the Feds Stop Outlawing Railcars Used By the Rest of the World?

The removal of 115 railcars from service in Philadelphia last week was the latest example of the troubles American commuter rail agencies face when purchasing rolling stock. Thanks to cracks in a critical component of the railcars, riders are looking at severe service reductions for at least the entire summer. While U.S. DOT floated a regulatory change that could prevent similar failures, it’s been tied up in the federal bureaucracy for three years.

Philadelphia's defective railcars highlight some of the problems with U.S. passenger rail regulations. Photo: SEPTA

Philadelphia’s defective railcars highlight some of the problems with U.S. train safety regulations. Photo: SEPTA

SEPTA purchased the flawed railcars three years ago. The exact cause of the defect has yet to be determined, but it’s clear that procuring rolling stock is riskier and more complex than it needs to be, due to Federal Railroad Administration safety regulations.

An FRA rule dating back to 1945 requires trains to withstand 800,000 pounds of force, according to a report by David Edmondson for the Competitive Enterprise Institute [PDF]. This makes American trains much heavier than European and Asian models, as well as more expensive to build and operate. Passenger railcars in the U.S. have been likened to “a high-velocity bank vault,” as former Amtrak CEO David Gunn put it.

Because of these unusual standards, American rail agencies can’t just acquire the same trains used in Europe or Asia. Instead, railcars here must be custom-designed for America’s relatively small market, which drives up cost and risk. Philadelphia’s Silverliner V cars — the ones with the defect — were 10,000 pounds heavier than originally planned. The manufacturer, an American subsidiary of the South Korea-based Hyundai, had never designed stainless steel railcars to FRA standards.

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
View Comments

The “Choice” vs. “Captive” Transit Rider Dichotomy Is All Wrong

The conventional wisdom about transit often divides riders into two neat categories: “choice” riders — higher-income people with cars — and “captive” riders — lower-income people who must use transit because they don’t own cars.

Transit riders are more conscious of time than they are of features like wifi. Drawing via Transit Center

Transit riders are more conscious of time than they are of features like Wi-Fi. Graphic: TransitCenter

But this framework can undermine good transit, according to a new report from TransitCenter [PDF]. In the attempt to cater only to “choice” riders or “captive” riders, public officials often make decisions that don’t accomplish what everyone wants from transit — fast, frequent, reliable service that takes them where they want to go.

TransitCenter surveyed more than 3,000 transit riders across 17 regions — and conducted focus groups in three major cities — to get a better picture of why people take transit. The responses were combined with data from All Transit, a tool that assesses the quality of transit service in different locations, to inform the report’s conclusions.

While having access to a car does influence how much people use transit, other factors are more important. In walkable neighborhoods with frequent transit service, people with and without cars both ride transit more than people in areas with poor transit.

Far from being “captive,” transit riders without cars are in fact very sensitive to the quality of service. So-called “captive” riders have other choices available, like biking, taxis, and borrowing cars, and most do take advantage of them — almost two-thirds of car-free transit riders had done so in the last month.

A big problem with the “choice/captive” rider dichotomy, says lead report author Steven Higashide, is that it prompts planners to invest in “sexy” features aimed at luring “choice” riders out of cars — like Wi-Fi or comfortable seats. The notion of the “choice rider” has been used to justify mixed-traffic streetcar projects that operate slowly and don’t actually serve many people.

Regardless of whether transit riders own a car, what actually matters to them aren’t the bells and whistles, or even the type of vehicle, but the basics: service they can depend on to get places on time.

“Transit has to compete for every rider,” Higashide told Streetsblog. “There’s often this assumption that people without cars have no choice, have to ride transit. People are sensitive to transit quality regardless of car ownership.”

TransitCenter suggests another way to frame how and why people use transit — by looking at the types of trips they use it for:

Read more…

Streetsblog LA
View Comments

Ad Nauseum: Energizer Batteries Turn Drab Bikes Into Colorful Motorcycles

Energizer batteries are trying to appeal to consumer ecological consciences by “taking worn out batteries and making them into something strong” in the company’s new EcoAdvanced battery line. What better way to be ecological than to appeal to urban cyclists? In the above commercial, the Energizer Bunny helps out tired riders by turning their bicycles into fantastic motorcycles. Not cool and not eco.

First off, take a look at Energizer’s portrayal of urban bicyclists.


Cyclists from Engerizer’s eco-battery commercial – Images via YouTube

In the Energizer commercial’s world, there are lots of cyclists, but all their bikes are old and crappy. One bike, at o:02, has a derailleur but no chain. Few of the bikes actually fit their riders, so the cyclists look cramped and uncomfortable.

Secondly, how does electricity help cyclists? Does transforming a bicycle – a truly environmentally-friendly human-powered vehicle – into a petroleum-burning motorcycle really serve the environment? Do urban cyclists really want to ditch their trusty steeds?

Energizer seems to understand that bicycling and bicyclists sell environmental leadership. For example, see this Energizer “how do you spot a leader?” video at 0:27. Energizer’s commitment to recycling battery materials appears laudable, but why not join with environmental leaders by affirming bicycling? Cyclists are Energizer’s customers. Batteries in bike lights to keep cyclists safe. Why not portray how fun, fast, and free urban cycling can be? Why not celebrate cycle chic by showing stylish bicycles and attractive fashion?

What do you think, readers? Can you come up with an Energizer Bunny commercial treatment that would affirm urban cycling? Add your thoughts in the comments below.

Streetsblog USA
View Comments

Pokémon Go — Americans Are Walking Again Because of a Video Game

Hundreds of reporters — and all of your Facebook friends — are talking about Pokémon Go, the “augmented reality” game that lures people to go outside and explore in search of virtual critters.

Pokémon Go in New York City (left) versus an exurb (right). Images via Stop and Move

Pokémon Go in New York City (left) versus an exurb (right). Images via Stop and Move

A zillion takes have been published about the game in the week since it was released, including some disturbing accounts of how people mix Pokémon Go and driving. But the game trades on walkability, writes James Sinclair at Network blog Stop and Move — it’s just not much fun in any other setting (sorry, no Pokémon glossary provided):

You don’t need a Manhattan-style grid to enjoy Pokemon, but you do need density if you want to have any fun.

Sure, you can drive to a Pokestop, but the game encourages physically walking via the eggs, which require distance logged to hatch. Oh, and apparently that distance counter stops if you go above 10mph, so don’t even bother cheating.

Additionally, in a dense area, a 15 minute walk can have you pass by 10 different stops, 3 gyms, and 7 Pokemon encounters. In a suburb, your drive might yield one. Not so fun.

Read more…
View Comments

Milwaukee Bike-Share Teams Up With Housing Authority on System Expansion

Milwaukee Bublr bike share won a grant to place stations outside the city's public housing facilities. Photo: Urban Milwaukee

Milwaukee’s Bublr bike-share will be available to public housing residents at a 90 percent discount. Photo: Urban Milwaukee

As Milwaukee’s Bublr bike-share system expands, how well will it work for lower-income residents?

The system launched two years ago with a mere 10 stations. But it is gradually expanding, and by the end of this year, officials are looking to have 58 stations in operation. With a $62,000 grant from People for Bikes’ Better Bike Share program, Bublr aims to ensure its growing system is accessible regardless of people’s income. Jeramey Jannene at Urban Milwaukee explains how it will work:

Bublr was awarded the grant in partnership with the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee (HACM) and DreamBikes. Besides simply installing stations outside public housing facilities, the organizations will provide assistance, encouragement and special events to promote the use of bike share as an efficient mobility option.

Bublr announced the grant today at the ceremonial opening of a new station at N. 6th St. and W. Reservoir Ave. The station is located in front of HACM’s Lapham Park senior housing facility at 1901 N. 6th St. and just across the street from HACM’s Townhomes at Carver Park. As part of the program, Bublr will hire resident bike ambassadors to conduct neighborhood rides and demonstrate the system to fellow residents. Bublr will also promote using the system as part of one’s daily routine, as well as identifying and designing strategies to overcome barriers to use. The real coup for HACM residents is the 90 percent reduced annual pass, $8 for unlimited rides for the whole year.

Read more…

Via Streetsblog California
View Comments

The Confusion About Cap-and-Trade

California's cap-and-trade program has reduced C02 emissions--but produced confusion. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

California’s cap-and-trade program has reduced C02 emissions–but produced confusion. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

In “With cap and trade in doubt, key questions go unanswered,” a recent article in Cal Matters, writer Julie Cart described “a scathing bipartisan scolding” by state lawmakers of the California Air Resources Board “over a lack of transparency” with the cap-and-trade program.

Legislators are talking about doing an audit. But lack of transparency may not be the main problem here.

Cart quoted a Legislative Analyst’s Office report about the various programs funded by the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, into which the state’s cap-and-trade money is deposited:

The analyst … found that not all projects are cost-efficient. For example, the usual price in the auctions of reducing one metric ton of emissions is $12.73. Although some of the projects funded by auction proceeds are excellent deals, some cost more than ten times that sum to achieve the same result, according to the report.

The report, which can be downloaded here, includes a chart that shows the cost of greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions per project funded by the cap-and-trade program. It comes up with an average price per ton of $57, based on each program’s projections for how many tons of GHG it will reduce.

The report then adds:

At the most recent auction in February 2016, cap-and-trade allowances sold for substantially less—about $13 per ton.

This sows confusion about cap-and-trade and its true costs. As explained in this earlier post, the cost of allowances in the auction have nothing to do with the cost of reducing a ton of carbon. It’s disingenuous, at best, for the LAO to put these two statements together as if they were related, and unfortunately that’s exactly how the Cal Matters article interprets them.

If smart people misread the statement to mean that the true cost of cutting greenhouse gas emissions is $13 per ton, it’s the fault of the LAO report.

There are other problems with the LAO’s strictly financial analysis. Read more…

Streetsblog USA
View Comments

“Investigatory” Traffic Stops Need to End

School cafeteria worker Philando Castile was shot to death yesterday in the Minneapolis area after being pulled over for a broken taillight. Photo: Facebook via Hollywood Life

A police officer shot Philando Castile to death after pulling him over for a broken taillight.

The images are excruciating — Philando Castile, bleeding to death as his girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter look on. A cafeteria supervisor in the St. Paul School District, Castile was pulled over by officer Jeronimo Yanez in the neighboring town of Falcon Heights for having a broken taillight. Yanez fatally shot Castile after he informed the officer that he was carrying a licensed firearm then reached for his driver’s license and registration, according to Castile’s partner, Diamond Reynolds.

One thread that Castile’s death shares with many other cases where police officers have used deadly force against black Americans is that the officer initiated the encounter with a traffic stop, notes David Levinson at the Transportist:

Cars (and their drivers) kill 30000-40000 people a year in the US (and are way up this past year) and 1.25 Million globally. This is terrible. It is the highest rate among high-income countries. It justifies many things, including engineering safer roads, educating better drivers at the training stage, designing better vehicles and especially driverless cars, ongoing education programs, reduction in drunk driving, and yes enforcement.

But does that enforcement, which should be aimed at making our roads safer, require armed police officers pulling over men of color at a disproportionate rate because one tail light is out, and shooting them? Is this “enforcement” really about traffic safety? Or rather, is this just another way for municipalities to raise money in fines for minor violations, as was done in Ferguson, Missouri, or discourage people “who don’t belong” from traveling on the quiet streets of someone else’s neighborhood.

In their book Pulled Over, researchers Charles Epp and Steven Maynard-Moody refer to the widespread practice of “investigatory stops,” in which law enforcement agencies use stops for minor transgressions as pretenses to sweep up and search large numbers of people of color, a tactic derived from the “broken windows” theory of policing. The result is policing that is both discriminatory and ineffective in reducing traffic violence.

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
View Comments

Unless US DOT Changes Course, Building Protected Bikeways May Get Tougher

Seattle, Washington.

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

“Hey, how long does it take you to get to work?”

“Well, on average my car is usually traveling at 36 mph.”

No actual human makes transportation decisions this way. But for some reason, the federal government has proposed evaluating highway congestion based entirely on the speed of cars — while ignoring how far or how long people have to drive or ride to get where they’re going.

It’s a system that’d reward states for spending billions to extend freeways to sprawling exurbs, transportation reformers warn, but penalize communities that make their streets more space-efficient.

“Let’s say your [road’s average speed is] going from 40 mph to 30 mph,” said Katy Hartnett, director of government relations at PeopleForBikes, in an interview. “Maybe at 30 mph you’re actually moving more people through, because you’ve put a bus on it, or a bike lane.”

For the White Flint neighborhood of Montgomery County, Maryland, that’s exactly the risk. The county has a long-term plan to run a bus rapid transit line and protected bike lanes up Rockville Pike, greatly improving access to the White Flint Metro Station. Old Georgetown Road would also get protected bike lanes, helping form a connected bike-and-transit network that could combine to create convenient alternatives to rush-hour traffic in this redeveloping suburban area.

“Montgomery County, it’s growing quickly,” said Garrett Hennigan of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. “Over the past five years there’s really been a change in focus and a change in thinking in how we should plan around the bike.”

But the federal rules as currently proposed might penalize Montgomery County for trying to get ahead of its congestion problem. That’s because Rockville Pike and Old Georgetown Road are both classified as “principal arterials,” which makes them part of the Federal Highway System, which means any slowdown in auto traffic would raise bureaucratic red flags — even if the actual result would be to help more Marylanders escape congestion.

Read more…

Via Streetsblog California
View Comments

Caltrans Inches Toward a New Paradigm, Part One: New Ped/Bike Safety Chief

Meet Rachel Carpenter, new Caltrans Chief of Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety. Photo courtesy Caltrans

Meet Rachel Carpenter, new Caltrans Chief of Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety. Photo courtesy Caltrans

Caltrans has always said that one of its main concerns was the safety of road users, but its focus has been squarely on people in cars, to the detriment of others.

The department developed a notion of safety that led it to encourage straightening and widening roads in response to high speeds and crashes, which makes it hard to navigate streets on foot or on a bicycle. Caltrans engineers have also rejected the concept that slowing cars is not only possible, but a desirable outcome of the way roads are designed.

This is still an unfortunate truth at Caltrans, where outdated engineering standards continue to create road conditions that are not safe for bicycle riders and do not encourage drivers to slow down. But in the last few years, legislative pressure has led the department to reset its priorities, and to begin thinking about safety from a broader perspective.

Nevertheless, there is a very long way to go. Starting at the top, Caltrans has created a new mission and spent time working out new priorities with specific goals and ways to meet those goals. Among them are a strategic management goal of reducing bicycle and pedestrian fatalities by ten percent, and tripling the number of bike trips and doubling the number of walking and transit trips made in California by 2020.

The department endorsed road design guidelines from the National Association of City Transportation Officials that include new ways of planning and building bike and pedestrian infrastructure—ways that haven’t necessarily been vetted by Caltrans engineers and don’t always jibe with their old ways of doing things. That was revolutionary, for Caltrans, but it remains to be seen whether its engineers will apply the new ideas.

Caltrans also hired an Assistant Director of Sustainability to guide these embryonic projects, but the position has been empty for several months and it’s not clear what plans there are to fill it.

So it shouldn’t really be surprising that one of the first tasks completed by the department’s newly hired Chief of Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety was a tiny but symbolic one: changing the name of her section within the Traffic Operations division. Until a month or so ago, it was known as the “Nonmotorized Safety” branch in keeping with that old Caltrans state of mind wherein the car is king and everyone else is at best an afterthought.

A few weeks ago, Streetsblog caught up with Rachel Carpenter, the new chief, to ask about her priorities in her new job and to find out more about how Caltrans is working to reshape how safety is engineered on California’s roads.

Her first priority, she said, is to create “separate bike and pedestrian safety improvement programs for the state highway system.”

So she really is starting at square zero.

Read more…