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Will Atlanta’s $250 Million Bond Measure Advance Biking and Walking?

Atlanta needs $152 million to bring its sidewalks into a state of good repair, but a proposed $250 million bond package won’t help much. Photo: Atlanta Sidewalks Flickr pool

Tomorrow, Atlanta residents go to the voting booth to decide on a $250 million bond package for infrastructure. The measure comes a few years after voters refused a 1 percent sales tax hike to fund infrastructure projects around the region.

Darin Givens at ATL Urbanist was curious about what approval of the measure would mean for biking and walking, so he reached out to two local experts. Rebecca Serna at the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition said it was likely to advance bike infrastructure somewhat:

“The project list represents a big step forward for safety on Atlanta roads — for everyone, not just people on bikes, because streets that are safe enough to walk and bike have fewer motor vehicle crashes too. The big Complete Streets projects on the list, like DeKalb Avenue and MLK, are important indications of how highly the city prioritizes the safety of people on foot and bike, and could transform corridors that are currently big barriers to biking and walking.

That said, we’d like to see some additions, such as Lee Street in SW Atlanta, and the expansion of the DeKalb Ave project to connect to the existing Decatur St bike lanes. Also, bridge projects like Courtland need to become Complete Streets – federal guidelines are very clear on that, and the city’s own Cycle Atlanta plan calls for a two-way protected bike lane on Courtland.

But Sally Flocks at PEDS, a local pedestrian advocacy organization, is less optimistic:

Read more…

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The Promise of Tech-Enabled “Microtransit”

The enormous commercial success of startups like Uber and Lyft is just the beginning of how transportation services can be enhanced by mobile technology, writes Lisa Nisenson at Strong Towns. There’s a whole range of needs that a new generation of transit services can meet, lessening dependence on private cars.

The Boston startup Bridj seeks to make on-demand vanpooling more accessible to the masses. Photo: Bridj

In between ride-hailing services like Uber and fixed-route transit networks are options that Nisenson calls “microtransit” that can fill the “missing middle” in America’s transportation system. These types of services are rare today, but more startups are stepping up to fill the void as mobile technology becomes more widespread.

Nisenson writes:

Microtransit (or lean transit or whatever we end up calling it) bridges the gap between single user transportation (car, Uber, taxi) and fixed-route public transit. Sure vanpools and private shuttles serve the shared ride market, but in a bulky, grumpy kind of way. In the Washington D.C. region, queues for shared vans are unceremoniously called “slug lines.” On-demand shuttles seem worth a $16 writhe into the back of an Econoline van when traveling, but not for everyday commutes.

Fortunately, new transportation startups are bringing a disruptive flair to shared rides similar to Uber’s entry into the taxi market. The venture capital site Angel List includes 164 Public Transportation startups. Bridj, based in Boston, bills itself as “pop up” transit, and is using on-demand pick-up services to scout underserved routes. Initial fares are higher than transit ($6 a ride) but expected to fall as the service “learns” the most efficient routes and as more contenders enter the market, including Uber

Read more…

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What Else Could You Fit Downtown Instead of 93,000 Parking Spaces?

A parking space to scale with apartment floor plans, via 9×18.net

In most American cities, parking lots are so ubiquitous and unremarkable, they mostly escape notice. But for Darin Givens, who lives in downtown Atlanta and writes at Network blog ATL Urbanist, they serve as a constant, inescapable presence.

He’s been thinking about what all that space could do besides store cars. So he did the math. It’s actually pretty incredible:

According to a parking assessment released last year from Central Atlanta Progress, there are over 93,000 parking spaces in Downtown Atlanta. I wondered what else might fit in the area taken up by those spaces, and it just so happens that a couple of recent graphics make it clear [This one from the Institute for Development Policy and the one pictured above].

Using these figures, here’s a list I’ve made of things that could fit inside 93,000 parking spaces:

  • 15,000 2-bedroom apartments, or…
  • 23,250 1-bedroom apartments, or…
  • 46,500 micro apartments, or…
  • 930,000 bicycle parking spaces, or…
  • 279,000 3-office cubicles

Read more…

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Bipartisan Bill Would Establish Small “Vision Zero” Grant Program

Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer wants to help cities achieve zero traffic  deaths. Photo: Jonathan Maus

Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer wants to help cities achieve zero traffic deaths. Photo: Jonathan Maus

As more cities adopt Vision Zero plans to eliminate traffic deaths, a new proposal in Congress aims to help implement them. Problem is, the amount of funding is a drop in the bucket.

Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Vern Buchanan (R-FL), co-chairs of the Congressional Bike Caucus, have introduced a bill they’re calling the Vision Zero Act of 2015. Jonathan Maus at Bike Portland has the details:

In a statement, Blumenauer’s office said the bill is a recognition that “communities across the country are recognizing that there is only one number of acceptable deaths on our streets: zero.” The goal of the legislation is ambitious: “eliminating all transportation-related fatalities, including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, motorists and passengers.”

The Vision Zero Act creates two new US Department of Transportation grant programs. One sets aside $5 million a year for communities to develop Vision Zero plans, the other grant will award five communities a share of $25 million to implement their plans.

The Vision Zero Act is also supported by AAA. Their Federal Affairs Director Avery Ash said their studies show more than five in six drivers support state actions to work toward zero traffic deaths.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s Mobilizing the Region blog explains the optimism over new rules governing Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor that could help make the critical route truly high-speed at last. The Reno Rambler says he’s not sold on bike-share in his city given the lack of safe bike infrastructure. And 1000 Friends of Wisconsin wonders how long the state can keep ignoring shifts in the way people get around.

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Why Is Bus Ridership Slipping in Chicago? It’s the Service, Stupid.

New transit ridership figures are making the rounds, and the news out of Chicago is that bus trips declined while rail trips increased.

Bus ridership has dipped in Chicago, which is what you’d expect after big service cuts. Click to enlarge. Graph: Daniel Kay Hertz

The emerging narrative is that bus ridership in Chicago has been in continuous decline, but that’s not actually the case, writes Daniel Kay Hertz at Network blog City Notes. Instead, he says, service cuts in the wake of the recession explain much of the recent drop in bus trips:

I think any discussion of bus ridership in Chicago needs to include this chart [right], and take two things away from it.

1. First of all, declining bus ridership is not actually a “long-term” trend, though it’s often framed that way. (Or, to be more specific: decline is typical of the last 50 years, but not the last 10 or 20.) In fact, as recently as the mid-2000s, ridership was growing. And other than the deep recession years of 2009-2010, 2013-2014 represents the first multiyear ridership decline since the mid-1990s. This isn’t meant to wave the problem away: it actually makes it worse, since it suggests that far from experiencing a long, slow decline driven by structural factors, something specific has changed recently that’s made buses less attractive.

2. Secondly, service matters. I think it is probably not a coincidence that ridership growth in the 2000s came at a time when the CTA was adding service: reducing wait times between buses, expanding their hours, and introducing express routes. (Between 2002 and 2006, the CTA created ten “X” routes, which mostly followed existing bus lines, but stopped every half mile instead of every eighth. Almost all of them were discontinued in 2010 because of a budget shortfall.)

I think it is also probably not a coincidence that the CTA has had a difficult time recouping its bus ridership losses from the recession, given that its dramatic recession-era service cuts have mostly remained in place.

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Political Environment notes that the new budget from Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker eliminates all funding for bicycling while adding to highway debt. Streets.mn wonders what’s the best scale to assess inequality — by city, by region, or beyond? And A View from the Cycle Path explains how European cities are using smart bike lane design to eliminate the risk of dooring.

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A House in the Suburbs, Three Kids, and No Cars

For many people who have children and live in the suburbs, being without a car is definitely not a choice. But when a family with kids chooses to go car-free, it’s so rare that it tends to inspire curiosity. When a suburban Toronto family decided to ditch its cars, the Toronto Star wrote a full feature.

Perhaps going car-free with kids isn’t the nightmare people imagine it to be. Photo: Richard Masoner

The Montgomery family in Brampton realized that the mother’s salary was consumed by the costs of car ownership and day care. They sold both cars three years ago, and now she stays home and the family of five bikes and uses transit.

Bradley Calvert at Network blog Family Friendly Cities has some experience in this realm. He says that even under less than ideal circumstances, going car-free can have some surprising upsides. And the downsides can be exaggerated, he says:

Fueled by pragmatism and the desire to save time and money the Brampton’s dumped both their cars. Easing into a carless lifestyle they parted with one and then ultimately another as they turned to cycling and transit.

The Brampton’s prove that transportation is truly a flexible item in a family’s budget as long as there is good access to transit and a willingness to be multi-modal. Using transit, cycling, and delivery services, when necessary, the family demonstrates that by putting a little extra thought in how a family moves around they can save a lot of money and time.

This may sound nightmarish to many, and I am regularly questioned about our own automobile usage and how it affects family mobility, but it isn’t. While we have not gone completely car free, we rarely use our one, depending mainly for time constrained trips (which could be avoided with better planning) or trips to areas not served well be transit (something that cities and transit agencies should be working to resolve). Our trips to playgrounds, parks, libraries, grocery stores, and shopping are primarily accomplished by foot, could be done even easier by bike, and are served regularly by transit. And it isn’t nightmarish, it is ideal. Struggles to put our child into the car are rare. She is aware of our community and our neighborhood because she doesn’t see life at 35 mph. Not driving with children doesn’t make our lives harder, it makes it easier and far more rich in experience.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Strong Towns says if Mothers Against Drunk Driving wants to save lives, the group should oppose zoning that allows bars that are only accessible by car. Place Makers goes deep on how to make suburban retrofits work. And Transport Providence explains why bus lanes could be transformative for transit in Rhode Island.

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Will Cities Like Stockton Fall Back Into Boom and Bust Growth?

Stockton, California, was one of the bigger cities in a wave of recent municipal bankruptcies brought on, in part, when the cycle of never-ending, sprawling growth went bust.

Will Stockton fall back into old habits? Photo: Stockton City Limits

But now that the bankruptcy has run its course and the economy is on the mend, Jon Mendelson at Stockton City Limits wonders whether the same old mentality will reassert itself in Stockton. Right now, developers are expressing a revived interest in the area’s undeveloped farmland, Mendelson reports:

Though the City Council and city planners embraced the imperative for a more sustainable, less sprawl-filled future during the city’s time in bankruptcy, there seems to be little urgency now that we’re on the other side.

A revision of the 2007 general plan mandated by a 2009 legal settlement with the state attorney general’s office and Sierra Club remains unfinished. Stockton’s to-be-updated blueprint for growth is languishing somewhere in City Hall’s bureaucracy.

In 2004, Stocktonians passed two different measures purporting to protect agricultural land from residential development. But one of the two was actually a Trojan horse put forward by development interests. While both initiatives were approved, the one drafted on behalf of developers won significantly more votes, and a clause in pro-developer law’s language torpedoed the more meaningful measure backed by local smart growth activists.

Read more…

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How State DOTs Brush Off the Discriminatory Impact of Highway Projects

The state of Wisconsin is planning to spend $850 million rebuilding and widening this highway through an urban part of Milwaukee. The agency has dismissed the impact on surrounding communities. Photo: 1000 Friends of Wisconsin

When it’s time to expand or build a highway, generally speaking, it’s communities of color that bear a disproportionate burden of the impact. Unlike 60 years ago, today we have laws that protect people from the discriminatory use of state authority — at least in theory.

But in practice, when highway projects threaten to demolish, pollute, or otherwise harm disadvantaged communities, the same old patterns persist. In its breakdown of the widening of I-94 in Milwaukee, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin shows how easily and casually Wisconsin DOT can dismiss the discriminatory impact of its policies. About half of the people living in the areas affected by this project are people of color, the organization reports:

WisDOT admits that those who are transit dependent, or choose to live car-free will not benefit from this project “People who do not have access to an automobile will not often use I?94, except potentially through local or inter?city bus travel. This population will not benefit from the proposed action as much as those who use I?94 regularly.”

This is in direct contradiction to WisDOT’s own goals for mobility and choice that state that the agency will provide (Page 8-7, Connections 2030, WisDOT):

  • More transportation alternatives available to all Wisconsin residents and visitors.
  • Improved connections between transportation modes.

The DEIS also states that “local residents who do not own a vehicle and do not routinely use the bus system would not necessarily benefit from an improved I?94. However, there would be no direct adverse impact on the segment of population that does not own a vehicle.”

Again, this statement does not seem to be made based on any analysis of transit, pedestrian and biking impacts of the project. It is instead likely that an increase in highway width will further impede connections to the local street network for bicycle and pedestrian users in addition to disruptions from construction activities.

Read more…

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Seattle Mayor: “More Choices Means Fewer Cars on Our Streets”

Move Seattle calls for putting almost every resident of Seattle within frequent transit. Image: City of Seattle

Move Seattle calls for expanding frequent transit service to reach more of the city. Image: City of Seattle

On Monday, Mayor Ed Murray unveiled “Move Seattle” — a 10-year vision for transportation that synthesizes planning for street safety, transit, and bicycling.

“More choices means fewer cars on our streets,” Murray said when announcing the plan. “That means, when you do need to drive, you’ll be up against less traffic. And with roads less clogged, freight deliveries can make it to their destination on-time, supporting jobs and growing our economy.”

Streetsblog Network members in the region are giving it pretty rave reviews. Martin Duke at Seattle Transit Blog says the projects in the plan line up very closely with his “wish list” for the city. Seattle Bike Blog‘s Tom Fucoloro says the bike routing isn’t perfect but believes “there’s a lot to like in this plan.” And at The Urbanist, Stephen Fesler is enthusiastic too:

The plan is focused around five central pillars: safety, interconnectedness, vibrancy, affordability, and innovation. The Mayor wants the transportation department (SDOT) to use every tool in their arsenal to deliver comprehensive projects that put the City’s public right-of-ways to their best use. That doesn’t mean that every street will meet every modal need. Instead, in the spirit of Complete Streets, SDOT will look at corridors as whole systems — something the agency has been doing for a long time — to provide for all modes in city projects. Ultimately, the city will rapidly see a change from one primary mode to a wide variety of modes to drive equity and balance needs.

Here are the major 10-year transit goals in the plan, via Seattle Transit Blog:

Read more…

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The Terrible 60-Year-Old Parking Advice That’s Still Haunting America

Where did we go wrong? Photo: @aGuyonClematis via Twitter

Scenes like the one above — enormous pieces of land devoted to half-empty parking lots — are ubiquitous throughout the United States. And that’s no accident.

Chuck Marohn at Strong Towns was looking over some 1954 guidance from the American Planning Association. Today, most planners would recognize it as terribly destructive, but it still holds sway to a remarkable degree.

Here is Marohn’s take on the 60-year-old advice that made so much of America a car-dependent mess:

It’s clear already by 1954 that planners know more than developers and must righteously defend the public good.

The shopper wants a space he can find easily, with a minimum of difficulty in moving around the parking area, and one that is located near the store or store group in which he is going to shop. The fault is sometimes with the developers who have underestimated the need for parking space or found the land too valuable to be devoted to parking.

Those greedy developers! How terrible of them to think of things like the value of land. It’s so sad that, even then, planners seemed to think that convenient parking and not land values would determine the future prosperity of a place.

Can you have too much parking?

We know of no existing center that has too much parking. Some parking spaces it is true are not economically used, due to their distant location from the stores. The poorly located spaces would be used more frequently if they were more conveniently located.

Most planners I meet today get how messed up our approach to parking is and are working to change it in their cities. Most zoners I meet would read this technical paper and seek to apply its findings in rote form to their community, not realizing (or perhaps not caring even if they did) that it is over 60 years old.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Mobilizing the Region says Connecticut is uniquely positioned to implement congestion pricing on its highways, if leaders will only consider it. Streets.mn reports that Minneapolis is getting its first “woonerf.” And Peninsula Transportation Alternatives critiques the idea that Palo Alto should cap office development to address its parking and congestion problems.