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Southern California Road Agency Courts Bankruptcy With Highway Addition

California 241 needs an extension so more people can not use it. Photo: Transportation Corridor Agencies via U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group

California 241 needs an extension so more people can not use it. Photo: Transportation Corridor Agencies via U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group

Today, U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group released a new report, “Highway Boondoggles: Wasted Money and America’s Transportation Future.” In it, they examine 11 of the most wasteful, least justifiable road projects underway in America right now.

This week we’ve previewed the report with posts about the proposed Effingham Parkway in Savannah, Georgia and the harebrained scheme to widen I-240 through Asheville, North CarolinaHere we continue with an egregious example from the Golden State. 

Southern California’s toll road agency has proposed extending an existing toll highway that might eventually span inland Orange County and connect to Interstate 5. The number of cars on previous sections of the highway, however, have failed to meet projections. Also, the agency is already struggling to avoid default on its debts.

California 241 is one of several toll roads in Orange County built and operated by the legislature-created Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA). California officials enabled the creation of toll roads in the area in the late 1980s amid both a shortage of state transportation funding and the perception of insatiable demand for more highways.

Traffic on California 241, however, hasn’t met official projections for a decade. In recent years — and especially since the collapse of the housing bubble in 2007 — driving on existing sections of California 241 has declined.

The TCA measures road use by counting the number of transactions conducted by toll payers on the combined Foothill/Eastern Toll Roads, which include not only Route 241 but also Routes 133 and 261. The TCA’s count shows fewer transactions in fiscal year 2014 than in fiscal 2004. As indicated by the dotted trend line below, there were about 32 million fewer transactions in fiscal year 2014 than would have been expected if the trend from 2000 to 2006 had continued.

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DC and New Orleans Closing the Bike Commute Gap With Portland

Growth in bike commuting has slowed in Portland and Minneapolis, while some less well-known biking cities are making gains. Graph: Bike Portland

New Census numbers are out, providing fresh data on how Americans are getting to work, and Michael Andersen at BikePortland has noticed a couple of trends.

The mid-size cities best-known for biking haven’t made much progress lately, Andersen writes, while other cities have made rapid gains:

2013 Census estimates released Thursday show the big cities that led the bike spike of the 2000s — Minneapolis, Seattle, Denver and, most of all, Portland — all failing to make meaningful changes to their commuting patterns for three years or more.

Meanwhile, the same figures show a new set of cities rising fast — first among them Washington DC.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Advocate Op-Ed: Vote Yes on Prop B for Population-Based Transpo Funding Increases (SF Examiner)
  • Another Transit Advocate Op-Ed: Prop L Proponents Want More Socialist Subsidized Parking (Westside)
  • SFMTA Board Approves $3.5M Contract for Central Subway Turnaround Loop in Mission Bay (Examiner)
  • SFPD Releases Sketch of Driver Who Shot Pedestrian at Broderick and Golden Gate (SFist, SFGate)
  • Taxi Drivers Sign Up to Unionize to Gain Health Benefits, Combat “Ride-Share” Apps (SF Examiner)
  • Elementary School Bus Chronically Late Due to Car Traffic; Pickup Times Moved Earlier (SF Examiner)
  • VTA Says it Won’t Slow Trains to Allow Cars to Leave Levi’s Stadium More Quickly (Cyclelicious)
  • Mercury News Tests New 3-Foot Bike Passing Law on the Road With Silicon Valley Bike Advocates
  • Use Parking Lots for Housing? Google Employees Have Already Done That (BBCBiz Times)
  • SMART Loses $20M Federal Grant for Extension to Larkspur (Press Democrat)
  • 11-Year-Old Iliyah Porter Killed in Solo SUV Crash on Highway 280 in Burlingame (KTVU)
  • Mother of Teen Killed by Freight Train Raises Track Safety Awareness in Emeryville (SFGate)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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SFMTA Launches a Smarter Safe Streets Ad Campaign

The SFMTA has launched a new ad campaign called “Safe Streets SF” that takes the most thoughtful approach to addressing the causes of pedestrian injuries of any city campaign thus far.

The ads have started rolling out on Muni buses. One depicts cars stopped in front of a busy, unmarked crosswalk, with the text, “It Stops Here.” A side panel says “all intersections are crosswalks” — a message aimed at combating the misconception that crosswalks aren’t legal unless they’re marked.

“We’ll be targeting the driver violations of pedestrian rights-of-way that are responsible for nearly two-thirds of all pedestrian collisions,” said SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin at an agency board meeting yesterday. “We’re trying not to just put random ads out there, but to really be thoughtful and strategic about what behaviors that we’re targeting.”

Reiskin said the campaign, part of Vision Zero, is a collaboration between the SFMTA, SFPD, Department of Public Health, and Walk SF. Next month, it will be complemented by “24 high-visibility enforcement days” from police on streets with high rates of pedestrian injuries. “Officers will be on the streets citing drivers for violating pedestrian rights-of-way,” Reiskin said, noting that it will add to SFPD’s ongoing “Focus on the Five” enforcement campaign.

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Eyes on the Street: New Car-Free Fourth Street Extension at UCSF Campus

Andy Thornley rides on the new block of Fourth Street at UCSF Mission Bay. Photo: Jessica Kuo

The extension of Fourth Street with a car-free promenade appears mostly complete at the University of California, San Francisco campus in Mission Bay. In 2012 we reported on how this project can connect 16th Street to Mariposa Street and the Dogpatch neighborhood without inviting more car traffic as UCSF builds out its development.

The new block features a public plaza and bikeway running through it, and it’s designed to allow emergency vehicle access. On each end are car drop-offs. It’s one block of walking and biking bliss bookended by the usual car-dominated city streets.

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Don’t Look Now, But the House Amtrak Bill Actually Has Some Good Ideas

The House’s Amtrak proposal isn’t going to transform American passenger rail, but it might actually help around the margins. Photo: House Transportation Committee

Today, the House Transportation Committee will consider a bill that changes the nation’s policies on passenger rail. The proposal, while it includes some cuts, is a departure from the senseless vendetta many House Republicans have waged against Amtrak in the past. The National Association of Railroad Passengers, NARP, says the plan contains “commonsense regulatory and governance reforms.”

In an encouraging act of bipartisanship, the bill was crafted and introduced jointly by Committee Chair Bill Shuster (R-PA), Ranking Member Nick Rahall (D-WV), and the chair and ranking member of the rail subcommittee, Jeff Denham (R-CA) and Corrine Brown (D-FL). You can read the bill summary here [PDF] and the full text here [PDF].

The Republicans’ talking point that the House bill cuts Amtrak funding by 40 percent is being widely reported, but the reality isn’t so draconian. The bill does reduce the amount authorized for Amtrak, but Congress wasn’t appropriating nearly that much in recent years anyway. Congress was authorized to spend $1.96 billion on Amtrak in 2013, for instance, but the House only appropriated $1.41 billion. The authorized amount in the PRRIA bill is actually a slight increase over what Amtrak got in 2013.

The bill stops short of pushing for full privatization of the Northeast Corridor, the main part of the network that turns a profit, which Shuster and Amtrak Hater-in-Chief John Mica had pushed for previously. It does further separate the Northeast Corridor from the rest of the system, requiring Amtrak to reinvest NEC profits back into the NEC. House Republicans say the idea is to “eliminate Amtrak’s black-box accounting,” in which Amtrak (quite transparently, I may add) subsidizes money-losing long-distance service with the profits from the NEC.

Meanwhile, the bill continues the very long-distance services that come under constant fire from the GOP for inefficiency. After all, key GOP constituencies live in rural areas whose only long-distance transportation option may be Amtrak. Brookings has recommended dispensing with these routes, but Congress has found the politics of that too burdensome.

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When Highways Are Barriers to Opportunity

Looking at a map of commute times, Patrick Kennedy at Walkable Dallas-Fort Worth finds that people who live in census tracts with some of that region’s lowest household incomes spend the most time traveling to and from work. Many commutes are more than an hour each way.

Kennedy says this is what happens when road-building guides private investment — and it’s a vicious circle. As Dallas sprawls northward away from the urban core, he writes, places of employment become less and less accessible for those who can least afford “to get cars and get on the road.”

The darker the purple, the longer the drive. The poorest residents of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro region have some of the longest commute times. Image: Walkable DFW

With swaths of the city losing jobs and population, Kennedy says all those highways built to connect are, in reality, serving as barriers.

We have cut off opportunity from entire parts of the city, specifically with the notion of trying to connect people with highways. We’ve done the opposite. It’s obvious that highways disconnect across them, but the constant job and population creep northward is indicative of a deeper, systemic, and more pernicious form of disconnection: distance. Traversing that distance is not the answer, particularly when our solutions to traversing that distance, more highways, only serves to exacerbate the problem, by moving things further and further away.

The highway builders, thinking they’re serving populations as they exist, don’t realize that they themselves are the scientist with their finger in the petri dish stirring it around and affecting the very results they’re supposedly objective about.

Elsewhere on the Network: Bicycle Transportation Alliance discovers that Daimler employees in Portland are very much into biking to work. Second Avenue Sagas comments on the gondola fad in NYC. And Greater Greater Washington reports on a Washington Post columnist and his war on traffic enforcement.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Mayor Lee Rides Muni (SFGate)
  • SFBG: Mayor Lee Has Pitted Affordable Housing, Transportation Advocates Against Each Other
  • Sup. Eric Mar Wants Bike Access on Muni Light Rail, More Bike Racks on Buses (SFBG)
  • Sunset Tunnel Muni Upgrades Postponed Until November Due to Discovered Pipe Damage (Hoodline)
  • Sup. Breed: SFFD’s Neglect to Address Shortages is Delaying Emergency Response Times (SFGate)
  • Comstock Saloon Owners Want Protection From Errant Drivers at Columbus and Kearny (KTVU)
  • Bold Italic and Stanley Roberts Explain the New 3-Ft Bike Passing Law; Mission Local Explains Bike Laws
  • More on Taxis’ ”Decimation” at the Hand of ”Ride-Share” Apps (SFGate); Sidecar Raises $15M (Biz Times)
  • Golden Gate Bridge District Machinist Union Strike Doesn’t Affect Commutes (ABCSFBG)
  • Former Sup. Olague Urges BART Labor Talk Reform (SFBG); CityLab Spotlights BART’s Next Trains
  • Caltrain Seeks Developer to Turn 2.7-Acre Parking Lot Into Housing at Hayward Park (Daily Journal)
  • DMV Mandates Permits for Self-Driving Cars on California Streets, Issues 29 of Them (KTVU, SFGate)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Just a Reminder: There Are a Ton of Bikes on Market Street

Photo: Janice Li

San Franciscans may take it for granted, but to most Americans, the volume of bike traffic on Market Street resembles a Critical Mass ride more than a weekday rush hour. SF’s main thoroughfare regularly sees more than 3,000 people ride by the bike counter on weekdays at Market and Eighth Streets — and that’s just in one direction. It may still be a ways away from matching Copenhagen’s busiest streets, and it doesn’t have raised bike lanes yet, but it’s definitely one of the highest concentrations of bike commuters you can find in this country.

Streetfilms’ Clarence Eckerson, Jr. was awe-struck by the two-wheeled torrent when he visited from New York last summer.

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Can VTA’s Bus Route Changes Keep Up With Suburban Office Park Growth?

Sunnyvale’s Moffett Park office park, where office development is attracting thousands of new commuters while transit service remains unchanged. Image: Jay Paul Company

Office development is booming in Santa Clara County. As the number of jobs increases, will the Valley Transportation Authority ramp up bus service to keep pace, or will streets become overrun with traffic?

VTA hosted a public meeting last week to present a set of proposed changes to its bus service that the agency calls its North Central County Bus Improvement Plan, designed to adapt to commuting patterns created by the recent growth of large office parks in areas that lack transit. About 70 people, mostly seniors and residents of Sunnyvale, attended the meeting at Sunnyvale’s City Hall.

“We’ve seen a lot of changes in land use in these four cities,” said VTA Transportation Planner Adam Burger, who pointed to major office developments that are expected to bring several thousand more commuters through the region in coming years. Campuses are growing for Google and Intuit in Mountain View, Apple in Cupertino, Moffett Towers and LinkedIn in Sunnyvale, and the Levi’s Stadium area in Santa Clara.

“All these land use changes create new travel demand,” said Burger. “So we have to adapt our bus system to match the new travel patterns that people use.” VTA aims to provide major office developments with better transit and connect them to the bus rapid transit routes coming to El Camino Real in 2018 and Stevens Creek Boulevard in 2019.

But VTA only proposes improvements on a single north-south route that would help a significant number of passengers transfer to and from buses on the BRT routes. A new Bus 354 would supplement the existing Bus 54 with limited-stop service along a similar route on Mathilda and Hollenbeck Avenues between the Lockheed Martin Transit Center in Moffett Park and De Anza Community College in Cupertino. Despite large and growing concentrations of jobs in Moffett Park, along Mathilda Avenue, and in downtown Sunnyvale, Bus 54 still only runs every 30 minutes on weekdays and every 45 minutes on weekends.

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