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9 Years After Katrina, New Orleans Transit Still Struggling to Recover

Image: Ride New Orleans

The frequency and coverage of New Orleans transit service is nowhere close to pre-Katrina levels. Maps: Ride New Orleans

Next month will mark nine years since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, flooding nearly 80 percent of the city. In the wake of disaster, the city has demonstrated remarkable resilience. Its population has rebounded to about 86 percent of where it stood before the flooding.

But a new report from transit advocacy group Ride New Orleans [PDF] shows the city’s transit system is nowhere near its pre-Hurricane strength. Evan Landman at Human Transit shares the details:

Some key points from the report:

  • In 2004, RTA’s peak fleet was 301 buses. By 2012, that number had dropped to just 79.
  • Revenue hours declined from over 1 million prior to the storm to fewer than 600,000 in 2012.
  • By 2012, only 36% of the pre-storm daily trips had been restored.
  • In 2012, no bus routes in the entire system operated at 15 minute or better frequency, down from 12 previously.
  • Meanwhile, overall service level on the city’s historic streetcar routes declined by only 9%, and the number of available vehicles (66) is the same today as in 2005.

What accounts for the difference between the relatively robust network of 2005 and today’s service offering? Obviously no transit agency would have an easy time recovering from the damage done to its vehicles and operational infrastructure by a catastrophic event like Katrina. It would be ludicrous to suggest otherwise. But nearly a decade on, something has prevented RTA from ramping back up to its prior service level.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Caught on Video: SUV in Car Crash at Third and Harrison Nearly Slams Baby in Stroller (CBS)
  • Mayor to Activate Pedestrian Signal, Sign $500M Bond Measure at Sunset and Yorba Today (OBB)
  • Hayes Valley Neighbors Call More Safety Measures to Calm Traffic Sewers (Hoodline)
  • More Coverage of the Market Street Transit Lanes Getting Red Paint (NBC, ABC, CBS, SFBay)
  • Proposed Traffic Signal to Speed Up J-Church at Cesar Chavez Up for Approval Friday (Noe Valley SF)
  • Terminally Ill San Pablo Boy Gets His Wish to Ride BART (ABC)
  • Coliseum Station Closed for Bomb Threat (ABC); BART Gets Security Grant for Transbay Tube (KTVU)
  • Golden Gate Transit Workers Considering a Strike (KRON)
  • Two Men, 74 (CBS) and Early 20s (CBS), Hit by Drivers While Walking on San Jose Freeways
  • MTC Improving Highway Traffic Data to Alert Drivers of Congestion (CBS)
  • Oil Industry Continues Fighting CA Cap-and-Trade, Warning of Gas Price Spike (SFGate, TransForm)
  • Caltrain Installing “Positive Train Control” for Safety, but U.S. Railroad Industry Still Fights it (SFGate)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Embarcadero Bikeway Hugely Popular, But Deliveries May Pose a Challenge

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One vision from the SFBC (not the city) for a protected bikeway on the Embarcadero. Image: SFBC

At its first community meeting, a proposed protected bikeway on the Embarcadero seemed popular with just about everyone, though accommodating port deliveries could pose a challenge for its design.

Despite the green paint added last year, the existing Embarcadero bike lanes are routinely blocked by delivery trucks and private autos. Photo: SFBC/Twitter

“The reception has been overwhelmingly positive,” said SFMTA project manager Patrick Golier. “We’ve had a number of conversations with a variety of stakeholders, all with different interests in the Embarcadero, and everyone seems to feel the same way: The Embarcadero’s oversubscribed, it’s an incredibly popular and iconic place, and there are ways to make it safer and more comfortable for everyone.”

Under the status quo, the conventional bike lanes — striped between parked cars and moving cars — are often blocked by cars. Meanwhile, the wide north sidewalk along the waterfront, shared between bicyclists and pedestrians, has become increasingly crowded. The proposal to upgrade the street with a physically protected bikeway seems to have enthusiastic support from the Port of San Francisco, which shares jurisdiction with the SFMTA over the street.

The north sidewalk’s mixed traffic “is a historical characteristic of the waterfront — where horse-and-buggies and trucks and people and trains all shared the promenade edge. We never changed that when the promenade was created” after the fall of the Embarcadero Freeway, said Port Planning Director Diane Oshima. “It’s really been within the last couple of years that the volumes of people have grown, to an extent where we recognize that we need to be planning for a refreshed way to accommodate bicyclists in a safer way.”

But Oshima did say that delivery vehicles still need direct access to the piers, and that the street should be designed to accommodate both loading zones and occasional truck traffic that would safely cross the bikeway and promenade.

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San Jose Candidates Campaign, Pitch Public Safety at SJ Bike Party

Mayoral candidate Sam Liccardo greets voters just before the start of San Jose Bike Party’s “Stars and Stripes Ride” on July 18. Photo: Andrew Boone

San Jose Mayor or City Council candidates Sam Liccardo, Raul Peralez, and Don Gagliardi all made appearances at last Friday’s San Jose Bike Party, pitching improvements to bicycling conditions on the city’s streets as integral to public safety. An estimated 2,500 Bike Partiers rolled out from Arena Green Park in downtown San Jose on the 18-mile, patriotically-themed “Stars & Stripes Ride” through the city’s East Side.

The June 3 primary election narrowed the field of 30 candidates down to eight candidates, competing for four seats on San Jose’s City Council: Mayor and Districts 1, 3, and, 7. Council races for Districts 5 and 9 were determined on June 3: Challenger Magdalenda Carrasco received 53 percent of the votes cast in District 5 (eastern San Jose), and incumbent Donald Rocha won 74 percent of the votes cast in District 9 (south San Jose), each above the 50 percent threshold to avoid a runoff election on November 4.

“I look forward to bringing back our public services that we’ve lost over the years — bring back our public safety,” announced Peralez, the District 3 Council candidate who finished first in the June 3 primary with 28 percent of the votes cast. Peralez touted his position as a San Jose police officer, and his work “with our youth at Juvenile Hall to try to help better them.”

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NYC’s Citi Bike Deal Is Great News for Bay Area Bike Share, Too

Bay Area Bike Share, shown here in San Jose, is one of several systems that should be able to fulfill expansion plans quicker after REQX Ventures acquires a controlling stake in Alta Bicycle Share. Photo: Richard Masoner/Flickr

It looks like New York City is days away from announcing a deal in which REQX Ventures, an affiliate of the Related Companies and its Equinox unit, will buy out Alta Bicycle Share, the company that operates Citi Bike and Bay Area Bike Share. The implications are big — not just for bike-share in New York, but for several other major American cities as well.

Andrew Tangel at the Wall Street Journal had an encouraging update this week on the Citi Bike buyout plan first reported by Dana Rubinstein in Capital New YorkREQX would acquire a majority stake in Alta Bicycle Share, bringing new management and a much deeper reservoir of financial resources to the company. Vexing problems with Citi Bike’s operations, software, and bike supply chain are expected to be addressed, though it’s not clear yet where the next round of bikes will come from.

For New York, the terms of the deal mean the price of Citi Bike annual memberships will rise from $95 to the $140 range, while the service area will expand substantially. A source familiar with the situation said the plan is to get new stations operating by next spring. The larger service area could reach as far north as 145th Street, according to the source, while extending into western Queens as well as a ring of Brooklyn neighborhoods around the current boundaries.

One aspect of the news that hasn’t been getting much notice is that several other bike-share systems will also be affected. As Payton Chung noted last week, Alta-operated systems in Chicago, DC, Boston, and San Francisco have all been hamstrung by bike supply problems the company had been unable to solve. The buyout should break the logjam holding back expansion plans in those cities and allow system launches in Baltimore, Portland, and Vancouver to progress.

The last two years have been simultaneously thrilling and frustrating for American bike-share, with rapid adoption in major cities accompanied by performance glitches and long waits for system expansions. The outlook for 2015 seems a lot sunnier.

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William H. Whyte in His Own Words: “The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces”

When I first got started making NYC bike advocacy and car-free streets videos back in the late-1990s on cable TV, I didn’t know who William “Holly” Whyte was or just how much influence his work and research had on New York City. A few years later I met Fred and Ethan Kent at Project for Public Spaces. I got a copy of Whyte’s 1980 classic, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, which in its marvelously-written, straightforward style is the one book all burgeoning urbanists should start with.

Recently, I read it again. With all the developments in video technology since his day, I wondered: How might Whyte capture information and present his research in a world which is now more attuned to the importance of public space? What would he appreciate? Are his words still valid?

So I excerpted some of my favorite passages from the book and tried to match it up with modern footage I’ve shot from all over the world while making Streetfilms. I hope he would feel honored and that it helps his research find a new audience.

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What’s the Best Way to Tax Parking?

Taxing parking, the way Pittsburgh does, can make downtowns livelier and encourage a healthier mix of transportation options.

An inventory of parking in downtown Providence. Image: Greater City Providence

Of course, implementing these policies can get tricky. A recent report from the Victoria Transport Policy Institute [PDF] delves into the issue and sorts out the best way to go about it.

At his blog, Transport Providence, James Kennedy considers what the conclusions mean for his city:

The long and short of it is that it’s politically easiest to tax parking on dedicated lots, rather than to do a “per space” tax on all parking, but this way of taxing parking has problems. We might be tempted, for instance, to tax the lots in downtown Providence but not tax the lot attached to, say, the Whole Foods, because our instinctive thought would be that though we don’t like a surface lot next to a grocery store, it’s much better than a bare lot serving nothing but parking alone.

The problem comes with the fact that the lot parking attached to businesses is free to customers and employees. Of course, it’s not actually free. It costs money which is passed into lost wages or higher prices. But to the worker or consumer, it appears free. When the price of commercial parking, i.e., the lots downtown that charge per hour, becomes more expensive without putting an equal burden on these other parking lots, it gives a stronger incentive for businesses to include free parking into their design as a benefit to customers or workers. This is not what we want.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Chron Columnist Jon Carroll: Cyclists “Break Laws All the Time,” “Don’t Let a Pedestrian Ruin Your Life”
  • More on the Plans for an Embarcadero Protected Bikeway (KQEDSFGateCBS)
  • Muni to Test More Train Cars With Seats Removed to Make More Standing Room (SFBay)
  • Lacking Fare Inspectors, Muni Fare Evasion Apparently Still Rampant With All-Door Boarding (KTVU)
  • More on the Red Paint Coming to Market’s Transit-Only Lanes This Weekend (SF Examiner)
  • SF to Offer $15M Settlement to Family of Woman Run Over, Killed by Parks Driver (CBS, Bernalwood)
  • SFPD Bait Bike Cops Catch Violent Repeat Thief (Mission Local), Get More National Coverage From ABC
  • Planning Dept Gets Grant to Finish Study of Caltrain Railyard Development, 280 Teardown (Biz Times)
  • San Bruno Ballot Measure Would Upzone Development Around Caltrain Station (SM Daily)
  • BART Board Votes to Limit “Lifelong Free Rides” Perk to Board Members Who Serve Eight Years (Merc)
  • Another $3M to Be Thrown at Bay Bridge East Span to Fix Continuing Problems (CBS)
  • KQED Forum to Discuss Motorcycle Lane Splitting After CHP Removes Guidelines From Website

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Thanks to Sup. Farrell, It’s Finally Legal to Store Bikes in Your Garage

In a trailblazing move that advances sustainable transportation policy in San Francisco, Supervisor Mark Farrell successfully changed an outdated and mostly unknown law that prohibited San Franciscans from using their residential garages to store anything besides automobiles.

Sup. Farrell changed a largely unknown law he said he felt “was discriminatory against bicyclists.” Image: SFGovTV

That’s right — until now, an archaic law in the city’s Housing Code required that garages be used solely for car storage. Of course, this law has never been known to have a noticeable impact on storage habits — or known of much at all, for that matter. But Farrell heard from attorney Gary Rabkin, who said a landlord was “giving grief” to a friend about storing her bike in her garage, apparently citing the Housing Code.

“We all know we use our personal garages for much more than just parking our cars, if we even have one,” Farrell said at a recent committee hearing. “I know I have more strollers and bouncy houses than I can seem to care about in my own garage.”

Rabkin “felt it was discriminatory against bicyclists, and didn’t make sense in a city that’s trying to encourage alternative forms of transportation,” Farrell said with a grin. ”Obviously, I agreed, and acted by introducing this law.”

The SF Chronicle first reported on Farrell’s endeavor in January, which is part of his larger campaign to “abolish ridiculous laws.” The effort appears driven less by Farrell’s passion to reform transportation policy and re-purpose car space for more efficient uses, and more by a general desire to bring city codes up to date. This forgotten law happened to be brought to his attention.

There are certainly other outdated parking policies, with far greater impact, that Farrell and other leaders at City Hall could get on board with. Take, for instance, the elimination of parking minimums citywide, so that unwanted and unused garages and don’t get built in the first place — freeing up space to house people, instead of bouncy houses. Or take parking metering on Sundays and evenings, which would drastically reduce the amount of time drivers circle around to find a parking spot on the street.

Unfortunately, on the parking meter front, Farrell has instead been at the cutting edge of keeping San Francisco in the mid-20th century.

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Court Applies Reckless Driving to Bikes. When Will Gascón Apply it to Cars?

A California state appeals court ruled last week that “reckless driving” can be applied to people on bicycles who kill or injure others, just as it’s applied to people driving, as the SF Chronicle reported. No one, including bicycle advocates, seems to dispute that full accountability should be brought to anyone who commit acts of traffic violence — but the reality is, drivers who maim and kill rarely ever face penalties.

DA George Gascón in a Streetfilm in 2010, when he went on a bike ride with advocates. He was the SFPD chief at the time.

There are countless such examples. One of the most egregious is the case of 29-year-old Kieran Brewer, who killed 17-year-old Hanren Chang in a crosswalk on Slot Boulevard while he drove drunk, and was sentenced to just six months in prison. Or consider Gilberto Alcantar, who will face no charges for illegally turning his truck across a bike lane and killing 24-year-old Amelie Le Moullac at Sixth and Folsom Streets. SF District Attorney George Gascón claims that despite video of the crash, prosecutors can’t make an adequate case to file charges.

“Prosecution of deadly traffic crashes needs to be investigated, and prosecuted, to the fullest extent in order to reflect the severity of traffic crimes,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider. “We also need to ensure fair and equal enforcement across modes, which historically had not happened.”

As the Center for Investigative Reporting reported last year, 60 percent of the 238 motorists “found to be at fault or suspected of a crime faced no criminal charges” between 2006 and 2011 in five Bay Area counties:

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