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Alta Chief: Bike-Share Expansions Unlikely in 2014

There was no shortage of Bixi bikes at this 2012 conference, but there is now. Photo: Dylan Passmore/Flickr

Despite continually growing ridership, Alta Bicycle Share-operated bike-share systems across America will probably not be adding bikes or docks this year. The bankruptcy of Montreal-based Public Bike Share Company, known as Bixi, which developed and manufactured the equipment that Alta’s systems use, has disrupted the supply chain that numerous cities were pinning their expansion plans on.

“New bikes probably won’t arrive until 2015,” reports Dan Weissmann at American Public Media’s Marketplace. Alta Bicycle Share’s founder and vice president Mia Birk told Weissman that the last time Alta received new bikes from Bixi “must have been pre-bankruptcy.”

That puts expansion plans for cities including Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, DC on hold. Just those three cities had previously announced fully-funded plans to add 264 bike-share stations in 2014. New York and Boston are also looking to expand their Alta-run systems. Other bike-share systems that purchase equipment from Bixi, like Nice Ride Minnesota, have had no luck buying new kit this year.

The shortage of equipment also means that cities that had signed up with Alta to launch new bike-share systems — notably Baltimore, Portland, and Vancouver – won’t launch until 2015 at the earliest. Ironically, new launches that were planned later, like Seattle’s Pronto system, will proceed sooner, as they were designed with equipment not sourced through Bixi.

The good news is that the troubled supply chain for Alta’s bike-share systems looks like it will be rebooted thanks to an infusion of capital. REQX Ventures, a company from New York City that had bid on Bixi, has been in talks to purchase a majority stake in Alta Bicycle Share, according to a report in Capital New York. This should inject new resources, allowing the bike-share operator to upgrade buggy software and overcome the hurdles imposed by Bixi’s bankruptcy in time for 2015′s equipment orders.

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St. Louis to Pedestrians: Drop Dead

A busy crosswalk has been erased in St. Louis, and the city is doing everything it can to prevent people from walking across the street here. Photo: NextSTL

Here’s a great example of the wrong way to handle a tricky pedestrian crossing in your town.

At the request of a local hospital, the city of St. Louis recently removed a frequently-used crosswalk for at least the next two years, apparently in conjunction with nearby construction. The city didn’t just scrub away the markings — to completely ensure that pedestrians get the message, it installed a barrier and even posted a police officer at the location.

Alex Ihnen at NextSTL says the whole thing is a symptom of a myopic mindset that sees people on foot as a problem:

We’re petitioning for the crosswalk to be returned immediately, a pedestrian study to be conducted, and added pedestrian infrastructure to be added to this intersection. Input from those using the intersection should be considered and their voices included in future planning, as well as interim solutions. For some reason, “temporarily” inconveniencing pedestrians for two years while ensuring a clear path for cars appears to be the perfectly acceptable default.

Read more…

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Today’s Headlines

  • Walk SF to Host a Shared Streets Tour in Hayes Valley Next Month (SFGate)
  • More on the SFMTA’s Plans for a Protected Bikeway on the Embarcadero (SF Examiner)
  • Facebook Billionaire Sean Parker Getting More Attention for Funding “Restore Balance” (Grist, Take Part)
  • With Bike Use on Caltrain Continuing to Grow, So Do Instances of Riders Getting “Bumped” (CBS)
  • People Behaving Badly: Police Find Drivers With Numerous Violations on Peninsula Coast
  • Oakland to Finally Re-Pave Jackson Street, Known for the “Worst” Pavement in the City (Oak Trib)
  • Oakland Mayor Quan Changed the Reported Time of Her Car Crash Twice (KRON)
  • Berkeley Housing Development Would Include 65 Units, Retail, and Just 8 Parking Spots (Berkeleyside)
  • Berkeley Driver in Ped Hit-and-Run Caught After Witness Grabs Wallet Through Window (Berkeleyside)
  • In Richmond, Waiting to Make Left Turn on to Freeway On-Ramp “Annoying” (SFGate)
  • Pay-as-You-Drive Car Insurance Comes to California (KTVU)
  • More on the San Francisco-Fresno Bike Courier Service of 1894 (Gizmodo)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Supes Vote Next Week on Wiener’s Backup Transportation Funding Measure

Supervisors are expected to vote next week on Supervisor Scott Wiener’s backup plan for transportation funding — a charter amendment that, with voter approval, would increase the share of the city’s general fund that gets allocated to Muni, pedestrian safety, and bike infrastructure. That share would be tied to the city’s growing population.

Supervisor Scott Wiener. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Wiener introduced the measure as a safeguard that would increase transportation funding even if Mayor Ed Lee dropped his plan to put a vehicle license fee increase on the ballot. Lee subsequently did drop his support in June, at least until the 2016 election, so Wiener proposed his stop-gap measure. The legislation includes a provision that would allow the mayor to remove the charter amendment if the vehicle license fee increase is passed in 2016, according to Wiener.

“We are a growing city. We’ve grown by 85,000 people since 2003… and we have not made the investments we need to make sure our transportation system, particularly Muni, keeps up,” Wiener said at a committee meeting last week. “This will help bridge the gap.”

The vehicle license fee increase would have generated about $33 million per year for the SFMTA. The agency’s two-year budget assumed its passage in 2014, along with a $500 million general obligation bond for transportation that supervisors unanimously approved for the ballot yesterday.

Currently, Muni gets about $232 million in general funds annually. If approved, Wiener’s charter amendment would provide a $23 million budget boost in the first year, retroactively accounting for the last ten years of population growth. Seventy-five percent of the new funds would go to Muni, and 25 percent to “street safety measures,” according to Wiener.

“Muni’s been severely underfunded for years,” said Ilyse Magy of the SF Transit Riders Union, which has applauded Wiener’s measure. “It’s essential that measures based on alternative funding strategies be put into place,” she said, noting that Mayor Lee also cut $11 million annually from Muni operations by repealing Sunday parking meters.

Read more…

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Dems Grudgingly Approve House Transpo Extension’s Disastrous Timeline

Yesterday, during the one-hour debate period over the House proposal to extend transportation funding through May 31, lawmaker after lawmaker stood up to condemn the bill. America needs a long-term transportation bill, they said. A short-term stopgap only creates more uncertainty.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer was one of just 10 Democrats to reject the House extension.

And then they voted for it.

More Democrats than Republicans voted for it, in fact, despite standing up and declaring that “a short term solution is not enough” or that it’s “just another kick-the-can-down-the-road approach” or that it’s just “a little shuffling around of money so we can pretend… we’re not creating more debt.” But in the end, the Highway and Transportation Funding Act passed easily, with only 10 Democrats and 45 Republicans voting against it.

Peter Welch of Vermont was one of those no-voting Democrats. During the floor debate, he called the bill an “abdication of our responsibility.”

“Some folks are saying we need time to put together a long term bill,” he said. “We’ve had time. What we need is a decision.”

Earl Blumenauer is in favor of an extension, but only through the lame duck period after the election. He voted no as well, criticizing Republicans for failing to have a “deliberate, thoughtful process.”

“We have not had a single hearing on transportation finance in the Ways and Means Committee all year,” he said. “We didn’t have one the year before that. We haven’t had a hearing in the 43 months that the Republicans have been in charge.”

So here’s where things stand: The Senate Finance Committee has passed a largely similar bill, with the same amount of money coming out of slightly different funding sources.

Read more…

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What’s the Best Way to Make Biking Mainstream in a Car-Centric City?

Researchers forecast that a combination of protected bike lanes on arterial streets and “self-explaining” traffic calming on residential streets (the orange line) could vault bike mode share in Auckland from 2 percent to 35 percent — far more than the city’s current bike plan (the red line).

How can you turn a car-dependent city into a place where most people feel safe cycling for transportation?

Researchers in Auckland, New Zealand, created a predictive model to assess how different policies affect cycling rates over several years. In a paper published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives [PDF], they concluded that a combination of protected bike lanes on all wide arterial roads plus traffic calming measures on neighborhood side streets would have a far greater impact on bike mode share than Auckland’s current bike plan.

Only 19 percent of Auckland residents say they currently consider cycling to be “always or mostly safe.” The city’s bike commute mode share stands at 2 percent. While the region has set out to achieve a 35 percent combined biking and walking mode share by 2040 (the walk commute rate is currently 5.5 percent), its actual policies are not that ambitious. The Auckland bike plan calls mainly for un-protected lanes and off-street paths.

Using prior studies, travel surveys, interviews, and historical data, the researchers created a model designed to factor in the complex interactions between bicycling rates and traffic speeds, motor vehicle volumes, street design, the number of cyclists on the road, the number of actual injuries, and subjective perceptions of safety.

Then they plugged four different policy scenarios into their model: the current Auckland bike plan; redesigning residential streets for slow speeds; adding protected bike lanes on all arterial streets; and combining residential traffic calming with bike lanes on arterials. Only the combination scenario had the power to achieve Auckland’s bicycling goals, according to the model.

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Connecting Detroit Neighborhoods With Better Streets and Public Spaces

This intersection redesign calls for sidewalk extensions, bike lanes, high-visibility crosswalks, and landscape improvements to make it safer and more comfortable. Image: Economics of Place

Can safer streets and livelier public spaces help knit Detroit back together?

The Michigan Municipal League thinks so, and it is working hard to show southeast Michigan how. Recently the organization teamed up with some partners to address a problem area in southwest Detroit, or Mexicantown.

Sarah Craft at the Economics of Place blog explains:

Vernor is Southwest Detroit’s main street and is populated with densely packed storefronts, restaurants, and independent businesses. Due to Southwest Detroit’s proximity to Canada and the international bridge crossing, the area unfortunately has quite a bit of industrial land use and suffers from a high volume of truck traffic.

Vernor’s vibrant commercial district is divided by about a half mile “gap,” created by complicated intersections, a former industrial complex, wide one-way roads, a viaduct, and an unnatural bend in the road. In an effort to better connect the east and west sides of Vernor, the League partnered with Southwest Detroit Business Association (SDBA) and Archive DS to collect resident ideas, concerns, and desires to reduce the gap and better connect the community.

Read more…

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Today’s Headlines

  • Muni Opposes Level Boarding Platforms for Van Ness BRT (SFGate, Hoodline)
  • “Restore Balance”: “The Bike Lobby is Running Transport Policy… Let’s Go Back 10 Years” (SFBG)
  • More on Facebook’s Sean Parker Funding the Free Parking Measure (TechCrunch)
  • Mission Bay Residents Protest Increase in Fees for Private Shuttles Using Muni Stops (SF Examiner)
  • More on the Muni Train Contract (SFGate); Many Muni Operators Dislike Approved Labor Contract (Exam)
  • Stanley Roberts Finds Drivers Failing to Use the New Back-in Angled Parking in Front of City Hall
  • An Honest Flowchart for Your Choices in Getting Around SF (Bold Italic)
  • Portland Charges Disabled Parking Placard Holders at Meters, Parking Spaces Empty Out (Tribune)
  • More on the Proposed Embarcadero Protected Bike Lanes (Biz Times), Lower Speed Limit Study (SFBG)
  • Curbed Maps SF’s Best Privately-Owned Public Spaces, Bay Area’s Best Spots to Camp Without a Car
  • In 1894, There Was a Bicycle Messenger Route From Fresno to San “Fransisco” (Mission Mission)
  • Oakland Police Correct Statement: Cell Phone Use Not Ruled Out in Mayor Quan’s Car Crash (SFGate)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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SFMTA Board Approves Contract for New Fleet of Muni Metro Trains

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A rendering of one of the new trains that Muni will purchase for its metro system. Image: SFMTA

The purchase of Muni’s next metro train fleet took a major step forward today as the SFMTA Board of Directors unanimously approved a manufacturing contract with Siemens.

Muni officials lauded the design of the new trains as far superior to the current, abysmally breakdown-prone fleet of light-rail vehicles, which were built by AnsaldoBreda. The fleet of 260 new trains will be manufactured by the German company Siemens at its Sacramento factory, and will roll out in phases starting at the end of 2016.

The contract approval “will put us on a structured, long-term course to take care of our most immediate and pressing service need right now — to fix the very heart of our transit service network,” said Muni Operations Director John Haley.

Muni metro riders can expect breakdowns to become much less common with the new fleet. The current Breda trains have a “mean distance between failure” rate of fewer than 5,000 miles, according to Haley, which means that they break down routinely. A city audit painted an even more dire picture, finding that Muni metro’s aging trains break down every 617 miles on average — far more often than any comparable transit system.

The Siemens trains have proven to break down every 59,000 miles in service elsewhere, more than double the minimum of 25,000 that Muni officials had set as a minimum for qualifying contract bidders. It’s also “more than twice around the equator,” said Haley.

As an example of the improvement of what Haley has called Breda’s “high-failure design,” the current trains have over 220 moving parts in the doors and raising steps alone. The Siemens trains have 20, Haley said.

Read more…

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Talking Headways Podcast: Good Riddance, “Level of Service”

All the buzz right now is about Arlington, Virginia — the DC suburb has seen its population rise and its car traffic drop since the 1980s. How did they do it? It could be a lesson for Palo Alto, California, which is considering various growth proposals, including one that would invite greater density as long as it comes with no additional driving, carbon emissions, or water use.

Denser, more transit-oriented development would be a big win for Palo Alto, but ironically, California’s environmental law has long penalized projects like that for diminishing “level of service” for vehicle traffic. A new basketball stadium came to the rescue, however, and the state is poised to dump level of service as a metric to evaluate transportation and development projects. That change could potentially slow down highways like “level of service” used to slow down smart growth and transit projects. It’s a whole new world.

Check it all out on Talking Headways. Talk at us in the comments, subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher, or sign up for our RSS feed.