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Why It Makes Sense to Add Ped/Bike Routes Along Active Rail Lines

Despite high train frequency, southeastern Pennsylvania’s Schuylkill River Trail — 60 miles long and about to double in length — provides a stress-free biking and walking experience. All photos from RTC

This post is part of a series featuring stories and research that will be presented at the Pro-Walk/Pro-Bike/Pro-Place conference September 8-11 in Pittsburgh.

You’ve heard of rail-trails — abandoned rail lines that have been turned into multi-use paths for biking and walking. There are more than 21,000 miles of rail-trails across the country, in urban, suburban, and rural areas.

But these trails don’t need to be built on the graves of defunct rail lines. A growing number of them, in fact, are constructed next to active rail lines. In 1996, there were slightly less than 300 miles of these trails. Today there are about 1,400 miles.

Railroads tend to be skittish about approving walking and biking routes because they fear liability if someone gets injured. Even so, 43 percent of rails-with-trails, as they’re known, are located wholly within railroad rights-of-way, while another 12 percent have some segments inside the right-of-way. So negotiating with railroads — from Class I freight railroads to urban light rail operators — is possible, if you know how to approach them.

At the Pro-Walk Pro-Bike conference in Pittsburgh next month, Kelly Pack of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy will be joined by Thomas Baxter of Pittsburgh’s Friends of the Riverfront and Jerry Walls, who chairs the board of the SEDA-COG joint rail authority in central Pennsylvania, to give tips on how to create new rails-with-trails.

While railroads are wary of opening up space near tracks to people walking and biking, there are ways to get through to them. And if advocates in your area aren’t convinced that walking and biking alongside a noisy railroad track is such a great idea, there are arguments to address their perspective, too. Here are eight great things about rails-with-trails.

Read more…

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To Prevent Distracted Driving, New App Distracts Drivers

The new windshield display system Navdy aims to make texting while driving easier. Image: Navdy

The new “heads-up” display system Navdy “feels like driving in the future,” according to its producers. The dash-mounted projector displays images from your phone on your windshield. The idea is that you can text and drive while keeping your eyes focused in the right direction. “No more looking down to fumble with knobs, buttons or touch screens,” goes the pitch.

James Sinclair at Stop and Move is not impressed:

What the product does is project information from your phone onto your windshield. Some of that information is relevant to driving, such as map navigation, and possibly in the future parking information from SF Park. The rest? Not so much.

Apparently driving is so boring that drivers cannot resist texting and checking emails for the duration of their trip. Navdy comes to the rescue by blowing up your text messages onto your windshield so you don’t have to deal with the monotony of driving by instead engaging in a titillating text-based conversation.

The worst part is that this group of entrepreneurs is trying to pitch this as a way to PREVENT distracted driving. Their reasoning is that drivers won’t be looking down at their laps, but will continue to look forward. Their video says “you need your eyes in front of you – you need Navdy.” Problem is, that’s not how distraction works.

Read more…

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Today’s Headlines

  • Mi’yana Gregory, 2, Killed by Hit-and-Run Driver at Mission and Fifth; Vigil Held (KTVU, ABCSFGate)
  • Life Support Removed for Zachary Watson, Hit on Sidewalk in Stolen Car Wreck (SFGate)
  • Man Hailing Cab at Mission and 24th Hit by Driver While Police Conduct Pedestrian Sting Nearby (ABC)
  • Two People Riding One Bicycle Seriously Injured by FedEx Truck Driver at Market and Kearny (CBS)
  • SFPD Says It’ll Beef Up Traffic Enforcement Around Schools as Kids Go Back This Week (Walk SF)
  • Assemblyman Ammiano, Other Democrats Suddenly Oppose Charging for Disabled Parking (SFGate)
  • SF Examiner Looks at the State of Fare Enforcement on Muni
  • Transit-Oriented Redevelopments Move Forward in ParkMerced (SFGate), at Transbay Center (ABC)
  • One Last Traffic Jam Sends Off Car-Oriented Candlestick Park at Paul McCartney Concert (SFGate)
  • Chronicle Reporters Race by Car, Transit to Levi’s Stadium (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6); 49ers Add Bike Info (Cycle)
  • Tech Bus Drivers Get Meager Wages for Tiring Work (USA Today)
  • Two-Year-Old Anijah Walker Killed by Driver in Oakland Parking Lot (SFGate)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Car-Free Households Are Booming in San Francisco

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Image: Michael Rhodes

San Francisco is quickly adding residents, but very few cars.

Between 2000 and 2012, the city has seen a net increase of 11,139 households, and 88 percent of them have been car-free. That’s according to an analysis of U.S. Census data by Michael Rhodes, a transportation planner at Nelson\Nygaard and a former Streetsblog reporter. One net result of this shift is that the proportion of San Francisco households who own zero cars increased from 28.6 percent in 2000 to 31.4 percent in 2012, the fifth-highest rate among large American cities.

The stats show that the city’s average car ownership rate is declining, even as the population is growing. The data don’t distinguish where specific households are forgoing cars, so this doesn’t necessarily mean that the residents of all the new condo buildings going up are car-free. But the broader effect is reverberating throughout the city, whether car-free residents are moving in where car-owning residents previously lived, or residents are selling their cars.

This finding flies in the face of complaints from NIMBYs who protest new housing developments that forego parking, based on a faulty assumption that new residents will own cars anyway and take up precious, free street parking. That’s one of the arguments heard from proponents of the cars-first Proposition L, who complain that “the City has eliminated the time-honored practice of creating one parking space for every new unit.”

“A lot of people who are moving here are choosing it because it’s a place you can get around without a car,” said Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich. “People will self-select. If convenience for an automobile is their criterion, there’s a lot of places in the city and elsewhere” to live.

Read more…

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East Palo Alto’s Highway 101 Ped/Bike Bridge Almost Fully Funded

Walking across Highway 101 in East Palo Alto requires crossing wide six-lane intersections, and using a narrow sidewalk on University Avenue’s north side (far left). Photo: Andrew Boone

East Palo Alto’s decades-long dream to reconnect its east and west sides via a pedestrian/bicycle bridge has taken a huge leap forward. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) approved the city’s $8.6 million application to construct a 12-foot wide bridge over Highway 101 between Newell Road and Clarke Avenue, following East Palo Alto’s City Council’s June allocation of $600,000 for environmental review and design.

The bridge is the second-most expensive project recommended for Caltrans funding statewide, out of 145 ped/bike projects that will receive $221 million over the next two years from the state’s new consolidated Active Transportation Program. (The top-dollar project is $10.9 million for environmental studies and land acquisition for the Coachella Valley Link, a 50-mile long “mostly continuous” multi-use path in Riverside County.)

University Avenue, which runs roughly north-south across the center of East Palo Alto, crosses Highway 101 and continues as Palm Drive through downtown Palo Alto and Stanford University. University Avenue’s 1950′s-era, auto-centric highway interchange design, complete with high-speed loop ramps and six-lane intersections on both sides, practically ensures danger for pedestrians and bicyclists. Anyone on foot or bike must cram into one narrow sidewalk, on the north side of the bridge over Highway 101, since no sidewalk was ever built on the bridge’s south side, and no bike lanes have never been striped within the street.

East Palo Alto’s Woodland neighborhood (foreground) and major shopping center and schools (background) are divided by Highway 101. The curving black line in the center shows the bridge’s planned alignment. Image: Alta Planning + Design

The East Palo Alto Highway 101 Ped/Bike Overcrossing, to use its official name, will provide a safe alternative one third of a mile to the southeast, and shorten the distance between the densely populated Woodland neighborhood west of the highway and the Ravenswood 101 Shopping Center on the east. Shopping trips to Mi Pueblo, the city’s only grocery store, will be faster for many residents by bicycle or even on foot than in a car, since drivers will still have to pass through a total of seven heavily trafficked signals to make the one-mile trip.

Several schools located on nearby Clarke Avenue will suddenly become accessible on foot or by bike for the many children living west of the highway. And Newell Road, running due south from the shopping center and the future ped/bike bridge, connects directly to Palo Alto’s high-quality network of bike lanes and bicycle boulevards.

The bridge “will enhance public safety, promote walking and bicycling, and reduce vehicular trips on University Avenue and other congested roadways,” stated the introduction to the bridge project’s $300,000 feasibility study, completed last year by Alta Planning + Design. “The project will also improve community health by providing recreational opportunities and linkages to the Bay Trail and City of Palo Alto.”

Read more…

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Removing Center Lines Reduced Speeding on London Streets

Traffic speeds slowed after London resurfaced three streets and didn’t restore center lines, even though resurfacing alone was shown to increase average speeds. Graphic: Transport for London

On some streets, getting drivers to stop speeding might be as easy as eliminating a few stripes. That’s the finding from a new study from Transport for London [PDF].

On Seven Sisters Road, average speeds fell about 7 miles per hour after centerlines were removed. Image: Transport for London

On Seven Sisters Road, average speeds fell after center lines were removed. Photos: Transport for London

TfL recently examined the effect of eliminating center lines on three London streets. The agency found it slowed average driving speeds between 5 and 9 miles per hour, after taking into account the effect of resurfacing. (All three streets were also repaved, which has been shown to increase driving speeds.)

The experiment was performed last year on three 30 mph roads that had just been resurfaced, where center lines were not repainted. A fourth street was resurfaced and had its center lines painted back to serve as a control.

Researchers found that drivers slowed down on all the three streets without center lines. On Seven Sisters Road, for example, after the resurfacing, northbound speeds dropped 2.5 mph and southbound speeds fell 4.1 mph.

Those changes appear to understate the impact of removing the center lines. When TfL observed traffic on the control street, motorist speeds had increased an average of 4.5 mph. Apparently, the smoother road surface encouraged drivers to pick up the speed, making the reductions on the three other streets more impressive.

Researchers suggested that the uncertainty caused by the removal of center lines makes drivers more cautious:

A theory is that centre lines and hatching can provide a psychological sense of confidence to drivers that no vehicles will encroach on ‘their’ side of the road. There can also be a tendency for some drivers to position their vehicles close to a white line regardless of the traffic conditions, believing it is their ‘right’ to be in this position. Centre line removal introduces an element of uncertainty which is reflected in lower speeds.

When it comes to center lines, TfL notes, “most traffic engineers prescribe them by default without questioning the necessity.” London appears to be reevaluating this assumption after a 2009 directive from Mayor Boris Johnson to eliminate as much clutter from the roadways as possible.

Hat tip Jeff Speck.

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California Legislation Watch: Weekly Update

=Here is Streetsblog’s weekly highlight of California legislation related to sustainable transportation.

With a deadline for amendments looming next Friday, marathon floor sessions are keeping legislators in the capitol churning through long lists of bills.

Protected Bike Lane Bill Still Being Amended: A.B. 1193 from Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) is the bill that would add protected bike lanes, or “cycletracks,” to the four types of bike facilities defined in the California Street and Highways Code, and would require Caltrans to create engineering standards for them by January of 2016.

A secondary aspect of the bill, which allows local jurisdictions to choose a different safety criteria than that created by Caltrans, is meeting some resistance on both sides of the liability debate (cities don’t want liability, and consumer advocates want someone to take responsibility). The bill actually passed on the Senate floor on Wednesday, but it was pulled back to make amendments to address those concerns.

The California Bicycle Coalition, the bill’s sponsor, is pleased with the results of negotiations. “We have come to an agreement with both sides of the debate,” said Dave Snyder, CalBike’s director. “We’ve agreed to new language and that this bill will not affect liability.”

A.B. 1193 will be heard again in the Senate some time next week. It’s expected to pass, but the Assembly will have to approve the new amendments.

School Zone Violations: S.B. 1151, from Senator Anthony Canella (R-Ceres), would raise fines for traffic violations in school zones and put any proceeds from those fines towards the Active Transportation Program. The bill passed the Assembly this week, and must go back to the Senate for another vote because of minor amendments made on the Assembly floor. If it passes there, it will have to be signed by Governor Jerry Brown, who has been unwilling to sign bills that raise fines in the past.

Hit-and-Run Fines: It’s also unclear whether Brown will sign A.B. 1532, from Assemblymember Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), which would raise fines for hit-and-run convictions. The bill passed out of the Senate Appropriations committee and is now awaiting a vote on the Senate floor.

Hit-and-Run Alert System: A.B. 47, also from Assemblymember Gatto, would create a “Yellow Alert” system to notify law enforcement and the public about hit-and-run crashes when someone has been seriously injured, and solicit help in finding the perpetrator. This bill has sailed through the legislature, with the Senate adding one requirement to the list of conditions under which the system can be activated: that “public dissemination of available information could either help avert further harm or accelerate apprehension of the suspect.” The bill passed the Appropriations Committee this week and it’s awaiting a Senate vote.

Bicycle Infrastructure Surcharge: S.B. 1183, from Senator Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord), would authorize local agencies to impose a motor vehicle registration surcharge — upon approval by 2/3 of local voters — to fund bicycle paths and trails. It passed the Senate Appropriations Committee this week on a partisan vote and has moved on to the Assembly floor, where it is set to be voted on next week. If it passes without amendments, it will go straight to the governor. Will he sign it?

Email tips, alerts, press releases, ideas, etc. to melanie@streetsblog.org.

For social media coverage focused on statewide issues, follow Melanie @currymel on Twitter or like our Facebook page here.

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Friday Job Market

Looking to hire a smart, qualified person for a position in transportation planning, engineering, IT, or advocacy? Post a listing on the Streetsblog Jobs Board and reach our national audience of dedicated readers.

Looking for a job? Here are the current listings:

Planner, TransLink, New Westminster, British Columbia
This position provides transportation planning expertise and leadership to projects of smaller/medium scope in support of a designated program related to transportation policy, forecasting, infrastructure/service development in an integrated multi-modal environment.

Senior Planner, TransLink, New Westminster, British Columbia
The Senior Transportation Planner is accountable for providing senior transportation planning expertise and leadership to projects of medium/higher scope in support of a designated program related to transportation policy, forecasting, infrastructure / service development or engineering in an integrated, multi-modal environment.

Policy Analyst, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, Chicago, IL
The policy analyst position will be responsible for assisting the agency in implementing recommendations in the GO TO 2040 regional plan related to economic innovation and industry clusters by collecting and analyzing data, managing research, and producing reports and issue briefs.

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Cincinnati Launching a 35-Station Bike-Share System Next Month

This hasn’t been a great year for bike-share launches in America, with the dominant operator, Alta Bicycle Share, struggling with supply chain problems. But there will be a new system coming online soon.

Cincy Bike Share stations will be concentrated in downtown, Over-the-Rhine, and Uptown. Map: Alta via Urban Cincy

Cincinnati will launch a bike-share system using the B-Cycle platform in the next few weeks, reports Randy Simes at Urban Cincy. The city recently cleared some of the final hurdles, and the initial batch of stations is on the way:

Queen City Bike says that the process will move quickly, with two to three stations being installed daily until all 35 stations planned for Downtown and Uptown are built. At the same time, there will be a volunteer effort to assemble the system’s 300 bikes.

“We hope to assemble at least 200 bike share bikes by Friday,” said Frank Henson, President of Queen City Bike, and member of Cincy Bike Share’s Board of Trustees. “This is being done by area volunteer mechanics under the supervision of B-Cycle.”

The aggressive schedule puts the system on track to open by early September, which is not far off the initial goal of opening by August.

The progress comes after Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley (D) announced $1.1 million to more than half of the initial $2 million in upfront capital costs. At the time, Cincy Bike Share director, Jason Barron, said the commitment from the City of Cincinnati was critical in not only getting things moving, but also showing the private sector that it is all for real.

One strange aspect of the Cincinnati network is the gap between two clusters of stations. Simes says the two areas ”will most likely operate in isolation of one another.” It’s unclear if Cincinnati intends to fill in this gap. After the first 35 stations, the system is expected to expand across the Ohio River to northern Kentucky.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Bike Portland shares a prediction from former Chicago and DC transportation commissioner Gabe Klein, who says driverless cars will eliminate the need for parking in downtown areas. NextSTL explains why Missouri’s proposed sales tax hike for transportation went down in flames. And Better Cities & Towns notes that some Houston suburbs are embracing placemaking.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Facing “Ride-Share” App Competition, SF Taxi Drivers Vote to Unionize (SF Examiner)
  • More From the Meeting Where the SF Democratic Party Rejected Cars-First Prop L (SFBG)
  • After Some Delay, Castro Street Construction Continues With Concrete Pouring (Castro Biscuit)
  • People Behaving Badly: Drivers Illegally Park and Snap Photos of Mrs. Doubtfire House While Driving
  • SFMTA and Collection Agency Issue Some Parking Tickets to Wrong Drivers (KTVU)
  • Car-Free Mixed-Use Development Planned for Car Wash at 10th and Harrison in SoMa (SocketSite)
  • Planning Begins for Mission Bay Warriors Arena With 700-Car Garage (SF ExaminerBiz Times)
  • Overwhelming Car Traffic Makes Fans Late to Paul McCartney Concert at Candlestick Park (CBS)
  • Suspicious Package Found at Richmond BART Create Major Delays for Passengers (CBS)
  • 49ers Confident More Parking, Extra Trains Will Ease Congestion for Game at Levi’s (Mercury 1, 2)
  • How to Make Levi’s Stadium Trips to More Affordable? Take Transit or Carpool (CBS)
  • Nearly Four-Fifths of CA’s Electric Car Rebates Go to Households Earning Over $100,000 (LA Times)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA