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SFMTA Says Van Ness BRT Can’t Have High Platforms for Level Boarding

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A rendering of Van Ness BRT. Image: SFMTA

The SFMTA says it’s impossible for stations on the coming Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit route to have one of the key recommended features of BRT: High platforms, at the same level as bus floors, that allow passengers to quickly step onto the bus. SFMTA planners say that complications with the design of Muni’s buses mean there’s no practical way to make high platforms work, at least without adding high costs associated with new equipment.

Platform-level boarding is on the list of “BRT Basics” included in the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy’s BRT ”Scorecard”:

Having the bus-station platform level with the bus floor is one of the most important ways of reducing boarding and alighting times per passenger. Passengers climbing even relatively minor steps can mean significant delay, particularly for the elderly, disabled, or people with suitcases or strollers. The reduction or elimination of the vehicle-to-platform gap is also key to customer safety and comfort.

But according to an SFMTA report [PDF], a 14-inch high platform, matching the height of a Muni bus floor, “increases capital and operational costs, reduces operational reliability and passenger comfort, and provides no discernable benefit.” Instead, SFMTA planners recommend 6-inch high platforms, the same as those on Market Street.

High platforms would be scratched by the “wheel lugs” that stick out from the side of bus wheel wells, the report says. The Americans with Disabilities Act apparently requires buses to stop with no more than a three-inch gap between the bus and platform. Otherwise, a “bridge plate” must be deployed from the side of the bus to the platform for wheelchair users. The wheel lugs apparently stick out five inches.

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Initiative to Stop Downtown Menlo Park Growth Lands on Ballot

Stanford University has proposed to build this residential building and a public plaza at El Camino Real and Middle Avenue. Image: Stanford University

On Tuesday evening, Menlo Park’s City Council reluctantly forwarded to the November 4 ballot an initiative that would reject two proposed developments that would replace largely-vacant auto dealerships with walkable offices, retail space, and apartments, and slow or stop future development along El Camino Real.

The proposed developments would boost transit ridership by bringing thousands more people within a ten-minute walk of the city’s downtown Caltrain station. They would improve the city’s pedestrian and bicycle networks with new, 15-foot wide sidewalks along the east side of El Camino, safer pedestrian crossings for El Camino, and a new ped/bike tunnel under the Caltrain tracks at Middle Avenue.

The anti-growth initiative, titled the “El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan Area Livable, Walking Community Development Standards Act”, was drafted by the volunteer group Save Menlo and qualified for the city-wide ballot by collecting nearly 2,400 voter signatures by mid-May, more than 1,780 signature requirement. 65 percent of the signature-gathering campaign’s $30,000 budget was donated by Atherton resident Gary Lauder, who serves on the neighboring town’s Transportation Committee and fears ”congestion, urban canyons, and related unintended consequences” from continued development in Atherton’s vicinity.

If approved, the initiative would make significant changes to the El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan that the city adopted in June 2012, which guides downtown Menlo Park’s development over the next 20 to 30 years. The plan envisions a mix of office, retail, hotel, housing, and open space, with a maximum of 680 units of residential and 474,000 square feet of non-residential development. The initiative would introduce additional caps on commercial development, including 100,000 square feet of office space per project and 240,820 square feet of office space in total. It would also require voter approval to override those caps.
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Contraflow Bike Lanes Finally Get Nod From U.S. Engineering Establishment

Contraflow bike lanes could soon be included in an influential traffic engineering guide. Photo: NACTO

Buffered bike lanes have been used in some American cities for decades now, and an increasing number of cities are implementing contraflow bike lanes. But only just now are these street designs getting official recognition from powerful standard-setters inside the U.S. engineering establishment.

Bike lane markings in the intersection space may soon be part of important engineering guidance. Image: Bike Delaware

Bike lane markings through intersections may soon be part of important engineering guidance. Image: Bike Delaware

Late last month, the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices gave its approval to 11 treatments, including these two bike lane configurations. Committee members also, as anticipated, approved bike boxes and bike signals, which had been considered “experimental,” as well as bike lane markings that continue through intersections.

This opens the way for these designs to be included in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Without recognition in the MUTCD, engineers in many cities are reluctant to install these treatments. Official acceptance in the leading design manual would help make these treatments more widespread — and that will help make American streets safer for biking.

That’s still not a done deal. The committee approval is advisory, and the group’s recommendation will now be sent to the Federal Highway Administration for potential inclusion the the MUTCD. To get final approval, the new guidelines must undergo a rule-making period where they are reviewed by other engineering institutions that have historically been averse to change, like the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

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Best Bike Cities? Forget the Census, Let’s Start Asking Mobile Apps

Bicycling patterns in Boston, created by users of activity-tracking app Human.

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Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

The most popular bicycle transportation measurement system in the country is hopelessly skewed toward a niche activity.

We refer, of course, to the U.S. Census.

The niche activity: going to work.

Most Americans have jobs, of course. But going to and from work, which is the only bicycle activity the Census measures across the United States, accounts for less than 20 percent of our trips. Huge swaths of the population, including many of those with the most to gain from biking (the old, the young, the broke), don’t have jobs at all.

What’s more, our commutes tend to be the longest trips we take on a regular basis, which puts bicycling out of reach for millions of Americans. Census statistics provide a useful clue about which cities are doing biking right, but a flawed one — especially for the less intensely motivated bike users that U.S. cities have been redesigning their streets to serve.

A 10-month-old computer chip for the Apple iPhone may already be creating a better alternative.

The M7, a chip introduced last year that lets users gather data about their movements even while their smartphones are asleep, is the hardware behind Human, an activity-tracking mobile app that made a splash this month by using its users’ movement speed to create maps of walking, biking, running and motor vehicle transport in 30 cities around the world.

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We Need a New Term to Describe Uber and Lyft

Companies like Uber and Lyft make any car owner a potential paid chauffeur, and their services are increasingly widespread in American cities.

Is “ride-share” the right term for services like Lyft? Photo: Alfredo Mendez on Flickr

So what should we call these new companies? Abigail Zenner at Greater Greater Washington says the current nomenclature is a bit muddled:

Companies like Uber and Lyft have been dubbing their services “ridesharing.” These companies contract with drivers who can make money by offering rides. Jason Pavluchuk from the Association for Commuter Transportation argued that calling these services “rideshare” made it harder to advocate for other models that more aptly deserve the term, like carpool and vanpool services where people actually ride together.

Uber and Lyft are really new variants on taxi service. They let people use a car they might already own (though Uber is also offering loans to drivers to get new cars), but they are still doing it as a job. If you use such a service, you’re not sharing someone’s car; you’re paying them to give you a ride.

Other companies like Sidecar have envisioned a model where people already driving from one place to another offer rides to someone who happens to be going the same way. That’s a little bit more “sharing” than the app-based taxi-like services.

GGW is asking readers to weigh in on what these services should be called. If not “ride-share,” then what?

Elsewhere on the Network today: Rights of Way reports that Maine DOT still needs to get the hang of accommodating pedestrians and cyclists during construction projects. Naked City writes that North Carolina lawmakers have figured out a new way to potentially derail proposed passenger rail service between Chapel Hill, Raleigh, and Durham. And Strong Towns weighs in on the debate about whether a new sales tax to support transportation projects is the right solution for Missouri.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Mayor Lee, Supe Kim Officially Announce Opening of West SoMa Skate, Dog Park on Parking Lot (Appeal)
  • Hoodline Checks in on Masonic’s Redesign, Still Awaiting Construction Next Year
  • SF’s Quickly Growing Population Means We Need Efficient Transportation More Than Ever (SFist)
  • Mission Bay Neighbors “Cautiously Optimistic” About Coming Impacts of Warriors Arena (Potrero View)
  • Dogpatch Residents Tell SFMTA to Move Already-Approved, Funded Central Subway Loop (Potrero View)
  • Potrero View Provides an Overview of the Upgrades in the Works for Caltrain
  • Stanley Roberts Listens to Coastal Drivers’ Excuses After Being Caught for Various Violations
  • Google to Fund Free Local Shuttles in Mountain View (Business Times)
  • Linshu Ye, 87, of Sunnyvale Dies of Injuries After Being Hit by Driver While Walking (KTVU)
  • GG Transit Proposes Ending Route 80 to Santa Rosa, Increasing Service on Parallel Lines (GMAppeal)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Parking Shared Cars Instead of Private Cars Isn’t Exactly “Privatization”

A flyer distributed in the Lower Haight recently made the absurd argument that converting private car parking into car-share parking is “privatization.” Photo: Amy Stephenson/Hoodline

The SFMTA’s endeavor to reserve on-street car parking spaces for car-share vehicles has yielded complaints from some car owners who, ironically, decry the “privatization” of space currently used to store private cars.

An on-street car-share parking spot in SoMa. Image: Google Maps

These folks don’t seem to acknowledge the extensive research showing that each car-share vehicle replaces, on average, nine to 13 privately-owned cars. They should be embracing the arrival of a program that provides a convenient alternative to car ownership, allowing some of their neighbors to sell infrequently used cars, and ultimately make more parking available.

But the greater point that some folks seem to be missing is this: No use of public street space is more “private” than dedicated storage of private individuals’ automobiles. To decry converting comparatively few of these spaces to welcome a much more efficient form of auto storage – making each space useful for dozens of people, rather than one or two – is absurd.

Yet that’s what Calvin and Michelle Welch argue, in flyers they distributed that protest two on-street car-share spaces in the Lower Haight, as Hoodline recently reported. ”It would privatize a shared, currently free, scarce public resource making it available only to paid members of a car share program,” the Welches wrote. (It’s worth noting that Calvin Welch is a longtime activist who opposes the construction of new market-rate housing.)

Our societal blind spot tends to make it easy to forget that the vast majority of street space has been given over to moving and storing cars, many of them owned and used by just one person each. San Francisco’s 275,450 on-street parking spaces would stretch, lined end-to-end, longer than the California coastline. Ninety percent of this prime real estate is free to use at all times of day.

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Toyota Official: Driverless Cars Could Encourage Sprawl

For all the hype surrounding driverless cars, no one knows exactly what their broader implications may be. This week one car designer suggested automated vehicles could deal a setback to trends in the U.S. toward less driving and more sustainable modes.

Will driverless cars promote more sprawl? Photo: Wikipedia

At the Automated Vehicles Symposium in San Francisco, Ken Laberteaux, senior principal scientist for Toyota’s North American team studying future transportation, spoke with a Bloomberg reporter about the potential for unwelcome outcomes, including more sprawl.

“U.S. history shows that anytime you make driving easier, there seems to be this inexhaustible desire to live further from things,” Laberteaux said. “The pattern we’ve seen for a century is people turn more speed into more travel, rather than maybe saying ‘I’m going to use my reduced travel time by spending more time with my family.’”

He said tolling could be a potential solution, but then went on to question the political practicality of that approach. “We’ve created an entire culture and economy based on the notion that transportation is cheap,” he said.

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Jon Stewart on the Transportation Funding Crisis: “This is So Stupid”

Jon Stewart devoted eight minutes to the Highway Trust Fund funding problem in last night’s episode and, in our humble opinion, he NAILED it.

If this doesn’t make you want to pound your head against the nearest hard object, you might want to check your pulse.

Stewart concludes that lawmakers’ response to this easily fixable problem is basically summed up as: “F*** it, we’ll probably all be dead in ten years anyway.” Lawmakers just put a solution off again for another eight months.

This video makes great explainer for all your aunts, uncles and co-workers that are dying to get up to speed on one of the most frustrating and long-running problems in transportation in the United States.

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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.