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What It Would Take to Eliminate Carbon Emissions From U.S. Transportation?

The U.S. is behind other developed nations in moving toward energy efficient transportation. Graph: U.S. PIRG

America’s transportation system obscenely more carbon-intensive than global leaders in Asia and Europe. Graph: U.S. PIRG

To do its part to avert catastrophic climate change, the United States would have to eliminate carbon emissions from transportation in the next 35 years. But America is nowhere near on pace to make that happen.

Transportation recently overtook the electric power sector to become the nation’s largest source of carbon emissions. That’s what you would expect out of a transportation policy framework that prioritizes cars, highways, and sprawl — and hasn’t changed very much in 60 years, despite some recent tinkering around the margins.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group and the Frontier Group are out with a new report [PDF] outlining 50 steps to eliminate carbon pollution from the American transportation sector by incentivizing low-carbon modes of travel, more efficient development patterns, and cleaner vehicles. Here are three of the most important steps.

First step — get a grip on the damage being done

America is basically flying blind when it comes to charting a greener course for transportation emissions — we have no idea how all the money spent on transportation infrastructure affects the climate. Only in a handful of states do transportation agencies even consider how their very expensive highway projects lead to more greenhouse gas emissions.

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Police Use Illegal License Plate Covers to Break Traffic Laws and Cheat Tolls

To gauge what police think about traffic laws and street safety, it’s instructive to observe how they abuse their authority with their personal vehicles.

On Twitter, @placardabuse does yeoman’s work posting images of personal cars with NYPD placards violating myriad laws, including blocking fire hydrants, blocking crosswalks, and parking on sidewalks. The placards don’t confer the right to break these rules, they just intimidate enforcement agents into giving the vehicle owner a pass.

Particularly brazen is the practice of obscuring license plates to evade toll readers and traffic enforcement cameras. The @placardabuse account has captured the illegal covers on numerous NYPD-placarded vehicles, some in the parking lot at 1 Police Plaza.

These plastic covers allow the license plate to be seen from a direct point of view but deflect light at an angle, preventing enforcement cameras from identifying the vehicle. They’re illegal in New York state because their purpose is to enable drivers to steal from and endanger the public with impunity.

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To Open Up Cities, Make Single-Family Zones More Flexible

As the number of jobs in Seattle explodes, the city is grappling with how to make room for all the population growth that’s expected to follow. The city’s “Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda” maps out a strategy to do so, focusing mainly on infill development in denser areas near transit. Most of the city, however, is zoned for single-family housing.

Most of Seattle (the yellow parts) is zoned exclusively for single-family housing. Map: City of Seattle via The Urbanist

Austin Bell at Network blog The Urbanist says Seattle should look for inspiration from Japan, where zoning for these low-rise areas also “emphasizes mixed uses to an extent that is almost never found in American single-family zoning.” Even modest changes to single-family zoning — making room for so-called “missing middle” housing — could accommodate hundreds of thousands more residents, he says:

On two-thirds of Seattle’s land, it’s legally impermissible to build anything other than a single-family home (certain types of institutional or public uses excepted) covering more than 35% of a lot that’s no less than 5,000 square feet, preferably with an alley-accessible parking space…

Outside of infill developments in Central Seattle and urban villages, the slow conversion of single-family zones to low-rise zones is Seattle’s best hope for increasing housing development capacity. In July 2015, HALA Strategy SF.2 explicitly called for “more variety of housing types, such as small lot dwellings, cottages, courtyard housing, duplexes and triplexes, in Single Family zones.” SF.2 “does not eliminate the option of single-family housing; rather, it increases the opportunities for more efficient use of very limited land resources” and went on to note that “low density use would be less intense than the Lowrise 1 multifamily (LR1) zone.” However conservative this recommendation, it hinted that change may be coming to single-family zones.

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Today’s Headlines

  • New Yorkers Allowing Selves to Get Excited About Second Ave Subway (2ASDNANewsNY1AMNY)
  • Seems Like an Opportune Time to Discuss How Much NYC Needs School Buses (NY1, Advance)
  • TA Wants City Council to Consider Pedestrian Safety in Food Cart Expansion Bill (Politico)
  • Motorist Critically Injures Woman Crossing Street in St. George, CIS Called to Scene (Advance)
  • No Urgency From City Hall as NYC Motorists Kill and Maim With Impunity (Voice)
  • Why Is the Speed Limit on a Vision Zero Priority Corridor Higher Than 25 MPH? (News)
  • Tri-State: NYC Isn’t Doing Enough to Make It Easy and Safe for Kids to Get Around (MTR)
  • It’s Little Wonder NYPD Hides NYPD Crash Data From the Public (Gothamist)
  • Post Worried Proposed LPI Law Would Cause Cyclists to “Feel Even More Entitled” to Keep Living
  • A Bronx-Focused TV Station Did a Nice Segment on Grand Concourse Redesign (@BronxnetTV)
  • New York Lawmakers Are Just Fine With Low Voter Turnout (WNYC)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA


Deadly Woodhaven Boulevard and NYC’s Broken Community Board Process

Cross Bay Boulevard and 149th Avenue, where Jazmine Marin was struck and killed yesterday. Queens Community Board 9 does not want to change this street. Image: Google Maps

Yesterday morning, a driver struck and killed 13-year-old Jazmine Marin as she walked across Cross Bay Boulevard at 149th Avenue on her way to school. The location is deadly — one other person has been struck and killed there since 2012, and Cross Bay is one of the most dangerous streets in the city. From 2009 to 2013, 17 pedestrians lost their lives on Cross Bay and Woodhaven Boulevard (the name of the same street north of Liberty Avenue) [PDF].

And yet, opponents of DOT’s Woodhaven Boulevard Select Bus Service project — which would create safer conditions by expanding pedestrian space and restricting vehicular turns — continue resist it by claiming pedestrians would be harmed.

To win the support of local Council Member Eric Ulrich, DOT has already scaled back plans for left turn bans in the Woodhaven project — including one at Jamaica Avenue, where more pedestrians were killed between 2009 and 2013 than any other intersection in the city, according to DOT.

While Ulrich is on board now, Queens Community Board 9 remains adamantly against the redesign. Despite the agency’s concessions, all but three CB 9 members voted last week to oppose the project. One person went so far as to say that if any fatalities occurred on the corridor after SBS implementation, “Their blood will be on your hands,” the Queens Chronicle reported.

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Cycling Is Up Across the Board in NYC, But Not Without Disparities


Chart: NYC Department of Health [PDF]

The number of New Yorkers who regularly ride a bike has risen markedly in recent years, and the trend is especially pronounced among high school students, according to a report published today by the Department of Health [PDF]. While the general upward trend cuts across gender, race, and income levels, the data also show that the growth in cycling is more pronounced among more affluent households than poorer households, and that fewer black New Yorkers bike regularly compared to white or Latino New Yorkers.

From 2007 to 2014, the share of adults who report biking at least once a month rose from 12 percent to 16 percent, and from 2009 to 2013, the share of high school students who report biking rose from 17 percent to 25 percent.

The report is based on two broad surveys that include questions about cycling activity. One of the surveys samples 9,000 adults each year, and the other is completed by about 10,000 high school students every two years.

Cycling activity rose in every borough except the Bronx, with the largest gain in Manhattan, where the share of adults who cycle at least once a month rose from 12 to 22 percent. Regular cycling increased from 12 to 16 percent in Brooklyn, 12 to 15 percent in Queens, and 10 to 13 percent on Staten Island.

“This report shows that not only are more and more New Yorkers cycling, but that the increases are widespread,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett in a statement. “We will continue our work with DOT and community partners to promote safe active transportation across the five boroughs.”

A gap has opened up, however, between the most affluent households and other households. Among households earning at least four times the federal poverty line, the prevalence of regular cycling increased from 13 percent to 21 percent. Cycling increased among all other households, but not as much, and the prevalence of regular cycling now stands between 13 and 15 percent for other income tiers.

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How Much Would Cyclists Pay to Cover Their “Fair Share”?

One of these vehicles doesn’t cause nearly as much damage as the others. Photo:

Cyclists should pay their “fair share” for streets — it’s a favorite complaint of newspaper commenters worldwide.

So Walker Angell at Network blog decided to figure out what exactly a “fair share” for cyclists — and pedestrians — would be. Here’s his analysis:

Three factors influence the cost that a person and their vehicle (or just a vehicle when autonomous delivery vehicles arrive) cause; weight, speed, and size.

Weight is approximately $0.005 (1/2 cent) per thousand pounds per mile. In other words, if you drive a 2,000 pound car for 1 mile you’ll cause about 1 cent of damage. This cost is not linear though as a 2,000 pound car actually causes $0.022 of damage, a bit more than twice as much as a 1,000 pound car. A 28,000 pound school bus doesn’t cause $0.14 of damage but $4.31 of damage for each mile.

Next is Size. The larger your vehicle the more space it requires to drive and queue at junctions. This cost is about 1/5 cent per foot of length for a single lane vehicle.

Finally we have Speed. The $0.005 (1/2 cent) above is based on a speed of 10 MPH. At 20 MPH you’ll cause about $0.006 cents per mile; at 30, about $0.007 and so on.

Let’s put it all together.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Health Department: The Number of New Yorkers Who Bike Is on the Rise (AMNY)
  • The Driver Who Killed 13-Year-Old Jazmine Marin Gets a Pass From NYPD (News, Post)
  • Surely This State DOT Highway Expansion Will Fix Staten Island’s Traffic Problems (DNA)
  • Passenger Exiting SUV Doors Northbound Cyclist on Jay Street By MetroTech (Bklyn Paper)
  • Woodhaven SBS NIMBYs Also Detest Expansion of Pedestrian Space — Go Figure! (TL)
  • DNA Checks in on Bike-Share Planning for Crown Heights
  • The Plaza Component of a Van Wyck Widening Project Is Finally Getting Built (DNA)
  • Must-Have Luxury Amenity for the Cloistered Class: Private Driveways (Bloomberg)
  • Signs of Second Ave Subway Progress at 63rd and Third (NY1)
  • The Times Supports Bill to Double Street Vendor Permits

More headlines at Streetsblog USA


Bill Giving Cyclists a Head Start at LPIs Gets a Council Hearing Next Month

Momentum is building for Council Member Carlos Menchaca’s bill to allow cyclists to proceed at traffic signals at the same time that pedestrians get the go-ahead. Intro 1072 would affect intersections with leading pedestrian intervals (LPIs) — signals that give pedestrians a head start to establish themselves in the crosswalk ahead of turning motorists. If the bill passes, cyclists can legally take the same head-start.

The City Council transportation committee plans to hear testimony on the bill on November 15, along with six other bills related to walking and biking.

The text of Menchaca’s bill reads:

A person operating a bicycle while crossing a roadway at an intersection shall follow pedestrian control signals when such signals supersede traffic control signals pursuant to local law, rule or regulation, except that such person shall yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.

In practice, that allows cyclists to legally advance with the walk signal at intersections with LPIs. As you can see in the above clip from Brooklyn Spoke’s Doug Gordon, shot at Atlantic Avenue and Hoyt Street, people are already doing that.

The Menchaca bill officially sanctions the behavior and sends a subtle message that signals intended regulate driving don’t always make sense when applied to cycling. With a head start, cyclists can establish themselves in drivers’ visual field and stay out of blind spots.

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No More Stalling: DOT Redesigns Gerritsen Ave After Teen Cyclist’s Death

In the coming weeks, Gerritsen Avenue will get a two-way protected bike lane, concrete pedestrian refuges, and bus boarding bulbs aimed to calm traffic and create safer access to the park. Image: DOT

By next month, Gerritsen Avenue will get a two-way protected bike lane, concrete pedestrian islands, and bus boarding islands. Image: DOT [PDF]

DOT will install a two-way protected bike lane and other traffic-calming measures on Gerritsen Avenue, the street next to Marine Park in southern Brooklyn where a drunk driver killed a teenage cyclist this summer [PDF].

On the night of July 19, Thomas Groarke, 24, overtook another driver on the left and sped into the wide painted median on Gerritsen near Gotham Avenue, then fatally struck 17-year-old Sean Ryan, who was riding his bike southbound, the Daily News reported. Three other people were injured in the crash. Groarke’s blood alcohol level was found to be twice the legal limit.

Gerritsen Avenue is a wide street with a speeding problem and a history of traffic injuries and deaths. Since 2007, there have been four fatalities on the street, according to DOT, including three in the past two years. After the deaths of Joseph Ciresi and James Miro last fall, the Times looked at the street’s reputation as a drag strip.

The city has tinkered with the design of Gerritsen Avenue before. After a motorist severely injured 12-year-old cyclist Anthony Turturro in 2004 at the same intersection where Ryan was killed, the city implemented a four-lane-to-three-lane road diet with a painted median. In 2008 and 2009, the city floated concrete pedestrian islands and painted bike lanes for Gerritsen but backed off after local residents protested the changes. The only change implemented was to narrow the medians to make room for a “wide parking lane” (instead of painted bike lanes).

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