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Transit Vote 2016: Atlanta May Finally Expand MARTA and Beef Up Bus Service

Atlanta's MARTA rail (left) hasn't been expanded since the 1970s. On the right, D.C.'s Metrorail, which has undergone continual expansions.

Atlanta’s MARTA rail (left) hasn’t been expanded since the 1970s. On the right, D.C.’s Metrorail, which has undergone continual expansions.

We continue our overview of what’s at stake in the big transit ballot initiatives this November with a look at Atlanta. Previous installments in this series examined Indianapolis, Seattle, and Detroit.

Back in the 1970s, both Atlanta and Washington, D.C., received federal grants to build rail networks. After finishing the first wave of Metro construction, D.C. continued to invest, creating one of the country’s best high-capacity urban transit networks. But in Atlanta, MARTA’s rail lines pretty much cover the same ground as in the 1980s.

Unreliable bus service is a huge problem too. The FX show “Atlanta,” as Grist pointed out this week, depicts the struggles facing Atlantans who rely on transit, especially in suburban areas where trains don’t reach.

Proposed rail transit expansions for Atlanta. Map: MARTA

Proposed rail expansions and infill stations for Atlanta. Map: MARTA

The Atlanta region has had some opportunities to improve transit recently, but the political stars never aligned. That could change next month, when city voters weigh in on two issues:

  • A MARTA expansion, funded by a half-cent sales tax increase that will raise $2.5 billion over 40 years.
  • A “TSPLOST” measure that would raise the sales tax by .4 percent for five years, generating $300 million for complete streets and the “Beltline” — the rail-plus-trail project that encircles the city’s central neighborhoods.

The MARTA measure would pay for major bus service upgrades and up to 30 miles of light rail expansion. The City Council has selected a menu of transit improvements that will be eligible for funds, but the tax revenue won’t be able to pay for all of them.

One improvement that will certainly receive funding involves double service frequency on major bus routes from every 30 minutes to every 15.

Also eligible for funds: building light rail along the Beltline; seven miles of bus rapid transit with exclusive lanes, level boarding, and off-board fare collection; five enhanced bus routes with 10-minute headways and limited stops; and up to 17 infill rail stations.

Read more…


DOT Can’t Control the Seasons, But de Blasio Can Fund Safer Street Designs

Let's design streets to be safe even during the most dangerous times of year. Chart: DOT

Let’s design streets to be safe even during the most dangerous times of year. Chart: DOT

Today DOT announced a “dusk and darkness” traffic enforcement and education campaign to reduce pedestrian injuries and deaths during fall and winter, when fatal crashes tend to be more frequent.

“As the days get shorter and the weather colder, crashes on our streets involving pedestrians increase — and so we are enlisting data-driven strategies to address that upturn,” Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said in a statement. “Through education and enforcement with our sister agencies, every driver needs to learn about the limited visibility of this season and the dangers of fast turns, especially in the evening hours.”

Trottenberg cited the redesigned approach to the Manhattan Bridge as a project that will “make crossing our busiest streets safer for everybody,” but that project is independent of the new seasonal safety campaign.

There’s nothing wrong with drawing attention to the fact that streets are more dangerous this time of year, but it’s no substitute for street designs that make walking safer year-round.

“’Let’s all try to be more careful’ doesn’t really work,” Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul White told Streetsblog. “That’s a pre-Vision Zero approach.”

Severe crashes that harm pedestrians increase by almost 40 percent on fall and winter evenings compared to other seasons, according to DOT. In the coming weeks, NYPD will step up police presence and enforcement of dangerous driving behaviors “around sunset hours when data show serious pedestrian crashes increase,” according to a DOT press release. NYPD will also conduct targeted enforcement at intersections with high rates of pedestrian injuries and deaths.

In addition, NYPD and DOT will “educate drivers and other New Yorkers at high-priority Vision Zero target areas” by distributing palm cards, the press release says, some of which will remind motorists that they’re required to yield to pedestrians while making left turns.

Senior centers have already received materials on “improving safety conditions in their neighborhoods and sharing tips for getting around safely,” according to DOT. The Times reported that the city will spend $1.5 million on the campaign.

Read more…
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Will State DOTs Follow Through on Their Goals for Zero Traffic Deaths?

Oregon DOT has developed a sort of Vision Zero plan aimed at eliminating traffic deaths by 2035. Graph: ODOT via Bike Portland

Oregon DOT has set a target of eliminating traffic deaths by 2035. Graph: ODOT via Bike Portland

State DOTs aren’t known for setting ambitious street safety goals. They’re usually more interested in moving traffic than saving lives. But it looks like that’s starting to change as states follow the lead of the federal government’s “Toward Zero Deaths” initiative, which itself was inspired by the spread of Vision Zero campaigns among cities. Even states like Ohio are saying their goal is zero traffic deaths.

This is a new development and the jury is still out on these campaigns. Many agencies seem to be counting on self-driving vehicles to come to the rescue instead of committing serious resources to proven measures like street redesigns to calm traffic. But others appear to be taking the responsibility to ensure public safety a lot more seriously.

In Oregon, Jonathan Maus at Bike Portland is encouraged by the state DOT’s new “Transportation Safety Action Plan,” which sets the goal of zero deaths by 2035. Maus says the difference compared to previous safety plans is palpable:

The plan never refers specifically to “vision zero” — the moniker adopted by 21 cities nationwide (including Portland) — but it unequivocally states that the Oregon Department of Transportation will work toward zero deaths by 2035.

This is a significant shift since 2011. The new plan mentions “zero” in regard to fatalities and injuries over 30 times. The 2011 plan mentioned it only twice.

Read more…


Today’s Headlines

  • De Blasio Allocates $1.5M for Campaign Urging Motorists to Not Hit People After Dark (NYT)
  • The MTA May Never Adopt Efficient and Modern Payment Tech … (NY1, WNBC)
  • … But Will Burn a Ton of Money on Cuomo’s Bus WiFi Gimmick (@AirlineFlyer)
  • MTA Sought Approval of Cuomo Toll Project While Hiding Costs; Trottenberg: Nope (AMNY)
  • Two Second Avenue Subway Stations Might Not Be Finished in December (NYT)
  • School Bus Drivers Vote to Strike (AdvanceNews, NY1)
  • City Hall Asks City Council to Hold Off on Food Cart Bill (Crain’s, Post)
  • Though Data Indicate Otherwise, de Blasio Says Vision Zero Is Working in Staten Island (Advance)
  • Rather Than Junking Defective Used Cars, the NYC Department of Finance Is Selling Them (NYT 1, 2)
  • Human Rights Protestors Took Over Half a Level of the GWB Yesterday (WNBC, NewsPost)
  • MTA to Adjust Q59 Route as Part of DOT’s Meeker Avenue Project (DNA)
  • Inside or Outside a Vehicle, Traffic Justice Remains Hard to Come by in New York (Post)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA


Why Is the MTA OK With High-Speed Car Tolls But Not High-Speed Bus Fares?

Without a fare system that facilitates proof of payment, bus riders will be stuck with the same slow boarding process for another generation. Photo: Ben Fried

MTA officials revealed today that the MetroCard will linger until 2022, though the agency still intends to phase in a new fare payment system starting in 2018. What remains unknown is whether the new system will enable electronic proof of payment, a fare collection method that promises to speed up NYC’s snail-paced buses.

The matter came up briefly during an MTA board meeting, after New York City Transit Vice President for Procurement and Material Steve Plochochi requested approval for an extension of the agency’s contract with Cubic, the company that built the MetroCard system.

Plochochi affirmed that a new fare payment system is still on track to begin deployment in 2018, but said the agency does not want to take a “cold turkey” approach and replace the MetroCard in one fell swoop.

Other than that, Plochochi didn’t divulge anything about the agency’s thinking with regards to the MetroCard replacement. “I really can’t go into details of the proposals,” he said.

Transit advocates have pressed the MTA to commit to a fare system that will facilitate electronic proof of payment on buses. By allowing riders to quickly tap a farecard or mobile device at any door, the technology could significantly shorten the boarding process and speed up buses systemwide.

Read more…


1,343 NYC Pedestrians and Cyclists Injured in September, and 10 Killed

Barney Pinkney and Francis Perez

Barney Pinkney and Francis Perez

Fourteen people died in New York City traffic in September, and 5,288 were injured, according to City Hall’s Vision Zero View crash data map.

City Hall reported 115 pedestrians and cyclists killed by city motorists through September of this year, and 11,085 injured, compared to 97 deaths and 10,500 injuries in the same period in 2015.

Four motor vehicle occupants died in the city in September, according to City Hall, and 3,945 were injured.

Citywide, nine pedestrians and one cyclist were fatally struck by drivers last month. Among the victims were Barney Pinkney, Lee Strong, Dian McLean, Francis Perez, Jun Hiu Liu, and an unnamed male cyclist in Queens.

Motorists killed at least two seniors in September: Lee Strong, 83; and Jun Hiu Liu, 70.

Across the city, 816 pedestrians and 527 cyclists were reported hurt in collisions with motor vehicles. Per NYPD policy, few of these crashes were investigated by trained officers.

Of five fatal crashes on surface streets reported by Streetsblog and other outlets, no motorists were known to have been charged for causing a death. Based on NYPD and media accounts, at least two victims were likely walking or cycling with the right of way when they were struck.

Army veteran Barney Pinkney was struck as he crossed Morningside Avenue at an intersection with an unmarked crosswalk. NYPD filed no charges against the driver and told the media Pinkney was “outside the crosswalk.”

A motorist backing up for a parking spot fatally struck Lee Strong, 83, as she stood in an Upper East Side crosswalk. NYPD filed no charges. Strong was the sixth person killed in 2016 while walking in the 19th Precinct.

Read more…

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What Would It 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.

Read more…


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.

Read more…
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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.

Read more…


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