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What Is Your State Doing to Improve Walking and Biking?

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How good are your state’s policies on walking and biking?

The Alliance for Biking and Walking has made it easy to find out with this at-a-glance chart, released as part of its biannual Benchmarking report this week.

According to the Alliance, state policies are getting progressively better for walking and biking. Now, 34 states publish goals to increase levels of active transportation. That’s up from 29 states just two years ago. Nearly every state — 44 — now sets goals to reduce pedestrian fatalities, and 43 states have set goals for bike fatalities. Even states that aren’t known for walking and biking seem to at least be talking the talk. The Alliance reports that Florida now has a policy aiming to get more people walking, and Nevada is trying to increase cycling.

Cities are getting with the program as well, the Alliance finds.

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Mixed Signals From Bratton’s NYPD Jaywalking Directive

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton’s memo ordering precincts to focus on dangerous jaywalking offenses looks like a positive sign, but it still directs officers to write out citations in a way that ensures many won’t be heard in court.

The Daily News reports that Bratton issued guidelines Tuesday that instruct beat cops to issue warnings to “elderly and handicapped” pedestrians “absent reckless disregard for safety.” Senior Kang Wong was left bloodied after a jaywalking stop on the Upper West Side earlier this year. Charges against him were dropped and he is suing the city.

“If pedestrian actions are not causing a safety risk or the ends of justice are not met by issuing a summons,” the memo reads, “warn and admonish the violator instead.”

Attorney Steve Vaccaro says Bratton’s directive appears to address the department’s tendency to concentrate on generating mass summonses for technical violations that are more likely to stick in court — what Vaccaro calls the “fish in a barrel approach” — rather than targeting behaviors that are more likely to result in injury. “I think this would be consistent with a data-driven approach to dangerous violations,” he says.

On the other hand, the memo cites the NYPD Patrol Guide rule that says pedestrian summonses should be processed through New York City Criminal Court. As Vaccaro wrote in a March Street Justice column, the Criminal Court does not adjudicate traffic offenses. The current protocol is a waste of time and resources for NYPD, the courts, and people who are ticketed, says Vaccaro.

With tickets being thrown out of court, the practice also works against Bratton’s stated goal of encouraging “safe pedestrian practices,” and provides no judicial check against bogus summonses. ”If the summonses will never be heard, cops can do whatever they want,” Vaccaro says. “The tickets are never reviewed.”

NYPD had issued 916 jaywalking summonses as of Sunday, according to the Daily News, compared to 532 tickets total in 2013.

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More Walking and Biking, Better Health: New Evidence From American Cities

States with higher rates of walking and biking to work tend to have lower rates of diabetes. Click to enlarge. All graphics: Alliance for Biking and Walking

New data from the Alliance for Biking and Walking’s 2014 Benchmarking report bears out the notion that people tend to be healthier in cities where walking and biking are more prevalent.

The Alliance compiled active commuting rates in the 50 largest American cities as measured by the U.S. Census. Then it compared that data with health information from the CDC. On health outcomes like diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure, a pretty clear correlation emerges.

Not all of it can be explained by active commuting, of course. But notice how, in the top chart, as statewide active transportation rates increase, diabetes rates decline.

About 9 percent of Americans have diabetes, but the incidence varies greatly between different places. Diabetes tracks closely enough with walk and bike commute rates that the Alliance and other researchers have concluded there’s a strong correlation.

Rates of elevated blood pressure display a similar pattern:

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Local Climate Doesn’t Exert Much Influence on Biking and Walking

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There is no link between colder temperatures and levels of walking and biking to work. Click to enlarge. All graphics: Alliance for Biking and Walking

Which state has the highest share of people who walk to work? It’s not temperate California.

Actually, Alaska, the coldest state in the U.S., has the highest rate of active commuting. About 8 percent of workers there commute by foot and another 1 percent by bike.

That illustrates something that researchers have noticed for a long time — climate isn’t a strong indicator of where people walk and bike a lot, or where they do not.

In its big biannual benchmarking report, the Alliance for Biking and Walking cross-referenced climate data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with walk and bike commutes rates in U.S. cities. They found only a “weak relationship” between climate and active commuting.

The top chart shows major American cities on a spectrum from the most cold-weather days to the fewest. Note that biking and walking rates are scattered all over the place, even as the cities grow colder from left to right.

When you look at cities that have lots of hot days, though, a relationship does appear. As this chart shows, some of the cities with the lowest bike and walk commuting rates also have some of the hottest days — Forth Worth, Jacksonville, Las Vegas.

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5 Things You Should Know About the State of Walking and Biking in the U.S

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While walk and bike commute rates aren’t changing rapidly, since 2005 walking to work has ceased a long-term decline, and biking to work has started to rise after many years of stagnation. All graphics: Alliance for Walking and Biking.

The Alliance for Biking and Walking released its big biannual benchmarking report today, a 200-page document that measures the scope, status, and benefits of biking and walking across the United States, using 2011 and 2012 data to update its previous reports.

Streetsblog will be running a series of posts looking at the Alliance’s findings over the next few days. To start it all off, here are a few of the key takeaways:

1. Biking and walking are growing — slowly

Nationwide, 3.4 percent of commuters got to work by foot or bike in 2011 and 2012.

In those two years, walking accounted for 2.8 percent of work trips, up from 2.5 percent in 2005 but not perceptibly different than any year since. Nationwide, bike commute mode share stood at 0.6 percent in 2012, up from 0.4 percent in 2005 but not much different than when the previous benchmarking report came out two years ago.

The Alliance calls this a continuation of the “very gradual trend of increasing biking and walking to work.”

2. But walking to work is growing more noticeably in cities

In the 50 largest cities, however, a recent increase in walking is somewhat more discernible. The walking commute share rose to 5 percent in 2012 — half a percentage point higher than in 2005. Meanwhile, bike commuting in the 50 largest cities rose to 1 percent mode share in 2012 from 0.7 percent in 2005.

Boston had the highest share of walking commuters at 15 percent, and Portland had the highest share of bike commuters at 6.1 percent.

Keep in mind that these mode-share numbers are based on the Census, which only counts people who bike or walk for the longest part of their commute more than three days a week. As we’ll see, this understates total biking and walking activity.

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Rockaway Students Want DOT to Use Extra Asphalt for Walking and Biking


Rockaway Freeway, a multi-lane divided road beneath the A train on the Rockaway peninsula, is hardly friendly territory for walking or biking. A group of teens interning with the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance is looking to change that. Their goal: Gather 10,000 signatures on a petition asking DOT to convert some under-used road space, created as part of a traffic-calming project years ago, into a safe place for walking and biking.

“There are two striped buffers that aren’t being used for anything,” said Sebastian Rahman, 15, a sophomore at Scholars Academy in Rockaway Park and an intern with RWA. “People still do use them to get from point A to point B, even though it isn’t really isn’t safe.”

“You have people speeding there,” said intern Kaitlyn Kennedy, 16. “It’s not the safest place to be walking.” A road diet reduced the number of lanes and added the striped buffered areas more than a decade ago, but Rockaway Freeway continues to be a dangerous road: Last December, a teen driver killed one of his passengers and seriously injured another in a late-night crash on the road at Beach 41st Street.

“We saw the Rockaway Freeway as a great opportunity,” Rahman said. After Hurricane Sandy wiped out portions of the boardwalk, he continued, “there was no more connectivity between the east side and the west side of the peninsula.” Together, the student interns have come up with a concept that mixes new planted areas with more space for pedestrians and a dedicated bike path.

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GWB Will Get Bike-Ped Upgrades as Part of Cable Rehab Project

Yesterday, the the Port Authority board authorized a $1.03 billion rehabilitation of the George Washington Bridge’s suspension cables that will also fix problem spots for cyclists and pedestrians using its shared paths. But the upgraded biking and walking routes will still be two feet narrower than the recommended width for shared-use paths.

Say goodbye to these stairs on the George Washington Bridge path...in 2024. Photo: Google Maps

Say goodbye to these stairs on the George Washington Bridge path… in ten years. Photo: Google Maps

Today, users of the south path face a hairpin turn on the Manhattan side. The north path, which remains closed, has staircases on both sides of the Hudson. Under the plan, both paths would be upgraded to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, eliminating the hairpin turn and the stairs.

The north path will receive upgrades first and then reopen to the public before the south path is closed for construction.

The fixes were welcomed by Transportation Alternatives and the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition, which both worked with the Port Authority as it was planning the project.

In his testimony, Neile Weissman, who serves as president of the New York Cycle Club, also praised the changes but prodded the Port Authority to widen the paths, which at 8 feet would fall below federal guidelines, which call for a minimum of 10 feet, or up to 14 feet for busy shared-use paths.

“We have a budget and a limited amount of revenue,” Port Authority spokesperson Chris Valens told Streetsblog. ”We did what we thought we could accommodate based on the project and the cost of the project.” Valens added that with both the north and south paths open, it might be possible to designate one path for cyclists and another for pedestrians, though no final decision has been made.

Construction is set to begin in 2017, with final completion in 2024.

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Dateline Nashville: Students Spotted Walking to School — Outside!

Today in what’s wrong with everything: The Nashville news media is apparently aghast that students at a local high school had to take a walk.

According to WKRN, on the way back from a field trip around 100 students from the Nashville School of the Arts were dropped off about eight-tenths of a mile from school. The students, the station reports, were forced to endure 15 minutes of walking after bus drivers left them at a McDonald’s to attend to other routes.

“As the buses left,” says anchor Bob Mueller, barely concealing his incredulity, “the only way to get those students back to school was to walk.”

WKRN’s Nick Caloway did the same walk himself to double-check the school district’s half-mile estimate of the journey, which school officials said was within the official “walk zone.” Caloway does a pretty good job detailing road conditions that might make what should be a routine activity dangerous. He makes a point of saying the road was “busy” and that one section of sidewalk was closed, though these details are seemingly offered only to strengthen the argument that the students should not have been walking.

How sad that an activity that was commonplace for generations is now completely foreign to much of the U.S. Given the tone of the coverage you’d think these kids flew back from their field trip by flapping their arms.

As for the students, one described the experience as “not fun.”

“It was sunny, it was windy,” she said.

(Hat tip to Lenore Skenazy at Free Range Kids.)

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Morningside Road Diet Supporters Try to Find Common Ground With CB 10

Wednesday night, Harlem road diet supporters and opponents met in an attempt to find common ground on what can be done to improve safety on Morningside Avenue. The move comes in advance of DOT releasing a second plan for the street, after its first design encountered opposition from Community Board 10.

CB 10's chair is worried that adding pedestrian islands to Morningside Avenue will cause problems for double-parkers. Photo: DOT

CB 10′s chair is worried that reducing car lanes to add pedestrian islands to Morningside Avenue will create problems with double-parked drivers. Photo: DOT

The plan to calm traffic on Morningside Avenue [PDF], requested by North Star Neighborhood Association and supported by CB 9, has been waiting for action from neighboring CB 10 since it was released last September. But key CB 10 members object to its central component — a reduction in the number of car lanes to create space for a painted median and pedestrian refuge islands — and the board has refused to take action on the plan. In response, DOT went back to the drawing board and is creating a second plan to be presented in the coming weeks.

About 25 people attended the Wednesday meeting, which was hosted by North Star and included presentations from CB 10 chair Henrietta Lyle and Transportation Alternatives Manhattan organizer Tom DeVito, who talked about how the plan fits into Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero program.

The event featured plenty of crosstalk and heated exchanges, but there was also discussion of the need for a plan that everyone in the room could support. While the meeting ended on a positive note, the path to agreement remains murky: Lyle and many CB 10 members remain opposed to reducing the number of car lanes, and DOT has not yet released its alternative plan.

“I just don’t think it’s a good community position for us to be battling when safety is the number one thing,” said Aissatou Bey-Grecia, a founding member of North Star. The group focused on Morningside Avenue after an unsuccessful bid for a 20 mph Slow Zone in the neighborhood yielded discussions with DOT about the street. “Any change would be a good change, as far as I’m concerned, on Morningside Avenue. But what happens should come out of the collective voice.”

For her part, Lyle alternated between support of unspecified traffic safety improvements and telling the group that there was no pressing reason to implement a road diet on Morningside. Lyle held up a printed Google Map of traffic speeds to show that because Morningside Avenue was not colored in red, yellow or green, it did not require any changes. ”They had nothing on Morningside Avenue, meaning it is okay,” she said.

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Safety Fixes to Park Ave, Triboro Bridge Ramps Clear CB 11 Committee

Poor visibility leaves pedestrians at risk on Park Avenue in East Harlem. Curb extension have already been installed at 104th Street, right. Photos: DOT

Poor visibility leaves pedestrians at risk on Park Avenue in East Harlem. Curb extension have already been installed at 104th Street, right. Photos: DOT

A deadly section of Park Avenue in East Harlem is on track for safety fixes, as is the dangerous confluence of ramps and streets at 125th Street and the RFK Triborough Bridge, following a unanimous vote by the Manhattan Community Board 11 transportation committee Tuesday evening.

The Park Avenue viaduct carries Metro-North trains over the center of the street north of 97th Street. South of 111th Street, it’s a stone structure with poor visibility around corners. From 2007 to 2011, there were 19 severe injuries, including six pedestrians and one cyclist, on that stretch, according to DOT. It’s only gotten worse since then: In July 2012, 18-year-old Shaquille Cochrane was killed on his bike by a cab driver at 108th Street. Last June, cyclist Marvin Ramirez, also 18, was killed at the same intersection. Last November, a taxi driver struck a box truck at 102nd Street, sending it onto the sidewalk, killing 65-year-old Olga Rivera. A vehicle occupant was also seriously injured in the crash.

In 2009, DOT installed concrete neckdowns and new pedestrian signals at 104th and 105th Streets as part of a safety project near PS 72. Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito and CB 11 asked the agency to extend similar improvements to the rest of the viaduct. Now DOT is proposing narrower lanes on cross-streets, concrete curb extensions, and new pedestrian signals [PDF]. It is also planning to upgrade lighting in pedestrian tunnels beneath the viaduct and re-stripe crosswalks as high-visibility “zebra” markings.

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