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Posts from the Walking Category

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The New York of 2016 Needs the Wide, Generous Sidewalks of 1906

The Times ran a feature on the pedestrian crush in New York City today, and as good as the photos are, they don’t do the situation justice. To get a sense of just how inadequate the sidewalks are in Midtown, you need to go there — or failing that, watch this Streetfilm from 2009 with narration by Streetsblog publisher Mark Gorton.

Believe it or not, these scenes of people overflowing off the sidewalk were shot during a post-recession ebb in pedestrian traffic, according to DOT counts cited by the Times. Since this video was made, the crowding has actually gotten worse.

New York didn’t always have such meager sidewalks — over the years, the city systematically shrank pedestrian space to make room for motor vehicles. Here’s a look at the sidewalk on Lexington Avenue and 89th Street today, and the much more accommodating dimensions near the turn of the 20th Century, courtesy of architect John Massengale:

Here’s the 1909 plan to shave 15 feet of sidewalk off Fifth Avenue to widen the roadbed for cars:

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Streetsblog USA
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How Can Cities Move More People Without Wider Streets? Hint: Not With Cars

NACTO_transit_lanes

Here’s how many people a single traffic lane can carry “with normal operations,” according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

How can cities make more efficient use of street space, so more people can get where they want to go?

This graphic from the new NACTO Transit Street Design Guide provides a great visual answer. (Hat tip to Sandy Johnston for plucking it out.) It shows how the capacity of a single lane of traffic varies according to the mode of travel it’s designed for.

Dedicating street space to transit, cycling, or walking is almost always a tenacious fight, opposed by people who insist that streets are for cars. But unless cities make room for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders, there’s no room for them to grow beyond a certain point.

NACTO writes:

While street performance is conventionally measured based on vehicle traffic throughput and speed, measuring the number of people moved on a street — its person throughput and capacity — presents a more complete picture of how a city’s residents and visitors get around. Whether making daily commutes or discretionary trips, city residents will choose the mode that is reliable, convenient, and comfortable.

Transit has the highest capacity for moving people in a constrained space. Where a single travel lane of private vehicle traffic on an urban street might move 600 to 1,600 people per hour (assuming one to two passengers per vehicle and 600 to 800 vehicles per hour), a dedicated bus lane can carry up to 8,000 passengers per hour. A transitway lane can serve up to 25,000 people per hour per travel direction.

Of course, it usually takes more than changing a single street to fully realize these benefits. A bike lane won’t reach its potential if it’s not part of cohesive network of safe streets for biking, and a transit lane won’t be useful to many people if it doesn’t connect them to walkable destinations.

But this graphic is a useful tool to communicate how sidewalks, bike lanes, and transitways are essential for growing cities looking to move more people on their streets without the costs and dangers inherent in widening roads.

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After Fatal Hit-and-Run, Queens CB 1 Calls on DOT to Redesign 21st Street

A hit-and-run driver killed a 45-year-old man earlier this month at this on 21st Street in Astoria, where advocates have been calling for traffic-calming for over two years. Image: Google Maps

A hit-and-run driver killed 45-year-old Sean Crume earlier this month on 21st Street in Astoria, where advocates have been calling for traffic-calming for over two years. Image: Google Maps

Queens Community Board 1 endorsed a resolution late last night asking DOT for a “comprehensive redesign of the entire length of 21st Street along Complete Street principles.”

The vote comes after a hit-and-run driver killed 45-year-old Sean Crume walking across 21st Street at 30th Road, where there is no signalized crossing, earlier this month. It was the fourth fatality on 21st Street since 2009, according to Vision Zero View.

The resolution was nearly delayed to next month, according to advocates who attended last night, but the board ultimately passed it at around 10:30 p.m.

With wide lanes and lots of car traffic traveling between the BQE and the free Queensboro Bridge, 21st Street ranks in the bottom third of Queens’ streets in terms of safety, according to DOT [PDF].

Volunteers with Transportation Alternatives’ Queens Committee have been pushing for traffic calming on 21st Street for two and a half years. The campaign has collected 1,600 signatures and 37 letters of support from local organizations and businesses.

DOT responded last year with meager safety improvements: some painted curb extensions and a few tweaks to signals and lane striping, but no major changes to the basic geometry of the street. Agency officials maintained that high rush hour traffic volumes precluded narrowing the roadway and adding bike lanes or pedestrian islands.

Local advocates weren’t satisfied. “We haven’t stopped campaigning,” said TA Queens member Angela Stach. “We have been trying to push our council members to go back to the city and ask for more.”

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Streetsblog USA
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What If We Measure Streets for Walking the Way We Measure Streets for Cars?

“What you measure is what you get,” the saying goes. In transportation, the dominant metrics are all about moving motor vehicle traffic, so America has built a transportation network that moves a lot of cars. Our streets may be dangerous, expensive, and inefficient, but they do process huge volumes of motor vehicles.

Photo: Billie Grace Ward/Flickr via City Observatory

A quintessentially American transportation metric — and a highly influential one — is the Texas Transportation Institute’s congestion report, which ranks cities based on the time drivers spend moving slower than “free-flowing” traffic. By focusing so intently on driver delay, the report obscures more meaningful information, like the total time people spend commuting.

City Observatory has been doing a fantastic job debunking the TTI report. On April Fool’s Day, City Observatory’s Joe Cortright published a tongue-in-cheek takeoff on TTI’s methodology that he’s calling the “Pedestrian Pain Index.” The idea sounds simple: What if we measured the transportation system for pedestrians the same way we measure it for drivers?

The Pedestrian Pain Index sums up how many minutes people around the country spend waiting for the “walk” signal at intersections. If you multiply that number by the same “value of time” assumptions that TTI uses to assign a dollar figure to the cost of congestion, pedestrian delay at intersections costs the U.S. economy $25 billion annually.

Cortright says it’s not as easy to produce this analysis as the one for car congestion, because transportation agencies have developed all sorts of tools to measure motor vehicle delay. Not so much for pedestrian delay. Here he explains his methodology:

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Streetsblog USA
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Fast Changes to City Streets: A 9-Step Guide for Creative Bureaucrats

Marshall Avenue and Monroe Avenue, Memphis, Tenn. Photo: John Paul Shaffer

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

For most of the 20th century, cities answered transportation problems by adding more pavement.

More freeways. More lanes. More parking lots. More things that couldn’t be reversed or revised.

So it made sense, at the time, for the public process around civil engineering projects to focus, above all else, on not making mistakes. Generations of city workers embraced the value of “Do it once and do it right.”

But today’s transportation problems are different, and so are the projects that respond to them. Naturally enough, the process of planning and designing such projects has begun changing, too.

From the experimental lawn chairs scattered across New York’s redesigned Times Square on Memorial Day 2009 to the row of plastic posts on Denver’s Arapahoe Street after a bike lane retrofit last fall, city projects are tackling big problems with solutions that are small, cheap, fast and agile. But until now, no one has created a short, practical guide for cities that want to create a program to do things like these.

Today, we’re publishing that guide.

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Streetsblog USA
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Finally, a Little Accountability for State DOTs on Bike and Pedestrian Safety

In a win for bike and pedestrian safety, the Federal Highway Administration announced yesterday that it will require state transportation agencies to do something they have never had to do before: set goals to reduce bike and pedestrian fatalities, and track progress toward attaining those goals.

The news is part of FHWA’s roll-out of several “performance measures” for state and regional transportation agencies. The system of metrics is supposed to make the agencies more accountable for the billions of dollars in federal transportation funds they receive every year.

Advocates for walking and biking pressed FHWA to include bike and pedestrian safety measures in the performance standards, after they were initially excluded. Andy Clarke, former head of the League of American Bicyclists, now with the Toole Design Group, said the League helped solicit more than 11,000 comments in favor of creating performance measures for bike and pedestrian safety.

FHWA must have been listening. In its announcement, the agency said, “Non-motorized safety is of particular concern and improving conditions and safety for bicycling and walking will help create an integrated, intermodal transportation system that provides travelers with real choices.” Translation: The feds value walking and biking.

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Streetsblog USA
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Explore National Transportation Change Trends by Age Group

Cross-posted from City Observatory

In some ways, the urban renaissance of the last decade or two has been quite dramatic. Downtown or downtown-adjacent neighborhoods in cities around the country have seen rapid investments, demographic change, and growth in amenities and jobs. Even mayors in places with a reputation for car dependence, like Nashville and Indianapolis, are pushing for big investments in urban public transit.

Because many of those who work in urban planning live in or near these walkable, transit-served neighborhoods, it may be easy to imagine that their changes are representative of the overall pace of transition to a more urban-centric nation. Butas we and others have discussed before, in at least one way — transportation — change has actually been excruciatingly slow at the national level.

According to the American Community Survey, from 2006 to 2014, the proportion of people using a car to get to work declined — from 86.72 percent to 85.70 percent. Even among young people, the shift seems underwhelming: from 85.00 percent to 83.94 percent. (Though, as we stressed last week, these Census data only cover journey-to-work trips and tend to overstate the extent to which households rely exclusively on cars for their transportation needs.)

The changes for transit, biking, and walking are, obviously, similarly small. Transit mode share increased from 4.83 percent to 5.21 percent; among those 20 to 24, the increase was 5.53 to 6.35 percent. The overall share of walking commutes actually fell.

In fact, we’ve built a little tool to let people explore these data in an interactive way, selecting mode type and age ranges to see how things have changed, and haven’t, over the last almost-decade. The tool displays the same data in two ways: first, as a graph (above), and then as a simple table (below), for those who find that easier to read. (On the graph, yes, we have allowed the y-axis to begin at numbers larger than zero — in large part because the changes are so small that a chart that began at zero would be unintelligible. We will trust our readers to be sophisticated enough at reading graphs to understand.)

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DOT’s Meeker Ave Safety Project Gets — You Guessed It — Meeker

DOT's updated proposal for Meeker Avenue opts for new neckdowns instead of a closed slip lane at the triangle formed by Metropolitan Avenue, Havemeyer Avenue and N. 5th Street. Image: DOT

DOT’s updated proposal for Meeker Avenue opts for curb extensions instead of a car-free space at the triangle formed by Metropolitan Avenue, Havemeyer Avenue, and N. 5th Street. Image: DOT

DOT has watered down its safety plan for the area around Meeker, Union, and Metropolitan avenues. And for the second time in as many meetings, Brooklyn Community Board 1’s transportation committee could not make quorum last night to vote on the project.

DOT’s plan calls for sidewalk extensions and crosswalks at several intersections where Meeker, Union, and Metropolitan converge. It’s not a “complete street” redesign of the length of Meeker, but it would be a step up for pedestrian safety at these locations. There were three fatalities and more than 90 injuries in the project area between 2009 and 2013.

DOT wants to bring pedestrian safety improvements to this around around Meeker Avenue in North Brooklyn. Image: DOT

Map: DOT

Last night’s presentation included a few modifications from what DOT showed in January. Significantly, the plan no longer calls for pedestrianizing the short segment of North 5th Street between Metropolitan and Havemeyer. Instead, DOT will add neckdowns at three corners.

DOT Project Manager Julio Palleiro said the change was made at the request of the Church of the Annunciation, whose front entrance faces the would-be plaza. The church initially OK’d the car-free space, but came back to DOT after last month’s presentation. “They made a very strong case about elderly folks that need to get up to the front door here, and by having them over here that will add an extra 30 or 40 feet, which is significant for elderly people,” Palleiro said.

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Take a Look at What’s on the Table for Long Island City Streets

"Option 2" for the Pulaski Bridge gateway, right, would provide pedestrians and cyclists more space and safer crossings. Image: DDC/DOT/Parsons

“Option 2” for the Pulaski Bridge gateway, right, would expand pedestrian space and create a two-way bike connection to Vernon Boulevard on 49th Avenue. Image: DDC/DOT/Parsons

Every street in Long Island City is in line for a top-to-bottom reconstruction, and as part of the project DOT and the Department of Design and Construction are proposing several improvements for walking and biking. Here’s the presentation the agencies gave to Queens Community Board 2 earlier this month, showing the preliminary redesigns. The project covers several streets and intersections, and some of the options on the table go a lot farther than others to make walking and biking safer.

With the Queensboro Bridge to the north and the Midtown Tunnel and Pulaski Bridge to the south, Long Island City is plagued by car and truck traffic. The neighborhood’s population is growing rapidly, but its streets still suffer from wide car lanes, excessive speeding, and chaotic intersections that make for a poor walking and biking environment.

DOT and DDC are looking to address these shortcomings at several places. In many cases, the city showed different design options for each location, some clearly preferable to others. Overall, there’s a lot more to like if the city follows through on the more ambitious designs.

At the foot of the Pulaski Bridge, one option would create a much better connection to Vernon Boulevard by adding a two-way bike lane on 49th Avenue. It would also make a short block of 48th Street car-free to create a more continuous walking environment. But another option includes neither of those improvements.

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Streetsblog USA
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Traffic Engineers Still Rely on a Flawed 1970s Study to Reject Crosswalks

When St. Louis decided not to maintain colorful new crosswalks that residents had painted, the city’s pedestrian coordinator cited federal guidance. A 2011 FHWA memo warns that colorful designs could “create a false sense of security” for pedestrians and motorists.

Shoddy, 50-year-old research is an obstacle to grassroots street safety efforts like this fleur-de-lis crosswalk in St. Louis. Photo: Rally St. Louis

That may sound like unremarkable bureaucrat-speak, but the phrase “false sense of security” is actually a cornerstone of American engineering guidance on pedestrian safety.

You’ll find the words “false sense of security” in Washington state DOT’s crosswalk guidelines too. The city of Stockton, California, makes the same claim. The list goes on.

What gives? Well, you can trace this phrase — and the basis of some engineers’ reluctance to stripe crosswalks — to one very influential but seriously flawed study from the 1970s.

In 1972, a researcher named Bruce Herms conducted a study of crosswalk safety in San Diego. He found that intersections with marked crosswalks had higher injury rates than ones with unmarked crosswalks. He concluded that marked crosswalks should only be installed where they are “warranted” because they can give pedestrians a “false sense of security,” encouraging risky behavior.

But there were problems with the study. For one, Herms didn’t actually study why people made certain decisions at crosswalks — that “false sense of security” was just speculation on his part.

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