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Real Talk: Why the Mayor of Memphis Is Building Protected Bike Lanes

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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.

While the Green Lane Project team was interviewing smart people around the country for our new video about the rise of protected bike lanes, we asked Mayor AC Wharton of Memphis why he’s been such a supporter of protected bike infrastructure in a city that, before he came to office, didn’t have a single bike lane.

Though it didn’t make it in the final video, our favorite moment from this conversation is in the short video clip above, when Wharton took a moment for some Real Talk about the tradeoffs he faces as an allocator of civic resources.

There is enough real estate in our core city. The infrastructure’s already there. Why further tax yourself by trying to extend infrastructure, sewers, schools, whatever, into areas rather than just take advantage of the beautiful facilities and the beautiful land that you have already? … It is much more cost-feasible for me to fix up Broad Avenue, Madison, with some stripes on the pavement, protected bike lanes, than it is for me to go way out somewhere, put in sewers, street lights, have garbage pickup, all this stuff. So it bodes well for our citizens and their health — both physical and emotional — but it also bodes well for the finances of the city.

The tax rolls show that Wharton’s theory has paid off. Modest public investments in bike infrastructure on Broad have not only unlocked generous philanthropic support, they’ve stimulated private investment in a neighborhood that’s been suffering disinvestment ever since highways cut it off from its surroundings.

Wharton is a great spokesman for this Strong Towns-influenced way of thinking about city finances because he puts it in such clear, concrete terms while never losing sight of the non-financial benefits that biking brings. Anyone looking for ways to talk about the benefits of protected bike lanes, and urban investments in general, could probably learn a lot from his style and his substance.

Video interviews by Laura Crawford and Russ Roca. You can follow The Green Lane Project on Twitter or Facebook or sign up for its weekly news digest about protected bike lanes.

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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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Cycling So Popular in Georgia That Lawmaker Carl Rogers Wants to Ban It

Responding to a cycling boom in northern Georgia, a bill introduced in the state house would require bicyclists to purchase license plates and limit how and where they ride.

Cycling is booming in north Georgia, says lawmaker Carl Rogers -- and that's a problem. Photo: Southeast Discovery

House Bill 689 was purportedly introduced in response to complaints from north Georgia drivers, whose chief grievance seems to be that it is inconvenient to encounter cyclists on the road at all. Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, who introduced the bill, believes cycling is so popular in the area that things are getting out of hand. Said Rogers to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “On these narrow mountain roads and on state roads, the traffic can be heavy. The mountain roads have become especially a problem because the (bike) clubs are moving up there.”

The legislation would require cyclists to purchase a $15 annual registration, to be displayed on a license, or face a misdemeanor offense and a $100 fine. The law would prohibit cyclists from riding more than four in a row single file, and would allow the state and localities to “restrict when and where cycling is allowed.”

“It looks like the purpose of the bill is to allow motorists to drive as quickly as possible and prioritizes eliminating a moment’s delay or ‘inconvenience’ over another person’s fundamental safety,” said statewide advocacy group Georgia Bikes! in a statement.

The group added that the law would discourage a healthy and inexpensive form of transportation:

The reason we tax, register, and require licenses for motorists is because cars are inherently dangerous and create negative externalities and social impacts (congestion, sprawl, physical inactivity, air pollution, crashes, fatalities, road wear & tear, etc, etc). A bicycle does none of these things, and in fact is a common sense solution to many of these problems.

In a bit of unintended hilarity, Rogers says funds from his bike ban law could be used to make cycling safer — which, of course, tends to encourage cycling.

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Jersey City’s Missing Bike Lanes Will Be Striped This Fall, City Promises

Although Hoboken has taken the lead on implementing New Jersey’s best bike infrastructure, Jersey City looked like it was poised to catch up to its northern neighbor last year. Mayor Jerramiah Healy laid out a plan to bring bike lanes and sharrows to his city’s streets, but the plan stagnated under his administration. Newly-elected Mayor Steven Fulop says the lanes will be implemented, but Jersey City cyclists will have to wait until the fall.

Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop says he'll implement the previous administration's plan to expand bike lanes to more than just Grove Street, above, but cyclists will have to wait until September. Photo: Lauren Casselberry/The Jersey Journal

Jersey City has a long history of inaction on cycling infrastructure. “There have been a lot of plans for bike lanes,” BikeJC board member Carly Berwick told Streetsblog, via email. A 2006 bikeway plan [PDF] was followed by a 2010 master plan [PDF] that included street design guidelines for bike lanes, but nothing got built. In 2012, the city unveiled an “experimental” bike lane on Grove Street, which was made permanent this spring.

A watershed moment came last December, when Mayor Healy outlined a plan to bring 35 miles of bike lanes and nearly 20 miles of shared lane markings to Jersey City. The plan, which also included updates to the city’s bike ordinances, a bike rack sponsorship program, and the possibility of bike-share, prioritized streets for implementation.

The plan was announced after a working group, comprised of city staff and BikeJC representatives, worked for five months before submitting its recommendations to the mayor in September 2012.

“Many outlets reported on it as if it were indeed happening,” Berwick said. “Our understanding is that those bike lanes and sharrows announced in 2012 may have depended on uncertain financing.” Indeed, the city’s press release says that the city applied to the state DOT’s bikeways program in October 2012 for $1.4 million to fund its bike lane and rack program. City spokesperson Jennifer Morrill says the city didn’t receive that grant, but did receive a state grant for a repaving of Pacific Avenue that will include bike lanes.

Even without the state bikeway funding, however, the city said last year that streets included in the plan would get bike markings as they received already-scheduled resurfacings, and listed 3.1 miles of streets that were scheduled to be repaved in 2012. Those repavings came and went under the Healy administration, with no new bike lanes.

Fulop’s election to the city’s top job this year attracted lots of attention. Unlike Healy, Fulop rides a bike, but didn’t include bicycling in his campaign’s transportation platform [PDF]. Since he assumed office on July 1, the repavings have continued under the new administration. While the streets have received fresh markings, none of them include bike lanes or sharrows.

“The plan was to put the bike lanes down at the end, once all the streets are repaved,” Morrill said. “They will finish paving and begin striping at the beginning of September.”

“We believe the new administration is working in good faith to implement the lanes eventually,” BikeJC’s Berwick said. Yesterday, BikeJC board members met with city staff for an update. “We are looking forward to working with Mayor Fulop and his team to implement more bike lanes as soon as possible,” Berwick said.

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GOP Mayor Greg Ballard: Making Bicycling a Priority in Indianapolis

Across the nation, many big-city mayors of both political parties are embracing bikes and livable streets. As you’ll see, Indianapolis’ Mayor Greg Ballard, a Republican, believes that making city cycling safer and more enjoyable will attract young people and families and benefit business.

Ballard has expanded the number of miles of bike lanes from one (in 2007) to over 75, and there are plans for 200 miles of bikeways by the year 2015. In addition, the city has seen the grand opening of the magnificent Indianapolis Cultural Trail (there’s a great Streetfilm coming on that shortly), which features eight miles of safe biking and walking paths.

Mayor Ballard also does it with his body and voice. He now personally leads four bike rides per year, encouraging people to get healthy, have fun and see their city from a different perspective.

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Guerrilla Crosswalk Painter Arrested by Vallejo Police, Cheered By Neighbors

This story falls into the unusual but persistent overlap between pedestrian advocacy and vandalism. In Vallejo, California, last week, one man saw the need for a crosswalk at a dangerous intersection, and decided it was his job to make it happen.

Antonio Cardenas got arrested for trying to keep his community safe. Photo: NewsTimes

Anthony Cardenas, 52, grabbed some white paint and got to work at dawn to create his own makeshift crosswalk at the intersection of Sonoma Boulevard and Illinois Street. And he did a pretty decent job, according to the news photos. Maybe the geometry wasn’t perfect, but Cardenas definitely got his point across. And then he got cuffed.

Acting on a tip from a witness, police found Cardenas in his home last Thursday, where the retired U.S. Marine freely admitted to his paint job and explained that his goal was public safety. The cops placed him in the Solano County Jail with a $15,000 bail. As one officer told KTVU, the rogue crosswalk qualifies as vandalism.

Cardenas still faces felony charges. A Streetsblog reader forwarded a statement from the Solano County district attorney, who said the case is under review and Cardenas will be arraigned later.

But it hasn’t turned out all bad for him. An anonymous donor bailed him out of jail and he got a hero’s welcome once he got home, with neighbors hooting in support and TV news crews heaping attention on his cause.

A bandana-masked Cardenas told reporters he was simply trying to make the intersection safer after witnessing several crashes and almost getting hit a couple of times himself. “I got tired of seeing people get run over here all the time,” Cardenas told CBS Sacramento. He said he’d tried to voice his concerns before to public officials, to no avail.

Many neighbors who spoke to the press supported Cardenas and agreed that the intersection – four lanes and “easy for drivers to barrel through” according to the KTVU video – is a real hazard for pedestrians. “All you see is accidents, all day long,” one woman said. Neighbors also say the DIY crosswalk was getting a lot of use before authorities caught wind of it. Vallejo police dispute that collisions are common there, saying none have been reported.

According to KVTU, Caltrans will “grind and repave [the] intersection to erase any remnants” of Cardenas’ paint job, and has no plans to put in a permanent crosswalk.

This isn’t the first time Cardenas has painted a guerrilla crosswalk. He told reporters that after his first attempt painting markings at the same spot about a year ago, he hid out in LA for a while to evade arrest. But he doesn’t plan to try again. “This is not worth it,” Cardenas told the Times-Herald. “Even though I hate for people to be hit … I am not going to pursue this.”

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MassDOT Secretary: “We Will Build No More Superhighways”

OK, everybody, pack your bags. We’re all moving to Massachusetts.

MassDOT Chief Richard Davey said yesterday he wouldn't be building any more "superhighways" and wanted to focus on transit, biking, and walking instead. Photo: The Republican/Mark M. Murray

The Bay State’s transportation secretary, Richard Davey, has launched a “mode shift” campaign, saying in no uncertain terms that it’s time for people to get out of their cars and onto trains, buses, bikes, and their own two feet. His goal is to triple the share of trips taken by those modes, as opposed to single-occupancy vehicles, by improving transit service and active transportation amenities like lighting, sidewalks, curb cuts and rail-trails.

Here’s the part that gives me the shivers: “I have news for you,” Davey said at a news conference yesterday. “We will build no more superhighways in this state. There is no room.”

Massachusetts has 76,200 lane-miles of roadway, in a state that’s just 190 miles long. That’s a lot more asphalt than any other state in New England.

Eric Sundquist works with innovative state DOTs for a living, as director of the State Smart Transportation Initiative. What Massachusetts is doing is “leading edge but not bleeding edge,” Sundquist told Streetsblog. “There are other states that, even if they haven’t packaged a campaign around mode shift explicitly, are doing a lot of things to encourage mode shift.”

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Colorado Authorities Cite Driver for Cyclist Harassment

Despite the number of two-wheeled cop patrols around some cities, police aren’t always the most bike-minded bunch. When there’s a conflict between motorists and cyclists, they’re often inclined to take the motorist’s side. As Streetsblog has reported, police in New York City care more about drunk pedestrians than unsafe drivers, despite the fact that most fatalities are caused by motorists violating traffic laws. And then there’s the bizarre example of Los Altos, California, where police say cyclists are the ones causing crashes by speeding or even failing to yield automobile right-of-way. Huh?

Well, maybe you have to be within spitting distance of a platinum bike-friendly community to get police to care about cyclists’ safety. Last week, police in Longmont, Colorado, near Boulder, raised the bar for police work by actually pursuing charges against a driver who harassed cyclists.

Cyclist Dirk Friel took this harrowing video of the harassment he and a teammate faced last Sunday when they were out for a ride. Seventy-five-year-old James Ernst allegedly followed them for several minutes in his Ford SUV, honking constantly. He had plenty of room to pass, as they were riding to the right of the white line.

Also troubling is that a resident, quoted in Longmont Times-Call write-up of the incident, said the solution was to widen the road to four lanes. Granted, it was a Sunday, but the video hardly shows any other cars on the road. The only thing holding up traffic was Ernst’s massive SUV. Maybe we can hold off on the road expansion for now?

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Succeeding Where Albany Failed, Pennsylvania Strengthens Hit-and-Run Law

Theresa Sautter's daughter, 15-year-old Marylee Otto, was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Philadelphia in 2008. Photo: Philadelphia Inquirer

Legislators in Pennsylvania this year did what Albany lawmakers could not: addressed a loophole in state law that gives hit-and-run drivers an incentive to leave the scene of a serious crash. But the arduous task of getting a bill to the desk of Governor Tom Corbett exemplifies the difficulty in holding reckless motorists accountable, even when they take lives.

House Bill 208 elevates the crime of leaving the scene of a fatal hit-and-run in Pennsylvania to a second degree felony, placing it on the same level as a fatal DUI. However, a compromise weakened the legislation, ensuring that the minimum sentence for a fatal hit-and-run will still not match that of a fatal DUI crash, which in Pennsylvania carries a prison term of three to 10 years. Though the new law gives judges latitude to add to the mandatory minimum one-year hit-and-run sentence, advocates are understandably measured in their praise.

“Drivers who are responsible for killing cyclists or pedestrians shouldn’t feel that it is in their best interest to flee the scene because the penalty for doing so is less than being caught DUI,” wrote Sarah Clark Stuart, campaign director for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, in an e-mail to Streetsblog. “The incentive to do so has now been reduced because each offense has the same penalty, but unfortunately, the loophole is not completely closed because the difference in mandatory sentences remains.”

“We wish that the Legislature had made each offense have the same three year mandatory sentence. Nevertheless, HB 208 is significant because now, in Pennsylvania, a hit-and-run driver faces stiffer consequences than before, which is good news for pedestrians and cyclists.”

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CBS 2: Careless Pedestrians Walking Into Cars, Sinkholes, Hungry Bears

Ft. Lee police chief Thomas Ripoli has had it with people getting hit by cars. So he’s taken the logical step: ordering a crackdown on pedestrians.

“Pedestrians are now the new threat to street safety,” warns CBS 2’s Kristine Johnson, before segment reporter Derricke Dennis runs down the list of common misadventures the chronically distracted get into while walking — the kind of thing we’ve all seen at one time or another: people stumbling into fountains, falling into sinkholes, getting chased by bears.

This is not a parody.

Ripoli says he knows of 23 pedestrian-involved crashes in Ft. Lee in 2012, including three fatalities. From the chief’s point of view — if we’re to believe CBS 2’s take, at least — those people have no one to blame but themselves.

“They’re not alert and they’re not watching what they’re doing,” says Ripoli. “As of now, they are to give summonses to pedestrians who do not adhere to crosswalks and the lights.”

It appears Ripoli has also invented the offense of careless walking. Says a stern-faced Dennis: “Unlike careless driving, there’s no specific charge for being a careless pedestrian, but Chief Ripoli said his officers are watching — they’ll know it when they see it.”

Naturally, Dennis can’t leave well enough alone. Cut to Manhattan: “Imagine if New York did this,” he says. “Just about every pedestrian in Times Square would get a ticket.”

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