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Study: People Living Near Biking and Walking Paths Get More Exercise

Walking and biking activity increased for people living near new facilities, in three U.K. communities examined. Connect2 is the name of the nonprofit group that helped install the infrastructure. Image: American Journal of Public Health

New bike/ped infrastructure in three UK communities (labeled “Connect2″ — the name of the nonprofit group that helped install the infrastructure) led to more physical activity. Graph: American Journal of Public Health

People who live near safe, high-quality biking and walking infrastructure tend to get more exercise than people who don’t, according to a study published last week in the American Journal of Public Health.

Researchers surveyed randomly selected adults before and after new bike/ped infrastructure was built in three communities in the U.K. Two of the selected communities opened bike and pedestrian bridges with well-connected “feeder” infrastructure. The other community upgraded “an informal riverside footpath” into a boardwalk during the study period.

Over three years, about 1,500 people responded to annual surveys about their walking and biking habits as well as other exercise behavior. During the first year of the survey — before the bike/ped improvements had been completed — there was no difference in biking and walking levels between people living close to the project areas and people living farther away. But by the final survey year, after the new infrastructure had been built, a disparity began to emerge.

Researchers found that people living within 0.6 miles of a protected bikeway got about 45 minutes more exercise biking and walking per week than people living 2.5 miles away. For every kilometer (0.6 miles) closer respondents lived to the infrastructure improvement, they exercised roughly 15 minutes more per week. People without access to a car were most likely to exercise more in response to the infrastructure improvements.

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What’s the Best Way to Make Biking Mainstream in a Car-Centric City?

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Researchers forecast that a combination of protected bike lanes on arterial streets and “self-explaining” traffic calming on residential streets (the orange line) could vault bike mode share in Auckland from 2 percent to 35 percent — far more than the city’s current bike plan (the red line).

How can you turn a car-dependent city into a place where most people feel safe cycling for transportation?

Researchers in Auckland, New Zealand, created a predictive model to assess how different policies affect cycling rates over several years. In a paper published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives [PDF], they concluded that a combination of protected bike lanes on all wide arterial roads plus traffic calming measures on neighborhood side streets would have a far greater impact on bike mode share than Auckland’s current bike plan.

Only 19 percent of Auckland residents say they currently consider cycling to be “always or mostly safe.” The city’s bike commute mode share stands at 2 percent. While the region has set out to achieve a 35 percent combined biking and walking mode share by 2040 (the walk commute rate is currently 5.5 percent), its actual policies are not that ambitious. The Auckland bike plan calls mainly for un-protected lanes and off-street paths.

Using prior studies, travel surveys, interviews, and historical data, the researchers created a model designed to factor in the complex interactions between bicycling rates and traffic speeds, motor vehicle volumes, street design, the number of cyclists on the road, the number of actual injuries, and subjective perceptions of safety.

Then they plugged four different policy scenarios into their model: the current Auckland bike plan; redesigning residential streets for slow speeds; adding protected bike lanes on all arterial streets; and combining residential traffic calming with bike lanes on arterials. Only the combination scenario had the power to achieve Auckland’s bicycling goals, according to the model.

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The Secrets of Successful Transit Projects — Revealed!

Green Line Trax at Gallivan Plaza

The Trax light rail system in Salt Lake City has the hallmarks of high-ridership transit. Photo: CountyLemonade/Flickr

All across America, cities are investing in new transit lines. Which of these routes will make the biggest impact by attracting large numbers of new riders? A landmark report from a team of researchers with the University of California at Berkeley identifies the factors that set successful transit investments apart from the rest.

The secret sauce is fairly simple, when you get down to it: Place a transit line where it will connect a lot of people to a lot of jobs and give it as much grade-separated right-of-way as possible, and it will attract a lot of riders.

What makes the work of the Berkeley researchers, led by Daniel G. Chatman, remarkable is that it compiles decades of real-world data to predict how many people will ride a given transit route. Their conclusions should bolster efforts to maximize the effectiveness of new transit investments.

The report authors examined 140-plus factors to build these ridership models, based on data collected from 55 “fixed guideway” transit projects, including rail and bus rapid transit routes, built in 18 metropolitan areas between 1974 and 2008.

They found the success of a transit project is almost synonymous with whether it serves areas that are dense in both jobs and population and have expensive parking — in short, lively urban neighborhoods. In the report’s model, the combination of these factors explains fully 62 percent of the ridership difference between transit projects.

Surprisingly, the only design factor that seemed to have a significant effect on ridership was whether the route is grade-separated (in a tunnel or on a viaduct). In isolation, transit speed, frequency, or reliability did not have significant impacts, but the great advantage of grade-separated routes is that they can run quickly and reliably through high-density areas.

While it may seem like common sense to put transit routes where they will connect people to jobs, agencies don’t always choose the best routes — often opting for expedience over effectiveness. Salt Lake City’s FrontRunner commuter rail service, for instance, very closely parallels a newly widened I-15, and many stations are located in low-density industrial or residential areas. Ridership has fallen short of expectations.

Elsewhere in Salt Lake City, the authors identify the University/Medical Center Trax light rail route as a good example of a high-ridership transit project. It connects major high-wage job centers — notably the university, its hospital, and downtown — and also many leisure destinations like museums, sports stadiums, the state fair park, concert halls, and nearly half of the region’s hotel rooms. Locals have embraced light rail as an alternative to costly parking, as well: Parking demand on the growing University of Utah campus has fallen 30 percent since the route opened. The route carries 78 percent more riders than initially projected.

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FHWA: Bike-Ped Investments Pay Off By Cutting Traffic and Improving Health

Marin County rebuilt an old railroad tunnel and created a 1.1-mile non-motorized path, expanding transit access and increasing biking by 95 percent. Photo: ##http://parisi-associates.com/projects/non-motorized-transportation-pilot-program/##Parisi Associates##

Marin County rebuilt an old railroad tunnel and created a 1.1-mile walking and biking path, improving access to transit and increasing biking 95 percent on the road leading to the tunnel. Photo: Parisi Associates

Nine years after launching a program to measure the impact of bike and pedestrian investments in four communities, the Federal Highway Administration credits the program with increasing walking trips by nearly a quarter and biking trips by nearly half, while averting 85 million miles of driving since its inception.

In 2005, the FHWA’s Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program (NTPP) set aside $100 million for pedestrian and bicycle programs in four communities: Columbia, Missouri; Marin County, California; Sheboygan County, Wisconsin; and the Minneapolis region in Minnesota.

Each community had $25 million to spend over four years, with most of the funding going toward on-street and off-street infrastructure. According to a progress report released this week, about $11 million of that remains unspent, though the communities also attracted $59 million in additional funds from other federal, state, local, and private sources.

“The main takeaway is, we’ve now answered indisputably that if you build a wisely-designed, safe system for walking and biking within the context of a community that is aware of and inspired by fact that it is becoming a more walkable, bikeable place, you can achieve dramatic mode shift with modest investment,” said Marianne Fowler of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and an architect of the pilot program.

Columbia reconfigured a key commuter intersection to making walking and biking easier and safer, resulting in a 51 percent jump in walking rates and a 98 percent jump in biking at that location. In Marin County, the reconstruction of the 1,100-foot Cal Park railroad tunnel and construction of a 1.1-mile walking and biking path provided direct access to commuter ferry service to downtown San Francisco and reduced bicycling time between the cities of San Rafael and Larkspur by 15 minutes. Biking along the corridor increased 95 percent, and a second phase of the project is still to come.

The program helped jump-start the Nice Ride bike-share system in Minneapolis, which grew to 170 stations and 1,556 bicycles by 2013, with 305,000 annual trips. And in Sheboygan County, the ReBike program distributed bicycles to more than 700 people and a new 1.7-mile multi-use path was built, following portions of an abandoned rail corridor through the heart of the city of Sheboygan. “Sixty percent of the population of Sheboygan County lives in close proximity to that corridor,” said Fowler. “And the trail gives them access to almost anything in Sheboygan.”

FHWA could see the impact: At locations where better infrastructure was installed, walking increased 56 percent and biking soared 115 percent. Using a peer-reviewed model, FHWA also estimated changes in walking and biking throughout the four communities. The program led to a 22.8 percent increase in walking trips and a 48.3 percent increase in biking trips. Without the interventions, residents would have driven 85 million more miles since the program launched, according to FHWA.

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WaPo Is Wrong: Head Injuries Are Down, Not Up, in Bike-Share Cities

Image: Washington Post headline, at 1:39 p.m. Friday, showed a headline that said, incorrectly, that bike sharing cities saw an increase in head injuries. Image: Washington Post

The Washington Post ran a headline today erroneously claiming that cyclist head injuries increased in bike-share cities, when in fact head injuries declined more in bike-share cities than in cities without bike-share.

A Washington Post headline proclaimed today that cyclist head injuries have increased in cities with bike-share systems, based on a study published in the American Journal of Public Health. But University of British Columbia public health professor Kay Ann Teschke is challenging that conclusion, pointing out that the data cited by the WaPo actually leads to the opposite conclusion: In cities with bike-share systems, head injuries and injuries of all kinds have gone down.

“The message that bike-share is increasing head injuries is not true,” Teschke told Streetsblog. “The tone of the article suggests that head injuries go up. Really what is happening is that head injuries went down, non-head injuries went down, but non-head injuries went down more.”

The study was based on injury data from trauma center databases and registries in American and Canadian cities, collected over the same time period from both bike-share cities and control cities. A press release for the study said the “risk of head injury among cyclists increased 14 percent after implementation of bike-share programs in several major cities.” But to put the finding in plainer language, what the researchers actually show is that head injuries as a proportion of overall cyclist injuries rose from 42 percent to 50 percent in five cities after the implementation of bike-share.

As for the overall safety of cyclists following the introduction of bike-share, Teschke says the data in the article actually show that total head injuries fell more in the five cities that implemented bike-share than in the control group. Head injuries just didn’t fall as much as total injuries.

The AJPH article’s authors make cautious assertions that their research might build the case for helmet requirements with bike-share. The Washington Post’s Lenny Bernstein, meanwhile, wasn’t cautious at all:

A few weeks ago, in honor of annual Bike to Work day, I asked a simple question about why those terrific bike share programs don’t provide helmets to riders. There were a lot of understandable reasons — hygiene, cost, liability — but one thing all the cities I checked seem to argue is that bike share programs are very safe, much safer than, say, crusing around on your own bicycle. Their evidence was anecdotal, based on the tiny number of reports of injuries to cyclists who have taken millions of bike share trips nationwide.

Well, it looks like they are wrong.

A look at the raw data doesn’t support Bernstein’s gloating at all.

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Pew Survey: Liberals Want Walkability, Conservatives Want a Big Lawn

Image: Pew Research Center

Image: Pew Research Center

Americans are increasingly sorted along ideological lines. There is less diversity of opinion among the people we associate with, in the media we consume, and even where we want to live. That’s according to a new report from Pew Research Center studying political polarization in the United States.

Image: Pew Research Center

Image: Pew Research Center

Perhaps most interestingly, the report found stark differences in preference for city versus rural living among people from different sides of the political aisle. People identified as the most consistently liberal were far more likely to say they prefer living in walkable place, while the most conservative people overwhelmingly said they preferred to live in a rural area or a small town.

The dynamic reinforces Nate Silver’s observation after the 2012 elections: “if a place has sidewalks, it votes Democratic. Otherwise, it votes Republican.”

Among those who identified as most conservative, 75 percent reported they’d prefer to live in a place where “the houses are larger and farther apart, but schools, stores and restaurants are several miles away.” Only 22 percent said they’re prefer to live in a place where “the houses are smaller and closer to each other, but schools, stores and restaurants are within walking distance.”

The situation was reversed for the most liberal class of respondents. Among this group, 77 percent said they preferred a smaller house, closer to neighborhood amenities. Only 22 percent would opt for the larger, more isolated house, Pew found. The proportions were roughly reversed for conservatives.

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A Decade of Growth for Transit-Accessible Neighborhoods in America

About 75 percent of Americans who live within a half-mile of a fixed transit station live in just five cities. Image: Federal Transit Administration

While the number of regions with good transit is on the rise, access is still concentrated in a handful of places. About 75 percent of Americans within a half-mile of a transit station live in just five cities. Chart: Federal Transit Administration

The first decade of the millennium saw significant growth for transit in America.

From 2000 to 2010, the number of regions with fixed-guideway transit — rail systems or bus systems with dedicated lanes — grew from 27 to 40. And ridership followed. In the period beginning in 1995 and ending in 2008, total American transit ridership grew 36 percent — or three times the rate of population growth.

A new report from the Federal Transit Administration and the Center for Transit-Oriented Development [PDF] takes a closer look at population changes and travel behavior in transit-accessible America. Some interesting patterns emerge.

Transit-accessible places are growing, but not as fast as the general population

During the aughts, 881 new stations were built across the United States for rail transit or high-quality bus transit, and the number of people living within a half mile of a transit station grew 6 percent. However, overall population increased nearly 10 percent over same time.

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There Is Now Scientific Evidence That Parking Makes People Crazy

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. Fifth in a series.

All this week, we’ve been unpacking the nuances of the first major study of protected bike lanes in the United States. Today, we’re wrapping things up by taking a moment for perhaps the most amusing finding in the 179-page report.

Even when a protected bike lane project creates on-street parking spaces where none existed before, 30 percent of nearby residents think the project made parking worse.

The project in question was Multnomah Street in Portland, where the city removed one travel lane in each direction in order to add buffers for the bike lanes and, at some midblock locations, 21 new parking spaces. Of 492 nearby residents who returned surveys about the project, 30 percent said that the changes had made it harder to park on the street.

At projects that actually removed parking spaces in order to add protected bike lanes, 49 percent of residents said they made it harder to park.

Could it be that when people who oppose bike projects complain about the loss of on-street parking, this issue is often not actually their primary concern?

As scientists sometimes say, the answer to this question is left as an exercise for the reader.

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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Study: Corrupt States Spend More on Highways

In states with higher levels of corruption, public officials spend more on construction, roads and safety services. Image: Public Administration Review via Governing

A new study found a link between highway spending and official corruption. Map: Public Administration Review via Governing

A new academic study helps explain the enduring political popularity of expensive transportation boondoggles like Birmingham’s $4.7 billion Northern Beltline and Kentucky’s $2.6 billion Ohio River Bridges.

According to research published in the journal Public Administration Review, states with higher levels of public corruption spend more money on highways and construction. The study found highway and construction projects and police programs provide the most opportunities for lawmakers to enrich themselves, according to Governing Magazine, and are positively correlated with state levels of corruption. Meanwhile, highly corrupt states also spend relatively less on health, education, and welfare — categories that were less susceptible to graft and bribery, the report found.

Public corruption for each state was ranked based on 25,000 convictions between 1976 and 2008. Overall, the authors found, the 10 most corrupt states spend $1,300 more per person annually than the average state.

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Protected Bike Lanes Make the “Interested But Concerned” Feel Safer Biking

Portland State University study, June 2014

If you like painted bike lanes, you’ll probably love protected bike lanes.

That’s a key finding from the first academic study of U.S. protected lanes, released this week, which surveyed 1,111 users of eight protected lanes in five cities around the country and 2,301 people who live near them.

Among people whose most important reason for not using a bicycle for transportation is that they feel uncomfortable on the streets — a vast swath of city-dwelling Americans that Portland Bicycle Coordinator Roger Geller dubbed the “interested but concerned” in a famous 2006 white paper — there’s been scientific evidence for a few years that painted bike lanes make them feel slightly more comfortable. As cities across the country have followed Portland’s lead by striping major streets with bike lanes, the science has been verified on both counts: The share of urban bike commuters has risen just about everywhere … slightly.

Now, Monday’s study offers scientific evidence that protected bike lanes make the same group of Americans feel more comfortable.

Fully 96 percent of people surveyed while riding in protected bike lanes said the plastic posts or parked-car barriers increased the safety of biking in the street. In fact, so did 80 percent of nearby residents, whether they ride a bicycle or not.

Among nearby residents who either currently bike for transportation but feel uncomfortable riding in painted bike lanes on major streets, or who want to bike more despite feeling uncomfortable in painted bike lanes — the feeling of increased safety was particularly strong: 88 percent of those people said the protected lanes were safer.

Even among people who said they had previously experienced a “near collision” while riding in the protected lane, 94 percent said the protected lanes had made the streets safer than they were before.

Separation barriers don’t need to be fancy to get the job done.

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