Skip to content

Posts from the Studies & Reports Category

Streetsblog USA
View Comments

3 White Elephants That Help Explain America’s Infrastructure Crisis

American spends billions of dollars widening roads that don't need widening, like Wisconsin State Route 23.

America spends billions of dollars widening roads that don’t need widening, like Wisconsin State Route 23. Image: Google Maps

A new report by the Center for American Progress zeros in on an under-appreciated culprit in America’s much ballyhooed infrastructure crisis: All the money we waste on useless roads.

CAP highlights three “white elephant projects” that illustrate how billions of dollars in federal infrastructure funds are squandered thanks to a lack of accountability in the transportation funding process.

“States receive federal highway funding based on formulas set in law, which reflect political negotiations as opposed to objective measures of need or return on investment,” writes CAP’s Kevin DeGood. “This means that states are not required to demonstrate the social, environmental, or economic value of their projects.”

These three projects represent about $1 billion in frivolous spending — and that’s only a small fraction of what’s squandered on dubious road projects each year.

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
View Comments

Without Transit, American Cities Would Take Up 37 Percent More Space

Even if you never set foot on a bus or a train, chances are transit is saving you time and money. The most obvious reason is that transit keeps cars off the road, but the full explanation is both less intuitive and more profound: Transit shrinks distances between destinations, putting everything within closer reach.

A new study published by the Transportation Research Board quantifies the spatial impact of transit in new ways [PDF]. Without transit, the researchers found, American cities would take up 37 percent more space.

Transit-oriented development in Portland's Pearl District. Photo:

Transit-oriented development in Portland’s Pearl District. Photo:

The research team from New York, San Francisco, and Salt Lake City modeled not just how many driving miles are directly averted by people riding transit, but how the availability of transit affects the way we build cities.

By allowing urban areas to be built more compactly, the “land use effect” of transit reduces driving much more than the substitution of car trips with transit trips. Total miles driven in American cities would be 8 percent higher without the land use effect of transit, the researchers concluded, compared to 2 percent higher if you forced everyone who rides transit to drive.

On average, the study found, the land use effect of transit is four times greater than the “ridership effect,” or the substitution of car trips with transit trips. But the land use effect of transit varies a great deal across urban areas. In places like Greenville, South Carolina, it’s responsible for reducing driving 3 percent, the researchers estimate, while in San Francisco and New York City, it’s 18 percent and 19 percent, respectively.

Read more…

1 Comment

WE ACT Climate Plan Calls for Better Upper Manhattan Bicycling, Walking

While most of Northern Manhattan escaped the harshest ravages of Hurricane Sandy, there was some flooding along the waterfront, including inside the 148th Street subway station. Next time around, a severe storm could take a different turn and things could be worse for waterfront areas in Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood. WE ACT for Environmental Justice has developed a climate action plan for those neighborhoods — and it includes some recommendations for walking, bicycling, and transit.

The plan proposes more than just new infrastructure to limit the damage of severe weather. Building social capacity to make sure people have access to resources and are able to ride out storms is an important component, as is retrofitting the neighborhoods to reduce their contribution to climate change. Addressing inequality is at the heart of the report’s recommendations, since low-income populations are most at risk from environmental hazards.

“For many communities, the emergency has existed throughout their history,” said Aurash Khawarzad, policy advocacy coordinator at WE ACT. “Climate change just compounds it.”

The report began to take shape after the People’s Climate March in September 2014. “After the People’s Climate March, a lot of people we were working with were really excited about working on climate change,” Khawarzad said.

WE ACT held seven workshops with more than 100 local residents during the first half of 2015. “All these ideas came out of a community-based planning process,” Khawarzad said. “It’s meant to be comprehensive plan.”

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
View Comments

The Key Human Factors That Can Lead Any City to Transform Its Streets


Graphic via TransitCenter

How did Portland get to be a national model for sustainable transportation and walkable development? Yes, Mayor Neil Goldschmidt stopped the Mount Hood Freeway from being built in 1974 and began negotiations that eventually led to the implementation of the urban growth boundary. But Goldschmidt didn’t do it alone.

Grassroots activists from a group called Sensible Transportation Options for People (STOP) — which included Goldschmidt’s chief of staff when he was city commissioner — helped him get elected and formed the ideas and policy proposals that the mayor embraced. Goldschmidt, in turn, appointed reformers to key posts in his administration

Look at other cities that are moving beyond the 20th Century legacy of cars-first planning, and odds are you’ll come across a similar story of grassroots activism merging with political power. In a new report, “A People’s History of Recent Urban Transportation Innovation,” TransitCenter’s Shin-pei Tsay tells those stories in six cities.

The Portland story is exceptional in that the state of Oregon worked with the city in the 1970s as a close partner on land use and transportation policy, helping to build the region’s light rail system. But even without state cooperation, cities around the country are showing the way toward a more multi-modal, less car-dependent future. And as in Portland, this progress can be traced to the links between advocates and government.

Take a more recent example: New York’s street transformations under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. When people think of changes like the pedestrianization of Times Square and the construction of protected bike lanes, they think of Bloomberg and Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan — and for good reason. But these leaders also had the benefit of a deep and increasingly sophisticated advocacy scene, exemplified by Transportation Alternatives, with its roots stretching back to the early 1970s — as well as groups like the Tri-State Transportation Campaign and the Regional Plan Association (and new arrivals like, ahem, Streetsblog).

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
View Comments

New Jersey Squanders Transit By Surrounding Stations With Sprawl


Too many transit stations in New Jersey, like Princeton Junction, are surrounded by parking and single-family housing, reports NJ Future. Image: Google Maps (h/t @traininthedistance)

New Jersey is the most population-dense state in the country, and many residents get to work via one of its several transit systems. But too many of New Jersey’s transit stations are surrounded by single-family housing, severely limiting the number of people — especially low-income people — with convenient, walkable access to transit. Some entire transit lines are out of reach for people of modest means.

New Jersey Future, a smart growth advocacy group, examined the neighborhoods around all 244 of the state’s rail transit stations, commuter ferry docks, and major bus terminals to get a sense of whether transit access is equitably distributed among residents.

In a new report, “Off Track? An Assessment of Mixed-Income Housing Around New Jersey’s Transit Stations,” NJ Future Research Director Tim Evans finds that transit access could be far more equitably distributed if New Jersey weren’t squandering the land near stations.

In 109 of the 244 station areas he studied, Evans found a higher percentage of single-family detached housing than the statewide average. In 54 of them, single-family detached homes make up more than 70 percent of the housing stock. That kind of land use severely limits the number of people who can have convenient access to high-quality transit.

As it stands, New Jersey’s transit abundance is going to waste, with nearly half its stations surrounded by spread-out housing. “The way you maximize the number of people who have transit as an option is by putting as many people within walking distance of transit as you can,” said Evans. “And the way you do that is by increasing housing density, not by building a lot of single-family detached housing.”

Read more…


Hunter Students Offer a Multi-Modal Vision for Queens Boulevard

The students propose bus lanes, curbside protected bike lanes, and a large median park for Queens Boulevard. Image: Hunter College

The students propose bus lanes, protected bike lanes, and a linear park in the median of Queens Boulevard. Image: Hunter College

About a year ago, the Transportation Alternatives Queens activist committee approached the Hunter College urban planning program about Queens Boulevard. The advocates wanted help jumpstarting real-world changes on the street known as the Boulevard of Death.

It was just a few months after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his Vision Zero initiative to eliminate traffic deaths. If there was ever going to be an ambitious redesign of Queens Boulevard, this was the time to make it happen. The TA activists wanted to show people how Queens Boulevard could be transformed.

“One of the obstacles we always faced was, ‘Okay, how would you do that?'” said TA Queens committee co-chair Peter Beadle. “There was a real inertia to overcome.”

So the advocates got to work with a small team of Hunter graduate students under the leadership of professor Ralph Blessing. Over the course of two semesters, they surveyed people on the street, hosted workshops, reviewed crash and traffic data, and crunched Census numbers.

Then something interesting happened. In January, DOT announced that it would make Queens Boulevard a Vision Zero priority and hosted a workshop to gather ideas for how to redesign the street.

Read more…


Envisioning a New Purpose for the Space Beneath NYC’s Elevated Structures


Space beneath the elevated train along Rockaway Freeway reimagined as a safe place for walking and bicycling. Image: Rockaway Waterfront Alliance

There are nearly 700 miles of elevated highways, rail lines, and bridges crisscrossing New York City. They tend to be dreary places, but they don’t have to be. A report released today by the Design Trust for Public Space and DOT, Under the Elevated, envisions new uses for the spaces beneath these elevated structures.

Already, land beneath elevated structures in HarlemDumboLong Island CitySunnysideNew Lots, and the Rockaways is being repurposed. To keep a good thing going, the report provides a toolkit the city can use to reinvigorate more of these spaces.

Map: Design Trust for Public Space

There are nearly 700 miles of elevated structures in New York. Rail lines are in red, and highways are in blue. Map: Design Trust for Public Space

There are approximately 7,000 miles of elevated structures in cities across the nation, mostly highways, according to dlandstudio principal Susannah C. Drake, who served as a fellow with the Design Trust. DOT and Design Trust staff said they aren’t aware of another city that had taken such a comprehensive look at the spaces beneath elevated structures.

“You can reclaim that space. You can do some beautiful things with it,” DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said at an event this afternoon announcing the report. “We’re really going to put some resources into improving these spaces.”

The possibilities include building greenways, adding retail, livening up spaces with events, and implementing permeable surfaces to absorb stormwater.

One of the report’s major recommendations is the “El-Space Program,” a DOT initiative that will focus specifically on under-the-elevated projects. DOT’s four-person urban design staff, led by Neil Gagliardi, will take the lead. “This is really a comprehensive approach, so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time,” Gagliardi said.

Read more…

1 Comment

Want Safer Biking and Walking Across the Harlem River? Tell DOT Your Ideas

Residents from the Bronx and Manhattan told DOT last night how they want to improve walking and biking across the Harlem River bridges. It was the second of four Harlem River bridges workshops this month.

Bronx and Upper Manhattan residents had plenty of suggestions for DOT last night. Photo: Stephen Miller

Bronx and Upper Manhattan residents had plenty of suggestions for DOT last night. Photo: Stephen Miller

DOT is looking to improve access at all 16 bridges along the Harlem River, including the soon-to-open Randall’s Island Connector. Streets up to a mile inland on both sides of the river fall within the scope of the project.

“We’re not coming here with a plan,” project manager Alice Friedman told the approximately 15 people at last night’s workshop. “We’re really here to hear from you.”

Attendees last night split into three groups to highlight problem areas and offer suggestions. Most wanted wider paths on the bridges, safer intersections where the bridges touch down, and protected bike paths connecting nearby neighborhoods to the crossings. There were also smaller requests, such as better signage, more lighting, mirrors on blind corners, and improved snow clearance.

Mychal Johnson of South Bronx Unite said he often uses Exterior Street on rides to Mill Pond Park. “This is our safest route,” he said. “And there’s nothing protecting bikes. And there should be.”

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
View Comments

The Top 10 American Cities Where You Can Find Jobs You Can Walk To

Can you hoof it to work? Photo: Public Domain Images

Is your job within walking distance? Photo: Public Domain Images

How many jobs are within a 10-minute walk of your home? How about 20 minutes? Chances are, there’s a lot more if you live in Philadelphia than in Memphis.

A new study [PDF] from the University of Minnesota ranks the 50 largest metro areas in America according to the accessibility of jobs by walking. Using “detailed pedestrian networks,” the researchers measured the number of jobs reachable in a 10-minute walk for the typical worker in each metro. Then they measured how many jobs were reachable within 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60 minutes. To create the city rankings, those figures were then weighted to emphasize the potential for short-distance walk commutes.

In top-rated New York City, for instance, about 5,000 jobs are within a 10-minute walk of the average residence. In lowest-rated Birmingham, it’s only 180 jobs.

You can check out where you city ranks here [PDF]. These are the 10 cities that came out on top:

  1. New York
  2. San Francisco
  3. Los Angeles
  4. Chicago
  5. Washington
  6. Seattle
  7. Boston
  8. Philadelphia
  9. San Jose
  10. Denver

Los Angeles fares a lot better in these rankings than in Walk Score’s, which prioritize the proximity of “amenities” of all types.

Authors Andrew Owen, David Levinson and Brendan Murphy say their rankings are mainly a function of employment and residential density. Cities that ranked highest, they point out, tend to have better transit systems as well. Cities seeking better accessibility have two avenues, the authors say: pursue policies that create more compact development and improve transit.

Streetsblog USA
View Comments

Compelling Evidence That Wider Lanes Make City Streets More Dangerous

The rate of side impact crashes is lowest on urban streets with lanes about 10.5 feet wide — much narrower than the standard 12 feet. Graph: Dewan Karim

The “forgiving highway” approach to traffic engineering holds that wider is safer when it comes to street design. After decades of adherence to these standards, American cities are now criss-crossed by streets with 12-foot wide lanes. As Walkable City author Jeff Speck argued in CityLab last year, this is actually terrible for public safety and the pedestrian environment.

A new study reinforces the argument that cities need to reconsider lane widths and redesign streets accordingly. In a paper to be presented at the Canadian Institute of Traffic Engineers annual conference, author Dewan Masud Karim presents hard evidence that wider lanes increase risk on city streets.

Karim conducted a wide-ranging review of existing research as well as an examination of crash databases in two cities, taking into consideration 190 randomly selected intersections in Tokyo and 70 in Toronto.

Looking at the crash databases, Karim found that collision rates escalate as lane widths exceed about 10.5 feet.

Read more…