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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.

Read more…

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11 Simple Ways to Speed Up Your City’s Buses

Turning at busy intersections costs buses time.

Turning at busy intersections slows down buses, so many transit agencies are simplifying routes to speed up service. Photo: Steven Vance

All across America, city buses are waiting. Waiting at stoplights, waiting behind long lines of cars, waiting to pull back into traffic, waiting at stops for growing crowds of passengers. And no, it’s not just your imagination: Buses are doing more waiting, and less moving, than they used to. A recent survey of 11 urban transit systems conducted by Daniel Boyle for the Transportation Research Board found that increased traffic congestion is steadily eroding travel speeds: The average city bus route gets 0.45 percent slower every single year. That’s especially discouraging given how slowly buses already move, with a typical bus averaging only 13.5 mph.

Transit agencies are taking action against the waits. A recent report on “Commonsense Approaches for Improving Transit Bus Speeds“ surveyed not just the scale of the problem, but also solutions. In it, 59 transit agencies across America shared how they have responded to the scheduling problems presented by ever-slower bus routes. The agencies report on the most successful actions they’ve taken to improve bus speeds and reliability. Here they are, listed in descending order of popularity.

  1. Consolidate stops: More than half of agencies have thinned bus stops, some by focusing on pilot corridors, and others by gradually phasing in policy changes. Many agencies moved stops to far side of intersections at stoplights, and 13 agencies adopted physical changes like longer bus stops or bulb-outs, which help passengers board faster and more conveniently.
  2. Streamline routes: Straightening out routes, trimming deviations, eliminating duplication, and shortening routes didn’t just simplify service, it also sped up service for two-thirds of the agencies that tried this approach.
  3. Transit signal priority: The 22 agencies with signal priority can change stoplights for approaching buses. They mostly report a minor to moderate increase in bus speeds as a result. In fact, agencies singled out traffic engineering approaches like TSP as the closest to a “silver bullet,” one-step solution.
  4. Fare policy: Several agencies changed fare structures or payment methods. The one agency that collects fares before passengers board, and lets them board at both bus doors, decreased bus running times by 9 percent.
  5. Bus Rapid Transit: Ten agencies combined multiple approaches on specific routes and launched BRT service. Of those that measured the impact, almost all reported a significant increase in speed, typically around 10 to 15 percent.
  6. Vehicle changes: More than half of agencies have moved to low-floor buses, which reduce loading times by one second per passenger. Smaller buses might be more maneuverable in traffic, and ramps can speed loading for wheelchairs and bicycles.
  7. Limited stop service: Although new limited-stop services offered only minor to moderately faster speeds, it’s a simple step and 18 agencies reported launching new limited routes.
  8. Bus lanes: Dedicated lanes are used by 13 agencies, and one reported that “most routes are on a bus lane somewhere.” When implemented on wide arterial streets, this moderately improves speeds.
  9. Adjust schedules: Almost all of the surveyed agencies have adjusted running time, recovery times (the time spent turning the bus), or moved to more flexible ”headway schedules.” All of these actions improve on-time performance reliability for customers, and reduce the need for buses to sit if they’re running early.
  10. Signal timing: Synchronized stoplights along transit routes can make sure that buses face more green lights than red, but only have a mild impact on operating speeds.
  11. Express service on freeways: This strategy had the largest impact on speeding up buses for the three agencies that tried it.

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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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Smart Growth America: Sprawl Shaves Years Off Your Life

Want to live a long, healthy, prosperous life? Don’t live in sprawlsville.

These cul-de-sacs will kill you! Photo: ##http://indiemusicfilter.com/tag/sprawl-ii##Indie Music Filter##

These cul-de-sacs can kill you! Photo: Indie Music Filter

Atlanta, I’m looking at you. Nashville, you too. Southern California’s Inland Empire: ouch. Meanwhile, break out the bubbly if you live in Atlantic City, Urbana/Champaign, or Santa Cruz — which all rank close to giants like New York and San Francisco as some of the most compact and connected metro areas in the U.S. That compact development brings a bounty of benefits you might not associate with those places.

That’s the lesson from Smart Growth America’s new report, “Measuring Sprawl 2014,” an update of their 2002 report, “Measuring Sprawl and Its Impact.”

A team of researchers gave a development index score to each of 221 metropolitan areas and 994 counties in the United States based on four main factors: residential and employment density; neighborhood mix of homes, jobs, and services; strength of activity centers and downtowns; and accessibility of the street network. These are the essential buildings blocks of smart growth.

Based on those factors, the most compact and connected metro areas are:

Most compact, connected metro areas, nationally. Image: SGA

Most compact, connected metro areas, nationally. Image: SGA

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State DOTs Let Roads Fall Apart While Splurging on Highway Expansion

States spend more than half their money on new construction. Image: Smart Growth America

States spend more than half their road money on adding lanes and new highways. Image: Smart Growth America

Even though 33 percent of its roads are in “poor” condition, West Virginia spends about 73 percent of its road budget building new roads and adding lanes. Mississippi spends 97 percent of its road money on expansion. Texas, 82 percent.

Smart Growth America reports that the 50 states and the District of Columbia, combined, devote 55 percent of their road spending — $20.4 billion a year — to expansions, according to data states provide to the Federal Highway Administration. In 2011, that investment added 8,822 lane miles to the nation’s highway system — meaning that more than half of states’ road dollars were dedicated to less than 1 percent of their roads.

Meanwhile, states spent $16.5 billion annually, or 45 percent of their total road budgets, maintaining and repairing the other 99 percent of the nation’s roads.

In total, 21 percent of America’s roads are in “poor” condition, based on an international index that measures ride quality and surface smoothness. And the condition of the nation’s roads is getting worse. The last time Smart Growth America checked in, in 2008, 41 percent were in “good” condition. By 2011, that figure was down to 37 percent.

“States are adding to a system they are failing to maintain,” said Steve Ellis of the nonpartisan watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, which co-funded the study, in a webinar hosted by SGA this morning. “Every new lane mile is a lane that will eventually have to be repaired.”

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Why Is It Still So Hard to Find Out How States Are Spending Transpo Money?

Summary of Nationwide Findings for Bicycling and Walking Projects by Project Type. Image: Advocacy Advance

Based on available information, 88.7 percent of all state transportation projects include nothing for walking and biking. Image: Advocacy Advance

You would be lucky to get half as much information about a $5 million transportation project in your state as you can get from a toothpaste tube about how to brush.

That sad comparison comes from a new report by Advocacy Advance (a project of the League of American Bicyclists and the Alliance for Biking and Walking). The report — “Lifting the Veil on Bicycle & Pedestrian Spending: An Analysis of Problems & Priorities in Transportation Planning and What to Do About It” [PDF] — compares bike/ped spending in State Transportation Improvement Programs, the spending plans state DOTs have to publish at least once every four years.

Advocacy Advance took a look at bike/ped spending in all 50 states. Here's part of Ohio's scorecard. The state got two As, a B- and a D for data transparency. Image: Advocacy Advance

Advocacy Advance took a look at bike/ped spending in all 50 states. Here’s part of Ohio’s scorecard. Image: Advocacy Advance

While toothpaste directions average six sentences, the average state DOT project description is just one sentence.

And when trying to decipher how your state is spending millions of dollars on a given transportation project, you shouldn’t be surprised to come across something like this: “SH 28, SALMON SB, SHARED USE PATHWAYS, PHS I.” That’s all Idaho tells the public about how its transportation dollars are being spent.

“Generally, state advocates know about the STIP but they don’t see it as a useful place to put their time because there are so many issues with it,” said Ken McLeod, the author of the Advocacy Advance report. “It’s hard to produce data from it that’s actionable for them or their constituents. So there’s some frustration at the state and local level, knowing that there’s this document with great potential that’s unrealized.”

McLeod dug deep to determine what projects involved bike/ped spending. He separated out bike-only, ped-only, and bike-and-ped projects, and then separately categorized larger road projects with a bike/ped element. And he looked beyond DOTs’ “bike/ped” coding to determine for himself when a project invested in infrastructure for walking and biking.

Advocacy Advance used the data to produce scorecards for each of the 50 states. (Since the District of Columbia isn’t a state and so doesn’t have to produce a STIP, it was left out of the analysis.)

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Study: Civil Rights Protections Lack Teeth When It Comes to Transportation

American transportation policy has a woeful history of civil rights abuses. For a good part of the 1950s and ’60s, using highways to level black neighborhoods was a matter of national policy. And the white flight and segregation that those highways engendered have left a legacy that continues to shape much of America in the present day.

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Wisconsin is sinking billions into highway expansion projects while city transit service languishes. Photo: Milwaukee Business Journal

Out of those chapters in American history came a few key protections. Laws like Title VI of the Civil Rights Act aim to safeguard people from discrimination by federally-funded agencies.

But are these protections shaping a fairer transportation system? Not according to a recent study by researchers at the University of California-Davis published in the Journal of Transport Geography [PDF]. Authors Alex Karner and Deb Niemeier say that most metropolitan planning agencies are simply going through the motions, not making equitable decisions.

Right now, “basically anything goes,” Karner told Streetsblog. “You can make anything look good from a civil rights perspective” under current law, using conventional metrics to demonstrate compliance.

As a last resort, civil rights activists can use federal laws to take action in court. Black and Hispanic community groups in Wisconsin, for instance, are suing the state Department of Transportation under the National Environmental Policy Act for shortchanging transit with the $1.7 billion Zoo Interchange project, outside Milwaukee. But Karner and Niemeier say the whole federally-required “equity analysis” process needs to be reformed if it is to have a meaningful effect on decision making.

Here’s what Karner and Niemeier recommend to give civil rights protections some real teeth when it comes to transportation investments:

1. Perform Equity Analyses Early in the Planning Process

Metropolitan planning organizations, or MPOs, are agencies that play a big role in distributing federal transportation dollars. They generally decide what they want to do first, then spend a lot of time developing plans, and then at the very end perform the required equity analysis.

“After all the major planning decisions have been made, it’s a pro forma thing,” says Karner. “They just kind of check a box.”

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Poor NYC Neighborhoods “Less Conducive to Walking” Than They Appear

A fact sheet [PDF] released by the city’s health department today makes the case that New York City’s walkability contributes to the health of residents — but a deeper look into the research shows that not all New Yorkers are benefitting equally from walkable neighborhoods.

The more walkable your NYC neighborhood, the more likely you are to engage in physical activity. Image: DOHMH

The more walkable your neighborhood, the more likely you are to engage in physical activity. Image: DOHMH

The brief draws on recent data from two sources: Research by Columbia University academics on the walkability of the city’s neighborhoods and the health department’s own survey of 3,800 New Yorkers about physical activity and transit.

The Columbia researchers measured walkability using five components: Residential density, density of street intersections and subway stops, land use mix, and an estimate of the prevalence of large retail parking lots. The health department tracked the health and transportation behaviors of New Yorkers through surveys, accelerometers, and GPS devices. By looking at the two datasets together, the bottom line became clear: ”Physical activity levels were substantially higher in people living in higher-walkability neighborhoods,” the report says.

People in the most walkable neighborhoods averaged 233 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, burning 1,200 calories, while people living in the least walkable areas averaged 134 minutes of activity per week, burning only 690 calories.

The Columbia academics, based in the university’s Built Environment and Health Research Group, dove deeper by adding income to the equation. Matching places with the same walkability scores, they compared neighborhoods where at least 20 percent of the residents live in poverty with neighborhoods where fewer than 20 percent of residents live in poverty.

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