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Tim Kaine Took a Stand Against Cul-de-Sacs

Even though the Democratic Party’s strongholds are in cities, we probably won’t hear much about urban transportation and development policy at the Democratic National Convention this week. City issues seldom get much play when political parties are focused on scooping up swing votes in the suburbs.

Tim Kaine. Photo via Tim Kaine

Tim Kaine

But Hillary Clinton’s VP choice, Tim Kaine, is the former mayor of Richmond, Virginia, and experience running a city is surprisingly rare for someone on a presidential ticket.

So Greater Greater Washington writers have weighed in on his urban policy track record. Here’s a look at the evidence.

Before he was mayor, Kaine made a name for himself as a lawyer fighting housing discrimination, writes Joanne Pierce:

Kaine was on the board of Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) of Virginia from 1986-1994 and 2011-2013, starting before he got into local politics.

He helped represent HOME against Nationwide Insurance, which had labeled minority neighborhoods as undesirable and pulled its agents from those areas. He also helped represent HOME against General Services Corp, which made apartment brochures that featured more white people and lacked equal housing logos and language. Staff members testified that company management talked to them about how to deter black people from renting in their properties.

When he served as governor of Virginia, Kaine ensured the Silver Line would be built, writes Canaan Merchant:

Read more…

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Will More Bike-Share Systems Opt for “Smart Bikes,” Not “Smart Docks”?

When Portland launched its bike-share system last week, it became the biggest American city to go live with a “smart bike” model. The system allows users to drop off bikes anywhere within the service area, as opposed to the more prevalent “smart dock” model, where users pick up and return bikes only at fixed stations.

Portland's new bike share system moves away from docks. Photo: Bike Portland

Portland’s new bike-share system has stations, but you can lock your bike up anywhere in the service area. Photo: Bike Portland

James Sinclair at Stop and Move considers some of the advantages and disadvantages of each system:

In a smart dock system, everything is handled by the dock and an attached kiosk. On a smart bike system, the bicycle itself carries all the technology. That means you can lock your bicycle to anything. You use a pin code to remove the built in lock and when you’re done, you reattach the lock to the bicycle (and another fixed object of course). Built in GPS ensures the company knows where the bike is.

So why pick one system over another? If most cities have used smart docks, why did Portland go with smart bikes?

The biggest factor involves cost and ease of deployment. A smart bike system actually requires zero infrastructure. You can release the bicycles and let users dock wherever they want — existing racks, fences etc. Docking areas can be created virtually, and displayed with signs or stickers…

One of the major problems with a smart dock system is arriving at a station where every dock is full. That scenario can simply never happen with a smart bike system, since you can lock up to a pole or fence.

But systems like Portland’s have drawbacks too, he says:

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Elon Musk’s “Master Plan” Won’t Work for Cities

Elon Musk. Photo: Steve Jurvetson via Flickr

Elon Musk knows technology, but he doesn’t understand cities so well. Photo: Steve Jurvetson/Flickr

Earlier this week tech entrepreneur Elon Musk released his updated “master plan” for Tesla, including some thoughts on how autonomous mini-buses will supplant today’s transit and “take people all the way to their destination.” Like every Musk pronouncement, this one got a lot of buzz — but it also drew some healthy skepticism.

One reason to doubt Musk’s plan is that it clearly would not work in cities, writes Jarrett Walker at Human Transit:

Musk assumes that transit is an engineering problem, about vehicle design and technology. In fact, providing cost-effective and liberating transportation in cities requires solving a geometry problem, and he’s not even seeing it. In this he’s repeating a common delusion, one I hear all the time in urbanist and technology circles.

Musk’s vision is fine for low-density outer suburbia and rural areas. But when we get to dense cities, where big transit vehicles (including buses) are carrying significant ridership, Musk’s vision is a disaster. That’s because it takes lots of people out of big transit vehicles and puts them into small ones, which increases the total number of vehicles on the road at any time…

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Portland’s Long-Awaited Bike-Share System Gets Off to an Impressive Start

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and his wife, Nancy, lead a celebratory bike ride over the car-free Tilikum Bride at the launch of Portland's Biketown bike share yesterday. Photo: Jonathan Maus

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and his wife, Nancy, lead a celebratory bike ride over the car-free Tilikum Crossing at the launch of Portland’s Biketown bike-share system. Photo: Jonathan Maus

Tuesday was a very exciting day in Portland, as the city celebrated the launch of its long-awaited bike-share system, Biketown. The network makes 1,000 bikes available in an eight-square mile area of the city.

Jonathan Maus at Bike Portland shot these photos of the opening festivities and crunched some numbers from the first 24 hours of service. While it’s too early to fully assess the system, with about 2.3 daily trips per bike immediately after launch, Portland is off to a good start, he writes:

According to numbers released by Biketown’s operator Motivate Inc. today (at our request), there have been 2,366 trips taken on the system since it was launched yesterday at 11:30 am…

It’s still very early and the numbers will get more useful once we’ve got a full month of data — but we can’t resist doing a bit of comparison.

So far Portland’s bikes get more rides per day than the ones in Minneapolis’ Nice Ride system got after five years in service. Nice ride, which has much lower station density than Portland, got 1.6 trips per bike per day on average in 2014 (source: NACTO). On the other end of the scale, Chicago’s Divvy bike share system and Citi Bike in New York City got 3.8 and 5.2 trips per bike in that year, respectively.

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Seattle’s New Park-and-Rides Cost a Fortune But Won’t Move Many People

Seattle area voters will vote this November on a $53 billion transit expansion package. But along with new light rail lines stretching across the region, Seattle will also be getting a publicly owned parking empire.

In total, the plan calls for $661 million in spending on parking at transit stations. At an astounding $80,000 per stall, that will fund 8,300 parking spots.

Zach Shaner at Seattle Transit Blog notes that with 18,000 parking spaces already operated or planned by Sound Transit, the system will have about 26,000 stalls when complete. He set out to visualize all that parking and created this excellent map:

Seattle's $53 billion light rail expansion plan also calls for a new ? of parking. Map: Zach Shaner, Seattle Transit Blog.

So many resources devoted to parking spaces that will serve such a small fraction of potential transit ridership. Map: Zach Shaner/Seattle Transit Blog

Despite all the space and money these parking spaces will consume, Shaner writes, they won’t serve a large share of light rail riders, because “parking fundamentally can’t scale”:

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Houston FTW: Transit Execs Aim to Fix Sorry Bus Stops

Houston METRO officials recognize that poor walking infrastructure and uncomfortable waiting environments are a big problem for transit riders. Photo: Christopher Andrews

The lousy state of American bus stops is a serious problem. Transit riders say bad waiting environments are one of their top concerns, according to a recent survey and report by TransitCenter [PDF]. That’s why Streetsblog is highlighting some of the sorriest bus stops in the nation this month.

Poor walking conditions and uncomfortable bus stops are not just the transit agency’s responsibility. Local governments and city and state DOTs are also to blame. It takes some coordination to improve bus stops, and not enough public agencies are stepping up to solve the problem.

One exception is Houston METRO, the same agency that became a national model by redesigning its bus network. Ryan Holeywell at The Urban Edge, a blog of Rice University’s Kinder Institute, spoke with METRO’s new board chair, Carrin Patman, and CEO Tom Lambert about how the agency intends to coordinate with the city to make the experience of getting to bus stops and waiting for the bus better for riders:

METRO sees fixing things outside of their vehicles — namely sidewalks and bus stops — as a critical way of boosting ridership. That means coordinating with lots of other players. “In order to have accessible shelters, you need to have the City of Houston fully on board,” Patman said. She says METRO will be more involved in public and private planning efforts and suggested she wants to explore the idea of asking private developers to install bus shelters when they’re making major improvements to their properties.

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Focusing Only on Commutes Overlooks Women’s Transportation Needs

In the UK, men devote about 23 percent of miles traveled to commuting. For women, it's only about 15 percent. Graph: Kasdekker

In the UK, commuting accounts for about 23 percent of the distance men travel. For women, it’s only about 15 percent. Graph: Katja Leyendecker

Commuting accounts for only about 15 percent of trips in the United States. But when planners make transportation infrastructure decisions, they often base them on commuting patterns, not other types of trips.

One side effect of this convention is that it undervalues trips by women, writes U.K. blogger Katja Leyendecker, and contributes to a built environment that is poorly suited to women’s needs. She digs into some of the U.K. data:

The commute makes about 20% of all the mileage (combined 19%, men 23%, women 15%), whilst shopping trips accumulate considerably less mileage (combined 12%, men 9%, women 14%).  The highest category for women actually is “visiting friends at private home” (18%), joint second followed “commute” and “holiday / day trip” (each 15%) and shopping hence coming fourth (14%). Men’s mileage, on the other hand, is somewhat dominated by the commute (23%), then jointly followed by “business” and “visiting friends at private home” (each 13%), with “holiday / day trip” (12%) in fourth place…

We historically have looked at the commute for its coincidence with the rush hour, to deal with peak travel demand. In the UK at least, a real and honest look at space as a limited precious resource (and how to carve it up fairly and effectively) has not taken place. The commute focus has not brought about a better transport system with alternatives to the private car largely still excluded. I suggest that taking the commute approach brings the problem that over 80% of all trips have been neglected in transport assessments. These trips require attention for other reasons than the peak demand. Reasons are for example safety needs when travelling with kids and transporting  shopping. In cycle cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam these trips are still carried out by women, [but] they are cycled. Removing those trips from the transport agenda marginalises the importance of women’s everyday activities and careful and sensible provision for these activities.

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A 50-Year-Old Cartoon Satirizing Car Culture Still Rings True Today

If aliens came to Earth, who would they assume is in control — people or cars? Cars, of course. That’s the premise of this 50-year-old animation dug up by Alex Ihnen at NextSTL.

It’s worth noting, says Ihnen, that the piece was made by Canadians:

It tells the story of aliens viewing earth and concluding that the automobile is the dominant species on the planet. It’s a biting commentary, and the culture that produced it is the same that prevented highways from decimating Vancouver, and other Canadian cities to the extent of their American counterparts. It’s hard to imagine an American equivalent, though even locally around the same time we were well [aware] of the negative impacts of the automobile [Mass Transit as a Regional Priority – St. Louis 1965].

Ihnen also posts this summary from the National Film Board of Canada:

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No, Driverless Cars Won’t Make Transit Obsolete

When driverless cars hit the market (which may not be as soon as advertised), nobody denies that they will change transportation planning.

There just isn't room for all these folks to drive into Seattle. Photo: Seattle Transit Blog

There just isn’t room for every Seattle transit rider to hop into cars instead. Photo: Oran Viriyincy at Seattle Transit Blog

But let’s put one claim to rest: Driverless cars will not make transit obsolete, especially not high-capacity transit serving dense urban areas.

Bryan Mistele, CEO of traffic data firm Inrix, recently placed a piece in the notoriously anti-transit Seattle Times arguing that the region’s $53 billion light rail expansion plan, known as ST3, could be “obsolete” by the time it’s finished.

Brent White at Seattle Transit Blog debunks the argument:

The claim that autonomous vehicles will render fixed-route transit obsolete is particularly unfounded, with basic geometric facts providing the reality check. Yet nonetheless the argument has become a trendy political talking point, as Fortune documented back in 2014. Generously assume that “small form factor” vehicles succeed in doubling vehicle throughput capacity (a big if!). Then assume a standard vehicle occupancy rate of 1.5. Assuming these two factors, the capacity test for autonomous vehicles as congestion reducers and transit replacers is whether or not transit could reliably carry more than 3 people in the same space. That’s a laughably low bar for any urban transit agency. And for a central city like Seattle’s, with 35% of people already taking transit while using 10% of the space? Any major transfer of people from transit to small autonomous vehicles would represent a loss of capacity, not a gain.

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Ohio’s Transit Agencies Are Caught in a Death Spiral

Cleveland's GCRTA has seen bus service fall off a cliff. Graph: The Century Foundation

Cleveland’s GCRTA has seen bus service fall off a cliff. Graph: The Century Foundation

Ohio’s transit agencies are in a world of hurt. Both Cincinnati’s SORTA and Cleveland’s GCRTA are facing budget crises. Even Columbus’s COTA — which has been in an expansion mode — is now facing a shortfall.

Agencies statewide are up against a vicious cycle of sprawl, says Ken Prendergast at All Aboard Ohio. State policies transfer infrastructure funds from urban areas to rural areas, promoting sprawl. That hurts services in urban areas, reinforcing the pattern. As people spread out, the tax base on which transit agencies depend becomes weaker.

Soon, Prendergast reports, transit agencies will also have to scramble to make up for the loss of $200 million in statewide annual revenue, the result of changes to Ohio’s Medicaid Managed Care Organization (MCO) sales tax. If public officials don’t act, people already hit hard by service cuts will see transit quality get even worse, he writes:

Nearly all of Greater Cleveland was once contained wholly inside Cuyahoga County. It had a county population of 1.8 million when the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) was formed in 1974 and funded with a 1-cent, permanent, countywide sales tax. Since then, as Greater Cleveland’s population stayed stuck at 2.2 million yet sprawled into adjoining counties, Cuyahoga County’s population fell by 500,000.

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