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How Traffic Growth Projections Become a Self-Fulfilling Prophesy

Transportation planners in Austin are in the beginning stages of a pattern just about every community in the U.S. is familiar with.

Image: Carfree Austin

The way to break the traffic projection prophecy is to avoid catering to it in the first place. Image: Carfree Austin

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA) says traffic on a local highway — South MoPac — is going to grow a lot. And if Austin doesn’t spend $400 million building new managed lanes, they say, the result will be gridlock.

But Network blog Car-Free Austin says in the past, similar doomsday traffic projections haven’t come to pass. When Austin Public Works wanted to expand the Lamar Bridge in the 1990s, the justification was an impending 28 percent increase in traffic. But the project was rejected, and since then traffic on the bridges has actually declined 27 percent.

If the bridge had been widened, though, the traffic forecast might have been accurate, Car-Free Austin explains:

1.  If you build it, they will come.

Because of a well-established phenomenon known as induced demand, every new lane that gets built will fill up within 5-10 years and congestion will return to its bumper-to-bumper equilibrium.

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Austin’s Emerging Bipartisan Coalition for Walkable Housing

Kathleen Hunker from the conservative think thank Texas Public Policy Foundation supported the "granny flats" legislation, as did some of the most liberal members of Austin's City Council. Photo via Austin on Your Feet

“Granny flats” legislation sponsored by liberal Council Member Greg Casar was also endorsed by Kathleen Hunker (above) from the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank. Photo via Austin on Your Feet

Last week, the Austin City Council voted to allow “granny flats” — small accessory dwellings — in some areas zoned for single-family housing, and to reduce parking requirements along transit corridors. These types of reforms make housing more affordable and make neighborhoods more walkable and transit-friendly.

Dan Keshet at Austin on Your Feet said the vote highlights new political dynamics in the city. For one, it didn’t break down along party lines:

The granny flat resolution was introduced by Greg Casar, whose main claim to fame before City Council was as a labor rights activist. It was supported by the Republicans on City Council: Zimmerman and Troxclair, as well as Sheri Gallo (who has previously run as a Republican) [edit: I previously listed CM Gallo as a Republican, but now I’m not so sure] and three other Democrats: Adler, Rentería, and Garza. The four democrats who supported are definitely not “conservative” democrats in any meaningful sense. To understand land use politics, it’s best to set aside party labels.

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TIGER Restored, Transit Expansion Funds Cut in 2016 Spending Bill

As the House and the Senate get to work on hashing out a multi-year transportation bill in conference committee, Congress is also putting together its annual spending package for transportation. The annual bill decides the fate of several discretionary programs, and earlier this year it looked like US DOT’s TIGER grants, which tend to fund multi-modal projects at the regional or local level, might not survive.

TIGER funding provided $10.5 million to build a network of biking and walking facilities in Lee County, Florida, one of the most dangerous areas for walking and biking. Image: Lee County MPO via Bike Walk Lee

TIGER funding provided $10.5 million to build a network of biking and walking routes in Lee County, Florida. Image: Lee County MPO via Bike Walk Lee

Stephen Lee Davis at Transportation for America says the final bill keeps TIGER but still represents a step backward for transit:

Good news: the new bill proposes no changes to what kinds of projects can apply for TIGER funding, and increases funding for the program by $100 million this year.

The Senate’s initial bill introduced this summer provided $500 million for TIGER — the same amount as the just-ended fiscal year — and the House version of this bill provided far less at $100 million. It’s encouraging to see the Senate appropriators increase funding for this important program in the newest draft proposal, and that there are no changes to what kinds of projects can apply. This is a hopeful sign that for future House-Senate negotiations on the final transportation spending bill for 2016.

The funding for building new transit service — New Starts, Small Starts and Core Capacity — was increased by more than $300 million from this summer’s Senate THUD bill up to $1.9 billion, just $24 million less than the proposed House levels of $1.92 billion. That sounds like good news, but it’s still represents a $200 million cut from last year for this program.

Amtrak funding was unchanged: $289 million for operating and $1.1B for capital projects, which is slightly more ($39 million) than this year.

Elsewhere on the Streetsblog Network today: Jarrett Walker at Human Transit says transit doesn’t have to be designed to serve a single “downtown” focal point — in fact there are major benefits to having multiple clusters of destinations. Also at Human Transit, a guest author asks whether autonomous cars will lead to a big boost in vehicle miles traveled. And BTA Blog writes that a group of victims’ families is speaking up for safer streets in Oregon.
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Oregon DOT Chief Under Fire for Claiming Highways Cut Emissions

How often do state DOTs lie with numbers to justify building highways?

Oregon DOT Director Matt Garrett could lose his job for being dishonest about emissions projections. Photo: Jonathan Maus, Bike Portland

Oregon DOT Director Matt Garrett could lose his job for misleading the public about the effect of highway building on emissions. Photo: Jonathan Maus/Bike Portland

There’s so much funny math buried inside air quality formulas or traffic projections, a better question might be: Do these agencies ever tell the truth?

Here’s a case where a dishonest case for highways was flushed out into the open. David Bragdon, former chief of Portland’s regional planning organization, recently accused state DOT director Matt Garrett of “incompetence or dishonesty.” (Bragdon now directs the nonprofit TransitCenter, based in New York City.) He charged that bogus emissions data from ODOT helped sink a $350 million transportation funding deal in the state legislature.

Michael Andersen at Bike Portland explains:

Oregon Department of Transportation Director Matt Garrett is facing criticism from both sides over the incident, earlier this year, when his office and Gov. Kate Brown’s temporarily claimed that tens of millions of dollars in freeway investments would be part of reducing long-run carbon emissions in Oregon by more than 2 million metric tons.

Garrett was forced to admit in a legislative hearing that this number was way off-base. There is now a revolt against his leadership, Andersen writes:

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Check Out Pittsburgh’s New Bicycle “Merge Lane”

Photo: Will Bernstein via Bike PGH

Transitions where streets suddenly change are a tricky part of bike lane design. Here’s how street designers in Pittsburgh handled the transition where a two-way bike lane ends at a T-intersection — with a “merge lane” for cyclists turning right across motor vehicle traffic.

Bike PGH is enthusiastic about the new design:

Have you had a chance to ride the two block extension of the Penn Avenue bike lane in Downtown? It ends in a great new “merge lane” that smoothly shepherds people riding their bike in the direction of Point State Park into the traffic lane marked with sharrows proceeding in that direction.

Big thanks to the City — especially the Planning and Public Works departments — for designing and putting in this great lane. We’re fans of this configuration because it’s straightforward and really well marked.

So, what do you think of the new design? The City has tried something relatively new with this one, so leave a comment with your thoughts once you’ve had a chance to ride it.

Here’s another view courtesy of Bike PGH. What do you think?

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“Bright Clothing” Isn’t the Answer to Pedestrian Deaths

So far this year, nine people have been killed while walking in Columbus, Ohio. Predictably, pedestrians have been caught up in the police response, as the cops increased enforcement of jaywalking. It got even worse with comments from Sergeant Brooke Wilson made to the local NPR station.

North 4th Street in Columbus runs right through Ohio State University's campus area. Image: Google Maps via Transit Columbus

North 4th Street in Columbus runs right through Ohio State University. Image: Google Maps via Transit Columbus

“It’s not just enough to be legally correct in your actions as a pedestrian,” Wilson told WOSU. “You need to give yourself every advantage which includes wearing bright, reflective clothing.”

Joshua Lapp at Transit Columbus responded:

If you read these as misguided or as anti-pedestrian you aren’t the only one. As an advocate for walkability and better transportation, reading this, I’m reminded that now is the time to shift the Columbus conversation. It’s easy to catch the light rail or high-speed rail fever, but walkability is just as urgent, if not more, in Columbus.

Sidewalks aren’t sexy, yet 50-60% of Columbus remains without them. Crosswalks aren’t in the news, but all too often they’re ignored by drivers and unmarked for pedestrians. Jaywalkers are coming under enhanced enforcement, but how often are they just responding to unsafe, auto-centric road designs?

You may not ride a bus, you may hate getting on a bike, but one thing you can’t escape is the pedestrian experience. We all deserve a safe way to cross the street, a smooth sidewalk for our feet, or a safe ramp for our wheel chair. Light rail may be long term, but we can build a sidewalk in a week; we can paint a crosswalk in a day.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Move Arkansas shows what a much wider Interstate 30 would do to Little Rock. Bike Portland reports the city is using 135 “ghostly” cut-out silhouettes as an educational tool to dramatize the problem of traffic violence. And Transportation for America explains how metropolitan planning organizations can save money with complete streets.
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Why Transit Agencies Are Looking to Taxis and Uber to Provide Paratransit

In a six-month pilot program, Boston’s MBTA is exploring the use of taxis as an alternative to large vans for paratransit service, which is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Could paratransit vans that transport customers with disabilities door-to-door be more efficiently replaced with taxis? Photo: Wikipedia

When it comes to paratransit, vans aren’t always the right vehicle for the job. Photo: Wikipedia

The program is “already earning praise from customers” according to the Boston Globe. Jarrett Walker at Human Transit explains why this could be very good news for both people with disabilities who rely on paratransit and people who count on trains and buses:

Subsidizing taxis has always been an option to meet the paratransit requirement, but in big cities the routine solution has been paratransit van services. These vans can theoretically serve multiple people at once, but the sparseness of paratransit demand means they often carry just one person, or zero between runs. So paratransit operating cost is often over $30/passenger trip, as compared to more like $5 for an effective fixed route service.

MBTA is now testing using taxis — or in the future, taxi competitors like Uber and Lyft — in the same way that small towns often do. It will encourage some customers to use taxis instead of paratransit vans — which is not hard to do, since taxi service is much more flexible.  (Paratransit vans must be booked 24 hours in advance, but these taxis can be called spontaneously.) The customer will pay a reasonable transit fare, $2, and MBTA will add an average of $13/trip to round out a typical average taxi fare of $15.

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Speeding Is a Big Problem Where Police Stopped Google Car for Slow Driving

A Google car made headlines last week when police pulled it over for driving too slowly on El Camino Real in Mountain View, California.

El Camino Real in Mountainview is a pretty dangerous street for pedestrians, but apparently police are out patrolling for cars not going fast enough. Image: Metrocosm via Cyclelicious

El Camino Real in Mountain View is a dangerous street for pedestrians because drivers go too fast, not because they go slower than the speed limit. Image: Metrocosm via Cyclelicious

Most media accounts treated the incident as a funny anecdote, but Richard Masoner at Cyclelicious says it reveals a lot about what’s broken with how police approach traffic enforcement:

Guess which area of Mountain View is the most dangerous for pedestrians?

I zoomed in on this map showing 10 years of FARS traffic fatality data. El Camino Real is highlighted in blue. The yellow line to the left is Rengstorff, the other line is El Monte.

This is the area where Mountain View police say a Google autonomous car traveling at 24 MPH in a 35 zone is impeding traffic, even with two other lanes available for passing traffic on a Thursday afternoon.

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How Giving Bike Share Prime Real Estate Attracts More Riders

One of the more successful stations in MInneapolis' Nice Ride system is parked right in front of the Birchwood Cafe. Photo: Bill Lindeke

One of the more successful stations in Minneapolis’s Nice Ride system is parked right in front of the Birchwood Cafe. Photo: Bill Lindeke/

We’ve written before about how bike-share “station density” — how closely together stations are placed — is a key variable in how successful systems are in attracting riders.

Here’s a new theory on how station locations can have an impact on bike-share use. Bill Lindeke at says it matters where stations are placed within commercial sites and public areas. The more prominent the better, he says, citing the example of a cafe in Minneapolis:

It was outside the Birchwood where I first noticed the odd psychological effect of bike share stations. I was sitting sipping a coffee in the sunshine, watching people ride and walk up and down the street, and the new kiosk made quite an impression before the front door. As couples walked past, they would stop and gaze at it for a few key seconds.

“Hm, maybe someday I’ll try that out,” I heard someone say.

“How do they work,” couples would murmur to each other

The key thing for me was that these were people, so I thought, that would never bike around South Minneapolis on their own. Even if you never use it, the Nice Ride station breaks down a psychological barrier between us and them, the bicycle people and the rest of us. It offers a gateway into an intimidating world, an exciting potential that is really helpful for forwarding conversations about urban bicycling past a divisive impasse.

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Milwaukee’s Clever Parking Crater Repair Strategy: A Colorful Mural

A couple of surface parking lots in MIlwaukee were dragging down downtown so the city applied a fresh coat of paint to make the space feel inviting again. Photo: PPS Placemaking

A couple of surface parking lots in Milwaukee were dragging down downtown so the city applied a fresh coat of paint to make the space feel inviting again. Photo: PPS Placemaking

Here’s a creative fix for the parking crater problem plaguing so many American cities: Milwaukee recently transformed part of one of its craters with a colorful paint scheme and some outdoor furniture.

Project for Public Spaces, which helped lead the project, says the space has been dubbed The Spot 4MKE, and is now hosting public events.

The goal was to clearly communicate to users and passersby that this area was now a place for people, not cars.

Team member Chris Socha of The Kubala Washatko Architects created a colorful site graphic (labor and materials were donated by local contractor Crowley Construction), and an initial suite of amenities including picnic tables, umbrellas, and games began to arrive on site. This basic infrastructure helped support a diverse range of programming over the first months of the project, from samba drum and dance rehearsals to storytelling events and performances by a local hula hooping group. The site was also home to a small mural project crafted by project partner True Skool.

Viewed from the 5th floor of the historic downtown Hilton, the transformation of the past six months comes into sharp focus. Since The Spot 4MKE currently occupies a small portion of the existing parking lots, the “before and after” condition of the place is self evident. Walk through the lobby and out onto the site and the contrast becomes even stronger. The Spot 4MKE is still a humble place, but it is full of evidence of a community that is trying to do things differently, a community that has the courage to lead with people and places, a community that understands that the project of making a more creative, inclusive, and prosperous city will never be finished.

The two surface parking lots improved by this demonstration project are city-owned, and Milwaukee is exploring other new uses, PPS reports.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Broken Sidewalk explains what Louisville can learn from Salt Lake City about improving its air quality. Seattle Bike Blog reports the local City Council recently approved a game-changing $400 million in spending for safer streets. And the Transportationist offers details on how high-occupancy toll lanes are proliferating, with the potential to reduce congestion dramatically.