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Take a Ride on St. Louis’s First Protected Bike Lane


Here’s a nice milestone: Downtown St. Louis has its first protected bike lane.

Alex Ihnen at nextSTL posted video of a ride along the one-way lane from end to end, along Chestnut Street. The protected segment is separated from motor vehicle traffic by a parking lane, painted buffer, and flex posts. The remainder is a painted buffered lane with parking on the right and thru lanes on the left.

Ihnen says it’s a good first step toward a protected bike lane network.

A few thoughts from the ride:

  • The protected bike lane is fantastic, making a huge difference in the feeling of safety when riding downtown
  • A west bound protected lane is needed next (Pine, Olive?)
  • Bike lanes aren’t much use if they’re littered with glass and debris (Olive, Jefferson)
  • A protected bike lane on Chouteau (LOTS of extra room there) would provide a great connection to/from The Arch, Soulard, Lafayette Square, The Gate District, Shaw, The Grove, Forest Park, and connected neighborhoods
  • Jefferson Avenue bike lane badly needs repainting – a protected lane would be amazing

Check out more coverage of the Chestnut Street lane from St. Louis native Tom Fucoloro at Seattle Bike Blog. “If you had said a few weeks ago that kids would be biking comfortably on a downtown St. Louis street, people would have thought you were crazy,” writes Fucoloro. “That’s the power of protected bike lanes, and the change can happen overnight.”

Elsewhere on the Network: ATL Urbanist reports that high-rises are replacing parking lots near a MARTA station, Seattle Transit Blog says circuitous alignment of a future light rail route has more to do with politics than sound planning, and Second Avenue Sagas reminds us that Chris Christie is a liar.

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Expanding Toronto Bike Share Aims to Bridge the Last Kilometre

Promising news today from Toronto.

Todd Harrison at Spacing Toronto says the city’s bike-share system is expanding thanks to an infusion of funds from Ontario. The best part: Docking stations will be sited near transit stops to bridge “the first and last kilometres.”

Photo: Spacing Toronto

Photo: Spacing Toronto

Harrison sees the move as an indication that Bike Share Toronto will, for the first time, position itself as a service for commuters.

At the program’s outset, many stations were placed seemingly to benefit tourists. Later, then-owner Bixi ran an ad campaign that pitched bike sharing as way to hop from one social destination to another — which always struck me as only slightly better than the cycling strategy Rob Ford published in 2010, which depicted cycling as a purely trail-based recreational activity. There are many possible reasons why Bike Share Toronto is marketed in this manner. Perhaps the Toronto Parking Authority, like the program’s previous administrator, figures that anyone who wants to commute to work on a bike is already doing so. It might also be the limited range of the network, or the fact that commuters’ unidirectional nature would create bike-distribution hassles.

Yet despite all this, many Bike Share Toronto members use the system to get to and from work — often in combination with public transit. If this is indeed the kind of user Metrolinx and the City intend to attract by putting more bikes outside of subway stations, their way forward is clear: Think of bike sharing as an inexpensive, modular, smaller-scale version of the downtown relief line, and act accordingly.

Harrison points out that the expansion must be supported with bike infrastructure and smart marketing. If done right, he says, the system could help reduce transit overcrowding. “Toronto’s program has a wealth of untapped potential,” he writes.

Elsewhere on the Network: Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space lists the must-haves for a safer, more sustainable city; Greater Greater Washington says DC may be in for a serious housing shortage; and Washington Bikes examines what will be lost of Governor Jay Inslee eliminates street safety funding.

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Is “Sprawl Repair” Worth It?

Should we let sprawl be sprawl? Image via Better! Cities & Towns

Should we let sprawl be sprawl? Image via Better! Cities & Towns

Transforming the territory of strip malls and big boxes into walkable places is a hot topic, exemplified by the popular book “Retrofitting Suburbia.” But is it worth the time, money, and effort?

Robert Steuteville of Better! Cities & Towns writes that architect Kevin Klinkenberg and development expert Lee Sobel raised the question at this year’s Congress for the New Urbanism.

Klinkenberg explained in a blog that sprawl repair is a “fools errand” and new urbanists should “just say no.” He said: “Suburbia, or sprawl as we interchangeably call it, is all about bigness and mass production.” Put simply, “it’s outside the DNA of walkable cities. Embracing sprawl retrofit is like saying we can transform fast food culture into healthy food.”

He’s saying that sprawl repair is the Chicken McNuggets of urbanism.

Klinkenberg concludes: “I do believe that sprawl retrofit is not a wise approach for new urbanists. I’d say, let’s keep it simple — let urbanism be urbanism and sprawl be sprawl.”

Steuteville disagrees. There will always be a market for sprawl, he writes, but as preferences change, it’s becoming obvious that drivable places consume a much greater share of the built environment — 95 percent — than people actually want.

He points out that some cities, like Atlanta and Los Angeles, have few options other than retrofitting their car-centric development patterns:

Read more…

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What Happened When Istanbul Opened Streets to People

Map of the Istanbul Historic Peninsula, with pedestrianized streets in blue. Image: EMBARQ Turkey via TheCityFix

Map of the Istanbul Historic Peninsula, with pedestrianized streets in blue. Image: EMBARQ Turkey via TheCityFix

By the end of the 20th century, the Historic Peninsula of Istanbul had a serious pollution problem. Writing for TheCityFix, Tu?çe Üzümo?lu says air quality was so bad that historic sites and monuments were degrading.

When a UNESCO study identified poor transportation infrastructure as a factor, the local government pedestrianized streets throughout the district. Ten years later, Üzümo?lu reports, the air is much cleaner.

Thanks to the recent pedestrianization efforts in the Historic Peninsula, vehicle emissions and pollution levels have come down significantly. A new report titled “Assessment of the Air Quality Effects of Pedestrianization on Istanbul’s Historic Peninsula” from EMBARQ Turkey analyses the impacts of pedestrianization on local air quality in Istanbul.

Meanwhile, the residential area in the Northeast of the Historic Peninsula — which has not been pedestrianized — has experienced little or no reduction in traffic-related emissions, demonstrating clearly the effect of pedestrianization on local air quality.

Üzümo?lu points out additional benefits to prioritizing people over cars, including safer streets and an overall boost to quality of life. “It’s critical that city leaders in Istanbul and beyond recognize the success that pedestrianization can have on urban communities and continue to support walkable, people-oriented streets,” Üzümo?lu writes.

Elsewhere on the Network: BikeWalkLee reports that local leaders have decided that impact fees, once reserved for road-building, can be used for transit and bike/ped projects; the Virginia Bicycle Federation finds a relaxed cycling culture in Florence, Italy; and ATL Urbanist wonders if the Atlanta region is “density-proof.”

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Will Washington Governor Jay Inslee Sacrifice Safer Streets?

As we reported yesterday, it looks like Washington Governor Jay Inslee may move forward with a low-carbon fuel standard, triggering a legislative “poison pill” that would eliminate funds for transit and street safety initiatives.

Safe Routes to School funding would be cut if Washington Governor Jay Inslee swallows the poison pill. Photo: Washington Bikes

Safe Routes to School funding would be cut if Governor Jay Inslee swallows the poison pill. Photo: Washington Bikes

The Seattle Times reports that Inslee is gambling on restoring those funds at a later date, but Tom Fucoloro at Seattle Bike Blog says the governor would be making a costly mistake:

By abandoning the only funds in the transportation package that would actually help residents of our state get around without a car, he’s not doing the environment any favors.

But far worse, the money he’s considering pulling is designed to prevent people from being killed or seriously injured while walking or biking. This isn’t just horse trading one environmental policy for another. These are lives we’re talking about.

Safe Routes to School would be slashed nearly to death by this decision. $56 million can build a ton of safe crosswalks, sidewalks and bike routes for kids all across the state to get to school safely. That’s the great thing about walking and biking safety projects: Your money goes a lot further. $56 million doesn’t get you very far in a highway expansion project (it’s about 1.3 percent of the 520 Bridge Replacement budget), but it could dramatically improve safety in communities across the state.

Washington Bikes is calling on people to urge Inslee not to sacrifice funding for safer streets. “There doesn’t have to be a choice between safer and healthier communities and climate change,” says policy director Blake Trask. “Governor Inslee knows he has other avenues to implement his climate change agenda.”

Elsewhere on the Network today: Mobilizing the Region explains why New York has the smallest ecological footprint of all U.S. states (spoiler: it’s housing density and transit), and ATL Urbanist says a suburban bus rapid transit line should be a catalyst for a more humane public realm.

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Transit Alone Won’t Lead to Transit-Oriented Development

Top: The area around what is now the Garnett MARTA station in 1913. Bottom: The same area today. Images via ATL Urbanist

Top: The area around what is now the Garnett MARTA station in 1913. Bottom: The same area today. Images via ATL Urbanist

When MARTA opened its Garnett rail station in south downtown Atlanta in the early 1980s, the city expected development to follow. Darin at ATL Urbanist writes that documents from the 70s show that planners believed the station could spur offices and a residential high rise.

More than three decades later, that hasn’t happened. In fact, over the years commercial buildings and houses in the vicinity of the station were obliterated for parking. The station currently sits in the middle of a parking crater.

Writes Darin:

A catalyst like a transit station is similar to a garden — it can produce great things, but only if you take care of it and give it the nurturing environment it needs. City government did not do that with Garnett. In regard to its potential for spurring growth, it’s turned into a waste of money because of the lack of care taken to give it a proper environment for growth.

Here’s what it looks like now, from above. A city that sits back and waits for the market to work is not doing everything it can to help the station fulfill its potential. Imagine what could be here.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Second Avenue Sagas has a smackdown of transit deadbeat New York Governor Andrew Cuomo; A View From the Cycle Path examines how the decline of the public realm in Wellington, New Zealand, was mirrored across the globe; and Chicago Bicycle Advocate says Uber is designed to evade responsibility for driver crashes.

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Deadbeat Chris Christie Sticks It to New Jersey Transit Riders, Again

This is Chris Christie's idea of

This is Chris Christie’s idea of “shared sacrifice.” Graph: Tri-State Transportation Campaign

As expected, the New Jersey Transit board of directors has approved a 9 percent fare hike and service cuts, again making transit riders the victims of Governor Chris Christie’s budget shell games.

New Jersey’s gas tax is the second lowest in the U.S., and has not seen an increase since 1988. Christie has refused to raise the tax, despite indications of public support, as the state racks up billions in debt. Five years ago Christie killed the long-planned Hudson River ARC transit tunnel so he could fund highways without raising the gas tax.

On the other hand, Christie has no qualms with increasing costs for transit users, who last took a hit in 2010, when fares went up 25 percent and 10 percent, respectively, for bus and train riders.

Writing for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s Mobilizing the Region blog, Janna Chernetz reports from yesterday’s vote to raise fares again, at a meeting where board members talked around the budget disaster caused by Christie and state legislators.

Despite pleas from advocates and commuters who oppose the proposal, each and every board member voted to approve the hikes and cuts, validating their vote by saying “their hands were tied” and that they “had no choice.” Vice Chairman Bruce Meisel explained that the board is “operating within the framework of the cards they were dealt” as he justified his affirmative vote. Meisel, posing a rehearsed hypothetical to NJ Transit Executive Director Ronnie Hakim, wondered what would happen if the proposal was voted down. Hakim’s response was substantial service cuts with layoffs approaching 1,000.

Read more…

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A Modest Proposal for New York’s Penn Station

“One entered the city like a God. One scuttles in now like a rat.”

Commuters wait to find out which platform they should head to at Penn Station. Photo: johncatral/Flickr

Commuters wait to find out which platform they should head to at Penn Station. Photo: johncatral/Flickr

That quote, attributed (in varying iterations) to architect Vincent Scully, refers to New York’s former and current Penn Stations. Practically everyone who’s given it any thought agrees that the cave under Madison Square Garden is a poor substitute for the gem that preceded it, but what if they’re all getting too hung up on the idea of a grand edifice?

Alon Levy at Pedestrian Observations has what he calls a “somewhat trollish” idea: “eliminate all above-ground structures, and reduce Penn Station to a hole in the ground.”

Levy envisions Penn Station as open-air walkways, platforms, and tracks, arranged for maximum functionality because they are unencumbered by structural elements required to support street-level buildings. He writes:

Most of the preexisting plans for Penn Station do not do anything about the track level. It’s assumed that the tracks will remain narrow, that trains will not run reliably enough for consistent track assignments, and that dwell times will remain high. The architects’ proposals involve a nice station headhouse to make passengers feel important…

Eliminating the headhouse moves the focus from making passengers feel important to getting passengers in and out as fast as possible. Most importantly, it means there’s no need for girders and columns all over the track level; they support the buildings above the station, including the headhouse, and would not be needed if the station were a simple open cut. Those girders make it hard to move the tracks and platforms — the only reasonable option if they are kept is to pave over pairs of tracks between platforms to create very wide platforms, which would not be well-aligned with the approach tracks.

Read more…

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No, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan Didn’t Save Money by Killing the Red Line

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan spiked long-standing plans for the Baltimore Red Line because, he said, it cost too much. According to Hogan, he’s saving taxpayers money by diverting Red Line funds to road projects.

Debunked.

Debunked.

But Ben Ross at Greater Greater Washington reports that, when it comes to return on investment, the governor’s claim doesn’t add up.

Ross writes that Hogan is pitching his “marquee project,” the $204 million widening of Route 404 on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, as a time-saver for beach-bound motorists, “But the travel time savings from widening Route 404 will be far more expensive than the time saved by the two rail lines.”

The two-lane road only backs up on summer weekends when people drive to the beach. According to Google maps, the average traffic delay on summer Friday and Sunday afternoons varies from zero to six minutes. By a generous estimate, this adds up to 60,000 hours lost each year in traffic backups, making the construction cost $3,400 per annual hour saved.

Building the Purple Line will cost $288 per annual hour of rider benefits, and the number for the Red Line is $456. The amount of money the state is spending to save a minute of travel time on Route 404 is seven and a half times greater than the amount it refused to spend to save a minute of travel time in Baltimore. That means a Baltimore bus rider will wait an hour so that an auto passenger can get to the beach eight minutes faster.

Officials claim the road widening will improve safety, but Ross says crash data doesn’t bear that out. And if Hogan is looking to save lives, Ross notes, he would allocate Red Line funds for pedestrian safety measures around the state.

“The highway projects in Governor Hogan’s package have never gotten the sort of detailed assessment of costs and benefits that the Red and Purple Line projects were subject to,” writes Ross. “The numbers for Route 404 suggest that canceling the Red Line was not at all the cost-conscious decision the governor presented it as.”

Elsewhere on the Network today: The press is paying attention to BikeWalkLee campaigns for sidewalks and bike lanes, and Streets.mn has snappy answers to stupid anti-bike arguments.

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Paving Projects Can Also Be Street Safety Projects

Transportation departments tend to separate street resurfacings from street safety projects. In New York City, for example, advocates are pushing DOT to coordinate its paving and safety teams to better facilitate low-cost improvements for walking and biking.

Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland

Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland

Paving and safety projects shouldn’t be in competition for resources, writes Jonathan Maus at BikePortland. Maus says his city’s transportation planners are adding bike and pedestrian infrastructure after putting down fresh asphalt.

During the push for the Our Streets funding measure, the Portland Bureau of Transportation used percentages and pie charts to split these two priorities into categories. With such clear lines in the sand it’s no wonder that the community (and the media) latch on and start shouting about which one deserves more (I admit it, I’ve been guilty of doing this myself in the past).

It doesn’t have to be this way. The truth is, paving/maintenance projects can also be safety projects that improve bicycling and walking. And guess what? PBOT gets it.

Maus points to several examples of bike lanes and crosswalks striped in conjunction with a repaving. He writes: “While these bicycle access improvements are still just paint and not the true, physically protected bikeways many Portlanders are yearning for, at least PBOT is claiming space and moving in the right direction.”

Elsewhere on the Network: Streets.mn on why crosswalks should be raised to meet the sidewalk, Urban Milwaukee has a streetcar update, and the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia reports that SEPTA may expand its bike parking plans.