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People Are Fundamentally Social, Except When We’re Inside a Car

What makes for a good environment inside a car and outside a car couldn't be more different, says Bill Lindeke at Twin City Sidewalks.

When you’re walking, it’s great to be around other people on their feet, but when you’re driving, it’s awful to be around other people in cars, says Bill Lindeke at Twin City Sidewalks.

Bill Lindeke at Twin City Sidewalks was on a high from this weekend, when he attended a pretty spectacular outdoor festival in his hometown of St. Paul. The streets were filled with people and activity. It got him thinking, as fun as it was, it would have been a miserable place to be if you were in a car trying to get somewhere.

He says the things that make pedestrians happy and drivers happy couldn’t be more fundamentally opposite:

The experience led me to dwell on the fundamental difference between walkable cities and a car-based society. Try as we might to reconcile the various “modes” of urban movement, the difference between driving a car and doing just about anything else all comes down to density. Put simply, in a car, more is bad; outside of a car, more is good.

It’s relatively simple to understand. Just look at any car commercial, showing people driving their shining new SUV through a city street. The one common denominator is that in almost every case, the streets are practically empty. The ideal state for driving a car is to be completely alone, to have the city all to yourself.

Now think about any commercial that shows people walking around a city. Typically, you’ll see streets full of other people, maybe dogs, shops, street vendors. The ideal city on foot is full of other people.

You just can’t get around that fundamental opposition. Cars transform us all into misanthropes.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Systemic Failure reports that city leaders in Hamilton, Ontario, voted to remove a dedicated bus lane. Strong Towns shares a case that illustrates how setting limits on infrastructure spending can be a good thing. And Mobilizing the Region says a new report rightly zeros in on New Jersey’s road funding troubles, but identifies the wrong solution.

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What’s Holding Back Austin Transit Ridership? Look at Where the Jobs Are

Why isn't Austin's transit ridership keeping pace? Graph: Keep Austin Wonky

Why isn’t Austin’s transit ridership keeping pace? Graph: Keep Austin Wonky

A recent post at Keep Austin Wonky asks why transit ridership in Austin seems to be stagnating even as the region grows at a healthy clip. Julio Gonzalez Altamirano says it doesn’t seem to be gas prices or transit funding, but something about the way the city is physically developing that’s hindering ridership growth.

Jeff Wood at the Overhead Wire says perhaps the culprit is job sprawl and the relative lack of growth in downtown employment:

Julio says that for the last 15 years, population has increased 34% in the region. Because data from LED is only available from 2002 on, that leaves us with a 13 year period.  But the growth in jobs in that 13 years has been 26% or ~675K to ~852K according to LED data.

But for downtown, which I looked at as West of I-35, North of Barton Springs Road, East of Lamar, and South of MLK employment growth is much smaller. Only an 18% change, from ~112K in 2002 to ~132K in 2011.  The share of employment that resides in this downtown sector has gone down too.  In 2002 it was 16.5% of total jobs in the region, while in 2011 it was 15.5% of total jobs.

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This Is the Kind of Leadership We Need From State DOTs

“A breath of fresh air” — that’s how Chuck Marohn at Strong Towns describes this interview with Tennessee DOT Commissioner John Schroer. In this video, produced by Smart Growth America, Schroer describes what he is doing to make Tennessee’s the ”the best DOT in the country.” Here are some of the highlights:

We did a top-to-bottom review and we looked at everything that we did and we analyzed it from a production standpoint to a financial standpoint. Changed a lot of the leadership within the department, brought in a lot of people from the private sector.

I found when I  moved into this position, a lot of cities did a poor job of long-range planning — in how they did zoning, in how they approved projects — and took very little consideration into the transportation mode. Oftentimes those cities would then call us and say, “We’ve got a problem, you need to help us fix it.” Well, that problem was self-created. It was self-created because they made bad zoning decisions, they put a school in the wrong place without thinking about transportation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to build a bypass to a bypass, and that purely is bad planning. We’ve got a whole division now that is working with communities right now and trying to help them not make those bad decisions, and when that happens the state saves money.

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Are More Families With Kids Choosing to Live in Walkable Areas?

Overall, walkable places lost ground with families over the last decade, according to this analysis by Family Friendly Cities.

According to an analysis by Family Friendly Cities, in walkable American neighborhoods the number of children is shrinking.

Bradley Calvert at Family Friendly Cities has done some impressive number-crunching to identify trends in where families with children are living. Using Walk Score and Census data, he analyzed the 50 largest metro areas in the U.S. to determine whether the population of children is growing or shrinking in walkable and unwalkable areas. (Some regions had to be excluded because they didn’t have any places with a Walk Score over 70.)

Calvert found that the total number of kids under 18 living in walkable areas is shrinking, but the trend is not as pronounced among parents with young children:

Overall the growth of families, measured by number of residents under the age of 18, in walkable communities has been unimpressive. Walkable communities lost 11.99 percent of residents under 18 while non-walkable communities posted a gain of 2.78 percent. The difference signifies that families are not finding their way into our most walkable communities. While most of the nation’s largest cities have shown growth in residents under 18, particularly in more recent years, they are not choosing more walkable communities. Of the cities studied only Charlotte and Seattle posted growth in all residents under 18 in walkable communities.

The outlook for our youngest families, those with children under the age of 5, was slightly more optimistic. While of the 50 largest cities they still posted a loss of 2.98 percent, 13 cities posted growth. Still, non-walkable communities experienced a growth rate of 3.78 percent.  Of the 13 that posted growth it was a smattering of Sun Belt boomtowns, Pacific Northwest growth, and Mid-Atlantic & Midwestern staples. The growth in these 13 cities hints that younger families, particularly young professionals that are now having children might be more inclined to stay in more urban walkable areas. Being that their children are still below school age, there is still the concern that they could leave much like a report earlier this month from Washington, D.C. suggested.

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Tentative Good News for Maryland’s Purple and Red Lines

The Purple line, connecting suburban Maryland to DC, is expected to generate a development boom around its stations, like the Silver Line has in Virginia. Image: Rethink College Park

The Purple Line, connecting Montgomery County to DC, is expected to generate walkable development around its stations. Image: Rethink College Park

Since Republican Larry Hogan was elected governor in November, transit advocates in Maryland have been holding their breath.

During the campaign, Hogan threatened to kill the mostly-funded and ready-to-go Red Line in Baltimore and the Purple Line in the DC suburbs — two of the biggest transit projects on tap in the U.S.

A budget document recently released by the Hogan administration on Friday avoids the worst-case scenario of immediately abandoning both projects. Dan Reed at Greater Greater Washington reports that Hogan is setting aside $313 million for the Purple Line and $106 million for the Red Line — enough to keep the projects progressing.

But it’s too soon to declare victory, Reed says:

Hogan campaigned on a platform of reducing government spending and building roads instead of transit, so this news is a blessing for transit supporters. But the Purple and Red lines aren’t done deals yet.

For the Purple Line, it’s likely that Hogan is waiting to see the bids for a public-private partnership to build and run the project. Maryland wants the private partner to provide between $500 and $900 million, but if the bid is too low and the state has to provide more money than Hogan’s budgeted, then the Purple Line may be in trouble. The bids are due March 12.

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Survey Reveals Huge Appetite for Transit Expansion in Seattle

Image: PubliCola via EMC research

Image: PubliCola via EMC research

Sound Transit in Seattle recently commissioned a survey to gauge support for pumping $15 billion into light rail expansion from local taxes. About 1,500 voters were interviewed by phone in Snohomish, King, and Pierce counties about their appetite for such an increase.

The questions were phrased neutrally and showed “overwhelming” support for continuing to expand transit options in the region, reports Bernard Ellouk at PubliCola:

The poll shows that voters, by a margin of 55 to 31, believe Puget Sound is on the right track — a historic high that has not been approached since December 2000. And the primary concern for Puget Sound residents is mass transit, transportation, and traffic, which ranks above concerns over the economy and jobs, the environment and pollution, and education.

Fifty-seven percent of voters rank expanding light rail, buses, and commuter rail as the best way to address the traffic problem, compared with 36 percent who prefer to expand existing roads and highways and build new roads. Stewart says that, coming on the heels of 2008′s ballot measure to fund an expansion of Sound Transit’s regional express buses and commuter and light rail service, these figures signal “a lot of appetite” to continue transit expansions. Support for expanding transit has remained around 80 percent since 2008. The poll released today shows 82 percent of voters in favor.

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Suburban Atlanta: Where Parking Is Required But Sidewalks Are Not

Photo: ATLUrbanist

The sidewalk disappears at this bus stop on Buford Highway. Photo: ATLUrbanist

Buford Highway north of Atlanta is the deadliest road for pedestrians in the region. Though lined with residences of people with low incomes, the high-speed, high-traffic road has no continuous sidewalk. Lacking dedicated infrastructure, pedestrians have worn paths in the grass all around it. (See more photos below.)

Darin at UrbanATL says these paths are a stark illustration of inequality built into the region’s transportation system.

Those cars are in spaces that are mandated as part of minimum parking requirements — requirements that don’t seem to have a relative in regard to pedestrian infrastructure at bus stops.

This is a good metaphor for the second-class state of pedestrians in car-centric places throughout Metro Atlanta. Cars receive a luxurious abundance of infrastructure for both moving and parking, while pedestrians and transit users fight for a safe place on the edges.

You can see “desire paths” like this – where people have worn down the grass in a median from repeatedly walking through it — along many roads in the metro. I remember seeing them along Canton Highway in Cobb County, where I grew up.

Take a look at these desire paths worn into the sidewalk-free Buford Highway turf:

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Koch Money Seeps Into Milwaukee to Oppose Streetcar

Back in September we wrote about the various ways the Koch brothers are using their money to upend local transit projects. Four months later, Koch money is intensifying the assault against two more transit lines.

The proposed Milwaukee streetcar would be a two-mile starter route that could expand in future phases. Image: The Milwaukee Streetcar

Right now in the DC region, opponents of the Purple Line are trotting out Koch-funded “expert” Randall O’Toole, whom the press still consider to be a legitimate authority on transportation issues despite his completely cartoonish ideas.

And Bruce Murphy at Urban Milwaukee says it’s happening in Wisconsin’s largest city as well. As the city prepares to build a streetcar system, an opposition group has sprung up that is not what it claims to be, Murphy writes:

For weeks, organizers of the petition drive calling for a referendum on the streetcar have emphasized the grass-roots nature of the effort. After all, as Chris Kliesmet of the CRG Network, which is organizing the petition drive, put it: “the sentiment in the city is wildly against” the streetcar.

Kliesmet laughed off the idea that the effort was getting any funding from conservative groups outside the city. They’ve received “no funding” nor was any on the horizon, he assured me. Republican PR operative Craig Peterson, also involved in the petition drive, said he had paid personally for anti-streetcar radio ads and not one dollar of support (“No. None at all”) was coming to the group from elsewhere.

But in answer to my email inquiry, David Fladeboe, state director of the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity, told me his group is quite involved in the effort: “We have been educating the public on the why the streetcar is wrong for Milwaukee since the mayor started on this project. Now we are working on pushing the referendum to allow the people of Milwaukee to decide the fate of the streetcar.”

When I pressed for more detail, Fladeboe said, “Our field teams are working with several coalition partners to gather the required signatures to have a referendum in Milwaukee. We have both paid staff and volunteers working on this project.”

How many paid staff, how much money is being spent? I asked. Fladeboe did not respond.

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Georgia Poised to Snub Transit in Huge Road Funding Increase

Georgia seems poised to double-down on its dysfunctional transportation policies. Photo: Wikimedia

Georgia seems poised to double-down on its dysfunctional transportation policies. Photo: Wikimedia

In the competition to be the worst state for transit, Georgia is one of the clear standouts. The state contributes nothing — yep, zilch! — to Atlanta’s transit system, even as the region grapples with an increasingly crippling traffic and car dependence problem.

State leaders are now pushing for a gas tax increase that would raise about a billion dollars per year for transportation. Unfortunately, the state’s constitution prevents even a cent of that revenue from being used for transit, and Governor Nathan Deal has shown no inclination to overhaul that policy.

The whole situation encapsulates why, when it comes to transportation, Georgia keeps digging itself deeper into a hole, writes Ken Edelstein at Renew ATL:

Whether Georgia even needs all that much money for roads and bridges is an open question. Reporters and politicians are taking to the bank the Joint Committee’s claim that the state Department of Transportation need to double its budget just to upkeep our current infrastructure.

The problem is that the report’s “verified” estimate of $1 billion to $1.5 billion a year just in increased road and bridge maintenance spending was provided to the Joint Committee by a contractor with a big self-interest in more transportation spending. And the committee’s rather thin report doesn’t offer any documentation for the claim. As so often happens in the political media, however, an unsubstantiated claim by an interested party quickly morphs into the neat number that journalists must latch onto. The result: breathless headlines and credulous editorials accepting an increase in the billion-dollars-plus range as absolutely dire.

Meanwhile, Deal himself noted that the state has found the money to add more than $1 billion worth of Interstate lanes in metro Atlanta during his final term. Go figure.

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Seattle Car-Share Is Growing, But Is It Cutting Traffic?

After launching a pilot program three years ago enabling the company car2go to use on-street parking spots for its car-share fleet, Seattle is pursuing an expansion that would allow new companies to enter the market and dramatically increase the availability of point-to-point car-share vehicles.

Photo via The Urbanist

Scott Bonjukian at The Urbanist has the details about the expansion legislation and some interesting stats from the pilot program:

Up from 350 vehicles beginning in 2012, the company has reached the 500 vehicle cap under a pilot program monitored by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). The service has proved immensely popular, and reportedly has 59,000 members in Seattle – the largest of car2go’s 30 home cities — representing nearly one-tenth of the city’s population. The company has requested authority to expand. The proposed legislation (PDF) will increase the permit cap six-fold and allow up to four carshare operators in the city.

According to a staff report (PDF), the vehicles currently occupy only 0.7% of the city’s paid parking space. On average, each vehicle is used six times per day and parked only 68 minutes between trips. Personal vehicles are unused 95 percent of the time.

Committee chair Tom Rasmussen noted that car2go estimates up to 4% (2,360) of Seattle members have ditched a personal vehicle since joining, which removes the option of driving everywhere for every activity and results in congestion reduction. Increasing membership of carshare services will only improve this outcome. SDOT Director Scott Kubly said car sharing is “…a key component to creating choices for people to get around the city, and allowing people to live a car-free or car-light lifestyle.”

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