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City Streets in State Officials’ Hands Can Be a Recipe for Disaster

Cyclists rally for a safer Carson Street in Pittsburgh. Photo: Bike PGH

People rally for a safer Carson Street in Pittsburgh. Photo: Bike PGH

Cities shouldn’t have to fight with state departments of transportation to ensure streets are safe for their residents. But too often that’s exactly the case, and when cities lose, the result can be deadly.

A tragic story from Pittsburgh illustrates the problem. Just a week after Pennsylvania DOT debuted a car-centric redesign of iconic Carson Street, a motorist struck and killed cyclist Dennis Flanagan there. More than 1,200 people have now signed a petition demanding a safer design. Here’s an excerpt from a letter from Bike PGH Executive Director Scott Bricker to PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards:

West Carson was closed for approximately two years, and while inconvenient for many, it did not create the predicted traffic nightmare associated with a typical blocked arterial. In the lead up to the closure and during construction, Mayor Bill Peduto, Councilwoman Kail-Smith, Senator Wayne Fontana, Representative Dan Deasy, community leaders, residents, City of Pittsburgh Departments of City Planning and Public Works, and Bike Pittsburgh unsuccessfully lobbied PennDOT District-11 to create a more inclusive design that would connect these communities via bike to other bicycle facilities only a stone’s throw away, namely the Station Square Trail and the Montour Trail to the Pittsburgh International Airport. In fact, the City of Pittsburgh pitched PennDOT District-11 a conceptual design eliminating the needless turning lane for most of the distance and using the remaining width for bike lanes, only to be silently rebuffed. Instead, PennDOT’s engineers decided to go against these wishes and charge ahead with a design that only exacerbates the speeding problem, and which gave no dedicated safe space for people who ride bikes to get around.

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More Evidence That Speed Cameras Work

The evidence is clear: Speed cameras save lives.

Photo: PBOT via Bike Portland

Photo: PBOT via Bike Portland

Here’s the latest success story — an update from Jonathan Maus at Bike Portland on the city’s first speed camera, which was installed on Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway last month:

Here are some facts about the BHH camera released by PBOT today:

  • Before the cameras were installed, an average 1,417 vehicles a day traveled 51 mph or faster, according to readings by a pneumatic tube laid across the roadway.
  • During the warning period from Aug. 24 to Sept. 18, an average 93 vehicles a day were found traveling 51 mph or faster — a 93.4 percent reduction from the tube count.
  • In the first week of the warning period, cameras recorded an average 115 violations a day. Violations dropped to an average 72 a day by the week of Sept. 12 to 18.

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Restrictive Housing Policies in a Few Cities Hurt the Whole U.S. Economy

The San Francisco Bay Area is not building nearly enough housing to keep pace with job growth. The result is an affordability crisis. Graphic: Plan Bay Area 2040 via Kim-Mai Cutler

The San Francisco Bay Area is not building nearly enough housing to keep pace with job growth. The result is an affordability crisis. Graphic: Plan Bay Area 2040 via Kim-Mai Cutler [PDF]

It’s no secret that major coastal cities are dealing with a housing shortage that’s causing runaway rents. What’s less well understood, however, is how low-density zoning not only limits the supply of housing but affects the U.S. economy more broadly.

Pete Rodrigue at Greater Greater Washington points to a study estimating the economic impact of policies like single-family zoning and height limits, which restrict access to places where economic opportunity is greatest. Even looking at just three regions, the effect is huge:

Economists Enrico Moretti and Chang-Tai Hsieh find that if we lowered restrictions that keep people from building new housing in just three cities (New York, San Jose, and San Francisco) to the level of the median American city, US GDP would have been 9.7% higher in 2009—about $1.4 trillion, or $6,300 for every American worker…

Just changing zoning practices in those three cities would lead to some massive shifts, according to the authors. One-third of workers would change cities (although they wouldn’t necessarily move to those three metros). Even under a less drastic scenario, in which 20% of US workers were able to move, GDP would be 6.5% higher. Fewer people would live in places like Detroit, Phoenix, or Atlanta, but those who remained would earn higher wages. And, of course, the likely reduction in sprawl would help address local air pollution, global warming, and habitat loss.

Rodrigue suggests how the implications of this work should be applied in the DC region:

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The Threat of Racial Profiling in Traffic Enforcement

This map shows the streets where 50 percent of fatal traffic crashes occur in San Jose. But in yellow, we see there's a strong overlap with "disadvantaged" areas, where immigrants, low-income people and people of color are concentrated. Map via Cyclelicious

The blue lines are streets where fatal traffic crashes occur in San Jose. There’s a lot of overlap with the areas in yellow, areas with large numbers of immigrants, low-income residents, and people of color. Map via Cyclelicious

Can urban police forces with histories of racial profiling and brutality be entrusted to carry out traffic enforcement as part of Vision Zero initiatives? In a Twitter chat yesterday, the Safe Routes to School National Partnership asked how to ensure that “law enforcement doesn’t profile or discriminate” when asked to uphold traffic laws.

Responding on Cyclelicious, Richard Masoner offers some data that illustrates the tension in San Jose:

As part of their Vision Zero effort, the city of San Jose, CA Police Traffic Enforcement Unit has adopted a data driven approach to enforcing traffic infractions. 50% of traffic fatalities in San Jose occur on just 3% of city streets. These “Safety Priority Streets” are portions of Almaden Expressway, Alum Rock Avenue, Blossom Hill Road, Branham Lane, Capitol Expressway, Jackson Avenue, King Road, McKee Road, McLaughlin Avenue, Monterey Road, Senter Road, Story Road, Tully Road, and White Road. Both cyclist fatalities in 2014 occurred on one of these streets, and the majority of cycling deaths in San Jose continue to occur on those roads.

JPD love this data, and it was very easy to convince them to use their very limited resources to target enforcement where they can do the most good.

But see what happens when we overlay the map of what our regional planning agency identifies as “Communities of Concern,” which are neighborhoods with a high proportion of minorities, recent immigrants, and low-income households.

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What Can a Mileage Tax Tell Us That a Gas Tax Can’t?

Can taxes on driving mileage replace gas taxes as a source of transportation funds? Right now the state of Oregon is testing a mileage tax with an opt-in pilot program called “OreGo.” Participants install a device that tracks their driving and pay 1.5 cents per mile, which is assessed from a special account.

This Oregon DOT image shows the equipment required for "Orego," the state's pilot per-mile tax on driving.

This device tracks driving for Oregon’s mileage tax pilot. Image: Oregon DOT

Jerry Zelada is one of the 891 people testing out the tax. He writes at Bike Portland that the mileage tax system captures a lot of information that a gas tax never could. But putting that information to good use depends on the values of the agency collecting it:

There are some secondary benefits that can accompany this program. I can log into my account and see my own behavior: jack-rabbit starts; hard braking; a map of every trip my car has made. It even asks me, Why didn’t you walk for such a short drive? My MapMyRide and Strava do the same thing: nag that today’s average speed was 11.5 rather than 12 miles an hour. There are more possibilities for this Black Box of road use: assess pre-crash data, document erratic behavior for solo deaths due to distraction, find stolen cars, find lost elders, parental tracking of kids, or track employee behaviors using company vehicles. These are individual issues.

Another secondary benefit is aggregate information that can assist policy decisions; where to spend money to ameliorate congestion, creating incentives for staggered employee arrivals, etc. Imagine plotting all the three-mile or shorter trips and find that people drove instead of walked due to poor lane crossings. OreGo can collect substantial information that could reveal community patterns not understood. It is a possibility that the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) would see how widening roads may not be the answer when other options could pull those ‘three mile trip drivers’ away from large arterials.

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Where Walkability and Affordability Overlap in the D.C. Region

This social equity analysis identifies walkable places that are also affordable and transit accessible. The "sweet spot" is the upper right-hand corner. Graph: Tracy Hadden Loh via GGwash

Places in the lower right quadrant are where rents are lower and people can get around without a car. Chart: Tracy Hadden Loh via GGwash

Neighborhoods that are walkable, affordable for lower-income households, and provide access to jobs for people without a car are far too rare.

Tracy Hadden Loh, a data scientist at George Washington University, recently completed a study sorting out which places meet this criteria in the D.C. region. She writes at Greater Greater Washington that some walkable areas do remain affordable:

In the plot, the economic index is a weighted average of rents for office, retail, and multifamily residential buildings (per square foot), compared to a region-wide average for the baseline and discounted for vacancy; the social equity index is a five-part index based on transit-accessible jobs (10%), housing supply (15%), percentage of income spent on housing for a household earning 80% of the area median income (40%), percentage of income spent on transportation for same (20%), and public space per capita (15%).

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Let Providence Decide the Fate of Its Aging Highway Relic

Providence's 6/10 Connector is a relic of another time. Photo: MovingTogetherPVD

Providence’s 6/10 Connector is a relic of another time. Photo: MovingTogetherPVD

The campaign to remove a 1960s-era highway relic in Providence, Rhode Island, known as the 6/10 Connector looked like it could go the distance. Local advocates had built broad support for the idea of replacing the two-mile highway segment with an at-grade boulevard that makes room for transit and bicycling while mending the divide between neighborhoods.

But earlier this month, Governor Gina Raimondo tried to put the kibosh on the highway removal using safety as a pretext, saying bridges along the 6/10 Connector need to be rebuilt immediately.

Now Raimondo says she wants to hold a meeting to discuss a “compromise.” James Kennedy at Transport Providence remains wary of her intentions. Any real compromise, he writes, would not involve reconstructing the highway:

We all agree that the public should not be left at risk from unsafe bridges. If the Huntington Bridge is unsafe, it should be closed to trucks, and if necessary, to cars. Oddly, the bridges remain open to cars and trucks, and given the governor’s past record of conveniently finding unsafe bridges in the right place at the right time for her policy goals, it leaves the public suspicious. To be clear, I don’t think the suspicion should be about whether the bridges are in good condition or not. The suspicion is that concerns about safety are being manipulated in order to derail public opposition to the governor’s positions.

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Seattle’s Decade-Long Shift Away From Solo Car Commuting

Seattle's smart transportation policies are moving people toward sustainable transportation. Photo: Seattle Bike Blog

Even with gas prices dropping the past two years, the trend in Seattle is away from solo car commuting. Photo: Seattle Bike Blog

New Census data is out on how Americans commute, and the standout success story is Seattle, where the rate of people who drive alone to work dropped 8.8 percent over the last decade.

Tom Fucoloro at Seattle Bike Blog lists some of the highlights — walking is up, the share of women biking to work is rising. All the trends in Seattle point in a positive direction:

The number of Seattleites driving alone to work hit a new modern low, making up just 48.5 percent of all commutes. This is particularly impressive since the decline in mode share happened despite a drop in gas prices that started in late 2014. Seattle is a leader in this trend among big U.S. cities, Yonah Freemark reported on Twitter

On the other hand, walking continued its strong trend upwards, hitting a new high at 10.7 percent. This is likely in large part due to increased housing near jobs.

The share of workers biking held steady at 4 percent and transit held steady at 21 percent. This means each mode grew in accordance with job growth.

While job growth in the city means the total number of Seattleites driving alone to work increased 9 percent since 2010, that’s well below the worker growth rate of 20 percent. If trends continue, the city will start adding jobs without adding cars. And if the city takes smart, bold action, this turning point could come sooner than later.

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Complete Streets Won’t Work Without Complete Bridges

This is what the transition from the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail to the East Capitol St. Bridge looks like. Photo: WABA

This is what the transition from the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail to the East Capitol St. Bridge looks like. Photo: WABA

Networks of safe walking and biking infrastructure won’t work very well if they’re interrupted by bridges that are dangerous or stressful to cross. But when transportation agencies fix up bridges, their instinct is often to do the least for walking and biking that they can get away with.

Garrett Hennigan at the Washington Area Bicyclists Association reports that DC is attempting to sidestep complete streets policies at a couple of important bridges. He explains why it’s so critical to design these crossings for all users:

Over the next few years, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has plans for substantial rehabilitation work on the aging Whitney Young Memorial (East Capital St.) Bridge and Roosevelt (I-66/US-50) Bridge. Opened in 1955 and 1964, both bridges are structurally deficient and in need of serious rehabilitation. These bridges are important links in the city’s highway network, yet due to insufficient design, they fail to connect gaps in the region’s trail network and perpetuate barriers to safe walking and biking. Despite the opportunity, DDOT’s plans consider non-motorized accommodations as “outside the scope of work.” As DDOT plans the rehabilitation of these bridges, it has a duty to correct the mistakes of the past and improve both bridges for safe non-motorized access.

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After Epic Struggle, the Cincinnati Streetcar Is Finally a Reality

Cincinnati's new streetcar, the Cincinnati Bell Connector, was running packed it's opening weekend. Photo: UrbanCincy

Cincinnati’s new streetcar was packed on an opening weekend with free fares. Photo: UrbanCincy

What a long, difficult journey it’s been for streetcar advocates in Cincinnati. After battling an extremely hostile state government, the project was nearly killed in the early stages of construction by an adversarial mayor. But a groundswell of grassroots support for the project pushed it over the top.

The Cincy route is not very long and operates in mixed traffic, which will limit the speed of service. Most new streetcar projects with those traits don’t attract many passengers. But the Cincinnati streetcar connects important destinations in downtown and the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, which bodes well for ridership.

Last weekend, the “Cincinnati Bell Connector,” as it’s now known thanks to a sponsorship agreement, made its first runs. The atmosphere was electric, reports Travis Estell at UrbanCincy:

After the first five ceremonial rides, the Connector opened to the public around noon. It was free to ride all weekend thanks to donations from Believe in Cincinnati, streetcar manufacturer CAF, Cincinnati Bell, Fred Craig, the Haile Foundation, and Joseph Automotive Group. Each station was staffed with volunteers who helped inform riders about the how the system works, where it goes, and how to pay your fare after the start of revenue service. Additionally, a number of special events and activities took place place near each of the streetcar stations, ranging from DJs to ballet dancers to sidewalk chalk artists. Many businesses along the route offered special streetcar-themed food, drinks, and merchandise.

The system initially opened with four out of the five streetcars in service, but the fifth was put into service around 4 p.m. on Friday and all five continued to operate for the remainder of the weekend. The system operated at nearly maximum capacity all weekend, with lines of people waiting to board at each station.

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