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DC Insurers Try Scare Tactics to Avoid Paying Victims of Reckless Driving

If a driver strikes you while you’re walking or biking in D.C., there’s a good chance you won’t be allowed to sue for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering under the law.

Cyclists who are injured or killed in D.C. might soon have fairer legal recourse. Photo: David/Flickr

Pedestrians and cyclists struck in D.C. might soon have greater legal recourse to recover damages. Photo: David/Flickr

That’s thanks to a legal standard known as “contributory negligence” in effect only in D.C. and a handful of states. Contributory negligence holds that if a pedestrian or cyclist is deemed even 1 percent at fault for a collision, she is essentially out of luck.

The D.C. Council will vote tomorrow on a bill that would replace the contributory negligence standard with the much fairer “comparative fault” standard. But the local insurance lobby is making a last-ditch attempt to stop the bill.

The Washington Area Bicyclists Association reports that the industry group Property Casualty Insurers of America has put out a “study” claiming that the bill could hike D.C. auto insurance rates 24 percent, which was circulated by AAA-MidAtlantic in an email [PDF] to all its members.

WABA says the insurance industry’s claims are deliberately misleading:

The PCI analysis assumes 100% of crashes will involve DC-insured drivers. According to the 2014 DDOT Traffic Safety Statistics Report, only 37% of total traffic crashes involve a DC driver. Maryland and Virginia drivers alone account for 46.9% of all crashes in the District. The costs of crashes associated with bicyclists and pedestrians would be spread much further into the regional insurance pool, not solely in the District’s.

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What If “Commuter Rail” Was for Everyone, Not Just 9-to-5 Commuters?

Rhode Island has been investing in commuter rail — long distance service connecting Providence to Boston and towns in between. But lackluster ridership at a new park-and-ride rail station at the end of the line (by a Walmart!) is sapping support for much more useful investments, reports Sandy Johnston at Itinerant Urbanist.

This is the area that will be served by Pawtucket-Providence commuter rail. Photo: Google Maps via Sandy Johnson

The area that would be served by the Pawtucket-Central Falls rail station is one of the most walkable parts of Rhode Island. Photo: Google Maps via Sandy Johnson

Anti-rail critics are piling on. The libertarian Rhode Island Center for Freedom has come out against an infill station at the much more walkable Pawtucket/Central Falls border, for instance, on the basis that spending on the commuter rail service relegates Rhode Island to being a suburb of Boston.

Johnston doesn’t agree with that take, but he says it “unintentionally touches on a serious critique of the ‘commuter rail’ mode: it serves one kind of trip, and one kind of trip only.” And that critique can lead to a better kind of rail service:

When the Providence Foundation studied intrastate commuter rail from Woonsocket to Providence in 2009, the project team met with planners along the route to gauge interest in the potential new service. All showed interest, except for the town planner in Lincoln, where a station was proposed in the hamlet of Manville. The reasons given were fascinating, and a little bit sad:

The proposed Manville site is located near a low-income neighborhood, where residents could typically be expected to benefit from additional transit services. However, commuter rail — with its peak-oriented services — may not be a good fit for these residents who tend to work at jobs with nontraditional schedules. Moreover, the town planner in Lincoln indicated the most town residents were not interested in a new commuter rail station. (p. 71)

Justifiably or not, Lincoln’s town planner believed that commuter rail, as a mode, is not for “us” (us being anyone working in a job that is not white collar or 9-to-5). That’s not too far off from the idea that investing state money in a commuter rail station would only increase Rhode Island’s dependency on Boston, if we assume that “Boston” here stands in for white-collar jobs with little access for middle- or working-class Rhode Islanders. It may not be entirely apparent to the people I’m quoting here, but I believe the pattern indicates the very tiny glimmer of a kernel of a coherent, trenchant critique of the commuter rail paradigm.

Johnston says it doesn’t have to be that way:

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How Leadership in 1972 Saved Boston From Highways and Shaped Today’s City

What would Boston be like today had the Inner Belt Highway been built? Map via TransitCenter

What would Boston be like today if the Inner Belt Highway had been built? Map via TransitCenter

There aren’t too many places in the United States like Boston — truly walkable cities with good transit. And it didn’t happen by accident.

Boston could have ended up like so many other American cities, criss-crossed by elevated roads and crammed with parking structures. In the early 1970s, transportation planners wanted to gouge highways through some of its most densely populated neighborhoods — prompting fierce resistance. Thankfully, the top elected official in the state listened to the highway revolt and made decisions that continue to benefit the city four decades later.

TransitCenter has the story:

In 1970, in response to protests over highway plans that would involve government seizure of land, homes, and businesses for highway construction, Massachusetts Governor Francis W. Sargent took the unusual step of declaring a moratorium on highway construction inside Route 128, Boston’s suburban beltway. In its place, Sargent called for a comprehensive multimodal study of the region’s transportation needs.

The study concluded two years later, and in a speech to the public on November 30, 1972, Sargent announced the multibillion-dollar investment plan that was its result. The proposed Inner Belt highway, which would have ripped through the urban fabric of Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville, had been shelved. Instead, Sargent declared a relaunch of the state’s commitment to public transportation in the Boston area, as well as the construction of select, strategic highway links less intrusive than the Inner Belt.

If only more elected officials today were as prescient as Sargent was then. TransitCenter picked out this great quote from the speech he gave outlining his plans:

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Columbus Wins $50 Million “Smart City” Grant. What Put It Over the Top?

Columbus has been chosen to help pioneer innovation in transportation technology. Image: Columbus

U.S. DOT chose Columbus to model how new technologies can improve urban transportation. Image: City of Columbus

U.S. DOT announced the winner of its $50 million “Smart City” grant yesterday, and Columbus, Ohio, bested finalists San Francisco, Portland, Austin, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Denver for the prize. Many other cities had applied for this federal funding to demonstrate how new technologies can improve urban streets and transportation.

In its application, Columbus focused on improving job access for low-income residents via shared cars and self-driving buses. Michael Andersen at Bike Portland considered the winning bid from the perspective of his city’s close-but-no-cigar application. Here’s what he thinks set Columbus apart:

Though many of the elements of Columbus’s proposal are similar to Portland’s ultimately unsuccessful one — a multimodal mobility app, electric vehicle charging stations — two things jump out as being absent from Portland’s proposal:

• Local Columbus companies pledged $90 million of their own investment in smart transportation technology as part of the matching-fund total.

It’s hard to say how much of this is just clever repackaging of money that would have been spent anyway, but it’s a very impressive sum. Portland’s application drew lots of letters of support but no local financial commitments like that.

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New Transit Line Can Stitch St. Louis Together. But Can It Beat Parochialism?

A north-south Metrolink line is just what the St. Louis region needs, says Alex Ihnen. Map via NextSTL

A north-south Metrolink line is just what the St. Louis region needs, says Alex Ihnen. Map via NextSTL

It’s been 20 years now since planners in the St. Louis region first envisioned a north-south route for the Metrolink rail system. The region’s rail system is currently oriented in an east-west pattern.

Outgoing St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay recently made a move to advance a transit project that would improve access to jobs for residents of economically struggling areas north and south of the city. Slay is seeking a $500,000 FTA grant to study the rail line.

But the political rivalries that have made St. Louis a poster child for regional dysfunction are already surfacing. St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger refused to support the city’s application because, he said, the north-south line will “divide” the region.

That is absurd, writes Alex Ihnen at NextSTL:

Fixating on the issue that a north-south line would likely use a different technology than existing heavy rail MetroLink, Stenger states, “Transportation should not divide us. A light rail decision that would further fragment our region is not in our best interests.” This is a logically torturous, myopic, and simply wrong view of the function of transit…

So what in the hell is Stenger thinking? He’s playing the classic role of political “leader” in our fractured region. He hangs his argument on representing “more than one million citizens” and St. Louis County being the largest local funder of Bi-State [Development, the agency that runs Metro-Link]. In short, it’s ours-ours-ours and who cares about what a transit system is, or how it could affect the region. In that respect, his opposition is somewhat predictable, and yet still absurd.

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Beyond Fitness: The Social Benefits of Open Streets Events

Milwaukee's Ciclovia was planned in part to help bring together different groups in a Hispanic neighborhood. Urban MIlwaukee

One goal of Milwaukee’s Ciclovia is to bring neighbors together in public space. Photo: Urban Milwaukee

It’s a beautiful thing to witness just how much neighborhood streets can change when you remove car traffic. As open streets events, modeled after Bogotá’s Ciclovía, have spread across the U.S. in the past several years, they’ve brought not just opportunities for physical activity, but a joyful new way to use streets as public spaces.

In Milwaukee, this year’s Ciclovía overlapped with the city’s Pride parade. Writing at Urban Milwaukee, Dave Schlabowske of the Wisconsin Bike Federation says the combination of the two events underscored how open streets are about so much more than biking:

Our Ciclovía ended at 4 p.m. and I packed up the van with the now empty bike racks and put them back in the basement of our office. Pedaling home from our office after such a successful day, I kept reliving the smiles of all the cute kids, the infectious beat of the Zumba, and generally basking in a day that made me proud to work for the Wisconsin Bike Fed and be part of such a wonderful, healthy, community building event. It was one of those days I couldn’t imagine living anywhere but Milwaukee.

Then I got home and my wife told me the news about the mass shooting in Orlando. I was shocked. I can’t believe our event and the Pridefest Parade overlapped and yet I had no idea of the horrific attack on the LGBT community the night before. It took me awhile to write about this. At first I felt guilty for being so self-absorbed that I missed learning about the biggest mass murder in our nation’s history while busy with a “bike event.”

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What Gun Violence and Traffic Violence Have in Common

Traffic deaths vs. gun deaths in the U.S. Graph: Violence Policy Center via Transport Providence

Traffic deaths and gun deaths in the U.S. Graph: Violence Policy Center via Transport Providence

The horrific mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando has prompted some soul-searching about America’s ability to take significant steps to curb gun violence. Congress did nothing to control guns after dozens of young kids were massacred at Sandy Hook. Will the loss of 49 innocent lives finally lead officials to take action?

The problem of gun violence has recently inspired a number of analogies to traffic fatalities, which also claim tens of thousands of lives in America each year. President Obama said at a recent forum that gun violence can be systematically reduced through public policy, citing the reduction in traffic deaths as proof that it can be done. It’s true that traffic deaths have declined significantly in the last few decades (though they spiked upward in 2015), but what the president didn’t mention is that, like gun deaths, America’s traffic fatality rate remains sky-high compared to peer nations.

James Kennedy at Network blog Transport Providence says both gun deaths and traffic deaths require political action:

More Americans are killed each year by cars than by guns (though that number is merging, and guns may come out on top soon). For some on the right, this is a statistic that undermines the seriousness of the gun problem in this country, but it’s really more a statistic that speaks to how bad the car problem is. So, in America, we have two tools that we haven’t figured the institutions out for: cars and guns. Other countries have done very admirably with these.

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A Bike Bell That Maps Where Cyclists Feel Unsafe and Pings the Mayor

This map shows where cyclists felt unsafe biking in London. Map: Hövding

A user-generated map of where people felt unsafe biking in London, via Hövding

London cyclists who encounter stressful, dangerous conditions can crowdsource a map of weaknesses in the city’s bike network by simply tapping button on their handlebars. Brandon G. Donnelly at Architect This City has more:

Hövding — a Swedish company best known for its radical airbag cycling helmets (definitely check these out) — is currently crowdsourcing unsafe conditions and cyclist frustration in London.

Working with the London Cyclist Campaign, they distributed 500 yellow handlebar buttons. Cyclists were then instructed to tap these buttons whenever they felt unsafe or frustrated with current cycling conditions.

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Philly Advocates Rally to Demand 30 Miles of Protected Bike Lanes

Dozens of cyclists rallied in Philadelphia this week to demand 30 miles of protected bike lanes. Photo: Bike Coalition of Greater Phildelphia

Philly residents gathered to remind Mayor Jim Kenney of his campaign promise to build protected bike lanes. Photo: Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia

Philly residents can’t wait any longer for safe bikeways. Yesterday, at a rally in the central city, dozens of people gathered to demand 30 miles of protected bike lanes, and soon.

Jim Saksa at Plan Philly reports on the campaign to ensure Mayor Jim Kenney makes good on his promise of better bike infrastructure:

The online petition, drafted by urbanist political action committee 5th Square and circulated by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, offered support for the administration’s plans to expand the city’s bike lane network garnered 1,057 signatures. The concern: Kenney’s campaign promises to build more bike lanes would wither and disappear in the face of local opposition, after PlanPhilly reported the proposed locations of 15 new or improved lanes in April when ten of those lanes received federal funds.

Under the federal grant terms, Philadelphia has until 2018 to begin construction, but cycling advocates hoped the petition’s 1,000-plus signatures would inspire the city to move faster than that.

“We hope the administration is encouraged and inspired by today’s rally and press conference to accelerate the momentum of installing bike lanes throughout the city,” said Sarah Clark Stuart, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition.

Stuart explained what she meant by “accelerate the momentum”: “So we’re not waiting for [construction] to begin in the summer of 2018, but for it to end by the summer of 2018.”

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Goodbye to the Era of Big Infrastructure?

Despite the occasional feature story about America’s “infrastructure crisis” and the campaign platforms for increased investment, the “era of big infrastructure is over,” argues University of Minnesota engineering professor David Levinson at the Transportist.

With maintenance a more pressing need than expansion, Levinson does not foresee major additions to either the highway system or rail and transit networks in the years ahead:

Once upon a time we did deploy big infrastructure. The railroads in the 19th century, and the interstate in the 20th were BIG. Turnpikes and canals were other large technical systems of the 19th century, as were the US Highway system, airports, container ports, and the like in the 20th. But they have been deployed, and many of them are already shrinking.

Instead, because the existing infrastructure systems are mature (built out), they need little expanding (and likely some contracting).

Certainly there are potential new infrastructure for surface transport. The most widely discussed would be intercity High Speed Rail and urban transit projects. Similarly there are proposals for water (rebuilding the water and sewer networks) and for energy (massive investment in renewables as well as smart grid technologies). I think the transport investments are unlikely, the water investments are mostly piecemeal replacements, and the energy investments will be a set of many small, decentralized power generators rather than large facilities. In short change is likely to [be] incremental rather than comprehensive.

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