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Texas DOT Is Planning to Tear Down a Highway — Seriously

The Pierce Elevated Freeway, near downtown Houston, has been proposed for removal. Photo: TexasFreeway.com

The Pierce Elevated Freeway, near downtown Houston, has been proposed for removal by Texas DOT. Photo: TexasFreeway.com

This may be the best evidence yet that attitudes about transportation are beginning to change in Texas’s major cities. As part of a plan to redesign and reroute Interstate 45 in the heart of Houston, TxDOT — that’s right, the Texas Department of Transportation — is proposing to tear down a short segment of the Pierce Elevated Freeway near downtown.

Over in Dallas, Patrick Kennedy at Street Smart is feeling a bit jealous. He thinks there’s a lot to like about this plan:

Looking at the details, the removed Pierce Elevated doesn’t unlock a lot of land, but it does reposition a TON of underdeveloped sites along both sides of it. It doesn’t do a lot to reconnect the grid underneath it where the grid is already well connected between downtown and Midtown. Everything between is an absolute gold mine for infill where they can harnass their growth and focus it inward towards a more sustainable future.

Along the west side of town, they’re boulevarding, parkway-ing if  you will, the segment between the Buffalo Bayou and downtown. This will probably have a more significant impact from a grid interconnectivity standpoint.

Read more…

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The “Backward Incentives” That Subsidize Job Sprawl

There’s an interesting discussion going on over at Seattle Transit Blog over the region’s policies toward suburban job growth.

A "regional growth center" in Silverdale, Washington. Image: Seattle Transit Blog

A “regional growth center” in Silverdale, Washington. Image: Seattle Transit Blog

Currently, Seattle region planners designate “regional growth centers,” with special rules designed to concentrate new jobs and housing in these areas. Regional growth centers also have an easier time capturing government infrastructure funds.

Seattle Transit Blog’s Matthew Johnson pointed out last week that the vast majority of them are in the suburbs — not the city of Seattle. And Matt Gangemi weighed in this week about public policy that promotes dispersed employment growth:

I argue that this is a backward incentive. Job growth outside of the core is fundamentally poorly served by transit in our hub-and-spoke system (just try to get to Ballard from the East side, or the islands, or even from some places north on transit). But what’s worse is that job growth outside the core helps build sprawl. People choose housing based on a combination of lifestyle, cost, and transportation ease. Make it easier and cheaper to live further from the city, and builders will build further from the city. Every job added to a suburb, even a Regional Growth Center style suburb, potentially adds a home further out into sprawl.

King County should remove this job-based requirement, and let growth centers be centers of residential growth.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Mobilizing the Region offers some striking examples of the absurd lengths our car addiction has taken us to. In honor of Earth Day, Darin Givens at ATL Urbanist explains why being an environmentalist, to him, means living in the city. And Strong Towns says that at the end of the day, planners and advocates should be guided by a conscious effort to create “lovable” places.

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Study: Drivers Much More Likely to Yield to Pedestrians on 20 MPH Streets

At nine intersections in Boston, drivers were more likely to yield as their speeds were progressively slower. Image: Transportation Research Board

Drivers on slower streets in Boston were more likely to yield to pedestrians at unsignalized crosswalks. Image: Transportation Research Board

On streets where people drive fast, they are much less inclined to yield for pedestrians at unsignalized crosswalks, according to a new study published by the Transportation Research Board.

Chris McCahill at the State Smart Transportation Initiative explains the research:

The study, conducted in Boston, reveals that drivers are nearly four times more likely to yield for pedestrians at travel speeds around 20 miles per hour than at 40 mph.

The researchers observed 100 attempted crossings at each of nine marked crosswalks. All but one of the sites were two-lane streets, most had on-street parking, and most were in residential areas. Three of the streets also had commercial uses.

The sites were divided into three groups based on their 85th-percentile speeds. At 20 mph, roughly 75 percent of drivers slowed enough to let pedestrians cross. That rate dropped to around 40 percent at 30 mph and less than 20 percent as speeds approached 40 mph. The researchers also found that for eight of the sites (excluding the only four-lane street), travel speeds explained 99 percent of the variation in yield rates.

Lead author Tom Bertulis told SSTI the findings bolster the case for creating a more pedestrian-friendly environment by engineering streets for slower speeds, instead of just adding traffic signals or stop signs:

Read more…

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Tampa Cops’ “Bike Safety” Campaign Reeks of Racial Profiling

Police in Tampa appear to be using the guise of "bike safety" to stop and question low-income blacks. Photo: Tom Woodward via Flickr

Under the guise of “bike safety,” police in Tampa are stopping and searching black residents. Photo: Tom Woodward via Flickr

Over the weekend, the Tampa Bay Times blew the lid off a major police harassment story: Cops there issue more tickets to cyclists than in any other big Florida city, in the name of “bike safety,” but what their targets appear to be most guilty of is bicycling while black.

Network blog Systemic Failure flagged the Times’ investigation, calling it “beyond belief” and noting that the ticket blitz “actually made the streets more dangerous for cyclists.”

Tampa police, report Alexandra Zayas and Kameel Stanley, are out in poor neighborhoods ticketing old ladies who have the audacity to ride home from dinner with a plate of grits on their handlebars. The ticket blitz is part of a systematic harassment campaign:

Tampa Bay Times investigation has found that Tampa police are targeting poor, black neighborhoods with obscure subsections of a Florida statute that outlaws things most people have tried on a bike, like riding with no light or carrying a friend on the handlebars.

Officers use these minor violations as an excuse to stop, question and search almost anyone on wheels. The department doesn’t just condone these stops, it encourages them, pushing officers who patrol high-crime neighborhoods to do as many as possible.

Read more…

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How Can Cities Succeed in State Budget Negotiations?

Political sqabbles at the state level are a major obstacles for cities seeking to add transit amenities, like this light rail line in Charlotte. Photo: The Naked City

Political squabbles at the state level are major obstacles for cities seeking to build transit routes like this light rail line in Charlotte. Photo: The Naked City

Winning support for good transportation projects in the state legislature can be one of the most challenging political problems cities face, especially with the current revenue squeeze. And without support from the state, it can be impossible to build new transit lines.

Mary Newsom at the Naked City recently sat in on a discussion about how Charlotte can secure funds for its transportation priorities at the state capitol. Here was the advice from state rep Bill Brawley, a Republican who represents Mecklenburg County:

For cities like Charlotte, growth and congestion mean more voters and businesses want mass transit as well as expanded roads. But the General Assembly today is dominated by Republicans who are more likely to represent rural or suburban districts. Here’s Brawley’s advice:

“Whenever you do anything to raise money for transportation … you make people mad,” he said. In that atmosphere, it’s important to try to build a statewide consensus on funding before you even approach politicians. But when Charlotte comes to Raleigh seeking money for transportation projects, he said, “Charlotte comes with Charlotte-specific projects.They don’t talk about the state as a whole. They don’t work on building support with the state as a whole.” In other words — and this is my wording here — act like you care about more than Charlotte.

His final words: “In Raleigh, if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

What do you think — has this kind of strategy succeeded where you live? Should cities advocate for their own needs first and foremost or start out by putting together a big tent coalition for more funding?

Elsewhere on the Network today: Seattle Transit Blog wonders if requiring apartment builders to “unbundle” the costs of amenities like pools and gyms would make housing more affordable. Second Avenue Sagas discusses the pros and cons of making developers contribute to funding for new transit. And Systemic Failure says that even though California’s proposed mandatory helmet bill has been watered down considerably, it’s still a problem.

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The Beginning of the End for Dallas’s Trinity Toll Road?

Dallas City Council is endorsing and alternative to the Trinity Toll Road, without formally withdrawing support for the larger highway plan. Image: Trinity Parkway Design Charette

The “dream team” alternative to the Trinity Toll Road in Dallas would build a smaller four-lane road, but it leaves the door open for wide highway later on. Image: Trinity Parkway Design Charette [PDF]

It seems like the Trinity Toll Road — a proposal to build a wide, high-speed road right next to the Trinity River in Dallas — is losing momentum. But the politics of road-building in Texas are tricky, and the highway isn’t dead yet.

Earlier this week, a “dream team” of advisers selected by Mayor Mike Rawlings, who supports the project, came out and said they didn’t think the $1.5 billion highway was necessary, and that it would ultimately undermine efforts to establish a nice park by the river. However, their proposal for a smaller, four-lane road would leave open the option of building a wider highway later on.

In the City Council, legislators are still looking to build the full highway, but now they won’t come out and say it directly. At least, that seems to be the takeaway from the latest intrigue, according to Dallas Morning News’ Transportation Blog reporter Brandon Formby:

In a last-minute amendment, the City Council voted unanimously not to affirm its support of the larger version of Trinity Parkway that’s planned to be built. But it didn’t technically say it doesn’t support it. In a way, it reaffirmed its support for the current large plan in a subsequent 10-4 vote to look at how to incorporate the dream team’s recommendations into the existing, already FHWA-approved plan for the larger road.

Read more…

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Bad Planning and Bad Transit Put Jobs Out of Reach for Milwaukeeans

Milwaukee is the poster child for the special kind of economic oppression that results from a combination of residential segregation, bad transit options, and job sprawl. This is a problem to some extent in almost every city in the country, but it’s worse in formerly industrial cities where big employers have decamped for the suburbs. And in Wisconsin, where the governor and state DOT are determined to spend billions on highway expansions while starving transit, the situation is especially desperate.

Low-income workers who lack cars in Milwaukee face major structural obstacles to employment. Photo: Urban Milwaukee

As Milwaukee bus service shrinks, low-income workers who don’t own cars face even greater structural obstacles to employment. Photo: Urban Milwaukee

Matthew Wisla recently wrote a great synopsis of the problem for the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, which Network blog Urban Milwaukee reposted. Here’s his report:

It has been decades since the city was an engine for regional job growth. “Most of the job growth in recent years is either at the outer parts of the county or outside of the county,” said Kristi Luzar, deputy director of programs, Urban Economic Development Association of Wisconsin. “The biggest problem facing many people in the city is getting connections to jobs.”

Employment in Washington, Ozaukee and Waukesha Counties increased by 56,271 from 1994 to 2009, while the city lost 27,858 jobs, according to a report published earlier this year by the Center for Economic Development at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Reaching suburban employment centers can be challenging for city residents. About 13 percent of city households don’t have access to a car, according to the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.

State budget cuts that began in 2001 forced MCTS to eliminate routes and now the bus system reaches about 1,300 fewer employers than it would have before the cuts began. Approximately 30,900 workers are employed by those businesses in an average year, according to the Center for Economic Development.

Read more…

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Getting More Out of Transit By Making It Easy to Walk or Bike to Stations

This still shop from an interactive map shows planned interventions that can help make DC's transit system more walkable and bikeable. Image: Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments

A map of proposed street upgrades to improve walking and biking to rail stations in the DC region. Click to enlarge. Image: Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments

The DC region is working on a plan to get the most out of its transit infrastructure by making it easier and safer to walk or bike to subways and commuter rail. The region’s Transportation Planning Board recently conducted a big audit to figure out which stations have additional capacity, and what barriers prevent people from walking and biking to these stations.

Network blog TheWashCycle shares this update from the TPB:

The study began by examining ridership at all 91 Metro stations and several MARC and VRE commuter rail stations throughout the region. Ultimately it identified 25 stations capable of accommodating additional riders that also have the greatest potential to see increased ridership demand in the next decade.

Having identified the 25 stations, the study then looked at potential infrastructure improvements that would make it easier to get to each of the stations on foot or by bicycle.

In all, the study identified more than 3,000 improvements, including new or improved sidewalks, crosswalks, shared-use paths, bike parking, bike lanes, and wayfinding signage. Most of the improvements had already been included in existing local plans and Metro station area plans, though some were identified by a field team organized by the TPB as part of the study.

You can check out the recommended improvements for each station using this interactive map. WashCycle reports that the list of projects will help determine which improvements get federal transportation funding.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Systemic Failure explains how an outdated California law is giving police more leeway to harass pedestrians. The Walking Bostonian says the Boston Globe missed the mark in a recent editorial about how to improve the city’s bus service. And Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space weighs in on the critical difference between a “traffic study” and a “transportation impact study.”

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Modernizing How People Pay to Park in Downtown DC

The new ParkDC zone. Image: DDOT via Greater Greater Washington

The downtown ParkDC zone. Image: DDOT via Greater Greater Washington

Washington, DC, is poised for big improvements to its performance parking program.

Michael Perkins at Greater Greater Washington reports that ParkDC is set to expand “on some of downtown’s most in-demand blocks” in Gallery Place. By resetting meter prices every few months based on the rate of occupied curbside parking spaces, the new ParkDC zone could match or exceed the responsiveness of San Francisco’s groundbreaking SFPark program.

Taking lessons from pilot programs it conducted in other parts of the city, Perkins writes, DDOT will employ a range of tools to gauge occupancy and set prices in the downtown zone.

Under the performance parking program, DDOT will use cameras and sensors to measure when parking spaces in the designated area are occupied and when they’re empty.

Each quarter, the agency will measure that data against a target occupancy rate of 80-90% (or about one empty spot per block) and adjust how much it costs to park in a given spot accordingly. It’s possible that prices will change more frequently after the first few quarters, and DDOT will assess ParkDC’s overall impact sometime before the end of 2016.

Charging market rate for parking will make sure there are enough empty spots for people who need them while also eliminating an oversupply. That, in turn, will cut down on the congestion that comes from people driving around looking for somewhere to park…

According to Soumya Dey, DDOT’s director of research and technology transfer, ParkDC will use a number of methods to gather occupancy data. A traditional “hockey puck,” transaction data from the meters, historical data, cameras, and law enforcement data are all among the ways DDOT will know how many people park, and when, on each block. Dey said the hope is to use fewer embedded sensors, and to evaluate which method is most cost-effective.

Elsewhere on the Network today: PubliCola notes that Hillary Clinton’s first campaign video shuns cities. Transitized spots a troubling trend in urban big box development. And Bike Portland reports that Portlanders are petitioning to have their city stripped of its platinum “bike-friendly” status.

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Let Food Trucks Operate Anywhere, Just Get the Parking Prices Right

Treat food trucks just like any other vehicle -- charge them to park, says Kennedy. Photo: Transport Providence

Managing food trucks is largely a matter of managing curbside parking, says James Kennedy. Photo: Transport Providence

Tension between food trucks and brick-and-mortar restaurants is common in cities. That’s because food truck businesses are naturally attracted to the same areas as restaurants: places with lots of pedestrian activity. In Providence, the city has responded to pressure from restaurant owners by asking food trucks to stay away from business districts.

James Kennedy at Transport Providence says there’s a smarter solution — get the price of curbside parking right:

As with many problems in Providence, the food truck situation comes down to poor parking management.

A parking spot is like real estate that we insist is free most of the time (against all logic). Then, when people treat that spot as if it’s free, we get annoyed with them, because of course many of the things that a person will do in a free space go against what we might want as individuals. This is what sets the stage for the conflict on Thayer: the parking is metered, but an arbitrary, fairly low rate, instead of being based on occupancy levels. It makes perfect sense that restaurants who pay rent for building space should want trucks to do the same, but the rules that are set up by the business district and the city don’t allow for that to happen. The result is a semi-detente where food trucks are kind of allowed, but kind of not allowed. Businesses don’t like uncertainty, and that’s exactly what this is.

Read more…