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Cheap Gas, More Driving Make 2016 an Especially Deadly Year on U.S. Streets

Graph: National Safety Council

Traffic fatalities on American roads are rising faster than driving mileage. Chart: National Safety Council

The number of traffic deaths in America each year is so staggering, it almost defies comprehension — about 35,000 lives lost is the norm. But 2016 is shaping up to be even worse.

Emma Kilkelly at Mobilizing the Region reports on newly-released data from the first half of 2016 showing a disturbing increase in traffic deaths:

The National Safety Council (NSC) recently estimated that motor vehicle fatalities rose 9 percent in the first six months of 2016 compared to 2015, and 18 percent compared to 2014. At this rate, 2016 is shaping up to be the deadliest year for driving since 2007. This Labor Day weekend is on track to be the nation’s deadliest since 2008, with 438 fatalities projected over the three-day period.

The jump in traffic fatalities coincides with sinking gas prices and an uptick in driving. During the first half of 2016, U.S. motorists collectively drove 3.3 percent more compared to last year, reaching 1.58 trillion miles traveled. The recent upswing in miles driven has been linked to the availability of cheap gas and a sharp increase in traffic deaths.

Read more…

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Seattle Doesn’t Need a Highway on Top of Its New Underground Highway

As if Seattle's buried replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct weren't bad enough, it's planning to top it with another high-speed, overly-wide road. Photo: Seattle Bike Blog

Seattle is planning to top its underground highway with another high-speed, very wide road. Photo: Seattle Bike Blog

The construction of Seattle’s budget-busting underground waterfront highway has been a great reminder of why car-based urban megaprojects are such a bad idea.

The one advantage of the tunnel is that it would allow for better walking, biking, and transit connections on surface streets by the waterfront. The trouble is, Seattle is on track to waste that opportunity by building another highway-like road right on top of the sunken highway.

The southern portion of the road will be 96 feet wide, with two travel lanes in each direction, a turn lane, two lanes for ferry loading and two 12-foot bus lanes, reports Next City. Marshall Foster, director of Seattle’s Office of the Waterfront, told Next City that the waterfront road needs to be that wide to avoid “throwing someone off the island.”

Seattle Bike Blog is not buying it:

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The Stress of Navigating Unwalkable Bus Stops With a Wheelchair

manchester.metrobus03

How is a person who uses a wheelchair supposed to access this bus stop? Photo: Urban Review STL

Pedestrian access to transit is important. A recent study by TransitCenter found that people who use transit most often tend to walk to the bus or train. But as our “Sorriest Bus Stop in America” contest highlighted, there are some very serious challenges on this front in American cities.

The problem of lousy walking access to transit is compounded for riders with disabilities. In a recent post, Steve Patterson at Network blog Urban Review STL offers a personal account of the obstacles he faces navigating the bus system in St. Louis using a power wheelchair:

Part of the implied contract when taking a bus to a destination is when you’re dropped off at your stop, you’ll be able to get to the corresponding stop in the opposite direction for the return trip. Seems simple enough, right? But in many parts of the St. Louis region being able to reach a bus stop in the opposite direction is impossible if you’re disabled. I don’t go looking for them, I run across them just going about my life.

Patterson recently took the bus down Manchester Avenue to a shopping center, only to find himself nearly stranded, trying to reach the stop shown in the above photo. Two and a half decades after the Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted, these are the conditions for transit riders using wheelchairs in St. Louis:

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Earth to U.S. DOT: Streets Succeed When They Do More Than Move Cars

Will U.S. DOT encourage projects like the one on the left or the one on the right? Image: Transportation for America

Will U.S. DOT encourage urban streets like the one on the right to be designed like highways like the one on the left? Image: Transportation for America

What makes a street successful?

Does a street succeed when it’s economically productive, when it helps reduce carbon emissions, and when people can conveniently and safely get around using a variety of transportation modes, regardless of age, ability, or social status? Or does success boil down to moving as many cars as fast as possible?

The way public agencies answer these questions goes a long way toward determining what sort of streets our cities end up with. And that’s what’s at stake as U.S. DOT grapples with the question of how American transportation agencies should measure their performance. Unfortunately, the feds released a draft rule a few months ago that still emphasized the movement of cars above all.

Today Stephen Lee Davis at Transportation for America reports that local agencies and advocates from around the country have demanded a better standard from U.S. DOT — one that won’t subordinate people and cities to the movement of cars:

To develop a stronger alternative measure to submit to USDOT, SGA convened a working group of more than 30 local elected officials, state DOTs, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) and transit agencies, and national and state trade groups and advocacy organizations.

This work was supported by numerous state DOTs, MPOs, transit agencies and advocacy organizations; Oregon Metro (Portland) and Indy MPO; Trimet; Metro Atlanta Chamber and Indy Chamber; and the Transportation Equity Caucus, League of American Bicyclists, Safe Routes to School National Partnership, People for Bikes, PolicyLink, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Center for Neighborhood Technology and many others.

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Portland Will Connect Streets Over a Highway With a Car-Free Bridge

Portland's newest car-free bridge will complete a key bike route. Image via Bike Portland

Portland’s newest car-free bridge will complete a key bike route. Image via Bike Portland

Here’s one way to heal some of the damage created by urban interstates.

Jonathan Maus at Bike Portland reports that the city has won a $2.6 million state grant to help it complete a key bike route. To fill in the missing segment, Portland has to create a path across a big sunken highway. So the city will use the grant, combined with some local funds, to build a bike and pedestrian bridge over I-405.

Maus explains why this is such a smart investment:

Portland leaders have been working for over a decade to close this gap. Former mayor Sam Adams first proposed the idea of a new bridge over Flanders in 2006 when he was PBOT Commissioner. He continued to work on the project until his run for mayor in 2008 but was not able to make it happen.

According to the city’s grant application, the bridge would likely average about 3,000 crossings as soon as it opens as people shift their routes from the busy and high-stress crossings at Everett, Glisan and Couch. Once greenway elements like speed bumps, signage, and diverters are added to the street, it’s estimated that the new bridge would see 9,100 trips per day. That’s more than the amount of daily bike trips over the Hawthorne Bridge.

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An American Take on the “Bus Stop of the Future”

College Park, Maryland's "Bus Stop of the Future." Image: Beyond DC/Flickr

College Park’s “bus stop of the future.” Image: Beyond DC/Flickr

Four years ago, the regional transit agency in Paris, RATP, set out to create the “bus stop of the future.” This bus stop would be designed to give riders and even passersby a comfortable place to relax. In addition to a sleek shelter, it featured a bike-share station, a library, and snacks and coffee.

Inspired by that example, College Park, Maryland, recently created its own version of the “bus stop of the future.” Dan Malouff at Greater Greater Washington says it includes many of the elements of the Parisian bus stop, but at a price that’s a lot more reasonable:

They started with a normal bus stop sign and shelter, then added a standard mBike bikeshare station. To help with maintenance, the city chained a bike tire pump to the station sign.

For the library, they staked to the ground a Little Free Library, a pre-fab wood box for people to take and give away free books. There’s no librarian and no library cards; it runs on the honor system, and relies on people donating as many books as they take.

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Wisconsin’s Anti-Urban Policies Fed Milwaukee’s Notorious Racial Segregation

Milwaukee is one of the most segregated cities in the country -- and that is no accident. Image: Cooper Center Dot Map

Milwaukee is one of the most segregated cities in the country — and that is no accident. Image: Cooper Center Dot Map

After Milwaukee police shot and killed 23-year-old Sylville Smith, setting off a violent confrontation between protesters and police in the predominantly black neighborhood of Sherman Park last weekend, news outlets looked at how the region’s history of discrimination set the stage for an uprising.

Milwaukee is one of the most segregated and unequal cities in the country, saddling its black residents with poor educational and employment opportunities. James Rowen at Network blog The Political Environment points out how state and regional policies helped make it that way:

The state put a permanent limitation on Milwaukee’s growth, tax base, job market and citizen opportunities when it froze the city’s borders in 1955 through the so-called anti-annexation “Oak Creek Law.”

As a result, suburbanization around Milwaukee boomed, and with it also a proliferation of discriminatory housing local ordinances which, though ruled illegal years later, remain camouflaged through legal substitutes mandating expensive home construction site and interior dimensions (in Chenequa, in Waukesha County, for example) or Mequon’s decades-long five-acre lot minimum, now eased, that effectively kept residency upper-income and predominately white in that Ozaukee County community.

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A Year After Houston’s Bus Network Redesign, Ridership Is Up

Houston Metro ridership has increased about 7 percent since the bus system was completely overhauled last year. Graph: Rice University's Kinder Institute

Bus ridership is up 1.2 percent and total Houston METRO ridership has increased about 7 percent following an overhaul of the city’s bus network and the launch of new light rail last year. Graph: Rice University’s Kinder Institute

After years of declining bus ridership, last August Houston METRO overhauled service patterns around the city, updating the bus network for the first time since the 1970s. Practically overnight, Houston’s network changed from a hub-and-spoke model to a more grid-like system designed to expand access to frequent service to more of the city. Night and weekend service dramatically increased as well. The country has been watching to see the results.

A year later, Houston officials are taking stock. Bus ridership has ticked up, bolstered by growing weekend ridership, and light rail ridership has increased substantially — a reflection of how Houston policy makers are treating both modes as a unified network, writes Leah Binkovitz at The Urban Edge:

From September 2015 (the first full month after the switch was implemented) to July 2016 (the most recent complete month), METRO saw its ridership on local bus and light-rail add an additional 4.5 million boardings — a 6.8 percent increase.

The numbers are more modest when looking at local bus ridership alone, which saw a 1.2 percent growth in ridership during that period. The light-rail system’s Red Line saw a more sizable 16.6 percent increase.

Local weekend bus ridership is one of the new system’s strongest areas, continuing a trend that begun almost immediately after the redesign was implemented. From June 2015 to June 2016 — the most recent METRO has released more detailed ridership data — local buses saw a 13 percent increase in ridership on Saturdays and a 34 percent increase on Sundays, according to METRO, with similarly strong numbers for rail as well.

Local weekday bus ridership actually dropped over that same time period by 1 percent. However, a 14 percent increase in light-rail ridership amounted to an overall weekday ridership increase of 3 percent. The growth in rail supports [Metro Board Chair Carrin] Patman’s focus on the new bus system’s strong connections to the growing network of lines. And she said, there’s more to come for the system.

Read more…

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How Seattle Residents Won a Fix for the City’s Most Dangerous Street

"Crosswalk protests" helped make the case for a safer Rainier Avenue. Photo: Seattle Bike Blog

“Crosswalk protests” helped make the case for a safer Rainier Avenue. Photo: Seattle Bike Blog

Sometimes calling your city council person or circulating a petition isn’t enough. Here’s an inspiring story about Seattle residents who got creative to highlight their fight for a safer street. Phyllis Porter and Gordon Padelford at Seattle Bike Blog explain Seattle’s Rainier Avenue was badly in need of intervention:

With a crash every day on average, 7 businesses hit in the past year, and 630 injuries over the last three years, something had to be done. Business, community groups, and residents had had enough.

Last year the community came together to demand Rainier Ave S be made safer. For instance, a group calling themselves the Rainier Road Diet Supporters held a number of crosswalk protests.

The community group Rainier Valley Greenways rallied around a campaign called Safety Over Speeding to bring more attention to the problem. We collected signatures and photo petitions, created a Get Well Soon Rainier Ave Card for people to sign, posted flyers with the number of crashes next to dangerous intersections, and hosted a big crosswalk protest and rally.

And it worked:

The Department of Transportation responded to the community and overwhelming data by doing a safety corridor “pilot” between S Alaska St and S Kenny St, and planned to study an expansion of it for 2016. The pilot included adding a center turn lane to reduce turning collisions, adding bus priority to keep the popular route 7 on time, and improving crosswalks and signals for people walking.

The results are in and they are great! In the part that got improvements, aggressive speeding (over 40 MPH) is down 95%, injuries involving people walking and biking are down 41%, the fear of bus delays never materialized (the #7 bus has not been slowed down), traffic still flows, and it is now much more safe and comfortable to be in Columbia City and Hillman City. King 5 did a piece on the results and interviewed the owner of Lottie’s Lounge who said “The road diet has really improved the quality of life. The benefits far outweigh the downside.”

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy says a big win for Cleveland trails in the latest round of TIGER grants is part of a larger trend that is making cities safer and better connected. Streets.mn says divisions within the cycling community are harmful to each group’s shared interests. And Urban Indy shares a poll showing Indianapolis-area voters support plans to dramatically expand regional transit.

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“Pocket” Bike Lanes: A Small Step to Make Intersections Work Better?

Photo: Greater Greater Washington

Photo by Mike Goodno (DDOT) via Greater Greater Washington

A bike lane that appears at an intersection to help guide bicyclists out of the way of turning drivers — in Washington, D.C., they call this a “pocket lane.” David Cranor writes at Greater Greater Washington that the District is looking to add them along streets that don’t otherwise have bike lanes, targeting intersections where they might help avoid conflicts. He says:

The District Department of Transportation recently installed “pocket lanes” on southbound 2nd Street NE at Massachusetts Avenue and at Hawaii Avenue and Taylor Street NE. A type of through bike lane that’s less than a block long and doesn’t continue on the other side of the intersection, they sit between the lane for going straight or turning left and the right turn lane.

Pocket lanes have several uses, and they make intersections more efficient for everyone. For starters, they keep people on bikes who are heading straight through an intersection from having to wait behind a queue of left-turning vehicles, whose drivers are in turn waiting for a break in oncoming traffic. They also keep drivers from having to wait in line behind a cyclist who’s traveling straight.

Another benefit is that they give people on bikes their own space that’s to the left of right-turning traffic, which prevents a situation known as the “right hook.” The “right hook” occurs when a driver who’s turning right hits a cyclist riding on the right hand side of traffic and going straight.

Have you seen “pocket lanes” in your city? On streets without bike lanes, would a “pocket lane” be a low-cost way to help guide drivers and cyclists through intersections? Would you appreciate more of them in your city or not?

Elsewhere on the Network today: Mobility Lab explains how Portland’s TriMet transit agency helped pioneer the open data system that has spurred a wave of private innovation in transit apps, with major benefits for riders. The Urbanist explains the many ways roundabouts are superior to ordinary intersections. And Market Urbanism says that intercity buses, long undermined by government policies aimed at protecting public investments in rail, are making a comeback in Europe, with some potential benefits for consumers.