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Ta-Nehisi Coates on Race, Sprawl, and Car Culture

Atlantic Senior Editor Ta-Nehisi Coates was in Cleveland last week talking about his acclaimed long-form article, “The Case for Reparations,” which reviews the history of economic and social oppression of African Americans.

I got to attend the talk, and late in his speech Coates made a few points that touch on the subjects we cover at Streetsblog, drawing a direct connection between racism, sprawl, global warming, and the array of social problems faced by cities like Cleveland. You can watch that part in the clip above, and here’s the whole speech.

Below is a look at how wealth is dispersed in the Cleveland area — essentially the farther from the central city you go, the richer residents are. Why does that pattern persist, even as other cities have seen a reversal? What are the outcomes for Cleveland’s large African American population, concentrated in the central and east-central parts of the region? Why isn’t the relationship between sprawl and segregation discussed more often, with more frankness?

The light portion in the center of this map is Cleveland. Image: census.gov

The light portion in the center of this map is Cleveland. Image: census.gov

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Livable Streets Events

This Week: Summer’s Not Over Yet

You know the summer is over when the community board calendar picks up steam again. We’re not quite there yet, but things are starting to percolate.

Here’s what’s happening on the Streetsblog calendar this week:

  • Monday: The Manhattan Community Board 5 transportation committee meets this evening, and on the agenda are two new intercity bus stop locations. 6 p.m.
  • Tuesday: The Vision Zero task force of Manhattan Community Board 10 is hosting an information session for older residents. 6 p.m.
  • More Tuesday: The Riders Alliance is holding a strategy session to plan next steps in the campaign to extend transit tax benefits to 600,000 additional New Yorkers. 6:30 p.m.
  • Also Tuesday: It’s an intriguing agenda for the Queens Community Board 5 transportation committee, which will be discussing Move NY’s toll reform proposal, potential reactivation of the Rockaway Beach Branch rail line, and upcoming plaza projects. 7:30 p.m.
  • Thursday: Join the Transportation Alternatives Brooklyn Committee to strategize about how to make the borough’s streets safer and more livable. 7:00 p.m.

Keep an eye on the calendar for updated listings. Got an event we should know about? Drop us a line.

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Sunnyside Becomes a Bike-Friendly Business District

Transportation Alternatives has been working all across NYC to foster goodwill for bicycling in the business community. Recently, TA has begun to award Bike-Friendly Business District designations in neighborhoods where local merchants support bicycling and safer streets. The first one outside Manhattan is Sunnyside, Queens.

Come along on this group ride that toured six of Sunnyside’s 70 bike-friendly businesses, with a special guest appearance by Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer.

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It’s Time to Rethink Old Stereotypes About Renters

Is the growth in renting in Philadelphia a cause for concern or celebration? Image: Pew via Plan Philly

Homeownership rates in Philadelphia aren’t as high as they used to be, and that’s not a bad thing. Map: Pew via Plan Philly. Click to enlarge

For a long time, renters have been thought of as a destabilizing force in urban areas. Federal housing policy encourages people to make the jump to homeownership in part because officials believe it will give people a larger stake in their neighborhoods and reduce crime. By subsidizing home purchases, these policies encourage people to “buy more house” and promote sprawl.

Now the spectacular housing market crash and crushing debt burdens carried by younger people are helping to upend these assumptions. Kellie Patrick Gates at Plan Philly reports on a recent survey of Philadelphia renters that flies in the face of some of the oldest stereotypes. For one, the survey found that in many neighborhoods, most renters are, in fact, engaged in their communities:

In Center City, 43 percent of surveyed renters said they knew their neighbors and 29 percent were involved in neighborhood maintenance or upkeep activities, Howell said. Outside the city center, 56 percent knew their neighbors and 51 percent were involved with efforts to keep the community looking good…

Howell said that she and some other city planners had a hunch that renters are more active in their communities than they generally get credit for, but even so, “the percentages were surprising.”

Plan Philly interviewed city officials who said they think it’s a positive sign that homeownership is declining and the share of renters is increasing. “People are coming from outside to see what’s going on here,” said Philadelphia City Planning Commission Chairman Alan Greenberger, who noted that some of the world’s most desirable cities, like New York, London, and Tokyo, have high shares of renters.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Biking Toronto shows the city’s solution for cyclists during construction on an important bridge –everyone is thrilled about it. Car Free Austin analyzes the city’s proposal for a $1.4 billion new rail line. And Exit133 reports that Tacoma is trying to work out a set of regulations that will help level the playing field between traditional taxi companies and firms like Uber and Lyft.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Elderly Man Bloodied By Cops During Jaywalking Stop Sues City for $5M (WSJNews)
  • Krugman: The Rent Is Too Damn High (NYT)
  • Two-Car Crash Injures Five Pedestrians on Harlem Sidewalk (NBC)
  • Five Family Members Dead in Single-Car Crash Off Southern State Parkway (Post, NYT)
  • Eric Adams: To Keep Seniors Safe on Brooklyn Streets, Add More Crossing Guards (Bklyn Paper)
  • Can You Trust the Post to Accurately Cover Citi Bike’s Repair Backlog?
  • It’s Easier for Citi Bike to Rebalance With Bike Trailers Than to Send Trucks Into Midtown Traffic (Boogie)
  • Parks Dept Driver Strikes Cyclist in Queens — We Know This Since a Puppy Was Involved (DNA, FDNY)
  • What’s a Good Way to Get the TriBoro Rx Subway Line Started? (Cap’n Transit, 2nd Ave Sagas)
  • “Facelift” for GWB Bus Station Begins Today (CBS)
  • G Train Riders Bemoan Return of G Train (DNA)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Eyes on the Street: DOT Replaces PPW Bike Lane With Parking

This is one of New York City's most famous protected bike lanes. Photo: @NoBikeLane/Twitter

This is one of New York City’s most famous protected bike lanes on a busy August day. Photo: @NoBikeLane/Twitter

During the warm summer months, lots of New Yorkers decide to hop on their bicycles and head for the nearest bike lane. That’s also when the city does much of its street repaving, and new asphalt is coming to Prospect Park West. But instead of maintaining the heavily used bike path with temporary materials, our bike-friendly DOT has decided that one of the city’s marquee bikeways will be erased for more than a week during one of the busiest cycling months of the year.

It’s a temporary victory for Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes.

Bike riders started reporting the closure yesterday. There was no advance notice of a detour. DOT says milling was completed today. Repaving, which the agency expects to be complete within seven business days, will begin Monday. The department’s paving schedule for next week indicates that crews will be working between Union Street and 20th Street in two sections, first north of 14th Street before moving south [PDF].

Some small white signs printed on white letter paper have been taped to nearby posts. ”Bike Lane Temporarily Closed,” they say. With the bike lane erased, drivers have begun parking at the curb, pushing cyclists into mixed traffic with car drivers. This is especially dangerous for northbound cyclists, who are now traveling head-on into traffic before ducking behind the street’s concrete pedestrian islands for protection.

As an alternative during construction, northbound cyclists can use Eighth Avenue. Riders looking for a route with less car traffic must detour to the more circuitous Prospect Park loop, which offers a series of inclines through the east side of the park.

This situation could have easily been prevented by installing cones or barrels after the street is milled but before new striping is installed. DOT did not answer questions about whether it considered maintaining the bikeway during this period with temporary cones.

Read more…

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StreetsPAC Issues Endorsements for State Senate and Assembly Races

With primaries coming in a few weeks, StreetsPAC today announced its first round of endorsements for state-level offices, and its first endorsements for candidates outside NYC.

NYC’s first-ever livable streets political action committee threw its support to five candidates for the Assembly and State Senate.

“So much of what happens on the streets of New York City is dictated by actions, or inaction, in Albany,” said StreetsPAC board member Glenn McAnanama in a press release. “And more and more, people in places like Medford and Mattituck are interested in living in safely walkable and bikeable communities. We’re excited to put StreetsPAC’s backing behind candidates who are committed to safe streets, whether they be on the Upper West Side or downtown Riverhead.”

StreetsPAC supports Adriano Espaillat of Upper Manhattan for reelection to the State Senate, citing his support for lowering NYC’s default speed limit and his advocacy for Select Bus Service on 125th Street. “Espaillat will continue the fight for full SBS implementation in his district, and plans to push to increase the number of speed cameras and end time-and-day restrictions,” says the StreetsPAC press release. “He supports the MoveNY plan for fair tolling of New York City’s bridges and tunnels.” Former City Council Member Robert Jackson is running against Espaillat in the District 31 primary.

In District 22, which covers Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, tech entrepreneur and Democrat James Kemmerer gets the StreetsPAC nod over incumbent Republican State Senator Marty Golden. Kemmerer’s goals include getting cut-through traffic off residential streets, expanding car-free streets events and, on the transit front, improving elevator access to subways, modernizing train controls, and building better bus infrastructure, according to StreetsPAC. “Kemmerer would like to change the toll structure on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge,” StreetsPAC says, “and has endorsed the MoveNY plan.”

Pete Sikora is the StreetsPAC choice to succeed Assembly Member Joan Millman in brownstone Brooklyn District 52. Sikora is a political and legislative director for the Communications Workers of America and a former organizer for NYPIRG. Sikora backs the MoveNY plan, says StreetsPAC, and, “If elected, he will advocate for restoration of the B71 bus route, and Bus Rapid Transit on key routes in the 52nd District.” Fellow Democrats Jo Anne Simon and Doug Biviano are also in the running for the District 52 seat.

Read more…

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DOTs Now Have No Excuse for Ignoring Changing Transportation Trends

As report titles go, you could hardly get less sexy than “NHCRP Report 750: Strategic Issues Facing Transportation, Volume 6: The Effects of Socio-Demographics on Future Travel Demand.” But buried within this wonky new document from the Transportation Research Board are ideas that can — and should — upend the way local, state, and federal officials plan for future transportation needs.

Two different scenarios foretell two very different futures for the Atlanta region. Image: NCHRP

Two different scenarios foretell two very different futures for the Atlanta region. Image: NCHRP

It’s no secret that our current transportation models have done a lousy job of accounting for the recent decline in driving in the United States. The most glaring example is the U.S. Department of Transportation’s biennial “Conditions and Performance“ report to Congress, which has repeatedly forecast a return to rapid growth in driving that has repeatedly failed to materialize.

Bad forecasts lead to bad decisions – specifically, the investment of vast amounts of public resources in new and expanded highways that we probably don’t need (e.g. in Wisconsin).

At first, the transportation policy establishment chalked up the decline in driving to the economic recession and assumed it was only temporary. That is despite the fact that, as Robert Puentes and Adie Tomer from the Brookings Institution pointed out as early as 2008, the drop in per-capita driving began well before the recession. And it’s continued during the recovery.

Over time, however, experts have come to recognize the multiple factors – including changes in the composition of the workforce, an aging population, technological changes, and shifts in housing and travel preferences among Millennials – that have contributed to the recent fall in driving and that make further stagnation in vehicle travel likely.

The new TRB report (which we could refer to by the catchy acronym SIFTV6:TESDFTD, but won’t) explicitly acknowledges these fundamental changes, identifying eight socio-demographic trends that will influence demand for vehicle travel through 2050. Of those eight trends, only one (changes in the nation’s racial and ethnic mix) is expected to contribute to an increase in per-capita driving, while at least five (the “graying” of America, technological change, workforce change, the “blurring of city and suburb,” and slow growth in households) will tend to reduce per-capita driving. (The impacts of the other two trends are ambiguous or unspecified.)

Read more…

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New Penalties for Reckless Drivers Now In Effect, But NYPD Isn’t Ready

In May, the City Council passed a package of legislation to crack down on traffic violence. In June, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the bills. Today, one of the most important bills in that package goes into effect: Intro 238, also known as Section 19-190, creates a new criminal misdemeanor charge for reckless drivers. But NYPD’s legal department has yet to create an enforcement directive for officers and investigators on the street.

The driver who killed Jean Chambers would have faced criminal charges, not just a traffic ticket, under a law that took effect today. Photo via DNAinfo

Under the new law, a driver’s failure to yield to a pedestrian or cyclist with the right of way is a traffic infraction with a fine of up to $50 or 15 days in jail, or both. If the driver strikes and injures the pedestrian or cyclist, that escalates to a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $250 or 30 days in jail. Unlike a traffic infraction, a misdemeanor charge involves an arrest and a required appearance in court. Guilty pleas or convictions result in not just a fine or possibly jail time, but also a permanent, public criminal record.

Many sober reckless drivers who injure and kill, leaving behind victims including Jean Chambers and Allison Liao, among many others, have until now gotten off with nothing more than a traffic ticket and a fine payable by mail.

But will police use the new tool? Attorney Steve Vaccaro, who helped push for its passage, isn’t so sure. ”At the mayoral signing of 19-190, I tried to buttonhole Transportation Bureau Chief [Thomas] Chan to ask what steps would be taken to inform and train rank and file officers,” he said in an email yesterday. ”He told me he would have to check with department counsel. Last night, I raised the issue with Chief of the Department Banks via Twitter. No reply.”

Vaccaro wants to see the department embrace the new law sooner rather than later. “NYPD has given New Yorkers concerned about street safety no reason to believe that anything will change on August 22 when the misdemeanor law takes effect,” he said.

NYPD did not reply to a request for comment, but City Hall says the department is still looking into it. “This is an important new tool to improve the safety of the streets for pedestrians and cyclists,” said de Blasio spokesperson Wiley Norvell. “It’s currently going through NYPD legal which analyzes new criminal law and develops enforcement directives.”

Next up: Cooper’s Law, also signed in June, allows the Taxi and Limousine Commission to suspend or revoke the licenses of cab and livery drivers who cause critical injury or death as a result of breaking traffic laws. It takes effect September 21.

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Could DC Add Bike Lanes to Its Traffic Circles?

London is preparing to add a protected bike lane to one of its famous traffic circles. Image: City of London via Beyond DC

London is adding a bike lane to one of its famous traffic circles. Image: City of London via BeyondDC

Roundabouts can have big safety and environmental benefits, but can they be adapted to be great places for bicycling as well?

“DC’s big traffic circles are notoriously difficult places to bike,” writes Dan Malouff at BeyondDC. “They have multiple lanes of intimidating and zig-zagging car traffic, and sidewalks too packed with pedestrians to be good bike paths.”

Malouff says a city of London plan to add bike lanes to the busy Queens’ Circus traffic circle, pictured above, is interesting but has some drawbacks.

This is sort of a good design. It’s better than nothing. But with so many crossings, it’s still pretty confusing what’s the bike lane and what’s for cars. It seems likely there will still be a lot of intimidating cross traffic.

In fact, the actual design doesn’t even have the green paint; I added that to make the rendering clearer.

The other big problem with the London example is that pedestrians are mostly absent. Unlike DC’s circles that typically have popular parks in the middle, this London circle is just a road. The central grassy section isn’t a useful park, and there are no pedestrian crossings into it. That obviously changes how the entire thing functions.

Malouff says an older example from the Netherlands might actually provide more protection, by placing the bike lane on a wide sidewalk. But the London example might be a more politically realistic goal for DC, he says.

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Architect’s Newspaper reports that Detroit has broken ground on its long-awaited 3.3-mile M1 light rail system. Price of Sprawl attempts to calculate the public cost of a newly approved sprawling development in Palm Beach County, Florida. And Human Transit explains how to develop a liberating transit system in a smaller city.