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Pittsburgh Business Leaders See Bikeways as Cure for Road-Space Shortage

intersection treatment penn ave

Along Pittsburgh’s new downtown bike lane, all intersections are signalized, but cyclists won’t receive dedicated signal phases and most crossings are unmarked. People will need to be on the lookout for turning conflicts whether they’re on bikes or in cars. All renderings: City of Pittsburgh

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Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Downtown Pittsburgh has a perfectly good reason to be running out of room for more cars: Its streets have been there since 1784.

“In Pittsburgh, we have too many cars chasing too few parking spaces,” Merrill Stabile, the city’s largest parking operator, said last week. “I am in favor of building a few more parking garages. But we’ll never be able to build enough to meet the demand, in my opinion, if we continue to grow like we’ve been growing.”

That’s why Stabile is among the Pittsburgh business leaders backing a plan announced Tuesday to reduce downtown’s dependence on car traffic by adding a protected bike lane to Penn Avenue.

Jeremy Waldrup, CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, said the protected lane, which will return Penn Avenue to one-way motor vehicle flow by removing an eastbound traffic lane, will make it comfortable for most people, not just the bold few, to bike downtown.

“One of the most important things is that we have as a city developed this incredible trail system, many of them leading to downtown,” Waldrup said. “But once you’ve made it to the borders of downtown, you’re literally on your own to get into the city.”

Penn Avenue’s new one-mile bike lane, installed as a pilot project over the next few weeks, is part of a wave of protected lane projects in American central business districts.

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Boosting Transit Ridership With New Stations, Not New Track

Boston's new Orange Line station in Somerville is a great example of how older cities can boost transit ridership inexpensively with new stations in strategic locations. Image: MBTA

Assembly Station in Somerville, outside Boston, is a great example of how older transit systems can draw more riders with new stations in strategic locations. Image: MBTA

Yonah Freemark at the Transport Politic calls them infill stations: new transit stops built in gaps along existing rail lines. Current examples include Assembly Station just outside Boston in Somerville, DC’s NoMa Station, and the West Dublin/Pleasanton BART station.

Infill stations are a pretty brilliant method to get the most out of older rail systems without spending very much, Freemark says. He’d like to see more cities adopt the strategy:

The advantages of infill stations result from the fact that people are simply more likely to use transit when they’re closer to it — and from the fact that the older transit systems in many cities have widely spaced stations that are underserving potentially significant markets. Erick Guerra and Robert Cervero, affiliated with the University of California-Berkeley, have demonstrated that people living or working within a quarter mile of a transit station produce about twice as many transit rides as people living or working more than half a mile away. In other words, with fewer stations on a line, the number of people willing to use public transportation as a whole is likely reduced.

Assembly Station, which has been in the works for several years, promises significant benefits — 5,000 future daily riders taking advantage of a 10-minute ride to the region’s central business district, at a construction cost of about $30 million. The station fits in the 1.3-mile gap between two existing stations and is the first new stop built along Boston’s T rapid transit network in 26 years. When combined with the $1.7 billion Green Line light rail extension planned for opening later this decade, 85 percent of Somerville’s residents will live within walking distance of rapid transit, up from just 15 percent today.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Top Astorino Aide and Conservative Party Big Resigns County Job After DWI Crash (News, LoHud)
  • She Complained About His Driving, So He Mowed Her Down and Fled; Now He’s Under Arrest (News)
  • Driver Injures Man Walking at 116th and Amsterdam (Spectator)
  • City Breaks Ground on Next Phase of Fordham Plaza Construction at Transit Hub (NY1News 12)
  • Stapleton Residents Fed Up With Tractor-Trailers on Hilly Residential Streets (Advance)
  • MTA Panel Issues Safety Recommendations in Wake of MNR Crash (News, LoHud, WCBS)
  • 2nd Avenue Sagas Unimpressed With $1 Billion “Nicer Waiting Room for Amtrak”
  • Effort to Subject Port Authority to Open Records Laws Stalled in NJ Legislature (MTR)
  • Advance on Capital Plan: MTA Thinks “Transit of Any Kind on Staten Island Is… A Waste of Money”
  • Van Bramer Secures Speed Humps Near School, Heaps Praise on Trottenberg (News)
  • Bicycling Is the Best Way to Get Around NYC, Says Thrillist

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Council Members Van Bramer, Levin Come Out on Top in TA Report Card

Which members of the City Council have made transportation a priority this term? A new report card from Transportation Alternatives [PDF] ranks each borough’s delegation on whether its members sponsored 15 key transportation bills and resolutions signed by the mayor in the first six months of 2014. It found that, while a majority of council members are working for street safety, a smaller number have carried the banner for livable streets by sponsoring multiple pieces of legislation so far this year.

"How'm I doin'?" A new report card from Transportation Alternatives shows which council members are leading on street safety. Photo: William Alatriste/NYC Council

“How’m I doin’?” A new report card from Transportation Alternatives shows which council members are leading on street safety. Photo: William Alatriste/NYC Council

Most of the legislation TA used as a measuring stick was passed in May as part of a package of Vision Zero bills and resolutions. The report also included a resolution urging the state to take action on the Sheridan Expressway plan, among other bills. The report card tallied co-sponsors, not just the primary sponsor who introduced the legislation.

The average council member signed on to just two of the 15 bills. ”A select group of Council members sponsored significantly more,” TA says in the report, with Jimmy Van Bramer, Steve Levin, Maria Del Carmen Arroyo, and Helen Rosenthal led the way, each signing on to ten or more bills.

While most boroughs had their leaders and laggards, council members Vincent Ignizio, Steven Matteo, and Debi Rose of Staten Island all ranked poorly. Rose sponsored only one of the 15 pieces of legislation, to mandate speedy repair of broken traffic signals. Matteo and Ignizio did not sponsor any of the bills or resolutions.

The report card is a useful, if limited, snapshot of City Council activity. It did not look at the votes of council members, which are typically lopsided once a bill makes it to the floor. It also did not consider whether, of all the bills a council member sponsors, he or she is more or less likely to sign on to a transportation bill when compared to bills on other issues. One more flaw: Despite being a big street safety supporter, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito ranks very low in the report card because, as the Council’s leader, she did not co-sponsor any of the 15 bills TA examined.

Council members do more than just sponsor legislation. They also make sure city agencies are putting street safety policies into action in their districts. Following up on last year’s campaign questionnaire, TA staff reached out to the 51 council members and their staff to learn what they’re doing. Council Members Inez Dickens, Andy King, Ruben Wills, Vincent Gentile, Jumaane Williams, and Mathieu Eugene did not respond to TA’s inquiries.

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Are There Any Affordable Cities Left in America?

When you factor in both housing and transportation costs (H+T) as a percent of income, the car-dependent cities in the right column expensive. But are DC, SF, and NYC that much more affordable, even if you count the benefits of transit? Source: Citizens Budget Commission

When you factor in both housing and transportation costs (H+T) as a percent of income, the car-dependent cities in the right column are especially expensive. But are DC, SF, and NYC that much more affordable, even if you count the benefits of transit? Source: Citizens Budget Commission

Are Washington, San Francisco, and New York the most affordable American cities? A new report from the New York-based Citizen’s Budget Commission [PDF], which made the rounds at the Washington Post and CityLab, argues that if you consider the combined costs of housing and transportation, the answer is yes.

But a closer look at the data casts some doubt on that conclusion. Between the high cost of transportation in sprawling regions and the high demand for housing in compact cities with good transit, very few places in America are looking genuinely affordable these days.

The CBC report uses a better measure of affordability than looking at housing costs alone. Transportation is the second biggest household expense for the average American family, and looking at what people spend on housing plus transportation (H+T) can upend common assumptions about which places are affordable and which are not. Regions with cheap housing but few alternatives to car commuting don’t end up scoring so well.

There are some problems with the CBC’s methodology, however. While abundant transit is absolutely essential to keeping household transportation costs down, and it provides a lifeline to low-income residents of major coastal cities, the report still tends to exaggerate overall affordability in these areas.

According to the report, for example, New York City ranks third in affordability among 22 large cities. A “typical household” in New York City, the CBC finds, spends 32 percent of its income on housing and transportation combined. Part of the reason New York comes out looking good, though, is that CBC used a regional measure of income but looked at typical rents only in the city itself. Because the region’s median income is higher than the median income in the city ($62,063 vs. $51,865, respectively, according to 2008-2012 Census data), NYC appears more affordable than it really is.

Another issue, flagged by Michael Lewyn at his CNU blog, is that by looking at average rents, which in some cities include many rent-stabilized units, the calculation doesn’t necessarily capture what someone searching for shelter is likely to pay. If you’re trying to find an apartment in New York now, getting a place for the average rent would probably be extremely difficult.

What really stands out in the CBC report isn’t that New York, San Francisco, and DC are affordable — it’s that car-dependent areas that may have cheap housing turn out to be so expensive once you factor in transportation.

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Point-to-Point Car-Share Service Car2Go Getting Ready to Launch in Brooklyn

Car2Go, a subsidiary of automotive giant Daimler AG, is hiring staff and preparing to launch in Brooklyn after more than a year of negotiations with the city, bringing point-to-point car-share to NYC for the first time. Car2Go will also be the first car-share company in the city to store its vehicles on the street, though the specifics of the arrangement with the city, such as the price the company will pay for curb access, have yet to be made public.

Car2Go, which sells point-to-point car-share by the minute, appears to be gearing up for a Brooklyn launch. Photo: Elliott Brown/Flick

Car2Go appears almost ready for a Brooklyn launch after more than a year of negotiations with DOT. Photo: ElliottBrown/Flickr

What differentiates Car2Go from other car-share services in New York is that users can make one-way trips. (Zipcar, a competitor, is getting into the one-way car-share game in other cities, but does not currently offer the service here.) The added flexibility could entice more car-owning New Yorkers to give up their private vehicles, though it’s tough to say whether this effect will outweigh the additional driving trips made by households without cars, which are the majority in NYC.

The other intriguing aspect of Car2Go is that its fleet of Smart Cars will be stored on the street. To close out a one-way trip, members must park on the street anywhere within the Car2Go service area. These zones are usually quite large: The company says it’s looking to cover Brooklyn before expanding to other boroughs. (It’s not clear whether the service will ever come to Manhattan, where transit coverage is superb, cabs are plentiful, and competition for curb space is most intense.)

Since the vehicles are located curbside, the company has to work out a host of issues with the city. ”New York is not unique,” said Car2Go business development manager Josh Moskowitz. ”There’s street sweeping, there are meters, there are rush hour restrictions.” Car2Go operates in 15 cities in the U.S. and Canada, as well as 12 European cities. In each, the company reached an agreement with the local government and prohibits users from parking 24 hours before street sweeping or in an area with rush hour restrictions.

One of the downsides to these agreements is that they mask the cost of metered spaces from customers, who are allowed to park in those spaces as if they are free because Car2Go compensates cities for foregone meter revenue. A Car2Go customer can end a one-way trip by parking in a metered spot without paying extra. While another customer might soon drive that car away, the practice still raises questions about how Car2Go vehicles will affect curb occupancy and traffic congestion in commercial areas.

Car2Go has been in on-again, off-again negotiations with DOT for more than a year. Although there’s no official word of a deal, the company has started the launch process by hiring a marketing manager and a fleet supervisor in Brooklyn.

So when will Car2Go launch? “We don’t have any rough timelines right now,” Moskowitz said. “We’re moving closer.”

Update: “DOT has had preliminary conversations with Car2Go regarding their service,” said a DOT spokesperson. “There have been no formal negotiations and no agreement has been reached between Car2Go and DOT for a Car2Go launch within New York City.”

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Downtown Houston Will Get Its First Protected Bike Lane

Houston's protected bike lane should look a lot like this one from Seattle. Photo: Seattle DOT, via Flickr

Houston’s protected bike lane should look a lot like this one in Seattle. Photo: Seattle DOT/Flickr

A piece of top-notch bike infrastructure is coming to the largest city in Texas.

That’s the word today from Kevin McNally at Houston Tomorrow, who relays the news that a two-way protected bike lane is on tap for downtown:

The City of Houston will install the City’s first on-street protected bike lane along Lamar Street in Downtown, possibly as early as October, according to the Houston Chronicle’s Mike Morris. The two-way protected bike lane will help to connect Downtown to both the Buffalo Bayou trails and the Columbia Tap Trail.

The bike lane will be three-quarters of a mile long and will be painted green, the Houston Chronicle reports. It will be separated from car traffic by “armadillos,” or hard, low-lying plastic bumps. McNally says:

Based on the description from the article, the bike lane should look similar to the above photo of a two-way protected bike lane in Seattle, with the exception being that the white plastic bollards will be replaced by plastic “armadillos” or “zebras” (see examples of those here).

Bike Houston Executive Director Michael Payne said the objective is to make “people feel comfortable” about biking and getting “out of their cars.”

Elsewhere on the Network today: Washington Bikes shares a poll showing overwhelming support for Safe Routes to School among the state’s residents. And Bike Portland reports that advocates in that region are trying to ensure that every school district has a Safe Routes to School program.

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Today’s Headlines

  • With Work Slowly Moving Ahead at Amtrak’s Moynihan Station, Schumer Calls for More Funds (NYT)
  • Teachout: Then-Candidate Cuomo Did Nothing to Stop Christie From Cancelling ARC Tunnel (News)
  • News Backs Christie on ARC “Monstrosity,” Says Teachout “Has No Idea What She’s Talking About”
  • $4.9 Million Expansion in Bus Service Takes Effect in Five Boros Sunday (NewsDNA)
  • Driver Critically Injures Cyclist on Ocean Pkwy – Bklyn Daily Has Info on Helmet But Not Driver
  • TLC Releases Safety Honor Roll; Top Cabbie’s Own Son Was Hit by Driver Two Years Ago (WSJ, News)
  • Squadron and Riders Alliance Push MTA to Keep Free “Walking Transfer” From G to J/M (News)
  • Who Needs Regulation of the Taxi (App) Industry When This Is How Startups Behave? (Verge)
  • Combining Transportation and Housing Costs Is Good, But Not the Whole Story (CNU)
  • Cops In Bike Lanes: Glaring Hypocrisy Edition (Village Voice, NY1)
  • NYC Press Corps Doggedly Follows Up on Injuries Caused by Parks Dept. Driver (DNA, News)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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First Phase of Woodhaven Bus Upgrades Coming This Fall. Then What?

Select Bus Service on Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevards is coming to Queens in two phases. The first round, due early this fall, will bring nearly two miles of painted bus lanes and a road diet for service roads along more than a mile of Woodhaven Boulevard [PDF]. DOT has said it will release a design for the second phase later this fall.

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The first phase of bus upgrades on Woodhaven Boulevard calls for two stretches of bus lanes. Map: NYC DOT

We don’t know yet whether DOT will start to make good on Bill de Blasio’s campaign promise to build “world-class” Bus Rapid Transit. But a 2009 study of Woodhaven Boulevard offers a taste of the most basic BRT improvements the agency could propose, plus a cautionary tale for advocates.

The route DOT and the MTA are studying for SBS stretches nearly 14 miles from Woodside to the Rockaways, with the initial improvements focusing on a shorter stretch of Woodhaven Boulevard.

The agency will be adding offset bus lanes, running in each direction next to the parking lane, from Eliot Avenue to Metropolitan Avenue — about 1.4 miles, or one-tenth of the total project corridor. These lanes will be in effect only during rush hours, from 7 to 10 a.m. and from 4 to 7 p.m. The southern end of the new bus lanes is immediately north of a bridge over Long Island Rail Road tracks, where Woodhaven has three car lanes in each direction. By reducing the number of general traffic lanes north of this pinch point to the same number as the bridge, DOT can demonstrate how Woodhaven functions during rush hours with less space for cars and more for bus riders.

The second section of bus lanes covers slightly more than a half-mile in Ozone Park. There, curbside bus-only lanes will replace parking as Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevards approach the complex intersection of Rockaway Boulevard and Liberty Avenue, where many bus riders transfer to the A train. Like the bus lanes north of Metropolitan, these lanes will be in effect from 7 to 10 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m., except for the final block of each approach, where the lanes will be for buses only between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

According to DOT’s presentations, the agency expects the first phase to improve bus speeds by about 10 percent [PDF] on the sections with bus lanes. The bus lanes are unlikely to be camera-enforced, since state law allowing the use of cameras restricts them to just one Select Bus Service route in Queens, and DOT has already said that it will use cameras on the M60 SBS route, which runs through Astoria to LaGuardia Airport.

Advocates said the first round of improvements make sense as an incremental step on the way to something bigger. “Eventually, everyone could benefit from comprehensive solutions like center-median bus lanes and off-board fare collection. But it won’t happen overnight,” said Jess Nizar, senior organizer at the Riders Alliance. “Bus-only lanes are one step to making commutes faster for both bus riders and drivers.”

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Expanding the Mission of “Safe Routes to School” as Kids Return to Class

It’s hard to believe summer is almost over. In many places, the weather was so mild it seems like it never quite started. But kids are already going back to school.

Crosswalks and adult supervision are two ingredients in keeping kids safe from both traffic and violence. ##https://www.dot.ny.gov/safe-routes-to-school##NY DOT##

Photo: NYS DOT

While the weather has been cool, temperatures have reached a boiling point on many of our nation’s streets. In many communities, violence is very much on people’s minds as kids return to school, following incidents like the rash of shootings in Chicago over the July 4th weekend and the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Last week, the Safe Routes to School National Partnership teamed up with Generation Progress, The League of Young Voters Education Fund, the Million Hoodies Movement, and the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans to hold a Twitter town hall with the hashtag #Back2SaferSchools. Generation Progress kicked things off with this sobering thought:

There are many ways to address this problem. But as Keith Benjamin of the SRTS National Partnership says, “Place-making plays a pivotal role in combating violence.”

Late last year, the Partnership released “Using Safe Routes to School to Combat the Threat of Violence” [PDF]. It weaves together in-school conflict resolution programs and anti-bullying work with the group’s regular program of walking school buses and infrastructure improvements.

“In some communities, the danger of violence and crime discourages children from walking to school and keeps people off the street, limiting physical activity and restricting errands and trips,” the report begins.

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