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One-Day Protected Bike Lane Demos Have Swept America this Summer

A temporary demo during StreetsAlive! in Fargo, North Dakota, on July 15. Photo: Dakota Medical Foundation

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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.

This is what a tipping point looks like.

Around the country in the summer of 2014, community groups across the United States have been using open-streets events and other festivals to give thousands of Americans their first taste of a protected bike lane.

From small-town Kansas to the middle of Atlanta, communities (many of them inspired by last summer’s successful $600 demo project in Minneapolis) have been using handmade barriers and relatively tiny amounts of money to put together temporary bikeways that spread the knowledge of the concept among the public and officials.

“Every traffic engineer who touches a street in Oakland, they were all out on their bikes checking it out,” said Dave Campbell of East Bay Bike Coalition, who led the creation of maybe the year’s most beautiful demo on Telegraph Avenue there. (Click to enlarge — it’s worth it.)

“We wanted this to look awesome,” Campbell said in an interview. “People would see this and go, ‘That’s f—— awesome. I want that on my street.’

Here are some of the results from around the country:

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Older Pedestrians More Likely to Die in Traffic: Will New York State DOT Act?

Manhattan is the most dangerous borough for residents age 60 and older to walk, and older pedestrians throughout the metro region suffer disproportionately from deadly traffic violence, according to a new report from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

With older pedestrians more likely to be killed by drivers, will NYS DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald heed recommendations for safer streets? Photo: CT.gov

With older pedestrians more likely to be killed by drivers, will NYS DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald heed recommendations for safer streets? Photo: CT.gov

The report recommends that New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut adopt NACTO design guidelines for safer, multi-modal streets. New York State DOT said recently that the agency will not endorse NACTO standards for roads categorized as “collectors” and “arterials,” which are some of the state’s most heavily-traveled and dangerous streets.

For its latest annual “Older Pedestrians at Risk” report, Tri-State analyzed 10 years of metro area data from the Census Bureau and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Fatality Analysis Reporting System. While people age 60 and older made up 17 percent of the population in Manhattan from 2003 to 2012, they accounted for 42 percent of the 364 pedestrian fatalities that occurred during that time.

“At 5.46 per 100,000, the pedestrian fatality rate for Manhattan residents aged 60 and older was 3.67 times that of residents younger than 60,” says the report. “For those aged 75 years plus, the fatality rate (8.33) was 5.59 times that of their younger neighbors.”

In Nassau County, people age 60 and older were three and a half times more likely to be killed by a driver while walking than younger residents. Older residents of Westchester County faced three times the risk.

While much of the data was gleaned from local roads, not state roads, NYS DOT could allocate its resources to improve safety on any type of street in New York.

Data for other boroughs was reported as follows.

  • Brooklyn: 473 total pedestrian deaths, with a rate of 4.94 fatalities per 100,000 residents for people age 60 and older — four times that of younger residents. The fatality rate for Brooklynites age 75 and older was 6.63 per 100,000 people.
  • Bronx: 225 total pedestrian deaths, with a rate of 3.94 fatalities per 100,000 residents for people age 60 and older — more than three times that of younger residents. The fatality rate for Bronxites age 75 and older was 4.05 per 100,000 people.
  • Queens: 364 total pedestrian deaths, with a rate of 3.75 fatalities per 100,000 residents for people age 60 and older — more than three times that of younger residents. The fatality rate for Queens residents age 75 and older was 5.79 per 100,000 people.
  • Staten Island: 76 total pedestrian deaths, with a rate of 3.57 fatalities per 100,000 residents for people age 60 and older — three times that of younger residents. The fatality rate for Staten Islanders age 75 and older was 5.56 per 100,000 people.

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Oil-Laden Freight Trains Delaying Amtrak, Commuter Trains Across U.S.

Oil train running on BNSF tracks through Pilsen in Chicago

Tank cars roll through Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood on BNSF tracks.

Oil production is booming across North America, as new technologies make it possible to extract liquid crude oil from sources like the Bakken shale oil field in North Dakota and Montana, or Alberta’s tar sands. The ever-increasing volume of crude oil mined in remote Great Plains locations often finds its way to refineries via ”rolling pipelines” – freight trains that tow a million barrels of oil around the United States every day. Production of Bakken crude has tripled over the past three years, and 79 percent of it is shipped out by rail.

The number of rail cars carrying crude oil across the United States has been steadily increasing.

The number of rail cars carrying crude oil across the United States has been steadily increasing. Data from EIA, AAR, news reports.

The resulting sharp increase in rail traffic doesn’t just threaten communities along the line that are unprepared for their explosive cargo — a threat that the US Department of Transportation recently issued new rules to address. Growing freight volumes are also delaying millions of passengers aboard Amtrak or commuter trains, most of which share tracks with ever more freight trains. Nationwide, the number of delayed Amtrak trains has increased by almost 75 percent. As Tanya Snyder reported yesterday, that results from a court ruling that left Amtrak powerless against freight train interference. Around Chicago, hub of the continent’s railroad network, delays have multiplied on the region’s busiest commuter rail line – a Metra line operated by BNSF, which is also North Dakota’s biggest freight hauler.

The American Association of Railroads reported an 8.5 percent increase year-to-date in the number of American freight trains carrying oil across the country, and a 9.1 percent increase reported from Canadian trains. Since 2011, the number of cars of crude oil shipped nationwide has doubled.

Oil is having a particularly heavy impact on rail operations along certain companies’ lines, and none more so than BNSF. Its transcontinental trunk line spans North Dakota, and its branches serve 21 of North Dakota’s 25 oil-producing counties. As a result, BNSF hauled more than 500,000 barrels of crude oil in 2013, “up from practically none” just four years ago, NPR reported.

The boom has strained what used to be isolated stretches of railroad. Amtrak’s daily Empire Builder train spans the country’s northern tier, from Chicago to Seattle and Portland via North Dakota and Montana, using BNSF’s Great Northern route almost all of the way. “The Builder” now has the dubious double distinction of being both the most popular of Amtrak’s transcontinental routes and its most delayed route nationwide, arriving on time about once a week. Delays have become so routine that Amtrak recently padded its schedule by three hours. BNSF’s quarterly report [PDF] shows growing volumes across all business lines, but notes that increased industrial shipments in the second quarter of 2014 are “primarily due to increased shipments of petroleum products [and] frac sand.”

Derrick James, Amtrak director of government affairs for the Midwest, told Streetsblog that national on-time performance has seen “a dramatic decline,” dropping “from 80 percent in February 2013 to 55 percent through April 2014.” James said that as reliability has dropped, ridership on both long-distance and short-distance lines has also dropped by 4.9 percent.

Amtrak “conductors produce delay reports,” James points out, “and these delay reports pinpoint a dramatic increase in rail traffic — especially trains connected with hydraulic fracturing, sand trains and oil trains.” On the Empire Builder in particular, Amtrak conductors cite “train interference” as the principal cause of delays.

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Charting the Essential Link Between Walkability and Transit

The most highly used Metro stations in DC are also the most walkable. Image: WMATA

Surprise! The DC Metro stations with the most ridership also have the most people living within walking distance. Image: WMATA

Want to guess which DC Metro stations have the most riders? Your best bet is to count apartment buildings nearby.

New data released by WMATA shows the strong link between Metro station ridership and the number of people who live close to the station — in other words, how many people can walk to it. Dan Malouff at BeyondDC isn’t shocked by any means, but he says the data is interesting nonetheless:

According to WMATA’s PlanItMetro blog, “the more people can walk to transit, the more people do walk to transit — and data across Metrorail stations prove it.”

All in all, Metro’s stations fit neatly along a trendline that shows a strong correlation between more households nearby and more riders arriving to stations by foot.

Even the outliers tell a story. U Street and Mount Vernon Square have the 6th and 7th highest number of households nearby, but they under perform on walking Metro ridership. One might speculate that Mount Vernon Square is so close to so many offices that more people simply walk. U Street is a little farther away, but it’s still close enough to downtown that buses and bicycles may be better options for a large portion of riders.

One factoid that may in fact surprise is that three of the five most-used stations are not in DC: Two of those stations are in Arlington (Court House and Ballston) and one is in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Elsewhere on the Network today: PubliCola reports that Seattle has struck a compromise on micro-housing. And Urban Review STL runs the numbers to see what Missouri would be collecting from its state gas tax if it had kept pace with the level of revenue in 1996.

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CB 7 Committee Unanimously Endorses Road Diet for West End Avenue

The Community Board 7 transportation committee last night unanimously endorsed the DOT proposal to improve pedestrian safety on West End Avenue, where drivers have killed two pedestrians this year.

The plan endorsed last night includes more pedestrian islands than a prior version but no bike lanes. Image: NYC DOT

The plan would convert the street from four through lanes to two, with a flush center median, left turn bays, and pedestrian islands at the intersections where Jean Chambers and Cooper Stock were struck.

The plan presented last night was expanded, according to TA’s Tom DeVito, with pedestrian islands at more intersections. We’ll have specifics in a future post.

No bike lanes are included in the proposal, leaving a lot of street design experts scratching their heads, wondering what happened to the bike-friendly NYC DOT. Cyclists would be left to jockey among moving and double-parked vehicles in a 13-foot lane designated for parking and loading. With bike-share set for a possible expansion uptown, former DOT policy director Jon Orcutt tweeted yesterday that the lack of bike lanes could be a “missed opportunity.”

State Senator Adriano Espaillat and former City Council Member Robert Jackson attended to voice support for the plan. (Jackson is currently challenging Espaillat for his senate seat.) Espaillat said he would like DOT to implement safety measures on Amsterdam Avenue as well. Last December CB 7 asked DOT to study a protected bike lane on Amsterdam. DOT recently said the agency would present its findings soon.

The next CB 7 full board meeting is set for September 2.

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Talking Headways Podcast: Zoned Out

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Welcome to the dog days of summer! Before skipping town, Congress passed a transportation funding patch so they wouldn’t have to deal with the real problem of the unsustainable way our nation builds and pays for infrastructure. I give the briefest possible rundown of where we are now before Jeff and I launch into discussions about the issues of the day: zoning and ride-share.

Houston is famous for its wild-west attitude toward zoning, but that laissez-faire approach was put to the test recently when residents of a single-family neighborhood protested the construction of a 23-story apartment building. No matter how the situation resolved itself, it was bound to have ripple effects.

We also talk about new services offered by Lyft and Uber that bring them a little closer to true ride-sharing — though, as we note, they’re still a far cry from the platonic ideal: hitchhiking.

The comments section is open for your witty comebacks and retorts. Check us out on iTunes and Stitcher, or sign up for our RSS feed.

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Irving Schachter Killed By Cyclist in Central Park Earlier This Month

A teenage cyclist killed a 75-year-old man jogging in Central Park earlier this month.

At around 4:52 p.m. on Sunday, August 3, Irving Schachter was jogging on the east park loop near 72nd Street when he was hit by a 17-year-old cyclist traveling in the direction of traffic, according to NYPD. Schachter was admitted to New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center with head trauma. He died on August 5.

According to a post from Schachter’s wife Hindy on the New York Cycle Club message board, the cyclist veered into the pedestrian lane on the loop. The crash is under investigation by NYPD’s Collision Investigation Squad, and no charges or summonses have been issued yet.

This marks the first time a pedestrian has been killed by a cyclist in New York since 2009, when a wrong-way cyclist in Midtown struck Stuart Gruskin, who, like Schachter, died of head trauma.

Schachter was a long-time member of the NYCC who led rides and was an active cyclist and runner at age 75. He was training for the 2014 New York City Marathon when he was struck.

Hindy Schachter included these words of caution on the NYCC board:

…this short message also should remind folks of the cyclist’s dual nature. Many of us see cyclists as potential victims of cars. And we are. The city still needs to do much more to secure our safety on Manhattan’s streets.  To that end we should support the many Transportation Alternative campaigns.

But we are also potential predators. One careless move on a bike and we can take down a runner, a walker, a child skipping along.  As we want car drivers to be alert to our rights, so too we must act to protect the rights of other people.

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Will This Year’s “Operation Safe Cycle” Make Anyone Safer?

The Park Row bike lane by City Hall, full of illegally parked vehicles as usual. Photo: Keegan Stephan

Yesterday NYPD showed New York that police do actually enforce the speed limit on local streets. Check out the radar guns on Broadway. Today the department is showing the city that cyclists get tickets too.

NYPD’s “Operation Safe Cycle” is a two-week enforcement campaign targeting “hazardous violations that create a danger for pedestrians and cyclists.”

Usually, when the NYPD embarks on these bike ticket blitzes, you’ll see police focus on the most inane and harmless transgressions, like cycling through red lights at T-intersections with bike lanes, where motor vehicle traffic and bike traffic don’t conflict. Equipped with cheat sheets that included non-existent infractions, cops have been known to hand out tickets that don’t stand a chance in traffic court. It created the impression that traffic enforcement in New York is about the appearance of “evenhandedness” more than the prevention of violent injuries and deaths.

Will this time be any different? As always, devoting limited resources to bike enforcement is bound to yield really poor bang-for-the-buck compared to speed enforcement or failure-to-yield tickets. And the very act of marketing a special operation targeting cycling — as opposed to consistently enforcing laws that keep everyone safe on the streets — doesn’t inspire confidence.

At least NYPD’s communications seem to be improving. The “Operation Safe Cycle” notice says police will be focusing on motorists obstructing bike lanes as well as cyclists for “failure to stop at a red light, disobey a traffic signal or sign, riding the wrong direction against traffic, riding on the sidewalk, and failure to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.” That’s clearer than a cheat sheet with bogus bike infractions.

But there is simply a huge degree of discretion available to cops when it comes to bike enforcement. Blowing through a red light with lots of pedestrians in the crosswalk is illegal, and so is stopping to check for cross-traffic and pedestrians before proceeding safely through a red. It’s a lot easier to hand out tickets to safe riders who may not be following the letter of the law than to rule-breakers who are actually putting other people at risk.

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Why Charging Transit Riders to Transfer Makes No Sense

Paying twice for a transit trip that requires two buses makes no sense, says Jarrett Walker. Photo: Flickr, Mynameisharsha

Paying twice for a single trip that requires two buses makes no sense, says Jarrett Walker. Photo: FMynameisharsha/Flickr

Los Angeles Metro recently eliminated the charge for transferring from one transit line to another. Eliminating transfer charges is becoming more widespread among transit agencies, and at Human Transit, Jarrett Walker explains why that’s a very good thing:

The core of the Los Angeles transit network is the liberating high-frequency grid, which relies on the assumption that passengers can be asked to change buses once. Until now, the agency’s policy of charging passengers extra to change buses was in direct conflict with the foundational principle of its network design.

Once more with feeling; Charging passengers extra for the inconvenience of connections is insane. It discourages exactly the customer behavior that efficient and liberating networks depend on. It undermines the whole notion of a transit network. It also gives customers a reason to object to network redesigns that deliver both greater efficiency and greater liberty, because by imposing a connection on their trip it has also raised their fare.

For that reason, actual businesses don’t do it. When supposedly business minded bureaucrats tell us we should charge for connections, they are revealing that they have never stopped to think about the geometry of the transit product, but are just assuming it’s like soap or restaurants. Tell them to think about airlines: Airfares that require a connection are frequently cheaper than nonstops. That’s because the connection is something you endure for the sake of an efficient airline network, not an added service that you should pay extra for.

Walker says that in the past, some agencies charged for transfers in order to avoid abuse of the system, such as selling a discounted transfer to a new passenger. But current fare payment technology can eliminate that problem, he says. Transit agencies that still maintain a transfer fee might just be trying to raise extra revenue without raising base fares. But that just masks higher costs while detracting from the usefulness of the system, he says.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Reno Rambler pays tribute to Robin Williams, the cyclist. And Strong Towns explains how the prevalence of pedestrian flags illustrates the second class status of people on foot.