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Personal Note from Damien: Welcome to the Newest Streetsblogger, and See You on 10/29

Friends,

At 12:29 p.m. earlier today, I became a father for the second time when Mary Leigh Newton made her world debut at Cedars Sinai Hospital in Beverly Hills. She came a couple of weeks earlier than expected, which caused some disruption in our publication schedule but tomorrow we’ll be back to normal with (at least) three original stories.

That's my girl.

Long time readers may remember that the last time I took paternity leave, we had a revolving door of guest posters cover individual days. Now that we have a broader writing team, we asked three distinguished writers to each step in as “guest editor” for a week to handle the minutiae of publishing this website, work with our writing team to meet a tight editorial schedule, and produce unique original content of their own.

Anyone who reads L.A. Streetsblog regularly is already familiar with two of our “guest editors”: Streetsblog’s South L.A. writer Sahra Sulaiman and our newish Long Beach reporter Brian Addison. But next week we’ll be turning the reigns over to Ted Rogers, author of the popular “Biking In L.A.” website. Of course, Rogers will be aided by Sulaiman, Addison, Kris Fortin, Gary Kavanagh and any other freelancer or contributor who pitches in. I know Dana Gabbard is planning on continuing his coverage of the Surfliner/LOSSAN reorganization.

I’ll be back on October 29, after taking a full three weeks to get to know my little girl and help my little boy adjust to life as big brother. Three weeks of no writing is a much better break than I had last time, and it gives me a chance to get back in the groove in the lead up to the big vote on Measure J.

If you really miss me over the next three plus weeks, you can always follow me at twitter @labikes and I’ll be updating Streetsblog LITE from time to time.

All the Best,

Damien

P.S. – We didn’t have a Streetsblog baby shower this time, but cash for guest editors doesn’t grow on trees. Today is as good a time as any to consider making a contribution to Streetsblog by clicking here. Don’t forget to direct your donation to “Los Angeles.”

P.P.S. – I’ve slept 40 minutes in the past 40 hours. Please excuse any grammar errors.

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Healthier Kids — By Design

As we noted
the other day, First Lady Michelle Obama has launched a multifaceted
initiative to reduce child obesity in the United States called Let’s Move.
It’s a campaign that emphasizes the ways in which getting children up
and active can help to improve their health for a lifetime.

The
Let’s Move agenda focuses on access to healthy foods, outdoor play
time, family involvement and healthier schools. But in an article
published on The City Fix
yesterday, Megan McConville writes that one important piece is so far
missing from the mix: planning and design. McConville has some
suggestions to fix that:

168628342_1e12aa254d.jpgFor healthier kids, we need healthier street design. (Photo: massdistraction via Flickr)

Obviously, Michelle Obama and her task force can’t take on every issue tied to obesity, but targeted active community design strategies can be highly effective ways to integrate activity into the everyday lives of children.  For example, "complete streets" and bicycle infrastructure

make it safer and easier for kids to bike and walk. Taking public
transportation allows for more activity than riding in a car. Traffic
calming and design mechanisms focused on pedestrians instead of
motorists make streets less dangerous for children. And creating
compact, walkable, mixed-use communities with nearby destinations and
vibrant streetscapes mean more daily activity for children and their
parents, and more open space for them to play in.

The First Lady could build on past efforts that successfully
connected planning, physical activity and children’s issues. For one,
the former Mayor of Bogotá, Enrique Peñalosa, showed us how orienting an urban revitalization effort around kids’ needs can be advantageous for everyone. According to his philosophy,
a city that is safe and enjoyable for children — our most vulnerable
population — is a good city.…

The First Lady should include the U.S
Department of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development,
Environmental Protection Agency and Office of Urban Affairs leadership
in her task force, and she should reach out to mayors across the
country (she has the support of two already). This group could piggyback on the good work already being done through the federal Livability Initiative and by groups like the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

More from around the network: The Transport Politic on Indianapolis’s big transit plans. Imagine No Cars on support for active transportation in Missoula, Montana. And Travelin’ Local on efforts to become more bike-friendly in Long Beach, California.

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Could Para-Transit Work in Los Angeles?

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This week, New York Streetsblog featured a five part series about the potential benefits of investing in a para-transit system written by Streetsblog publisher Mark Gorton.  Anyone looking for some additional reading materials over the weekend,
after all LA Streetsblog won’t publish after today until Tuesday, or
interested in a discussion of what para-transit can do to urban areas
should check out Gorton’s series, which can be found below.

Wikipedia describes para-transit as:

an alternative mode of flexible passenger
transportation that does not follow fixed routes or schedules.
Typically vans or mini-buses are used to provide paratransit service,
but also share taxis and jitneys are important providers. Paratransit services may vary considerably on the degree of flexibility they provide their customers.

Gorton explores what benefits a city that invests in para-transit would experience and what it would take to bring such a system to New York.  I’m interested to see what readers here think about para-transit and Los Angeles?  Can a city that’s still struggling to figure out what to do with transit, bikes and cabs embrace a system like para-tranist?  After reading Gorton’s series, feel free to leave a note in the comments section.

Part 1: Smart Para-Transit: A New Vision for Urban Transportation

Part 2: Peer-to-Peer Mass Transit: How to Make it Work

Part 3: Eliminating Congestion Through Smart Para-Transit

Part 4: Smart Para-Transit + Car Sharing = No Reason to Own a Car

Part 5: Smart Para-Transit: Working Out the Details

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Bike-Share Debuts in Washington D.C.

8_14_08_washington.jpgPublic bike-share in the U.S. hit a milestone yesterday when SmartBike DC, the first program of its kind in an American city, launched in full. Coverage in the Washington Post was heavy on the implications for D.C.’s image:

Today the city will join the ranks of Paris and Barcelona with the
launch of the first high-tech public bike-sharing program in the United
States, forcing such cities as San Francisco and Chicago to look here
to see chic alternative transportation in action in America.

One critical difference between SmartBike and its European counterparts is the size of the network. When Vélib debuted in Paris, it provided 10,000 bikes at 750 locations. The SmartBike planners are taking a gradualist approach, starting off with 120 bikes stationed at 10 sites concentrated near downtown D.C. So far, 150 memberships have been sold, the Post reports.

The fact that D.C. has cleared the hurdles of getting a system up and running is piquing the interest of other cities, according to the outdoor advertising firm that sponsors SmartBike:

"We’re getting inquiries from all around the country to see if they
can take the same program and implement it in their city," said Steve
Ginsburg of Clear Channel Outdoor.

Which American city will go live with public bike-share next? New York recently signaled its interest in a bike-share program, and Portland is actively pursuing one, despite some setbacks. The highly informative Bike-Sharing Blog has put together a Google Maps mashup showing where programs exist, and where ones are in various stages of study and planning. By my count, 14 cities are in the running to follow D.C.

Photo of a SmartBike DC station: afagen/Flickr

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Recapping NYC’s Summer Streets

Last weekend, New York City closed roughly seven miles of streets to automobiles, turning its normally gridlocked streets into an American Ciclovia.  Naturally, NYC Streetsblog was all over the coverage of the event which has been hailed as a monumental success by nearly everyone involved.

If you’re interested in seeing what a car-free New York City would look like, you can check out a first hand account written Streetsblog writer Ben Fried, check out the photo gallery put together by Streetsblog readers, read Brad Aaron’s recap of what the event meant for business, or  just watch the Streetfilm above.

With the success of Summer Streets’ kickoff event, and with more cities temporarily closing their streets to cars the question is starting to loom: when is Los Angeles going to catch up and have a city-wide car free event instead of just block parties a couple of times a year?

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The Pentagon Burns 395,000 Barrels of Oil Per Day

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It’s always a bit of a mind-boggler when some statistics emerge showing how much oil the U.S. military consumes. From yesterday’s Politico:

So, you think you’ve got the gas prices blues. Just consider Al Shaffer, the man in charge of drafting an energy strategy for the gas-­guzzling Pentagon.

With wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and troops spread around the world, the Department of Defense is the nation’s biggest oil consumer, burning 395,000 barrels per day — about as much as Greece.

Read more…

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Wiki Wednesday: Vehicle-Miles Traveled

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Until recently, VMT had been rising steeply in the U.S.

In the second installment of our serialized tour through StreetsWiki, we turn to DianaD’s entry on Vehicle-Miles Traveled:

Vehicle-Miles Traveled (VMT) is the total number of miles driven by all
residential vehicles within a given time period and geographic area.

We’re seeing more about VMT in the national media as rising gas prices cause people to drive less. Largely absent from the coverage — so far — is a discussion about intentionally reducing VMT through policy. Will that change soon? It should: A landscape that’s easier to navigate without a car is one where expensive gas won’t put such a crimp in household budgets. Diana’s wiki entry highlights one avenue to explore in particular:

Land use — namely sprawl development — is the main culprit. Americans
are living farther from work, school, shopping and basic services. Even
in higher density areas, where amenities may be closer to home, the
road framework can be punishing for pedestrians. It is nearly
impossible to walk in areas that cater to cars instead of people.
Autocentric street design therefore forces even more cars onto
roadways, which further impedes walkers and bicyclists. The vicious
cycle continues and local governments turn to the only “quick fix” that
they seem to know: build bigger highways (at enormous taxpayer expense)
to accommodate the increased traffic.

Got more to add? Any member of the Livable Streets Network can edit a StreetsWiki entry. 

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Print This

Thanks to Anil Makhijani, the Open Planning Project’s crack web developer, it’s now a whole lot easier to print a Streetsblog story. Click the little printer icon below. You’ll get a web page formatted 8.5 x 11 with all of the links annotated at the bottom as footnotes. Check it out.

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Rising Demand for Transit Could Be a “Turning Point”

CNN broadcast yesterday a relatively in-depth piece on U.S. cities scrambling to meet rising demand for mass transit.

With a fight over billions of dollars of federal transportation funding set to heat up immediately after the swearing-in of the next president, this may very well be the most important transportation policy story of the next 18 months. The battle lines are already being drawn up:

In this corner: smart growth, green collar jobs and mass transit.

In that corner: Auto makers, asphalt pourers and the drill, drill, drillers

From CNN:

Some observers such as Dr. Robert Lang, an expert on urban affairs and planning at Virginia Tech University, say the gas crunch could be a turning point in perceptions of public transportation and how cities plan development.

Consumers are beginning to believe the high prices are a result of structural changes in the global economy, not the result of a single event like Hurricane Katrina, which produced a period of high fuel prices earlier this decade, Lang said.

That change in perception is providing more momentum for some cities that were already moving away from six-lane highways and suburbs dozens of miles apart, to a series of urban centers connected by light rail and other mass transit systems.

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Rising Fuel Costs and Ridership Strain Local Transit Systems Nationwide

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A Bus Stop in Santa Barbara

Transit agencies all over the country are nearing a state of emergency. At the same time that rising gas prices are leading more Americans to opt for buses and trains, transit operators are being forced to cut service and raise fares due to budget shortfalls.

In Minneapolis, the
local transit agency is pondering not one but two fare hikes. Seattle’s Metro is considering bumping up fares for the second time this year to stave off service cuts. Gainesville, Florida is confronting a double whammy of higher fares and reduced bus service. In western Massachusetts, one county transit authority faces what its manager calls a "make or break" moment, as many locals try riding the bus for the first time and evaluate their options.

As the Wall Street Journal reported last month (preview only), much of this is due to the impact of higher fuel costs on transit budgets. The upshot? The capacity of many transit systems, particularly in smaller cities, is shrinking just when more service is needed most. People looking to save money and travel more energy-efficiently are being penalized in the process.

"This is an emergency," says Larry Hanley, an International Vice President at Amalgamated Transit Union who negotiates transit worker contracts in towns and cities throughout the Northeast. "Particularly in smaller cities where the transit systems don’t have any cushion or margin for increased operating costs."

Nationwide, 48 percent of bus operators and 69 percent of rail
operators have already raised fares due to increased fuel and
electricity costs, according to a survey
released in May by the American Public Transit Association. In terms of
service cuts, the figures are 21 percent and 19 percent, respectively.

Read more…