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Study: Safe Routes to School Programs Boost Walking and Biking 30%

In just two generations, the share of American kids who walk or bike to school has plummeted — dropping from 50 percent in 1969 to 13 percent today. Can the trend be reversed? Yes, according to new research that shows the impact of street safety infrastructure and other programs implemented with federal Safe Routes to School (SRTS) funds.

Photo: United Way

study published in this quarter’s Journal of the American Planning Association found that over time, SRTS programs produce significant increases in the share of children who walk or bike to school — an effect that grows more pronounced over time. The average increase in walking and biking rates attributable to SRTS programs over a five-year period was 31 percent, the researchers concluded.

The authors examined 801 schools in Florida, Oregon, Texas, and the District of Columbia, using data collected by the National Center for Safe Routes to School from 2007 to 2012 – yielding data from 378 schools with SRTS programs and 423 without. They say the study is the first SRTS research based on such a large geographic sample of schools, enabling them to isolate the effect of different types of Safe Routes to School strategies.

The effect of “education and encouragement” programs grew over time, with SRTS schools seeing progressively larger differences in each successive year. Over five years, the researchers found, this tactic led to a 25 percent increase in walking and biking to school, controlling for demographic differences, neighborhood characteristics, and other factors. Meanwhile, infrastructure investments like safer sidewalks or bike lanes led to a one-time 18 percent increase.

While Safe Routes to School programs work, they’re also in jeopardy. Federal funding for SRTS was cut in the last transportation bill, and that fight is expected to resume once Congress takes up the next one.

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Times, ABC7, and Metro Parking Stories Are Wrong and Misleading

Yesterday, the L.A. Times ran Lack of Parking Drives Many Away from Mass Transit, an article by Laura Nelson.

The Times starts with the example of a San Fernando Valley Metro Red Line commuter nearly missing grabbing a parking space. This leads to assertions of “parking shortages” on “L.A.’s light-rail system [sic - Red Line is heavy rail].” The article goes on to quote various Metro representatives, then parking expert UCLA professor Don Shoup. Ultimately, Nelson characterizes Metro parking as a “key policy question.”

Vid capture of

Screen/video capture from ABC7′s misleading L.A. Metro parking story. Alex Gonzales of Anaheim, a city not even in Los Angeles County, says “If you can’t park, then why would you take the train?”

Like a sad game of telephone, ABC7 (KABC-TV) picked up the Times’ assertions and stretched them to near absurdity.

ABC7′s story, Parking Issues to Blame for Low Transit Ridership in Los Angeles, has the gall to interview a man-on-the-street from Anaheim, a suburb not even in L.A. County, who says, “if you can’t park, then why would you take the train?”

It looks like he is riding the train in Pasadena but, honestly, couldn’t ABC7 find someone who lives in L.A. County?

Sure, transportation issues cross political boundaries, but should Metro, a governmental agency with jurisdiction over L.A. County, prioritize limited funds to serve people who don’t live here?

First two general points, then responses to Times article specifics:

1. Lots of People Ride Metro, Few Use Metro Parking 

Let me first note that lots and lots of people ride Metro buses and trains. About 1.5 millon every weekdayThere’s no “low ridership” issue here. Especially during rush hour, buses and trains are standing room only.

The vast majority of these Metro riders do not park. According to Metro’s on-board surveys, more than 80 percent of transit riders arrive by walking. Fewer than 4 percent drive and park. Even when excluding buses, just looking at the Metro rail system, only about 15 percent of riders drive and park. That is roughly 1 in 7.

The system works. Mostly with most riders paying no attention to parking.

2. It Costs Metro Hundreds of Millions of Dollars to Build and Maintain “Free” Parking 

Free parking is not free for Metro to build and maintain. Metro has already spent more than $200 million to build station parking. As more parking comes on line, Metro pays more and more to operate and maintain it.

Multi-million dollar investments in parking come with trade-offs. As an agency with a limited taxpayer-funded budget, Metro can choose to fund more buses, more rail, more parking, more freeways, more walkways, bike share, etc. The difficult political job of the agency is to strike a balance between these competing public goods.

Responding to Various Erroneous or Misleading Points  

The Times, ABC7, and even Metro routinely just say “parking” when they’re really referring to just “free parking.” For example, the Times (apparently repeating a Metro assertion) states:

In North Hollywood, where the Red Line subway ends, the MTA estimates that it loses as many as 1,500 riders a day because the parking lot fills up by 7:30 a.m.

Below is a photo of the North Hollywood Red Line Station parking lot at 7:30 a.m. this morning.

Metro Red Line North Hollywood Station today at 7:30am

Metro’s Red Line North Hollywood Station parking lot, which “fills up by 7:30 a.m.” wasn’t full today at 7:30 a.m. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

The North Hollywood station parking lot has 909 parking spaces. 451 are free. 425 require a paid monthly permit (currently $59, but sold out.) The free parking section is full, by about 6:30 a.m. The paid section never quite fills up. At 8 a.m. today there were still at least 200 empty spaces. Nonetheless that ’parking lot full by 7:30 a.m.’ myth gets repeated frequently: L.A. MagazineZev’s Blog, Metro board motions [PDF page 6], but the lot is not full. (Note: Laura Nelson responded via Twitter that “full” more-or-less meant “unavailable.”) 

How about the rest of that Times quote of Metro estimating it’s losing 1,500 riders a day? I think this figure from this Metro staff report [PDF] which reads:

Staff conducted a review of parking demand using Metro’s Regional Transportation Modeling Program for the North Hollywood and Universal City stations. The unconstrained parking demand for both stations far exceeds supply. Unconstrained parking demand is defined as the number of spaces required if there are no regulatory or financial restrictions on use of the parking. The 2014 unconstrained parking demand at North Hollywood is 3,075 spaces. Metro provides 951 [sic - actual: 909] spaces, leaving an unconstrained demand of 2,124 parking spaces.

What is this “unconstrained demand” with ”no financial restrictions”? It is meaningless nonsense. Ultimately nothing that exists on planet earth can exist in wholly “unconstrained” theoretical economic cartoon-fantasy-space. Metro needs to balance its constrained budget.

Metro dressing this mumbo-jumbo up in a scientific-sounding “Regional Transportation Modeling Program” is irresponsible.  Read more…

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Four CA Colleges Win 2014 Bicycle Friendly University Awards

UC Santa Cruz won a Silver-level Bicycle Friendly University Award this year from the League of American Bicyclists. Photo: Melanie Curry

Congratulations to several California colleges that won 2014 Bicycle Friendly University (BFU) awards from the League of American Bicyclists. Thirteen California colleges have made the list in the last few years.

New this year are the University of California, Santa Cruz, which won a Silver-level award, and Pomona College and Santa Monica College, which both won Bronze. The University of La Verne also won a renewal of its Silver-level status.

Here are the California colleges that hold standing as Bicycle Friendly Universities:

Platinum
University of California, Davis
Stanford University

Gold
University of California, Santa Barbara

Silver
University of La Verne
University of California, Irvine
University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Santa Cruz
California State University, Long Beach

Bronze
University of San Diego
University of California, Los Angeles
California Institute of Technology
Pomona College
Santa Monica College

Read more…

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Motion to Move Forward on Rail-to-River Bikeway Project up for Vote Thursday

The tracks at Crenshaw, looking east. Sahra Sulaiman/StreetsblogLA

The ROW which would form part of the Western Segment of the proposed Rail-to-River bikeway. Photo taken at Crenshaw, looking east. Sahra Sulaiman/StreetsblogLA

In a motion before the Metro Executive Management Committee last Thursday morning, County Supervisor and Metro Board Member Mark Ridley-Thomas cited the successful “transformation of unused or abandoned rail right-of-ways into pedestrian access and bicycle routes” around the country and here in L.A. as support for his call that the Board direct Chief Executive Officer Art Leahy to move forward on the recommendations found in the 212-page feasibility study on the proposed Rail-to-River Bikeway.

Sited along an 8.3 mile section of the Harbor Subdivision Transit Corridor right-of-way (ROW), the project would connect the Crenshaw/LAX rail line to multiple bus lines (including the Silver Line), the Blue Line, the river, Huntington Park, Maywood, and/or Vernon via a bike and pedestrian path anchored along Slauson Ave.

Screenshot of proposed bikeway corridor. Phase 1 (at left) represents section that Metro could move on immediately. Phase 2 would proceed more slowly, as Metro would need to negotiate with BNSF to purchase the ROW.

The proposed bikeway corridor. Phase 1 (at left) represents the section of the corridor that Metro could move on planning for immediately. Phase 2 (at right) would proceed more slowly, as Metro would need to determine which routes were most appropriate and negotiate with BNSF to purchase a section of the ROW. (Source: Feasibility Study)

The active transportation corridor (ATC) project, first proposed by Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor and Metro Board Member Gloria Molina in 2012, has the potential to effect a significant transformation in a deeply blighted and long-neglected section of South L.A.

So, it was not surprising to see Ridley-Thomas ask that, when the full Board meets this Thursday, October 23, at 9 a.m., it approve his motion directing Leahy to identify and seek funds from Measure R, Cap and Trade, and other sources to facilitate the environmental, design, and outreach efforts recommended by the Feasibility Report.

Even though Ridley-Thomas’ strong support for the project was expected, the motion to move it forward still made me sit up a little straighter.

When I attended the two public meetings held on the corridor project, representatives from both Metro and Alta Planning + Design (consultants on the project) were firm in their suggestions that we not get our hopes up too high. There was no funding attached to the project, they said, and they were only looking at questions of feasibility. These were also the reasons, I was told, for the limited outreach and engagement of the neighbors that live along the corridor.

Not to mention that including the community might have brought other problems with it. Read more…

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Someone Has Built the Ultimate 1950s Fantasy Vehicle All Over Again

Terrafugia's prototype blocks the bike lane . Photo: Mary Jordan/Flick

Congestion? This flying car will fix it! Photo: @Mary Jordan

This photo pretty much says everything that needs to be said about the absurdity of the flying car.

I wouldn’t even bring it up except a flying car salesman was the man of the hour at an otherwise (mostly, er, somewhat) serious daylong forum on transportation issues yesterday sponsored by the Washington Post. The flying car in question was parked outside the building, blocking a bike lane on 14th Street.

Carl Dietrich of Terrafugia (“escape the earth” in Latin) worked hard to convince the audience that what he acknowledged has long been a “pop culture joke” was a real, serious answer to the real-world problem of traffic congestion.

Not that we need to get into the numbers, but a Terrafugia plane required a third of a mile of empty runway to take off when it first — ahem — launched in 2009. More recent reports put it at 100 feet. I tried calling Terrafugia to confirm the figure, but no one picked up. I’ll let you know if I get a response to my email.

Indeed, all of Terrafugia’s promotional materials show personal airplanes flying above farmland, and when the wings retract the pilot retreats home to a suburban single-family McMansion where the vehicle fits conveniently inside a standard-size garage.

Read more…

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Tucson Region Poised to Slash Bike/Ped Funding

Disappointing news from America’s hottest, driest bike city: Regional planners in Tucson are poised to take an axe to an important pot of money for bike and pedestrian improvements, even while they maintain spending on much more expensive road widenings.

Tucson's funds for bike and pedestrian improvements are drying up, some advocates say. Photo: Bicycle Tucson

It doesn’t cost much to make streets safer for walking and biking, but Tucson’s regional transportation agency would rather widen roads. Photo: Bicycle Tucson

Michael McKisson at Network blog Bicycle Tucson reports on how Tucson’s Regional Transportation Authority is dealing with lower-than-expected revenues from a regional sales tax enacted in 2006. Even though active transportation projects are just a drop in the bucket, the RTA has targeted them for steep cuts, McKisson writes:

It’s about to get a lot harder for Tucson-area bicycle and pedestrian planners to find funding for projects after a decision by the Regional Transportation Authority slashed more than $14 million from the RTA’s bicycle and pedestrian budgets.

Pima Association of Governments deputy director Jim Degrood told the RTA’s bicycle and pedestrian subcommittee that revenue from the 2006 voter-approved half-cent sales tax was coming in 17 percent lower than the group expected.

“The economy tanked — as we all know,” Degrood told the committee.  “And that has had a profoundly negative impact on our collection.”

McKisson reports active transportation is the big loser because RTA officials say they are committed to the projects that were outlined before the 2006 vote. Namely, road widening projects:

Read more…

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Interview with Josh Paget, Director of the New Urbanism Film Festival

Joshua Paget, co-founder and Festival Director for the New Urbanism Film Festival

Josh Paget, co-founder and Festival Director for the New Urbanism Film Festival. Photo by John Paget, taken at the Congress for the New Urbanism, Buffalo NY

On Park(ing) Day, I pedaled out to a park(ing) space on La Brea where I met Josh Paget. He is one of the co-founders of and the current Festival Director for the New Urbanism Film Festival. The festival, now in its second year, is coming up November 6-9 at the Acme Theater in Hollywood. Festival details here. Note that, in addition to plenty of great films, it also boasts speakers, walks, rides, etc. Keep up with #NUFF and #NUFF2014 via Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook, too. We conducted the following interview via email.  

SBLA: Tell us about yourself. What’s your background? How did you get interested in livability and new urbanism?

Paget: I moved to L.A. to be a stand up comedian. Which is a great way to see the city because you are constantly roaming around town from club to club. And I began asking why some of the places were better than others.

Someone recommended that I read the The Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler. I got hooked on urbanism from that angle: How does this affect me? I started a book group with my friend Joel Karahadian, and out of that we started the film festival. People always say the book is better than the movie, but we think film festivals are better than book groups, as far as generating conversation.

At Park(ing) Day, we met up at the Mid City West Community Council park(ing) space. Some Neighborhood Councils have been progressive on livability, others not so much. What’s MidCityWest NC like? What initiatives are you excited about there?

I think that everyone on the council recognizes that our neighborhood is very “walkable.” The transportation committee also has a history of being progressive on transportation issues and it still is. We did the park(ing0 day installation. We are pushing a Bicycle Friendly Streets proposal. In fact, during the festival, one of the events is “The Friendly Ride” a group bike ride through MidCityWest showing off their Bicycle Friendly Streets/Neighborhood Greenways proposal.

How do you get around Los Angeles?

I ride a three speed Linus roadster. Or I take the bus. I also have a car but I rarely use it because there’s too much traffic.

Tell us about the New Urbanism Film Festival.

The New Urbanism Film Festival is a four-day festival in Los Angeles that hosts screenings, workshops, and panel discussions on Urbanism. We focus on themes of architecture, bicycling, transportation, and urban design. Our slogan is “better streets, better living.” The hope is that it will be a new way to engage the public in topics of urbanism. We have lots of issues facing us as a city, and we want these conversations to have a baseline and a focus. There’s lots of books on it, there’s festivals, or podcasts, we’re showing films.

What’s your favorite New Urbanism film ever? Why?  Read more…

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NYC Bike-on-Sidewalk Tickets Most Common in Black and Latino Communities

Chart by Harry Levine and Loren Siegel. Full data, including summonses as a share of population, available on their website.

pfb logo 100x22

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.

Of all the possible ways to break the law on a bicycle, pedaling on the sidewalk ought to be one of the most sympathetic.

Yes, sidewalk biking is unpleasant and potentially dangerous to everyone involved. But people wouldn’t bike on sidewalks if they weren’t in search of something they want: physical protection from auto traffic.

A person biking on a sidewalk is just trying to use the protected bike lane that isn’t there. That’s why sidewalk biking falls dramatically the moment a protected lane is installed. When a bike rider fails to follow this law, it’s not good. But it’s usually because the street has already failed to help the rider.

All of which makes it especially disturbing that bans on sidewalk biking seem to be enforced disproportionately on black and Latino riders.

That’s the implication of a recent study from New York City. City University of New York sociologist Harry Levine and civil rights attorney Loren Siegel coded the neighborhoods with the most and fewest bike-on-sidewalk court summonses by whether or not most residents are black or Latino.

Of the 15 neighborhoods with the most such summonses, he found, 12 were mostly black or Latino. Of the 15 neighborhoods with the fewest summonses, 14 did not have a black or Latino majority.

Read more…

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It’s Happening: Washington State Revises Traffic Forecasts to Reflect Reality

Washington State has revised traffic projections downward, to reflect changing patterns. Image: Washington State via Sightline

The Washington State Office of Fiscal Management has revised its traffic projections downward to reflect changing patterns. Graph Washington OFM via Sightline

The amount that the average American drives each year has been declining for nearly a decade, yet most transportation agencies are still making decisions based on the notion that a new era of ceaseless traffic growth is right around the corner.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation, for example, has overestimated traffic on its roads by an average of 73 percent, according to a recent study. And Dallas-area planners recently produced traffic projections that predicted a much larger increase in driving than the state DOT was even predicting.

That’s why a new traffic forecast from the Washington State Office of Fiscal Management is so interesting: It actually acknowledges how travel habits are changing. Seattle-based environmental think tank Sightline spotted the above traffic projection in a new government report. In its most recent financial forecast, the agency has abandoned the assumption of never-ending traffic growth that it employed as recently as last year. Instead, the agency has responded to recent trends, even projecting that total traffic will start to decline within the next ten years.

Sightline’s Clark Williams-Derry says that’s huge:

By undermining both the rationale for new roads and the belief that we’ll be able to pay for them, a forecast of flat traffic should help inject a needed dose of reality into the state’s transportation debates.

Of course, there’s no telling whether this forecast will be right. As Yogi Berra allegedly said, predictions are hard, especially about the future. But if it turns out that this forecast underestimates traffic growth, budgeters won’t find it such an unpleasant surprise, since more traffic will bring more revenue from drivers.

Update: This post has been amended to reflect that the traffic forecast was published by the Washington State Office of Financial Management, not the Washington State DOT, as originally reported. According to the OFM report, however, the projections were produced by a division of the DOT.