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FHWA Will Help Cities Get Serious About Measuring Biking and Walking

This bike counter in San Francisco gives planners reliable, up-to-date data about biking rates. Photo: Aaron Bialick/Streetsblog SF

This counter in San Francisco gives planners reliable, up-to-date data about bike trips on Market Street. Photo: Aaron Bialick/Streetsblog SF

The lack of good data on walking and biking is a big problem. Advocates say current metrics yield a spotty and incomplete picture of how much, where, and why Americans walk and bike. The U.S. Census only tells us about commuting — a fairly small share of total trips. The more detailed National Household Transportation Survey comes with its own drawbacks: It’s conducted infrequently and doesn’t provide useful data at a local scale.

Without a good sense of people’s active transportation habits, it’s hard to draw confident conclusions not only about walking and biking rates, but also about safety and other critical indicators that can guide successful policy at the local level. A new program from the Federal Highway Administration aims to help fill the gap.

U.S. DOT announced today that FHWA will help local transportation planners gather more sophisticated data on walking and biking. The agency has selected metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) in 10 regions — Providence, Buffalo, Richmond, Puerto Rico, Palm Beach, Fresno, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Memphis — to lead its new “Bicycle-Pedestrian Count Technology Pilot Program.”

FHWA says the program will provide funding for equipment to measure biking and walking trips. Writing on U.S. DOT’s Fast Lane blog, FHWA Deputy Administrator Gregory Nadeau adds that “each MPO will receive technical assistance in the process of setting up the counters; uploading, downloading and analyzing the data; and –most importantly– using the data to improve the planning process in their community.”

The first counts will be available in December. Following the initial pilot, a second round of regions may be chosen to participate, Nadeau writes.

This would be an enormous improvement over what they do in Cleveland, where I live, as well as many other regions: recruit volunteers to stand at intersections with clipboards once a year and count cyclists by hand.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Metro’s Mobility Matricies and Measure R2 Timeline (Investing in Place)
  • The Big Problem With California’s “Jaywalking” Law (Systematic Failure)
  • Joel Epstein on Garcetti’s State of the City (HuffPo)
  • Proposed State Bill Would Plan Lower L.A. River Revitalization (KCET)
  • A Particularly Rude Metro Bus Wrap Ad (Curbed)
  • Long Beach PD Arrest Two Grand Theft Bicycle Suspects (LBPT)
  • Affordable Housing Is A Social Justice Issue (Santa Monica Next)

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Get State Headlines At Streetsblog CA



My Interview with Tamika Butler: Equity and Social Justice Are Rallying Cries for LACBC’s New Leader

Tamika Butler, new Executive Director of the LACBC, at her desk at LACBC headquarters on Spring Street.

When the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition announced its new Executive Director last December, the early reviews were somewhat mixed. Those close to the hiring process were confident they had the right mix, and many backers of the organization took to social media to embrace the new face of bike advocacy in Los Angeles, Tamika Butler.

But others weren’t so sure. Butler was a relative unknown in the bicycling world, despite a track record of accomplishment at the Liberty Hill Foundation and the Young Invincibles. She even came with a law degree and bar certification. But for those expecting a familiar face, the arrival of someone new to the advocacy scene in the region’s top position was a surprise.

A couple of months later, however, it already feels to a lot of people that she’s always been a part of the local scene.

That said, Butler brings something new to the table. She places the struggle for safe and fun bicycling options into the larger struggle for equity for all communities, especially financially disadvantaged communities of color.

Even though we’re people on bikes, we still live in this world with these other factors, and we still have to bring them into the conversation.”

At the end of our interview, we talk about how a small news item in Santa Monica might be a game-changer for the whole region. I’m going to make you listen (or scroll) to the end to get there. But in another way, LACBC has already changed the game by bringing in a powerful voice for inclusion and equity to the fore in conversations about bicycling and transportation.

And that’s a good thing.

After the jump is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation from a couple of weeks ago. Below is the audio.

Read more…
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Getting More Out of Transit By Making It Easy to Walk or Bike to Stations

This still shop from an interactive map shows planned interventions that can help make DC's transit system more walkable and bikeable. Image: Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments

A map of proposed street upgrades to improve walking and biking to rail stations in the DC region. Click to enlarge. Image: Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments

The DC region is working on a plan to get the most out of its transit infrastructure by making it easier and safer to walk or bike to subways and commuter rail. The region’s Transportation Planning Board recently conducted a big audit to figure out which stations have additional capacity, and what barriers prevent people from walking and biking to these stations.

Network blog TheWashCycle shares this update from the TPB:

The study began by examining ridership at all 91 Metro stations and several MARC and VRE commuter rail stations throughout the region. Ultimately it identified 25 stations capable of accommodating additional riders that also have the greatest potential to see increased ridership demand in the next decade.

Having identified the 25 stations, the study then looked at potential infrastructure improvements that would make it easier to get to each of the stations on foot or by bicycle.

In all, the study identified more than 3,000 improvements, including new or improved sidewalks, crosswalks, shared-use paths, bike parking, bike lanes, and wayfinding signage. Most of the improvements had already been included in existing local plans and Metro station area plans, though some were identified by a field team organized by the TPB as part of the study.

You can check out the recommended improvements for each station using this interactive map. WashCycle reports that the list of projects will help determine which improvements get federal transportation funding.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Systemic Failure explains how an outdated California law is giving police more leeway to harass pedestrians. The Walking Bostonian says the Boston Globe missed the mark in a recent editorial about how to improve the city’s bus service. And Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space weighs in on the critical difference between a “traffic study” and a “transportation impact study.”

Streetsblog USA
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10 Tips for Cities Ready to Replace Car Parking With Safe Space for Biking

Former parking spaces in Boulevard de Maissonneuve, Montreal. Photo: JasonParis

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.

A curbside parking spot is just 182 square feet of urban space. But for advocates of better American bike infrastructure, few obstacles loom larger.

Right now in San Diego, a long-brewing plan to add better pedestrian crossings and a continuous protected bike lane to the deadliest corridor in the city is fighting for its life in large part because some merchants on four commercial blocks don’t want to risk removing any auto parking.

Before and after plans for University Avenue in San Diego.

The merchants aren’t wrong that private parking spaces have commercial value to nearby properties. But bike lanes, street trees and better sidewalks would have commercial value too — and creating San Diego’s first comfortable crosstown bike network would also bring value to the entire city, not to mention lessen retailers’ dependence on car parking.

For cities everywhere, converting on-street parking spaces into anything else is one of the greatest challenges in urban planning.

Though it’s probably never been done without a fight, many cities have succeeded. Here are the best approaches we’ve seen from North America and beyond.

Read more…

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Today’s Headlines

  • Garcetti State of City Address: Ride-Hail For LAX, Great Streets (KPCCLAT)
  • Critics, Supporters Speak Out At 710 Freeway North Meeting (Pasadena Star News)
  • Anti-Police Brutality Protestors Block Metro Blue Line (KPCC, The Source)
  • Santa Monica Struggles With Population Density Regulations (KPCC)
    Is Your City “Manhattanizing”? (Urban One)
  • KCET Looks At History Of Urban Agriculture In El Monte
  • Bike Snob NYC’s Must-Read Editorial On Bike Body Paint, Helmets (WaPo)

Get National Headlines At Streetsblog USA
Get State Headlines At Streetsblog CA

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Streetsblog Retains BlankSlate to Strengthen Our Bottom Line

Earlier this year, I wrote about the imperative for Streetsblog to generate more revenue from our website. With so many unsold impressions, ads were a clear opportunity to put Streetsblog’s sizable reach to use strengthening our bottom line. Today I’m pleased to announce that we’ve retained BlankSlate to help us sell ads and make good on that potential.

BlankSlate is an experienced shop that works with several other publishers similar in size to Streetsblog, in addition to owning and operating the Brooklyn real estate site Brownstoner. Their team will be selling ads and setting up ad networks on Streetsblog, and you’ve probably noticed the new ad zones on the site this week. BlankSlate has also set up filters to prevent automotive and fossil fuel industry advertisements from appearing on Streetsblog, which should keep many heads from exploding.

Streetsblog is a 501(c)3 non-profit, and we continue to rely on reader contributions and foundation support to fund our work. Ads are the third leg of the stool, and we’re excited to be working with BlankSlate to build a durable publishing operation.


At What Point Could this Have Been Stopped?: Community Celebrates Exide’s Closure, Seeks Full Accounting from New DTSC Director

At the informational meeting on the closure of Exide Technologies' Vernon facility, Roberto Cabrales of Communities for a Better Environment asks the politicians and their staff on hand where they were over the last decade the community spent asked for their support in getting the plant shut down. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

At the informational meeting on the closure of Exide Technologies’ Vernon facility, Roberto Cabrales of Communities for a Better Environment asks the politicians on hand where they were over the last decade when the community needed them to enforce environmental regulations or aid in getting the plant shut down. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“We won, folks. We won!” Monsignor John Moretta addressed the crowd that had gathered at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights to hear about the process by which the closure of Exide Technologies’ embattled lead-acid battery recycling facility would begin. “Siempre adelante. Siempre adelante.” [Always moving forward.]

To a degree, the conversation that took place last Thursday regarding the closure of the Vernon plant did genuinely feel like a step forward. A small one, to be sure, but a step forward nonetheless.

For one, Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) Director Barbara Lee was on hand to speak with the community. That alone was unusual, in that, in the many years the community has spent demanding their health be protected, the director of the department had never made such a clear effort to engage stakeholders both formally and informally.* But so was the level of candor with which she addressed those in the audience.

“Many of you are very angry and many of you have been harmed in a number of ways. And you feel that the department has failed you,” she began. “I want to start by saying I’m very sorry.”

Then, in a solemn sotto voce, she ticked off a long list of ways in which the department had gotten it wrong.

“[Exide] should not have operated without a formal permit for decades…We should have acted sooner;” “We didn’t watch them the way we should have done over many years;” “We failed to see and failed to say when enough was enough;” and, “We haven’t worked well with co-regulators…for many years.”

She was referring to the impressive level of negligence on the part of the DTSC and other relevant authorities that allowed Exide (and its predecessors) to operate without a formal permit and largely with impunity for decades. As we recently charted here, Exide has repeatedly violated air quality and other standards by improperly storing lead-acid batteries, contaminating a drainage channel with lead, failing to clean up public areas it contaminated around the plant, spilling approximately 1136 lbs. of lead into the watershed (between 2003 and 2006), exceeding airborne lead emissions multiple times (including during the period it was closed for upgrades last year), not repairing degraded pipes carrying up to 310,000 gallons of contaminant-laden wastewater a day, and, most recently, storing “contaminated sludge in tanks that [it] is not authorized to operate,” failing to sufficiently protect against spills of hazardous waste, and “fail[ing] to minimize the possibility of any unplanned sudden or non-sudden release of hazardous wastes or hazardous waste constituents to air, soil, or surface water.” (For the full slate of inspection reports and a thorough overview of Exide’s misdeeds, see Tony Barboza’s excellent report for the L.A. Times, here.)

We didn’t listen to you,” Lee concluded, “but I am here to listen to you today.”

Instead of asking attendees to take her word for it, she ran down a list of the changes she had made to the way the DTSC operated since she had taken over the department last November. She had committed to the recommendations resulting from an audit of the department’s permitting process, which included the need for a speedier review process and the clearing out of backlogged applications. She appointed new division chiefs to the Enforcement and Permitting offices, as well as a new deputy director for Enforcement. And she put together a 45-person team to work on the Exide case, had inspectors on site every day, and would both be adjusting the standards by which they judged future operating permit applications and consulting with communities as part of that process.

With regard to current goings-on at the Vernon plant — where between 6 and 8 truckloads of hazardous waste are being packed up and shipped out to a facility in Muncie, Indiana, per day — Lee said Exide was tasked with ensuring that waste was fully wrapped and sealed (so it couldn’t leak from trucks, as it had in the past, below), trucks were washed before they left the site, and trucks were not idling in or moving through residential communities during the 60 days Exide estimated it would take to remove the waste 2000+ miles away (see Exide’s plan, here).

Hazardous waste stored in open trailers were observed to have leaked waste into puddles of water beneath them in 2013. (DTSC)

Hazardous waste stored in open trailers were observed to have leaked waste into puddles of water beneath them in 2013. (Source: DTSC)

When it came time for the plant itself to be dismantled, Lee said, the structures would likely be both power washed and wrapped so they were wet, covered, and less likely to send toxic dust into the air when taken down.

Although the DTSC was still waiting for Exide to complete and submit its final plans for the closure and post-closure clean ups — it must do so by May 15 — Lee reiterated she would hold both Exide and the DTSC to high standards to protect the community. And the lessons learned from this case would be applied to other cases going forward.

The 200 or so attendees on hand seemed to take her at her word. Many that got up to speak thanked her for her sincerity and what appeared to be her genuine interest in engaging with community members.

But it didn’t mean all was forgiven. Read more…


Metro’s North 710 Freeway Tunnel Study Meetings in High Gear, Pasadena Working Group Offers Brainy Alternatives

Last Saturday's SR-710 study meeting at East L.A. College. 710 Freeway meetings continue tonight in Pasadena. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Last weekend’s SR-710 North Study meeting at East L.A. College. 710 Freeway meetings continue tonight in Pasadena. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Smart people live in Pasadena. Some of them work for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and send probes to Mars. Others spend their days figuring out quantum mechanics at Caltech. And still others dabble in transportation. A study group formed by Pasadena’s Mayor Bill Bogaard and its City Manager has a smart idea in response to L.A. Metro’s study to link the stub end of the 210 with the end of the 710: instead of closing this “gap” in our freeways, rip out the 210’s stub along Pasadena Avenue.

That’s just one recommendation in a recently completed white paper written by the Pasadena SR-710 Alternative Working Group (PWG), in response to Metro’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on linking the 710 with the 210. Metro is holding a series of public meetings on its EIR. The next one is tonight at the Pasadena Convention Center.

The connection between the 710 and 210 would be 6.3 miles long and would include a 4.2-mile tunnel. It will cost between $5.7 billion and $3.2 billion, depending on options. Measure R, the 2008 ballot measure authorizing a sales tax to improve mobility, committed $780 million for the project.

During a 710 debate held at Cal State L.A., Barbara Messina, a Councilmember for the City of Alhambra, echoed Metro’s studies when she called the “gap” the “missing link that does not allow our
freeways to operate at maximum efficiency.” And if you believe that, I have a recently widened 405 to sell you. Messina said the tunnel will reduce pollution. “There’s no way adding fifty-thousand cars can improve air quality,” said Michael Cacciotti, a Councilmember for the City of South Pasadena and another panelist, adding that the tunnel is an Eisenhower-era solution. “Why waste billions on a short little tunnel when you can connect the region with Light Rail?”

Indeed, the Metro study does present transit “alternatives.” But they don’t seem credible.

Take the Bus Rapid Transit option. Outside rush hour, the “bus-only” lane reverts to a parking lane. It is dubious that such a watered-down BRT differs enough from the “no build” alternative
to qualify.

The Light Rail option in the study is more tangible: it would run from the Fillmore Gold Line station to the East LA Civic Center Station at a cost of $2.4 billion. The segment in Pasadena
would be underground, continuing on a viaduct for the trip through Alhambra. “Who wants to see an LRT three miles up in the air like the Disney Monorail!” said Messina at the Cal State L.A. debate. “LRT will devastate East L.A.”

Messina’s hyperbole aside, Metro’s rail alternative also raises questions.  Read more…
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Modernizing How People Pay to Park in Downtown DC

The new ParkDC zone. Image: DDOT via Greater Greater Washington

The downtown ParkDC zone. Image: DDOT via Greater Greater Washington

Washington, DC, is poised for big improvements to its performance parking program.

Michael Perkins at Greater Greater Washington reports that ParkDC is set to expand “on some of downtown’s most in-demand blocks” in Gallery Place. By resetting meter prices every few months based on the rate of occupied curbside parking spaces, the new ParkDC zone could match or exceed the responsiveness of San Francisco’s groundbreaking SFPark program.

Taking lessons from pilot programs it conducted in other parts of the city, Perkins writes, DDOT will employ a range of tools to gauge occupancy and set prices in the downtown zone.

Under the performance parking program, DDOT will use cameras and sensors to measure when parking spaces in the designated area are occupied and when they’re empty.

Each quarter, the agency will measure that data against a target occupancy rate of 80-90% (or about one empty spot per block) and adjust how much it costs to park in a given spot accordingly. It’s possible that prices will change more frequently after the first few quarters, and DDOT will assess ParkDC’s overall impact sometime before the end of 2016.

Charging market rate for parking will make sure there are enough empty spots for people who need them while also eliminating an oversupply. That, in turn, will cut down on the congestion that comes from people driving around looking for somewhere to park…

According to Soumya Dey, DDOT’s director of research and technology transfer, ParkDC will use a number of methods to gather occupancy data. A traditional “hockey puck,” transaction data from the meters, historical data, cameras, and law enforcement data are all among the ways DDOT will know how many people park, and when, on each block. Dey said the hope is to use fewer embedded sensors, and to evaluate which method is most cost-effective.

Elsewhere on the Network today: PubliCola notes that Hillary Clinton’s first campaign video shuns cities. Transitized spots a troubling trend in urban big box development. And Bike Portland reports that Portlanders are petitioning to have their city stripped of its platinum “bike-friendly” status.