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Today’s Headlines

  • Active Transportation Coalition Presses For Strong Metro Complete Streets Policy (SRTS)
  • New Website Helps UCLA Students To Explore L.A. By Bus (Daily Bruin)
  • Infographic: It Takes A Lot To Extend The Gold Line (The Source)
    Foothill Gold Line Tracks Completion Celebration Tomorrow 10am Azusa (FGL Authority)
  • New Ap Helps Angelenos Hike Downtown Los Angeles (KPCCCurbed)
  • Carnage: Car vs. Winnetka Apartment Collision, 2 Injured (LAT)
  • Erin Aubry Kaplan On S.L.A. Panel Discussion, Featuring SBLA’s Sahra Sulaiman (KCET)
  • Mileage Based User Fees Workshop Presentations Online (MBUFA)
  • Why Strong Towns Is Important to Read (one of Joe’s go-to sites)
  • Ways That Bicycling Is Good For Everyone, Not Just Folks Who Bike (Guardian)

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Exposing the Deep-Seated Bias in Transportation Decision Making

Transportation engineers think of themselves as detached and data driven. But bias is built in to many of the profession’s key metrics, write Eric Dumbaugh, Jeffrey Tumlin, and Wesley Marshall in an excellent report recently published by the Institute for Transportation Engineers Journal [PDF]. You can trace this bias all the way back to the dawn of the automotive era.

The authors use Level of Service — the ubiquitous engineering metric that assigns letter grades to streets according to how much traffic delay motorists face — as the overarching example. LOS is often presented as a neutral piece of data that informs rigorous, impartial decision making. But in truth, it is steeped in subjectivity and a bias toward automobility.

LOS measures the ratio of road capacity to motor vehicle traffic volume, which is then presented as an A to F ranking system, like a school report card. ”Asserting that a roadway has failed is not a descriptive statement, it is a call to action,” write the authors.

The problem with basing decisions on LOS is that it only tells us about one thing, vehicle delay, while sidestepping other metrics like safety or economic performance. When transportation planners rely on LOS above all other metrics, as they so often do, they are making a judgment that moving cars quickly should be the primary aim of the transportation system.

Since LOS only measures motor vehicle delay, it entirely ignores the experiences of bicyclists and pedestrians. Transit riders get shortchanged too, because their high-occupancy vehicle is considered no different for the purposes of the measure than a car carrying a single person.

Rather than serving as a neutral piece of data, “the current reliance on level of service is based on two philosophical assumptions,” the authors write. “The first is that a region’s economic performance is linked to vehicle delay, or stated another way that traffic congestion is a drag on our economy that should be eliminated. The second is the assumption that we could resolve the problem of traffic congestion if only we made sufficient investments in transportation infrastructure and operational enhancements.”

Neither of those assumptions are supported by the available data. Instead, the inertia of outdated traditions has simply carried forward to the present day, all the way from advocacy by the automobile industry in the early years of transportation engineering, write Dumbaugh, Tumlin, and Wesley. They note that the first endowed chair of transportation engineering at an American university was sponsored by the Studebaker Motor Company.

Instead of establishing LOS as the primary performance measure for streets, as so many transportation departments do, the authors say planners should take time to consider local values. Many urban neighborhoods would prioritize enhancing the experience of cyclists, pedestrians, and transit riders, which has been shown to increase land values and economic performance, as well as safety.

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Q&A With Peter Norton: History Is on the Side of Vision Zero

speed-demon

Public safety posters like these fought against the pervasive violence of motor vehicles on public city streets in the first part of the 20th century. Images via Peter Norton

Last week, a bunch of bigwigs gathered to talk infrastructure in one of Washington’s most historic and prestigious sites, the Hay-Adams Hotel across the street from the White House. I was offered an opportunity to interview former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and a host of other VIPs. But — no offense to those guys — the person I wanted to talk to was Peter Norton, listed as the “lead scholar” of the Miller Center’s new commission to “develop innovative, bipartisan ideas on how to create and sustain middle-class jobs through infrastructure policy.”

Peter Norton. Photo: ##http://www.virginia.edu/topnews/releases2006/20060627PeterNorton.html##UVA##

Peter Norton. Photo: UVA

Norton is a professor at the University of Virginia (where the Miller Center is housed) and the author of Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City. The book is a chronicle of the battle over who and what streets were for as automobiles were proliferating at the beginning of the 20th century. It’s a conversation worth revisiting today.

We had that conversation on a shady park bench in Lafayette Square, one of Washington’s most iconic green spaces, between the Hay-Adams and the White House.

If our interview piques your interest, you can catch Norton in person at the opening reception of the upcoming Vision Zero for Cities Symposium, a national gathering organized by Transportation Alternatives in New York City next month (November 13-15), where public officials and street safety advocates will strategize about “how to achieve Vision Zero in cities around the world.”

First let me ask about the Infrastructure campaign that you’re part of here as the lead scholar –

That’s the title!

I have questions about the push for infrastructure investment from the point of view of someone who is skeptical of increasing car infrastructure. Not to start on a negative note, but a lot of the push for increased infrastructure investment is not necessarily choosy about whether that infrastructure goes toward sustainable, ethical, environmentally friendly, city-friendly infrastructure, or whether it’s highways and cars.

Right. When I was invited to this thing, that question that you’re asking was foremost in my mind. And you find yourself thinking, I could stay out of it as a way of saying I don’t really think these discussions are being held in an inclusive way that includes all kinds of ideas, including ones that haven’t been on the table before — or I could join in and see if I could work in some of those less orthodox perspectives. And I chose the latter. I had some opportunities over the last two days to work in some points of view that weren’t being represented there.

Read more…

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Zurich: Where People Are Welcome and Cars Are Not

When it comes to smart transportation options and city planning, Zurich can credibly claim to be the global champ. This Swiss city has enacted a number of policies and practices that have produced streets where people come first. Getting around and simply experiencing the city is a pleasure.

How did they do it? In a 1996 city decree referred to as “a historic compromise,” Zurich decided to cap the number of parking spaces. From then on, when new parking spaces were built anywhere in Zurich, an equivalent number of spaces had to be eliminated elsewhere within the city limits. Many of the new spaces that have been built since then come in the form of underground garages, which allow for more car-free areas, plazas, and shared-space streets.

Zurich also has an intricate system of more than 4,500 sensors that monitor the number of cars entering the city. When that number exceeds the level Zurich’s streets can comfortably accommodate, all cars are halted on highways and main roads into the city until congestion is relieved. Thus, there is never significant traffic back-up in the city itself.

It’s tough to top the city’s transit options. Zurich has a network of comfortable commuter trains and buses, plus the magnificent gem of the city: its 15-line tram system. Trams run everywhere frequently and are easy to hop on and off. The coordination of the lines is a wonder to behold. And it’s the preferred way to travel in the city center – business men in suits traveling to the richest banks in the world ride next to moms and skateboarders.

That’s only the beginning of some of the great things going on in Zurich. Bike mode share is now 6 percent and climbing. People flock to the amazing parks and rivers that have been cleaned up. Car-free and car-lite streets are filled with restaurants and people at all times of day. If you can never get to Zurich yourself, I hope you’ll be able to experience a bit of what it’s like via this Streetfilm.

Note: All stats in the video are from the Mobility and Transport Microcencus of 2010 by the Federal Government of Switzerland. The survey on travel behavior has been conducted every five years since 1974.

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Dallas Transport Agency Cooks Up Fishy Traffic Projections for a New Road

We’ve reported on the way state agencies justify spending on expensive road expansions by overestimating the traffic that will materialize in the future. In an encouraging sign, one local press outfit is calling out the fishy traffic projections before a project gets built.

Image: Northeastgateway.com

The regional transportation agency for Dallas justifies this highway project with traffic projections that far exceed even the estimates from the notorious sprawl enablers at Texas DOT. Map: Northeastgateway.com

Brandon Formby of the Dallas Morning News‘ Transportation Blog (yes, it’s a long-time member of the Streetsblog Network) has been taking a critical look at traffic projections from the North Central Texas Council of Governments, the Big D’s regional planning agency. Residents who oppose the 28-mile Northeast Gateway-Blackland Prairie toll road – planned for a rural area between Garland and Greenville — question the assumptions behind the project.

The numbers certainly do look suspicious. Here are some excerpts from Formby’s reporting (emphasis added):

  • “Some of the council of governments predictions are hundreds of percentage points higher than the Texas Department of Transportation’s forecasts.”
  • “NCTCOG predicts that 72,300 drivers will use State Highway 66 at County Road 6 in Lavon in 2035. That’s six times as many as the 12,000 drivers the agency says used it last year. It’s also more than triple the 22,880 drivers TxDOT estimates for the same spot in 2030, the closest year to the NCTCOG estimates for which the state has forecasts.”
  • “While the regional agency’s traffic estimates for spots in the corridor predict anywhere from a 70 percent to 503 percent increase in drivers, the state predicts population increases in the four counties to be between 23.3 percent and 65.1 percent.”

Formby reports that NCTCOG has been reluctant to divulge how its traffic projections were developed. No wonder, because they seem to be practicing highway voodoo.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Systemic Failure, responding to an absurd case of police overreach in San Francisco, points out that  places where it’s safe for children to be on bikes don’t require them to wear helmets. And Delaware Bikes outlines data from Active Living Research that shows the many health benefits of biking and walking for transportation.

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Today’s Headlines

  • CA HSR Wins In Court Again (LAT)
  • Face-Slashing Incident on Metro Bus in Beverly Hills (LAT)
  • Councilmemberss LaBonge and Cedillo as Shakespearean Villains (Flying Pigeon)
  • Susan Logoreci’s Sweet City Art Mosaic For Expo/Sepulveda Station (The Source)
  • Post-Helipad-Rule DTLA Will Be Smarter and Safer (Zocalo)
  • City Council Candidate Nick Boles Is the New Generation (Santa Monica Next)
  • Chicago Parking Fee Increase Not Quite “War On Cars” (SB Chicago)
  • 405 Freeway Shocker: More Lanes Means More Traffic Jams (Grist)
  • Debunking Traffic Congestion Myths (Price Tags)
  • Washington DC To Abolish Many Parking Minimums, AAA Fighting It (WAMU)
  • Did Brad the Turtle Have A Role In This Metro Vid? (The Source)

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Metro Moving Forward With Flawed Complete Streets Policy

Cover of proposed Metro Complete Streets Policy, approved by Metro's Sustainability Committee today. Image via Metro, full report here.

Cover of proposed Metro Complete Streets Policy, approved by Metro’s Sustainability Committee today. Image via Metro, full report [PDF]

At today’s meeting, the Metro board of directors Ad Hoc Sustainability Committee approved the agency’s proposed Complete Streets Policy [PDF]. The committee approval sends the policy to the full board for anticipated approval at its meeting next Thursday, October 23.

Complete streets policies, broadly, mandate that all streets need to accommodate people using all modes of travel, including walking, bicycling, transit, and driving.

Metro staff in giving their presentation [PDF], expressed that the bulk of regional complete streets implementation occurs outside Metro’s jurisdiction. For the most part, street configurations are the jurisdiction of individual cities.

Metro staff identified two key areas where they assert that Metro has its greatest influence over complete streets implementation:

  • Corridor Planning: Metro is a lead agency in building various projects, most prominently rail, but also highways and other facilities.
  • Transportation Funding: Metro passes funding along to cities (and others) to build projects – including via the Call for Projects.

Seven public speakers, including L.A. County Bicycle Coalition’s Eric Bruins and Safe Routes To School National Partnership’s Jessica Meaney, expressed support for complete streets goals, and criticism of the draft policy. Comments focused on lack of enforceability, equity, performance metrics, as well as overall vagueness. For more details on criticisms expressed, read the Los Angeles County Active Transportation Collaborative comment letter at SRTS.

Sustainability committee members including Duarte City Councilmember John Fasana and L.A. City Councilmember Mike Bonin’s Transportation Deputy Paul Backstrom portrayed the new policy as “a step in the right direction,” while suggesting that some improvements will need to be made to it over time. The committee approved the policy, and requested that staff return later with proposed metrics.

In recent years, Metro has incorporated commendable complete streets facilities as part of some of its projects; examples include multi-use bike/walk paths along portions of the Metro Orange and Expo Lines. Though these bike and walk facilities are well-used, Metro does not include them in all projects, and tends to invest much greater funding in providing free parking for cars than it does in ensuring safe and convenient walking and bicycling access to its stations.

Metro recently adopted its First Last Mile Strategic Plan. Many Metro projects, though, continue to be rail- and car-focused, with first/last mile bike and pedestrian facilities being poorly-funded afterthoughts unevenly tacked on much later.

What’s in Metro’s proposed Complete Streets policy?  Read more…

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Before/After: The 80-Year Leveling of an Oklahoma City Neighborhood

Before and after shots of Oklahoma City's "Core to Shore" area. Image: The Oklahoman and Google Earth, via Dustin Akers.

Shots of Oklahoma City’s “Core to Shore” area. Left image 1932. Right image 2014. Image: The Oklahoman and Google Earth, via Dustin Akers

What happened in the last eight decades to Oklahoma City’s Core to Shore neighborhood? That’s what these two photos compiled by Dustin Akers will have you wondering. The one on the left is from a slideshow by the Oklahoman, shot in 1932. The one on the right is from Google Earth in 2014.

The answer, according to Akers, boils down to a few things: An elevated highway, misguided urban renewal policies, flight and disinvestment.

But there’s good news. That elevated highway, Interstate 40, was torn down a few years ago. There’s a plan to replace it with an at-grade boulevard. Oklahoma City wants to redevelop 750 acres area here. The concept currently calls for mixed-use housing surrounding a 40-acre park.

Here’s an illustration:

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What’s Your City’s Ratio of Places to Non-Places?

 Andrew Price used a sunburn map to highlight the places (blue) and “non-places” (red) in downtown Phoenix. Image: Strong Towns

Here’s a really interesting way to look at cities. Andrew Price at Strong Towns has developed a graphically compelling way to break down developed areas into what he calls “places” and “non-places.”

He explains:

Places are for people. Places are destinations. Whether it is a place to sleep, a place to shop, a place of employment, or simply a place to relax – it has a purpose and adds a destination to the city. Building interiors are the most common form of Places found in cities. Examples of outdoor Places include;

  • Parks and gardens
  • Plazas
  • Human-oriented streets

Non-Places are the padding between destinations. Examples of Non-Places include:

  • Roads
  • Freeways
  • Parking Lots
  • Greenspace

Price has developed a method that instantly conveys the ratio of places to non-places. Below he compares part of San Francisco to a suburban area of Little Rock.

Read more…

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Today’s Headlines

  • How CicLAvia Is Transforming Los Angeles (KCET)
  • Study: Parking and NIMBYs Drive Up Cost of Housing (LAT)
  • Video: How Gold Line Tracks Are Constructed (The Source)
  • A Peek At Proposals for LB’s New Civic Center (LongBeachIze)
  • Crenshaw Line TOD Coming to Inglewood (Curbed)
  • Public Hearings Underway For Gold Line Extension Eastward (SGV Tribune)
  • More on Nixed Palmdale Metro Rail Car Manufacturing Plant (AV Tribune)
  • Opinion: Legalize Street Vendors (LAT)
  • Uber Driver 2-Hour Trip from DTLA to Glendale: Incompetent or Abductor? (ValleyWag)
  • DTLA In “First Inning” Of Becoming Great Cultural Center (Zocalo)
  • Clever Suburban Engagement Photos (SB USA)
  • Taking on Chicago’s Most Dangerous Intersections (SB Chicago)
  • Vision Zero and the Challenge of Changing Police Culture (SB NYC)

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Don’t Forget: SBLA / Santa Monica Next first-ever playdate this Saturday 3-5 p.m.! #streetsr4families!