Transportation round up
1. Amtrak launches a website dedicated to their plans for improvement on the Northeast Corridor.
2. Last year, the American auto fleet had an average of 25 miles per gallon, although it's dropping as more people buy larger vehicles ("Average fuel economy in U.S. dips to 25.1 mpg in Dec.," Automotive News). Improved vehicle mileage is one of the reasons that the gas tax generates less revenue.
3. According to a press release from the US Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, the "Federal Highway Administration Quietly Acknowledges the Driving Boom is Over":
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has very quietly acknowledged that the Driving Boom is over, cutting its forecasted driving estimates by between 24 percent and 44 percent.
After many years of aggressively and inaccurately claiming that Americans would likely begin a new era of increased driving, the agency’s latest forecast finally recognizes that the Driving Boom has given way to decades of far slower growth. The amount that the average American drove actually declined nearly 9 percent between 2004 and 2014, resulting in about a half trillion fewer total miles driven in 2014 than if driving had continued to increase at earlier rates.
The new forecast is a major departure from the FHWA’s past record of chronically predicting aggressive and inaccurate increases in driving. An analysis of these projections showed that the Department of Transportation (USDOT) had issued 61 driving forecasts in a row that overshot their mark.
4. Although with gas prices down, more people are buying larger vehicles again (SUVs, etc.). "5 things we learned from Dec. and 2014 auto sales," USA Today. Giddy automakers expect to sell as many as 17 million vehicles in 2015, and I think we can expect a bump up in Vehicle Miles Traveled co-incident with lower gas prices.
5. Will people still buy electric motor vehicles as gas prices decline? According to the Seattle Times article, "Will drivers keep plugging in to electric cars as gas prices fall?," electric cars still cost less to maintain.
6. I think it's interesting that Johns Hopkins University has come up with $15 million to improve a Baltimore City street, San Martin Drive, which borders the campus on the west. The intent is to make the road better for pedestrians and bicyclists and add ceremonial gates to certain campus entrances ("Johns Hopkins plans $15M project to make tree-lined campus road safer, more attractive," JHU).
7. Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy wrote a column "advocating" for a separated bicycling infrastructure ("Give bicyclists their own roads"). He's already written plenty about how drivers ought to be able to hit bicyclists because of their allegedly bothersome ways ("Bicyclist bullies try to rule the road in DC").
I think this piece, while seemingly supporting cyclists, is more about ensuring that motorists have unimpeded use of the roadways.
Although, in the Netherlands and Denmark they are building what we might call cycle highways, which are separated from motorways ("In Denmark, Pedaling to Work on a Superhighway," New York Times). But those countries are 20 years or more ahead of the US in terms of treating cycling as a co-equal transportation mode.
Cycle Super Highways to generate more cyclists in Greater Copenhagen Area," Cycling Embassy of Denmark.
Whereas it would have been ideal to build a primarily separated bikeway network when the bulk of the mobility network was constructed, it's a lot harder to build because right of way independent of the roadway network for the most part doesn't exist. Cities and states must work with with the roadways and right of way they have now.
That means using pre-existing infrastructure, and reconfiguring it in ways that make walking, cycling, and transit effective and safe.
Online Transportation Demand Management Encyclopedia.
It's easier to do in the city, because grid-based road networks provide redundancy and a wide variety of street widths.
It's a lot harder to do in the suburbs, which tend to have a smaller set of roads that are much wider, and many of the neighborhood streets are semi-disconnected from the road network.
8. A group of New Jersey towns are looking to make systematic improvements to their train stops, to stoke development. See "Coalition mulls possibilities for 'great urban spaces' along NJ Transit line in Newark, Oranges" from the Newark Star-Ledger.
-- Urban Essex Coalition for Smart Growth
Lately, some transit agencies are taking a bigger role in ensuring spillover benefits. But I think there is a long way to go still ("Transit, stations, and placemaking: stations as entrypoints into neighborhoods") but the Purple Line light rail in Suburban Maryland could be a best practice example of how to go about doing so, as I suggested in past blog entries, "Purple line planning in suburban Maryland as an opportunity to integrate place and people focused initiatives into delivery of new transit systems" and "Quick follow up to the Purple Line piece about creating a Transportation Renewal District and selling bonds to fund equitable development."
Thus far, the Maryland Transit Administration is like most transit organizations and not as focused on capturing economic benefits for the areas around transit stations. But to do so, Montgomery and Prince George's Counties are going to have to take a much different approach than they have in the past (cf. "Go big or go home: Prince George's County needs to think big and consider better revitalization examples for New Carrollton").
9. A related example of the failure to focus on leveraging benefits from transit might be Atlanta. Acccording to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution article "Streetcar start brings relief, hope to nearby businesses," businesses are hopeful, but it isn't clear that local authorities have been working to make direct linkages.
10. On the other hand, the S Line streetcar in Salt Lake City provides two great examples of leveraging transit to support community improvement.
First, the Utah Transit Authority (photo, right) has a nice webpage outlining what Sugar House streetcar line riders can do and see along the route. (I think about this a lot in terms of how WMATA sees such listings as promoting individual businesses and anathema, even though they did do such promotion when the system was originally launched.)
Second, the cities served by the line have invested more than $7 million in creating the S Line Greenway, a multi-modal and recreation corridor parallel to the streetcar line, with "public plazas, art, walking paths, a bocce court and a new segment of Parley’s Trail" ("Walk, ride, play: S-Line Greenway opens in Salt Lake City," Salt Lake Tribune).
The Salt Lake City greenway project is an example of what transit agencies should do to better leverage the opportunity for community improvement that transit provides, but rarely undertake.