Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

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.
The week before Christmas, gas prices were still high in DC.  This photo was taken on Monday December 22nd, 2014.  The same day, on I-95 in Virginia, gas was more than $1 cheaper per gallon.

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
Image from "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.

Image of roadway connectivity differences between the suburbs (left) and cities and towns (right) from the 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.

I must say that this image from Chicago, associated with one of the bids for a presidential library for Barack Obama, shows how inter-connected but separated infrastructure can commingle transportation modes in a shared right of way.

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

One of the biggest problems in realizing spillover development benefits from transit access is that transit authorities tend to not focus on it very much, because they see their primary responsibility as operating transit services.

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.

S Line Greenway, Salt Lake City10.  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.

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At 12:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll give Courtland M this much- at least he seems to be changing his tune and maybe listening to others. I too am very much in favor of separated protected bike tracks - but they also need to be IN THE CITY and cyclists should NOT be forced to share the road in the city either. I have been against "share the road" for a long time because it usually means vehicular cycling which is extremely elitist and athletic male orienter propagnda we need to eliminate from the discussion entirely. VC needs to be done away with - period.

At 1:00 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Gas use is surging with lower prices.

Price elasticity depends on time as well. We've had 7 years of expensive gas. Sadly Ed Morse explained that me and I should have done something with it.

In any case, there is a lot of pent up demand for driving.

At 1:07 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

another piece I will write about sometime is a unique happening in Minneapolis in the 1970s, where a couple blocks of Milwaukee Street were taken out of service, with cars not allowed.

I didn't know about it when I wrote about the proposal for a new greenway in North Minneapolis that would have a similar treatment for some of the blocks.

I can't think of many examples of where that has happened with in service streets in the US to that extent.

In commercial districts there have been pedestrian malls but mostly, with a few exceptions (e.g., Boulder, Burlington), been failures. Transit malls are a little different (Denver, Minneapolis, Portland) and they have their problems (restaurant patios and lots and lots of bus traffic isn't always a good combo).

cf. Spitalerstrasse, a transit mall, in Hamburg. Because it is next to the main city center shopping district and the main train station, it has lots of traffic.

BUT, there weren't really restaurant patios abutting it. Such uses tended to be a half block off the transit mall.

And I do think bike boulevards are a good way to mediate between bike traffic and cars.

However, it's not realistic/we can't turn back the clock to 80 years ago and start over.

So we have to work with the right of way we have.

(Kind of like Rumsfield's point that you go to war with the army you have, not the army you want.)

At 1:09 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wrt charlie's comment, I do expect "an explosion" of increased driving as a result of price decreases too.

we needed a few more years of higher prices into fully build in/structurate-routinize new behaviors that promoted less driving, more transit, proximate uses and walking, biking, etc.

At 10:02 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

The PIRG report is as usual highly misleading.

The rate of increase is about the same. What has happened is a recognition that we've lost about 7 years of growth -- and that missing numbers aren't going up.

As I suggested earlier, $4 gas for that period (it wasn't always $4, but high) created a lot of changes in the economy and showed that a lot of economic activity doesn't work when the energy/transportation inputs are that high.

For example, taking a second job 70 miles away.

And so things transition. Maybe you telecommute. or take a train. Or don't take the job.

I said this 8 years ago, but what we need is a high gas tax, use the money to reduce SSN/Medicare taxes on low income employed people, and force that transition to where we can use a car more effectively.

At 4:32 PM, Blogger Douglas Andrew Willinger said...

"I said this 8 years ago, but what we need is a high gas tax, use the money to reduce SSN/Medicare taxes on low income employed people,..."

Before anything like that we need to begin looking at how health care became so expensive in the first place.

At 5:45 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wrt charlie's comment, I just happened to come across an almost identical proposal, in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.


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