Friday, March 15, 2013
This interview originally aired live on March 15, 2013. An edited version was re-aired on August 9, 2013 as part of a special episode of The Brian Lehrer Show.
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
(Washington, D.C. - WAMU) Downsizing parking is necessary to reduce car dependency in D.C., says one real estate expert.
Chris Leinberger, a George Washington University professor and advocate of new urbanism, says D.C. planners’ proposal to eliminate mandatory parking space minimums at new development in transit-rich corridors or downtown D.C. is forward-thinking.
“We don’t want to be in a position where we are still making buggy whips when in fact the market has moved on,” Leinberger said. “Bike lanes and pedestrian activity is a sign of civilization."
Since TN first reported on the proposed zoning change, some motorists have expressed frustration with the possibility it may be more difficult to park in certain neighborhoods. As new development – residential, retail, and office – attracts more residents, shoppers and workers, some motorists believe parking spaces may be tough to find if developers opt not to build underground garages beneath their buildings.
One reason D.C. planners believe new parking structures will not be needed is the growth of car sharing services, like Car2Go, that make car ownership unnecessary.
Car2Go, which charges users $.38 per minute, is marking its first anniversary in Washington this month. The company says it has 19,000 registered customers in Washington who have taken 350,000 collective trips in the past year.
Leinberger says car sharing services reflect D.C.'s transition to a walkable urban environment that provides options like bike sharing, too.
“If you were to say, certainly ten years ago, but even five years ago that we would have in this city and fifty percent of folks go to work without a car and that forty percent of the households do not have a car, they would have had you committed,” Leinberger said.
Less emphasis on parking spaces also makes fiscal sense, he added.
“We are massively subsidizing the car, massively. All these parking spaces… here in downtown D.C., every one of these parking spaces is worth between $50,000 and $70,000. And we are charging as if they’re worth $10,000,” he said.
What motorists pay to park, either on the street with a residential pass or inside an underground garage, doesn’t come close to the expense of constructing and maintaining the parking spaces.
In his view, motorists will adjust to whatever zoning changes are approved, no matter how unreasonable they may now seem. Alternatives to driving and parking – Metro rail and bus, car sharing, bicycling – are gaining steam.
“If the car drivers are saying, give me everything that I want before you peel my fingers off of the steering wheel, you are not going to get it. You couldn’t build the interstate highway system in a year. It’s going to take time,” Leinberger said.
Tuesday, March 05, 2013
It was a wistful good-bye for transportation secretary Ray LaHood at the 2013 National Bike Summit.
The Secretary, who began with a low-profile that he quickly raised in the biking community by, among other things, jumping on a table at the 2010 Bike Summit Meeting to promote bikes, gave a long a loving paean to his administration's efforts to promote bike share, bike lanes, and safe biking.
"I guarantee you this," LaHood said, close to the beginning of his speech. "Whoever my successor is. You'll not have a secretary of transportation stand on the table and speak to you, that will never happen again."
"Since he was appointed in 2009, LaHood has been a true believer in the power of biking and has raised the credibility of bicycles as transportation at the federal level," the League wrote in its blog. “Ray LaHood is the first and only transportation secretary that keeps talking about bikes — even after we’ve left the room,” said League President Andy Clarke.
"The President recently told me that he ran into someone who said something about Ray LaHood,” the Secretary said in his speech. “The president said, ‘You must be a cyclist’ — and he was.”
LaHood has promoted bike share, bike lanes, and biking to work, and has argued -- often to unsympathetic former Republican colleagues in the House -- that biking should be given respectability as a mode of transportation.
For that, he'll be missed in biking circles. "What a ride these four-and-a-half years with all of you. You’ve made a great difference; you really have," LaHood told the cyclists.
To which the League replied: "Right back at you, Mr. Secretary."
Tuesday, March 05, 2013
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
The District of Columbia’s Office of Planning is considering a proposal to potentially squeeze the supply of available parking spaces in some neighborhoods as new development attracts more residents and jobs. If successful, it will mark the first major change to the city's zoning code since it was first adopted in 1958.
It's part of a growing city attempt to reduce congestion by offering its residents alternatives to the automobile – from bikes to buses to making walking more attractive.
Planning officials may submit to the zoning commission this spring a proposal to eliminate the mandatory parking space minimums required in new development in transit-rich corridors and in downtown Washington. The idea squares with the vision of making the district less car-dependent and would let developers decide how many parking spaces are necessary based on market demand. However, opponents say the plan denies the reality that roughly 70 percent of Washington-area commuters drive and removing off-street parking requirements in apartment and office buildings would force motorists to circle city blocks looking for scarce spaces.
“This is a very dangerous proposal. We think it threatens the future of Washington, D.C.,” says Lon Anderson, the chief spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, which represents motorists and advocates road construction as a solution for traffic congestion.
A city where a car isn’t a necessity
Thirty-nine percent of D.C. households are car-free. In some neighborhoods with access to public transit, more than 80 percent of households are car-free. Some recent developments wound up building too much parking to adhere to the mandatory minimums, including the D.C. USA shopping center in Columbia Heights, which is right next to a Metro station and busy bus corridor.
“The parking garage there is probably as twice as big as it needs to be, and the second level is basically not used so the city has had to scramble to find another use for it,” says Cheryl Cort, the policy director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth and advocate of the zoning change.
“Rather than having the government tell the private sector how many parking spaces to build, we think it’s better for the developer to figure out how it best wants to market those units," Cort added.
Developers favor eliminating the mandatory parking minimums because the construction of parking garages, especially underground, is enormously expensive. Each underground space adds $40,000 to $70,000 to a project’s cost, according to Harriet Tregoning, the director of D.C.’s Office of Planning, who is working on the overhaul of D.C.’s zoning code. The code was last updated in 1958 when planners assumed the automobile would remain the mainstay of individual transportation.
“No matter how much mandatory parking we require in new buildings, if the landlord is going to charge you $200 per month to park in the building and the city is going to let you park on the street for $35 per year, you may very well decide… to park on the street,” Tregoning says. “Many developers are finding they have parking that they can’t get rid of, that they don’t know what to do with. That’s really a stranded asset.”
Parking-free building coming to Tenleytown
On the corner of Wisconsin Avenue NW and Brandywine Street NW stands what used to be a billiards hall. The property, just a block from the Tenleytown Metro station, has been an eyesore for years. Douglas Development is expected to redevelop the site this year, turning it into a mixed-use retail and residential space with 40 apartment units and no on-site parking.
“When the Zoning Commission looked at this site and DDOT did some analysis, they found a lot of availability of both on-street parking and off-street parking. There are actually hundreds of parking spaces around this Metro station that go dark at night,” says Cheryl Cort, whose group contends the construction of parking spaces drives up housing costs an average 12.5 percent per unit. If developers can't find a market for those parking spaces, they pass the costs onto tenants.
Douglas Development, which declined to comment on this story, received an exemption from the zoning commission to avoid the parking minimum at the Tenleytown property. Situated close to Metro and planning to market the apartments to car-free residents, the developers escaped having to build 20 spaces under the current regulations in the zone (C-2-A).
Douglas’s plan may look sensible given the conditions in the neighborhood, but AAA’s Anderson says it will cause problems.
“Are you going to have any visitors who might drive there to visit you? How about your mom and dad, are they going to be coming in? Do they live locally or are they going to be driving in? If so, where are they going to park?” says Anderson, who says the past three years have seen 16,000 new car registrations in Washington.
Fewer cars in D.C.’s future?
In its fight against the parking policy change, AAA is being joined by community activists who claim their neighborhoods will be clogged by drivers looking for parking. Sue Hemberger, a 28-year district resident who does not own a car, says Tregoning’s proposal is too harsh. In her view, district officials are making car ownership a hassle.
“What I see us doing in the name of transit-oriented development is pushing people who won’t forgo car ownership off the edge of the transit grid,” Hemberger says. “I’m worried about the future of certain neighborhoods and I’m worried about the future of downtown.”
Anderson says D.C. is waging a “war on cars,” but Tregoning says changes to zoning regulations are not designed to make motorists’ lives miserable. On the contrary, the planning director anticipates the number of drivers in the district will grow but they will have enough options to do away with car ownership, like the car sharing services of Zipcar and Car2Go.
“How does your walking, biking, or taking transit affect his ability to drive, accept to make it easier?” Tregoning says in response to Anderson. “The national average household spends 19 percent of income on transportation. In the district, in areas well-served by transit, our number is more like 9 percent of household income. So we happen to think lots of choices are a good thing.”
In 2012 the city of Portland, Oregon, commissioned a study to look at the relationship between car ownership and new development, after apartment construction with little to no on-site parking in the city’s inner neighborhoods raised concerns about the potential for on-street parking congestion.
The study found “that 64 percent of residents are getting to work via a non-single-occupant vehicle. Almost a third (28 percent) of those surveyed belong to car-free households; however, cars are still the preferred mode of travel for many of the survey respondents.”
About two-thirds of the vehicle owners surveyed in Portland’s inner neighborhoods “park on the street without a permit and have to walk less than two minutes to reach their place of residence, and they spend only five minutes or less searching for a parking spot,” the study found.
To Hemberger, the Portland study’s key finding is that people don't give up car ownership just because they commute to work via public transit. In a city like Washington, Hemberger says, there will not be enough street spot to accommodate new, car-owning residents.
Decision could come this spring
The Office of Planning will submit the proposed removal of parking minimums to the Zoning Commission later this month or early April, where it will go through the public process again before a final decision is made.
“We are a really unique city because we have an amazing number of transportation choices. Our citizens end up paying a lot less for transportation than the rest of the region,” Tregoning says. “I don’t understand why that would be considered a war on cars to try to give people choices, the very choices that actually take automobiles off the road to make it easier to park, to make it easier to drive with less congestion.”
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Thursday, February 28, 2013
Last year the shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin thrust Sanford to the center of international attention -- and spurred a conversation about how urban design and public space shape civic behavior.
Now, Sanford is searching for a new vision for its future. The city has established Imagine Sanford, a project aimed at creating a solid identity for the city -- and a plan for how to get there. The 13-member steering committee is made up of community leaders who meet monthly while the plan is being formulated.
Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett says although the project started in January 2012, since Trayvon Martin's death the pressure has been on to get the project moving.
Although Sanford has an enviable downtown, he says, more needs to be done to link up the distinct areas of the city, including the historic African American neighborhood of Goldsboro.
"We haven't really done a very good job of making Goldsboro part of the city, so to speak," he says.
"You've got historic Goldsboro Boulevard- we want to take that and do the beautification on through 13th [street] which ties that in to [US Highway] 17-92 and what's happening on the east side of town too."
Some of the other proposals for the city include welcome signs and a system of hiking and cycling trails through Sanford and around Lake Monroe.
Triplett says he wants to make sure the trail system connects to the SunRail commuter train station.
"Some people say we're disadvantaged because of the placement of our SunRail [but] we're kind of blessed in a way because we've got a blank slate out there."
Triplett says the vacant land around the station will allow for new development linked to the rail- including shops and apartments.
"We've got a great opportunity over the next ten years- we've just got to make sure we do it right the first time."
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
For years, Orlando has ranked among the most dangerous metro areas for pedestrians in the nation, with roughly two injuries per day and one fatality a week. Now a coalition of pedestrian advocates, law enforcement, local government and health agencies is trying to change that, with a program called Best Foot Forward. And eight months after the program launched, there are some signs of improvement.
Transportation experts say there are three steps needed to make the roads safer for pedestrians: education, enforcement and engineering. Orlando is trying all three, but it still has a long way to go to change the culture for people on foot.
“It’s pretty abominable,” says Bill Carpenter, a volunteer collecting data for the Best Foot Forward Program. He says pedestrians haven’t had much of a voice in Central Florida until now.
Carpenter is monitoring how drivers behave at crosswalks. A pickup truck approaches the intersection of Rollins street and Camden road in Winter Park. Carpenter steps cautiously into the road stretching out one hand to point down at the crosswalk. The driver doesn’t stop.
“Motorists reactions run the gamut," says Carpenter. "There’s some that begrudgingly stop, then others that wave back at you and say thanks for waiting there for me and go on.”
This dangerous dance is repeated daily all over the city by other pedestrians.
In East Orlando, a restaurant worker called Tony makes his way to a bus stop on South Semoran Boulevard, near Curry Ford Road.
“This intersection here, it’s crazy," says Tony. He says drivers aren't courteous. "No. They’d rather run you over.”
Badly injured pedestrians go to the Orlando Regional Medical Center, which is part of the Best Foot Forward Coalition. Last year doctors at the center treated over 400 patients who’d been hit by cars.
But there are signs the education campaign is starting to have an effect, says project manager Brad Kuhn.
“On those roads at 35 miles an hour and less, we’ve been able to take the yield rate from about one in eleven to approaching one in three.”
That means at some of the 18 crosswalks being monitored in Orlando and Orange county, more drivers are yielding now for pedestrians than they were six months ago.
Kuhn’s organization, Bike Walk Central Florida, has reached out to 88,000 households to promote pedestrian safety, and 11 Orange County elementary schools are teaching a pedestrian safety syllabus. But, says Kuhn, high-speed roads are still a problem.
“By the time you see the pedestrian, you’re already past them," he says, "which is unfortunate, because on a 40-mile-an-hour road, your chance of survival if you get hit is 15 per cent.”
Enforcement is used to back up the education campaign. Last year police and sheriff’s officers handed out more than 1,200 tickets and arrested 20 drivers for failing to yield at crosswalks.
Orlando Police sergeant Jerry Goglas says some drivers try to blame the pedestrian. “They say: “did you see the pedestrian jaywalking, why is the pedestrian in the road?” Some of them are not understanding once a pedestrian is in a marked crosswalk the driver has to yield.”
Best Foot Forward is trying out low-cost engineering like signs and road markings-- but the coalition is also interested in something called the Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon.
It’s a small box mounted on a pole at a crosswalk. When activated, a bright LED light flashes towards the eyes of approaching drivers, signaling them to stop. In St. Petersburg, on the other side of the state, these beacons have helped cut the pedestrian accident rate in half over the last ten years.
Pedestrian advocate Bill Carpenter thinks these beacons could help in Orlando, but he says changing drivers attitudes is a long term project. “I’d hate to venture a guess, but it’s going to take longer than six or 12 months. It’s going to take a lot.”
The Florida Department of Transportation is also engaged around the state trying to make the roads safer and it’s rolling out a pedestrian awareness campaign focusing on ten counties with high pedestrian crash rates. In the meantime, Best Foot Forward hopes its early success will eventually translate into fewer pedestrians winding up in hospital.
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
For New York mayoral candidates, bike lanes are complex. That's why City Council Speaker Christine Quinn proclaimed them off-limits for dinner party conversation. It's why Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who's criticized the way the city approves bike lanes, leapt Wednesday to issue a statement proclaiming "bike lanes make NYC streets safer."
On the one hand, some of the Democrats running for mayor use bike lanes as a signifier for what they see as Mayor Michael Bloomberg's high-handed, top-down approach to decision-making.
On the other hand, polls show New Yorkers like bike lanes--particularly environmentalists, Latinos, young people, and techies, all of whom may play unpredictable roles in the 2013 vote. Independent polls show pretty consistent majorities in almost all categories approving of bike lanes, and an even bigger majority approving of bike share.
And yet every single one of the major Democrats has at some point criticized the mayor for not fully consulting communities about where to install new bike lanes, even though the plans for such lanes must be approved by community boards.
So while today's New York Times article--headlined, "Anxiety Over Future of Bike Lanes"--captures a real fear among bike advocates that the next mayor may not be as friendly towards biking as Mayor Bloomberg, this dance isn't over yet.
"The need for safer streets for bikers, walkers, and drivers is one I feel in my core," de Blasio said in his statement. "For that reason, I fully support bike lanes and I want to see them continue to expand around the city. They are clearly making many NYC streets safer."
Okay, now wait for it:
"But I think we need to take an approach different from the Mayor’s. While more and more communities and riders want bike lanes, the City still hasn’t come around to proactively engaging those who are concerned by them. We need to increase our outreach and bring more residents and small businesses into the discussion early so we can fine-tune designs and parking rules from the get-go. Just going to community boards is not enough. Proactive outreach seems to be the Bloomberg Administration’s last resort. I think we need to make it uniform practice, and put it at the front end of every project.”
Watch this space. This is going to get interesting.
Tuesday, February 05, 2013
By Kate Hinds
Urban automobile traffic is better than it was at its peak in 2005 -- but the cost of traffic congestion is on the rise.
The 2012 Urban Mobility Report -- a ranking of traffic congestion from Texas A&M's Transportation Institute (TTI) -- says the total financial cost of congestion in 2011 was $121 billion, or about $818 per car commuter. A big piece of that is wasted fuel, which the report says reached a total of 2.9 billion gallons.
But worse still than mulling that over is a new addition to the report: the tally of annual carbon dioxide emissions attributed to traffic. The TTI estimates it at 56 billion pounds – or about 380 pounds per auto commuter.
The E.P.A. considers carbon dioxide a major factor in climate change, and estimates that transportation accounts for about one-third of the country's CO2 emissions, second only to the generation of electricity.
Harder to quantify financially is wasted time: the TTI says the average car commuter spent an extra 38 hours traveling in 2011, two-and-a-half times worse than the 16 hours in 1982.
The report also measures a "planning time index," which show how much time drivers need to be sure they'll arrive at their destination.
(Example: according to Google Maps, a trip from TN's offices in lower Manhattan to JFK Airport should take 30 minutes. But New York's PTI is 4.44 -- meaning drivers should allow 133 minutes to cover the worst-case traffic scenario. Meanwhile, the transit combo of the subway to the Air Train should take a little over an hour, says Google Maps.)
The report comes at a time when many states are struggling with how to replenish transportation funding coffers strained by aging infrastructure and increasingly diminished returns on the gas tax. Virginia is eying a new sales tax, Connecticut is debating new tolls, and some of Los Angeles's freeways are no longer free. Meanwhile, New York's MTA -- the nation's largest transit system -- estimates it sustained $5 billion in damage from Sandy.
Unsurprisingly, the TTI says the nation's largest urban areas see the worst traffic. DC tops the list for the fourth year in a row, followed by Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Boston. Although car traffic overall is down from a 2005 peak, as the economy recovers, the numbers of cars on the road is increasing.
The report offers up some suggestions. It cautions that there's no one-size-fits-all approach, but offers up a range of solutions from increasing capacity to developing land more densely. "Improving transportation systems is about more than just adding road lanes, transit routes, sidewalks and bike lanes," says the TTI. "It is also about operating those systems efficiently."
That last sentence probably will cause tension headaches for local transportation officials who have been trying to wring every last dollar out of their budgets. Funding was flat in the latest surface transportation bill.
But Slate contributor Matthew Yglesias offers up another solution, albeit one that has yet to be passed in an American city: congestion pricing. "Naturally an underpriced valuable commodity leads to over consumption," he writes. "Charge people enough money to eliminate routine congestion and you'll find yourself with fewer traffic jams and an enormous pool of revenue that can be used to maintain your basic infrastructure and upgrade your bus service."
Read the full report here.
Tuesday, February 05, 2013
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
As both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly prepare to work to find common ground after passing different versions of Governor Bob McDonnell’s major transportation funding plan, critics say the governor’s proposal to eliminate the state gas tax and replace it with a higher sales tax would not provide enough revenue to satisfy the state’s transportation needs.
On Monday the House gave preliminary approval to a measure that keeps most of McDonnell’s proposals intact, including eliminating the state’s 17.5 cents-per-gallon gasoline tax. In the Senate, a key Republican lawmaker is proposing a different solution: a 5.5 percent sales tax on the wholesale price of gasoline tied to inflation.
The bill approved by the House killed the governor’s plan to impose a $100 registration fee on alternative fuel vehicles. The proposals are scheduled for a final vote today.
The McDonnell administration argues higher fuel efficiencies continue to eat into gas tax revenues so the tax should be replaced, especially as the adoption of hybrid and electric cars is expected to reduce gas consumption.
The latest hybrid and electric models are currently on display at the Washington Auto Show, where proponents say they have become much more practical for everyday use since the first generation models.
Mahi Reddy, the founder of SemaConnect, a manufacturer of electric vehicle charging stations based in Bowie, Maryland, says EVs are indeed becoming more popular, although they only represent less than one percent of all vehicles on the road today.
“Previous generations of electric cars struggled because they used lead-acid batteries. They used nickel-metal hydride batteries,” Reddy said. “The new generation all use lithium batteries, the same lithium technology that is in your cell phone. So that means these batteries are much lighter, they have much more range, and these cars are much better engineered so they are practical cars you can use to commute to the office.”
In his view, the biggest obstacle facing EVs is the lack of charging stations.
A report by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments found our region has strong potential for EV growth, but an "underdeveloped charging network" is one of several problems.
But while the governor views improving fuel efficiency as a reason to dump the gas tax altogether, the Council of Governments executive director Chuck Bean takes the opposite position.
“In terms of transportation funding all of the options need to be on the table; gas tax, sales tax. We are really in a crisis of transportation funding and need to be very creative,” Bean said. “I would hesitate to reverse or eliminate any taxes because there is simply a great need for more funding.”
The potential of these vehicles does raise another potential challenge to funding transportation: as the U.S. vehicle fleet is comprised of more EVs and regular vehicle fuel standards improve, the gas tax will lose even more of its purchasing power. That would leave states looking for other revenue streams like higher tolls, more borrowing, higher vehicle fees, or higher sales or property taxes to pay for roads and rails.
The smart growth community says there is no way for Virginia to build its way out of its infamous traffic congestion and taht the solution lies in changing land use policies and urban planning strategies to maximize the potential for transit, walking, and bicycling.
Thursday, January 31, 2013
The Brooklyn Nets may have been humbled by the Miami Heat Wednesday night, but their transit stop has never been better.
The NY MTA says Long Island Railroad ridership surged 334 percent since the Barclay's Center arena opened last fall, with an average of 3300 suburbanites taking the commuter rail to the arena each event night.
The night the Nets hosted the Knicks, 4852 riders arrived by LIRR, and 5377 riders departed, a record.
The arena was built with the highest ratio of seats to parking spaces in the country (about 19,000 seats, 500 spaces) in part to encourage transit usage (nine subway lines go directly to Barclays Center, 2 more nearby, plus the LIRR).
Other data compiled by TN of subway ridership also confirms game night surges.
Neighborhood groups predicted the arena would cause car traffic snarls, and a high demand for on-street parking, but so far, traffic on game nights hasn't met those predictions.
However, the arena's developers, Forest City Ratner, have yet to construct more than a dozen high-rises above and near the arena, slated to created the densest census track in the nation.
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
Commuters are skeptical that congestion pricing will reduce traffic in the metropolitan Washington area and raise revenues to fund transportation projects. Instead, they favor alternatives to driving -- commuter rail, express bus service, or bicycling/walking.
A report released Wednesday by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) weighed the attitudes of 300 area residents who participated in five forums: two in Virginia, two in Maryland, and one in the District of Columbia. The participants were asked to consider three scenarios: 1) placing tolls on all major roadways, including interstate highways; 2) charging a per-mile fee measured by GPS systems installed in cars; and 3) creating priced zones similar to a system in London that would charge motorists to enter a designated area.
These attitudes are being probed at a delicate time for transportation funding in the region: Virginia's governor is proposing the elimination of the state gasoline tax -- while Maryland is looking at increasing theirs. Meanwhile, the area's largest transit project, the Silver Line, has yet to be fully funded.
But the funding scenarios posed to study participants received tepid support.
“This study shows people are cautiously open to concepts of congestion pricing, but they really need to see if it’s going to work, and they have doubts about that,” said John Swanson, a TPB planner.
“They really want to make sure that there are clear benefits, that [congestion pricing] is going to fund new transportation alternatives… particularly transit and high quality bus [service],” he added.
Scenario one – charging tolls on all major roadways – was supported by 60 percent of study participants, who engaged in extended exchanges of ideas and opinions. Scenario two – using GPS to track miles traveled – was opposed by 86 percent, even though drivers’ actual routes would not be tracked, only the number of miles.
“I don’t want to discount privacy concerns,” Swanson said. “I don’t think, however, the concerns were simply the classic ‘big brother’ concerns. There was a lot of code language for broader anxieties. It was a complicated proposal that was hard to understand. It seemed to be hard to implement. A lot of people said it looked like it would be expensive to implement and, frankly, they are right.”
The study participants spoke of congestion in personal terms -- family time robbed, the stress of dealing with incessant traffic. Most commuters said driving is not a choice.
“The availability of other options besides driving—such as transit, walking and biking—increased [the] receptiveness to pricing. Participants also spoke favorably of proposals that would maintain non-tolled lanes or routes for those who cannot or do not want to pay,” the report said.
Transit advocates say the report shows shaping land use strategies to improve access to transit and create walkable, densely built environments is the best way to mitigate the region’s traffic jams.
“Newcomers to the region are very frequently choosing the city or a place near transit rather than a place where they have no option but to drive,” said Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.
“What’s most interesting about this report is that it was an effort to seek public support for congestion pricing, but what it documented was the much stronger support for transit and improvements in how we plan land use in order to give people more choices to get around,” Schwartz added.
The study’s authors – the TPB partnered with the Brookings Institution – found most participants were unaware the federal gas tax (18.4 cents per gallon) hasn’t been raised since 1993. However, they also favored raising the gas tax as an easier, fairer alternative to implementing a congestion pricing program.
Support for increasing the gas tax increased over the course of the sessions -- from 21 percent when the study convened to 57 percent upon its completion.
The gas tax “is a hidden fee,” said Swanson. “We learned that people actually like that. There is a general sense of the invisibility of the gas tax being a problem and potentially a benefit, something that’s strangely attractive to people.”
Eighty-five percent of study participants identified transportation funding shortfalls as a critical problem, yet expressed doubts the government would make the right choices if additional revenues were made available through congestion pricing.
TPB board member Chris Zimmerman, who's also a member of the Arlington (VA) County Board, took exception to the wording of the study’s questions using the word “government” because he felt it provoked a negative response.
“If you are trying to interpret what people say, you have to be careful of what question you ask them,” Zimmerman said. “I think people get that there is a lack of funding. They also get the fact there are a number of other problems. There aren’t alternatives. For many in this region, they drive not because that’s what they are dying to do, but because they have no choice.”
Zimmerman, who background is in economics, said it should be no surprise people are lukewarm about congestion pricing proposals, given the lack of alternative modes of transportation in some places. He is also unsure congestion pricing will work.
“The way roads are run is there is basically no pricing of them at all. Even if you are paying a gas tax it’s not related to your use of any particular road. An economist looks at that and says of course you are going to get inefficiency and congestion,” Zimmerman said.
“You are not talking about going from the current situation to instantly pricing everything perfectly. You are talking about implementing costs on particular segments of roads and that gets a lot more complicated because there are secondary effects," Zimmerman said. "We price one thing and many people shift to some other place. Well, where is that some other place?”
“In practice, implementing that is very difficult.”
The Washington region saw two major highways shift to congestion pricing in 2012. Maryland's Inter-County Connector charges variably priced tolls; the 495 Express Lanes charge dynamically priced tolls and offer free rides to HOV-3 vehicles.
In the case of the Express Lanes, the state of Virginia will not receive toll revenues for 75 years as per its contract with its private sector partner, Transurban, and it remains to be seen if the new toll lanes will ultimately reduce congestion in the heavily traveled corridor. The ICC also has its critics, who say the recently constructed highway was a waste of money.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
By Julie Caine
After eleven years of construction, the Bay Bridge’s new eastern span is set to open to traffic this fall.
Meanwhile, the Regional Oral History Office (ROHO), part of University of California-Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, is soliciting stories from people who were there when the original Bay Bridge opened in 1936.
Sam Redman, a ROHO historian, recorded a number of interviews with folks who remember that time. He shared excerpts with KALW’s Steven Short.
"The clips that I’m sharing today are from people who happened to be in the Bay Area at the time," said Redman, "people who were working on the bridge—Rosie the Riveters or tow truck drivers and engineers and other people that worked on the Bay Bridge."
Redman played a few soundbites from the World War II generation who actually watched the bridge as it was actually constructed.
Like Ralph Anderson.
“It was going to be wonderful. I didn’t realize that the ferries wouldn’t be there anymore. But to go across the bridge on the Key System trains, the whole lower deck was trucks and trains. And that worked out great, I thought that was a good system. And to go across the bridge for a quarter, I was impressed and pretty soon the bridge was going to be paid for and you wouldn’t have to pay anything.”
(Currently tolls on the Bay Bridge are between $4 and $6 dollars, depending on the time of day).
Yes, you read that right: the lower deck of the Bay Bridge, as it was initially constructed, carried rail. The Key System operated from 1938 to 1958.
"One of the interesting thing about this series," said Redman, "is learning about some of the failed proposals that we’ve had for bridges, including a span that would have run similar to the Bay Bridge from Alameda, south of the current Bay Bridge into San Francisco to alleviate some of that traffic congestion that was building up early on on the Bay Bridge. It exceeded all traffic projections almost right away."
Redman said one of the things that amazed him while conducting the Bay Bridge's oral history project is "the way people have worked have changed on the bridge since time it actually started. Like Bay Bridge painters, for example. New rules and regulations mean that for their actual work it takes longer to paint the Bay Bridge, but that’s to actually keep the Bay that’s beneath them healthy. Before, the paint would just go directly into the Bay."
Here's a remembrance from Berkeley resident Norma Grey:
“In 1936, they just summarily announced that we were going to California. And it was precisely because my dad could not find a job. And so he borrowed $100 from his brother, put his three little girls and what possessions he could put in a Model T Ford and drove across the country. He stopped in Berkeley. Their plan was San Francisco, but it cost 25 cents to go across the new Bay Bridge.”
"Twenty-five cents would have been enough to buy a meal for the evening for the family," said Redman. "I think that puts in context how hard times really were. And it gives us a little insight into the folks who worked on the Bay Bridge. Job openings at the Bay Bridge or the Golden Gate Bridge would have looked pretty appealing at that time, even though they were pretty dangerous jobs."
Redman added that the working conditions at the time helped keep construction costs down -- compared to today.
You can see differences in terms of safety, in terms of pay, in terms of all sorts of workplace conditions changes. In the course of building new bridges, people will look at the old Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge and say, gee, these were completed on budget and on time. But it’s because of a remarkable range of changes in labor that are actually good changes in many respects.
Friday, January 11, 2013
Establish an infrastructure bank, expanded rail access, build a bus rapid transit system, and redesign the electric grid. Those are some of the suggestions in the NYS2100 commission's full report on preparing New York state to withstand the next 100 year storm released Friday afternoon.
The commission was convened to suggest a plan for making New York state more resilient in the face increasingly severe weather and future storms like Sandy, which knocked most of New York City's transportation out of service for days. Several transit routes are still not back to normal two months later.
The full report is below. We've pulled out the bits from the executive summary most related to transportation and infrastructure.
Governor Andrew Cuomo's State of the State agenda also included much of these kinds of proposals. We posted that earlier in the week here, and reported on the bus rapid transit proposal specifically if you want more detail on that.
From the NYS2100 official report:
Develop a risk assessment of the State’s transportation infrastructure
Identify those assets that are vulnerable to extreme weather events, storm surge, sea level rise and seismic events, and to prioritize future investment through the use of a lifeline network that defines
critical facilities, corridors, systems, or routes that must remain functional during a crisis or be restored most rapidly.
Strengthen existing transportation networks
Improve the State’s existing infrastructure with an emphasis on key bridges, roads, tunnels, transit, rail, airports, marine facilities, and transportation communication infrastructure. Focus on improved repair, as well as protecting against multiple hazards including flooding, seismic impact and extreme weather.
• Protect transit systems and tunnels against severe flooding
• Invest in upgrades to bridges, tunnels, roads, transit and
railroads for all hazards
• Strengthen vulnerable highway and rail bridges
• Protect waterway movements
• Safeguard airport operations
Strategically expand transportation networks in order to create redundancies
Make the system more flexible and adaptive. Encourage alternate modes of transportation.
• Modernize signal and communications systems
• Build a bus rapid transit network
• Expand rail access to/from Manhattan
• Create new trans-Hudson tunnel connection
• Expand rail Access to/from Manhattan with Metro-North Penn Station access
• Expand capacity on the LIRR’s Main Line
• Develop alternative modes of transportation Build for a resilient future with enhanced guidelines,
standards, policies, and procedures
Change the way we plan, design, build, manage, maintain and pay for our transportation network in light of increased occurrences of severe events.
• Review design guidelines
• Improve long-term planning and fund allocation
• Improve interagency and interstate planning
• Seek expedited environmental review and permitting on major mitigation investments
Strengthen critical energy infrastructure
Securing critical infrastructure should be a primary focus. Strategies of protection, include among other things, selective undergrounding of electric lines, elevating susceptible infrastructure such as substations, securing locations of future power plants, hardening key fuel distribution terminals, and reexamination of critical
component locations to identify those most prone to damage by shocks or stresses. Creating a long-term capital stock of critical equipment throughout the region provides an efficient system of distribution to streamline the delivery and recovery processes.
• Facilitate process of securing critical systems
• Protect and selectively underground key electrical transmission and distribution lines
• Strengthen marine terminals and relocate key fuel-related infrastructure to higher elevations
• Reinforce pipelines and electrical supply to critical fuel infrastructure
• Waterproof and improve pump-out ability of steam tunnels
• Create a long-term capital stock of critical utility equipment
Accelerate the modernization of the electrical system and improve flexibility
As utilities replace aging parts of the power system, the State should ensure new technologies are deployed. It is important to immediately invest in new construction, replacement, and upgrades to transition the grid to a flexible system that can respond to future technologies, support clean energy integration, and minimize outages during major storms and events. The grid for the 21st century should seamlessly incorporate distributed generation, microgrids, and plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs).
• Re-design electric grid to be more flexible, dynamic and
• Increase distributed generation statewide
• Make the grid electric vehicle ready
Design rate structures and create incentives to encourage distributed generation and smart grid investments
The State should implement new technologies and system
improvements to provide effective backup power, flexibility,
distributed generation, and solutions for “islanding” vulnerable
parts of the system. In addition to improving the resilience and
stability of energy, electricity, and fuel supply systems, these
solutions promote energy conservation, efficiency, and consumer
Diversify fuel supply, reduce demand for energy, and create redundancies
Lowering GHG emissions in the power sector through the Regional
Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) will contribute to reducing
the impacts of climate change over the very long term. To build
on the success of RGGI, the State should encourage alternative
fuel sources such as biogas, liquefied natural gas (LNG), and
solar heating in transportation and other sectors. PEVs, energy
storage systems, and on-site fuel storage where feasible, should
also be used to provide new energy storage mechanisms. Incentive
programs to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy
deployment should be strengthened to increase the level of private
sector investment in this space.
• Facilitate greater investments in energy efficiency and
• Diversify fuels in the transportation sector
• Support alternative fuels across all sectors
• Lower the greenhouse gas emissions cap through RGGI
Develop long-term career training and a skilled energy workforce
The utility workforce is aging and tremendous expertise will be lost
in the next several years. Workforce development strategies should
ensure the availability of skilled professionals to maintain a state
of good repair, effectively prepare for and respond to emergencies,
and deploy and maintain advanced technologies.
• Create a workforce development center
• Expand career training and placement programs
• Build awareness of the need for skilled workers
• Coordinate workforce development among all stakeholders
within the energy sector
Establish an “Infrastructure Bank” to coordinate, allocate, and maximize investment
The Commission recommends the establishment of a new Infrastructure Bank with a broad mandate to coordinate financing
and directly finance the construction, rehabilitation, replacement, and expansion of infrastructure.
• Assist the State in making more efficient and effective use of public infrastructure funding
• Mobilize private sector
Full report here.
Friday, January 11, 2013
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
Here's a strategy for growth. Build new housing where the action is. And that means around transit lines.
In the Washington D.C. area, regional planners have mapped out nearly 140 "activity centers" around the capital that they say should be the focus of future job and population growth.
An activity center is a densely-built housing, office, and retail space located on a major transportation corridor. Many of the 139 dots on the map unanimously approved by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments are located within D.C. city limits; others branch out into Maryland and Virginia along existing and future Metro lines.
It's a suggested guide for future growth mapped in stipple and meant to guide the coming population growth to areas like Mary Hynes' neighborhod. Hynes is vice chairman of the council's Region Forward coalition and resident of an activity center. "I live a block from the Clarendon Metro," she says. "The practical effect is I get in my car about once a week. I can walk to grocery stores or I can walk to the dry cleaner. I can walk to my job or take a bus to my job. It s a great quality of life."
While Arlington County is well known for building mixed-use, mixed-income, walkable neighborhoods around Metro stations, other places are catching up. Prince George's County has 15 Metro stations, but some are undeveloped.
"By focusing growth around those Metro stations, we will be able to receive some return on that investment and we will build on an infrastructure that already exists," says Al Dobbins, the county's Deputy Planning Director. "That precludes the need to go out and build even more transportation infrastructure."
The activity centers map was drafted in 2002 and last updated in 2007.
Friday, January 04, 2013
LISTEN to this interview that aired on Marketplace or read a summary below.
(Sarah Gardner -- Marketplace) What makes a city walkable? According to Jeff Speck, the author of "Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step At A Time," a walk has to be useful, safe, comfortable, and interesting if you're going to get people out of their cars and onto the sidewalks.
"The pedestrian has to have a fighting chance against being hit by automobiles," says Speck, "but also the streets need to be comfortable in the way they're shaped by buildings, and you can't have a bunch of blank walls and parking lots to walk by."
Speck says that 77 percent of Millennials want to live urban cores. Of course, New York, Chicago and San Francisco have done a good job keeping their cities pedestrian-friendly, but Speck says no city has put the thought into walkability that Portland, Ore., has.
"The VMT [vehicle miles traveled] of your typical Portlander peaked in 1996," says Speck who lauds Portland for a long-term strategy to minimize the importance of the car, "and as a result, one economist has calculated that about 3.5 percent of GDP is money saved by driving less."
Many cities are doing good things to make their cities more walkable, but Speck says most average American cities still have a long way to go to become truly walkable. Why? The car is still the driving force in city planning.
"A city is being planned not by its mayor," says Speck, "but by a public works director who is responding to complaints about traffic and parking."
The majority of Americans still drive alone in a car to and from work. But in cities and states across the nation, the commuter population is turning to carpools, public transportation, walking, and bikes. Explore this interactive map on how America gets to work.
Friday, January 04, 2013
Construction of a 25-mile long toll road that will complete a beltway around Orlando is due to begin in February, but before building on the Wekiva Parkway can start, threatened gopher tortoises have to be moved out of the way.
The $1.7 billion roadway project is being showcased as an example of careful transportation planning through an environmentally sensitive area. In addition to relocating threatened species, the project will include fencing and wildlife bridges to minimize the risk of animal- vehicle collisions, and much of the roadway will be elevated.
About 260 gopher tortoise burrows have been identified around the first few miles of the parkway slated for construction. Backhoes are used to scoop away the bulk of the dirt, taking care not to disturb the burrow itself. The tunnel is marked with a long PVC pipe so the backhoe operator doesn't dig too deep.
Every few feet the backhoe driver stops, and a biologist - like environmental consultant Joel Johnson - climbs into the crater to dig with a shovel
"When it gets down to the more intricate part of the excavation, you’ll dive in with an arm to pull the tortoise out," says Johnson.
"At some point it’s a personal touch. The iconic thing is this backhoe here digging these huge holes in the ground, but the action is really in a couple of feet, you know, five feet around that burrow."
Gopher tortoises are powerful diggers. A typical burrow could extend 30 feet lengthwise and slope down to a depth of 25 feet.
Getting the tortoises out isn't easy.
"They are surprisingly strong, like most crevice dwelling and burrowing animals, and once they get in there and decide they don't want to come out, it becomes a matter of leverage," says Johnson.
"We have ones that dig as fast as we are. We're chasing them," he says.
"And then sometimes they come up and they look like a zombie coming out of a grave, out of the dirt right after you take a swipe."
The gopher tortoise is important to Florida's ecology because other animals use its burrow to shelter and find food.
"They call [the gopher tortoise] a keystone species," says Mike Dinardo, the environmental coordinator for the project.
"That burrow provides refuge for others escaping fire, maintaining humidity and escaping heat."
The gopher tortoises' room mates include the indigo snake, the gopher frog and the pine snake, as well as crickets and other insects.
The gopher relocation project started mid December, so far capturing more than 40 tortoises. It could take another few weeks to dig up the remaining burrows.
Once the animals get a health check up they’ll be moved to a ranch in Okeechobee County, South Florida.
Monday, December 31, 2012
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
The Washington D.C. metropolitan region saw major developments in transportation that included progress toward completing the largest public rail project in the country, the opening of a new highway on the Beltway, and an update on D.C.’s coming streetcar system. 2012 also raised questions critical to the region’s economic future. In a region plagued by some of the worst highway traffic congestion in the nation and a public rail system crowded to capacity, how can transportation planners and real estate developers maximize the region’s economic potential in a climate of finite funding for major projects.
1) The Silver Line
When the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors gave final approval to the county’s involvement in the $5.5 billion project that will connect D.C. to Dulles International Airport, lawmakers removed the last major obstacle to completing the Metro rail line by 2018. Outstanding issues remain, however. The most controversial issue is the Silver Line’s financing plan, overseen by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Without further federal or Virginia state funding, motorists on the Dulles Toll Road will cover half the Silver Line’s costs.
2) I-495 Express Lanes
A new highway is big news in this region. After six years of construction, high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes opened on Nov. 17 on the 495 Beltway between the Dulles Toll Road and the I-95 interchange in Fairfax County. Drivers using the HOT lanes may get a faster ride, but the project raised questions about the wisdom of highway expansion as a method of solving congestion as well as the pitfalls of funding megaprojects: without the public-private partnership between Virginia and the international road building company Transurban, the road would not be built. Virginia gets a $2 billion road, and Transurban gets the toll revenues for 75 years.
3) Transit and Gentrification
Washington, D.C. is one of the fastest gentrifying cities in the United States. While rising property values, economic development, and a growing number of residents living a car-free existence are transforming the District for the better, gentrification has its costs.
4) The Uber Battle for the Ages
After months of contention, the D.C. Council finally approved legislation legalizing the popular sedan car service Uber. This battle was strange -- and it got personal. Legislators and regulators seemed to tie themselves in knots figuring out to handle the unregulated Uber while the district’s own taxicab industry struggled to modernize. In the end Uber won. And so did smartphone-using, taxicab-hailing residents of D.C.
5) MWAA’s woes
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates two major airports, rarely caught the public’s attention. But after the authority took control of the Silver Line, however, the public’s attention intensified – and not for good reasons. Audits by the U.S. Department of Transportation and news reports unearthed a litany of shady contracting, hiring, and travel policies and practices. Critics have relentlessly pressed for changes to the plan to raise tolls significantly to pay for the Silver Line. MWAA is making changes but has not yet recovered the public’s trust.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
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Friday, December 14, 2012
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
The first three streetcars to roll downs tracks in the District of Columbia since 1962 will be ready for testing next spring, DDOT officials said at a news briefing on Thursday.
The district is building a track in Anacostia to test its streetcars with the goal of launching them into service late next year or early 2014 on the planned H Street/Benning Road corridor, a two-mile, ten-stop segment of a planned 22-mile trolley system that will take five to eight years to complete -- barring further delays.
“From a safety standpoint, we have to start what we call burning in the cars, to get them used to the traffic systems,” said DDOT chief engineer Nick Nicholson. “We have to make sure everything, especially the emergency response, is working well. Sometime after that we complete that burn-in period and get a safety certification, we will begin revenue service.”
Fares and operating hours have not been decided, but officials said they are looking into seamless fare payment technologies, including using Metro’s SmarTrip cards. The final pieces of infrastructure have to be completed, too, on H Street/Benning Road.
“You will start seeing us build our switches in so we can switch the cars from track to track. You will see power plants starting to come in to run the cars. You will see the upgrades of the overhead wires and reinforcement of the Hopscotch Bridge to be a stop for the streetcar and we will build a maintenance facility,” said DDOT director Terry Bellamy.
Between now and the day the first passengers climb into a D.C. streetcar in fifty years, DDOT will employ a public awareness campaign to help businesses in the emerging H Street corridor.
“We think pedestrians will probably be used to streetcars because they are used to buses. Our real concern is the automobile driver, because he is used to having the road to himself,” Nicholson said. “Those cars in the district that like to double (park) or just stop and wait, in a streetcar path they're going have to move on.”
Nicholson said delivery trucks will have to alter their schedules or find alleyways to idle because the fixed-rail streetcar system cannot swing around them like buses. The streetcars will flow from the H Street’s median to pick up passengers outside the parking lane.
The district’s ambitious vision for a trolley system that will help residents and visitors efficiently move within the city, as opposed to Metro’s outside commuter-oriented design, foresees streetcars crossing east-west from Benning Road to Georgetown and from Buzzard’s Point to Anacostia, and north-south from Takoma to Buzzard’s Point.
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has pointed to the transformation of Portland, Oregon by a new streetcar line as a model of economic growth, and district officials are depending on the H Street/Benning Road line to increase property values and enhance shopping and entertainment options in the corridor.
Progress may have a cost. A study by the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University found that neighborhoods that get new rail transit systems like streetcars experience a significant increase in housing prices -- leading to renters and low-income households getting priced out.
In a prior series, WAMU examined the relationship between transit and gentrification in D.C.’s Ward 7, where a plan to extend the H Street/Benning Road streetcar line east of the Anacostia River is under consideration.
To learn more, check out D.C. Streetcar's latest media briefing here.