Today’s Headlines

  • Anthony Foxx: Durham-Orange Light Vital to Economy (WNCN)
  • Nashville Chamber of Commerce Rewrites Strategic Plan, Includes Transit (The Tennessean)
  • Miami an Example of the Future of Geography as Rising Sea Levels Claim Shoreline (Grist)
  • Dense, Walkable Neighborhoods Key to Fighting Miami Obesity Epidemic (Miami Herald)
  • Georgia Transpo Funding Package Missing From Legislative Calendar (AJC)
  • Atlanta Streetcar Operations to Cost 50 Percent More Than Projected, Farebox Recovery 20 Percent (AJC)
  • Poll Favors Beltline Paying Millions to Atlanta Public Schools in Funding Showdown (AJC)
  • Grow America Bus Tour Stops in North Carolina Thursday (The Hill)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

via ATL Urbanist

One Symptom of Driverless-Car Fever: Disinterest in Funding Public Transit

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There’s a quote in an AJC article from last week that clearly reveals a sad symptom of driverless-car fever – one that I’ve seen popping up in comments around the internet for a while. The symptom: a debilitating reluctance to fund expansion in public transit because “robot cars are on their way soon, so why bother?”Here’s a quote from the AJC piece, which focuses on booming Gwinnett County, just northeast of the City of Atlanta:“For the first time next year, Gwinnett and other metro Atlanta counties will have the option to consider a transportation-specific local option sales tax that could help pay for transit and other travel needs.”That’s right! A bill passed earlier this year allows Georgia counties to ask voters to approve up to a 1 percent sales tax that could fund transportation projects, including public transit. Will Gwinnett, which is busting at the seams with population growth while lacking MARTA service (it has its own small bus system) be seeking a tax to boost transit there? Or perhaps even join MARTA? It doesn’t seem entirely likely if the words of county chairman Charlotte Nash are representative of attitudes among all county leaders:Charlotte Nash said it is still too soon for the county to take a large step forward when it comes to public transportation…And who knows — with the advent of self-driving vehicles and services like Uber, she said, the transportation needs of Gwinnett County and the region could quickly change. People may be less interested in rail, she said, if they can relax in a private pod.Relaxing in a private pod! The American Dream. That’s a pretty incredible statement from Nash when you consider what’s happening right now in the county:Recent numbers show that Gwinnett County had the biggest jump in population of any county or city in the Atlanta Region in the past few years. A poll this year by Gwinnett’s own Chamber of Commerce shows that 63% of voters there want to see MARTA rail expanded into the county. A new survey of 4,000 people who live or work in Gwinnett showed a desire for public transportation and walkable places.I hope that self driving cars end up being the savior of transportation that many people seem to think they’ll be. Otherwise we’ll be in one a hell of a mess in a few years, because there are a lot of folks out there who have this opinion of “we don’t need to invest in public transportation, self-driving cars are just around the corner and they’ll solve all of our needs." That this opinion has worked its way into our regional leadership, affecting long-term plans for mobility and the way we shape our built environment, is concerning. Everyone in Gwinnett better all pray for super-affordable, autonomous-car awesomesauce – because that’s the only thing what will end up working in a place that’s continuing to grow its population in a ’carpet of sprawl’ fashion that is seriously lacking in walkable, connected urban centers.Oh and by the way, news today: driverless cars can be hacked by a laser pointer. Just FYI. 
via ATL Urbanist

Reducing Car Trips in Atlanta

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Reducing car trips in Atlanta The quote in this image comes from a Curbed Atlanta interview with Jim Durrett of the Buckhead Community Improvement District (Buckhead is basically the northernmost section of the City of Atlanta). Here’s a longer section from it:There is only so much that can be done to optimize how our streets handle traffic. The next time you lament that you are stuck in traffic, consider that, in fact, you are traffic. That is why we need also to be creating viable options for getting around without use of an automobile and encouraging a healthy mix of office, residential and retail development.I like that instead of just calling for improvement in transportation, he’s pointing out the need for a “healthy mix” of residential, office and retail.  You can’t expect good alternatives to car travel to happen unless the built environment is accommodating to safe pedestrian and bicycle mobility. Atlantans often seem to have trouble understanding that relationship between city form and traffic flow, complaining that “MARTA doesn’t go anywhere” and not realizing that it only feels that way because the city sprawls everywhere.Another way of stating this point comes from Fred Kent: “If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places.”A recent article in the AJC explores the way that the automobile congestion on Atlanta roads is affecting decisions companies make about who they hire and where they locate: “Traffic becomes a factor for Atlanta businesses.” The piece includes this statement about public transit and how it is perceived as not being robust enough for convenient use.“Atlanta motorists and employers alike have long complained that the area’s traffic problems are exacerbated by a largely anemic public transportation system.”I have two things to say about this: 1.) it’s incredible that the word “sprawl” never appears in this article on traffic problems in Atlanta; 2.) the answer to the question “why does Atlanta transit seem anemic” is “sprawl.” When you build environments for large populations in a sprawling, low density pattern, you’re enabling a car-centric way of life. And the roads that connect places in that sprawling pattern are bound to be dangerous for pedestrians.Telecommuting: it helps, but it isn’t the answerThe AJC article goes on to mention telecommuting as a possible salvation for Atlanta’s congestion woes. Reading about telecommuting in recent years, it seems like  anti-transit, anti-smart growth types consider it to be a means of conserving the status quo of car-centric development; why promote smart growth and transportation alternative when we can just work from home, right?But a careful look at the numbers shows something surprising: a big rise in telecommuting has not produced a big fall in car congestion.The number of teleworkers in metro Atlanta is up a huge 61 percent since 2010. So traffic congestion should be down during that time period, right? Nope, not according to the stats presented in the AJC piece itself: “What was an average one-way commute of 17 miles and 30 minutes just five years ago grew into an average commute of 18 miles and 34 minutes in 2014.”Teleworking is a great thing and I’m sure it has had a positive effect in getting cars of the road to some extent. But for a sustainable means of reducing car trips, the key will be to make our places more safe, inviting and convenient for walking and cycling. An important component for that goal will be better development, the kind that puts destinations and residences in a thoughtful configuration for multimodal connection.
via MARTA Rocks!

The Mode Less Traveled

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I didn’t decide to be a jerk to the AJC today. I’m like that every day. An AJC columnist recently posted an article basically saying that instead of investing in a citywide streetcar plan that would bring premium transit access to many neighborhoods that are not serviced by immediate rapid service, we (meaning Metro Atlanta for […]

Today’s Headlines

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Feds Maneuver to End Lawsuit, Move Forward With Brightline (Palm Beach Post) DC Pressures Virginia to Increase Funding for the Metro (Washington Post) Orange County, University of Central Florida Agree to Street Safety Plan (Orlando Sentinel) A New Atlanta Resident Notices the City Isn’t Very Walkable (Paste) Neighbors Think Atlanta BeltLine Development Is Both Too Tall […]
via ATL Urbanist

Georgia DOT to Build Multi-Use Path Along 400/285 Interchange

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Big kudos to the people at Georgia Bikes for working to create at least a small silver lining on the dark cloud that is the Ga. 400/I-285 interchange project. The Georgia Department of Transportation has committed to building a multi-use path for pedestrians and cyclists along both roadways at this junction. The AJC has the story – here’s a quote:“The final design for the path will be determined by the design-build team (which is still to be selected),” said GDOT spokeswoman Natalie Dale. “It will be a separated facility from the roadways.Construction on the interchange is expected to be complete in 2019 following a 2016 start. As some may recall, I have criticized this project heavily as being an inappropriate use of $1 billion given the serious transportation-funding issues in Georgia. Also, the Atlanta region has many other mobility needs that are not being addressed well that could use this kind of funding, including expansion of alternative transportation for the new suburban poor and for the growing ranks of seniors aging in place. This highway projects is, in effect, a billion-dollar subsidy for employment-age people in the northern suburbs who can afford cars. Given that, I’m encouraged to read that the DOT is committing to some much-needed, safe pedestrian and cycling paths through this jungle of highway infrastructure. Studies show that protected bicycle paths reduce injury risk up to 90 percent. Also, places with protected bike lanes have seen a surge in cycling. Could this path help remove some cars from the roads as commuters in that area try out cycling as an option? That would be a good outcome, though I can’t help but question how many people would feel comfortable cycling through all of this exposure to Georgia sun, alongside the tailgate emissions of a major highway interchange. Will the bike paths abruptly end on arterial roads that have no protected bike lanes? If so, I wonder what the overall safety and growth in cycling will be.“No choice but to drive”Despite my questioning of the number of people who will take advantage of the bike path, it’s certainly true that trying whatever we can to reduce the number of solo car trips among commuters is a good thing. This project certainly has the potential to help. As the AJC points out, this path will be “providing more human-powered transportation choices” which could “help reduce traffic for others who have no choice but to drive.” Which hits exactly at the source of the transportation problem – there are too many people in the Atlanta region who “have no choice but to drive” due to our car-centric built environment. A bike and pedestrian path through this massive area of dead space and car infrastructure is a good thing, to be sure. It allows for safe routes. But it’s nonetheless a case of backward development practice: we’re trying to retrofit bike/ped routes into an environment that was built very specifically for cars and that is fairly difficult to traverse by any other means; the shape of our places in the metro directly informs the range of troubles we have with transportation. Addressing only the transportation aspect in a silo – without a region-wide effort toward better urban planning that allows for infill that is friendly to bike/ped/transit options – that’s the regional dog once again chasing its tail around and around. Thanks to induced demand effect on the highways, we’ll be wanting another road upgrade in no time.The $1 billion expenditure on car flow and car safety here should be accompanied by plans to create places that are less dependent on cars. Population is rising in the region, and that means an increase in the number of people who will commute over time; we can’t just keep chasing our tail with expensive infrastructure for car-flow improvements.This bike/ped path will be a wonderful improvement in safety for existing walkers and cyclists in the area around this interchange, and I’m sure there will be some who will try out switching to a bike commute from a solo-car commute when the path is complete. But the area all around the interchange would benefit from compact urban development that is designed specifically for human-powered transportation that is safe for everyone, not just the brave few.Reducing the amount of car traffic for those people who have “no choice” but to drive – that’s an OK goal for the short term. But it needs to work hand in hand with the much more important long-term goal of reducing the number of people who have “no choice” in transportation, and doing so by making our urban places more accommodating to safe alternative transportation options across the board.