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Transport Cycling and Austin’s Awesome Bike Plan

10:24 pm in Uncategorized by BruceMcF

Last week, I came across a post at People for Bike, called Four Simple Lessons from Austin’s Brilliant Bike Plan Update … and after reading the post, I clicked on through to the overview of the Bike Plan Update that they were referring to, and it was even better than they said. Once I saw that, I know that Sunday Train was going to talk about both Austin’s Awesome Bike Plan and the Four Key Lessons that People for Bikes draw from it:

  • 1) The point of bike plans isn’t to appease bikers, it’s to make bikes useful to everyone.
  • 2) Good biking makes good transit better.
  • 3) You’re not going to turn every long car trip into a bike trip – all you have to do is turn short trips into bike trips.
  • 4) A good bike network increases the capacity of your entire road system.

So follow me below the fold to consider both these four important points and also the general Awesomeness of Austin’s Bike Plan Update.

The Point of Bike Plans is to Make Bikes Useful for Everyone

The point of a Bike Plan is to make Bikes useful for everyone. When taken seriously, that is tremendously useful in avoiding both a narrow plan that only caters to one type of cyclists, and in avoiding thinking of the Bike Plan as a kind of minority-interest pandering component of transport planning.

“Useful to” does not mean “potentially useful to”, or “conceivably useful to”, it means actually useful to, and directs us to think about the full range of ways that a cycle path can be useful. And “everyone” means just that. It means that all classes of cyclists are considered. And it means that benefits to having a cycle network to all other transit users are also considered.

The slide above and to the right is taken from the slideshow developed by Austin Engineer Nathan Wilkes focuses in on the first point. It identifies four types of transport cyclists, with estimated shares among the total population (not just the current cycling population):

  • The strong and fearless cyclist, accounting for about 2% of the Austin population. These are the cyclists that will take their legally entitlement to ride in the public right of way, and will, for example, “take the lane” when required for safe riding (indeed, a minority of these cyclists will even take more than their legal entitlement to ride in the public rights). While these cyclists do not require a dedicated bike infrastructure, they do indeed benefit from it;
  • The enthused and confident cyclist, accounting for about 15% of the Austin population. These are people who may not be comfortable riding in a general traffic lane with heavy automobile traffic, but are comfortable riding on unprotected cycle lanes and on side streets with lighter traffic.
  • The interested but concerned cyclist, accounting for about 39% of the Austin population. These are people who are reluctant or unwilling to ride without protection from higher speed or high volume automobile traffic, but willing to cycle in protected lanes or on streets with light automobile traffic traveling at low speed;
  • The No Way No How cyclists, accounting for about 44% of the population. These are people who will not bike, but will rely exclusively on some other means of transport.
  • While a system of painted, unprotected cycle lanes accessed by the regular system of side roads caters to only one fifth of the Austin population as prospective cyclists, a system of protected and buffered cycle lanes and cycleways accessed by a system of side roads including appropriate traffic calming features directly caters to a majority of the Austin population as prospective cyclists.

An important part of the Austin cycle network is the “8-80 test”: “An 8 year old traveling with an 80 year old should be able to traverse the city comfortable and safely.” The system has a design speed of 10-15mph, to accommodate commuter cyclists. The design bicycle includes tandems, trail-a-bikes, trailers, and cargo bikes.

To target not just every type of rider and their bike, but also riders across the Austin area, the target spacing between designed bike routes for the completed network is 1/2 to 3/4 mile in the central city and near transit stations, where short trips are most common, with increase spacing further away, with routes designed to connect residences to major employment, retail and educational centers.

And what about the 44%? After all, they may not be a majority, but addressing the needs of everyone means everyone, not “50% plus one”. We’ve already seen that in lessons (2) and (4). An effective bike network makes good transit better, and that benefits all transit users, whether or not they bike. And an effective bike network increases the capacity of the road system, which benefits all drivers, whether or not they bike.
A Well Designed Bike Plan Makes Good Transit Better

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Car Subsidies & Ebbing Vehicle Miles Traveled

8:43 pm in Uncategorized by BruceMcF

Earlier this month, the website of the Philadelphia Inquirer carried a story, “Drop in traffic on area highways forces review of plans.” It cites several “area” road funding decisions based on assumptions of growing traffic, which turned out to be false:

  • A $2.5b New Jersey Turnpike widening justifiedm in 2005, by projections of a 68% increase in traffic volumes over the coming 25 years … where turnpike traffic in 2013 is only 90% of 2005 levels
  • The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission undertook to provide up to $900m in annual funding for other roads around the state, based on projections of Turnpike traffic growth of 3% to 5% … while to date, there hasn’t been any appreciable traffic growth
  • The Scudder Falls bridge taking I-95 over the Delaware River was a four lane bridge that the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission decided in 2003 to replace with a nine-line $328m bridge based on projected traffic increases of 35% by 2035 … and to date, that growth in traffic has not yet materialized

The article poses the question of “whether” the traffic growth that went away following the Panic of 2008 and which hasn’t shown up in the ensuing Depression of 2008 to, optimistically, 2015, might not ever turn up.

Well, it probably won’t. And that raises the follow-up question, what are we going to do about it?

On Being Puzzled that After Things Change, They Are Different

It is instructive to follow the reactions to people within the Road Building Establishment to questions from Inquirer Staff whether the motor vehicle traffic growth might not be coming back:

‘If these trends continue, it would definitely change the way we need to plan for our transportation future,’ said Chris Puchalsky, associate director of systems planning at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission. ‘But I think the jury is still out on that . . . we need two or three more years of data.’

Traffic predictions for the planned new Scudder Falls Bridge over the Delaware River between Bucks and Mercer Counties were revised downward in 2010, said Joseph Donnelly, spokesman for the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission. And yet another traffic study, costing $452,128, was ordered in October, to get a better handle on future traffic and revenue. But Donnelly said a new bridge was needed, regardless of how projections may change, because ‘the bridge has trouble handling the traffic it has now.’

Likewise on the $2.5 billion widening of the New Jersey Turnpike between Exits 6 and 9, according to Turnpike Authority spokesman Thomas Feeney. ‘Even if traffic volumes on the turnpike remained flat forever, the widening would have been necessary,’ Feeney said. ‘That widening area is one of the worst bottlenecks on any highway in New Jersey. . . . The additional capacity is needed today, and the benefits are going to be immediately apparent to drivers as soon as the project is completed this November.’

Its unclear whether this is going to continue, and we needed those projects anyway. The challenge, of course, is that when funding is based on asking cars to pay some share (though, of course, less than half) of the costs that they impose upon the transport system, the ability to pay is different if we project ahead from the present day, as opposed to projecting ahead based on 20th century experience.

This is a particular challenge for the State of Pennsylvania because, as the article notes, in 2007 Pennsylvania adopted a plan to fund road and transit projects at levels of up to $990m/year, based on expected rising Turnpike traffic levels and the planned conversion of I-80 into a toll road. You know the saying that “two out of three aint bad”? Well, on the two assumptions Pennsylvania’s policy was based on, they are zero for two … and yes, that’s bad.

Inquirer staff interviewed the Dean of the Rutgers School of Planning and Public Policy, who laid the difficulty in forecasting traffic growth on two factors:

  • the preferences and behavior of Millenials, who are on average less enamored with driving than generations that came of age in the 20th century; and
  • weak economic growth since the start of the 2007-9 Recession.

The Millennial Generation and Social Technology

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All of the Above: Bringing This Oil Tanker to a Halt

8:18 pm in Uncategorized by BruceMcF

Its been said that it takes miles for a fully-loaded super-tanker to come to a stop, because an ordinary stop takes 20 minutes, and even an emergency, or “crash”, stop takes 14 minutes. But that is less than the blink of an eye compared to the time it will take to bring the emissions of CO2 to a stop.

As Do the Math reminds us, in order to have some plausible chance (far short of certainty, by the way) of leaving global warming at under the 3.6°F that implies that the already ongoing climate catastrophe tips over into the super-catastrophe range, we need to keep additional CO2 emissions at under 565 gigatons. And we have computed reserves equivalent to 2,795 gigatons. So we must, by hook or by crook, find a way to refrain from consuming 80% of our CO2.

For the US, our main focus has to be on our energy emissions due to petroleum, coal, and natural gas, since 85.7% of our total CO2 emissions are due to energy production. As of 2011 41% of our emissions from energy production comes from petroleum emissions, 34% from coal, and 24% from natural gas. Of that 41% due to petroleum, 15% is from domestic petroleum production, and 26% from petroleum imports. So if the United States were to today achieve petroleum independence from carbon-neutral energy sources and energy savings, and totally replace coal combustion with carbon-neutral energy sources and energy savings, that would save 60% of the 86% of emissions from energy production, or 52% of the total. We would “only” have to cut the remaining energy-related emissions and the 14% from other sources by 60% to get to an equal proportional share of an 80% reduction.

However, the target we have to aim at is more ambitious than this. First, fossil fuels are non-renewable, and our timeline for the persistence of CO2 in the atmosphere is around a century. We don’t have a century’s worth of fossil fuels at the current rate of global consumption, so cutting back our consumption by 80% of the present rate is not enough.

And second, because of the time that it will take to switch to a low carbon emissions society, it is highly likely that by the time that a low carbon emissions society is within reach, we will have already emitted close to 565 gigatons.

This is why our target is no longer a “low net carbon emissions” society, but a “zero net carbon emissions” society, since we’ve likely already passed the “ordinary stop” stopping distance, and are coming up upon the “crash stop” stopping distance.

The Natural Gas Bridge To Nowhere

We are a carbon fuel consuming society, and since the rules that make up social institutions are organized around past solutions to past conflicts, it is surely politically impossible to make the transition to the the carbon-neutral energy system that we require. However, since physical reality is not going to change in response to the rules we use to organize society, it is going to have to be the rules that we use to organize society giving way. And while we may be able to engaged in some real sequestration, via, for example, the burying of biocoal, that is only going to be able to compensate for a small portion of our current CO2 emissions. So, politically impossible or not, we must take all of these, and bring them all down to very close to zero:

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‘the successful communities are going to be the ones who get rail’

7:41 pm in Uncategorized by BruceMcF

In covering the upcoming vote on the planned North Metro Rail line in Denver, the Denver Post writes:

People and circumstances over the years have tried to change the gritty image of Commerce City. There have been high-end homes on its eastern border and a world-class soccer and concert stadium not far from the city’s oil refineries, and even an attempt to wipe the city’s industrial name off of the map and replace it with the more low-key moniker of Derby. But it may be a stop on the Regional Transportation District’s North Metro Rail Line that brings some shine to the center of the city.

They quote the Commerce City Mayor:

“I’m very optimistic about the commercial opportunities that come with transit-oriented development,” said Commerce City Mayor Sean Ford. “Once rail comes, we can develop around it, and I think it will be highly beneficial.”

… as well as the Adams County Commissioner and Chairman of the North Area Transportation Alliance:

“In our world, the successful communities are going to be the ones who get rail,” said Adams County Commissioner Erik Hansen

And on Tuesday night, the Metro North line was approved, for a 2014 start and 2018 completion, when it had been previously set back to 2044 (an oddly exact date that clearly meant, “not now, but maybe later”):

A spontaneous offer from Graham Contracting in February stepped up the plans for the North Metro line after the company teamed with three other private developers and gave the Regional Transportation District’s board of directors a viable, ambitious construction plan, said RTD spokeswoman Pauletta Tonilas.

A side note
As some of you may be aware, there has recently been a fatal derailment:

A New York City Metro-North passenger train bound from Poughkeepsie to Grand Central Station derailed at 7:20 a.m. in the Spuyten Duyvil section of the Bronx borough this morning resulting in multiple fatalities.

This is not the topic of today’s Sunday Train, as the accident is too recent for a clear picture to have emerged as to the underlying causes of the accident. However, if it turns out that either delayed maintenance or delayed investment in Positive Train Control was a contributing cause to the accident, today’s topic would indeed be quite relevant to preventing a recurrence.
Colorado on a Fast Track to Local Rail Transport

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