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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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Koch Brothers Aim to Screw Tennessee Transit Riders & Motorists

11:46 pm in Uncategorized by BruceMcF

In a move to squash the freedom and local political autonomy of Nashville residents, the Koch Brothers-finded Americans For Prosperity turn out to be supporting a proposed State of Tennessee law outlawing Bus Rapid Transit systems that have dedicated lanes. From ThinkProgress:

On Thursday, the Tennessee Senate passed SB 2243, which includes an amendment that ‘prohibits metropolitan governments and any transit authorities created by a metropolitan government from constructing, maintaining or operating any bus rapid transit system using a separate lane, or other separate right-of-way, dedicated solely to the use of such bus rapid transit system on any state highway or state highway.’ The amendment is aimed at Nashville’s proposed $174 million rapid bus system called the Amp, but would apply to any mass transit system proposed in Nashville.

The Amp, a proposed 7.1-mile bus rapid transit system that would cut commute times along one of Nashville’s major corridors, has been staunchly opposed by the Tennessee branch of Americans for Prosperity, a lobbying organization founded in part by the Koch brothers. AFP’s Tennessee director told the Tennessean that SB 2243 was the result of a conversation he’d had with the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jim Tracy. In addition, AFP pushed the Senate to vote on the bill — efforts that led to StopAmp.org, one of the lead groups opposing the Amp, thanking AFP in a press release after SB 2243 passed the Senate. The transit system’s opponents say it would create traffic problems and safety issues due to its middle-lane location, a claim that a spokesman for the Amp Coalition disputes.

One thing we know is that the claim of traffic problems and safety issues from a middle lane location is a red herring ~ not because its patent nonsense, though it is, but because that’s not what the bill restricts. The bill does not ban center lane Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), or side lane BRT, it bans effective BRT. If passed by the House and signed into law, it requires that any BRT system run exclusively in mixed traffic … which means that its not likely to be a BRT at all, but would be, instead, a new coat of paint on city buses and some improved facilities at some city bus stops.

So more on why the Koch Brothers are against Tennesseans having effective BRT and so also against improved traffic conditions in Tennessee cities, below the fold.

Basics of BRT (Bus Rapid Transit)

The first major experiments with Bus Rapid Transit took place in Curitiba, Brazil. The fundamental Curitiba model takes three city streets and makes the central one into a two way bus-only street, so there is no delays from interference by cars along the road. To that is added bus-priority at intersections between car-streets and bus-streets and measures to improve the speed of bus loading and unloading, such as bus “stations” with controlled access for ticket holders, so the bus can unload and then load from both front and rear doors without the bus driver having to either sell or check the tickets of boarding passengers.

US BRT systems do not involve this kind of wholesale shift of street lanes from car use to exclusive bus use. Rather, the high end US BRT systems, like Cleveland “Healthline” or LA’s Orange Line (video), involve one or a few dedicated bus corridors, stations with off-bus ticket sales, and bus priority at signals. As noted in the LA Orange Line video, bus priority can also upgraded for buses that are running behind schedule time, to help them catch up on their schedule.

Both the Cleveland Healthline BRT and LA Orange Line BRT were on corridors that were originally considered for dedicated light rail corridors.

The choice of mode often generate quite ferocious debate among advocates of different modes of local transit. Light rail has similar transit speed to BRT but a higher peak capacity than BRT, electrification of light rail is less expensive than trolleybus electrification of a BRT corridor, and light rail is often considered to have a more comfortable ride. On the other hand, a larger share of the capital cost of a light rail system is up front, so there are cases where it is possible to obtain sufficient funding for a BRT corridor where it is not possible to fund light rail on that same corridor. In some cases, though this can vary from state to state, more of the costs of the BRT system can be passed off onto the existing hidden subsidies for road transport, disguising some of the full economic cost of the system, and in those cases the financing is tilted even more heavily to BRT.

And as discussed a few weeks ago in the Sunday Train, “four key ingredients” to successful Transit-Oriented-Development (TOD), based on examining five US leaders in TOD, are:

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Our Trebly Broken Highway Funding System

9:24 pm in Uncategorized by BruceMcF

Over the balance of this year, you are likely to hear more and more about our broken Highway Funding system. For instance, William Moore, of the consultancy group Vianovo and member of the Transportation Transformation Group, wrote at Infra Insight this last 13 March that:

Absent swift action by Congress, state departments of transportation will begin to have cash flow problems that could delay payments to vendors and slow projects. Without action by the fall, new projects may have to be shelved until Congress can resolve the funding crisis that confronts the Highway Trust Fund.

However, this is just the most visible layer of pending crisis in our highway funding system. Even if we were to fix the threat to engage in spending at status quo levels,status quo spending has been falling behind the damage done by cars and trucks to our roads for decades, and even if we were to fund our transportation to address the massive shortfall in maintaining our current highway system, we have not seriously begun in addressing the fact that our current transport system is one of our principle contributor’s to our economy’s present climate change suicide course.

We have a trebly broken highway funding system, and there is no guarantee that we will actually address the simplest of the problems.

The good news is that we do not need massive technological breakthroughs to fix this triple layer cake of crisis. The bad news is that what we do need is a political movement with both the focus and the clout to push the existing available solutions onto the table, in the face of determined status quo resistance … and those who have at least glanced at our political system over the past decade would be aware that building such a movement is a “to be solved by reader” kind of problem.

The Road Funding Crisis You Will Hear About: The Highway Trust Fund

The nature of the road funding crisis that you will hear about is straightforward. We have federal fuel taxes that pay into the Highway and Transit trust funds, and then projects and other funding are approved that draws upon those trust funds. Back in the 90′s, when we last set the rates of Federal gas and diesel taxes, they were set in nominal terms without an inflation index.

So every year, the federal gasoline tax rate of 18.4 cents per gallon and the federal diesel tax rate of 24.4 cents per gallon sees a reduction in the real tax burden on motorists and truck freight … slower, when inflation is slow, and faster when inflation is fast, but, from the CAP fact sheet on the issue:

  • In inflation-adjusted terms, the gas tax is worth only 11.5 cents today.
  • In 1993, the gas tax represented 18 percent of the cost of an average gallon of gasoline. Today, it represents only 5 percent.
  • If gas and diesel taxes had been indexed to keep pace with inflation, today they would be 29 cents and 38 cents per gallon, respectively.

But the ongoing, slow and hidden cuts in fuel taxes, year after year and decade after decade, is only half of the story. After all, if the indexing was the only problem, then the funds could be restored by simply enacting an “index plus”, such as adding 0.1 cents plus an index correction each quarter, until the gas tax caught up to its original value of 29 cents a gallon in 2014 dollar.

The gas tax never actually covered any part of the costs of burning gasoline, which as we now know includes not just the pollution of dumping poisons into our atmosphere, but also includes the more insidious but, it turns out, more dangerous dumping of CO2 into the atmosphere … which is essential to life on our planet, but which in ever increasing concentrations in the atmosphere as we dump millions of years worth of naturally sequestered carbon is highly likely to cause sufficiently severe climate change that it will wreck our ability to have a national economy and national society.

Instead, what the gas tax covered was a fraction of the costs imposed by cars and trucks on public and semi-public right of ways. That damage is done by the vehicle relative to the weight of the vehicle ~ the vehicle axle load and the number of axles ~ and so if vehicles were to become more efficient, then there would be a reduction in the gas tax per passenger mile (for cars) and per ton-mile (for trucks) even if we were to restore fuel tax levels in real terms. And that is, indeed, the fourth point in the Center for American Progress dot points:

  • The corporate average fuel-economy standards will rise to 54.5 miles per gallon for cars and light-duty trucks by model year 2025. This will approximately double the efficiency of vehicles compared to current levels and dramatically reduce the amount of tax revenue flowing to the HTF, crippling federal surface transportation programs.

To make things still worse, a large part of the electorate harbors the fantasy that gas taxes “pay” for the costs of roads, when the reality is, as Washington Cycle points out:

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Car Subsidies & Ebbing Vehicle Miles Traveled

8:43 pm in Uncategorized by BruceMcF

Earlier this month, the philly.com 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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Steel Interstate Revolution

8:21 pm in Uncategorized by BruceMcF

The Steel Interstate is a proposal to pursue dramatic gains in the energy efficiency of long haul freight transport in the United States, resulting in:

  • Substantial reductions in Petroleum Imports;
  • Substantial reductions in Greenhouse Gas emissions;
  • Substantially improved protection from Petroleum Supply interruptions;
  • Improved productivity for North American manufacturing; and
  • Substantial reductions in damage to the existing Asphalt Interstate System

How can it promise all of this? By mining gross inefficiency. The United States has one of the most energy inefficient systems of moving freight long distances available under current technology, and we combine that with an economy that relies heavily on moving freight long distances.

Some of the specific sources of energy efficiency are:

  • Moving cargoes in linked electric freight trains offers less air resistance than moving cargoes in individual trucks, because the freight car ahead provides a slipstream for the freight car immediately behind;
  • Steel wheel on steel rail has less rolling resistance than rubber tire on asphalt road;
  • Electric motors are more efficient than diesel or gasoline internal combustion engines; and
  • When braking, electric trains can put a load on their electric motors and generate power, feeding it back onto the line

Overall, long haul electric freight is around 15 times more energy efficient than long haul diesel semi freight. I tend to express this as over ten times the energy efficiency, to allow leeway for possibly longer routings when taking advantage of the Steel Interstate.

Long haul electric freight trains are also more space efficient than long haul truck transport. Freight demands that would require multiple lanes each way just for truck traffic can be readily accommodated on a two track mainline route. This can be done while accommodating a mix of 60mph heavy freight and 100mph fast container freight by including regular extended sections of passing track: the difference between passing track and sidings is that on-schedule faster and slower trains using the passing track remain in motion, rather than one sitting still in a siding waiting for the other to pass.

Finally, the operating cost per ton-mile for electric freight for both 60mph heavy freight and 90mph fast freight is enough lower than the operating cost of long haul trucking that the government can fund a National Steel Interstate with interest subsidies alone, with Access Fees and User Fees refunding the original capital cost of the system ~ initially, funding expansion of the system, and finally funding retiring the bonds.

If Its Such A Great Idea, Why Don’t We Have Steel Interstates Yet?

So, if there are so many substantial reasons for pursuing Steel Interstates, why aren’t we doing it yet?

Part of the issue was expressed by the Machiavelli:

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