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Archive for the ‘planning’ Category

Transportation planning is heavily biased in favor of cars, at the expense of other road users. That is the not-very-shocking conclusion of a new UC Denver study:

America’s streets are designed and evaluated with a an inherent bias toward the needs of motor vehicles, ignoring those of bicyclists, pedestrians, and public transit users, according to a new study co-authored by Wesley Marshall of the University of Colorado Denver.

“The most common way to measure transportation performance is with the level-of-service standard,” said Marshall, PhD, PE, assistant professor of civil engineering at the CU Denver College of Engineering and Applied Science, the premier public research university in Denver. “But that measure only tells us about the convenience of driving a car.”

Marshall co-wrote the study with Eric Dumbaugh, PhD, associate professor at Florida Atlantic University and director of Transportation and Livability for the Center for Urban and Environmental Solutions and Jeffrey Tumlin, owner and director of strategy at Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates in San Francisco.

According to Dumbaugh, many people assume roads are designed with all users in mind when in fact they are dedicated almost entirely to the needs of motor vehicles.

“Transit, bikes, and pedestrians are seen as worthwhile only by how much they reduce delays or increase speeds for motor vehicles,” he said. “Regardless of how efficient they may be in moving people.”

Planners try to eliminate automobile congestion to increase economic competitiveness. But as Dumbaugh points out, that may be counter-productive:

In fact, a previous study by Dumbaugh revealed that as per capita traffic delay went up, so did per capita Gross Domestic Product. Every 10 percent increase in traffic delay per person was associated with a 3.4 percent increase in per capita GDP. That’s because traffic congestion is usually a byproduct of a vibrant, economically productive city, the study said.

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In 2010, the NY Times published article on the Northern Alameda Chapter of the Sierra Club. It was not a flattering article, as it went into the group’s reluctance to embrace smart-growth policies. Many of its members were opposed to in-fill development in the downtown area (near the BART station). At the time, I pointed out that the group was endorsing candidates opposed to AC Transit BRT.

Now comes the 2014 election, and to judge from their endorsements it is clear nothing has changed. They again endorsed Councilmembers Worthington and Arreguin — even though both voted against BRT. As well, the Sierra Club endorsed the candidacy of George Beier, who organized neighborhood opposition to BRT.

Arreguin deserves special mention for sponsoring Measure R. It would reduce height limits and increase minimum parking requirements in the downtown. Groups such as Transform and Greenbelt Allliance are oppopsed to Measure R, but the Sierra Club is curiously silent on the matter.

If you visit the Sierra Club Transportation Policy web page, it states the following:

Walking and bicycling are best, along with electronic communications to reduce trips. Next are buses, minibuses, light rail and heavy rail (as corridor trips increase); electrified wherever feasible. Rail systems are most effective in stimulating compact development patterns, increasing public transit patronage and reducing motor vehicle use. Station access should be provided by foot, bicycle and public transit, with minimal, but full-priced, public parking. Accommodation of pedestrians, bicycles and public transit should be given priority over private automobiles.

Land use patterns should be designed to improve pedestrian access, encourage shorter trips, increase public transit use, enhance the economic viability of public transit and decrease private motor vehicle use (auto mobility). Therefore zoning, financing, land-use controls and other policies should concentrate employment near transit stations or stops, densify residential areas to allow shorter trips.

This a good transportation policy. What would it take for the National leadership to demand that local chapters adhere to it?

 

 

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As the the crown jewel of the Los Angeles public transportation network, Union Station has huge potential as both a destination and transit node. And with $1.7 billion in transportation dollars available, planners could do a lot to improve the facility with the new Master Plan. Sadly, this plan leaves a lot to be desired, in many ways being a step backwards.

One problem with the Plan is that it would make the station more auto-centric. A whopping 5,480 parking spaces would be built in 5 new parking facilities. Ironically, the Mozaic apartment complex would be demolished to make room for the parking. The Mozaic was built just 7 years ago, winning accolades as an innovative in-fill development.

 

laus_parking2

 

 

Then there is problems with the bike access. Planners had proposed new bike/ped bridges to get cyclists through the station area. But as you can see, the bridges have a large dismount zone. It isn’t much better for pedestrians either as there is strangely no connection from the overpass to the platforms below. These bridges will be expensive, and it isn’t clear what purpose they serve. The staff report says the bridges “tie the station together” which sounds like something the Big Lebowski would say.

laus_bridge

 

 

And finally there is the bus plaza. Currently located at ground level in front of the east entrance, it offers convenient and direct access to the main hallway. Planners propose re-locating the buses to an isolated upper level area in order to “reduce pedestrian/bus conflicts.” That is planner-speak for “we don’t want people who ride the bus standing outside the retail.”

A staff report to the MTA Board said that previous plans by Catellus had prioritized real estate development of the site, to the detriment of transit users. The new Master Plan was supposed to fix that problem. But other than the run-through tracks, this latest plan offers little of value for transit riders.

Bus bays kept safely inside hermetically-sealed tubes.

Buses kept safely inside hermetically-sealed tubes.

 

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VMT And EIR Reform

There is widespread agreement that automobile LOS is a bad metric for determining the environmental impact of projects. But what should replace it?

The California Office of Planning and Research (OPR) proposes to replace LOS with VMT for the EIR process. That is a step in the right direction, but I am not optimistic it will make transit projects “much much easier” to implement — as some seem to think.

One problem is that LOS is firmly established in transportation agencies. They will continue to use the metric, regardless of what is required in an EIR. It is unlikely that a transit agency, or bike planner, will get to build a project if it were to significantly degrade LOS at an intersection. A City Council is even less likely to approve of such a project. LOS will continue to be a flaming-hoop-of-fire that projects will have to jump through.

Yes, but what about all those frivolous EIR lawsuits? Actually, that problem is greatly exaggerated. Only a tiny number of EIR’s are successfully challenged. The most famous example, the injunction against the San Francisco Bike Plan, will probably never happen again now that California has exempted bike projects from EIR’s.

So using VMT is fixing something that isn’t horribly broken — though it might make it worse. Why might VMT make EIR’s worse? Because sweeping changes in the regulations could provide fertile ground for creative lawsuits. LOS has decades of case precedent, whereas the courts may have to re-define terms like mitigations and significant impacts in a new VMT regime.

 

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Greenwash Alliance

San Jose’s Diridon Station Area Plan will build a Sea of Parking around the new BART and HSR stations. And you don’t have to take my word for it — even Rod Diridon agrees. So you might expect the Greenbelet Alliance to come out against the plan….or not:

The plan also calls for creating a dynamic world-class community next to the station that’s designed around people, rather than cars, to create an attractive urban village in the heart of San Jose.

The Diridon Plan provides one of San Jose’s best opportunities to carry out many of the goals from its Envision 2040 General Plan, especially increasing walking, biking and transit trips. Now the hard part: Making the vision a reality. This will require strong leadership and cross-jurisdictional collaboration. The San Jose City Council should start by approving the Diridon Plan.

pavilion

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House GOP Transportation bill would slash $1.2 billion from housing subsidies for the poor, eliminate funding for high-speed rail, eliminate bike/ped funding, and cut $200 million for new transit projects.

On the other hand, the GOP has no problem with continuing $150 million in subsidies for the Essential Air Services program.

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gBART

The Phase-1 eBART extension, now under construction, will take BART into the Eastern Contra Costa County ex-urbs. Phase-2 would take it beyond the ex-urbs, into rural and greenfield locations. Call it gBART if you will.

It is inevitable that the empty fields surrounding gBART stations will be converted to new housing developments. But will planners use this “blank slate” opportunity to build walkable communities around transit…or will it just be more sprawl?

Well, the answer is pretty obvious from the proposed station renderings. All the stations will be built in a freeway median, surrounded by giant parking lots:

Laurel Road station

Laurel Road station

 

 

Lone Tree Way station

Lone Tree Way station

 

Mokelumne Trail station (at least this one has a bike/ped path)

Mokelumne Trail station (at least this one has a bike/ped path)

 

San Creek station

San Creek station

 

Balfour Road station

Balfour Road station

 

Discovery Bay station

Discovery Bay station

 

Here is the Google Streetview of the Discovery Bay station location:

discovery_bay_streetview

 

MTC policy is that new rail projects must incorporate transit-oriented development in order to receive funding. But as can be seen from these station plans, the TOD requirements are never taken seriously.

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