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Archive for the ‘planning’ Category

ARTIC Platform Fail

$188 million was just spent building a new train station for Anaheim — including new platforms.

Those new platforms will allow for level-platform boarding right?

No, of course not. But the planners did publish a helpful Powerpoint presentation explaining why the new station doesn’t have level-platform boarding. It reads like a confession from the planners, describing all the reasons why they suck.

artic_platform

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wordThey keep calling it “Transit-Oriented Development” — but I don’t think they know what it means:

Could the purchase of a 2.2-acre strip transform the city’s downtown into a more commuter- and shopper-friendly place? Mayor Benjamin Blake thinks so, which is why he’s excited about the expected approval soon by the State Bond Commission of nearly $5 million to pay for the first phase of a parking plan that would allow the city to buy the the former A&P Supermarket site, plus two other parcels along the north side of the Metro-North Railroad station.

Although still in its formative stages, the purchase would lead to the creation of about 350 parking spaces, much of which would be in two-level parking structures. City officials said that there are about 750 people on the waiting list for a parking spot near the Metro-North station, with some having been on the list for more than two years. “Fifty spaces will be added immediately, while we wait for funding sources for Phase II,” Blake said.

“Over the last four years, we have worked with municipal partners to advance transit-oriented development projects in order to lay the foundation for long-term sustainable economic growth in towns across the state and ensure these are livable, walkable communities for employees and employers alike,” said Malloy in his news release

They are going to spend $5 million to purchase the land, plus interest costs (because it is a bond), plus the cost of a 2-level parking garage — all for the benefit of a few hundred train commuters!

If they really wanted to “transform” downtown, the city could have put in downtown housing, providing customers for the defunct supermarket. Instead, they will hollow out downtown for a parking lot.

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Leaderless

There are now 5 transportation agencies within the Federal government that are being run by acting administrators:

  • The FTA: Therese McMillan’s is acting administrator while her nomination is pending in the Senate.
  • NHTSA, where David Friedman has been acting administrator since the resignation of David Strickland (over the GM ignition switch scandal).
  • The FRA, which is losing Joe Szabo (thank God!).
  • NTSB: Deborah Hersman resigned as Chair earlier this year. Christopher Hart has been Acting Chair.
  • FHWA: Gregory Nadeau is acting Administrator.

Other than McMillan, the Obama Administration has yet to make a nomination for these agencies. It is one of those rare opportunities where the Obama Administration could dramatically support transit, bikes, and livability goals. Well, that is if the Administration were really interested in doing that.

Just imagine: an NTSB that focuses on road safety, instead of hot-air balloons and rocketships. An NHTSA that implements regulations for truck sideguards. An FRA that doesn’t regulate passenger trains out of existence. An FHWA that isn’t blindly promoting highway expansion.

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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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