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distracted_walkingTo read the news lately, you’d think thousands of millenials are so distracted by their iPhones that they are walking off cliffs and stepping in front of trucks. Everywhere, there are PSA’s warning pedestrians to refrain from walking and texting. The Governors Highway Association blames Distracted Walking for the increasing pedestrian death toll. And now Honolulu’s city council has taken things a step further by passing a bill prohibiting pedestrians from texting while crossing the street.

But how serious of a problem is Distracted Walking? Are policymakers basing decisions on hard data, or anecdotes? The author of the Honolulu measure says he was motivated by stories told to him by some high schoolers.

The mass hysteria over Distracted Walking originated with a paper published by Jack Nasar (Ohio State University) and his student Derek Troyer. They argued that the increasing use of cell phones had caused a spike in pedestrian injuries. They were featured in major newspapers, such as the NY Times. Cell phones, it was reported, had caused over 1,000 serious injuries per year. And that was just the “tip of the iceberg” it was argued because many injuries don’t require hospitalization.

In absolute terms, those numbers may seem catastrophic. But in relative terms, they are insignificant. Just 3% of the pedestrian hospitalizations involved a cell phone. That is according to Nasar’s own numbers.

The 3% figure accounts for any kind of injury, not just ones involving motor vehicles. And the 3% figure covers use of a cell phone in any kind public space, not just sidewalks. The Honolulu law would only regulate use within an intersection, which makes up only a tiny fraction of that 3%. Even worse, Nasar reports most Distracted Walking accidents (70%) involved talking, not texting. The Honolulu measure would only cover texting (presumably, pedestrians could still talk with the same hands-free devices drivers use).

So the proposed law in Honolulu cannot possibly have any impact on the city’s pedestrian safety because there are so few cell-phone injuries to begin with. If anything, it could degrade pedestrian safety if it (ahem) distracts police from more important enforcement issues, like speeding and drunk driving

The Bay Area is notorious for preventing infill development around transit stations. But with Branham LRT station in San Jose, things have hit a new low.

The San Jose General Plan designates the area around the Branham LRT station for mixed-use development. Nonetheless, the VTA-owned property is zoned “A” (agricultural!). To facilitate transit-oriented development, VTA submitted a request to change the zoning. Developing the Branham parking lot is a no-brainer, since it has just 13% utilization.

But neighbors and Councilmember Johnny Khamis are pushing back, forcing the VTA to at least temporarily withdraw the application:

When VTA’s application was filed recently, San Jose City Councilman Johnny Khamis said he would demand it address traffic around the northbound on-ramp to Highway 87 near the site before he would even consider a land use amendment.

“I let VTA know that they would have big opposition, including myself, to developing that property…without traffic mitigation measures at least started. “To change the zoning to housing before we address the traffic concerns, it seemed irresponsible to me,” he added.

Gee, if only there were an LRT station nearby to mitigate the traffic….

branham

It will be amusing if they actually enforce this proposed law on tourists in Waikiki:

The Honolulu City Council passed a bill Wednesday that prohibits pedestrians from looking at their mobile devices while they cross the street. A pedestrian making a 911 call is exempted. Emergency responders performing official duties won’t face penalties either. Otherwise, fines will range from $15 to $99, depending on how many times they flout the ban.
Note this bill only applies to pedestrians. It will still be legal to view a mobile device while driving a car through an intersection.

In 2012, Nippon Sharyo won a contract to build new bilevel railcars for California and the midwest. The railcars were supposed to have gone into use by now, but the project (predictably for the usual reasons) has suffered major setbacks. Last year, the carbody prototypes failed FRA crash standards, forcing designers back to the drawing board. There have been reportedly hundreds of change orders.

In January 2017, Caltrans was supposed to present an update for the “next-generation” bi-level cars at a TRB conference. That presentation was abruptly canceled.  Steven Keck, CalTrans’ interim chief for rail, gave a cryptic explanation that no further information could be given due to ongoing negotiations over the schedule delays. Last month, Nippon Sharyo announced major layoffs at its plant, due to ongoing difficulties with the project:

Nippon Sharyo is cutting its workforce by about 110 employees because of continued complications with a prototype rail car, the company announced Monday. The rail-car manufacturer has laid off nearly two-thirds of its workforce in the past 5 months: It dropped 100 of its 350 employees in January.

“We continue to confront technical complications and delays with the bi-level rail car project that have forced us to evaluate the volume of work and the needs at our Rochelle facility,” the company said in a statement. “As a result, we have made the difficult decision to reduce our workforce.”

The project is funded by $551 million in federal funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. If the company cannot deliver on the contract by Sept 30, the funds revert back to the US Treasury.

lahood_nippon

Secretary LaHood announcing the Amtrak railcar order at the Nippon Sharyo plant, where he said: ” thanks to a standardized design initiated by our Federal Railroad Administration…the parts and components for passenger rail cars and locomotives lowers the costs of production and improves competition. It also makes it easier and reduces costs for operators to maintain equipment.”

Civil engineers in the US have a blind spot for any work done in foreign countries (especially non-English speaking ones). One example comes from a recent bike safety study done by Georgia Tech.

Researchers in the Ga Tech Civil Engineering Dept. tried to analyze which bike facility provides the most effective safety benefit:

Shared lane markings. Bike lanes painted a bright color. Bike boxes at intersections. Cycle tracks that provide physical barriers between bikes and cars.

Communities have built these and other flavors of infrastructure to try to make it safer for people to ride their bikes along roadways or through neighborhoods. But which ones work best?

The short answer is, we really aren’t sure yet.

That conclusion comes from a group of School of Civil and Environmental Engineering transportation researchers who analyzed studies on the effectiveness of bicycle safety infrastructure. Their work appears in the June issue of the Journal of Safety Research.

“There’s just so little research that we really have no idea how well most of these pieces of infrastructure are working in terms of keeping people safer,” said Kari Watkins, Frederick Law Olmsted associate professor and one of the study’s co-authors.

In fact, we have very good data as to what kind of bike infrastructure works because the Dutch (and Germans and Danes) figured this stuff out decades ago. They have published numerous papers, not to mention design manuals.

So why don’t researchers look at any of the results from Netherlands? Because…

Watkins said researchers may have missed relevant and insightful studies from other countries where much more bicycling infrastructure exists, like Germany and the Netherlands, simply because the work has not been translated into English.

 

As a bicyclist, this makes me extremely nervous. The Tesla Model X has a convenience “feature” whereby the car door opens itself. It is very gee whiz, until this happens:

cardoor

And here is a video taken by a Tesla enthusiast as he discovers this feature:

Slide-BIKE-SHARE_t180The timing is hilarious.

On June 1st, Baltimore Mayor Pugh announced that the Potomic street cycletrack would be ripped out, and downgraded to a dysfunctional and unprotected bike lane. This was done to placate residents upset over the loss of a couple parking spaces.  The Mayor also wants to “evaluate” other bike projects, which means this could be a precursor to other removals.

A mere 48 hours later, Mayor Pugh released a statement expressing support for the Paris climate accords:

My endorsement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including goal thirteen which specifically addresses climate action related to greenhouse gas reduction, recognizes the complexity of these challenges. As a city we cannot ignore the urgency of these issues.

It is true we have grown accustomed to politicians who lie and say one thing but do another. But even so, you have to wonder what the Mayor and her staff were thinking when they drafted this statement while working to remove a major bike project.