Archive for November, 2012

Your Moment of Zen

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Separation of Science and Politics

The Editorial Board at the Oklahoman (motto: “The State’s Most Trusted News”) wants to roll back the clock to before the Enlightenment. Mixing Science and Politics, they argue, would result in bad public policy:

Science doesn’t exist independent of political considerations, even in its most basic research applications. When science is used to actively foster a political agenda, things can get even worse. Currently, environmentalists are pushing for tax policies to discourage the use of fossil fuels, citing the “science” of global warming.

Oh yeah…the Oklahoman is owned by oil and gas billionaire Philip Anschutz.

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Sharrows Are Not A Bike Plan

Once upon a time, sharrows might have seemed like a good idea for special situations. But now they are a way for communities to do “pretend” bike plans. Just stripe a bunch of sharrows on streets and voila! we have a bike network — without having to make messy political compromises on parking and lane removal. A great way for city councils to pretend to care about bicycling, without actually accomplishing anything.

For example, here is a map Alhambra’s proposed bike “plan“. As you can see, it consists almost entirely of Class III routes:

Bike advocates are correct in describing this as the worst kind of 1970’s bike planning:

Vincent Chang, co-founder of Bike SGV, said for local bikers, the draft plan came up short. It doesn’t have enough physical bike lanes, he said, and misses major streets like Fremont Avenue and Valley Boulevard altogether.

“I think it definitely needs a little more work,” Chang said. “To me it seems that this plan as it stands right now it’s not really effective, it would have been a plan in the 70s or something like that. It’s just really disappointing to be frank.”

Another example is Oklahoma City. Their plan will “stripe” some 200 miles of “bikeways”. You may think 200 miles of bikeways is awesome — but note that I put the words stripe and bikeways in quotes. That 200 miles of bikeways is all Class III infrastructure, with no special bike accommodation:

OKLAHOMA CITY — The first of more than 200 miles of bike routes, including shared lanes or “sharrow” bike lanes, are being installed in Oklahoma City. The sharrows are pavement markings which, along with new signage marking the routes, remind motorists to share the road with bicyclists and convey that the street is a preferred bike route. They are different from bike lanes because they do not allocate space just for the cyclist.

“Sharrows are being installed on streets like Hefner Road and NW 19th Street that are popular with bicyclists, but are too narrow for conventional bike lanes,” said transportation planner Randall Entz. “When they are installed downtown as a part of Project 180 renovations, they will also help to keep cyclist out of the door swing zones of parked cars.”

Here is a view of Hefner Rd. How can anyone seriously argue this road is too narrow for bike lanes?

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This Bike Path Funded by Coca Cola

Does your city have a soda tax? Perhaps it should consider one.

This past election saw two Californian cities, Richmond and El Monte, vote on soda-tax ballot measures. Richmond’s Measure N would have imposed a 1-cent-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. The measure would have raised millions in cash-strapped city with a high obesity rate. A companion measure, Measure O, asked if the funds should be spent on “sports and health education programs aimed at local youths.”

The reasons for the tax is clear:

Children would have been the biggest beneficiaries of the measure. The soda tax would have helped children learn about nutrition so they could have made better decisions, and hopefully stopped lethal cycles of unhealthy eating passed down by their parents. About 50 percent of all children in Richmond are obese or overweight and 70 percent of them will most likely be unhealthy as adults. With statistics like these, supporters of the soda tax felt that drastic measures had to be taken.

Of course, the soda companies poured millions into defeating the measures. Richmond’s Measure N got just 33% of the vote. El Monte’s measure did even worse. Despite the electoral defeat, proponents aren’t giving up. They are promising to return in 2014 — and not just in Richmond.

Proponents of the soda tax are in it for the long-haul, and have good reason to be optimistic. The economy has devastated city finances, making the soda tax an attractive revenue source. And if the tax addresses a health epidemic, that sweetens (no pun intended) the deal.

Thus, I think it inevitable that cities enact soda taxes — and this presents a new opportunity for bike/ped advocates to fund projects.

We already know that cities with good bike and ped infrastructure have much lower obesity rates. If a city levies a soda tax as an anti-obesity measure, then there is strong argument to be made that some of the windfall go towards things like bike and ped infrastructure, and safe-routes-to-school programs.

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Boat To Nowhere

Nobody could have predicted that an Oakland-SSF ferry service would have just a 7% farebox recovery:

It’s still early, but the new ferry service between South San Francisco and the East Bay will have to make a lot of improvements to maintain its generous funding subsidies.

Under the terms of its agreement with the MTC, San Francisco Bay Ferry — the regional agency in charge of the service — is supposed to maintain a 30 percent farebox recovery rate. After a month of operation, it was at 7.3 percent, a mark that has raised concern at the MTC. “The substandard farebox recovery rate is certainly a cause for concern,” said MTC spokesman John Goodwin.

The new SSF ferry building also cost $26 million.

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Only creeps and weirdos ride the bus. So any parent sending their child to school by public transit is obviously an unfit parent:

It had been brought to her attention, the principal said, by some “concerned parents,” that my daughter had been riding the city bus to and from school. I said, yes, we had just moved outside of the neighborhood, and felt that this was the most convenient way for our 5th grader to get there and back. The principal asked was I not concerned for her safety? “Safety from what?” I inquired. “Kidnapping,” she said reluctantly.

I said that I would not bore her by talking statistics that, being in the business of taking care of young children, she surely knew better than I did. She reminded me that our transfer application (a formality in cases such as ours, when the student has less than a year left to complete at their former school) has not yet been submitted, and that if we were “unable to provide transportation,” the central office would not approve this transfer. I assured her that we were perfectly able to provide transportation, but were choosing to avail ourselves of the city’s excellent public transportation system instead.

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Worse Than Clipper

Hard to believe, but there is a ‘Smart’ card project even more badly managed than MTC’s Clipper:

The myki ticket system was initially supposed to be running by March 2007, but more than five years later it is still being introduced at a total cost of $1.52 billion – more than half the cost of NASA’s recent Mars mission.

It gets worse:

In a report last November the Victorian Ombudsman attacked the state’s handling of major information and communication technology (ICT) projects, including myki, saying there was too much acceptance of cost blowouts.

The Baillieu government initially considered scrapping myki, but opted to keep the troubled system with modifications after a review by accounting firm Deloitte found abandoning it would cost the state $1 billion.

Mr Carolan told the hearing no one on the Transport Ticketing Authority board had read the Deloitte review, which the government is fighting in the Supreme Court to keep secret. But he said the board had been briefed on the report, which has recommended to do away with short-term tickets and to not install myki ticket machines on trams.


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Institutional dysfunction at the FRA and the DOT isn’t exactly a sexy topic for the mainstream press. So kudos to Stephen Smith for publishing a great article in Bloomberg that asks whether the next DOT Secretary can be a technical leader:

David Gunn, the president of Amtrak from 2002 to 2005, cited a lack of technical knowledge as the biggest problem at the Transportation Department, which he said has devolved into “an agency that just distributes money.”

“If you look at the Federal Railroad Administration and the Department of Transportation, they’ve never really had professional leadership,” argued Gunn.

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Sharrows Suck

“Sharrow” striping is one of the stupidest ideas ever devised by road planners. Designed to avoid political conflicts on removing parking or auto lanes — they are quite useless for cyclists. Indeed, sharrows may increase the risk to cyclists according to a recent UBC study. Lots of good data in the study, but here is the main result:

The study also found traffic circles to be extremely dangerous. That is a surprising and controversial result.

Update: Here is the main link to the study group, with some additional info.

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Parking Rightsizing

The next time merchants in your downtown demand another parking garage because of the parking “shortfall” you can recommend a radically simple solution: Shrink the size of the parking stall.

Whereas the size of a standard American parallel-parking spot is 23 to 24′ long, in the UK it is more like 20′. In France (and much of continental Europe) it is 18′.

Just imagine if the parking spots in crowded downtown areas were reduced by 6′ — that increases parking utilization by a whopping 25%.

Oh, but what about the poor SUV drivers who can’t fit their Lincoln Navigator into an 18′ stall? Well, so what? Why should cities reduce their parking supply by 1/4 to accommodate oversized SUV’s? And in any case, anyone who can afford to gas up an SUV can pay to park their vehicle in an offstreet garage.

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