Archive for September, 2013

One of the dumbest highway project in the entire US:

The secretary for the Westpark Home Owners Association, a group of residents whose houses would be destroyed if the Centennial Corridor freeway segment is built, threatened the Bakersfield City Council with a lawsuit Wednesday if the project continues.

“If you approve the validation action this evening, we will take you to court,” WHOA secretary Marc Caputo told the council as more than 40 Westpark residents sat and listened to council members share their doubts about going into debt to pay Bakersfield’s share of the federally funded Thomas Roads Improvement Program.

After more than an hour of debate, the council voted 6-1 to approve a validation action. It was the legal first step toward later borrowing as much as $270 million, to match $570 million in federal funds secured for the city by former U.S. Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Bakersfield.

“I’m just imploring you to consider a no-build option,” said resident Kimberly Squires. “The money’s just not there. The benefit’s small, the harm is great.”

Ward 1 Councilman Willie Rivera joined in the soul-searching, wondering if the city will have enough funds to repay the $270 million, years from now, while simultaneously maintaining local roads.

The city is going to borrow a shitload of money for a highway that will destroy a neighborhood, while doing little to alleviate traffic. Not that Bakersfield has much traffic…

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Oakland’s 40th St is a classic road-diet candidate. A wide 4-lane arterial with left-turn pockets, it has minimal car traffic. But instead of implementing the road-diet (as called for in the Bike Plan), a “Green-Stripe” sharrow was painted instead. This morning, I made a site visit to see the results of their experiment.

The first observation is that cars were using both lanes. This was not good, as it meant higher travel speeds. Some had been hoping that the green-stripe would serve as a de-facto bike lane, but that was clearly not happening. Bikes should not have to share a lane with fast moving traffic.

I then spent some time observing how bikes were using the green-stripe sharrow. I observed 2 bikes riding to the right of the green-stripe (i.e. in the door zone). I saw another bicyclist riding on the sidewalk. 4 bicyclists did use the green-stripe as intended. I also saw another cyclist start down the street, but then cut over to the left lane to turn off onto a side street (can’t really blame him). I only had 30 minutes to observe the street operation, so this is not enough data to draw any firm conclusions. But the relatively small number of cyclists suggests the facility is not encouraging any new trips.

I will re-iterate points made in an earlier posting. The traffic volumes on 40th are sufficiently small enough that a road-diet could be easily built. That is what is called for in the Bike Plan. If Oakland city officials cannot accomplish even this trivial project, then they should just tear up the Bike Plan and terminate the bike staff.



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Park Or Stadium Parking?

Economists often criticize the ridiculous costs of professional football stadiums. A modern stadium can cost in the neighborhood of $1 billion, even though the typical NFL football team plays just 8 home games per year. And it isn’t just the cost of the stadium itself, but also the massive amount of parking:

There is a huge uproar right now over the revelation that the San Francisco 49ers still have to find 5,000 more parking spaces for the new stadium being built in Santa Clara County. It set off arguments among a number of different groups. Some people are wondering where those parking spots will come from. Locals worry the team will pave over a soccer spot, or destroy butterfly or bird habitats or an ancient Ohlone Indian burial ground.

The city estimates Levi’s Stadium needs 21,000 parking spaces. So far, the 49ers have 16,000 right now. They need 5,000 more and what better place than right next door to the Santa Clara youth soccer facility.

One of the options is the Ulistac Natural Area just down the street. Opponents say the fields would back up almost all the way to the levee and all that will be left will be the wetlands and the area immediately around and south of the bird and butterfly habitat garden.

So the plan is to destroy parks and soccer fields — all to accommodate 8 home games per year.


Guadalupe River Trail, running along Ulistac Park

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NSF Cancels Political Science Grant Funding

Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma is well-known for his hostility to global warming science. But he also has it in for research in the social sciences — geography, business administration, economics and political science. In 2011 he put out a report calling for the elimination of social science spending, along with $3 billion in other cuts to the NSF. (The report also poked fun at a bicycle study by UC Davis researchers).

Then in the 2013 budget he got his wish. A Coburn amendment eliminated NSF grant funding for political science:

Senator Coburn (R-OK) submitted an amendment (SA 65, as modified) to the Mikulski-Shelby Amendment (SA 26) to H.R. 933 (Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013). The amendment places unprecedented restriction on the national research agenda by declaring the political science study of democracy and public policy out of bounds. The amendment allows only political science research that promotes “national security or the economic interests of the United States.”

Adoption of this amendment is a gross intrusion into the widely-respected, independent scholarly agenda setting process at NSF that has supported our world-class national science enterprise for over sixty years.

The amendment creates an exceptionally dangerous slippery slope. While political science research is most immediately affected, at risk is any and all research in any and all disciplines funded by the NSF. The amendment makes all scientific research vulnerable to the whims of political pressure. Adoption of this amendment demonstrates a serious misunderstanding of the breadth and importance of political science research for the national interest and its integral place on the nation’s interdisciplinary scientific research agenda.

Singling out any one field of science is short-sighted and misguided, and poses a serious threat to the independence and integrity of the National Science Foundation. And shackling political science within the national science agenda is a remarkable embarrassment for the world’s exemplary democracy.

According to Coburn, money spent on social sciences would be better spent on physical sciences so as to improve America’s competitive advantage against Europe and Asia. This is a really bizarre world view. If you compare America to the political backwardness of China, or the near-collapse of the EU, it is pretty clear that fields like economics and political science are indeed vital to America’s competitiveness.

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Build It And They Will Ride

When a Bay Bridge bike path was first proposed by bike advocates, there were many who laughed it off. Countless news articles, like this one, describing the path as an expensive luxury few would use:

Plans now call for a 15-foot-wide bike/pedestrian lane to be part of the new Bay Bridge section that will cover the 2.1 miles between Oakland and Yerba Buena Island. The cost will be $50 million, and while no one knows how many cyclists will use it, none of them will be commuting to San Francisco because the bike lane will end mid-Bay.

Bicycle commuters: the few, the proud, the expensive.

Well, now the path has been built and we know the answer:

The new Bay Bridge is seeing a new kind of traffic jam: bikes, roller skates, strollers, dogs, scooters and a whole lot of gawkers.

Thousands have been flocking to the span’s bicycle/pedestrian path, which has become one of the Bay Area’s hottest attractions since it opened Sept. 3. Crowds are so thick that the two entrances are experiencing a sort of two-wheeled gridlock that almost requires its own FasTrak lanes.

The path doesn’t even reach Treasure Island yet. And just wait until it reaches all the way across the Bay…


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A disproportionate number of fatal bicycle collisions involve large trucks. Blind spots and right-hook accidents at intersections are two main culprits. But another reason is the lack of wheel guards.

Wheel guards (also known as sideguards and underride guards) can protect bicyclists from getting dragged under the large wheels. It is one reason the UK and Europe have required their use by law since the 1980’s. Indeed, the Mayor of London wants to take the regulations further:

Fines of £200 will be imposed on lorry drivers whose vehicles are not fitted with basic safety equipment under measures to cut the number of cyclist deaths. The “safer lorry charge” will initially be levied on tipper trucks, cement mixers and refuse lorries without side guards to prevent cyclists being crushed under the rear wheels. Officials say it is likely to be extended to include additional front- and side-view mirrors and electronic sensors to pick up cyclists in the vehicles’ blind spots. The charge will initially be applied to the London region but will be extended to other cities if it saves lives.

The NHTSA has known about the problem for decades, but has done nothing to address the issue. The last major regulation was issued in 1998, but only applied to rear-guards. Rear-guards protect motorists (when they slam into the back of a truck) but don’t do anything for bike/ped safety. And even for motorists, the rear-guard protection doesn’t always help, because the Federal standard is so weak.

The good news: on June 17, 2013 the NTSB issued a safety recommendation for side underride protection, and other safety measures that would benefit bicyclists/peds:

Develop performance standards for visibility enhancement systems to compensate for blind spots in order to improve the ability of drivers of single-unit trucks with gross vehicle weight ratings over 10,000 pounds to detect vulnerable road users, including pedestrians and cyclists, in their travel paths.

Develop performance standards for side underride protection systems for single-unit trucks with gross vehicle weight ratings over 10,000 pounds.

To improve highway vehicle crash compatibility, develop performance standards for front underride protection systems for trucks with gross vehicle weight ratings over 10,000 pounds.

The NTSB report is open and awaiting formal response from the NHTSA.


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International Conspiracy

Well, they are on to us! East Cobb residents have discovered the Secret International Conspiracy to make them move into apartments and ride bicycles:

Some east Cobb residents are crying foul at county design guidelines intended to improve Johnson Ferry Road, but county officials say the guidelines are a product of public input. The design plan and guidelines aim to create a walkable and biking-friendly community and were created after a series of meetings with residents and business owners.

Jan Barton, also of east Cobb, alleges the plan isn’t being driven by local effort but an international move toward more sustainable living. She points toward a non-binding United Nations initiative to create more sustainable, walkable and biking-friendly communities, called Agenda 21, that some Republicans and tea party members say will lead to a loss of local control.

“We have a bunch of people outside of Cobb County telling us we should be urban and suburban,” Barton said.

But that’s just the beginning! The All Powerful Bicycle Conspiracy is going to turn East Cobb into Copenhagen:

“Honey, take your bike, drop Susie off at her dance lesson, then go to Kroger and get a loaf of bread, a dozen eggs and a quart of half and half. Oh, and since you will be right there, stop at the cleaners and pick up your shirts.”

Sound ridiculous?

Of course it does, but if one puts any credence in the words of certain biking groups, the Complete Streets gang and the various interests pushing the Johnson Ferry Corridor plan and others like it, that type of conversation could very well be going on in Cobb County in the near future.

What is really ridiculous is that Susie can’t safely walk or bike on her own to the dance lesson….

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Make Room

Getting “bumped” has been a well-known problem for cyclists using Caltrain. But it happens to regular passengers as well:

Q. I took Caltrain to an event near the Giants baseball park on a recent Saturday evening, planning to return on the 10:15 p.m. departure. I chose Caltrain so I wouldn’t have to worry about parking near the stadium on game day nor driving after drinking. I tagged my Clipper card at 10:12 p.m., which should have been plenty of time to get on the train, but as I was about to go though the doors the gate agent shut the doors and stopped about 10 of us from boarding.

The agent said the train was full and we would have to wait until midnight for the next train. I am sure there was room to stand SOMEWHERE (in an aisle, on a bike car).

A Christine the Caltrain spokeswoman had this to say:

“Caltrain has a seated capacity of 650 passengers and is designed to carry several hundred standing passengers. In our effort to carry as many passengers as possible on these special event days, many trains are operating with more than 1,000 riders. People are standing in the aisles as well as in the vestibules by the doorways. The conductor is responsible for the safe operation of the train. It is up to his or her discretion to determine when the train is full.

While we would like to offer additional service, our ability to provide more service is limited by equipment and crew availability. Caltrain is exploring the possibility of purchasing or leasing additional passenger cars. Unfortunately, up to this point, we have not been to locate any available equipment.”

The problem isn’t just a lack of equipment, but also too many seats. Removing some seats (possibly converting to flip-up seats) is a quick and inexpensive solution. During off-peak times, it would permit more bikes to board. And it would accommodate the large crowds after ballgames.

Caltrain customers have been suggesting this for decades. So why doesn’t Caltrain investigate this solution? Because staff has been extremely stubborn about it, and continues to believe that maximizing the number of seats is the best way to run the service. Even though removing seats would increase capacity — and farebox revenue.


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