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News & Notes

Transportation Act Projects announcement

Governor O’Malley and Lt. Governor Anthony Brown announces improvement to Marc train Red Line by Brian K. Slack at Baltimore, MD. Photo (cc) Maryland Gov Pics.

→ The Baltimore Sun: O’Malley to announce $1.5 billion for Baltimore-area transportation projects

Gov. Martin O’Malley plans to announce $1.5 billion in new state funding for the Baltimore Red Line and more than a dozen other transportation projects in the area Wednesday, officials said, outlining for the first time how the state’s gas tax increase will be tapped to improve local infrastructure and mass transit here.

O’Malley also plans to discuss the state’s interest in attracting public-private partnerships to help fund the Red Line project, and a Dec. 7 start date for weekend MARC train service between Baltimore and Washington, which has never been offered before.

[Baltmore Mayor Stephanie] Rawlings-Blake said the new funding “says that the state is serious about being a partner with Baltimore” to improve connections between transportation options.

“They’re putting their money where their mouth is,” she said. “They’re recognizing that for the state to be strong, Baltimore has to be strong, and it has to be strong as a connected city.”


→ The Boston Globe: Menino pushes plan to boost housing

Mayor Thomas M. Menino is proposing to reach his ambitious goal of building 30,000 homes in Boston by allowing taller structures with smaller units, selling public land to developers at a discount, and using subsidies to spur development of more affordable housing, according to a blueprint to be released Monday.

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News & Notes

Chicago Holga-ish

A city bus in Downtown Chicago. Photo (cc) CameliaTWU

News & Notes→ Will Rahm Emanuel Show America What BRT Can Do? [Streetsblog]

With impressive urgency, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has spent his first months in office retooling and reconfiguring how the “City That Works” works. Emanuel’s energy is evident in changes from beat-cop deployment to the push for a longer school day, but perhaps the mayor’s most tangible efforts can be seen in his ambitious transportation agenda.

With Chicago DOT Commissioner Gabe Klein at his side, Emanuel has already implemented the city’s first protected bike lanes as part of a plan to add 100 miles of bike lanes within four years, announced a $1 billion upgrade to the Chicago Transit Authority’s Red Line, and passed a $2 “congestion fee” on downtown parking garages that will go towards the creation of a CTA Green Line stop that serves McCormick Place – the nation’s largest convention center – and a downtown circulator bus route being billed as bus rapid transit.


→ Top cities stories of 2011 [The Grist]

It’s that time of year again: When public schools everywhere cast about desperately for a holiday celebration that doesn’t involve Jesus or a dude in a red suit; when families gather from thither and yon to spend a few days remembering why they’ve scattered thither and yon in the first place; and yes, it’s time to take stock of the year past, and look ahead to the one coming up. As the guy charged with keeping an eye on all things urban around here, I curled up with my laptop on a winter’s night that was definitely not as cold as they used to be, dug through the archives, and now offer this, my most humble (and totally non-denominational) retrospective of 2011.


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News & Notes

Highway

Photo (cc) Count Rushmore

News & Notes→ Will pay-per-mile be a buzzkill for American road trips? [CNN]

During the next 20 years, projections show average vehicle fuel efficiency nearly doubling.

Revenues from the fuel tax will be slashed by half, according to the Iowa study.

Meanwhile, the cost of safe roads, bridges and transit systems will skyrocket. By 2020, says the American Society of Engineers, the price tag could be as high as $1.7 trillion.

Bottom line: two cents per mile would be enough to pay for the nation’s transportation infrastructure needs. That’s according to a 2009 nonpartisan commission headed by two former U.S. transportation secretaries.


→ Bring Back the Rooming House? [CitiWire]

Is it time to restore the old-fashioned rooming house – or something akin to it – in America’s cities?

Candidate strategies for more compact urban housing units abound. Smith suggests, for example, basement or attic flats that use the “excess” space in larger homes in which an aging homeowner wants to remain but has rooms that are idle and chores that need to be done. “A bargain can be struck,” he suggests, with a younger tenant who pays reduced rent in exchange for upkeep and light maintenance. The net result: “to turn an over-housed, under-maintained single-family dwelling into a multi-household home that benefits both parties.”


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News & Notes

Amsterdam

Photo (cc) Fang Guo

News & Notes→ Amsterdam proves bikes and streetcars are allies [Greater Greater Washington]

Cyclists and streetcar tracks don’t always get along, but the two should not be enemies. On the contrary, cities with large streetcar networks also tend to be the most bicycle friendly.

This is because streetcars contribute strongly to the development of more dense, urban, less car-dependent cities – the same characteristics that produce the most friendly urban bicycling environment.


→ It’s time to forget the big-box store Downtown . . . and think small [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]

More boutiques, more women’s clothing and accessories, more home furnishings and entertainment, longer store hours, common courtesy and parking, parking, parking.

If the working group formed by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is serious about improving the retail environment Downtown, those areas might be good places to start.


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News & Notes

→ Where Things Are, From Near to Far: A Children’s Book About Planning [Planetizen]

While playing in the city park, little Hugo wonders, “Who put these buildings here?” Hugo’s mother leads him on a whirlwind trip through the city, the country, and everything in-between to explain the answer. This engaging book is an easy introduction to the world of urban planning, and illustrates that “every building has its place.”

In case anyone was wondering, I am not too old for you to buy this for me.


→ The Alexander Hamilton solution to RI’s local pension crisis [WPRI]

There are 23 plans run by 18 municipalities – about half the 39 cities and towns – that “are considered at-risk” because of underfunding, former Auditor General Ernest Almonte told the pension advisory group Wednesday. They include Providence, Warwick, Cranston, Pawtucket and East Providence – the state’s five largest communities and key parts of its economic engine.

This fall’s special legislative session on pensions is unlikely to do anything to address those local plans, focusing instead on the ones run by the state. But Almonte and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung warned of dire consequences if the independent plans’ problems aren’t addressed soon, and Governor Chafee proposed the MAST Fund partly due to those concerns.


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News & Notes

→ Projo 7 to 7 News Blog: Chafee takes first step toward casino study

The study would look, in part, at the impact on Rhode Island’s gambling revenue that from the potential of three privately run casinos in Massachusetts, a possible Wampanoag Indian casino in Southeastern Massachusetts, and the introduction of slots at the Bay State’s tracks.

The consultant would be asked to consider the impact, if any, on Rhode Island on a Shinnecock Indian casino at the eastern end of Long Island.

The study would also look at the potential impact on state revenue of allowing table games at both Twin River and Newport Grand — with and without competition from Massachusetts — and what might happen to state revenue if the Narragansetts were somehow able to buy Twin River.


→ The New York Times: ‘I Was A Teenage Cyclist,’ or How Anti-Bike-Lane Arguments Echo the Tea Party

If you’re itching to write an anti-bike-lane argument (and, if so, line up, because it’s a burgeoning literary genre), you could do no better than to follow the template laid out yesterday by The New Yorker’s John Cassidy in his blog post, “Battle of the Bike Lanes.”

Cassidy’s post – which has already been called “a seminal document of New York City’s bike lane backlash era” – helpfully includes all the requisite rhetorical tactics, thus providing an excellent blueprint. (You might even say “boilerplate.”) These include:

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Streetfilms MBA: Bus Rapid Transit


Streetfilms has launched a new series of videos, Moving Beyond the Automobile. As Streetfilms releases each video in the series, we’ll be posting them here for you to enjoy.

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) provides faster and more efficient service than an ordinary bus. “These systems operate like a surface subway, say BRT advocates, but cost far less than building an actual metro.” Watch this chapter of Moving Beyond the Automobile to learn about the key features of bus rapid transit systems around the world and how BRT helps shift people out of cars and taxis and into buses.

Streetfilms would like to thank The Fund for the Environment & Urban Life for making this series possible.

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News & Notes

→ I want to bike and walk but… [Coalition for Transportation Choices]

For Earth Day 2010, CTC member Audubon Society of RI challenged students grades 3 – 12 to respond to the lead-in “I want to bike and walk but…”

The students addressed their essays, poems or raps to their town’s mayor and submitted their work individually or had it selected by teachers from 27 classrooms in 19 municipalities. The students wrote about barriers encountered in walking or bicycling to school or visiting family and friends and suggested solutions.

→ City exploring slimmer, trimmer roads [Chicago Tribune]

Like a bulging waistline, Chicago streets have gotten fat over the years, growing wider from curb to curb to handle more vehicles.

With that additional girth, traffic-related dangers have expanded, too, especially for pedestrians and transit riders trying to cross busy streets and bicyclists sharing the road with cars and trucks. Sidewalks, meanwhile, often have been narrowed to accommodate more traffic lanes.

The unfortunate upshot is that the high priority placed on accommodating vehicles over other forms of transportation has in many cases backfired.

→ Do urbanists hate the automobile? Not this one [MinnPost.com]

But for me driving is a little like chocolate. It’s a wonderful indulgence that is easily overdone. When everyone drives a lot, things get out of hand: traffic congestion, air pollution, storm-water runoff, oil spills, greenhouse-gas emissions, oil dependence, foreign-policy complications that sometimes lead to wars, sprawled development, redundant infrastructure, drive-through lifestyles that lead to bad nutrition and obesity — all of these things can be laid, at least partially, on our need and desire to drive excessively.

→ Better Transit, Even on the Cheap, Doesn’t Always Come Easy [The TransportPolitic]

With the rise of bus rapid transit and the increasing movement for better bicycling facilities have come a new form of community protest — a sense of indignation among some members of the affected areas about abandoning parts of the road they they had once assumed were to be entirely reserved for cars. From New York to Berkeley to Eugene, places more typically known for their liberal politics are becoming battle grounds over the right and wrong ways to use the street.

→ Case Studies of Latino New Urbanism: San Ysidro [The City Fix]

They are places that are layered and altered from the ground up, as opposed to being single-use and organized. James Rojas, an urban transportation planner, describes “Latino New Urbanism” as the sort of place that “derives its character” not from “structures, codes and designs” but from the way Latinos have transformed and adapted American suburban or urban environments to fit the needs of their communities.

→ Streetcars vs. Monorails [Slate]

So the future we thought we were going to get somehow seems antiquated, while the past looks increasingly, well, futuristic. Why is the trolley ascendant as the monorail declines?

→ Flood [City of Sound]

An extensive account of the Brisbane flood from someone on the ground.

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News & Notes

→ The war on trains [History Eraser Button]

What the hell is going on? Opposition to trains is not some kind of Tea Party platform. You aren’t hearing anybody talk about it on Fox News or AM radio. There’s little if any populist rage against trains. Rail improvements have bipartisan support at the federal level. Trains make sense and have a proven record of helping boost local economies; they’re pork projects in the best sense of the word. [New Jersey Governor Chris] Christie, especially, serves a constituency in New Jersey that depends on trains to get around every day. Additionally, in my experience, state politicians are deeply reluctant to kill projects that divert federal funds to local construction companies. And even if trains aren’t your favorite thing, and even if you think they require too much taxpayer money, they’re certainly cheaper than highways.

→ Miles Not Gallons Could Be Key to Road Upkeep [Miller-McCune]

“Tying the funding of our transportation system to a tax levied on a commodity, the consumption of which we’re trying to discourage, is probably not the best way to go,” said [Jeff] Shane, a partner at the Hogan Lovells law firm in Washington and a former undersecretary for policy at the Department of Transportation.

→ Select Bus Service Debuts on Manhattan’s Busiest Bus Route [StreetsBlog]

→ Transit Mode Share Trends Looking Steady; Rail Appears to Encourage Non-Automobile Commutes [The TransportPolitic]

→ As Suburban Poverty Grows, U.S. Fails to Respond Adequately [Next American City]

Over the last ten years, more than two-thirds of poverty growth in the nation’s metro areas occurred in the suburbs, and there are now 1.6 million more poor people living in the suburbs than in center cities. Since 2000, there has been a general increase in the nation’s poverty rate, but it has been far worse in the suburbs than in the cities—a 37.4% increase versus 16.7%. Though the poverty rate remains higher in central cities, the number of poor suburbanites is growing quickly.

Transit providers have been hit hard, too, but the fact is that the suburbs are not ready for the spread of the poor to the suburbs. That’s because areas of lower density are difficult to serve by buses and trains without expenses going through the roof and low ridership. Many new construction projects are for big expansions of the rail network downtown, where efficiencies of scale ensure actual use of these lines. In big metropolitan areas, the lack of fast transit has increased travel to work times significantly, making life harder for those who live far from their jobs—a frequent issue for those who live in the suburbs. Because for these people there frequently is no choice but to rely on the car, this means that there is no option but to reduce the number of trips taken, which is apparently what is happening to many households. But that is equivalent to less mobility for the people who arguably need it the most!

→ The High Cost of Electric Cars [Next American City]

“Am I the only one who sees GoogleCars as an improved means to an unimproved, even catastrophic end? Ice caps are melting: have a robot car!” So wrote Alex Steffen of Worldchanging on Twitter earlier this week. To reply: Alex, you’re not the only one.

I sent a similar Tweet from the Better World by Design conference when the keynote featured a slide about “Sustainable Urbanism” that showed a single family detached McMansion with an electric car in the garage. Neither sustainable nor urban in my opinion. The next speaker, from Better Place then went on about the virtues of electric cars and smart grids.

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Why a Monorail is Better than a Streetcar

This post was submitted Greater City Providence reader Peter Brassard. If you’ve written something you’d like us to consider posting, please contact us and let us know.

A monorail is a better choice than a streetcar. The construction costs for a light monorail are similar to streetcars, but operational costs would be roughly 70% less. It is true that both conventional bus transit and Bus-Rapid-Transit (BRT) have the least expensive upfront costs with operating expenses roughly 30% less than that of streetcars. [Comparison] Streetcars as with other rail modes (light-rail or commuter rail) will bring new jobs and new real estate development, which conventional buses will not.

portland streetcar

Portland, OR streetcar, Photo (cc) Adams Carroll from Flickr

RIPTA and the City of Providence will be holding public hearings, during the week of September 19, to get community input on the Providence Core Connector Study. The circulator project is intended to improve traffic movement throughout Downtown to better integrate the Jewelry District, the 195 surplus land, and Downcity. It would also facilitate the implementation of the “starter streetcar” system that will connect College Hill, the train station, and the South Providence Hospital District.

Due to the ongoing physical expansion of Downtown and the continued development of the medical biotech industry in the city, a new internal Downtown transit system is becoming increasingly necessary. When commuter rail service is re-established from points south, parts of Downtown will be too distant from the train station. It’s unreasonable to expect commuters to walk to jobs in the Hospital or Jewelry Districts from the train station. Along with a connection to College Hill, the proposed starter streetcar system will begin to address Downtown’s current transit deficiencies.

One of Mayor Cicilline’s original reasons for proposing streetcars is that they would demonstrate a serious commitment to transit and the city’s development. His assertion can be backed up by decades of data that confirms when U.S. cities have installed rail transit it acts as a catalyst to increase jobs, real estate development and values, and tax income, as well as, attracting new businesses and increasing population near stations. [Transit 2020 Economic Development (.pdf)] Conventional bus systems don’t have that impact. Capital Center where the majority of Downtown development has occurred over the last 10 years was due in large part because of its adjacency to Providence Station with commuter and intercity trains, is a local example of this positive rail-economic effect.

Is RIPTA’s and the city’s choice of streetcars simply following a national trend? Just about every city in the country right now is enamored with and attempting to build streetcars or light-rail systems. Many of these cities are the same ones that so enthusiastically dismantled their preceding streetcar systems in the 1940s and 50s, another trend. What other transit methods might be available to provide affordable high-quality service beyond traditional buses that will have a positive economic effect? Over the last several years this website and writer have advocated for the re-introduction of streetcars in the City of Providence. With the upcoming hearings it might be worth examining the proposed streetcar choice by comparing it with other transit modes along with potential costs.

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