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News & Notes

→ The New York Times: Commuters Pedal to Work on Their Very Own Superhighway

Picture 11 miles of smoothly paved bike path meandering through the countryside. Largely uninterrupted by roads or intersections, it passes fields, backyards, chirping birds, a lake, some ducks and, at every mile, an air pump.

For some Danes, this is the morning commute.


→ Pedestrian Observations: Northeast Corridor HSR, 90% Cheaper

Amtrak’s latest Next-Generation High-Speed Rail plan is now up to $151 billion, from a prior cost of $117 billion. This is partially a small cost escalation, but mostly including Master Plan upgrades to the legacy line. Per kilometer of route length, this means the project has now crossed the $200 million/km mark, a higher cost than 60%-underground Chuo Shinkansen maglev. The primary cause of the high cost of Amtrak’s project is the heavy amount of deep-cavern urban tunneling: nearly a tenth of the cost is the Gateway Tunnel, a rebranded bundling of ARC into the project, and a similar amount is a similar project in Philadelphia. At least this time they’re serving Rhode Island with a stop in or near Providence rather than Woonsocket.


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News & Notes

If you’re on Twitter or Facebook and live in Providence, then you’ve seen this story posted a thousand times already today, if you’re not, then here you go:

→ The New York Times: 36 Hours in Providence, R.I.

Providence’s grit and obscurity make it easy to underestimate. On the verge of bankruptcy, with a former mayor who served four years in federal prison for racketeering conspiracy, the capital of the country’s smallest state has something of an image problem. But like Portland, Ore., or Austin, Tex., it’s also a town many times more creative and cosmopolitan than its modest population and municipal troubles suggest. Home to an Ivy League college, one of the best design schools in the country and a major culinary institute, Providence, unsurprisingly, has exceptional food, compelling art and architecture, a thriving gay scene and an inordinate number of very smart people. Yet the city remains unpretentious and affordable, a place where even the best restaurants rarely demand reservations.


→ Boston Society of Architects: Why punish Rhode Island?

…the [Boston-Providence] corridor has remained overshadowed, particularly after a few recent academic and professional Boston–Washington (Bos-Wash) rail concepts that shift the primary rail corridor between Boston and Washington westward, away from Providence and southern Rhode Island. The shift would reward regions and states, such as Connecticut, that have pursued a suburban auto-centric approach well into the 21st century. In turn, the process punishes Rhode Island after 15 years of rail-oriented advancement and three major breakthroughs…

See also: Fast Lane: High speed rail: right here, right now


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News & Notes

United Nations

Is Smart Growth a United Nations plot to subvert local control and create a world government? Photo (cc) Ashitakka.

News & Notes→ Agenda 21 and other wacky theories [New Urban Network]

Anti-smart growth ideologues have never shied away from half-truths and dubious arguments, but recent references to Agenda 21, Portland, Detroit, and Denver are unusually strange.

This article co-authored by Wendell Cox and Ronald Utt focuses on the United Nation’s Agenda 21, adopted in 1992, and its supposed connection to the smart growth movement. I guess the point is that if the UN issues a proclamation – in this case in favor of sustainable development – then any related activity must be part of some kind of world-government plot. The UN is also in favor of economic growth, peace, diplomatic relations, and education, and for programs that fight hunger, disease, and tooth decay.

See also: How the Tea Party Is Upending Urban Planning [The Atlantic Cities]


→ Lawmaker’s high-speed rail plan: Will it fly? [CNN]

How fast can high-speed trains come to the Northeast corridor? Not fast enough for Republican Rep. John Mica of Florida.

The chairman of the House Transportation Committee recently came out with a proposal to create a high-speed rail line – trains that can travel more than 200 mph – between Boston and D.C. in 10 to 15 years. Can it be done in half the time Amtrak said it would take?


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News & Notes

→ In China’s High-Speed Successes, a Glimpse of American Difficulties [The TransportPolitic]

Some Americans may dismiss the Chinese achievement, suggesting that the system’s construction by a single-party government with authoritarian tendencies makes it in itself suspect. One of the great things about the American political system is that it attempts to respond to the demands of the citizenry. The defeat of several Democratic governors in last fall’s elections reflected on some degree of disenchantment with the Democratic Party in general, but in three cases – Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin – the GOP’s open opposition to intercity rail projects there clearly played a role in convincing voters, who evidently agreed with the anti-rail sentiment, to throw out Democrats. In some ways, it is a reflection on a successful democracy that the rail projects in those places were cancelled, whatever their technical merit.


→ Check Out Minneapolis’ Bike Repair Vending Machines [Transportation Nation]

A small Minneapolis company is supporting cycling by making it easier to fix your bike while out on the road. Bike Fixtation has installed its first bike repair vending machine at Minneapolis’ Uptown Transit Station.

The self-service vending machine will be accessible, just like the transit station, from 6am-midnight every day of the year, ensuring an off-hours place to pick up an inner tube, patch kit, or even a headlight.


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News & Notes

→ Little. Yellow. Dangerous. “Children at Play” signs imperil our kids. [Slate]

There are several reasons engineers don’t like the signs. The first, and most simple, is that if you are driving in an area where children are actually playing, you will, it is hoped, notice them before you notice a sign warning you of them. Or, more to the point, that you will have noticed that you are driving in an area (say, a residential street) where there are likely to be children about. “I find it amazing that people think that a 30-in X 30-in square sign (that is only a little less than 6.25 square feet of sheeting material when you make the corners rounded) will make a difference in driver behavior,” one engineer complained on an Internet forum. “If the driver does not notice the characteristics of a neighborhood as they drive down the street, why would they notice a sign as they pass it, or remember it for more than a few seconds once they have passed it.”

The physical make-up of the street, more than anything, influences how motorists drive. A street built for slow traffic will result in slow traffic.


→ In Defense of the Corner Market [Next American City]

The argument about food deserts seems to be premised on the assumption that supermarkets – suburban-style, big-box, corporate chain stores with plenty o’ parking – are inherently superior to walkable, family owned food markets that serve low-income populations. The media portrays these corner markets as liquor stores or “discount” stores carrying little fresh produce and lots of Hostess cupcakes.

While there is certainly a class of convenience store that lacks healthy food options, many analyses have completely ignored the presence of small, family-owned food markets and their important role in feeding urban populations.


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News & Notes

→ Would $12,000 Convince You To Move Closer To Work? [Fast Company]

How much cash would it take to get you to move closer to your work? For the purposes of this exercise, imagine that your work is in one of the more, shall we say, unsavory parts of Washington, D.C. and you live in a nice, quaint suburb in Virginia. Would you accept $12,000? Washington, D.C.’s Office Of Planning thinks you might–so the organization is launching a pilot program that will match employer contributions of up to $6,000 to convince people to move closer to their work or public transit.


→ A mighty role in downtown Worcester [Boston.com]

WORCESTER – Stand on one side of tiny, wedge-shaped Federal Square, on the southern edge of this city’s downtown, and the perspective is gleaming. What once was a boarded-up multiplex is now the glassy facade of the restored Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts, a venue for touring Broadway shows that draws audiences from all over fast-growing Worcester County.

Stand on another side of the square, and the pawnshop that doubles as a check-cashing emporium is difficult to miss, while empty storefronts are easy to see. Then again, the dive bar is gone now, replaced by an establishment that serves craft beers. Apartments a few doors down from the theater are being rehabbed. A couple of small restaurants have popped up.

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News & Notes

→ Riled about rail: Why all the anger over high speed trains? [CNN]

Much of the opposition to rail projects appears to stem not from economic arguments, but from fundamental cultural values on what “American” transportation should be.

A perusal of online commentaries about passenger rail stories reveals a curious linkage by writers between passenger rail and “European socialism.”

Never mind that the majority of European passenger rail operates on a commercial basis.

Many critics of passenger rail emotionally identify it as an enabler of cultural values they fear.

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News & Notes

→ EU could ground short-haul flights in favour of high-speed rail [Guardian]

Short-haul flights across Europe could be replaced by high-speed rail under ambitious European Union proposals to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from transport by 60% over the next 40 years.


→ True urbanism must come with a big tent [Greater Greater Washington]

Many urbanists seek greater density by revitalizing the built environment. These urbanists advocate for multi-use, human scale developments and multimodal transportation options, taking for granted that the in-migration and density that follow are good.

While density by itself naturally appeals to younger, more footloose residents, such architectural determinism casts a blind eye to those excluded from the benefits of city life when nothing changes but the built environment.

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Like: Chafee to pursue Florida’s rejected high speed rail funds

Amtrak Acela arriving in Providence

Photo (cc) Michael Dietsch

featured-likeProJo reports that Governor Chafee’s administration will pursue part of the $2.4 billion in high speed rail funding that Florida Governor Rick Scott rejected.

“The state is encouraged by this funding opportunity,” [Chafee spokesman Christian] Vareika said in a statement. “The state is currently examining potential projects and will be working closely with its New England partners to evaluate the potential benefits of a regional approach.”

Did he say “regional approach?” Yum.

The administration has until April 4th to submit a proposal for funding to the Federal Government.

So, what should we do with high speed rail money (locally or regionally) assuming we get some? I vote renovate and expand Providence Station with an eye toward increased usage and intermodal connections to the future Core Connector.

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News & Notes

→ The Future of the Strip: Downhill [CitiWire]

From 1960 to 2000 there was an almost 10-fold increase in U.S. retail space, from four to 38 square feet per person. For many years retail space was growing five to six times faster than retail sales. Most of this space came in the form of discount superstores on the suburban strip.

The recession proved that we have too much retail. Strip centers are now littered with vacant stores. By some estimates, there is currently over 1 billion square feet of vacant retail space, much of which has to be re-purposed or demolished.

→ V.P. Biden Announces $53 Billion Commitment to High-Speed Rail [America 2050]

Today, Vice President Joe Biden announced the Obama Administration’s plan to dedicate $53 billion over the next six years to help promote the construction of a national, high-speed, intercity passenger rail network. Biden, a long-time rail advocate and Amtrak rider, was joined by USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood on Tuesday morning at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station where he outlined the plan.

See also: → The White House Stakes Its Political Capital on a Massive Intercity Rail Plan [The TransportPolitic]

→ Town centers are the new death panels [Grist]

Oh, those Teabaggers — always smacking you in the face with something unpleasant. This time it’s self-righteous outrage at the socialist erosion of our Freedom Sprawl. Because in the real America, you get in the car just to go to your kitchen.

→ CA Rep. Hunter: Roads Constitutionally Mandated, Transit Must Pay For Itself [DC.Streetsblog]

Streetsblog: I was just in an EPW Committee hearing and there was some talk about the fact that some small amount of money in the reauthorization historically gets used for things like bike trails. Some people think that’s waste; some people think biking is a mode of transportation. What do you think?

Duncan Hunter: I don’t think biking should fall under the federal purview of what the Transportation Committee is there for. If a state wants to do it, or local municipality, they can do whatever they want to. But no, because then you have us mandating bike paths, which you don’t want either.

SB: But you’re OK with mandating highways?

DH: Absolutely, yeah. Because that’s in the constitution. I don’t see riding a bike the same as driving a car or flying an airplane.

The Congressman refers to Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution where it says that Congress shall have the power to “establish Post Offices and post Roads.” Further, he interprets the Interstate highway system as a form of military spending, which is also in the Constitution.

The Congressman presumably thinks that the mail cannot and is not transported by any manner other than road, and that the military cannot and will not use any mode of transportation other than the interstate highway system.

→ How Cars Won the Early Battle for the Streets Streetsblog

Judging by the recent media backlash against a few bike lanes in New York City, you would think that roads have been the exclusive domain of cars since time immemorial.

Not so, as Peter D. Norton recounts in his book, “Fighting Traffic — The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City.” When cars first entered cities in a big way in the early 20th Century, a lot of people were not happy about it — like angry-mob not happy.

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