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News & Notes

boston-comm-ave

Planned protected bike lane on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston.

The Boston Globe: Boston to install protected bike lanes on Commonwealth Avenue

The city of Boston will install protected bike lanes on a stretch of Commonwealth Avenue, a victory for biking advocates who have pushed for the city to make it safer to cycle down the bustling thoroughfare.

City officials announced on Tuesday their plans to replace existing bike lanes with protected bike lanes — known as cycle tracks — from the Boston University Bridge to Packard’s Corner. The lanes will be about two-thirds of a mile and use parked cars as a barrier between cyclists and vehicle traffic, a move meant to cut down on accidents that have become common along the heavily used road.

The decision to install the protected bike lanes represents a turnaround for the administration of Mayor Martin J. Walsh, and could pave the way for more protected bike lanes in the city.

Providence is working on plans for the first protected bike lanes in the state along Fountain Street downtown.


The New Journal: Paint the Streets

On the morning of Sunday, May 1, 2011, residents of the Audubon district awoke to find a bold new crosswalk at the intersection of Whitney Avenue and Audubon Street. Spray-painted and slightly crooked, the rogue act made headlines around town. Opinions differed—officials said the sight lines weren’t clear enough for a crosswalk, business owners liked that it made it easier for people to get to their stores, and some just thought it looked a little funny. Useful or not, the crosswalk was illegal and officials had the paint removed two days later. The impromptu markings made a point, however: the intersection was dangerous. The city needed to rethink its streets.


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News & Notes

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Chattanooga, Tennessee. Photo (cc) Dave Lawrence.

CityLab: Why Housing Is Key to Chattanooga’s Tech-Hub Ambitions

Chattanooga is aiming to build on the reputation it’s earned from its world-class broadband service. The goal is to make the city a sustainable innovation hub, showing that it’s a well-rounded city rather than a one-trick pony. Evidence of this forward-thinking strategy can be seen in an ambitious expansion of housing downtown—known locally as the City Center—which is aimed at attracting young professionals that value walkable urban cores.

The latest downtown housing effort began in 2013, three years after the city’s gigabit Internet was first introduced. The community was of course enthused by the changes they were seeing in the city. But to local policymakers, the level of housing density in downtown Chattanooga was far from ideal. Over 50,000 people showed up to work there each day, but a dearth of adequate housing prevented many of them from moving there. Over the course of several months, more than 70 local stakeholders came together to identify 22 downtown buildings that needed to be remodeled (some razed) to make room for new housing.


The Boston Globe: A new age for an old town

There have been three great ages of development in modern Boston. The first began after the Back Bay was filled in the late 19th century, a radical change that triggered a historic construction boom. The second came in the 1960s and ’70s, when a “high spine” of office towers — stretching from the financial district to the Pru — began to rise over an old town.

The third is now.

Its businesses and population on the rise, Boston is in the midst of a building spree whose enormity, pace, and geographic sweep are redefining the skyline faster than any period since the early Industrial Age.


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ProJo: Raimondo looking at tolls to finance roadwork

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Open-road toll installation in Illinois. Photo (cc) Tony Webster.

After more than a year of wrangling over the much-criticized Sakonnet River Bridge toll, Rhode Island lawmakers announced last June that they had created a long-term solution for financing Rhode Island’s roads and bridges that would avert the need for the toll.

Raimondo put the potential for tolls back on the bargaining table in a weekend Associated Press story about the poor condition of many of Rhode Island’s roads and bridges — and the uncertainty about future federal highway funding.

“We need to take a comprehensive look at solutions, everything from public-private partnerships to tolling,” Raimondo said.

See also: Rhode Island’s Future: Raimondo toll plan deserves progressive support
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News & Notes

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President Obama announced his budget on Monday including a $478-billion six-year plan for transportation spending.

Streetsblog USA: Obama’s New Transportation Budget: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Today President Obama unveiled his opening bid in this process. The $478-billion, six-year plan from the White House includes many of the proposals the administration unveiled last year. Congress didn’t advance those ideas then, and with the GOP now controlling both houses, chances remain slim for reforming highway-centric federal transportation policy.

But the White House budget document remains the best summary of the Obama team’s transportation policy agenda. The ideas are intriguing even if they’re politically improbable.

Also on Streetsblog, they picked up our story about the death of Karen McHugh.

Scientific American: U.S. Cities Lag in Race against Rising Seas

In just a few decades, most U.S. coastal regions are likely to experience at least 30 days of nuisance flooding every year.

Washington, D.C.; Annapolis, Md.; and Wilmington, N.C., are already in trouble. By 2020, seven more cities, including Baltimore and Atlantic City, N.J., can add themselves to the list. And within the next 35 years, most cities along all coasts will be dealing with routine flooding.

Some cities, such as New York, are bolstering their shorelines in response to extreme events, such as Superstorm Sandy. But with more than half the U.S. population living within 50 miles of the coast, many areas are just at the beginning stages of preparing to deal with rising sea levels and the increased flooding they bring.

Where will we build the next hurricane barrier?


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WPRI: Raimondo proposes more RI infrastructure spending

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gina Raimondo on Monday put forward the second piece of what she says will be her campaign’s comprehensive jobs plan, proposing a significant increase in state spending on infrastructure.

Raimondo proposed the creation of a Rhode Island Municipal Infrastructure Bank, a new government entity to help municipalities, businesses and homeowners upgrade their facilities at lower cost. Within the Municipal Infrastructure Bank, she suggested expanding the new Municipal Road and Bridge Revolving Fund; establishing a funding formula for road and bridge repairs at the state and local levels; creating a Green Bank; and launching a School Building Authority.

WPRI has a link to the full proposal on their webpage.

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News & Notes

Jersey City - Hudson-Bergen Light Rail

Hudson-Bergen Light Rail line in Jersey City, NJ. Photo (cc) Wally Gobetz.

Streetsblog: Why Free Black Friday Parking Is a Bad Idea

Lastly, providing free parking creates an inequity issue for people who do not own a car. As I’ve noted before, more than one-quarter of Cleveland households lack access to a vehicle. Yet, because the cost of parking is already factored into the price of retail goods, these individuals will have to pay for the hidden cost of parking, despite the fact that they will not take advantage of it. Ohio’s transportation policies are already skewed heavily enough towards driving. The round-trip cost of taking public transportation to Tower City ($4.50 per person) is higher than the price for two hours of on-street parking. Requiring the City to pick up this tab only serves to widen the gap between drivers and non-drivers.


The Atlantic Cities: Why Correcting Misperceptions About Mass Transit May Be More Important Than Improving Service

If you want to understand why people use a certain transit system, it makes sense to start with the system itself. Frequency, access, and any other service qualities that make riding as convenient as driving will help. Whether or not the way a city is designed and built nudges people toward the system — via residential density and street design, for instance — matters, too.

But as we’ve pointed out in the past, there’s a psychological component to riding transit that’s easy for city officials and planners to overlook. Fact is, we’re not all completely rational about our travel decisions. The perceptions that people have about public transportation, substantiated or not, are powerful enough to attract or repel them.


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News & Notes

seattle-times-bridge The Seattle Times: ‘Miracles': 3 survive I-5 collapse

A chunk of Interstate 5 collapsed into the Skagit River near Mount Vernon on Thursday evening, dumping two vehicles into the icy waters and creating a gaping hole in Washington state’s major north-south artery.

Rescuers pulled three people with minor injuries from the water after the collapse, which authorities say began when a semitruck with an oversized load struck a steel beam at around 7 p.m.

That caused a massive piece of the northern side of the bridge to wobble, and then fall into the water, taking with it a gold pickup, its travel trailer and an orange SUV.


But actually, our infrastructure crisis is a myth…

Bloomberg: The Myth of the Falling Bridge

Maybe it’s going too far to say, “The U.S. is doing just fine, thank you very much.” The nation would benefit from reordering its infrastructure priorities — away from new highways, for example, where we are already overbuilt and usage is falling for the first extended period on record. And we’d do well to take advantage of low interest rates and idle construction resources to knock out all of our future infrastructure needs.

But the idea that the U.S. has an infrastructure crisis? No. A broad, permanent increase in spending is unwarranted.

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Providence 2013 State of the City Address


Mayor Angel Taveras

2013 State of the City Address

Providence Is Recovering

Tuesday, January 29, 2013 • (as prepared for delivery)

Photo of the Mayor delivering the State of the City from the Mayor's Office.

Photo of the Mayor delivering the State of the City from the Mayor’s Office.

Governor, Mr. President, honorable members of the Providence City Council, distinguished guests, and my fellow residents of our great Capital City –

One year ago I stood before you in this Chamber with an urgent message for our City and the entire State of Rhode Island. Providence was in peril. Despite many difficult decisions and painful sacrifices made to pull Providence back from the brink, we were still $22 million short of closing a $110 million structural deficit.

Crucial steps necessary to navigate our City safely through our Category 5 fiscal hurricane had not yet come to pass. We still needed to reform our unsustainable pensions. And we needed Providence’s large, tax-exempt institutions to contribute more.

As I stood before you on February 13, 2012, Providence was running out of cash, and running out of time. In the months that followed, there were some who said Providence could not avoid filing for bankruptcy.

BACK FROM THE BRINK

Today it is my privilege to deliver a much more hopeful report on the State of our City: Providence is recovering.

Through collaborative efforts and shared sacrifice, we have all but eliminated our City’s $110 million structural deficit, and we expect to end this year with a balanced budget. Working together, we have accomplished what few believed possible.

We were determined to address the root causes of Providence’s fiscal emergency and prepared to act unilaterally if necessary. And we knew our City would never achieve a lasting recovery without addressing our unsustainable and spiraling pension costs.

In April, following months of actuarial analysis and public testimony, this City Council unanimously approved a pension reform ordinance that put Providence’s pension system on a sustainable path.

We recognized that passing the ordinance would likely lead to a high-stakes lawsuit with no real winners – because a decision in favor of the status quo would push our City over the brink. However, faced with the challenge of negotiating pension changes with more than 2,000 retirees who were not represented by a single entity, we saw no alternative.

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News & Notes

DC Streetsblog: Obama Takes Another Swing at $50 Billion in Infrastructure Spending

President Obama is pressing for infrastructure investment again as part of the fiscal cliff negotiations. The president kicked off talks calling for an end to the debt ceiling, the extension of middle-class tax cuts, and $50 billion in infrastructure spending — a proposal that first arose last year as part of his ultimately unsuccessful American Jobs Act.

The Wall Street Journal called the President’s proposals “a particularly expansive version of the White House’s wish list” and “a potential starting point for negotiations.”

See also: Our favorite Obama quote from 2009


The Atlantic Cities: 10 Techniques for Making Cities More Walkable

In Jeff Speck’s excellent new book, Walkable City, he suggests that there are ten keys to creating walkability. Most of them also have something to do with redressing the deleterious effects caused by our allowing cars to dominate urban spaces for decades. I don’t necessarily agree with every detail, and my own list might differ in some ways that reflect my own experience and values. But it’s a heck of a good menu to get city leaders and thinkers started in making their communities more hospitable to walkers.


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Transportation Issues Daily: President Proposes $50 Billion for Infrastructure

President Obama has resurrected his proposal to invest $50 billion in infrastructure and wants it included in the fiscal cliff deal. Republicans were immediately critical of the proposal.

Details were not released, but it is assumed that the proposal is similar to those previously announced by President Obama in 2010 and 2011. Those proposals have not passed the Democratic Senate or the Republican House. It’s debatable how hard the White House has pushed Congress to pass the proposal.

Streetcar!

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News & Notes

The Atlantic Cities: Why Mayors Should Run the Department of Transportation

The transportation issues of the 21st century will be less about building new highways and more about building new transit, about offering more multi-modal options to bike and walk. Transportation policy going forward won’t just be about moving people as far and as fast as possible, but about leveraging transportation in service of economic opportunity and livable communities.

So here is one modest thought about who understands all of this as Obama searches for LaHood’s successor: mayors. There have been three former mayors at the helm of the DOT in the department’s 46-year history, most recently former San Jose Mayor Norman Mineta. As the agency further modernizes its mission, who better to take us there than someone who comes from a city?

I’m not sure I could even understand a world where L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was not our next Transportation Secretary.


The New York Times: America’s Mid-20th-Century Infrastructure

Europeans visiting the Northeastern United States – and many parts of the East Coast — can show their children what Europe’s infrastructure looked like during the 1960s.


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News & Notes

Forbes: The Economic Secret of Vacant City Spaces

Most of us feel attached to our neighborhoods, but can this emotional connection help fuel local economies? According to a multi-year study by Gallup and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the answer is yes: Communities with high levels of attachment actually have higher local GDP growth.

Surprisingly, the top factors that encourage community attachment are aesthetics and having spaces for people to socialize, according to 43,000 survey participants who ranked these factors above safety, education, and municipal services. But with foreclosures and vacant buildings and the resulting loss of tax revenue, how do you create and pay for public spaces?


Bloomberg: U.S. Taxpayers Are Gouged on Mass Transit Costs

American taxpayers will shell out many times what their counterparts in developed cities in Europe and Asia would pay. In the case of the Second Avenue line and other new rail infrastructure in New York City, they may have to pay five times as much.


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City Council moves to politicize proposed roads bond

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Dean Street re-construction in 2009. The City of Providence proposes a $40b bond to finance repairs to 62 miles of roads and sidewalks in the City.

As reported by Ian Donnis on RINPR, the City Council is meeting tonight to put a provision in the proposed roads bond bill that would give them control over what streets and sidewalks get repaired in their Wards:

RINPR quotes Councilman Terry Hassett:

That was one of the concerns among the council members — making sure that anything that is distributed through a bond for infrastructure that the council member has a direct and specific role in terms of what streets would get done, what sidewalks, and where the emphasis should be. That was the concern.

Dan McGowan of GoLocalProv Tweets the move could result in a Mayoral veto:


Why? Because there has already been a systematic review of roadways in the city that need attention and 62 miles of roadways have been identified as the ones which will be worked on should this bond pass (I hope to see that list before I’m asked to vote on the bond). The Council argues that they know best what their Wards need. What they know best is which streets getting paved get them the most votes towards reelection.

There’s also the simple matter that the bond money should not be equally dispersed among the 15 Councilors. There are Wards that are in more need than others based on trucking, bus routes, sheer road miles, and other factors that mean they should get more or less money than other Wards.

The City has created a formula to rate roads and determine which need working on, there is no reason the Councilors need any more say over that. If they don’t agree with the formula, then address that, don’t say you get to pick and choose what needs doing under some, “trust me, I know what’s best for my Ward,” song and dance.

See also: RINPR: Providence City Hall slams council faction’s plan for allocating road repair money

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News & Notes

500 days of summer park bench

Photo (cc) jaywei80

The Atlantic Cities: In Defense of Loitering

Not long after American inner cities started to empty of street life in the 1960s and 70s, government officials went for the benches. Benches encourage people to sit still. And sitting still is a quasi-crime in urban America commonly known as “loitering.” You may recognize its related anti-social behaviors: standing still, milling about and strolling a little too slowly.

It’s hard to remember how we got here, to criminalizing a leisurely pursuit that’s embraced on most European streets. But the cycle went something like this: Residents moved out of cities and stopped using their public spaces and streets. The only people still walking them were deemed riffraff: the homeless, jobless and, officials feared, gang members and prostitutes.


San Francisco Chronicle: Privately owned public spaces: Guidance needed

The Roof Terrace at One Kearny shows why we’re lucky that San Francisco requires downtown developers to provide space in their projects that is accessible to the public at large.

It also is a case study in why the generation-old guidelines must be improved.

Privately managed “public” spaces are one of the things being discussed for 195 land development. The spaces would offset the large footprints of lab buildings, and provide open space that the City would not have to pay to maintain. However, there are obviously lots of questions of accessiblity to answer.


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News & Notes

USDOT Fast Lane Blog: Budget reflects central role of transportation in the lives of Americans, in the vitality of our nation’s economy

It has been more than two years and four months since America’s transportation funding expired. Congress has extended the law with short-term patches eight different times. But, with bridges crumbling and highways choked with congestion, our nation needs the planning certainty that comes from a long-term transportation bill, a bill that puts people back to work rebuilding our roads, bridges, transit systems, and airports.

So today, President Obama outlined a six-year surface transportation proposal-part of his blueprint for an America built to last. The transportation budget the President proposed has three broad goals:

  • Creating jobs and investing in infrastructure for our future;
  • Modernizing transportation through focused research and technology; and
  • Pressing forward on our number one priority–safety.

The Atlantic Cities: Why In-Town Big Box Stores Might Not Be As Awful As You Think

City-dwellers love to rag on big box stores. They’re large and ugly and kind of dehumanizing. They require vast seas of surface parking. They sell the antithesis of the idealized urban shopping experience, in which a shopper on foot might hit multiple locally owned specialty shops for her hardware, her art supplies and her bubble bath.

What’s there to possibly like about the big-box alternative?

Well, here is one factor urban critics may not have considered: What if in-town big box stores encourage people to drive less?


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News & Notes

Texting while walking, via Transportation Nation.


Planetizen: The Smart Math of Mixed-Use Development

Most of us – city planners, elected officials, business owners, voters, and the like – understand that the city brings in more tax revenue when people shop and eat out more. However, we often overlook the scale of the property tax payoff for encouraging dense mixed-use development.

Many policy decisions seem to create incentives for businesses and property developers to expand just about anywhere, without regard for the types of buildings they are erecting. In this article, I argue that the best return on investment for the public coffers comes when smart and sustainable development occurs downtown.


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