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News & Notes

Streetsblog: Obama to Propose Four-Year Transpo Bill Funded By “Business Tax Reform”

obama-official-portrait-vertA fact sheet from the administration indicates the proposal would increase dedicated funding for transit more than funding for highways.

The proposal would represent a 38 percent spending increase over the current $109 billion, 2-year law, known as MAP-21, and is the most concrete long-term transportation bill proposed by the Obama administration, which has never put forward a funding stream until now.

See also: Whitehouse.gov: FACT SHEET: President Obama Lays Out Vision for 21st Century Transportation Infrastructure


The New York Times: When Pedestrians Get Mixed Signals

But the indication to walk never came. I was contemplating a four-lane dash when a man appeared who told me I had to press the “Walk” button. I did, and at the next signal change for cars, my signal appeared as well.

At first, I applauded this municipal beneficence, which I encountered during a visit while researching my book. Los Angeles is looking after its pedestrians! In New York City, by contrast, the once-functioning “Walk” buttons were left to go dormant, then largely removed. But in my subsequent visits to Los Angeles, my feelings have shifted.

The reason the buttons were rendered obsolete in New York is that there was no need for them. There were always pedestrians waiting to cross. In Los Angeles, the working button came to seem a rare and feeble plea: May I please cross the street?

In Providence I’m all the time seeing people push the wrong walk button. People press the one closest to them, but that is not the button for the street they are hoping to cross.

But the article is really about the misguided crack-down on “jaywalking” in some cities.

If tough love will not make pedestrians safer, what will? The answer is: better walking infrastructure, slower car speeds and more pedestrians. But it’s easier to write off the problem as one of jaywalkers.

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Video: Christmas lighting atop the Empire State Building

On December 20, 2013, the Empire State Building kicked off the first of its five Christmas light shows by illuminating its world-famous LED tower lights in holiday hues. Over 15,000 channels of the building’s LEDs were synchronized to holiday-themed music that was broadcasted on Clear Channel New York’s radio station 106.7 Lite FM. Tonight’s song selection included “Holly Jolly Christmas” by Burl Ives and “Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses. Internationally-acclaimed lighting designer Marc Brickman choreographed the show.

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News & Notes

new-york-wetlands

Wetlands to provide a storm surge buffer for New York City. Image from Architecture Research Office

Fast Company: A Plan To Hurricane-Proof New York, With A Ring Of Wetlands

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, there have been a flurry of ideas on how to deal with the prospect that storms of such magnitude may no longer be once-in-a-lifetime events but the most visible manifestation–if you’re not a polar bear–of the havoc wreaked by climate change.

Seawalls. Levees. The kinds of things the Army Corps of Engineers typically builds to protect low-lying places like New Orleans just aren’t feasible for a place like Manhattan, says Stephen Cassell, the cofounder of New York’s Architectural Research Office. “It’s hard to predict how bad climate change will be,” Cassell says, noting that Sandy’s devastating surge was nearly 14 feet, which wasn’t even the worst-case scenario. “What if we build a barrier and the surge goes beyond that?”

Yes Providence, what if the storm surge is higher than our storm surge barrier?


New York Post: Growing NY through smarter taxes

How might two-tiered taxation work? In New York, land and improvements in residential areas are subject to an 18.6 percent property tax.Thus, land with a taxable value of $10,000 would be taxed $1,860, and improvements with a similar taxable value of $10,000 would owe another $1,860, a total of $3,720. Under a two-tier system, the tax rate for land could jump by, say, 50 percent, while the rate for improvement could be halved.In that case, the owner would pay $2,790 in land taxes and $930 for improvements — keeping the total to $3,720.

But here’s the payoff: The owner’s tax bill under that scheme would climb another $2,790 if he purchased a second lot with a taxable value of $10,000 — but by only $930 if he used that money toward building.Thus, hoarding would be discouraged; development encouraged.

The two-tier property tax has a proven record of success. In 1979, Pittsburgh began taxing land at a rate six times higher than improvements. In the ensuing decade, building permits increased by 70.4 percent.

Via: Nesi’s Notes


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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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Streetfilms looks at New Yorker’s getting back to business with limited transport

NYC has suffered greatly post superstorm Sandy. While we still have a long ways to go, people are starting to go back to work and venture out of their homes.

Thursday marked the first day of modest subway restoration. It also saw the return of limited ferries. As well as a full MTA bus schedule and Mayor Bloomberg’s emergency order declaring all vehicles crossing the East River Bridges must have three occupants. But the numbers of people using their feet and bicycles is huge and an always encouraging sign. Streetfilms was up early in Queens near the Queensboro Bridge to see how people were using all the transportation options out there. Here’s the montage we got.

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Comments on NEC Future

mbta-providence-place

Photo (cc) Sean_Marshall

The Federal Railroad Adminstration (FRA) is running a planning program dubbed NEC Future to determine the future path of rail development in the Northeast Corridor running from Boston to Washington. Greater City Providence reader Peter Brassard submitted the following comments to the FRA in response to the study’s request for public comment.

Content Summary

  1. Construct a T.F. Green Airport Amtrak Station
  2. NEC High Speed Rail (HSR) bypass between East Haven and Westerly
  3. Reserve the option to construct a four-track NEC corridor in Rhode Island and Eastern Connecticut, as well as between Providence and Westwood
  4. Develop Providence to Cape Cod Rail Service using an existing corridor
  5. Develop Providence/Fall River/New Bedford interstate LRT
  6. Develop Providence to Worcester Commuter Rail Service
  7. New England track electrification and use of DMUs and EMUs
  8. Add multiple infill train stations within Providence’s urban core cities
  9. Develop Rhode Island Mainline Rail Transit
  10. Extend Train Service to Aquidneck Island
  11. New York to New Jersey – Penn Station New York to the Portal Bridge
  12. Penn Station New York to Grand Central connecting rail tunnel
  13. Extend the New York #7 Subway line to Hoboken Terminal
  14. Boston South Station to North Station connecting rail tunnel

1. Construct a T.F. Green Airport Amtrak Station
The study should include planning for a T.F. Green Airport Amtrak Station. Amtrak Regional service, as well as MBTA commuter trains could serve the station. Service models for this station would be the BWI Airport Station in Baltimore and Newark Airport Station in New Jersey.

2. NEC High Speed Rail (HSR) bypass between East Haven and Westerly
Study a HSR bypass option that would link the existing NEC between East Haven and Westerly following the routes I-95 and RI-78 corridor. This bypass would avoid excessively curved sections of eastern Connecticut’s legacy rail right-of-way, which would allow for significantly higher speeds for HSR service. This option could be a cost effective alternative to constructing a second completely new Southern New England HSR corridor from Westchester County through central Connecticut to Hartford and to Providence. There could be an opportunity to combine funding for a rail bypass and upgrading and increasing capacity to route I-95 simultaneously.

3. Reserve the option to construct a four-track corridor in Rhode Island and Connecticut, as well as between Providence and Westwood
Amtrak has proposed creating a four-track rail corridor between Providence to Westwood. Other sections of Rhode Island’s NEC rail segment south of Providence had the corridor width to accommodate four tracks. Also many bridges had been designed to allow for four tracks throughout the state. When the New Haven to Boston NEC segment was electrified in the 1990s, replacement tracks were installed off-center in much of Rhode Island to allow for the tilting feature on Acela trains.

Develop an alternate that would reserve the option to re-build Rhode Island’s NEC rail segment south of Providence Station to four-tracks and if a HSR bypass is not planned for or constructed between East Haven and Westerly in Eastern Connecticut, to accommodate for future expanded track usage of high-speed and regional trains, commuter rail/mass-transit, and freight service. A Rhode Island four-track corridor would typically only require the acquisition of narrow strips of land adjacent to the existing corridor to meet current standards for high-speed track centers, while in other instances no land acquisition would be necessary.

Even if four tracks are not built in Rhode Island or Connecticut for decades, planning for a their future installation would insure that other federal and state funds will not be wasted when infrastructure, such as bridges are constructed or replaced over the NEC. With the current offcenter track configuration in Rhode Island, off-center abutments or column placements for new bridges could make future track expansion problematic and unnecessarily expensive.

4. Develop Providence to Cape Cod Rail Service using an existing corridor
Develop year-round rail service from Cape Cod to Providence, T.F. Green Airport, and beyond to New York. Service could be provided by Amtrak or alternately by a commuter rail agency from Cape Cod to Providence and T.F. Green with connections to Amtrak. Study the reuse of the existing rail right-of-way from Providence to Attleboro to Cape Cod.

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Public comment on Northeast Corridor rail plan through Sept. 14th

nec_study_area_map

Federal Railroad Administration is running a planning program of future needs along the Northeast Corridor rail system and encourages public input:

Welcome to NEC FUTURE, a comprehensive planning effort to define, evaluate and prioritize future investments in the Northeast Corridor (NEC), launched by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in February 2012. FRA’s work will include new ideas and approaches to grow the region’s intercity, commuter and freight rail services and the completion of an environmental evaluation of proposed transportation alternatives.

The NEC, the rail transportation spine of the Northeast region, is a key component of the region’s transportation system and vital to its sustained economic growth. Today, the 457-mile NEC—anchored by Boston’s South Station in the north, New York’s Pennsylvania Station in the center, and Washington’s Union Station in the south—is one of the most heavily traveled rail corridors in the world.

Visit NEC Future to submit your comments.


See also: ProJo: Agency explores methods to expand rail service to D.C.

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News & Notes

Slate: Train in Vain

Mass transit has, according to its fans, a staggering array of benefits. It reduces pollution, improves quality of life, and anchors vibrant walkable communities. It boosts public health and makes people happier. But relatively few transit-boosters understand that existing federal guidelines for assessing which new projects to fund not only exclude those considerations, they make it extremely difficult for newly built transit to meet those objectives. A new proposed rule from the Department of Transportation, now entering its 60-day comment period to let people raise objections, should change all that for the better.


Next American City: An Open Letter to David Axelrod, Re: Urban Politics

Last week, David Axelrod, a senior adviser to President Obama, announced that after the 2012 election season he’ll return to Chicago to run a political institute at the University of Chicago. But this isn’t just some political think tank. Axelrod’s ambition is:

to help encourage young people who are going to be the David Axelrods – and better – in the future so that we’ll have a new generation of people who will be active in politics and public life.

He goes on to say that there’s going to be an urban slant to the whole thing:

Mr. Axelrod, a former journalist, will serve as the institute’s inaugural director and said it would lean toward a focus on urban politics, in part because of the city around it.

Doubly interesting. What should David Axelrod do with this new institute with a leaning towards urban politics? Here are a few ideas:


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News & Notes

Streetcar Shuffle

Seattle Streetcar, photo (cc) kcl_in_pdx

Pedestrian Observations: Improving the MBTA

The MBTA has a problem. And I say this coming from New York, whose standards for good regional transit aren’t all that high, but now Metro-North looks like something to look up to from the MBTA. Ridership on the system is rising, but not very quickly; the MBTA moreover has no plans to modernize. Most of what I’m going to suggest will involve commuter rail, not because it’s the most important portion of Boston’s public transportation but because it’s the part I’m most familiar with and also the part that seems most direly in need of improvements. Put another way, I’m necessarily going to talk about the MBTA as perceived from Providence, rather than from within Boston.


Fast Lane: American streetcar projects creating jobs today, livable communities and economic development tomorrow

Federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on streetcars:

Today, streetcars in New Orleans and Tucson are under construction. Dallas, Atlanta, and Salt Lake City are currently designing their own streetcars. Tampa extended its popular TECO Line Streetcar System, which has already created billions of dollars in economic development. And Cincinnati will break ground very soon on the Queen’s City’s unique streetcar project.

It’s simple: this streetcar revival means greater mobility and more American jobs. DOT will continue to improve public transit services by supporting these critical projects that create jobs today and livable communities and economic redevelopment tomorrow.


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News & Notes

Rotterdam

Image from I Make Rotterdam

News & Notes Rotterdam’s Crowd-Funded Pedestrian Bridge [The Pop-Up City]

The International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam (IABR) and Rotterdam-based architecture firm ZUS have launched the project I Make Rotterdam, a spectacular temporary pedestrian bridge between the city’s Central and the North districts that will be financed through crowd-funding.


The Good (City) Life: Why New York’s Life Expectancy Is the Highest in the Nation [Good]

Most of us take for granted that urban dwellers are more stressed than country dwellers. Hey, it’s even proved by science! Not only that, their day-to-day existence is polluted, crime-ridden, and filled with hedonistic temptations. So they must have lower life expectancies, right? Wrong. In fact, the latest data from the Bureau of Vital Statistics shows New York City-my hometown-has the highest life expectancy in the country. Babies born in 2009 can expect to live a record 80.6 years. That’s almost three years longer than a decade ago, and more than two years longer than the current national average of 78.2 years.


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News & Notes

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

News & Notes Brian Williams Doesn’t Get How Streets Work. Will His Four Million Viewers? [Streetsblog]

Here’s the profile of New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan that aired on “Rock Center with Brian Williams” last night. The show reaches more than four million people, which isn’t enough to win its time slot but adds up to a lot more eyeballs than the print circulation of any NYC daily paper. In all likelihood, it reached a bigger American audience than any other piece of media content about reclaiming city streets for public space and more efficient modes of transportation. So how did NBC’s Harry Smith and his producers do with the assignment?


Treasuring Urban Oases [The New York Times]

Writing in The New York Times last week, Christopher B. Leinberger, a professor of urban planning, took note of “a profound structural shift” in America during the last decade or so, “a reversal of what took place in the 1950s.” Back then drivable suburbs boomed while center cities decayed. Now more and more people want to settle in “a walkable urban downtown.” The most expensive housing in the country, and not just New York City, is in “high-density, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods,” he said.

But what makes high-density neighborhoods pedestrian friendly?


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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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Videos: A year in New York, Dam removal, and feeding whales

New York:

Living in New York I’d grab my Canon 7D, or S95, and shoot footage of what was going on around me. It seemed like a never ending project and you could stay filming life in New York for a long time. But eventually I put my camera down and started to edit. Here’s the end result, it’s a bit rough and ready but that’s life in the Big Apple I guess.

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New York CityBench program

CityBench New York

CityBench, image from Streetsblog

The New York City Department of Transportation has introduced a program which will install 1,000 public benches on the sidewalk’s of all five of the city’s boroughs. The sleek CityBenches, are meant to make the city’s sidewalks more accomodating to the elderly and mobility impared, providing a place to rest as people go about their business in the city.

NYC DOT has a website where citizens can request a CityBench with certain areas recieving priority.

In order to support walking and transit, priority bench locations include:

  • Bus stops without shelters
  • Sidewalks near transit facilities (e.g. subway stations)
  • Senior centers
  • Hospitals and community health centers
  • Commercial zones and shopping districts
  • Municipal facilities (e.g., public libraries)

For safety and engineering reasons, there are some base requirements for where benches can go:

  • Sidewalk width must be a minimum of 12 feet wide from building to curb
  • Proposed location cannot be directly opposite a building entrance or cellar door

Residents can also utilize the city’s 311 phone system to request a bench.

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News & Notes

Traffic

Photo (cc) nicpic

News & Notes The True Cost of Commuting [Mr. Money Mustache]

I was talking to a couple I had just met, and the topic turned to the beauty of the neighborhood. […] “We should really move here!”.

Then the discussion turned to the comparatively affordable housing, and the other benefits of living in my particular town. By the end of it, these people were verbally working out the details of a potential move within just a few months.

Except their plan was absurd.

Because these two full-time professional workers currently happen to live and work in “Broomfield”, a city that is about 19 miles and 40 minutes of mixed high-traffic driving away from here. They brushed off the potential commute, saying “Oh, 40 minutes, that’s not too bad.”

Yes, actually it IS too bad!

Turns out, this couple would end up spending $125,000 over 10 years for their “not so bad” 40 minute commutes. Visit the link to see the math.


The Importance of Comprehensive Planning in a Down Economy [Planetizen]

The slowing in the pace of development has given those planners who remain something precious: time. Especially in America’s fastest-growing places, the pace of development at the height of the housing boom often left planners with little time to engage in planning that was not focused on the here and now. As a result, in many jurisdictions important work to update archaic zoning ordinances or old comprehensive plans was left undone. Comprehensive plans in particular suffered, as fast-paced development changed the face of towns and cities in ways not anticipated by plans of an earlier age. Except in those states where comprehensive plans are binding, the first hints of irrelevance (real or perceived) are often the death knell for a comprehensive plan’s effectiveness.


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