Thursday, May 31, 2012

Upcoming Webinars

June 5, 1:00 pm - 2:30 pm EDT
Tools for Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety and Exposure Analysis

Researchers at the UC Berkeley Safe Transportation Research & Education Center (SafeTREC) will describe several tools that are available to evaluate pedestrian and bicycle safety.
David Ragland, Ph.D., will provide an overview of several initiatives to reduce pedestrian and bicycle crashes in California.  These efforts have produced tools and methodologies that have been used in California and could be applied in other communities outside of the state.
John Bigham, MPH, will discuss the Transportation Injury Mapping Tool (TIMS), an interactive website to query, map, and download collision data in California.  The presentation will include a live demonstration of TIMS to view maps of pedestrian and bicycle collision data and evaluate the benefit-cost of constructing different safety countermeasures.
Robert Schneider, Ph.D., will present the final topic, estimating exposure for pedestrian and bicycle crash risk analysis.  This will include an overview of the importance of exposure data, different methods of estimating pedestrian and bicycle volume data, and recent volume modeling efforts in Alamdea County and San Francisco, California.

Register here.

June 7, 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm EDT
Federal Funding 201 - How Safe Routes to School Projects Actually Get Built: An Overview of Obligation and Obligation Authority/Limitations
Federal Funding 101 covered the basics of the complex federal funding process. On June 7, 2012, we will discuss the final phase of federal funding, obligation. Obligation is the final stage of the federal regulatory process; once a project or program is obligated, it is ready to begin, but not before. It can take a long time to get Safe Routes to School and Transportation Enhancements projects and programs to this point: learn how the process works, and what you can do to help your state program and local applicants to get through this complex process. And learn about obligation authority/limitations, or how and why some of the federal funds may not even be made available to communities in your state. Find out the answers to these and other questions, and ask your own!

Darren Flusche, policy director, League of American Bicyclists, Advocacy Advance program
Robert Ping, technical assistance director, Safe Routes to School National Partnership
Dawn Foster, SRTS coordinator, California Department of Transportation (Caltrans )

Register here.

June 14, 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm EDT
Slowing Drivers down: Why It Matters and Two Communities' Solutions

Presenters: Scott Bricker, Executive Director, America Walks
Elizabeth Stampe, Director, Walk San Francisco
Mark Lear, Traffic Safety Programs, Portland Bureau of Transportation

Traffic safety, especially the speed of cars around schools, is one of the biggest barriers to walking and biking to school reported by parents. Reducing the speed of traffic around schools is a good step to make routes to school safer and encourage families to walk and bike. This webinar highlights strategies used by two communities to successfully slow vehicle speeds around schools.

Scott Bricker, Executive Director of America Walks, will review relevant research around speed and pedestrian and bicyclist safety and provide a general overview of steps your community can take to slow vehicle speeds around schools. Then, Elizabeth Stampe, from Walk San Francisco, will discuss how Walk San Francisco worked with the City’s transportation department to enforce an existing state law and helped to reduce speed limits around 181 schools. Finally, Mark Lear, from the Portland Bureau of Transportation, will describe the City’s development of a “neighborhood greenways” network with speed limits of 20 MPH. He’ll present some basic design elements of Portland’s greenways and discuss how they built a diverse community coalition to achieve their goals.

Register here.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Nope, it's not.

Maybe it's time to plant a few more street trees in Woodland Hills?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Will AB 2231 have unintended consequences for sidewalks?

Assembly Bill 2231, introduced by Assemblymember Felipe Fuentes, shifts responsibility for sidewalk repairs from adjacent property owners to local jurisdictions. The bill is touted by groups such as the California Association of Realtors because it "rightfully stops local governments from shirking responsibility for these sidewalks and protects property owners from huge repair and legal costs for damages they did not produce."

That might be good for homeowners, but is it good for sidewalks? The bill imposes a state-mandated local program, which means that ultimately the State could be responsible for paying sidewalk repair costs if the Commission on State Mandates determines the costs are reimbursable. Given the state of California's budget, that possibility is uncertain at best, meaning local jurisdictions would likely have to pay for repairs.

Great! you say -- one way or the other, we'll finally get some much-needed sidewalk fixes. Don't be so sure. At least one city says it would remove its sidewalks rather than bankrupt itself trying to repair them. There's also the risk that jurisdictions would decide to cut down shade trees that threaten to cause sidewalk damage (or maybe just make it a policy not to plant them). Given this, it's no surprise groups like the League of California Cities and California Association of Counties oppose the bill (although the reason they give for doing so is a little discouraging: "It is difficult to justify repairing a sidewalk for a homeowner in a residential neighborhood instead of filling potholes on a thoroughfare that serves as a primary route for the movement of people and goods…").  

I don't fault Fuentes for wanting cities to take responsibility for sidewalk repair. Though it's clearly not the reason he's sponsored the bill (he's more interested in scoring points with homeowners worried about liability than in ensuring pedestrian connectivity), it galls me when cities argue they have a mandate to maintain the traveled way for vehicles--but not pedestrians. Still, I believe there is a real risk that AB 2231, if passed, could lead to fewer sidewalks. Until the bill is changed to address that problem, it's not one I believe pedestrian advocates should support.

Friday, May 25, 2012

This Week on Foot

We're visiting Seattle this week, where the City Council rejects mayor's plan for more stores in neighborhoods due in part to concerns over too much walkability. As one person said during public testimony (to loud applause), "We don't need more walkability in our neighborhood." Is there such a thing a too much walkability, or are the problems with the mayor's proposal more nuanced (e.g. a perception that they favor new development over existing retailers)?

It does seem like an odd complaint, given that everywhere else they're jumping on the walkability band...sneakers? This week we learned about Microcities: The Rise of the Mini Home and the Walkable Neighborhood, found out that Home Prices In ‘Resilient Walkable’ Communities See Strongest Recovery, and discovered that Now Coveted: A Walkable, Convenient Place. Even the Military rethinks base planning for energy efficiency, walkability.

And it's not to soon, because it's been a dangerous week out there for pedestrians, with a Pedestrian struck by Metrolink train in Anaheim and a 101-year-old pedestrian killed by 91-year-old driver in Burbank. Fortunately Volvo introduces pedestrian airbarg in 2013 V40 model, and Safe Kids Receives $25,000 To Improve Pedestrian Safety. There even a new Campaign tackles pedestrian deaths on Northern Ireland roads.

Meanwhile, closer to home we're wondering How many agencies does it take to make a better LA street? Already Hollywood's EaCa Alley Already Action-Packed, without a ton of agencies dipping their feet in the water. Elsewhere in the country Central Maui Pedestrian & Bicycle Master Plan to be Unveiled, there's a A second act for the walkable neighborhood in D.C., and the Walkability - Coalition submits suggestions on approving walking areas in Estherville.

Finally this week, we learn about Gas and Cigarettes and Addiction Funding--and how it might not be a great idea to depend on them to fix our walkability problems.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Driverless cars will save the world!

Photo courtesy of the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles

Okay, I don't really think that.

But I do think they deserve more than a knee-jerk, negative reaction (see discussion here and here). Pedestrians (and planners, for that matter) tend to think of the car as their natural enemy, and it's true the car causes a lot of problems--for everyone, not just those who travel on foot. Does that mean we should reject any change in the technology that might continue to perpetuate an auto-centric world? Let's consider the costs of cars and private vehicle travel, and see what robo-cars might do to change them.

1. Public Health
According to CDC data about 30,000 Americans are killed in traffic crashes each year, at a cost of $41 billion. If that sounds discouraging, consider that over 90 percent of traffic deaths and injuries take place outside the US, killing 1.3 million people annually and injuring another 20 to 50 million. I probably don't have to tell you that pedestrians are disproportionately represented in those deaths and injuries, right?

Driverless cars might not eliminate this problem entirely (the laws of physics still apply if someone darts in front of a car), but they have the potential to seriously decrease deaths and injuries from crashes. Imagine no more distracted driving, drunk driving, speeding, red-light running--or people cutting you off on the freeway. For me, this alone is reason enough to support further investigation into driverless technology.

There are other health consequences from driving, of course. Air pollution from vehicles contributes to high asthma and cancer rates, particularly in neighborhoods near freeways. Driverless cars may have a small impact on this by reducing congestion, but the real benefits from pollution reduction will come from other technologies. And by making it easier to drive, robo-cars might contribute to the ongoing obesity problem in our country (and elsewhere). We shouldn't ignore their potential to create a new kind of lazy (car-potato?), but I'm not convinced the obesity epidemic, with its myriad causes and solutions, is reason enough to reject robo-cars outright.

2. Congestion
Congestion costs Americans over $100 billion per year (not including associated health costs). As transportation experts have said for years, the best solution is well within our reach -- if only we could find the political will to implement it. Until then we hunt for the second-best options, and driverless cars are one of them. They would remove most of the delays caused by crashes, and allow vehicles to travel faster and more smoothly.

However, let's be clear: driverless cars would not solve the fundamental problem of congestion (namely, lots of people trying to get the same place at the same time on the same route). They have the potential to ease congestion by improving roadway efficiency, but they won't eliminate it entirely.

Friday, May 18, 2012

This week on foot

 Photo courtesy of Comox Valley Record

This week has been full of debate over driverless cars. Oops — wrong future! says Google-Funded Pundit: Forget Transit, the Future Belongs to Robocars. But Driverless cars don't change geometry.

On the other hand, students might--like South Brunswick High School Students Seek Sidewalk. And it's a good thing, because this week we learned why Why Seniors, Children, and the Poor Are at Greater Risk of Traffic Deaths, which may explain why Some Comox Valley elementary students get aboard 'walking bus' to stay safe during their walk to school.

Elsewhere in the country Five Points Officials Looking to Make Area Safer to Walk as well, while King County's 'Complete Streets' Hopes To Reverse Health Effects Of Sprawl, Washington-DC Area Planning Board Approves Complete Streets Policy and Essex County Complete Streets Policy Adopted.

But it's not Complete Streets for everyone. Is the world's fastest pedestrian signal in downtown Muncie? I can't say, but I do know a "Diverging diamond" doesn't help make a walkable corridor. And those walkable corridors are important, since New housing forecast mostly good for walkable communities.

And while we're talking about walkability, don't forget that Parks should be pedestrian friendly. So should bridges, like the Pedestrian bridge dedicated to long-time trail leader in Maine. And maybe even...Vegas? I guess it's one of those Walkable Places Where Glitz Is King.

But cars are king in Kenya: Mwau's Car Knocks Pedestrian to Death, reminding us that the question of walking vs. driving is also one of who has the power.

Finally this week, in California the Senate OKs bill to increase fines for cell phone use while driving-- but across the country they've taken the opposite approach: Texting while walking banned in N.J. town.  

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Big Parade This Weekend

Not only do you get to explore LA on foot, you get to do it with a bunch of other people who love to walk in LA! Walks take place Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Get the details here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

2011 LA Bike and Pedestrian Count Results

They claim no one walks in LA, but the results of the LA County Bike Coalition's newly-released
2011 City of Los Angeles Bicycle and Pedestrian Count suggest otherwise. Counts at just 33 intersections show about 20,000 peak period walkers. Pretty impressive for a city supposedly in love with the car.
Although the report (understandably) focuses primarily on bike travel, it does at least provide some good base data for pedestrian travel in Los Angeles. Hopefully as Los Angeles Walks ramps ups its advocacy efforts, we'll see additional analysis for pedestrians (suggestion for next year: conducting counts during the hours of peak vehicle travel could mean we're missing some of the story about peak pedestrian and bike travel--especially since the counts don't cover the walk-from-school hours). I was particularly interested to see that in many cases the LA counts were higher than those in the US Census journey to work data, suggesting an underreporting of bike and pedestrian travel in the Census. This underscores the importance of devoting more resources to researching pedestrian and bicycle travel--without good data, we're more likely to sell ourselves short (or Congress might).

Monday, May 14, 2012

Like Where the Sidewalk Starts on Facebook!

Where the Sidewalk Starts likes you--and now you can like Where the Sidewalk Starts. The blog has a new Facebook fan page to go along with its great new design! Check out the page to read all the latest posts, as well as other fun stuff about pedestrians and walkability.

Friday, May 11, 2012

This week on foot

Meanwhile, Three pedestrian deaths elicit varied reactions in San Francisco. Maybe they should look to Florida, where in South Beaches: Flags help with pedestrian crossings, or further north, where Chicago unveils wide-ranging transportation plan that features 20 mph speed limits in Chicago and increased crossing times for pedestrians. 
Outside the US, other cities are also getting innovative with their planning efforts, like in Canada where Calgary abandons cul-de-sac design. Elsewhere in Canada, we learn Most pedestrian-involved crashes caused by turning vehicles.  But another study shows that Sleepy teen pedestrians more likely to get hit. And it's not just lack of sleep that's dangerous for pedestrians. Cuba warns of rising rail danger, faster trains, and here in the US FRA Guidance on Pedestrian Safety Still Misses the Real Problem.  

With all this focus on pedestrian safety and walkability, it seems odd that WeHo Tables Sat. Night, Pedestrian-Only Robertson Blvd. Plan. After all, Walkable neighbourhoods: Key to Hamilton's creative industries--why not LA's industries too? Maybe it's just beacuse Downtown ranked the 'most walkable neighborhood in Los Angeles' and WeHo is jealous?
Finally, New Urbanism Needs a Re-Boot according to one speaker at this week's Congress for New Urbanism. Perhaps it should focus on the Pub shed: Mapping your five minute stumble distance might get people interested in walkability, right?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Free Webinar - Lessons from SRTS Award Winners

May 22 - 10:00 AM PST

One of the best ways to build a SRTS Program is to take a page from a winning playbook. Each year, the National Center for Safe Routes to School has the privilege of recognizing one Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program in the country for outstanding achievement in promoting safe walking and bicycling to school. This year - a first in the history of the James L. Oberstar Safe Routes to School Award - two schools will receive this national honor: Heatherwood Elementary School in Boulder, Colo., and Omro Middle School in Omro, Wis. In this sixty minute webinar you will have the opportunity to learn from these award winning programs.

Register here.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

May SRTS conference call

All are welcome and invited to join this month's call.

Thursday, May 10th from 9-10 am
Conference Call Number: 866-394-4146
Guest Code: 878934528#

Lots of good stuff on the agenda, including:
SCAG RTP/SCS Update and Next Steps (5 mins)
  • Next Steps – lessons learned, going from here. Developing our SoCal SRTSNP Network Regional Platform 2.0
Regional Planning Spotlight
  • Orange County Regional Bikeways Planning with Carolyn Mamaradlo, Associate Transportation Analyst, Transit & Non-motorized Planning, Orange County Transportation Association
Get the full agenda here.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Complete Streets Abu Dhabi

Lest you think the US and Europe have the monopoly on Complete Streets, take a look at this Urban Street Design Manual from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. Aside from noting that with enough money from oil and gas production, your planning department can have a pretty snazzy website, I was fascinated by a number of small (but significant) policies that marked this design manual as unique to its city, such as:
A sikka in Abu Dhabi
  • A whole section devoted to techniques for shading sidewalks
  • The use of sikkas (narrow pedestrian pathways found in new and historic neighborhoods)
  • An emphasis on creating spaces that allow privacy and security for women
  • The incorporation of ablution sinks into the street furniture (and reuse of their water for landscape irrigation) 
This highlights something important about complete streets: they're not just about building sidewalks, they're about building community identity. Streets should reflect and encourage the character of the neighborhood  they are located within. That means more than just adding some pretty street furniture, or "branding" the community with special signage. There are real cultural differences in the way different communities use streets. For example, in South and Central American countries (and many Latino neighborhoods in the US),  streets function as a sort of extended front yard where a diversity of activities (vending, socializing) take place. They have a different place in the culture of the community than you might find in, say, a neighborhood in Woodland Hills. (For more info, see James Rojas discussion of Latino Urbanism here.)

True complete streets should be designed to take into account the way a particular culture uses its roadways, including spaces and features that will complement the history and demographics of a particular neighborhood. A roadway in a area with an aging population, for instance, might include a particular focus on universal design. Space for street vending or small-scale businesses might be more important in some commercial areas than room for cafe seating. As we move towards more function-driven street design, we should consider not just the generic purpose of a roadway (commercial-serving, residential neighborhood, bicycle corridor), but also the specific desires and needs of its users.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Walk with Jane this Weekend

Photo courtesy of Jane Jacobs Walk

Or at least, with her spirit. This weekend planning aficionados across the country hold walks in honor of Jane Jacobs,  author, activist, coiner of the phrase "eyes on the street" and generally planner extraordinaire. Find out more about walks in your area at this link, or this one.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Payback for Promoting Walkability

As detailed in this recent story from the Daily News, the Woodland Hills Chamber of Commerce plans to drop the Woodland Hills Homeowners Association from its membership because the homeowners have filed a suit over the recently-approved Village at Topanga here in Woodland Hills. The homeowners are concerned about the project's lack of walkability, saying the project violates the Warner Center Specific Plan because it encourages car use, and that potentially significant project impacts weren't considered in the project's environmental impact report. They are particulary concerned that the anchor store--a Costco--will do little to promote alternative transportation use.

But Chamber of Commerce representatives argue that, "This is in direct conflict with what the chamber stands for...We want this development for our community." Maybe the Chamber hasn't read the studies showing walkability is good for business?

While I agree that pretty much anything is better than the empty parking lot that covers the site right now, I find this kind of petty retaliation for legitimate concerns over project design discouraging....almost as discouraging as our Councilmember's feigned bewilderment over why anyone wouldn't want an auto-oriented development in their neighborhood.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Free Webinar - Federal Funding 101

May 3, 11:00 AM

Join the SRTS Partnership for an overview of the basic federal funding process for walking and bicycling and Safe Routes to School.

Transportation funding can be a complex and confusing process, from applying for money and completing paperwork and forms, to the ‘obligation’ process which can take years to complete. Understanding these systems can help you to better navigate and advocate for federal funds that can increase bicycling and walking.

Have you wondered how the mysterious federal transportation funding process works?
Do you want to learn techniques to successfully apply for federal Safe Routes to School, Transportation Enhancements and other funding through your state department of transportation?
Are you curious about how the new federal transportation bill may end up and what that may mean for you?

Find out the answers to these and other questions, and ask your own! Register here.