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.