The importance of reducing VMT by 1% per year

by Steve Birdlebough

Many cities and counties are adopting emergency declarations regarding the Climate Disruption crisis. Some places have shown progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from their water and power sectors, however it seems much more difficult to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the transportation sector.

Reports and studies by the Air Resources Board tell us that during the next 15 years it will be necessary to reduce average vehicle miles traveled by more than 1% per year for each California resident. Merely shifting people into electric vehicles will NOT achieve the needed reductions in GHG emissions. In part, this is because many vehicles now on the road will be emitting greenhouse gases for years to come.

A 1% per year reduction in driving may seem small, but steady reductions in our collective driving habit (vehicle miles traveled [VMT] per capita) will become significant.

The SCTLC can play an important role by educating local policy makers about equitable strategies to reduce driving while maintaining a healthy economy. Depending on the geography, work force, and economic drivers, policies to be considered are:
– Support climate-friendly sharing of autos, electric bicycles, scooters, etc.
-Make more employers aware of the benefits, and ways to manage telecommuting.
– Convenient, attractive & safe trails for bicycles, horses, and pedestrians
– Make low cost transit passes and free shuttles widely available
– Improve the quantity and convenience of bus, train and shuttle services
– Cease subsidizing automobile parking (progressively unbundle parking costs)
– Build most new residences near shopping, work places, and public transit
– Avoid construction or expansion of roadways that invite more congestion

In November, 2018 we saw the power that groups and chapters exercised in defeating Proposition 3 (the pay-to-play water bond). The Transportation & Sustainable Communities Committee is urging every chapter and group to engage policy makers in efforts to significantly reduce per capita VMT and GHG emissions related to
transportation.

City councils and boards of supervisors should begin to receive VMT per capita progress reports annually. Within a few years, candidate interviews can present an opportunity for discussion of these issues.

Good News on Jennings Crossing

Chris Rogers, Facebook

Great news for folks following the Jennings crossing fight – after walking the detour with city and SMART officials (including a few former city council members who just happen to be biking by), the Administrative Law Judge overseeing the case is recommending to the CPUC that they reaffirm their approval of the crossing over the objection of SMART. If approved in October, it would give us 2 more years to begin construction.

“The City has made a convincing showing that it has eliminated all potential safety hazards….The commission expects that SMART shall comply with [the decision] and cooperate in good faith with the city to reach an agreement regarding the construction of the approved crossing at Jennings Avenue. While SMART argues that facts and circumstances relied upon by the commission in [the decision] have changed, SMART has not supported any allegation of new or changed facts…”

SF to Streamline Approvals for Protected Bike Lanes, Other Safety Improvements

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez, San Francisco Examiner

Proposal could cut as much as three months off time needed to implement projects

San Francisco may soon tear up the red tape delaying the construction of some protected bike lanes.

While some street safety advocates are over the moon about the idea, others worry it doesn’t go far enough to make The City’s deadly streets safe to walk and bike.

A proposal up for approval Tuesday by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors would give city staff the authority to create “quick build” protected bike lanes without the approval of the SFMTA board.

Staff would also be empowered to enact other street changes without going before the SFMTA board, including creating transit boarding islands, designating blue and red parking zones, establishing stop signs, prohibiting right, left or U-turns, establishing restrictions against red-light turns, and establishing multiple turn lanes.

The new proposal comes on the heels of Mayor London Breed’s directive to transit leaders to make walking safer, and build 20 miles of protected bike lanes in two years.

“These policies align with the Mayor’s directive to make our streets safer and to save lives by streamlining the delivery of critically important improvements,” said Jeff Cretan, the mayor’s spokesperson, in a statement.

Quick-build bike lanes usually feature bendable posts separating bike lanes from car lanes, and are easily taken out, an SFMTA staff report said. More permanent concrete bike lanes or bike lanes that use vehicle parking as a barrier, for instance, would still require SFMTA board approval.

As for the less permanent quick-build bike lanes, staff would still need to run those proposals through a City Hall engineering hearing to give the public a chance to voice concerns. But cutting the SFMTA board out of the process would save projects up to three months of time, staff argued in a report.

The Mayor’s Office said that last part is key.

“There will still be a public hearing for people to weigh in, but to make our streets safer for all we can’t continue to slow down public safety projects with layers of bureaucracy,” Cretan said.

Read more at https://www.sfexaminer.com/the-city/sf-to-streamline-approvals-for-protected-bike-lanes-other-safety-improvements/

County Agencies Win State Funds to Reshape Local Pedestrian Safety Programs

by Will Carruthers

After months of suspense, two Sonoma County agencies have been awarded $660,000 to reframe the county’s approach to pedestrian and bicycle safety efforts.

In November, two local agencies – the Sonoma County Transportation Authority and the county’s Department of Health Services – requested state transportation funding to launch an ambitious pedestrian safety program based on a model used in some of the country’s densest cities, including San Francisco and New York.

Vision Zero, the traffic safety framework the Sonoma County program would be based on, was started in Sweden in 1990s and has more recently been implemented in eleven cities in California, according to the Vision Zero Network, a national group representing participating cities.

To gain Vision Zero status a jurisdiction is required to set a goal of eliminating traffic fatalities and severe injuries. Vision Zero programs also reframe the way traffic fatalities are discussed and which solutions are pursued.

“Vision Zero recognizes that people will sometimes make mistakes, so the road system and related policies should be designed to ensure those inevitable mistakes do not result in severe injuries or fatalities,” according to the Vision Zero Network’s website.

The funding will allow local agencies to coordinate efforts to reduce the county’s high rate of fatalities and injuries.

In 2016, there were 8.8 traffic fatalities per 100,000 population in Sonoma County compared with 5.9 in the Bay Area overall, according to data from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission citied in the funding application.

“Between 2010 and 2016 there were 1,163 collisions involving bicycles in the county, with 12 resulting in fatalities, and 855 collisions involving pedestrians, with 52 resulting in fatalities,” according to the application.

Cities with Vision Zero programs. Photo: Vision Zero Network

Cities with Vision Zero programs. Photo: Vision Zero Network

The program would start by improving the way injuries and fatalities are tracked.

“Successful Vision Zero initiatives in other cities cite the importance of having access to accurate, timely, and comprehensive data sets containing injury and crash data. Currently, it’s difficult to get a complete view of the safety issues in Sonoma County due to the lack of a robust data framework,” the county’s funding application states.

Data collected could then be used to more effectively target efforts to improve road safety. For instance, San Francisco’s Vision Zero program splits efforts to eliminate fatalities into four categories: enforcement, education, engineering and evaluation.

Steve Birdlebough, a local transportation activist with the Sonoma County Transportation and Land Use Coalition, agrees that a more data-driven approach could help agencies pursue improvements in a more effective way.

Under the current system, infrastructure improvements seem to be awarded based on how organized and angry neighbors are rather than on which intersection has the highest number of fatalities or injuries, according to Birdlebough.

“No changes are made unless the neighbors get up in arms,” Birdlebough said. “[The process] seems random.”

Brittany Lobo, a health information specialist with the Department of Health Services, says that her department would take the lead on connecting various local departments around the traffic safety goals. SCTA would create an online data dashboard to display information about fatalities.

Although Vision Zero programs have been passed in large cities across the country, Sonoma County’s proposal to include multiple cities and unincorporated county land within the program could be unique.

“This is the only proposal we’ve seen that proposes bringing together multiple jurisdictions,” Lobo said. As well as offering data to small cities, the data dashboard would display information about rural roads where fatality rates can also be high.

Because some transportation funding agencies now ask whether applicants have Vision Zero policies, the program could also make Sonoma County cities more competitive for future funding opportunities, Lobo said.

If the county’s Vision Zero program is successful, it could help the county achieve other transportation goals. For instance, the county intends to reduce carbon emissions by increasing the number of bicycle and pedestrian trips taken from 8.4 percent of total trips in 2010 to 15 percent by 2040.

But, if residents don’t consider active transportation options safe or efficient, they will continue to drive.

However, due to the massive number of variables in any given traffic system, progress under Vision Zero is not quick or guaranteed.

San Francisco launched its own Vision Zero program in 2014 with a goal of eliminating pedestrian deaths by 2024. Although the fatality rate stayed flat for the first two years of the program, the rate dropped significantly in 2017 before rising again this year.

Source: https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/county-agencies-contend-for-funds-to-reshape-pedestrian-safety-programs

SMART’s Claim that the Jennings crossing would harm safety

by Willard Richards

I listened to the video recording of the September 19, 2018 SMART Board meeting to again hear Farhad Mansourian’s comments on the proposed Jennings Avenue at-grade pedestrian crossing in Santa Rosa. He began his remarks with, “It is nothing but a safety issue for us.” and ended with, “It is not about money, it is not about politics, it is about public safety.” Bill Gamlen’s August 20 letter to Jason Nutt takes the same position. This simplifies the debate. The effect of building the Jennings crossing on pedestrian safety should be subjected to a thorough, rational analysis.

If taken to an extreme, comments by some SMART staff could be interpreted as saying SMART does not want pedestrians near the tracks. This is not the view of most of the SMART Board and staff and is certainly not what the public and transportation planners want. We want to get people out of their cars and to instead walk and bicycle. Encouraging that requires providing paths that are safe and efficient.

If we agree we do want pedestrians crossing the tracks, then the question becomes where to cross the tracks, and what safety features should crossings have? And specific to the current debate, what are the differences between the two crossings that people traveling along Jennings Avenue might use?

The present detour to the Guerneville Road crossing has these disadvantages:
• It adds 0.6 miles to the one-way distance pedestrians and bicyclists on Jennings Avenue must travel.
• This increased distance has encouraged cutting the fences at Jennings Avenue and adding aids such as boards or chairs to climbing over the fences. Fortunately, fence cutting has decreased recently. However, youths have been observed going over the fence without aids. Unsafe crossing the tracks at Jennings Avenue will be an issue as long as the detour is the alternative.
• In his General Manager’s report on September 19, Farhad Mansourian mentioned ducking under the pedestrian gates. The pedestrian gates at Guerneville road have no skirts under the gate to discourage this but the proposed gates at Jennings Avenue do have skirts.
• Pedestrians walking toward the west on the sidewalk can step into the adjacent bicycle path to avoid all gates on the second rail track.
• The part of the detour along the multi-use path is remote from other people.
• The part of the detour along Guerneville Road is on a path surrounded by shrubbery on both sides.
• The part of the detour along North Dutton Avenue is on a sidewalk beside a busy, four-lane road. There are many curb cuts and side streets. Cars turning left could be more focused on approaching traffic than on pedestrians on the sidewalk.

The present detour to the Guerneville Road crossing has these advantages:
• The two tracks are separated enough that they are crossed one track at a time with separate gates for each track.
• Trains are traveling more slowly here than at the Jennings crossing.
The proposed crossing at Jennings Avenue:
• Has all the required and recommended safety features, including all those at the Guerneville Road crossing.
• Has skirts under the pedestrian gates to discourage ducking under the gates.
• Crosses two tracks at once, but if a second train is approaching, the lights will continue flash, the bells will continue to sound, and the gates will stay down until it is safe to cross.
• Has no nearby bicycle path that pedestrians can use to avoid the pedestrian gates.

If it is all about safety, I believe these comparisons show that building the Jennings crossing would improve pedestrian safety.
Building the crossing also makes a strong contribution to public convenience and to the paths that encourage walking and bicycling. I favor building a path that goes over Highway 101 near the Santa Rosa Junior College to Coddingtown, near the SMART Guerneville Road Station and then continues across the SMART tracks at Jennings Avenue and to the west along Jennings Avenue. This path is in the City‘s General Plan 2035, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan 2010, and the North Santa Rosa Station Area Specific Plan. The Jennings crossing would be used by students walking to the Helen Lehman school and by neighborhood residents walking to Coddingtown and nearby shops and government services.

Lightning Fast, Dirt Cheap: Five Tips From SF’s Protected Bike Lane Projects

Michael Anderson, Streetsblog USA

f you’d like to cut the project time of a new protected bike lane by 90 percent and the cost by 75 percent, Mike Sallaberry has some advice.

A senior transportation engineer for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, Sallaberry has a short piece in the new issue of ITE Journal sharing useful details on three projects in 2016 and 2017 that used the “quick-build” method. Instead of spending two years getting every detail right and then pouring permanent curbs, SFMTA built first — using paint, plastic and removable concrete islands — and asked questions both before and after.

The result, as Sallaberry explains, is a potentially more inclusive public process and a project that’s far more efficient.

“Common practice in San Francisco has been to identify the ideal result then wait for design, funding, contracting and construction to deliver the design,” says Sallaberry. “While this makes sense for many situations, a new approach was used recently where intermediate designs were implemented in the near term to act as ‘stepping stones’ to a longer term design.”

Maybe most important, the inherent flexibility of the quick-build approach makes it institutionally easier for a public agency to innovate. Without so much “fear of installing something that does not work,” Sallaberry explains, city staff feel free “to try new ideas to solve challenging issues.”

The agile process recalls modern software engineering, so it’s fitting that San Francisco is among the first cities embracing it. Here are five lessons we saw in Sallaberry’s piece for other cities interested in becoming fast followers.

Read more at https://usa.streetsblog.org/2018/02/27/lightning-fast-dirt-cheap-five-tips-from-sfs-protected-bike-lane-projects/

No, Protected Bike Lanes Do Not Need to Cost $1 million Per Mile

Michael Anderson, People for Bikes.org

Putting protected bike lanes on both sides of a street can cost $1 million per mile. The country’s most physically beautiful protected bike lane network, the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, cost several million dollars per mile.

Like most things in life, there are always ways to spend more money to make something more awesome.

But every once in a while, someone will acquire and share the mistaken belief that a protected bike lane, like a sidewalk, has to cost $1 million per mile. This is not true.

To explain, we’ll share three infographics (from past posts) that together tell the story pretty well.

First, here is a visual explanation of the “quick build” method many U.S. cities are using to modernize their project delivery process. Instead of trying to plan something for perfection from the beginning, like you’d need to do if you were building a freeway, cities advance along a spectrum of decreasingly flexible and increasingly durable materials over the course of a decade or so, gradually tweaking a street toward greater safety and comfort and fixing small issues along the way.

quick build spectrum
Tactical Urbanism: The Spectrum of Change, Michael Anderson, People for Bikes, Source.

Read more for “14 ways to make bike lanes better” and “protected bike lanes do not cost $1 million per mile”: https://peopleforbikes.org/blog/protected-bike-lanes-do-not-cost-1-million-per-mile/

New Blueprint Spreads the Gospel of Overnight Bike Lanes

Josh Cohen, Next City

Late last month, the Seattle Department of Transportation began upgrading the Second Avenue “pilot” protected bike lane by replacing plastic bollards with planters, installing new traffic signals and raising the pavement at busy driveway crossings. Unlike the usual multiyear design, review and build process, SDOT took the Second Avenue project from design to installation in just four months. They used paint and easily removable plastic bollards and promised to fix or reverse any problems they encountered after the lanes were on the ground.

That approach is part of a growing trend among city DOTs to quickly design and implement demonstration projects that help advance their bike and pedestrian network goals and illustrate to the public exactly how new types of infrastructure work in the real world. Last week, PeopleForBikes released a new report, “Quick Builds for Better Streets,” looking at lessons from projects in Seattle, New York, Chicago, Austin, Denver, Memphis, Pittsburgh and San Francisco for other cities interested in replicating the concept.

“We observed that a bunch of cities were doing cool stuff and wanted to put a name on this trend, take the lessons about how to make these rapid changes, digest them a little bit, put them into some form of blueprint that another city could replicate,” explains report co-author Michael Andersen, PeopleForBikes Green Lane Project staff writer.

The quick-build trend grew out of small-scale tactical urbanism projects where activists would block off a street or paint their own bike lane or create a protected bike lane with cheap plastic bollards. It was a way to demonstrate to glacially paced bureaucracies that change could be fast and easy.

New York City’s Department of Transportation was one of the first and certainly the most famous city government to adopt quick builds. Under former Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, New York created dozens of pedestrian plazas and pilot bike lanes using bollards and paint. Former NYC DOT Policy Director Jon Orcutt co-authored the PeopleForBikes report.

According to the report, a quick build is defined by four elements. It must be led by a city government or other public agency; installed roughly within a year of the start of planning; planned with the expectation that it may undergo change after installation; and built using materials that allow such changes.

Orcutt and Andersen drew on the experiences of cities experimenting with quick builds to come up with a list of ingredients required for success, which includes a designated team, a system for recognizing and taking advantage of opportunities, reliable funding, plans for speedily hiring contractors, impact metrics and more.

Read more: https://nextcity.org/daily/entry/cities-tactical-urbanism-speed-up-change-peopleforbikes

What is TOD?

by Joel Woodhull

Transit Oriented Development is becoming increasingly popular, but what is it really? TOD is a concept that is only a few years old. It is still being defined while simultaneously being corrupted in practice. A paper by Dena Belzer and Gerald Autler, “Transit Oriented Development: Moving from Rhetoric to Reality” tries to bring some coherency to the concept. Most of what follows is taken from that paper.

Places and Nodes
A theme that is evident throughout the history of transit is the distinction between places and nodes. The role of transit in creating a link between individual places and the broader region means that transit-oriented development, unlike other forms of development, should explicitly perform a dual function as both a node within a larger regional or metropolitan system and a good place in its own right. Station areas must provide access to transportation services and in many cases function as regional trip destinations, but the same areas must also serve as trip origins and, ideally, as coherent neighborhoods that do more than simply serve the station.

Contrast this relationship with that of freeway nodes, where nodes are the antithesis of places — essentially “no-man’s lands” with the poorest access on the network.

Evolution to TOD
Transit and development have a convoluted history. At first, in the streetcar suburbs at the turn of the last century, the streetcar lines and their adjacent residential communities typically evolved in a setting that no longer exists today. A single owner would build transit to add value to the residential development by providing a link between jobs in an urban center and housing at the periphery of a city. These places would be more aptly described as “Development-Oriented Transit” since transit was built to serve their development rather than vice-versa.

Then the long period of decline in transit ensued, with the loss of rail systems which were essential to the linkage between transit and land-use. With the exception of some of the commuter suburbs around older cities such as Boston, New York, and Chicago, which continued to function reasonably well as transit-based communities, most transit became a last resort rather than a reliable transportation option tied to development.

After World War II a new generation of transit systems was planned and built. The BART system in the San Francisco Bay Area, MARTA in Atlanta, and Metro in the Washington, D.C. area were opened in the 1970s. These systems were designed explicitly to work with the automobile, with the assumption that most people would drive to suburban stations rather than walking, biking, or riding feeder-bus systems. In this case, these systems were viewed as primarily serving a regional purpose, and the stations were considered nodes within this larger system, with little regard for the local place where each station was located. This form could be called “Auto-Oriented Transit”.

Today we are getting what might be called “Transit-Related Development”, where transit agencies and the federal government see large-scale real estate development on transit agency owned property as a way to “capture” some of the value created by high intensity access. This “joint development” approach has been used successfully in some locations, but simply generating a bit of revenue for the operating agency only begins to tap the potential of the relationship between transit and development. In other words, the “highest and best use” in financial terms is not always the best in transit or neighborhood terms.

Recently, interest in TOD has broadened beyond the possibility of financial return. Increasing evidence now exists that transit-oriented development can yield many more benefits than merely increased land value. The last decade saw subtle but promising shifts in the landscape of transit and development, with the convergence of a number of trends: growing transit ridership, increased investment in transit, frustration with congestion and sprawl, the smart growth and new urbanism movements, and a generally greater recognition of the advantages of linking development and transit. We are beginning to glimpse the full range of benefits that could be achieved with “Transit-Oriented Development”.

Defining Transit-Oriented Development

With the above as background, we can state some TOD performance criteria that will allow us to judge the quality of projects and to think clearly about the tradeoffs that must be made when pursuing a project:

1. Location Efficiency. Reduced auto dependency will result from an effective blending of convenient and efficient transportation links (node functions) with enhancements of the ability to carry out most everyday tasks close to home (place functions).

Location efficiency requires neighborhoods that provide high-quality transit, a mix of uses, and pedestrian-friendly design. Proximity to transit is just one of several key variables that determine the location efficiency of a neighborhood. Other critical factors include net residential density, transit frequency and quality, access to community amenities, and a good quality pedestrian environment.

2. Value Recapture. The location efficient mortgage is one way of capturing the value from reduced automobile dependence, by allowing families who can spend less on transportation to spend more on housing.

Extracting the excess investment in parking is another way of capturing value for the community. Parking is a significant but generally unrecognized component of high spending on transportation. Reducing parking requirements can have a significant impact on building costs, especially housing. Empirical research that has found that the average increase in the price of a housing unit with a parking space in San Francisco was $39,000 to $46,000 (Jia and Wachs 1997).

One way of accommodating cars while reducing the parking excess is to “unbundle” parking from housing and other building uses, to create a separate market for parking. This mechanism lets those who don’t value parking to spend their money on other things.

Savings from reduced parking costs (whether in residential units or other development) can be captured by households, developers, and local governments. They can be invested in assets, like housing, that appreciate in value over time and allow for individual household wealth accumulation.

3. Livability. Livability is subjective and defies easy definition. No definition can be completely objective. Nevertheless, it is possible to arrive at a definition of livability that is based on collective subjectivity rather than the values of a particular individual. Measures of livability that relate directly or indirectly to transit-oriented development include:

Improved air quality and gasoline consumption.
Increased mobility choices (pedestrian friendliness, friendliness, access to public transportation).
Decreased congestion/commute burden.
Improved access to retail, services, recreational, and cultural opportunities (including opportunities for youth to get involved in extra-curricular activities within the neighborhood).
Improved access to public spaces, including parks and plazas.
Better health and public safety (pollution-related illnesses, traffic accidents).
Better economic health (income, employment).

4. Financial Return. Planning for TOD projects requires understanding what type of return each of the public and private participants expects and ensuring that certain return thresholds can be met. But, while this means that TOD projects must be responsive to the discipline of market and financial realities, it does not mean that all development at transit-oriented locations should always strive to achieve the “highest and best” use for the site.

5. Choice. TOD is about expanding rather than circumscribing options. It is current patterns of suburban development that leaves few options for residents in terms of housing type or mode of transportation, not TOD.

Although a certain minimum overall density is certainly a prerequisite for making TOD work, it is not true that TOD will necessarily require everyone to live at higher densities than they already do. In many parts of the country, notably in California, there has been a proliferation of medium-density housing (apartments, condominiums, townhouses) that is not connected to transit and that incorporates none of the mixed- use or internal mobility of TOD. These projects function as high-density auto-oriented suburbs, with all of the disadvantages of density and none of the advantages of choices that TOD can offer.

Enhanced choice may entail:

A diversity of housing types that reflects the regional mix of incomes and family structures.
A greater range of affordable housing options.
A diversity of retail types. Diversity will necessarily be limited by the market area and the particular desires of the residents; however, this outcome could be measured in terms of how well the retail mix meets the needs and desires of the residents as they themselves define them.
A balance of transportation choices.

6. Efficient Regional Land-use Patterns. Transit-oriented development can foster much more efficient patterns and cut down on traffic generation. The fact that this development is concentrated around a transit station means that it consumes less land, generates less traffic, contributes much less to congestion and air pollution than more typical suburban development.

When a significant number of origins and destinations in the region are well-linked to a station, transit becomes a much more viable option. At the same time, transit-oriented development is one of the most important tools for creating more efficient regional land-use patterns. The more growth that can be accommodated in station areas, the less sprawl there will be.

Another (shorter) discussion of TOD is by Jeffrey Tumlin and Adam Millard Ball, “How to Make Transit-Oriented Development Work Number one: Put the transit back.” May 2003. PDF file