Monday, April 29, 2013

Bravo 10 Percent Solution in Wisconsin!

Wisconsin is beginning another round of tough debates on transportation funding, originating in the Walker administration’s sharp pull to the right in this field as in most others.
In brief, in his pending budget proposal the Governor continues to pursue the policy direction of increasing funding for state highways at the expense of transit, local road, and bike/ped.
This time, proponents of a 21st century, multimodal, environmentally friendly transportation policy have countered with a crisp, clear alternative – the “10 percent solution” (here).  The alternative suggests cutting state highway spending in the budget by 10 percent, which would permit increasing spending on transit and local roads by 10 percent and still save money.  I have not run the numbers myself, but based on earlier research I have done on Wisconsin, they seem very realistic.
Congrats to WISPIRG, Sierra Club, and 1000 Friends of Wisconsin for a first-class effort!
A very important budget topic not addressed by the 10 percent solution is the proposed transfer of general funds to the transportation fund.  As I have stated repeatedly, this is dangerous business for transportation, effectively diverting money from a variety of social needs and ultimately pitting advocates for those programs against advocates for transportation.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

What’s the Opposite of Goods Movement?

For a good laugh, you should visit (there is also a Youtube channel).
Yes, I know we probably shouldn’t laugh, and we probably wouldn’t if we were there, and definitely wouldn’t if we were directly involved.
Still, we all need a good laugh, and you won’t be able to resist one here.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Happy Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day to all my colleagues, client, and friends!
Yes we can make a greener, safer, better world!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Remarkable Pedestrian Safety Report from New York

The New York Times lede gives one of the remarkable findings from a recent study: “Pedestrians struck by cars are most often hit while in the crosswalk, with the signal on their side.”
The Times story (here) is based on a report from the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery (abstract here, article behind paywall).
A pedestrian safety article in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery?  That’s actually one of the more remarkable aspects of this story.  Typically we only get accident statistics from police reports.  Research using hospital emergency room reports sheds different light on the subject and suggests new avenues for future research. 
Another nugget from the research: 6% of recorded pedestrians injuries occurred on sidewalks!
Anyone who has walked – or even worse, driven – in midtown Manhattan will know that the chaotic swirl of people and vehicles there is unlike anything you are likely to encounter elsewhere in the country. 
But a couple of takeaways that I think many people would find useful:
First, as suggested above, it would be good to find some alternative research strategies to figure out how to get better results for bike and ped safety.
Second, one of the doctors on the study talked about the importance of changing the behavior of walkers, riders, and drivers.  This goes to one of my favorite themes: the best avenue to a safer transportation environment may not be traffic engineering, it may be culture change.  More about that another time.
And congrats to NYCDOT for continuing improvement in facilities, condition, and safety for walkers and riders!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Ewing NJ Continues on Smart Growth Path

Ewing NJ Mayor Bert Steinmann has reaffirmed his commitment to a Smart Growth town center project in his recent “state of the township” address (Trenton Times story here).
The town is moving forward with the selection process for a master developer for this brownfield site and hopes to have one in place this year.
(Disclosure, I am involved in a related project – see my earlier posting here.)
The newspaper account is very good but leaves out a couple of interesting numbers:
The town’s study team (led by Chuck Latini) has estimated the annual property tax revenue for different scenarios as follows: standard shopping center $57 million, big box or mall $78 million, and town center/transit village $158 million.  We have a winner!  Of course, as the mayor notes, putting in a strip shopping center would be a lot quicker, but is a losing proposition in the long run.
One more set of numbers: the study estimates that the redevelopment will generate 7,000 jobs in the town (an inner-ring suburb, which needs them), with another 2,000 to 3,000 jobs to be generated from the county-led airport redevelopment plan.
Continue to watch this project!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

What Does a Proposal to Expand Social Security Have to do With Transportation?

Wait, what?  I thought the national debate was about whether to cut Social Security (and by how much) or maybe to keep it at the same level!  Well, it has been, but now there is a proposal on the table to expand Social Security significantly, based on the idea that for most Americans this is the best guarantee for retirement security, given that both defined benefit pensions and retirement accounts have faltered in recent years.  The authors of Expanded SocialSecurity: A Plan to Increase Retirement Security for All Americans support their case with a lot of good arguments, including why it is affordable, but my attention is drawn to the last paragraph of the Executive Summary:
“At present the discussion is dominated by those who want to privatize or shrink Social Security and those on the defensive who propose merely incremental reforms to preserve it. We seek not merely to move the ball, but also to move the goalpost in order to enlarge the boundaries of the national conversation about the future of retirement security in America.”
My question is, why not take the same approach for investment in transportation?
How about this:
“At present the discussion is dominated by those who want to privatize or shrink Social Security federal and state investment in transportation and those on the defensive who propose merely incremental reforms to preserve it. We seek not merely to move the ball, but also to move the goalpost in order to enlarge the boundaries of the national conversation about the future of retirement security transportation in America.”
Our debates on how to plan and build a real 21st century transportation system in this country have been wholly unsatisfactory.  Time to move the goal post!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Please Move My DOT Building

PPS recently posted an excellent blog story (here) discussing the location of state DOT buildings and speculating what effect those locations might have in shaping how DOT engineers think about transportation problems.  They used the Walkscore methodology to rank all 50 buildings.
As it turned out, many state DOTs ranked badly in walkability.  Each building has its own history, but I suspect many of the poor locational decisions were a result of state highway engineers (at that time) wanting to be adjacent to a state highway and to have a big footprint, in order to accommodate maintenance facilities as well as offices.  Other state DOTs ended up in downtown state capital complexes and have high scores.
The honor of worst walkability score goes to the Maryland DOT, at 5.  This is more than a little ironic, because MDOT is one of the very best DOTs in terms of promoting transit, bike/ped programs, multimodal planning, and linking transportation and land use.  And I can confirm from my own experience that their headquarters is definitely isolated. 
The best score goes to Massachusetts DOT (100!) for its headquarters building in central Boston.  Their building not only has a terrific location for access to services (which gets it the high score), it was specifically designed for neighborhood revitalization, transit accessibility, mix of uses, and urban scale (see architect Goody Clancy’s project summary here).  Interestingly, the Massachusetts Transportation Building was in place well before there was a Massachusetts Department of Transportation!  I’m told that one of the purposes of the building was in fact to encourage greater coordination among the various transportation agencies in the state’s byzantine governmental structure, which actually preceded statutory reorganization.
Anyone who has used the Walkscore methodology knows that it gives only approximations of walkability and doesn’t tell the whole story.  Two examples that I happen to know well illustrate this point.
Connecticut DOT is scored as the 20th worst (63, “somewhat walkable”) but is actually in a dreadful location.  There are some shops within a half-mile radius, but it would be a bold pedestrian from ConnDOT who would brave a walk across the parking lots or landscaping (no sidewalks) and high-speed highways (with no crosswalks) to get there.  (More on ConnDOT shortly.)
New Jersey DOT ranks lower than Connecticut (score 52) but is actually much friendlier to pedestrians.  The location is definitely suburban (therefore discouraging collaboration with other agencies and contact with a broader array of stakeholders) but the building is surrounded by a traditional neighborhood mix of housing, shops, and offices on a decent grid of local streets.
Now I do support the author’s contention that building design and location can affect how people think about the world (despite some examples, like Maryland, that don’t work very well).  As Winston Churchill said, “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.”  I also believe that states can and should use their real estate muscle to leverage growth in desired locations and to model “good behavior.”

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Smart Transportation Guidebook is 5 Years Old!

Happy 5th Birthday to the New Jersey/Pennsylvania Smart Transportation Guidebook! 
This remarkable document (full disclosure: I have some paternal interest) is a citizens guide to linking transportation and Smart Growth.  The subtitle says it all: “Planning and Designing Highways and Streets that Support Sustainable and Livable Communities.”  The guidebook was the product of a remarkable collaboration between PennDOT (led by Al Biehler) and New Jersey DOT (led by Jack Lettiere and later Kris Kolluri), facilitated by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission.  Both state DOTs had been struggling for several years with the failure of the old model of building new highways as an answer to congestion and had been experimenting with new techniques of multimodal corridor planning, collaborative planning, linking transportation and land use, and environmental stewardship.  The Smart Transportation Guidebook is a distillation of that learning experience and was intended to stimulate informed, community-oriented transportation planning.
Kudos for the document go to the leadership at the time (Al Biehler, Jack Lettiere, Kris Kolluri, and DVRPC executive director Barry Seymour).  I won’t try to list all the staff and consultant team that created this extraordinary publication, but must at least mention Gary Toth, the intellectual driver of smart transportation planning on the New Jersey side of the river (and my teacher on many of these issues).
You can find the Guidebook on the NJDOT website here and on the DVRPC website here.
How is the Guidebook currently being used?  Hmmm………..I’m not sure.  Maybe it’s time for a 5th anniversary revisit?  If anything, the issues that drove its production are more pressing and its approach more compelling than they were 5 years ago

Monday, April 1, 2013

Massachusetts Transportation Day

Good luck to Massachusetts transportation advocates on “Transportation Day” (April 2), when supporters of Governor Deval Patrick’s revenue plan are asked to contact their legislators or show up at the Statehouse or other locations.
Massachusetts is leading the way in showing us that Smart Growth, transit, and transportation reform people can make common cause with more traditional transportation folks around a critical agenda of investment in rejuvenating and modernizing the transportation system. 
For a summary of the plan - and why Smart Growth people should be on it - see the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance summary here.
The leadership of Governor Patrick is obviously critical, and hopefully this episode will demonstrate that courage is rewarded!  As I have noted before, my preference is still for a gas tax, but any forward movement is progress.
Happy Transportation Day!