We have to make choices

14 12 2009

(A roundtable discussion here at The Placemaking Institute)

Jeffrey R. Brown/Gregory L. Thompson: “There is debate about the relative merits of investing in rail or express bus modes to improve regional transit performance. The debate largely assumes that both modes serve a single function of providing higherspeed service to the central business district (CBD) over relatively long travel distances. The debate generally overlooks other functions that might be served by express bus and rail transit modes and thus ignores that the two modes may perform differently depending on the service mission they are assigned. Performance of the two modes is examined in four metropolitan areas with different strategies for providing high-quality, regional transit service: a CBD-focused strategy, a hybrid strategy that serves the CBD and a few other destinations, and a multidestination strategy that serves a widely dispersed set of destinations…It was found that the combination of a rail transit backbone and a multidestination service strategy leads to better performance than any other marriage of mode and mission.”

Austin Business Journal: “Austin City Council members agreed Thursday to spend $1 million on a preliminary engineering study for the Austin urban rail plan. The city signed a deal with local firm Austin Urban Rail Partners to complete the study. Officials hope to have the results in time for an expected vote on the rail plan next November. The effort is part of the Austin mobility program, which aims to mitigate traffic. The project is separate from the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s rail line and does not involved Cap Metro.”

The NYC Department of Health announced the results of a citywide survey today assessing the health benefits of regular walking and biking. Based on telephone interviews with more than 10,000 New Yorkers, the health department reveals that people who incorporate walking and biking into their daily routine are significantly more likely to report good physical and mental health than those who don’t. The report concludes with recommendations to encourage walking and biking, including steps like building safer infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists.”

Transportation Reform is Health Reform

elliot: “The City of Austin held the first of three design and feedback open houses for Austin’s first bicycle boulevard proposed for Nueces Street from 3rd Street to MLK, Jr Boulevard. The Nueces Street Bike Boulevard was part of the Master Bicycle Plan unanimously adopted by the Austin City Council in June…Though cyclists made up a majority in attendance, the majority of comments came from property owners who were universally negative. Most owners moderated their comments by suggesting the proposed boulevard be moved to Rio Grande Street. While there appeared to be merits to either street being used, it wasn’t clear that the owners weren’t just trying to pass off the concept to other property owners on Rio Grande, many of whom were not in attendance.”

David Weiner: “In response to last week’s removal of bike lanes in the traditionally Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn, a group of local bike riders took it upon themselves to repaint the lane lines running down Bedford Avenue. The Hasids had asked the city to remove the bike lanes from the neighborhood, claiming the influx of bikers posed a “safety and religious hazard.” In an interesting twist, the group of guerrilla line painters reportedly included members of the Hasidic community who are not opposed to the lanes. Last year the religious group complained to the community board that many of the young, female cyclists who rode through the neighborhood were “hotties,” who “ride in shorts and skirts,” both of which are against their dress code.”

Ben Adler: “(Strasbourg, France’s) downtown is filled with department stores, teenagers of any ethnicity sporting a European style that takes a lot of inspiration from their American counterparts of five years ago, and shwarma shops competing with McDonald’s for their attention. But walk around Strasbourg’s charming medieval city center and you will see that one thing is virtually unchanged from its medieval origins: the absence of automobiles. This is not, however, an uninterrupted history. In fact, it is the direct result of actions recently taken by Strasbourg’s government — ones that should inspire comparably sized older American cities, from Buffalo to St. Louis. Just like most American cities, the car’s midcentury domination had largely forced public transportation out of Strasbourg. The once-extensive tram lines fell into disrepair, and the last one was taken out of service in 1960. But by 1989 traffic and parking had become major headaches for residents and for businesses in the dense warren of downtown streets. Rather than see retail flee to suburban malls, as it did in America, the city decided to take action…Some might attribute this phenomenon entirely to a cultural difference, arguing that the French will take advantage of bike paths and trains but Americans will not. But the Strasbourgers I interviewed, whether politicians, pedestrians or businesspeople, all told me that the French, like Americans, have an emotional attachment to their automobiles, and that it is ultimately a political choice to encourage or discourage driving. Absent the incentive structure set up by Strasbourg, the French will take the path of least resistance — a car, whenever possible — just like Americans.”

Alain Jund (a member of Parliament who works on transportation policy): “We had meetings around the city and three things came up: One, there are too many cars in public places. Two, ‘I don’t have a place to park my car.’ And three, we need public transportation. There was a contradiction. As politicians we had to make choices.”

Ethan Arpi: “Los Angeles’ Metro is doing something that no transit agency in the country has ever done: it’s marketing its products and services as if it were a private company bent on turning a profit. But for Metro marketing isn’t about increasing the bottom line. It’s about reducing traffic, cleaning the air and making people’s commutes in this auto-clogged city a bit less stressful.”

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