Archive | August, 2011

More Funding Coming for the Northeast Corridor

23 Aug

In what is sure to be welcome news for our region’s train ridership, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced yesterday that the Northeast Corridor will be getting  $745 million for rail upgrades.

In the short term, the money will go towards upgrading electrical systems, making trains run closer to schedule, and adding more ways to alleviate delays getting in and out of New York Penn Station. In the long term, Acela trains will run on improved tracks with top speeds up to 186 MPH (currently they run at 135, which will soon increase to 160).

The projects are expected to generate 12,000 jobs. Pre-construction work between Trenton and New York City will begin in late 2011, with initial construction commencing in 2012.

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The “Creative Class” Leading the Way in Sustainable Transportation

22 Aug

An interesting recent Richard Florida article in The Atlantic brings up a number of questions about how we get around, and how where we live makes a difference in our transportation choices. Some of his assertions are counter to commonly accepted explanations for commuting behaviors.

He begins by noting that America is a nation of drivers, in spite of the fact that driving is increasingly expensive (after housing, transportation is the biggest item in a typical family’s budget, accounting for an average of 20 percent) and stressful (being stuck in traffic ranks high on almost every list of the things that make us the most unhappy). Eighty-six percent of Americans commute to work by car and 76.1 percent drive to work alone, according to the most recent estimates from the American Community Survey.  Only five percent use public transit to get to work.

Convention wisdom says that density, weather, housing types, and occupations are the key factors in shaping commuting patterns, so Florida ran a series of statistical analyses to gauge the determinants of public transportation use and walking and biking in US metropolitan areas. His findings include:

  • Population density increases public transportation usage, but has no effect on walking and biking.
  • Weather and climate do play a role, but not necessarily what you’d think. People are more likely to drive to work where the weather is warm and/or wet. Public transit use as well as walking and biking are more common in drier climes but also in places with colder January temperatures.
  • The longer the commute, the more likely people are to use public transit, but the less likely they are to bike or walk.
  • The type of housing development matters. The share of housing units built between 2000 and 2006 is negatively associated with the percentage of people who bike, walk or take public transit to work. Rapidly growing cities of sprawl remain much more car-dependent than other places.
  • The way we get to work is associated with the kinds of work we do. The share of workers in the “creative class”–scientists, engineers, techies, innovators, and researchers, as well as artists, designers, writers, musicians and professionals in health care, business and finance, the legal sector, and education–is positively associated with the percentages of people who take public transit or walk or bike to work. This variable was the largest of all.
Many of these findings can be seen in real-world examples in our area. 82 percent of Manhattan workers get to their places of employment via public transit, bicycle, or on foot. But more than four in ten (43 percent) of all commuters in the Greater New York metro don’t use cars either. Less than three percent (2.9) of Americans walk to work, but more than five percent of New Yorkers do. Walking and biking to work are especially prevalent in compact college towns, including Princeton, where almost seven percent of the population bikes to work, much higher than the state or national average.
Florida concludes, “Reducing our dependence on the car would relieve many families of a pressing financial burden, reduce emissions and lessen our carbon footprint.  Changing where and how we live may help us get there faster. “

Where the Sidewalk Ends

17 Aug

With more than 550 pedestrians killed from 2000 to 2009, the Orlando-Kissimmee region was first out of 52 in the rankings of most dangerous pedestrian regions in the United States, according to a new report from Transportation for America, a nonprofit advocacy organization. The report uses 10 years of pedestrian fatality data and census figures to make their calculations relative to the amount of walking in a given area. Using that scale, New York City-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, home to the highest number of people who walk to work, is considered one of the safest cities for pedestrians, at least relatively speaking.

According to the report, Dangerous by Design, pedestrians account for about 12 percent of all motor vehicle crash deaths each year, translating to over 4,000 deaths and 59,000 injuries in 2009. From 2000-2009 there were 47,700 deaths. The report outlines the issues facing pedestrian safety and claims that this population is largely ignored from a budget and resource perspective. The report cites the 27-percent drop in motor vehicle deaths in 10 years, but only a 14 percent drop in pedestrian fatalities during the same period. In some areas, the pedestrian number has increased. Most of these deaths are considered accidents on the part of the driver or pedestrian, but Transportation for America says the common thing that connects these deaths is that they occur on roads that are not conducive to walkers, bicyclists, or people in wheelchairs. This has caused a dilemma with health officials working to encourage walking and biking to combat obesity, while some of the streets to do that on are not safe in many areas. By analyzing census figures and fatality data, the report highlights communities that pose higher risks of death or injury to pedestrians. The 10 worst metro areas are:

  1. Orlando/Kissimmee, Florida
  2. Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clearwater, Florida
  3. Jacksonville, Florida
  4. Miami/Fort Lauderdale/Pompano, Florida
  5. Riverside/San Bernardino/Ontario, California
  6. Las Vegas/Paradise, Nevada
  7. Memphis, Tennessee
  8. Phoenix/Mesa/Scottsdale, Arizona
  9. Houston/Sugar Land/Baytown, Texas
  10. Dallas/Fort Worth/Arlington, Texas

Transportation for America recommends that the next federal transportation spending bill include the following provisions:

Retain dedicated federal funding for the safety of people on foot or on bicycle. Congress is currently contemplating elimination of dedicated funding for Transportation Enhancements and the Safe Routes to School program, the two largest funding sources for bike and pedestrian facilities. Without these committed funding streams, states will likely reduce spending for safety features like sidewalks, crosswalks and trails.

Adopt a national complete streets policy. Ensure that all federally funded road projects take into account the needs of all users of the transportation system, including pedestrians, bicyclists and public transportation users, as well as children, older adults, and individuals with disabilities.

Fill in the gaps. Beyond making new and refurbished roads safer for pedestrians, we need to create complete networks of sidewalks, bicycle paths and trails so that residents can travel safely throughout an area. To this end, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has gathered testimony from 53 communities outlining how they could fill in strategic gaps to make walking and bicyling to routine destinations more safe and convenient with small targeted federal grants.

Commit a fair share for safety. In 2008, only two states spent any of their Highway Safety funding to improve infrastructure for bicycling and walking. Yet, pedestrians and bicyclists make up 14 percent of all traffic-related fatalities. Federal, state and local governments should set safety goals that not only reduce fatalities overall, but also reduce fatalities for individual modes, with separate safety goals for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists and motorists.

Hold states accountable for creating communities that are safe for walking. Congress must hold states accountable to ensure that transportation funds are spent wisely, by ensuring that:

• New streets are built to be safe for pedestrians, bicyclists, public transportation users, and motorists alike;
• The most dangerous roads are retrofitted for safety; and,
• Federal safety dollars result in lives saved and a more active population.

The list of all 52 metro areas can be found here.

Transit & Toll Increases Parallel Decreased Transit Investment

11 Aug

It could get a lot more expensive to get around our region, thanks to a new proposed Port Authority plan to sharply increase tolls and fares on its four bridges, two tunnels, and the PATH train.

Under the proposal, which needs approval from both Governor Andrew Cuomo and Governor Chris Christie, the cost to drive a car across a Port Authority bridge or tunnel would increase by $4 this September, with another $2 increase in 2014. Tolls will increase the most on the costliest users. By 2014, the peak E-ZPass toll would be increased by 75 percent. Off-peak tolls would be doubled. PATH riders will also be forced to pay. The base fare will rise from $1.75 to $2.75; with discounts, the average fare will increase from $1.30 to $2.00 per trip.

In its news release, the Port Authority cited the sputtering economy, post-September 11 rebuilding costs, and the expensive repairs needed on the agency’s aging infrastructure. But other groups noted that the agency’s finances also suffer from raids on its funds by New York and New Jersey.

Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Kate Slevin said in a statement, “Governor Christie is relying on the Port to contribute $1.8 billion to pay for road and bridge projects that should be paid for by the state’s bankrupt transportation capital program… Governor Cuomo is banking on $380 million in Port Authority funds to help pay for the remaining three years (2012-2014) of the MTA’s capital program.”

Tri-State also recently called attention to New Jersey DOT’s recently-released capital program which shows how the state has dedicated progressively smaller shares of its annual transportation capital program to transit over the past eight years.

On the Move readers, what do you think? Would you like to see more, and more affordable transit in our state? And how would you pay for it?

Vacation by Bike

9 Aug

A recent New York Times article discusses the bump in bike vacations as gas prices stay relatively high and economic gloom and doom abounds. According to the Adventure Cycling Association, a nonprofit organization that promotes bicycle touring and charts bike routes around the country, 2010 was a bumper year for bicycle travel.

Would you vacation by bike? If you’re interested, the Adventure Cycling Association offers carefully detailed maps of biking routes and links to other routes as well. If you’re staying in New Jersey, the New Jersey Bike Map project is a useful resource, showing which New Jersey roadways are the best for cyclists. Towns, counties and bicycle clubs also provide maps and information about trails, routes and other facilities for bicyclists. Transportation Alternatives also has a comprehensive list of bike maps for the New York City metro area. Finally, the New Jersey Department of Transportation has a lot of good bike safety and bike route info on its website.

Happy biking!

Sharrows Coming to Princeton This Month!

3 Aug

Much to the excitement of bicyclists in the GMTMA region, shared lane pavement markings, otherwise known as sharrows, are about to make their first appearance in Princeton later this month.

According to the Princeton Packet, Nassau Street will be marked from Route 206 to Snowden Lane; markings will be placed on Wiggins Street and Hamilton Avenue in the Borough; Harrison Street to Mount Lucas Road in the Township will have markings; and Harrison and Witherspoon Street will be marked their entire lengths. A maximum of 87 symbols will be installed in the borough, and the State Department of Transportation will install additional 60 on Nassau Street. Approximately 72 markings, at $170 each, will be installed on the township roadways. The borough’s share of the installation costs is $14,800. The township is paying the remainder of the $29,920, or $14,400. The actual number of symbols that end up being installed will determine final cost.

It is hoped that the roadway markings will allow cyclists and drivers to safely share the road along the area’s streets that are too narrow for separate bike lanes. Unlike bicycle lanes, sharrows do not designate a particular part of the street for the exclusive use of bicyclists. They are markings to guide bicyclists to the best place to ride and help motorists expect to see and share the lane with bicyclists.

What do sharrows mean for motorists and bicyclists?

Motorists:
• Expect to see bicyclists on the street
• Remember to give bicyclists three feet of space when passing
• Follow the rules of the road as if there were no sharrows

Bicyclists
• Use the sharrow to guide where you ride within the lane
• Remember not to ride too close to parked cars
• Follow the rules of the road as if there were no sharrows

Is Your Mayor as Bike-Friendly as the Mayor of Vilnius, Lithuania?

2 Aug

Probably not. This mayor ran over a Mercedes parked in a bike lane.