Skip to content

-

Posts from the Streetsblog Chicago Category

Streetsblog USA
View Comments

Talking Headways Podcast: A Positive Vibe For Chicago TOD

podcast icon logo

On this week’s podcast, Yonah Freemark of the Metropolitan Planning Council (you may know him from The Transport Politic) shares the scoop on transit-oriented development in Chicago.

In a recent post, Yonah writes that in order to break the pattern of slow growth but ever-increasing demand, more development should happen near Chicago’s extensive transit system. We talk about why growth isn’t happening in transit-rich neighborhoods and what needs to happen for development near transit to make a difference.

Which strategy is better, expanding transit or developing near transit? And will state efforts to finance transit expansion with special taxes on real estate pay off?

Find out what Yonah has to say and let us know what you think.

Streetsblog USA
View Comments

Transpo Bill Update: Congress Tees Up Two More Months of the Same

Can anything spur Congress to overhaul a federal transportation policy that lets states run amok building highway expansions while the rest of our infrastructure goes to seed? Don’t hold your breath — the cycle of extending the status quo transportation bill is starting all over again.

Senators Boxer and Inhofe say they have a six-year bill. But we don't see it until after the current one expires. Photos: Wikipedia

Senators Boxer and Inhofe say they have a six-year bill. But we won’t see it until after the current one expires. Photos: Wikipedia

Last Monday, the Obama Administration began warning state departments of transportation that their funding could be cut off if lawmakers do not reach an agreement by month’s end.

On Wednesday, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-California) and James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) announced that they would be presenting a six-year transportation bill, but that discussions wouldn’t even begin until after the May 31 deadline. “We can no longer wait on Congress,” said the senators in a joint statement, as though they are somehow separate from Congress. (During the nine months since the last short-term extension, Boxer and Inhofe, along with everyone else in Congress, never got around to introducing a long-term transportation bill.)

Now there’s only two weeks left until that extension expires. So late Friday, House Republicans announced that they would put forward another short-term extension of the current transportation bill, giving Congress through the end of July to come up with a long-term plan.

What has Congress been up to in the past nine months? Well, they haven’t been figuring out how to get state DOTs to stop wasting billions of dollars on highway expansions. Instead, lawmakers devoted most of their energy to coming up with ridiculous new ways to raise revenue without raising the gas tax.

And they couldn’t even agree on something. So House lawmakers instead settled for having the extension expire soon enough to avoid having to enact a source of additional revenue.

As for the Senate, Boxer has said she grudgingly backs a plan from Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) to generate revenue with a temporary tax holiday on overseas business profits — an idea with so many problems it’s worse than just bailing out the transportation program with general fund revenues.

Speaking of which, as the size of those bailouts keeps getting bigger, so does the subsidy for roads. The way things stand, the nation’s transportation program will need an infusion of $10 billion to cover current spending levels through the end of the year without raising the gas tax.

No Comments

Today’s Headlines for Monday, May 18

  • LSNA Calls for Property Tax Controls to Help Keep The 606 From Displacing Residents (DNA)
  • 294 Killed in Illinois Crashes So Far This Year, 15 More Than This Time  in 2014 (Tribune)
  • CTA Contract Worker Electrocuted While Doing Work on Brown Line Tracks (Tribune)
  • 2 Women Injured, 1 Critically, in Elgin Right-Angle Crash (Sun-Times)
  • Activists Hold “Black Lives Matter” Demonstration on Red Line Train (DNA)
  • Yellow Line Service Suspended After Embankment Gives Way (Tribune)
  • Active Trans: To Judge Whether Chicago Is Bike-Friendly, We Need to Measure Level of Stress
  • TOD Project With 33 Units, 6 Parking Spaces Moving Forward by Southport Stop (Curbed)
  • Bikes N’ Roses Riders Near Springfield, Where They Will Ask Rauner to Restore Funding (DNA)
  • Tips on Avoiding Bike Theft From Streetsblog Freelancer Brett Ratner (The Chainlink)

Get national headlines at Streetsblog USA

Streetsblog USA
View Comments

Talking Headways Podcast: The Missing Middle

podcast icon logoThis week on the podcast, Dan Parolek of Opticos Design talks about their new website themissingmiddle.com, which explores housing types between high- or mid-rise buildings and single-family homes that cities don’t make much anymore.

We get into Austin’s development code, Cincinnati’s walkable neighborhoods, and how people are often worried by the phrase “density,” then surprised by density designed well.

Why are developers and bankers scared of “missing middle” housing forms like duplexes? And how come we don’t build rowhouses parcel by parcel anymore?

Join us in the middle and find out.

10 Comments

Today’s Headlines for Thursday, May 14

  • CTA Is Already Bracing Itself for Rauner Transit Funding Cuts (Tribune)
  • Grimshaw: Plan for the Obama Library Must Include Better & More Frequent Transit (CNT)
  • WalkScore Ranks Chicago the 6th Most Bikeable City in US (RedFin)
  • Pace’s Arterial BRT System on NW Side Will Feature Heated Shelters (Active Trans)
  • 6 Corners Residents Brainstorm Ways to Make the Area More Walkable & Bikeable (Active Trans)
  • South Lakeview Neighbors Gripe About the Half-Finished Lincoln Placemaking Project (DNA)
  • Woman Who Survived Rape Attempt on CTA Is Angry at Bystander Who Failed to Help (Tribune)
  • Passing on the Right Leads to South Loop Car Crash (DNA)
  • Ramp Closure For Jane Byrne Interchange Work This Weekend (DNA)
  • Witness: Tow Truck Moved Car From a Legal Spot to an Illegal One, Then Towed It (DNA)

Get national headlines at Streetsblog USA

Streetsblog USA
View Comments

House Votes to Slash Amtrak Funding Just Hours After Horrible Crash

Just hours after seven people were killed and hundreds injured in an Amtrak derailment near Philadelphia, the U.S. House voted to cut funding for the passenger rail service.

Photo: Wikipedia

Early reports suggest the derailment was caused by excessive speed — exactly the type of crash that could be avoided with a new safety system that Amtrak is in the midst of installing on the Northeast Corridor. Watchdogs have identified a lack of funds as one obstacle to timely implementation of the system, known as Positive Train Control.

Nevertheless, the House voted this morning to approve an appropriations bill that cuts Amtrak funding by $260 million.

According to the New York Times, the train was traveling 100 mph on a stretch of track near Frankford Junction where the advised limit is 50 mph:

That area, in the Port Richmond section of the city, does not have a safety system called Positive Train Control that can, among other features, automatically reduce the speed of a train that is going too fast.

MSNBC says the House vote came after a heated debate about whether insufficient infrastructure funding was responsible for the crash.

Federal safety officials have required Amtrak to install Positive Train Control by the end of 2015. A report issued by the Amtrak Inspector General at the end of 2012 [PDF] concluded that a “significant challenge” to meeting the deadline is “ensuring that Amtrak has enough funds available to implement PTC.”

John Olivieri, national campaign director for transportation at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, called the House vote unbelievable. “The nation’s intercity rail network has seen growing ridership and Americans increasingly are looking for alternatives to driving,” he said. “They should be increasing the Amtrak budget, not cutting it.”

Streetsblog USA
View Comments

How Seattle Children’s Hospital Took the Lead on Healthy Transportation

Seattle Children's Hospital demonstrating how healthcare providers can be leaders in healthy transportation. Image: Seattle Children's Hospital

Seattle Children’s Hospital’s sustainable transportation goals for 2028. Image: Seattle Children’s Hospital [PDF]

It’s more than a little ironic that in many places, hospitals are some of the worst offenders when it comes to perpetrating unhealthy transportation patterns. Often surrounded by enormous parking decks, hospitals have earned a reputation as isolated institutions hermetically sealed off from surrounding neighborhoods.

But that’s beginning to change. Healthcare providers are undergoing a fundamental shift from focusing on contagious diseases to treating chronic conditions that are often related to unhealthy lifestyles, like diabetes and heart disease. Industry leaders like Kaiser Permanente are pushing reforms not only in healthcare policies and procedures, but in the physical form of hospitals and the role they plan in their communities, write Robin Guenther and Gail Vittori in their book, Sustainable Healthcare Architecture

I asked Guenther which hospitals are leading the shift to healthier transportation practices, and she singled out Seattle Children’s Hospital as the best model by a wide margin. It is indeed impressive.

In 2008, under pressure from the city of Seattle, the hospital mapped out a comprehensive transportation plan [PDF] calling for major reductions in solo car commuting. Even before that, the hospital had demonstrated leadership. Beginning in 2004, it used a combination of strategies to reduce the share of daytime commuters who drive alone to work from 50 percent to 38.5 percent.

The 2008 plan laid out a new target: to reduce the share of commuters who arrive alone by private car to 30 percent by 2028. As part of an agreement with Seattle City Hall, the hospital’s permitting to build new clinical space is tied to reductions in solo car commuting.

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
View Comments

Salt Lake City to Install Nation’s First Protected Intersection for Bicycling

Salt Lake City has plans to install the first protected intersection for cyclists. Image: Salt Lake City via KSL.com

This intersection design Salt Lake City plans to install minimizes potential conflicts between cyclists, drivers, and pedestrians. Image: Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City is on track to implement America’s first protected intersection for bicycling this summer.

The intersection design is based on a Dutch template that minimizes potential conflicts between people biking, driving, and walking. For example, it allows cyclists to make a left turn in two stages without crossing against oncoming car traffic. It will be part of a protected bike lane running a little more than a mile through a central portion of the Utah capital.

The National Association of City Transportation Officials said that to the best of its knowledge, this will be the first protected intersection design in the United States.

This intersection treatment is best known from Dutch streets. Last year, Portland-based Nick Falbo campaigned to introduce the basic template to America and submitted a protected intersection design to a competition at George Mason University. His video is a great introduction to how protected intersections work. Falbo and the team at Alta Planning + Design were consultants on the project working with Salt Lake City transportation officials.

The new Salt Lake City bike lane on 200 West will include just one protected intersection. Construction will start in August and will take about two months, local news station KSL reports.

The intersection of 300 South and 200 West in Salt Lake City is on track to be the first protected intersection in the U.S. Image: Salt Lake City

The intersection of 300 South and 200 West in Salt Lake City is on track to be the first protected intersection in the U.S. Image: Salt Lake City

Hat tip to Jacob Mason.

Updated: (5/7/15 at 3:08 p.m.) to include information about Alta’s involvement in the project. 

Streetsblog USA
View Comments

American Roads Depend on Handouts From Bus Riders, Cyclists, Pedestrians

Paying for roads costs everyone, whether they drive or not. Chart: US PIRG

Paying for roads costs everyone, not just people who drive. Graphic: U.S. PIRG

Once upon a time in America, the road system was largely funded by the gas tax. But that was many Highway Trust Fund bailouts ago.

User fees have made up a declining share or road funding as general taxes have increased. Graph: US PIRG

Gas taxes, tolls, and other fees on driving account for a rapidly declining share of road spending. Graph: US PIRG

Today, only about half the money spent on the U.S. road system comes from fuel taxes, tolls, or other fees paid by drivers, according to a new report [PDF] by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. Taxes with no relation to the amount people drive — property taxes and sales taxes, for instance — account for about 42 percent of road and highway spending, PIRG reports. Another 10 percent comes from bonding, and given elected officials’ deep reluctance to raise gas taxes, a lot of those bonds won’t be paid off by drivers.

Between 1947 and 2012, the total subsidy for American roads amounted to about $1 trillion, according to PIRG’s analysis of data from the Federal Highway Administration. On an annual basis, the road subsidy has only been getting larger recently, as inflation eats away at gas tax revenues and cars become increasingly fuel efficient. Today, drivers cover roughly 50 percent of spending on roads, compared to 70 percent in the 1970s.

The average American household now supports the U.S. road system to the tune of between $1,100 and $1,848 per year in sales taxes, property taxes, and other indirect subsidies, such as the cost of traffic collisions to government agencies, according to PIRG.

“Our transportation finance system resembles a ‘users pay’ model less than at any time in modern history,” write authors Tony Dutzik, Gideon Weissman, and Phineas Baxandall. “The conclusion is inescapable: all of us, regardless of how much we drive, now bear the cost of our roads.”

In fact, federal, state, and local governments spend more money subsidizing roads than they spend on transit, biking, and walking combined, PIRG finds.

So, keep this research handy the next time someone tells you that America’s transportation system is paid for by drivers whose money gets diverted to other priorities like transit and biking. The truth is that we all pay for roads, whether we drive or not.

Streetsblog USA
View Comments

Study: Most Roads Don’t Pay for Themselves

Most American roads — even the most highly trafficked — are financial losers. That’s a major finding from a new study by the Center for American Progress [PDF].

Four out of 10 American highways don't generate enough revenue to pay for maintenance. Photo: Wikipedia

Four out of 10 American highways don’t generate enough revenue to pay for maintenance. Photo: Wikipedia

A financial analysis by the think tank found that about four out of 10 U.S. highways don’t carry enough traffic to generate sufficient revenue to pay for their maintenance — let alone construction.

CAP analyzed individual road segments from around the National Highway System. Using publicly available traffic data, researchers were able to estimate how much revenue each segment generated in terms of user fees paid by drivers, namely state and federal gas taxes. Those totals were then compared to average maintenance costs, assumed to be two resurfacings and one major reconstruction over the course of 30 years.

That just six in 10 highways passed such a low test should be a wake-up call, CAP authors say. For one, the cost analysis did not include initial construction costs or inflation. Including a modest annual 1 percent inflation adjustment on the cost of construction would have increased the share of roads that failed to cover costs by 9 percent.

CAP’s study only examined national highways, which host far more traffic than the average road. Roads on the National Highway System represent only about 5 percent of America’s total road network, but carry 55 percent of all vehicle traffic. Meaning the financial returns on local roads, which generate fewer trips and less fuel use than highways, are much worse.

The study should help dispel the false notion that roads pay for themselves, write authors Kevin Degood and Andrew Schwartz. It should also inspire us to rethink the way we disperse funding for roads versus transit, they say. (At the federal level, the split is about 80-20.) In most cases, the argument that roads are self-sustaining is a myth.