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Time’s Up: 6 Things to Know About Today’s Transportation Showdown

Today is the House of Representatives’ last day in session before departing for an August recess full of photo ops and electioneering in their districts. The Senate will stick around DC for one more day before going home. Before that happens, the two houses have to come together on a plan to keep the Highway Trust Fund going. If not, U.S. DOT will have to take drastic measures.

Republican Sen. Bob Corker disagrees with the House GOP on when the bill should expire and how to pay for a new one.

Republican Sen. Bob Corker disagrees with the House GOP on when the bill should expire and how to pay for a new one.

Both the House and the Senate have voted on not entirely dissimilar plans to keep the fund going. But the differences between them have set up a high-stakes showdown that has to be resolved by tomorrow.

Here are the key points:

    1. The timing: The House is expected to vote on the Senate bill today at about 3:00 p.m. and is expected to refuse to budge. Then they’ll leave town, meaning the Senate can either cave or be blamed as the Highway Trust Fund goes dry before August recess ends and transportation works grind to a halt. Meanwhile, Sec. Anthony Foxx has warned state DOTs that federal payments will slow down August 1 — that’s tomorrow — if Congress doesn’t take action to keep the Fund from going insolvent.
    2. The numbers: The House is gloating that the Senate’s bill contains a $2 billion technical error — which is true; it comes up with just $6.2 billion of the $8.1 billion needed — but Senate Democrats say it can be easily fixed.
    3. The urgency: Since summer is the high season for construction, the real pressure on the Highway Trust Fund is between now and the end of the year, when states will need to get reimbursed for the work that’s going on now. That’s why there’s not a huge monetary difference between the House proposal that lasts till May and the Senate proposal that ends in December. There’s just not a lot of cash going out the door at U.S. DOT between January and May.
    4. The conflict: The House and Senate disagree on what budget gimmicks to use to “pay for” the transfer into the trust fund, but more fundamentally they disagree about how long the patch should be. As we’ve reported before, Boxer prefers a December deadline, saying it’s unfair for this Congress to fail to fix a problem that occurred on its watch and instead kick it to the next Congress. What she means is that she wants her six-year bill to pass and that won’t happen after the end of this year if the GOP wins a majority in the Senate and she loses the chairmanship of the EPW Committee. That’s precisely why the House is gunning for a May deadline.
    5. The breakdown: The Senate Republicans aren’t as enthusiastic as the House about having to take this up when they’re in charge. Thirteen Rs joined the Ds in pushing for a December sunset, including Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who wants to raise the gas tax and be done already. “Wouldn’t it be great to finish 2014 actually solving one issue; taking one issue off the plate next year?” he said yesterday at a WSJ press breakfast. Only one Democrat, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, voted no on Boxer’s date-change amendment. Notably, David Vitter, the ranking member on the EPW Committee, who has shown great bipartisan unity with Boxer, broke with her on this and voted to essentially flush their six-year-bill down the toilet. His predecessor, James Inhofe, voted in favor of Boxer’s December 19 deadline.
    6. The fallout: If the GOP does win the Senate in 2014, the conventional wisdom says they’ll lose it again in 2016. Will the Republicans really want to take on a tax increase of any kind during the only two years when they’ll get the lion’s share of the blame? Of course not. The prognosis is that if there’s no long-term bill this term, it’ll be another three years. Three more years of patchwork funding gimmicks is nothing to look forward to.
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Today’s Headlines

  • Tribune Investigation: Red Light Cams Unfairly Tickets 1000s of Drivers
  • Class-Action Lawsuit Filed Over Tickets Issued by Redflex Cams (DNA)
  • Editorial: To Be a World-Class City, Chicago Must Have First-Rate Transit (Sun-Times)
  • 2 Years After Big Fare Hike, Metra Board Will Discuss Raising Ticket Prices Again (Tribune)
  • City Officials Trying to Ease Tensions Between Cops & Parking Enforcement Aides (DNA)
  • Cams Show That Orange Line Train Robbers Had Been Riding All Day (Tribune)
  • Stretch of Damen in Bucktown Will Close Saturday for Bloomingdale Construction (DNA)
  • The Brown Line Is the Slowest It’s Been in Nearly 2 Years (RedEye)
  • CTA Installing New Digital Displays for Train Tracker Info & Ads at 10 Stations (RedEye)
  • Plans for Cafes at Blue Line Stations Canceled Due to Renovation Project (DNA)
  • Chicago Team Hopes to Win Urban Bike Design Contest; Kickoff Part Next Week (Tribune)
  • Sign an Active Trans Petition to Support the Transit Future Funding Campaign

Get national headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Today’s Headlines

  • ITDP’s Walter Hook: Chicago’s BRT Is Being Delayed for Political Reasons (Citiscope)
  • Pawar Says He’s Dropping Support for Ashland BRT Unless Lincoln Bus Is Revived (RedEye)
  • Quinn Signs Bill Barring Transit Board Members From Holding Other Government Jobs (Fox)
  • Clergy: Public Should Have Say in Homeowner Compensation for Red Line Extension (Tribune)
  • Driver Kills Chicago Cyclist at Howard & North Branch Trail Intersection in Niles (Keating)
  • Wild West-Style Train Robbery on Orange Line, Suspects Caught on Camera (NBC, Sun-Times)
  • Internationally Renowned Artist & Architect Will Create Art for Wilson Station (DNA)
  • Drivers: Avoid These Jerk Moves That Endanger Pedestrians (John Jackson)
  • Snap a Photo of the RevBrew Pedicab to Win VIP Tix to Active Trans‘ Bike to Brew Event

Get national headlines at Streetsblog USA

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“Everything’s On The Table” For North Lake Shore Drive, So Share Your Ideas

North Lake Shore Drive public meeting #2

The open house was held at the historic Drake Hotel. Photo by Steven Vance.

Last week, city and state planners opened a call to the public to suggest potential elements for the North Lake Shore Drive reconstruction study, which they’re call “Redefine the Drive.” Almost a year ago, the Illinois and Chicago Departments of Transportation hosted a series of public meetings to gauge public support and solicit volunteers to join task forces that would guide the study.

Planners at this second meeting, which was held at the Drake Hotel and within walking distance of thousands of Drive residents, hoped to introduce attendees to the project’s latest purpose and needs statement (essentially a mission statement for the project), while also asking Chicagoans to pipe up with their own ideas and solutions for the corridor.

Jeff Sriver, a project manager at the Chicago Department of Transportation, described the meeting as the beginning of the “solution generation stage.” Its purpose was to “get input on solutions, whether they’re corridor wide, or at specific locations.” Afterwards, he said, they’ll classify the solutions, and compare them to the stated problems to see if each potential solution addresses an identified problem.

As for specific alternatives, Jeff said simply that “everything’s on the table from now on.” From here on out, future task force meetings will discuss the solutions gathered in this phase. Sriver said that it’ll be their job to “say what stays on the table, before the design team may try to take it off the table.”

Residents at the meeting suggested numerous alternatives, some grandiose and some more workaday, ranging from double-decking the roadway for more car capacity to constructing a separate cycletrack strictly for speedy bicycle commuters. Other ideas that have been tossed around include transforming NLSD into a multiway boulevard, creating dedicated transit lanes, and burying and straightening out the Oak Street Curve.

Read more…

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Does Montrose Beach Really Need So Much Car Parking?

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 1.45.45 PM

Montrose Beach has hundreds of on-street parking spots, plus two parking lots covering 9.25 acres. Image: Google Maps

In the wake of a melee at Montrose Beach last Sunday — the latest in a series of violent incidents — 46th Ward Alderman James Cappleman proposed an intriguing strategy for preventing violence: reduce the number of parking spots at the beach.

On Sunday afternoon, a large group of people gathered at Montrose for an un-permitted concert called the Tamborazo Beach Party, which was promoted on social media, the Chicago Tribune reported. Around 7:30 p.m., six bike patrol officers entered the crowd to break up a fight.

As the police searched the audience for a reported “man with a gun,” attendees began throwing bottles, rocks and other objects, slightly injuring four officers and damaging a squad car. After police reinforcements arrived, ten males were criminally charged and seven men were charged with misdemeanors, the Trib reported. Two weeks before the incident, two women were shot near the beach.

In the wake of the concert melee, Cappleman told the Trib that the large amount of car parking at Montrose makes it easier for large crowds to quickly assemble there than at other beaches. “Look at Oak Street Beach,” he said. “Do you see this many parking spots there?” Oak Street has zero car parking, but is still an extremely popular destination for those who arrive on foot or by bike.

Oak Street Beach

Oak Street Beach has zero car spaces, but these Air & Water Show attendees don’t seem to mind. Photo: Jay Clark

“Look at Lincoln Park,” Cappleman added. “There just aren’t this many parking spots in such a concentrated area in other parts of the city. I want the Park District and the police department to come up with a plan to discourage that many people from driving down there and parking.”

Montrose is the city’s largest beach, and a Wikipedia entry asserts that Montrose has the most parking spaces of any Chicago beach. Streetsblog writer Steven Vance explored this issue last night on his personal blog. He calculated that, in addition to hundreds of curbside spots on roads within the parkland next to the beach, Montrose has two large parking lots totaling 9.25 acres, the equivalent of seven American football fields.

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UberFAMILY: Finally, a Taxi Option for People With Kids

Childless people, let me let you in on a little secret: Car seats are a huge pain in the ass. They’re no big deal if you own a car, I guess, except for the fact that your kid probably squawks at the prospect of being immobilized in that iron maiden too long.

Car-sharing just got a lot more doable for people with kids. Photo: ##http://blog.uber.com/uberfamily##Uber##

There’s finally a way for people with kids to catch a ride. Photo: Uber

For car-free parents, on the other hand, picking up a Zipcar for a quick trip involves carrying around a bulky, 18-pound car seat while also carrying your child or at least making sure he or she isn’t running into traffic. Spontaneous taxi-hailing is out of the question. Getting a ride home from a friend is tricky.

Someday, the technology will undoubtedly improve. Child restraints will magically rise up out of the backseat, or inflatable car seats will come into vogue (and meet safety standards). Until then, there is, finally, uberFAMILY.

The “ride-sharing” giant today announced the DC launch of a new service, uberFAMILY, which allows users of either the luxury black sedans or the more low-cost UberX alternative to click a “family” button to request a car outfitted with a child seat. They even get their drivers trained by the Car Seat Lady on how to install them. The service has been available in New York since May.

It’s not such a complicated concept, but it’s an overdue one, and one that surprisingly few conventional taxi companies have bothered to implement.

Uber’s take on kid-friendly travel isn’t perfect. If your kid is under a year old, 22 pounds, or 31 inches, the forward-facing car seat Uber provides will be too big. They don’t have boosters for bigger kids. And the $10 surcharge will keep budget-minded families from using this as anything but an emergency measure. But it’s a nice gesture toward inclusiveness and could be a big help for families trying desperately to get home by naptime.

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Friday Job Market

Looking to hire a smart, qualified person for a position in transportation planning, engineering, IT, or advocacy? Post a listing on the Streetsblog Jobs Board and reach our national audience of dedicated readers.

Looking for a job? Here are the current listings:

Volunteer Coordinator (part-time), San Francisco Bicycle Coalition
The Volunteer Coordinator is responsible for managing the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s team of daytime, in-office volunteers; coordinating the internship program; and supporting the recruitment and staffing of all organizational volunteer opportunities. With over 1,000 active volunteers every year, volunteers are key to the success of our organization.

Public Affairs/Communication Associate, American Planning Association, Washington, DC
National association focused on planning and community development policy is seeking a communications professional to manage relations with traditional and digital media; provide guidance on overall communications and messaging strategies; and coordinate key communication campaigns and initiatives.

Executive Director, Trailnet, St. Louis, MO
Trailnet is seeking a strategic and visionary Executive Director who will carry the organization forward in fulfilling its mission at the highest level of excellence, keeping Trailnet at the leading edge of making St. Louis a livable and walkable community.

Southern California Policy Manager, Safe Routes to School National Partnership, Los Angeles, CA
Join the Safe Routes to School National Partnership (National Partnership) and use your professional talents and personal passion to advocate for safe walking and bicycling to and from schools and in daily life, to improve the health and well-being of America’s children and to foster the creation of livable, sustainable communities.

Transportation Planner, Transportation Agency for Monterey County, CA
Transportation Agency for Monterey County (TAMC) is a countywide transportation-planning agency responsible for developing long range transportation plans, distributing state and federal transportation grants and administering various transportation projects and programs.

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Be Jealous of São Paulo’s Precedent-Setting New Parking Policy

São Paulo has moved to entirely eliminate minimum parking requirements. Photo: ITDP

São Paulo has moved to entirely eliminate minimum parking requirements. Photo: Flickr, Emerson Alecrim

It may not be much consolation after yesterday’s World Cup defeat to Germany, but Brazil should feel at least a twinge of national pride over the groundbreaking new parking policies its largest city has adopted.

Late last month, leaders in Sao Paulo approved a strategic master plan that will go a long way toward making the city more walkable and transit-oriented. The plan includes what may be the most progressive parking policy of any city in the developing world and would vault Sao Paulo well ahead of any U.S. city.

The plan eliminates minimum parking requirements citywide and imposes parking maximums — one space per residence — along transit corridors. Getting rid of parking minimums is expected to reduce traffic and make housing more affordable.

Sao Paulo is the first “megacity in the developing world” to entirely eliminate parking minimums, according to the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. Many major U.S. cities have dropped parking minimums in their downtown areas, but so far none has applied this smart policy reform citywide.

“By reducing parking around transit corridors, São Paulo will start reducing traffic, improving street life, and encouraging the use of public transit,” writes ITDP. “Though parking minimums have long fallen out of favor in many American and European cities, São Paulo is leading the way for cities in developing countries to pass major parking reform, making the city more transit and pedestrian friendly.”

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Safety in Bike-Share: Why Do Public Bikes Reduce Risk for All Cyclists?

boston_bikes

Injuries to all cyclists declined after the launch of bike-share systems in Boston and other cities. Photo: Kelly Kline/Flickr

What if Yankees legend Yogi Berra had followed a season with 24 homers and 144 hits with one featuring 27 homers and 189 hits? Would the baseball scribes have declared “Yogi Power Shortage” because only one in seven hits was a homer instead of one in six? Duh, no. The headlines would have read, “Yogi Boosts Production Across the Board.” The fact that a greater share of base hits was singles and doubles would have been incidental to the fact that Yogi’s base hits and homers were both up.

So how is it that a study that documented drops of 14 percent in the number of cyclist head injuries and 28 percent in total cyclist injuries in U.S. cities with bike-share programs got this headline in the Washington Post last month?

wapo_hed

To be sure, those figures were buried in the study. They saw the light of day, thanks to two posts last month by Streetsblog’s Angie Schmitt. So readers know that the Post’s headline should have been: “Cities with bike-share programs see marked decrease in cyclist injuries.”

Simple enough, right? Except that to run the story straight up like that would have required the Post to set aside the unholy trinity atop Americans’ ingrained misperception of cycling safety: the beliefs that helmetless cycling is criminally dangerous; that cycling is inherently risky; and that cyclists, far more than drivers, make it so.

To see why, let’s look further into the research data that made its way into the Post story. The team of researchers, two of whom work at the Harborview Injury and Research Center in Seattle, compared five bike-share cities with five cities that did not implement bike-share programs. The bike-share cities had a total drop in reported cyclist injuries of 28 percent, versus a 2 percent increase in the control cities. The effective difference of 30 percentage points is huge.

The safety improvement in bike-share cities is all the more impressive, since those places likely saw a rise in overall cycling activity that one would expect to lead to an increase in cyclist injuries. But the expected increase in injuries is small when you take into account the safety-in-numbers phenomenon that one of us (Jacobsen) has documented for a decade and counting: You’re safer riding a bike in a community where more people ride bicycles.

Let’s train the safety-in-numbers lens on that 28 percent drop in cyclist injuries in bike-share cities and consider why the injury risk fell instead of increasing:

Read more…

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The New Way to “Screw Obama” — Poisoning Your Neighbors’ Air

Rolling coal is super fun, if poisoning the planet and endangering everyone else on the road is your idea of fun. Photo: ##https://www.facebook.com/RollinCoalandRaisinHell/photos/pb.562903110418434.-2207520000.1404834615./578932172148861/?type=3&theater##Facebook/Rollin Coal and Raisin Hell##

Rolling coal is super fun, if poisoning the planet and endangering everyone else on the road is your idea of fun. Photo: Facebook/Rollin Coal and Raisin Hell

Warning: The crazies are getting crazier.

Behold the new depth to which macho car culture, blatant anti-environmentalism, and Obama hating has sunk. “Coal rollers” retrofit their pickup trucks to “trick” the diesel engines into thinking they need more gas. The result: big, billowing plumes of black smoke — the better to spew at Priuses and pedestrians.

And that’s precisely the point. These coal rollers take fuel-efficient cars and people hoofing it to be agents of Barack Obama himself, and they delight at engulfing them in toxic smoke. And bicyclists? Don’t get them started.

Voactiv exposed this trend to the non-coal-rolling world last month, quoting people like 25-year-old Robbie from South Carolina, who says rollin’ coal is “just fun… Just driving and blowing smoke and having a good time.”

“I’m not a scientist,” Robbie says, “but it couldn’t be too horrible.”

No, not too horrible — just 21,000 premature deaths each year and a cancer risk that is seven times greater than the combined risk of all 181 other air pollutants tracked by the EPA. That’s what the Clean Air Task Force says about diesel. And they are scientists.

Adding a smokestack to make your man machine even manlier (manliness being measured in toxic smoke, remember) will set you back anywhere from $500 to $5,000, depending, I suppose, on how manly you need to make it. And then there’s all the extra gas you’ll be pumping into your rig. But it’s totally worth it, if you hate Obama and the planet enough.

“I run into a lot of people that really don’t like Obama at all,” one seller of stack kits from Wisconsin told Slate’s David Weigel. “If he’s into the environment, if he’s into this or that, we’re not. I hear a lot of that. To get a single stack on my truck — that’s my way of giving them the finger. You want clean air and a tiny carbon footprint? Well, screw you.”

According to Weigel, it’s a “use-it-before-liberals-ban-it instinct,” akin to the anti-Earth Hour campaign to keep all the lights on, or the anti-Michelle Obama campaign to eat lots of doughnuts.