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Highways Wrecked Cities 60 Years Ago — Has Denver Learned Anything Since?

Here’s a video by Vox that offers a breezy history of highways and how the government rammed them through cities — usually at the expense of disadvantaged neighborhoods that lacked political power.

Denver knows how that worked out. Residents of Globeville, Elyria, and Swansea have dealt with the pollution, noise, and blight of I-70 since the 1960s. Now Governor John Hickenlooper’s roads department wants to widen the highway by four lanes through north Denver, duplicating the mistakes of the past even though, as Hickenlooper surely knows, more lanes will generate more traffic and pollution.

What about that park Colorado DOT plans to build on top of the highway, you say? It would cover less than a quarter mile of the 12-mile widening. That is the fig leaf Hickenlooper hides behind when he says making the highway wider will “reconnect communities.”

There’s a better option — rerouting the highway and restoring the street grid. Other cities have reversed the mistakes of urban highways, and the gloom and doom predictions of endless traffic jams never materialize. Instead they get walkable streets and more space for people to live, work, and play.

Denver could do the same, if Hickenlooper and Mayor Michael Hancock stop the insanity of building a 1950s road project in 2016.

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Anthony Foxx Envisions a “Gradual Shift” Away From Car Dependence

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx criss-crossed the country last week on a tour of the seven finalists for U.S. DOT’s $50 million “Smart City Challenge” grant.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is taking a "measured" tone about changing transportation in the U.S. Photo: Bike Portland

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. Photo: Bike Portland

When Foxx was in Portland, Jonathan Maus at Bike Portland got a chance to ask him how he plans to change the transportation “paradigm” so walking, biking, and transit become the norm. Six years after Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood climbed on a table at the National Bike Summit and announced “the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized,” Maus notes, federal policy still tilts heavily in favor of car-based infrastructure.

Here’s what Foxx said:

I think we’re going to need cars. We’re going to need a mix of transportation options. I think we have a supply-side mentality right now at the federal level where we presume that 80 cents on the dollar should go to the automobile within the Highway Trust Fund. And I actually think over the longer term we’re going to need to look at a more performance-based system where we look at things like: How it congestion best reduced? How do we increase safety? How do we move significant numbers of people most efficiently and effectively and cleanly. And I think that’s going to push us into a different mix of transportation choices.

But I think it’s a slow, gradual process. Look around the world and no country has created a multimodal system overnight; but I think that’s ultimately where we’re headed. We have to have a mix of transportation choices. It includes the automobile, but it’s not exclusive to the automobile.

Foxx’s power to set transportation policy pales in comparison to Congress and the White House, but he could be doing more to speed up a shift of priorities at the federal level. U.S. could, for instance, reform the way states measure congestion, so people riding the bus count as much as solo drivers. But so far Foxx’s agency has been reluctant to do that.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Transport Providence considers how insight from conservatives could improve transit projects. The Transportationist explains how the “modernist” vision for transportation undervalued places and diverged from thousands of years of human experience. And City Block considers the advantages and drawbacks of Denver’s new airport train.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Driver Kills 8-Year-Old Bicyclist Peyton Knowlton in Longmont, Police Shrug (ABC7)
  • Driver Injures Person in Crosswalk at Sheridan and Jewell, Flees (DenPo)
  • New Taxi Co-Op Adds 800 Cabs to City Streets (DBJ)
  • Building Less Parking Can Make Rents More Affordable (ABC7)
  • DenPo Editorial: “Denveright” Plans Set Stage for City’s Growth
  • Why Don’t Trains Go to Colorado’s Mountains? (CPR)
  • Longmont’s Free Bus Service Hinges on City Council Decision (Daily Camera)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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The Future of Our Streets and Neighborhoods Hinges on “Denveright”

As more people come to Denver, will car traffic overrun streets and neighborhoods, or will the city steer its growth to encourage more trips by transit, biking, and walking?

Under the banner “Denveright,” Mayor Michael Hancock and his administration launched four new plans Thursday that could shape Denver for decades to come. Most relevant to streets and transportation are Denver’s first blueprint for intra-city transit, a master plan for a quality pedestrian network, and a land use plan to integrate development with sustainable transportation. The administration also launched a plan for city parks and recreation.

“This is culture-altering,” Hancock told Streetsblog. “It’s just gonna take time for people to get out of the habit of being in cars, and the desire and need to be in cars.”

The Hancock administration expects the plans to be finished between 18 months and two years from now, following an extensive public feedback process. The end result will be a set of policy priorities to improve transit, create a seamless pedestrian network, and shape development so Denver’s lightning-fast growth creates walkable neighborhoods, not car-choked streets.

Of course, acting on those priorities is what matters in the end, and we’ve seen with the underfunded citywide bike plan that City Hall doesn’t necessarily follow up on implementation. But with “Denveright” the city is setting the right goals and laying the groundwork for sustainable growth.

Hancock said he wants city planners and residents to think big, without worrying about financial constraints. “I think it’s important that you don’t put guardrails on the community,” he said. “I don’t want you to think about cost. Obviously we have limitations of what we can do as a city, but what I want you to do is dream — imagine what you want this place to be and what it will take to get there, and then let us back into the resource side of it later on.”

While the video makes Denveright seem light and fluffy, it’s going to be a huge undertaking if the city takes it seriously. Thursday’s launch provided some insight into the nascent plans. Here’s what we know so far.

Read more…

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Will Barcelona’s “Superblocks” Proposal Work Well for Transit?

Will "Superblocks" "solve the main problems of urban mobility?" Image: BC Necologica

Within Barcelona’s superblocks, car traffic will be limited. What happens on the streets outside the superblocks? Image: BC Necologica

Barcelona is making waves with plans to test a concept it’s calling “superblocks.” The idea is to create nine-block squares of “citizen spaces” — about 400 meters on each side — where cars would be limited. Unlike the widely derided superblocks of the urban renewal era, Barcelona’s would be explicitly designed to preserve the street grid for walking and biking — only motor vehicle through traffic would be discouraged.

City officials have identified five neighborhoods where the superblock concept will be tested. The streets inside each superblock would be close to car-free. Local motor vehicle traffic will be allowed at very low speeds (under 10 KPH) and so would emergency vehicles. Surface parking would be prohibited.

Officials believe this arrangement of streets can help Barcelona achieve its goal of reducing traffic by 21 percent. It’s part of a broader plan that also calls for 300 kilometers of new bike infrastructure.

Relieved of the obligation to move motor vehicle through traffic and store cars, the streets would be freed up for public space, walking, and biking. One question the plan raises, however, is how it would affect transit.

Read more…

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Priced Lanes Can Move Everyone Faster — Even People Who Don’t Pay

Since adding tolled lanes o I-405 outside Seattle, all the lanes are less congested. Image: Washington DOT

Since tolling began on two lanes of I-405 outside Seattle, all lanes are less congested. Image: Washington DOT

Remember the uproar over the HOT lanes on I-405 outside Seattle? Republicans in the state senate fired transportation commissioner Lynn Petersen to register their displeasure with priced roads. The political furor isn’t over. Bill Bryant, a GOP candidate for governor, continues to use the HOT lanes as a wedge issue against incumbent Democrat Jay Inslee.

Look at the actual effect of the tolls, however, and the complaints seem like so much hot air. Josh Feit at PubliCola reports the tolls are reducing traffic even for people who opt not to pay:

Despite the noise, the latest data (such as measuring traffic speeds) shows that I-405 tolling has actually improved traffic conditions and commutes. What’s more: the surveys show that people are pleased with the program. (By the way, earlier data, available during last session’s attack on Peterson, found similar results.)

A presentation on the I-405 tolling program put together by WSDOT this week documents the following:

Read more…

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Today’s Headlines

  • Politico Chronicles RTD Rail Build-Out in “The Train That Saved Denver”
  • …While Author Admits Focus on Drive-To Transit Crippled Rail’s Potential (CPR)
  • Judge Says NIMBYs Can’t Stop Three-Story Development in Crestmoor Park (DenPo)
  • Semi Truck Driver Kills Bike Rider in Weld County (Fox31)
  • Denver Growth Outpacing Housing Stock (DenPo)
  • RTD Staff On Hand at Stations to Help Passengers Navigate Weekend Closures (ABC7)
  • Former RTD Manager Gets 18 Months for Bribery (DenPo)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Google Patents “Flypaper” to Save Pedestrians By Sticking Them to Car Hoods

Google engineers' newest concept for pedestrians would glue them to the front of cars. Image: U.S. Patent Office

Not the Onion. Image: U.S. Patent Office

The minds at Google have come up with a novel idea to protect pedestrians in the event of a collision with the company’s self-driving cars.

The tech behemoth was awarded a patent this week for what it describes as a “flypaper or double-sided duct tape”-type substance beneath an “eggshell” exterior on the hood of the car. In a collision with a human being, the shell would crack and the person would stick to the adhesive. The idea is that after the initial collision, the flypaper will prevent people from hitting the asphalt or getting run over, which is how severe injuries are often inflicted.

A Google spokesperson told the San Jose Mercury News the patent doesn’t mean the company will go ahead with implementation. Even if the idea works as planned, it’s easy to envision scenarios where it would backfire, like if the car strikes another vehicle or a tree while someone is glued to the hood.

A much more important question for the impending autonomous car future is how these systems will minimize the potential for collisions with pedestrians in the first place. A fleet of robocars won’t need flypaper if they can’t exceed, say, 15 mph while operating on crowded city streets.

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Road Builders Withdraw Ballot Measures That Would Have Snubbed Transit

Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 10.46.17 AM

Photo: Jared Tarbell/Flickr

On Wednesday the Colorado Contractors Association retreated from its bid to subsidize driving even further by asking Coloradans to pay up to $700 million more in sales tax reserved mostly for road and highway projects.

In March, the CCA floated 10 ballot measures that focused almost solely on roads. In a statement, the lobbying group said a voter-approved tax would have addressed “congestion and safety,” yet all 10 versions snubbed transit, biking, and walking.

The CCA said it didn’t want to risk putting the measure to a vote on the crowded November ballot. Turnout will be especially high this year thanks to the presidential election. The CCA aims to return with a ballot measure in 2018, when fewer people will head to the polls.

The statement omitted the heavy opposition from the Metro Mayors Caucus, an influential coalition of 41 Denver-area mayors. “There’s just too many holes in this for us to get behind it as a group… It’s just not there,” Westminster Mayor Herb Atchison said at last month’s Metro Mayors Caucus meeting. “We need transit. We need a lot of transit in the metro area.”

None of the versions of the tax devoted more than 12 percent of the possible $700 million in new revenue to to transit projects. Most set aside only 6 percent, the minimum contribution required by law. None would have guaranteed anything for walking or biking. Finally, some versions would have barred using the revenue on toll roads, while simultaneously mandating “congestion relief” — code for more lanes and wider roads that induce traffic. The packages were all, essentially, mechanisms to more heavily subsidize driving.

Don’t expect anything to change when CCA makes another bid in two years. “Through continued voter research, stakeholder engagement and statewide outreach, we plan to develop a measure for 2018 that best addresses the safety and congestion on our state’s road, highways and bridges, while also assisting Colorado’s diverse regions and local communities with their transportation needs,” Milo said in a statement.

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More Evidence Bike Lanes Can Be More Efficient Than Car Lanes

www.GIFCreator.me_Rwl3G9_0

Contrary to all those cranky newspaper columns about how every last inch of asphalt needs to be allocated to motor vehicles, bike lanes can actually move more people with less street space than general traffic lanes.

Here’s a good example from Toronto. Biking Toronto reports that while bike lanes take up just 19 percent of College Street, cyclists now account for nearly half the traffic in the peak direction during the evening rush:

Anyone who has biked College St at rush hour knows it’s packed with bikes … but last fall Cycle Toronto went out and counted bikes AND cars, and found that bikes make up 46% of westbound vehicle traffic at College and Spadina!!

That’s good news for air quality, for public health, and for the city’s ability to keep people moving as its population grows. Maybe that helps explain why 86 percent of Toronto residents support greater investment in bike infrastructure, according to a recent poll.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Market Urbanism says compact development should not be limited to locations near existing transit routes. Transportationist considers how tolling some roads but not others can have unintended consequences. And Seattle Bike Blog reports that local advocates packed a city meeting this week to demand an end to delays in implementing the city’s bike plan.