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Political & Technical Information about Transportation Planning
Planning for bicycle facilities doesn't exist in a vacuum. Activists who want more bicycle facilities in their communities need to understand about transportation planning in general.
Good transportation activists need:
For the technical info:
Government support essential for promoting cycling
When there are abundant, safe cycling facilities (bike lanes, paths, etc.), more people cycle. It's as simple as that. Governments can't expect that suddenly more people will start cycling if the infrastructure doesn't change. This 20-minute video shows how the cycling commuting culture in Denmark isn't accidental, it has been carefully cultivated by city planners.
TEA-21 is the U.S. federal legislation that funds surface transportation projects. The Washington Post has some more background on this topic.
Our selected quote for this page is from Dr. John Pucher, a professor in the Department of Urban Planning at Rutgers University:
Read a summary of Dr. Pucher's excellent lecture on improving transportation in the U.S. (with the especially interesting comparisons to other countries which have been more successful than we have in discouraging auto use).
Urban Sprawl leads to poor transportation systems
A National Geographic article explores how bad land use planning leads to a poor transportation system.
See the Autos on Welfare section below for the Sierra Club's report detailing the subsidies for sprawl.
An article in USA Today compared the U.S. to Europe with regards to sprawl, and, not surprisingly, found that European cities have more compact, livable cities, with a higher quality of life for their citizens.
Smart Growth & New Urbanism
Smart Growth is a system of development planning that discourages ugly buildings, poor transportation access, and other common development evils. In Austin, the city awards tax breaks to developers who score enough points on the Smart Growth Matrix (a list of development criteria with varying numbers of points awarded for various positive development aspects). It's far from perfect -- for example, more points are awarded for planning parking properly than for accomodating bikes at all -- but at least it's something. Here's a link to Austin Smart Growth page.
New Urbanism is a community design philosophy that has much in common with Smart Growth. Check out PBS' website on New Urbanism.
Building new roads doesn't ease congestion
You'd think that building more roads (or making existing roads bigger) would ease congestion, but it doesn't work that way. Here's why:
This isn't just theory; it's borne out by a number of scientific studies. The excuse that increasing congestion is a result of an increasing population simply isn't supported by the facts; new roads fill up WAY faster than simple population increases could account for. As the Surface Transportation Policy Project put it:
Sprawl is making just about everyone drive farther and more often, and that fills up the roads. ... While the population in all 68 metro areas studied grew by 22 million since 1982, the increase in driving has crowded the roads with the equivalent of 70 million more drivers. For example, in Washington DC, a population increase of 765,000 feels like an increase of more than 2 million on the roadways, because residents are driving 77 percent more. [read the report]
Here's an article about the failure of roadbuilding to ease congestion by USA Today (9-23-99). Here's another one from the Washington Post Writers Group about how Widened Roads Create their own Gridlock. That one also explains how, surprisingly, the closing of major roads in several metro areas did not increase congestion, since people responded by driving less.
Here's a report by the Texas Transportation Institute. A summary of that report states:
The time has come for transportation officials to stop making congestion relief claims to bolster highway proposals. Not only has road construction proven to be an ineffective congestion relief strategy, but it is an expensive one as well. According to researchers at the U.S. Department of Transportation, the construction of one ordinary lane-mile of urban highway commonly costs between $3.4 million and $7.8 million. For special projects involving major engineering, costs can exceed $100 million per lane-mile. ...[W]e estimate that over the 15 year period [we studied], metro areas that invested heavily in road expansion projects spent $22 billion more than areas that built fewer new lane-miles, yet failed to produce lower congestion levels. ... Does a family of four in the Nashville metro area, for example, want to pay $3,243 per year to build their way out of congestion, particularly given the low likelihood that this strategy would succeed? [Nashville had the highest cost to families of the areas studied; Austin had the second-highest.]
A study reported in New Scientist in 2005 provides the mathematical background for why new roads can cause congestion.
A detailed excerpt from Suburban Nation confirms that adding lanes only makes traffic worse.
FYI, the design capacity for a freeway lane is roughly about 1,500 persons/hour.
Parking facilities cause congestion
Monty Newton writes: The reason why state workers don't use other forms of transportation besides personal cars is because they don't have to. Why take a bus when you have FREE covered parking next to your office? I have my reasons for riding a bike, mainly cause I can always be moving, and I am in control, not subject to the disasters on the highway daily, but for others, it must be worth it to drive. Several coworkers live as close or closer than I do, and they drive their cars.
If the parking wasn't available, the cars couldn't come down here. It is that simple. I have asked, and gotten funny looks, why can't they offer a rebate or something in lieu of the parking? I get two parking stickers, presumably so one can use "the wife's/husband's" car or something. TWO parking places for ONE employee. And several people where I work that have a spouse working downtown in the private sector that uses that second sticker to park in the state garages. Paid for by the state and taxpayers. They build them and they come. (6-01)
Autos on Welfare
While most motorists think that their gas taxes and registration fees pay for the roads and for other related costs, the truth is that car-driving is heavily subsidized by the government, which in turn means higher taxes for everyone. Those who don't drive are paying for those who do.
VTPI explains that gas taxes and registration fees go mostly toward highways, while city streets (the kind that cyclists use), are paid for mostly through sales taxes and property taxes. Since it costs more to maintain streets for cars vs bikes, cyclists wind up subsidizing the cost of city streets used by cars.
The Sierra Club has a report detailing subsidies for sprawl. Some of the areas the costs come from include:
Below, Dave Dobbs explains the true costs of so-called "free" parking.
True costs of car parking, and other car costs.
"It does my soul good to see you all discuss the little hidden costs that people don't see when they drive their cars. Lyndon Henry is his master's thesis (1981) (Urban and Regional Planning School UT Austin) calculated conservatively that we spend $2 on "free parking" for every dollar that is spent on roadways. Curbside parking, for example requires an unnecessary widening of the street and thus extra cost, 'free parking' at Walmart is reflected in higher prices for goods an services to pay for the non-productive parking lot which is taxed, requires maintenance, and represents an opportunity cost, and free parking for government employees (we have lots of this in Austin) costs the taxpayers somewhere between $6500 to $10,000 a space. Accidents, Henry pointed out, are nearly 10% of the auto roadway system costs (property damage, personal injury and deaths), whereas public transit overall loses only 2% to accident costs.
"There is a very real cost here which auto/roadway proponents choose to ignore as they portray themselves and the status quo as 'conservative.' The public perception of 'free parking' is something akin to a birth right, so it is seen as 'no change' and therefore 'conservative', when in fact free parking is an enormous public subsidy (socialism) which completely distorts the marketplace and makes alternate transportation less viable.
"A guy I know in the LA area, Stanley Hart, who bills himself as a 'reformed highway engineer' did a study of hidden auto costs in the Pasadena (CA) city budget. He came up with a figure in excess of 30% in policing, administration, maintenance, etc. Someone should replicate that study for Austin.
"The bottom line is that when all car costs to our society are figured we could do far better financially with higher mobility and greater quality of life by concentrating on public transit which by its very nature necessitates a good pedestrian and bicycle system to work efficiently and effectively." -- Dave Dobbs, 12/99-1/00
"Free parking," it's a lovely phrase, isn't it? Since so many of the things we do are not free, it's great that at least we can stow our vehicles at no cost, right? Well, actually, we are paying dearly for parking, according to a new book by David Shoup, a professor at UCLA. In The High Cost of Free Parking, Shoup says that parking policies are devastating American cities, and that we're wasting billions every year on parking subsidies that should go to parks and other human-scale activities.... An Urban Land Institute survey shows that at least half of all spaces are vacant more than 40 percent of the time the businesses they serve are open. 'Free curb parking may be the most costly subsidy American cities provide to their citizens,' says Shoup, who points out that the average car is parked 95 percent of the time.....A 1984 study determined that in a single year the cruisers in one 15-block neighborhood in Los Angeles [looing for a parking spot] spent 100,000 hours wasting 47,000 gallons of fuel and producing 700 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.' (E Magazine, 2005)
External costs of driving. The estimated annual external cost of driving (including air pollution, climate change, imported oil security, congestion, accidents, noise, etc.) is $126.3 billion.(E Magazine, 2005)
Cost of highways vs. public transportation
Highway boosters say that commuter rail is too expensive, at around $40 million per mile. What they're forgetting is that highways are even more expensive -- up to $50-100 million per mile! What's more, rail is a better long-term investment. (Rail infrastructure lasts 60-75 years vs. a highway's 25.) Plus, you can easily and inexpensively increase capacity with a rail system by adding more railcars or running them more frequently. Expanding a highwy, on the other hand, by addingnew lanes, is a multimillion dollar headache. And while the cost per mile of new rail is already competitive with highways, adding extensions to existing rail lines is even cheaper ($14 million per mile). Here's an article on this subject on another website.
What's more, even though rail is cheaper than highways, it's more effective. One LRT train (five cars passing every two minutes) could handle all the rush-hour traffic now arriving in downtown Minneapolis by freeway. (Check out more about light rail.)
The next time someone starts whining about the cost of alternative transportation (like light rail), tell them about the Boston's Big Dig roadway project -- $14 BILLION for all of 7.5 miles! Adjusted for inflation, this is more than the Panama Canal, the Alaska pipeline, or the Hoover Dam! Read the Dallas Morning News article.
By the way, Texas spends 58% more than the national average on new roads, while simultaneously spending 60% less on public transportation and bike lanes. (from Austin American-Statesman, 3-23-00, based on a report by the Surface Transportation Policy Project)
Do state & federal transportation planners have to consider bikes?
Roger Baker says: ISTEA and TEA-21 legislation require that bike/ped transportation be "considered" when planning roadway projects. Tommy Eden, who is on the Austin Urban Transportation Commission, claims to have done a legal investigation of what the feds mean by "consider" and to have found that they must do something akin to actually proving/determining that bike lanes are unsuitable for the new roads they partially fund but which are built by TxDOT -- instead of the normal omission of all serious consideration typical of TxDOT. Of course if federal laws on the books really worked properly, they would really be saving all the endangered species, etc. Sometimes (more and more) you have to fight or sue the feds to make them enforce their own rules as the more kickass environmental groups do. (6-01)
Tommy Eden says: You may have heard that planners must spend 15% of their transportation funding on bicycle & pedestrian projects. But that applies ONLY to STP4C federal funds. These funds are really only about 10% of all the federal funds over which the Austin-area transportation board (CAMPO) has control. Thus, CAMPO has historically spent only about 1.x% of its total funds on bicycle and pedestrian projects. Standing alone, this kind of inadequate policy would suggest that our bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure is especially lousy. Over the last two or three years, however, CAMPO has had an additional policy requiring that every project proposal in their two-year Transportation Improvement Program (TIP--for practical purposes, it is CAMPO's budget) include a column specifying the type of bicycle facility to be included in each proposal and a column specifying the type of pedestrian facility to be included in each proposal.* Simply requiring these columns in the TIP has had a major influence on every jurisdiction which brings proposals to CAMPO, with the notable exception of TxDOT.
If bicycle and pedestrian facilities were included in every project proposal which goes to CAMPO for approval, we would actually be spending about 15% of ALL roadway funding on bicycle and pedestrian improvements, and we would really see an improvement.
*This policy was proposed by Rep. Glen Maxey and approved by the CAMPO Policy Advisory Committee around December 1998 or 1999. The 15% policy has been there as long as I can remember (pre-1994), but it really only has a symbolic effect on real improvements. (Nov. 2002)
Federal law prohibits destruction of bicycle access. 23 USC § 109, Standards (m) says:
Federal law requires consideration of bicycle access on construction projects. 23 CFR 652.5 says:
Patrick Goetz' comments on the above laws:
Keith Snodgras, Austin's Bike/Ped Coordinator, tried to go after them for providing absolutely no pedestrian facilities at the Westgate / Ben White / etc. interchange. Federal law clearly states that they must provide pedestrian facilities (e.g. sidewalks) at an location close to pedestrian attractors. TxDOT simply threw up their hands and said that there were no pedestrian attractors in the area, despite the immediate proximity of not 1, not 2, not 3, but 4 shopping centers. As Snodgras pointed out, if 4 shopping centers right at that location isn't a pedestrian attractor, then what is? TxDOT shrugged who knows. Notice that there are still no pedestrian facilities at that location and Snodgras is back to managing ranches. TxDOT 1, citizens of Austin 0." Apr. 2003
Planning for bike facilities
BikePlan.com has resources for planning facilities for bicycles.
Facilities that promote cycling or make cycling safer and more accessible
Daniel Connelly writes in May 2002:
Bryant Street in Palo Alto, CA. This is a designated bicycle boulevard. Over much of its length, it has no stop signs, but does have strategically placed barriers to motor vehicles which make is useful only for local traffic to these. Bikes, on the other hand, can maintain a steady 20 mph without much impedance, at least until one nears downtown, where there are stop signs (and one traffic circle).
Ready to Rumble?
Rumble strips are gouges ground into the shoulders of roads, designed to wake up drivers who fall asleep at the wheel as they start to veer off the road. The problem is that this strips can be deadly to cyclists. Where rumble strips are installed, bicyclists are often unable to use the shoulder, and are therefore forced to mix with high-speed traffic. Also, rumble strips may appear unexpectedly, sending unsuspecting cyclists crashing when they hit the strips. The League of American Bicyclists (LAB) is asking citizens to contact their congresspersons to ask that the government conduct research on a design standard for rumble strips that is bicycle-friendly, and to limit the installation of new rumble strips until such research is completed. Here's more on rumble strips from LAB.
Examples of reports available from VTPI: