Can Bike Signals Make Biking Safer?

We have been focusing a lot of attention on the safety of pedestrians and bikers. Another element that could help the safety of Montgomery County residents are bike signals or boxes, similar to walk signals. Bike boxes were just recognized by American engineers to be included in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), according to Angie Schmitt. These bike signals are used like walk signals, to “reduce conflicts between people on bikes and turning drivers, give cyclists a head start at intersections, or create a separate phase entirely for bicycle traffic.” Before these signals were approved and recognized by the MUTCD, any neighborhood or community wanting to install them had to conduct engineering studies to test if the signals would make a difference. These studies became so expensive that it often hindered communities from trying. Since the signals are approved by the MUTCD, the studies are no longer necessary.

signal-1

Source: Bike Portland

Is this something we want in White Flint? Do you think bike signals will make biking safer? Will it help attract more bikers to the area if they know there are extra safety precautions in place?

Share your thoughts!

White Flint Implementation Committee January Meeting Next Week

The January 2014 White Flint Sector Plan Implementation Advisory Committee meeting will take place on Monday, January 13, 2014, 7 p.m., at Wall Local Park/ Shriver Aquatic Center. The White Flint Sector Plan Advisory Committee is made up of property owners, residents and interest groups that have interest in the redevelopment of the Sector Plan area, as well as representatives from the Executive Branch.

The agenda for this meeting includes updates on development activity happening right now, Executive Blvd and Woodglen Drive. An update from the White Flint Downtown Committee will be provided as well. Importantly, the BRT video created by the Communities for Transit, a non-profit organization in Silver Spring, MD, will also be discussed. As more of the Sector Plan begins to be implemented, the Committee also wants to highlight the important connections between the built environment and our health.

Stay tuned for updates after the meeting on Monday.

What Do Americans Want Out of Their Neighborhoods?

The latest poll from the National Association of Realtors (NAR), released in late October, focused on Americans’ housing and community preferences.  It seems that Americans prefer mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods over subdivisions that require driving as the main source of transportation when they have a choice.

Robert Steuteville points out in his Better! Cities and Towns article that Americans choose their housing based on “trade-offs on many factors, many of them conflicting.” These factors include short commutes, easy access to goods and services, public transportation close to their home, and access to arts and recreational facilities.

According to Kaid Benfield from The Atlantic Cities,a majority of respondents to the survey would most like to live in suburban neighborhoods. In addition, a majority of those who choose suburban living prefer to have “a mix of houses, shops and businesses” in the suburban community. However, Americans still choose to live in a single-family, detached home with a large yard. This is why coming up with one consistent message from this research is impossible. There is evidence that Americans prefer accessibility, walkability, large yards, and even the ability to travel by car but as Benfield states, “is it possible to have all that in the same community?” Perhaps by creating a community that offers many different lifestyle choices for residents is crucial to be a successful and sustainable community.

For the White Flint area, the Sector Plan is designed around the preferences of local residents and community development practitioners, similar to those expressed in the NAR survey. This is why mixed-use developments and a walkable street design are major components of the White Flint Sector Plan. The Plan will allow for residents to have more choice in the lives they live, since it seems this is the only way for White Flint to be a sustainable community.

Check out Steuteville’s full article and Benfield’s full article.

New report highlights the hidden costs of suburban sprawl

Source: Sustainable Prosperity, thecostofsprawl.com, November 5 2013

Source: Sustainable Prosperity, thecostofsprawl.com, November 5 2013.

A report from a University of Ottawa research and policy network released last month reveals that suburban sprawl comes with a bigger price tag than many might expect. While (understandably) the report largely focuses on development in Canada, the big picture holds true for the U.S. as well. Author David Thompson notes in an interview that transportation is a major hidden cost; long commutes and needing more cars per household (and subsequently, the taxes to create the infrastructure to support these cars) is a huge expense. “Free” parking, which as the report notes, isn’t really free since it is instead built into prices at stores, is another hidden cost.

Thompson has said:

“We’ve known about the environmental effects for decades, we’ve known about the health impacts for 10, 20 years…Now we’re learning that the financial costs of sprawl are going to be staggering and we’re leaving a major deficit to our children and grandchildren.”

Concerned that Thompson is suggesting we all pack up and move to the city? Don’t be. As one Canadian newspaper explains, “Thompson stressed that curbing sprawl doesn’t mean everyone must live or work in a skyscraper. His report advocates infill development and suburban retrofits. The latter phenomenon is more common in the U.S. where older malls, industrial and commercial properties are being redeveloped into suburban hubs.” Sound familiar?

You can read the full report here. Want just the highlights of the report? Check out its informative and easy-to-use website at http://thecostofsprawl.com/.

Breathe easier during your commute

The D.C. area is ranked first in traffic congestion, and unfortunately, a recent study from MIT reports that Maryland deaths related to long-term exposure to air pollution are the highest in the U.S. The Capital News Service reports that:

“Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that emissions from cars, trucks, industrial smokestacks, trains, boats, and commercial heating systems contribute to the death of 113 people per 100,000 population per year in Maryland—more than any other state.”

Personal vehicles are a major contributor to greenhouse gasses, and the problem is only going to get worse as traffic in our area grows.

However, now is your chance to invest in a healthier future for Maryland and Montgomery County, by telling the County Council you support Bus Rapid Transit. Our friends at the Coalition for Smarter Growth have made it easy for you to write to them here. Don’t delay – the public record closes tomorrow, Friday, September 27.

Better ways to get to school: are we there yet?

Part of Reconnecting America’s report Are We There Yet? sheds light on how children (and their parents) get to daycare and school, and the ramifications of these options – or lack thereof. In a section titled “Safe Routes to School,” the authors explain that only 13 percent of children walk or bike to school today, compared to nearly 50% in 1969; parents cited schools being far away, traffic safety, and crime as major concerns. The authors highlight many serious repercussions of children no longer walking or biking to school:

“Obesity among children has tripled over the last two decades, and more than 20 percent of morning traffic is generated by parents driving kids to school. The combined emissions from all those cars and school buses adds up to the single greatest cause of pollution in many cities.”

The report points out that some communities are working to change the way kids get to school.

“At the Bear Creek Elementary School in Boulder, Colorado, Principal Kent Cruger serves as inspiration, arriving at school via foot-powered scooter, skateboard or unicycle — to cite a few of his choices — when he isn’t carpooling. The number of students now regularly walking and biking has risen by 30 percent, with a corresponding 30 percent reduction in traffic counts. At the Green Street School in Brattleboro, Vermont, the number of “walking school buses” — groups of children are accompanied by adults on the walk to school, picking up students along the way — and “bicycle trains” have tripled. A public outreach effort to reduce speeds around this school, just outside downtown, has resulted in a 40 percent reduction in the number of cars speeding through the school zone.

Due to increased interest in walking and biking in Auburn Washington, the Auburn School District has been able to reduce the number of school buses from six to one, resulting in an annual savings of $220,000. At Pioneer Elementary in Auburn, 85 percent of students walk or bike on a regular basis and they receive the highest academic scores in the district, which Principal Debra Gary attributes to their healthy, active lifestyles.”

In addition to walking and biking, transit can also play a big role in how children get to daycare and preschool:

“Quality preschools and daycare facilities in high-access locations have proven to be a real benefit to harried parents dropping kids off on their way to work. A study by Local Investment in Child Care, a California nonprofit organization, finds that locating childcare facilities within a third of a mile of transit results in high ridership by families: 34 percent of people dropping their children off then walked or used transit to commute to their destination, with even higher numbers in low-income areas.

Childcare facilities not only provide an essential service to families but they can also serve as ‘anchor tenants’ in a development that can provide other needed shops and services that serve families.”

Creating more pedestrian-friendly, bike-friendly, and transit-oriented neighborhoods means that children and those who take care of them will have more options when deciding how to get to school, which would likely lead to healthier children and a healthier planet. Check out Reconnecting America’s blog post on childcare and transit for more information.

Australian government says bike riders save $21 on every commute

The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

The economy benefits by more than $21 [about $19 USD] every time a person cycles 20 minutes to work and back and $8.50 [about $7.50 USD] each time a person walks 20 minutes to and from work, according to a policy statement released by Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.”

Why is Australia focused on the cost of commuting? The State of Australian Cities 2013 report notes that higher-skill and consequently higher-paid jobs are increasingly located in the central areas of cities, while job growth is lowest in the outer suburbs. Therefore, many people are facing longer commutes, which have an array of economic and health consequences. The report states, “Connections between the places that people live and where they work in major cities are important to their productivity and also to equality of opportunities.”

In a speech, Albanese said that “For shorter trips we need to get more people choosing alternatives to the car…People will walk or cycle if it’s safe and convenient to do so.”

Read the Sydney Morning Herald article and Streetsblog Capitol Hill post to learn more.

Pump more money into your community, not your gas tank

Love them or hate them, the reality of owning a car means that you are spending a fair amount of money on your vehicle. A recent AAA study concluded that owning a car costs between $6,700 and $11,300 per year, depending on what type of vehicle you own – an increase of nearly 2% from 2011, largely due to increases in the cost of fuel and tires.

Meika Weiss, a blogger at Traversing Tulip Lane recently had an article featured on the Strong Towns blog about where she spends her money after she and her husband went from a two-car to a one-car family. Making this shift saved her family $583 a month, or $7,000 a year. Savings like this clearly benefit your wallet, and likely, your community.

Weiss highlights a passage from a study from CEOs for Cities that outlines how low rates of car ownership benefit New York City’s economy:

“It’s no secret that New York City’s high density, extensive transit and excellent walkability are fundamental contributors to the lifestyle enjoyed by its citizens. However, as this study shows, these factors are also major contributors to their economic well-being. Because New Yorkers drive substantially less than the average American, they realize a staggering $19 billion in savings each year — money that their counterparts in other metro areas spend on auto-related expenses. And because they spend so much less on cars and gasoline—money that quickly leaves the local economy—New Yorkers have much more purchasing power to spend locally, stimulating the city’s economy.”

While it’s easy to highlight the many ways that New York is different from the rest of the country, Weiss stresses that investing in the local economy means that more money is reinvested into the community, no matter where you live.

Weiss notes that you could give up your car and still only patronize national chains. However, she explains that you aren’t likely to do that:

“Your car spending will probably shift to a mix of local and national businesses, and more of your dollars will stay in your community than did before you made this leap. You’ll probably shop at more local businesses than you did before because they’re more accessible and neighborhood-based than their big-box competitors – it’s just plain easier to run into a neighborhood business than it is to traverse the Walmart parking lot (do they make those things nightmares on purpose?) if you’re on foot or on a bike.”

Weiss also points out additional savings such as:

  • decreased health care costs as a result improved health due to more active transportation
  • decreased health care costs as a result of fewer motor vehicle collisions
  • decreased infrastructure costs as a result of needing fewer traffic lanes

Read Meika’s full article here, and if you’re wondering where you can invest in the local community, you can always check out the Pike Central Farmers Market on Saturdays throughout October!

It’s a bike…it’s a car…it’s an Elf.

I was recently in Chapel Hill visiting some family when my uncle told me about the Elf, Durham-based Organic Transit’s bike-car hybrid. The OTV (Organic Transit Vehicle) comes from Rob Cotter, who formerly worked for many luxury automobile brands including Porsche, BMW and Mercedes.

the-elf-white

Source: Organic Transit

The Wall Street Journal describes it as “an ovoid, semi-enclosed, solar-chargeable, plug-in, bike-lane-legal [though this varies from place to place], electric pedal car… With a 1-hp (750-watt) electric motor in the rear wheel hub and a lithium battery pack, or two, snugged into the center frame rail aft of the front wheels—and a plastic canopy to keep the weather off drivers—the Elf proposes a solution for urban commuters who want to leave the car at home but can’t quite hack the rigors of a conventional bicycle.”

Organic Transit boasts that Elf drivers (riders?) can still enjoy certain benefits that come with driving, such as getting to work clean with the assistance of the electric motor for the morning commute, staying safe thanks to headlights, taillights, signals and side mirrors, and having the benefit extra cargo space for things like multiple bags of groceries. However, users of the Elf will also get many of the benefits that come with bicycling including burning calories, helping the environment in a big way, and saving tons of money on gas, car insurance, and the vehicle itself (the Elf’s base price is about $5,000).

Read more about the Elf on the following sites:

http://www.mnn.com/leaderboard/stories/are-these-the-most-efficient-vehicles-on-the-planet

http://www.wral.com/durham-man-s-green-machine-business-attracts-celebrity-clientele/12114337/

http://www.travelerstoday.com/articles/7038/20130801/elf-bike-new-green-hybrid-organic-transit-vehicle.htm

New parking regulations are looser, but not enough

Is this space best used for cars, or people?

Montgomery County’s new zoning code will allow less parking in new developments in order to use land more efficiently and encourage alternatives to driving. However, the regulations still require parking in ways that will hinder the walkable urban places the county wants to build.

For 4 years, the Planning Department has been revising its complicated, unwieldy code, which sets rules for how buildings and neighborhoods are laid out. First written in 1928, the code hasn’t been updated since 1977, when the county was still mostly suburban. The new code will go before the County Council in a public hearing June 11.

Under the current code, buildings must have lots of parking, even near transit or in areas where most people don’t drive. The new parking regulations are simpler and allow developers to build fewer parking spaces, though they do require other amenities, like bike racks, changing facilities and spaces for car sharing or carpools.

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