The Era of Car-Clogged City Streets Is Over


The federal government spends more than $45 billion on automotive transportation annually. Add in state and local spending, and costs top $175 billion every year. At the same time, the public health costs of deaths connected to automobile-related crashes and emissions amount to an additional $900 billion. And that excludes the costs related to the 4.5 million people injured in automobile crashes every year.

All in all, the social costs of cars are more than $1 trillion every year for a transportation system struggling with increasing congestion, lengthening commute times, harmful emissions comprising the largest share of greenhouse gases of any sector in the United States and rising pedestrian fatalities from car crashes. We can spend this money better to make our cities more efficient, equitable, and safe. 

Every resident of a city should be afforded the right to get where they need to go safely and in the most efficient, convenient way possible. This means prioritizing modes of transportation that enable density, move the most people most efficiently, and do not contribute to harmful emissions. Reallocating street space to prioritize the most efficient modes, whether that’s increasing dedicated bus lanes, more protected bike lanes, or dedicated street parking for light electric vehicles such as electric bikes and scooters, will lead to improved mobility, lower stress, better health outcomes, more productivity and help to improve the environment. 

Read the full article here.

Public transportation fights obesity — one more benefit!

From Science Daily

Public transportation systems provide numerous economic benefits for a community. An added public health bonus provided by such systems may be lower obesity rates.

A new study by researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Georgia Tech compared and analyzed county data from 2001 and 2009. They found that a single percentage-point increase in mass transit ridership is associated with a 0.473 percentage-point lower obesity rate in counties across the United States.

“Opting for mass transit over driving creates opportunities for exercise that may otherwise not exist,” said?Sheldon H. Jacobson, a co-author of the study and a Founder Professor of Computer Science at Illinois. “Instead of just stepping out of the house and into his car, riders need to walk from their home to a bus stop and from their stop to their destination.”

The results of the study, published in the journal Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, details a computational analysis of publicly available health, transportation, and census data across 227 counties from 45 states in 2001 and 2009. Differences in economic and lifestyle factors including leisure-time exercise, household income, health care coverage, and public transit funding were included in the analysis.

The new analysis is consistent with previous work by the researchers — which found that each percentage-point increase in a county’s public transit ridership was associated with a 0.221 percentage-point lower obesity rate.

“The new work takes a longitudinal approach, meaning that we examined differences between 2001 and 2009, allowing us to better control for factors that could otherwise influence the analysis,” said co-author Douglas M. King, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering at Illinois. “For example, factors like weather or physical geography that can influence the obesity rate of a county in both 2001 and 2009 are controlled since their impact is present in both time periods.”

While the calculated estimates from the two studies differ in magnitude, they do not differ in a statistically significant way, the researchers note. However, both studies suggest that increasing public transit usage is associated with a reduction in a county’s obesity rate.

“Because this analysis is at the county level,, the implications for an average person are not clear,” Jacobson said. “The results indicate that when more people opt to use public transit, the county-level obesity rate tends to drop, though it does not necessarily imply that any one particular person is less likely to be obese if they ride transit frequently.”

This study focuses on data collected in 2001 and 2009, when rail and bus were the primary modes of public transportation in the U.S.

“It will be interesting to see how Uber and Lyft, as well as bike-share programs will influence this type of analysis in the future,” Jacobson said. “Our research suggests that investing in public transit can provide more efficient transportation options that not only help the environment but may also offer public health benefits.”

Will there be housing for all income levels near transit?

You might want to read this interesting article in The Washington Post about the intersection of suburbs, transit, and affordable housing. The article discusses how to prevent the benefits of transit-oriented living from going primarily to the well-to-do — and pricing out the very people it’s most intended to serve, lower income folks.  Quick aside, I (Amy Ginsburg, Executive Director) disagree with their premise that transit is not for higher-income people. But ensuring transit it close to affordable housing as well as luxury housing is an important concern.

The Post article says, “The issue, which some experts call “transit-induced gentrification,” is gaining new attention in Montgomery and other once auto-centric suburbs building light-rail and rapid bus lines to revitalize older areas, attract younger workers, and help an increasing number of lower-income residents reach jobs. Focusing growth around transit stations has become the way many inner suburbs plan to thrive without adding to the sprawl that has left them drowning in traffic.”

“Suburban transit-oriented living, in high demand from millennials and empty-nest baby boomers looking to downsize, is in such short supply that it commands premium prices — and can encourage property owners to cash in by selling, redeveloping or raising rents,” said The Washington Post story.

You can read the whole article by clicking here.


Ten Tired Traffic Myths

According to City Lab, here are some traffic myths that just refuse to die.

  1. The most enduring popular traffic myth holds that building more roads always leads to less congestion. Instead it causes induced demand so that that building more road eventually (if not always immediately) leads to more traffic, not less.

  2. More transit means less traffic can also be a myth.  Studies have shown that over the long-term, transit doesn’t decrease traffic.  However, transit does offer other benefits better quality of life to more economic might, and transit must still be part of any solution to traffic woes.

  3. One enduring myth holds that converting general road space into a bike lane is bad for traffic. But when bike lanes are well-designed, that’s just not the case. New York City proved as much with bike lanes recently installed on Columbus and Eighth avenues. By reducing the width of car lanes from 12 to 10 feet and adding protected left turns, the city was able to preserve vehicle volume and actually reduce travel times by 35 and 14 percent, respectively.

  4. It is commonly believed that wider lanes are a safer design since they give drivers a bit more room to maneuver. But what some new research published in 2015 showed quite clearly was that wider lanes also invite cars to drive faster—erasing whatever safety benefits might be gained by additional space, and actually leading to more dangerous streets.

  5. On average, drivers change lanes every 1.25 miles. While it might seem like the next lane over on the highway is always moving faster, the truth is that’s usually not the case.

  6. Traffic is not caused by the other guy, that jerk in the sports car car cutting people off or the lady constantly tapping on her brakes. It’s everyone’s inability to hold a steady speed and following distance that causes backups.

  7. You actually don’t need to have a lot of cars leave the roads, as many believe, to affect traffic. Traffic is non-linear so if you remove just 1 percent of commuters off the rush-hour road in especially high-traffic corridors, as some work has shown, you can reduce travel times by 18 percent. (Just think about how light traffic is in August even though only some people are on vacation.)

  8. Removing roads won’t necessarily causes nightmarish traffic. Drivers adapt extremely quickly to changes to the road network—a phenomenon that experts refer to as “disappearing traffic.” Some people shift their routes, travel times, or modes when an existing road closes; others simply decide not to make a trip at all. As the authors of one study put it, “predictions of traffic problems are often unnecessarily alarmist.”

  9. Cheap gas isn’t all good, it turns out. It’s bad for all the hidden social costs of driving, which have been estimated at some $3.3 trillion a year. Of that total, at least $1 trillion represents time lost to congestion both at home and at work.

  10. Gas taxes don’t cover the costs of roads, although most believe they do. In its early days, back in the 1960s, this road user fee did handle the vast majority of maintenance expenses. But since that time its powers have steadily eroded, with Americans now paying some of the lowest gas taxes in the world. We now have a significant infrastructure maintenance crisis with little end in sight.

Are we correctly counting transit users?

Undercounting transit

According to this article, we tend to over-count drivers and under-count people who use transit.  They believe that if we correctly counted all who benefit from transit, including residents, government and business … would more easily see the importance and cost-effectiveness of reliable transit options.

As stated in the City Commentary piece, “by far the most common way to measure transit use is “commute mode share,” or the percentage of workers who use transit to get to their job. For the most part, this is a measure of convenience: it’s the most direct way the Census asks about transportation, which means it’s the easiest way to get consistent data from any city or metropolitan area in the country.

“But it also has a lot of problems. For one, the vast majority of trips – about 84% – aren’t simple home-to-work commutes. And it’s not just that people who work also go to the grocery store, restaurants, or friends’ homes. Lots of people don’t work at all, and those people – largely students, the elderly, or people with disabilities – are disproportionately likely to use transit for all or almost all of their trips. Finally, plenty of people who do work might drive three or four days a week and take transit the other one or two. But since the Census only asks about what they do most of the time, they’ll show up as “drivers.” All of these things will tend to undercount a place’s reliance on public transit.”

Read the full article here.


How cars squeeze the middle-class

Transportation Costs Hard on Middle Clas

Will transit make it easier for middle-class people to live their lives?According to this City Lap article, the numbers show that middle-class Americans spend a much higher share of their total household annual expenditures on getting around, compared with the poorest and richest groups.  Walkable, transit-friendly communities can help everyone spend less on commuting, running errands, and seeing friends.

Positive Examples of Smart Growth in Our Neighboring Communities

The White Flint Sector can look to neighboring towns for some strong smart growth examples. According to an article from Grist, Bethesda and Silver Spring have become walkable new urbanist areas in Montgomery County because of their ability to implement smarter development strategies. Many suburbs in Montgomery County “have already been built up in the standard sprawl fashion, and the challenge now is to retrofit them into sustainable communities.” This is why various mass transit options, walkable sidewalks and bike lanes are so important to communities such as ours.

Surface parking lots are one the biggest challenges we have in the White Flint Sector to creating a “sustainable community.” To create our walkable and connected street grid, we must implement smarter growth opportunities to use these spaces more wisely. In addition, it is important to protect open space that already exists from becoming surface parking lots in the future. This is why keeping Wall Park and making it accessible for many types of community events is necessary.

MoCo Not on TIGER Grant List – But, What Is?

Over the course of this year, we’ve told you that Montgomery County has applied for a federal TIGER grant to support Bus Rapid Transit on MD-355 (Rockville Pike).  In a list of awardees announced last week, however, we were not included.

But – I did find the list of winners to be an incredible snapshot of where our country’s transportation infrastructure is headed.  Of the 72 projects that will receive funding, 15 are transit-based (receiving $156M) and 26 are focused on roads (receiving $221).  The rest are planning projects.  But, look at that balance between transit and roads.  This is the future of our country’s infrastructure – balanced!

Another notable item is that over $25M is being awarded to bike and pedestrian infrastructure.  And, guess what, Bus Rapid Transit is taking hold across the nation:

  • Central Omaha, NE:  $14.9M for BRT
  • Richmond, VA: $24.9M for BRT
  • Nevada: $16M for BRT
  • Madison, WI: $300K for BRT
  • Philadelphia, PA: $2.5M for BRT

We’re on the right track (pun intended – BRT doesn’t use tracks!) — let’s keep our infrastructure moving forward before we fall behind Central Omaha, Nebraska!

Getting Out of Your Car Will Lengthen Your Life

There are many reasons we believe that the redevelopment of White Flint is an important step toward a healthier and more sustainable future.  Just one of those is the promise of being able to shorten our commutes.  Whether White Flint residents will live within walking distance to their work or to transit, studies continue to confirm that sitting in our cars during long commutes shortens our lives.  Most recently, Australian researchers determined that, compared to non-drivers:

people who spent two hours (or more) on the road every day were:

  • 78 percent more likely to be obese
  • 86 percent more likely to sleep poorly (less than seven hours)
  • 33 percent more likely to report feeling psychologically distressed
  • 43 percent more likely to say their quality of life was poor

The full article can be found in Shape magazine by clicking here.