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6 Principles to Make Self-Driving Cars Work for Cities, Not Against Them

Self-driving cars are coming, and maybe sooner than we think. But the question of how they will shape cities is still wide open. Could they lead to less traffic and parking as people stop owning cars and start sharing them? More sprawl as car travel becomes less of a hassle? More freedom to walk and bike on city streets, or less?

How will self-driving cars impact cities? Hopefully federal regulators won't ignore this question. Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

The answers depend in no small part on how federal and local policy makers respond to the new technologies. The National Association of City Transportation Officials wants to get out ahead of these changes with a statement of policy recommendations to guide the deployment of autonomous cars in cities [PDF].

Here is what NACTO proposes.

1. Cars should be fully autonomous, not partly

If cars have some automated features but still require human drivers to occasionally take control, safety could suffer. NACTO cites research that shows semi-automated vehicles actually increase driver distraction, lulling motorists into thinking they can pay less attention to the road. But fully automated vehicles should be able to achieve much better safety outcomes than human drivers.

2. Maximum speeds on city streets should not exceed 25 miles per hour

Self-driving cars should be programmed not to exceed 25 mph in urban areas. Controlling speed is one way self-driving cars could yield enormous safety benefits. But it will require regulators — with support from the public — to insist on putting safety above speed, which, historically, America has failed to do.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Deadly Police Chase Started Because a Man Was Urinating in Public (Houston Chron)
  • DART Has a Page Up With Everything It Wants You to Know About the Proposed D2 Project
  • Austin Council Sends $720M Mobility Bond Prioritizing Corridors to Staff at 1:37 AM (KXAN)
  • …Asks for $15 Million Dedicated to Priorities of Vision Zero Action Plan (City of Austin)
  • …Suburban Council Members Allocate Half of Sidewalk Funding Based on District, Not Need (Ben Wear)
  • While TXDOT Spending $4.3B Mostly to Encourage Sprawl, Driving on I-35 (Community Impact)
  • Work to Fix Austin’s Five Most Dangerous Intersections Should Be Finished This Year (KEYE)
  • Somebody Was Killed in a Crash at This Neighborhood Intersection in El Paso Last Night (KVIA)
  • City of Pflugerville Ending 16-Year Transit Drought (Statesman)
  • Commentary: Eastside’s Cherry Street a Case Study for Shift to Walkability (Rivard)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

Streetsblog USA

4 Ways Road Builders Game the Numbers to Justify Highways

The people who make the case for highways often present themselves as unbiased technicians, simply providing evidence to an audience subject to irrational bias.

Greenville's Southern Connector, a PPP toll road, was predicted to attract 21,000 vehicles per day. It attracted less than 9,000. Map via Toll Road News

Forecasts said motorists would make 21,000 trips per day on Greenville’s Southern Connector, a public-private toll road. In real life they made fewer than 9,000. Map via Toll Road News

But traffic forecasting is not a neutral, dispassionate exercise. It is subject to all sorts of incentives, beliefs, and assumptions that can skew the results in a particular direction.

Intentionally or not, forecasters frequently exaggerate predicted traffic volumes to make the case for building toll roads, according to industry consultant Robert Bain [PDF]. Bain has catalogued 21 ways in which forecasters manipulate data to make toll road financing look attractive [PDF]. Gaming numbers isn’t limited to toll roads — DOTs do it for taxpayer-funded projects too.

Here are a few tricks Bain says forecasters use on private projects to make highways seem like a good bet to investors:

1. Pick a time frame that suits you

Maybe looking at the last 10 years of traffic doesn’t make that great a case for widening a highway. Why not just pick a different time frame?

To justify its $850 million I-94 expansion project, Wisconsin DOT used traffic data from 1999 through 2010, leaving out two years. But traffic was flat on the road between 2009 and 2012, according to a Wisconsin PIRG analysis, which has pointed out the agency is a notoriously overoptimistic forecaster [PDF].

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Today’s Headlines

  • Presentations Now Available From TTI Texas Safety Conference
  • Membership of TX Traffic Safety Task Force Revealed in TTC Comm Moseley’s Presentation
  • …Which Proposes That TXDOT Goal Is to Reduce 3,533 Deaths to Zero in 10 Years (10% Every Year)
  • FHWA Vision Zero Presentation Shows Houston as “Considering Vision Zero” (pdf)
  • Austin & San Antonio Vision Zero Presentations
  • How Will Amtrak Be Involved With Texas Central Private HSR? (Peter J LeCody)
  • Renovating Old Urbanism in San Antonio’s Growing Downtown Tech District (Rivard)
  • Dallas City Council Gets Contentious Over Proposal for a Park Capping Part of I-35E (Morning News)
  • TXDOT Trying to Extend the “Controversial” 249 Toll Road All the Way to Navasota (KWBC)
  • CM Garza Forum Post: Of Course Austin Should Invest in Sidewalks, Safety, & Multimodal Access Now

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Today’s Headlines

  • You Can Tell Austin’s Capital Metro That You Want More Frequent Service
  • Pedestrian Pete Calls for Prioritizing Walkability in Low Car-Ownership Areas (Free Press Houston)
  • In Good Cities, “Traffic Congestion Is Entirely Irrelevant to the Daily Lives of Most People” (Chron)
  • Austin Loses Smart City Challenge to Columbus, Ohio (KVUE)
  • Casar and Get Austin Moving Drop Alternate Plan, Support Improved Mayor Adler Bond (Monitor)
  • Texas State Rep Byron Cook Fights the Future of HSR With Present Tense Grammar (Morning News)
  • Circuit Trail Conservancy Seeks $20M Bond of $56M Need for Dallas Hike Bike Loop (Morning News)
  • Ten Most Instagrammed Houston Restaurants Have 58% Higher Walkscore Than Average (Jay Crossley)
  • San Antonio’s Alamo Area MPO Hiring an Active Transportation Planner
  • City of Austin Has Started Busting the Anarchists of TNC, Arcade City (KVUE)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

via The Urban Edge

How Houston Stacks Up On Transit Equity

The Center for Neighborhood Technology's AllTransit database overlays transportation network data with key social and economic indicators. As cities strive to understand how transit connects to health, economic opportunity and equity, they now have a new tool to help analyze the mass of data available. The Center for Neighborhood Technology and TransitCenter’s AllTransit interactive database is “the largest source of transit connectivity, access and frequency data in America,” according to the site. By overlaying the data from 805 of the largest transit agencies in the country with information about jobs, demographics, even farmer’s market locations, the database offers a wealth of information about how transit serves the community. Among its metrics is the “AllTransit Performance Score,” an index based on transit connectivity, access to jobs and frequency of service. Cities like New York, San Francisco and Boston, unsurprisingly, score well on the index. How about Houston? Of the 73 U.S. cities with populations greater than 250,000, Houston sits in the middle of the pack with a rank of 34. That’s just behind Dallas (ranked 31), and behind other Sun Belt cities such as Miami (11), Los Angeles (20), Atlanta (25) and New Orleans (29). Read more...
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Today’s Headlines

  • Austin Council Member Don Zimmerman Sues to Overturn Ride Hailing Prop 1 Vote (Court Filing)
  • Houston Bike Plan Should Get Vote in August, With Ordinances Added to Strengthen It (News88.7)
  • Corpus Christi Victim Embraces and Forgives Hit-and-Run Driver at Sentencing (Corpus Christi Caller)
  • Austin City Manager Might Have Another Job Before Transportation Bond Gets a Vote (KUT)
  • From TTI Impaired Driving Forum: 81% of Dead DUI Drivers Are Male, 54% White (Presentation)
  • Editorial Opposes Capping I-35 and Reconnecting Eastside, Because Gentrification (Statesman)
  • Go to the San Antonio Build Your Own Bond Event on June 30 & Build Safe, Multimodal (Rivard)
  • Map of Pedestrian Fatalities in San Antonio 2013 – 2015 (Vision Zero San Antonio)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

via The Urban Edge

With Bus Rapid Transit, El Paso Takes Steps Toward New Vision

Introducing bus rapid transit was one of the first major steps toward implementing the ambitious Plan El Paso. Courtesy Sun Metro.

Introducing bus rapid transit was one of the first major steps toward implementing the ambitious Plan El Paso. Courtesy Sun Metro

Picture this: a booming city at the crossroads of five major railroads, a hub of international business, with parks and streetcar suburbs all at the busiest port of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border.

That was El Paso in 1925. And, in some ways, it’s the concept the city of 650,000 is trying to revisit today.

The border city is working towards implementing a set of ambitious projects it adopted in a 2012 mater plan that addresses improved walkability, bi-national connectivity, historic preservation, tourism and better air quality, among other topics. Connecting many of those priorities is a system of four planned bus rapid transit lines that El Paso hopes will be part of its effort to transform the border metropolis into a more urban destination. Getting it all right will be critical to realizing the dreams that El Paso leaders have for their vision of a new kind of city.

El Paso launched its first bus rapid transit route in late 2014, with plans for three more in the works. Now, a streetcar is also under construction, with a three-phase plan that could eventually send the line across the border to connect El Paso and Ciudad Juárez in Mexico. The 2012 plan also includes the possibilities of light-rail, commuter rail and intercity rail projects, all of which would be part of transforming the city.

Contested history

To create a vision of the future, the city looked to older plans. Embracing the City Beautiful movement, its 1925 plan is credited with creating “showpiece public parks.” Today, city leaders want to build on that concept. “What the 1925 plan did for the design, functionality and inclusiveness of the City’s parks, Plan El Paso seeks to achieve for streets, those other great shared spaces of city life,” reads the report.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Austin Council Adopts New Sidewalk Plan (Community Impact)
  • … Fort Worth Only Other Big 10 Texas City With Ped or Sidewalk Plan
  • El Paso County Commissioners Don’t Understand Induced Demand From Road Building (KVIA)
  • Will the Texas Dept of Insurance Safety Summit (Aug 8-10 in Austin) Include Vision Zero?
  • Houston Metro Hiring an Urban Designer (Metro)
  • Patton Village Police Officer Dies in T-Bone Crash During Police Chase (Click2Houston)
  • Two Adults Killed, Children Critically Injured in Head-On Crash Off Grand Parkway (KHOU)
  • Man Killed In Traffic Trying to Walk Away From Vehicle After Late Night Crash on I-20 (Morning News)
  • Middle Age Man Kills Self Crashing Into Telephone Pole in San Antonio (KSAT)
  • Michelle Davis, 21-Year-Old Drunk Driver, Kills 21-Year-Old Eunice Chavez (Morning News)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

Streetsblog USA

Anthony Foxx to Local Officials: Transport Policy Should Tackle Segregation

Local transportation officials should actively work to reduce segregation and promote equal access to quality schools, three Cabinet members say in a “dear colleague” letter released last week [PDF].

Are good schools accessible by transit, or foot and bike safely? Federal officials say transportation officials have a role to play in improving equality. Image: Streetfilms

Are good schools accessible by walking, biking, and transit? Cabinet members say they should be. Image: Streetfilms

The message from Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, HUD Secretary Julián Castro, and Education Secretary John King urges transportation, housing, and education officials at all levels of government to work together to ensure that people aren’t excluded from economic and educational opportunities.

The call to action builds on HUD’s 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which requires local governments that receive federal housing funds to analyze segregation patterns and develop plans to reduce it.

“We recognize that a growing body of research supports the benefits of socioeconomic and racial diversity in schools and communities, and that such diversity can help establish access points for opportunity and mobility,” Foxx, Castro, and King wrote. “We also recognize that children raised in concentrated poverty or in communities segregated by socioeconomic status or race or ethnicity have significantly lower social and economic mobility than those growing up in integrated communities.”

In the transportation sphere, the letter recommends a few steps to take. To paraphrase:

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