Category Archives: transit planning

The Only Thing Changing is the Climate

Bold move by President Obama this week, getting all kind of stabby on greenhouse gas emissions and “carbon”. I will bow to BikeSnobNYC and tell you that “crabon emissions” are what I have on enchilada night…

In a major way, I am not imprressed. Not because the ideas aren’t good, or because they are rehashed, or because they have zero chance of being implemented… but it is that the reason they have zero chance of happening is because the United States is still a wholly owned subsidiary of the petrochemical industry. And don’t you forget it. Setting prices of gasoline, uh, that is their turf. If you want to play that game they will double down on your pathetic carbon tax with $150/bbl crude faster than you can say “gouge me”. The public won’t care who did it, they will pillory the guy who they believe caused gas to top $5/gal. If they wanted that shit they would move to Europe and pay $6/gal, and get healthcare for the troubles.

I’ve probably related this before but here goes: on my first full day in a job dealing with climate and energy policy I joked “fix gasoline at $5 and we can declare victory tomorrow”. And then it happened. Gas hit $5 in almost all major markets in 2007 and the top blew off. SUV sales cratered, economy cars were flying out of showrooms, people were carpooling, public transit saw a ridership spike (even the bad systems)… and you can go check the math with the EIA, gasoline sales and deliveries took a major hit. BUT, that was due to wehat I believe to be massive futures manipulation in energy markets, facilitated by a lenient SEC under the Bush II administration. If there had been a carbon tax driving that pricing you would have the social changes, the consumer changes, and the tax revenue to start building real next-gen infrastructure. Throw in the income tax swap and you would have more money in consumer’s pockets and a nice economic boost in all the other sectors. But instead all we got were record-breaking profits over at Big Oil.

The problem is that every climate scientist, economist, back bencher, tree hugger, knows or should know that carbon tax policy is sound policy. You can swap it against income tax, and it is a win-win. Even nutjob supply-siders on the right nod in agreement. The trick is to make sure you are spending the revenue on leveling the playing field for competing technologies. And doncha know that Daddy Petrobucks hates that shit all day long. It isn’t enough for him to get Billions of USD in free money at the taxpayer expense, and have a captive market, and legalized pice fixing… no, he certainly will not allow sales of his product to fund his competition.

So enjoy the show, but feel free to leave early because… SPOILER AlERT!  The Bad Guy Wins in the End.

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BTWD Wrap

A little late (or a lot) but here we go… BTWD 2013 was a great time with perfect weather and good riding. The plan was on rails: up early, stretch, quick snack, fill water bottle, and roll out of the driveway a little after 5:00am for a meetup with the Commissioner of DEEP, Dan Esty.

A funny thing happened… My dog got sprayed by a skunk at 4:30am! But, being that I am not new to this skunk-related fire drill, I was able to wash him down and get myself cleaned up in 30 minutes, and depart on time. A little smelly, but on-time.

DEEP Commissioner Daniel Esty, DECD Commissioner Catherine Smith, and Bike-wizard Pete Salamone, downtoen Plantsville, CT @ 5:25am

DEEP Commissioner Daniel Esty, DECD Commissioner Catherine Smith, and Bike-wizard Pete Salamone, downtoen Plantsville, CT @ 5:25am

On-Time was the operative phrase for this day. The Commissioners are intent on arriving at the Blue Back Square, West Hartford, CT meetup at a very reasonable 7:15am, if not earlier. Timing a 26 mile ride is easy if you can keep up a good pace. We averaged 14mph over 26 miles, and were among the first to arrive at the meetup. The ride was uneventful, with good camaraderie and cheer, and nothing unexpected. Since I am mostly a solo rider, it was an interesting change of pace to be in a small group. As with other group activities, I was seeing things like road surface, intersections, and auto traffic in a different light. When alone it is easy to get more of a flow, where in a group it is about keeping together while pacing, and still making sure that you aren’t leaving anyone in a bad spot v-v traffic or traffic control.

Sunrise

Sunrise in Farmington, CT

By staying in the Quinnipiac River valley we were able to cut down on the hills, but we also stayed in the shadows until the sun was really up. This photo was taken in Farmington, CT near the Hill-Stead Museum property. A nice cruise down Farmington Avenue, including that sweet downhill section where you want it the most, and we arrived for bigwig schmoozing and I made the epic mistake of wolfing down a garlic bagel. Rookie move… I smelled like an Olive Garden died in my mouth until the next day…

Commissioners Redeker, Smith and Esty with CT State Sen. Beth Bye

Commissioners Redeker, Smith and Esty with CT State Sen. Beth Bye at Blue Back Square, West Hartford, CT

All was going swimmingly until the ride from West Hartford to State House Square, Hartford. This was not the police-guided ride of 2011, or even a normal group ride of experienced cyclists, but apparently a chance to be yelled at by strangers about obeying traffic signals! I am fine with rules of the road, but it was hard to take them seriously when we were confronted by a school bus running a red light at Boulevard and Sisson. Please: ride safe, ride smart, see and be seen, but believe me… anti-bike people will not convert because bike riders stop at every stopsign. Not a popular opinion with my friends at Bike Walk CT, but it is my opinion. Obeying that traffic light would have gotten me under the wheels of a big yellow school bus. At no time did I see the bus driver being shouted at by fellow motorists or scolded by any self-appointed school bus gestapo. But it was early. Who knows.

We had a little meet up at State House Square, saw some familiar faces, compared some ride notes, took a few photos and then started to make tracks back to our respective jobs… The  morning was wrapping up nicely, and then… on the ride back to the office, THIS happened:

Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra (if you don't believe me, read his embroidered bike jacket)

Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra (if you don’t believe me, read his embroidered bike jacket)

We were joined by current Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra as we waited for a chance to cross the road. He rode with us across Main Street and down Pearl, toward Trumbull, until realizing that we were not going anywhere near City Hall, and promptly split off on his own. And we were trying so hard to be nice, and not make any caviar jokes (Hartford news thing). But we had been joined by Mr. Mayor and it was a nice sight. However it happens, it is good to see civic leaders out on the streets and not just being limo’d around town. Enough of that kind of activity and maybe they can see how vulnerable bicyclists and pedestrians are in their cities.

I made the ride home after work, tweaking my route to attempt to avoid some bad roads and intersections, but it still needs work. Downtown Newington (Main and Cedar) is a very bad place to be on a bike at any time. More so in the drive-time afternoon. As referenced in my previous post, Newington is a bad place to ride a bike, and it will get worse before it gets better because users of the CT Fastrak bike path will be riding to and from Newington Station on these same unimproved road shoulders with no safe way to get to their destination. But I digress (or was this post a digression from grouching about bad roads for bikes?)

All in all, a successful Bike To Work Day 2013, and a great way to kick off the fair-weather bike commuting season!

Bike To Work Day 2013 – Preamble

First off, if you want to see the 15 minute version of Mikael Colville-Andersen’s conceptual focus on Transit Planing and urbanization, Click Here . I highly recommend it.

Friday May 17 is this year’s Bike to Work Day, and my plan is to participate. I ride in to my job about twice a month, and I would like to ramp that up to once a week. It is a 18 mile ride, each way, if I take the most direct route. All of it is on surface streets with no bike lane or other bike/ped facilities. Because of that I have to be up for an early morning departure, and a 40 mile day on the bike, with a work day sandwiched into the middle.

But BTWD is more like Opening Day for fishing season. Even the people who won’t be out on the water at any other time will make it out for the Big Day.

Just like in 2011, my plan is to participate in DEEP Commissioner Daniel Esty’s ride from Cheshire to Hartford (about 30 miles, one way). Notice that the distances I am talking about are very different from the target audience for many bicycle advocacy campaigns: people who live within 5 miles of their workplace. In a region with normal urbanization that might be a healthy sampling. In Hartford it is the land of the 30-60 minute car commute. That is 15-30+ miles of roadway, much of it interstate highways. So those people (like me) have a double whammy of swapping a relatively fast and sedentary car commute for a long and sweaty 90 minute grind on the bike. The immediate options are along the lines of move closer to the workplace, or find a new job closer to your home.

Those options are based on minimal if any change in the current situation. You don’t need special lanes or traffic control or traffic calming… you just need to have a commute that doesn’t feel like you are training for an ironman competition. But where someone like Colville-Andersen comes in is completely about the future, and looking to the past as a codex for projecting how the future can be better than today. I have been following bicycle advocacy and its related branches for over a decade, and I have started to realize that I become most aggrivated/critical when I forget to view things through my preferred lens of futurism, and get dragged into the muddy waters of the status quo.

I have bloviated about the CT Fastrak project a few times and am regularly depressed regarding the way its mediocrity is its defining feature. Half of it, and not the useful half, includes bike/pedestrian lane. It crosses within a kilometer of a university campus (CCSU, my alma mater), but does not include a stop for university students/staff. It is considered a boondoggle driven by federal transt infrastructure funding, as opposed to solving an actual public need. And while it will meet/create a transit need, the lack of a distinct focus means that the peoject is easy picking for detractors.

My futurist mind sees a Fastrak system that links downtown New Britain to CCSU, and CCSU to downtown Hartford. That makes the city accessible to both univeristy people and New Britain people, without forcing them to deal with the cost of cars and parking. It makes the university accessible to the people of Hartford. There is a planned East Street station, over half a mile on foot from the CCSU Student Center. That sounds close, but it is a slog, and currently you would be walking on a combination of busy two-lane and off-campus housing streets. Is that the kind of decision you make when accomodating people, or accomodating cars? Maybe the university starts a shuttle service, but with the State University system taking cuts to essential services in each budget, I don’t see a lot of spare change around to run a shuttle service.

I’ll have a nice blog post with photos of BTWD 2013, but my feeling is that it will be a long time and many more BTWDs before the landscape supports alternatives to automobile commuting in any substantial way.

New Britain-Hartford Busway pt2

 

[this was composed in October 2011, and I pulled it out of the “draft” folder to kick off what I hope will be a short run of similar posts]

A 300-foot wide mountain range in Connecticut

There is a huge physical and social divide that runs through Hartford’s southwest and continues through to New Haven.  It may as well be a mountain range, or a continental-scale river.  It is a railway thoughfare.  Parts of it are home to an infrequent Amtrak run, and parts of it are completely unused. One thing that becomes obvious upon even a casual browse of the area with a tool like Google Earth is that there are very few road crossings.  Maybe that is normal… bridging a railbed costs money.  But take to the streets, preferably on foot or by bicycle, and you find another layer to the problem.  Most of the cross streets are designed to move only cars.  Cedar Street, between New Britain and  Newington, is a deathwish trip for the cyclist or pedestrian.  large stretches of it have no sidewalks, and the shoulder lines are painted right against the curbing.  What should be a conduit for all types of transit was built to serve only one: the automobile.  New Britain Ave (174), same deal…  South Street in Berlin, same deal…

Other unused railways in the region, not the least of which is the Farmington Canal Line, have been retooled as greenways, providing a route for non-motorized transit.  The railway right-of-way that is in play for the New Britain – Hartford busway could easily be a candidate for the same treatment.  It could actually be argued that suburban greenways are redundant, and urban and fringe-urban areas benefit more from these transit projects.  But that is moot since the current plan is to put a rubber tire busway on the railbed and prevent non-motorized transit from accessing it.

My perspective on this situation was heightened when I sketched out a bike-to-work route through New Britain, through Newington, and into Hartford.  The streets are very familiar to me, but not linked into a contiguous bike route.  The ride into New Britain was a doddle… pretty much a short leg of my usual recreational bike loop.  Crossing east through New Britain on Monroe and Ellis Streets was equally a piece of cake.  Watch out for sleepy car commuters backing out of driveways, no problemo.  Now bang a left onto East Street… as a former resident of the Arch/Monroe area this was not foreign territory, but it was not exactly bike-friendly.  Basically a “take the lane and be seen” stretch of road.  Not dicey, but not relaxing by any means.  Crossing in back of my old alma-mater CCSU is equally not anything new, but there is less shoulder and more traffic with each passing mile.  Cedar Street is where the fun starts… Now, I could have crossed into Newington on South Street or Newington/New Britain Ave (174), which aren’t any easier.  They also put me in the feeder streets for the Berlin Turnpike, so more traffic and still no bike lanes.

What I found was a host of bad choices, each of which led to a different kind of not-so-great scenario.  I took the direttissima and dealt with running the gauntlet on Cedar Street.  At 6:30am in the summer it is not so bad… good weather, high viz clothing and a blinky light help with being seen.  But still, Cedar street exists to allow the maximum number of automobiles to cross the railway at very high average speeds.  Eastbound is relatively easy compared with the nonstop retail/convenience traffic on the westbound side.

Speaking of Google Earth, you can draw some very interesting casual conclusions about the railway from some high-res sat images.  You see a mix of residential and light industrial development.  The railway forms a “backyard” for both types of development.  In this case NIMBY really means MBY…

New Britain-Hartford Busway pt1

Dumb All Over

The Connecticut DOT has been planning a busway from New Britain to Hartford, and is supposedly in the “home stretch”.  In ConnDOT-terms that means that sometime in the next decade you might move from hearings to the bid process.  Glacial Progress is the order of the day. It would seem that taking an underused railway bed and returning it use as an active transportation corridor would be a win-win project.  Look around the region, if not the world, and you see evidence that transit projects create economic hubs, jobs, and opportunities.  The T System in Boston, MA is a major economic corridor.  Home prices near T-Stops are higher than those elsewhere.  Retail and service business can leverage transit traffic for everything from convenience stores, gallery malls, and even the ubiquitous taxi services.

As simple as it would seem to explain the benefits of transit infrastructure investment to the communities that would be hosting that investment, this busway is becoming a layer-cake of what is wrong with transit planning in America:

  • Planning by an agency that is hostile to mass transit
  • Opposition by politicians who are hostile to intelligent discussion
  • Lack of Vision by citizens who can’t leverage an opportunity
  • Resistance by communities who fear change

That’s not a complete list, but you get the picture.  This busway project is not dependent on some kind of Jetsons-like unproven technology.  The technology is off-the-shelf old-school stuff.  The money is available through a routine bonding process.  The roadblocks to this busway will not be technological or financial, they will be social.  The host communities have been built “facing away” from the railway corridor (the busway uses an existing railway… more on that in pt2), in both the physical and societal sense, and those communities are now being asked to accept a new use of that space.  Residential and commercial development has occurred, centered on the automobile and the roads that accommodate the automobile, at the same time that rail use on the railway has declined.  This creates a form of NIMBY in the host communities, instead of a PIMBY (Please, In My Back Yard) reaction that could have resulted from a positive approach to leveraging infrastructure investment.

The DOT has taken their typical “lowest common denominator” knuckledragger approach to solve a problem with the only hammer they have ever known: rubber tires on blacktop.  Conventional buses on a closed roadway is about the least effective form of mass transit possible, and (in my opinion) the least best use for this transit corridor.  The DOT is doing nothing less than replacing one single-mode system (cars on surface streets) with another single-mode system.  The busway plan has no bike lanes, no pedestrian facilities, and no set-aside for future expansion/retooling to light rail.  You could possibly see a move to a “guided busway” in the distant future, which is akin to lipstick on a pig.

Next Up: a 300 foot wide mountain range in Connecticut