Thursday, June 24, 2010

Some comments on the WAMPO MTP 2035 list

As I posted last week, WAMPO has arrived at a final list of transportation projects eligible for federal funds from 2010-2035. Here is that list (bike/pedestrian projects lead it off); and here is a map showing the locations of the projects.

First, a quick reminder of what WAMPO does, because that will have a bearing on some of the comments that follow. The Wichita Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is comprised of municipality and county officials, as well as other groups of various sorts who are interested in/affected by transportation and its infrastructure. WAMPO looks at proposals for transportation projects from Sedgwick County and the municipalities therein, plus Andover, and through a combination of consultations of federal funding priorities and guidelines, public meetings in the area and surveys of citizens, it determines which of those projects a) are eligible for federal funds and b) have broad-based support for their funding. (If you're truly obsessed about this sort of thing, you won't want to miss these long posts on WAMPO meetings back in January, here and here.)

NB: Just because projects made the final list does not guarantee that they will be built. Municipalities and the county will build these, or not, based on interest the public shows in them. The NW By-pass, for example, has appeared in several of these project lists but has yet to be built. WAMPO's next public meeting will be Monday, June 28 (here is the agenda); the official acceptance of the project list will be in July; what lies ahead now will be WAMPO's functioning in an advisory capacity from here until 2035 and, in a few years, beginning work on the new master plan for the area.

So. What do we have in the MTP 2035? Well: from the standpoint of cycling/walking infrastructure a mixed bag to be sure, but one that is beginning to reflect a positive shift in prioritizing bike/ped facilities. Some of that shift is due to the change of administration in Washington, but some is due to local attitudinal shifts among the public and in several municipalities in the area. Also, as I've noted in a couple of older posts on WAMPO, it officially is a neutral arbitrator regarding a project's eligibility for funds, but because it also compiles the various lists of projects from which the final one is drawn up, it too can determine, in a passive-aggressive way, those projects that would have greater value in reducing traffic (and thus pollution). As just one example, in the middle stage of the selection process for these projects, there were four lists prioritizing a different traffic consideration, such as bridge repair, reducing congestion, etc. Each of those four lists contained all the eligible bike/ped projects and funding to allow Wichita Transit to expand bus service in the area. Also, a little reading between the lines of this overview document--in particular p. 4, which addresses land use and environmental issues--suggests (to me, anyway), that WAMPO would like to see municipalities address the issue of sprawl. Thoughtful land use, such as high-density, mixed-use development, makes for easier decision-making when it comes to transportation infrastructure. In short, in this MTP are some quiet but clear suggestions to the Powers That Be regarding future planning.

All that said, one could still wish that more (and/or other) bike/ped projects had been proposed besides the ones here. The primary objective with the bike/ped projects is to create some connectivity among already-existing paths to make them more useful as genuine travel routes for cyclists. Thus, on the list there's the path that will connect the southern terminus of the Arkansas River path with the Gypsum Creek path's Planeview Park terminus, and the path that will run from McAdams Park (the north end of the Canal path) to Grove Park (the north end of the K-96 path). Both these paths should encourage bike-commuting from outlying areas on the east side of town into the downtown area. There's also the conversion of the abandoned railroad right-of-way from the 8th/9th street and I-135 exit to 17th and Oliver, a much-needed in-town east-west route which should also encourage bike-commuting into the urban core. These are all important projects, and we should be glad that they are there. But, once again, the west side of Wichita (by which I mean everything west of downtown) will see no bike/ped projects; nor is there one east-west route that is anything like the length of the Canal path and the Ark River path. The first omission remains a mystery to me; the second would easily (and cheaply) be remedied by a simple re-striping of a street like Douglas. Re-striping, though, is not yet eligible for federal funding, as I found out at a WAMPO meeting back in January. That sort of thing is for the city to decide--and for us to encourage the city to decide it. Something else to keep an eye on: a total of almost $10.4 million not earmarked for any one project but to be used for bike/ped projects over the course of the 25 years covered by this MTP. That kind of money can build lots of bike paths . . . or, if Complete Streets legislation passes Congress, re-design and/or re-stripe a lot of streets.

I should note that in addition to the stand-alone bike/ped projects, several of the road and bridge projects also incorporate bike/ped-friendly improvements. These will be mostly unsexy things like new sidewalks and pedestrian crossings at intersections. Still, anything that can contribute to lowering our disproportionate share of Kansas' bike/ped fatalities is more than welcome. It's also very gratifying to see funds for expansion of Wichita Transit into a grid-route system with commuter routes to outlying towns.

So, in short, MTP 2035 doesn't do everything we should want to see a diversified transportation plan do; on the other hand, though, if we squint at it in the right way, it serves as a template for where we should want to go. But infrastructure is in its essence reactive rather than proactive: it goes where the people are and reflects their priorities regarding land use and their preferred means of getting around. The government entities WAMPO serves are the ones who can be--who should be--proactive.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Alternate transportation makes good financial sense, too

Bundle's map showing the gasoline and maintenance expenditures for the largest U.S. metro areas. Click to enlarge.

Via Andrew Sullivan this morning comes an article in Bundle titled "Our car addiction," which notes and tries to account for state-to-state variations in household spending on gasoline and maintenance. The specifics of the data are new, but the larger conclusions we can draw from them will be familiar to anyone likely to be visiting a cycling blog. Still, there's nothing wrong with a little reinforcement.

Some excerpts:
The average American spends 72 minutes per day in transit. Most of that time, we're driving: to and from work, school, the grocery store, the movie theater. Every year, that's more than 290 hours of drive-time radio, talking back to the GPS and wondering why, for the millionth time, people think it's okay to drive 60 in the left lane. It's a lot of time.

It's also a lot of money. The average household spent $5,477 on gas and auto expenses last year, according to Bundle data, an amount which accounts for about 14.5 percent of daily spending. [This data does not include spending on food and rent/mortgage.] That's more than we spend on groceries or utilities, and more than we spend on travel, entertainment, clothes and shoes, and hobbies — combined.


The good news is, how you get to work — and with whom — is something we can control, much more than we can control the price of gas, the traffic, the weather, or even the length of our commute. For most people, there's very little that's truly "discretionary" about gas and car maintenance. But this — adding a passenger to your commute or hitting the park-and-ride — is a much easier, cheaper change than, say, buying a more fuel efficient car, or moving closer to work.

This isn't an environmental argument. (That's for a different site.) It's a financial one — and one that makes intuitive sense. Most people use their cars primarily for commuting; if you can split those costs with another person, you can spend half as much. That could add up to several hundred dollars of savings a year. To which I say, "Going my way?"
What else to say? As the penultimate paragraph makes clear, the stereotypical single-driver commute all the way from home to work and back again is a financial luxury that, with a little thought, we can cut back on here and there and, in so doing, save some money and, maybe, improve our quality of life in the bargain. The elegance of such an argument is that it cuts across obvious political and philosophical divides and appeals to our financial self-interests. It just so happens that acting on one's self-interest, in this fairly rare instance, also indirectly benefits one's fellow citizens--even those who don't change their driving habits.

Here in Wichita, home of one of the shortest average commute times in the country, it's historically been hard to encourage people to consider these arguments. However, as gas prices slowly increase, as bus service is expanded to serve the nearby outlying communities and bike paths are built that makes the current system more practical for bike-commuters, driving less becomes an easier choice to make for more of us.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Not-so-fun fact from the WAMPO MTP 2035 project list report

I'm out of town this weekend and will have more on the WAMPO report next week, but here's something to contemplate in the meantime:

According to the section in the draft on bicycles and pedestrians, the area under WAMPO's administration has 15% of Kansas' population but accounts for 25% of bike and pedestrian fatalities in the state.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Family Bike Day!

[Now corrected to reflect the correct date.]

Here's an indication of just how "away" I have been from this blog:

I found out only today via the Wichita Bicycle Collective about last week's first annual Mayor's Family Bike Day. I hope it went well.

I am very very happy to learn that events like this are being scheduled. This gathering, along with such events as I Bike Douglas and other organized rides last month in recognition of National Bike Month, an emerging group of people interested in promoting riding, support on the City Council for cycling and pedestrians, and policy decisions in Washington that will give higher priority in funding to alternate and public transportation, cannot but help Wichita become a little more bike-friendly . . . and healthier, and greener, and safer.

A couple of links

Let's just ease back into this, shall we?

WAMPO is seeking public comment on its draft of the the Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP) 2035 through June 18. Go here to have a look and offer your opinions; I'll have a post here soon that will comment on what's there.

The Kansas Online Transportation Community (KTOC) now has a blog dedicated to bike/ped issues in Kansas called Active transportation. Becky Pepper, KDOT's Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator, is its author. It's brand-new; its first post is a reminder about the importance of wearing a helmet when cycling. In the accompanying e-mail, it's billed as being devoted to "all things related to bicycle and pedestrian transportation in Kansas and beyond." "All things" is a lot of territory; my hope is that it really will include discussions of infrastructure and long-term planning at the state level for cyclists and pedestrians. Even if this is a token gesture on the part of the state, well, I can't think of any truly transformative movement that didn't include token gestures at the governmental level.

My colleague Paula has started a blog called Love Local Food in Wichita, Kansas, whose title kinda gives away its subject. Paula provides tips and leads not just on sources for food grown locally (to those who write her, she'll e-mail a list of local-food folks) but, even, advice on potential, unexpected wild foods (her current post is a brief reminder about the potential pleasures and real risks of wild mushrooms). Even better: Paula is a formally-trained dietitian, and her husband Chris is a trained chef.

Both her knowledge and enthusiasm for her subject are palpable in her posts. If your interests lie in her direction, I hope you'll head on over there.

EDIT: I've just learned that we now have a cycle-chic blog, ICT Cycle Chic, written by Matthew. As those of you who have followed this blog know--those of you still around, that is--the Cycle Chic movement is something I've enthusiastically promoted for some time now, up to and including some wondering-out-loud posts about a Cycle Chic movement here. Well. It's here--or its blog is, at least.

Yes--it's my intention to get this thing going again. I have some catching up to do re this blog's subject, so a more substantive post is still forthcoming. But I'm happy to be able to say that here for the first time in a long time and not have it feel like a false promise.

See you soon.