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.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Checking in; Bike Fort Worth

Apologies for not having posted in a while. School has gotten busy for me and will be for a few days more yet.

In the meantime, though, have a look, if you haven't already, at Bike Fort Worth, the (truly) comprehensive bike plan the city passed this past week. As you'll see, the city is not investing only in infrastructure but also in cyclist and motorist education, too. Here's an excerpt from Fort Worthology's overview of it:
Bike Fort Worth is a radical shift in transportation planning here in Fort Worth. Our current bike transportation network is a paltry 100 miles, most of which is off-street recreational trails and the rest being a handful of sharrow routes and a scant 6.4 miles of dedicated bike lanes. Bike Fort Worth will massively increase our bike network to nearly 1,000 miles - 224.7 miles of off-street trails, with the majority of the network shifting to on-street: 1.4 miles of bus & bike-only lanes in downtown, 218.3 miles of sharrow routes, and a huge 480.3 miles of dedicated bike lanes. The plan also calls for radical increases in the amount and quality of bike parking, minimum bike parking requirements in zoning, establishment of bike commuter facilities at transit hubs to tie into our bus, commuter rail, and planned modern streetcar systems, education programs for cyclists and drivers, new traffic ordinances to (among other things) require drivers to yield to bikes and to give at least 3 feet of clearance when passing, establishment of a city bike fleet for city staff use instead of cars in the urban core, establishment of bike counts, and much more. The plan calls for innovative solutions like Bicycle Boulevards, bike boxes, contra-flow lanes, physically separated cycle tracks, colored bike lanes, bike-only traffic signals, and more. The plan aims to triple or more bike commuting in Fort Worth by 2020, double or more the amount of all bike trips, reduce crashes by at least ten percent, and attain a Bicycle Friendly rating from the League of American Bicyclists (Austin is currently the only city in Texas with such a designation).
All this is estimated to cost around $158 million over the next ten years. It's clear to me, though, that Fort Worth has gone all in on this bike-friendly thing; it'll be more than a little interesting to see how other cities in the region respond to this.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Northern Flyer Alliance in the news

This morning on KMUW, there's a nice interview with Deborah Fischer Stout and Evan Stair of the Northern Flyer Alliance about recent developments in the Alliance's efforts to bring passenger rail service to Wichita and south central Kansas. Each speaks in particular about pending legislation in the Kansas legislature that will put up funding for upgrading already-existing rail lines that, once approved, could lead to passenger service here as soon as three years from now.

Go and listen.

Wichita's not-so-visible cyclists--beginning the conversation

[UPDATE: Welcome to folks visiting here from Biking in L.A. I hope you'll not be too disappointed that you found your way here.]

This picture is from a neighborhood in Queens, New York, but such a scene is not at all uncommon north of downtown in Wichita, either. Image found here.

One of the hardest jobs cycle-advocacy people have ahead of them in most places, but especially in a city like Wichita, is to re-frame the case for on-street, in-town cycling infrastructure so that can be seen as filling a genuine need. That need, moreover, is best described as "economic," and in exactly the same sense that many road projects are described as filling economic needs: shorter/safer travel times. That re-framing needs to happen not just for non-cyclists, who tend to think of cycling primarily in recreational terms, but also for themselves, for whom cycling is a choice and not a necessity that circumstance has forced on them.

Streetsblog recently had an article that serves as a good place to begin that re-framing. The writer, Sarah Goodyear, uses a post from the North Carolina blog Honking in Traffic as its starting point; the following passage comes from that blog:
The Latino immigrant bike commuting out of necessity is a rare sight out on the country roads. But it’s not so rare in cities and towns across this country. According to the Alliance for Biking & Walking report [which I made reference to yesterday], while Hispanics now make up 15 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 22 percent of total bike trips. If this data is accurate, then that population is overrepresented among bicyclists, while perhaps underrepresented in the popular media image of who bicyclists are[.]
I don't claim any special righteousness on this matter; it is true, though, that the daily sight of working-class and street people on bicycles in the neighborhoods immediately north of downtown was what initially moved me to consider cycling as a regular mode of transportation. It's for these folks' reasons as well that I've applauded the Midtown Bike Path as providing the very practical services of a safe route to school for kids in the neighborhood and a safe, off-street commute route into the urban core.

But more can and should be done along these lines. With regard to NOMAR and the revitalization of 21st Street, for example, unless I've just not seen it, I've seen nothing in those plans that accommodates cyclists, and nothing that serves further to link that part of town with the urban core (the midtown path, after all, is over on the northwest side of downtown). Yet, doing so, via a couple of well-chosen re-striping projects running north-south, would be a practical--and inexpensive--no-brainer. The current bike projects emphasize connectivity between already-existing bike infrastructure, and those are of course important. But equally--more, I would claim--important is the providing of space for safe, on-street cycling in those parts of town where people ride not for fun but out of need and where riding on poorly-maintained sidewalks is hazardous. I hope to encourage a dialogue among those who may be reading this who live north of downtown and those of us not part of this underserved neighborhood, that together we can re-frame cycling's image to include its serving a practical economic need for a large number of fellow citizens.

A couple of weeks ago, I noted Councilman Paul Gray's dismissive attitude toward the needs of cyclists--in particular, his statement that he didn't know anyone who biked to work. I said by way of response that "there are lots of people you don't know--and many of them would ride bikes to work if the city would spend a few tens of thousands of dollars and re-stripe a few streets." I'd like to amend that statement a bit: There are lots of people who already do bike to work--and, if you'd literally just look out your office window or the doors of City Hall, you'd see them. Every. Single. Day.

Maybe you should meet some of them.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Should we negotiate with the automobile? Or would that be appeasement?

Via the weekly WAMPO update comes a link to a recent study that I had seen a couple of weeks ago and had wanted to link to and then, as I am wont to do, forgot about it. Now that it's appeared again, I'd like to link to it and make a connection between it and the recent story in the Eagle that I mentioned in Sunday's post.

The Alliance for Biking and Walking has just completed a benchmarking report (the Quick Facts Sheet is here) that shows that, nationwide, 9.6% of all trips in this country are made either on foot or by bike (those numbers are of course higher in urban areas), yet transportation funding for bike/ped infrastructure accounts for only 1.2% of federal funding--and it may just be that that funding disparity partly explains why cyclists and pedestrians account for 13.1% of all traffic fatalities in the U.S. The fact that WAMPO sees fit to forward this along is, I think, further confirmation that it sees such things as important and seeks to encourage the area's municipalities to give some thought to these issues.

Randal O'Toole's recent visit to town and critique of Wichita's apparent direction in favor of making downtown more walkable is worth taking another look at, especially his comment that (quoting from the article here) "'pedestrian-friendly' development — a cornerstone of Wichita's downtown effort, usually means car-hostile." This of course begs a question: That there is something to be gained in keeping downtown "pedestrian-hostile," some greater good that is worth continued occasional-yet-increasing cyclist and pedestrian deaths, seeing as the numbers of cyclists and pedestrians increased by 42% between 2000 and 2007 and will only continue to increase--whether or not cities and states plan accordingly for those increases.

O'Toole frames the issue in adversarial terms: cars vs. pedestrians and cyclists; the latter two, being the weaker entities, must perforce surrender space to the stronger. It's as though, in fact, that in such a framing autos are assumed to be feral creatures to be accommodated at all costs by us weaker mortals and so, if we appease them by providing them (and then stay out of) nice, wide lanes and plenty of (preferably free or at least cheap) Sudetenland-like parking lots, we will have peace in our time with them.

My analogy is, of course, absurd (I hope no one takes offense at it); but too often it is indeed true that it is the existence of cars, over and above what is better or at least preferable for making a place more livable, that has shaped the cities we live in--and, of course, our decisions about infrastructure priorities. That Mr. O'Toole apparently feels we are compelled to lie prostrate before the automobile and its needs would seem to me a surrender of liberty that, as I said in yesterday's post, I'd think he'd want to resist mightily as the good libertarian that (I assume) he is.

To frame this discussion in Us vs. Them terms is not helpful, in other words. With careful, thoughtful planning, we can easily create urban cores whose streets can accommodate both cars and people afoot and on bikes and whose land-use laws can lead to less need for cars (and lest anyone misunderstand me, not needing a car is not the same thing as being hostile toward them). Those who read the comments section for the Eagle article will find what follows familiar, for a couple of folks there already pointed this out: Complete Streets designs result in streets that can bear the same or greater amount of car traffic as conventional streets and, at the same time, apportion space for cyclists buses and pedestrians--all the while making those streets safer for everyone. The Douglas Design District sees the wisdom in executing a Complete Streets design on one of the very busiest streets in the city, as I noted last month.

Such a reasonable accommodation makes the street, again, a truly public space, and a safer one as well. If this is appeasement, then sign me up.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Local blog round-up (Super Sunday edition)

An antique bike in New Orleans' French Quarter. Image found here.

In the spirit of Super Sunday, here at the top of this week's Local Blog Round-up you'll find some links to some prominent New Orleans cycling blogs. But Colts fans shouldn't despair; at the bottom of this post you'll find an equal number of Indianapolis cycling blogs.

N'awlins blogs: NolaCycle Bike Map Project, What I Saw Riding My Bike Around Today [UPDATE, Feb.8: have a look at What I Saw's chronicling of "mass high fivery" in the Quarter after the game], On the Rivet with Randy.

Hmm: "Local" and "blog" in the title are a bit troublesome, as they were last week. Ah, well. Things do happen elsewhere than the area cycling blogosphere that seem, to your correspondent, to be of interest or in some way pertain to that which we're about here at this site. So, like, Deal. And for my part, I'll come up with some permanent title for this feature that is more inclusive.

Friday's Eagle had this story about a talk given here in town by Randal O'Toole of the Cato Institute. According to the article, O'Toole's talk wasn't especially Wichita-centric; it was more of a general critique of recent tendencies in urban design to create a more walkable urban core, as well as the usual methods of encouraging businesses to build downtown and the financing of such projects. Cato's reputation as a libertarian think tank precedes it, so O'Toole's observations should have come as no surprise to his audience. Personally, I'm puzzled by O'Toole's implicit support of a car-centric infrastructure; that infrastructure is expensive to build and maintain and so requires lots of (taxpayer) money, not to mention government regulation: two things that good Libertarians would resist. I'd think that the bicycle would be an excellent choice for Official Vehicle of the Libertarian Party. But I do admit I was glad to see this bit in the article:
O'Toole encountered some pushback from members of the audience who said there are a lot of Wichitans who want more walkways and bike paths.

"I don't think it's a fad like you're saying," said resident Janice Bradley.
Even better is the give-and-take in the comments section. Those supportive of a more walkable downtown acquit themselves quite well there; they respond to O'Toole's defenders there with actual, well, arguments in favor of walkability.

Keep in mind that at a certain level, the comments are worth only what they are worth. Who knows, really, the extent to which the ideals of bike-friendliness, walkability, and all the rest are becoming more prominent ideas here in town. The fact remains, though, that people are making arguments on their behalf in public fora, and that is very much to the good.

I don't think Kansas City has a Cycle Chic blog yet, but via Kansas Cyclist comes an announcement of something that not even all Cycle Chic cities can claim: a Tweed Ride, to be held on April 3rd at Loose Park. As Randy notes, Tweed Rides are popping up in lots of places with fairly well-established cycling communities; the idea is to evoke something of the elegance of cycling from a century before and have a good time while doing so (and I also think I detect a humorous hitching onto of the Steampunk movement). The KC riders' organizers are pretty self-aware (pay very close attention to the prize categories, for example), but their larger purpose is, I think, the same as that of promoters of Cycle Chic and, thus, a serious one: Not only do you not need to be an athlete to ride a bike, you don't need to dress like one, either.

On to the blogs, now:

Two bloggers went out in last weekend's snow and brought back pics. Over at Adventure Monkey, Eric went for a Sunday ride in the snow. Here's what he saw. Meanwhile, Robert of River City Cyclist went out with a friend along the Arkansas River path and later posted these pictures.

From Bike Topeka come two items of interest. First is another very nice write-up, this one in the Washburn Review, about Topeka's new Community Cycle Project. The other is that Topeka is participating in a pilot project, sponsored by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, called the Capital City Wellness Project; part of that project is called the Bikes for Wellness Program. Cyclists who have a program sticker on their helmets can show this sticker at participating businesses and receive discounts for their goods. I would think that something like this would be easy and inexpensive to implement here in Wichita--and not necessarily through government agencies, either . . .

Speaking of bicycle collectives, Wichita's own version of that enterprise extends an invitation to Riders of Rohan's two-year anniversary celebration on February 26th.

And--as promised . . .

A scene from Indianapolis's burgeoning bike culture. Image found here.

Indy bike blogs are very hard to come by--surprising, given the national reputation of The Indy Cog. I gathered via my bumping around that Indy cycling culture is about as nascent as Wichita's is. Having said that, though, if folks from Indy happen to find their way here and know of some good cycling blogs, by all means be sure to let me know in comments. Urban Indy is not, strictly speaking, a bike blog, but one interested in livability issues; meanwhile, there's Indy Bikehiker, the blog of a self-described "theological jackalope" (a Wesleyan-oriented advocate of peace-and-justice issues) who also happens to be an avid cyclist.

That's all for this week. Enjoy the game!