As part of continuing efforts in the Southwest to develop and improve transit systems, the City of Austin has announced its intention to build an urban rail system known as UltraRail that will run through the city’s eastern downtown. Traffic in east downtown Austin is beastly. It is largely made up of drivers who have short commutes, who together create major congestion during rush hour. For this reason UltraRail is being designed as a light rail/streetcar hybrid. It will be built with sharper control sensibilities, allowing for tighter corner turns, and regularly spaced, relatively close stops along the route that will hopefully make it a viable alternative to driving. But the heavy-duty installation is no light matter. Depending on how plans solidify, UltraRail is estimated to cost $1.6 billion. Half of the money will be paid by federal dollars; the other half will come from obligation bonds. Austin is currently working with stakeholders to determine the exact length and placement of the UltraRail system, and how best to phase the project. In addition to ironing out the technical wrinkles, the usual hurdles remain: nailing down the specifics of budget, design, and pushing through the various planning stages in order to begin building. Completion is presently slated for 2020.
Posts tagged with "public transportation":
Denver’s Union Station, a multi-modal transit hub built by architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, opened up last month. The ribbon cutting ceremony severed the notion that transportation hubs are drab, gray places that smell suspiciously of food products and cleaning chemicals. What does the Union Station Bus Concourse do differently? Everything, apparently. Its sweeping design acts as a converging point for local commuters, airport bound travelers, and out-of-city destinations. Spanning the Amtrak train tracks is an outdoor canopy built from white arch trusses. The half-moon structures swoop up to 77 feet in height before touching back down 120 feet away on the opposite side. The majestic arches offer shade and weather protection to the platforms below. The interior’s design brings in terrazzo floors, yellow glass tile work, skylights, and glass pavilions. Beyond the terminal's attention to design, the station marks a critical economic and environmental breakthrough for transit systems. "This project represents a major investment in transit-oriented development with extraordinarily far-reaching social and economic consequences," said SOM design partner Roger Duffy. "The bus concourse is the result of nearly a decade of thoughtful public consultation and bold design. Its completion helps realize this community's aspirations for a truly transformational neighborhood and landmark public project." Union Station has the capacity for 200,000 daily trips—a number that officials expect to hit by 2030. Designers hope it sets a precedent not just for transportation abilities, but acts as a beacon for other public transit structures nationwide.
Manhattan has a traffic problem. But, as of now, New York City has only taken marginal steps to fix it. To some, charging tolls on certain bridges and tunnels leading to the island, but not on others is uneven or unfair. To former New York traffic commissioner, “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz, however, it’s “a cockamamie system of charging people that makes absolutely no sense.” And today, Schwartz and Move NY are launching a campaign against that “cockamamie system” as they call for new strategies to ease congestion. Ahead of today's event, The Atlantic Cities is out with a great profile on the troubled past, and uncertain future, of passing congesting pricing in New York City. After former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s pricing plan failed in 2008, it’s not clear if de Blasio will even take-up the fight. Considering the current way the city handles traffic, though, it’s blatantly clear that something has to be done. “[New York’s] current system of handling commuter traffic is completely busted,” wrote The Atlantic’s Eric Jaffe. “Case in point: the four city-owned bridges over the East River are free, but the two MTA-owned tunnels beside them cost commuters $15 cash round trip, leading to rampant ‘bridge shopping.’” The plan advocated by Schwartz and Move NY would change that. They call for lowering fees on already expensive bridges and tunnels, and raising—or adding—fees on others. The plan could hypothetically pay huge dividends for the city: a 20 percent improvement in traffic flow, easier commutes into and around Manhattan, and up to $1.5 billion a year in revenue. Despite its benefits, congestion pricing will still be a tough sell. Jaffe noted that Schwartz isn’t even calling his plan “congestion pricing.” Whatever it's called, the plan will likely face strong opposition from drivers who are currently getting a free pass on their commute. Convincing them that new fees are worth it won't be an easy sell. That's why Schwartz and Move NY are setting out on the age-old “listening tour.” The main focus of the tour is to hear from New Yorkers about where they want to see all that additional revenue spent. Most of the money is reportedly planned to go toward “maintaining current service and expanding into transit deserts.” This type of long-term investment would be necessary to provide transportation alternatives to those who could be priced off bridges and tunnels. In the short-term, though, this won't quell the backlash because these projects would take years to complete. Still, Schwartz and his team say this type of investment is vital to New York's long-term viability and the revenue raised from congestion pricing could help catalyze new transit projects. While this type of plan is widely regarded as the best way to ease congestion, its impact on low-income individuals cannot be overlooked; those with the smallest voice will most profoundly feel its effects. “Pricing a low-income driver off the road from a 40-minute car commute might be a win for traffic; but it’s a loss for society if that person now rides two hours to work,” wrote Jaffe.
The U.S. has finally caught up to 1956. With the help of 146 million more people, the country has finally managed to match the number of trips American's took on mass transit 57 years ago. Largely skirting the population elephant in the corner the American Public Transport Administration released a reported revealing some 10.7 billion trips were taken on US public transportation in 2013. Nonetheless there are some indications of progress. The APTA reports that since 1995 public transit ridership is up 37.2 percent, a rate that outpaces population growth. While systems in large cities like New York and Los Angeles witnessed record levels of usage, so did those in smaller metropolitan areas of Yuma, Arizona, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Fort Myers, Florida. Beyond surpassing population growth, the new numbers also appear to be exceeding vehicle transportation. The 1.1 percent increase in public transit use compares to just a .3 percent bump in the vehicular sector. In the report APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy hoped that the statistics would spur further legislation that would bolster the country's public transportation infrastructure.
Vaunted champion of urban living standards Enrique Peñalosa (pictured) is running for president of Colombia. As mayor of Bogotá, Peñalosa introduced a number of changes that improved the city's public transportation system and also made it more pedestrian- and bike-friendly. His three-year reign witnessed the the implementation of the TransMilenio bus rapid transit system which services 2 million Colombians daily. He also instituted of a number of measures strategically restricting auto-traffic within certain parts of the city. Since 2009 the Duke alum has been president of the Institute for Transport and Development Policy, an organization that promotes transportation solutions globally. Peñalosa will be representing Colombia's Green Party in the 2014 elections, which take place May 25.
The jostle of potholes notwithstanding, motorists might find nothing unbalanced about Chicago’s public streets. But the Active Transportation Alliance points out while nearly a quarter of the city is in the public right-of-way, cars dominate practically all of it. Citing the city’s Make Way for People initiative, which turns over underused street space to pedestrians, the group released 20 proposals Wednesday, calling on City Hall to create car-free spaces from Wrigley Field to Hyde Park. Their full list is available here. It includes a protected bike lane and landscaped seating area on Dearborn and/or Clark Streets, from River North to the South Loop; a pedestrian plaza on 18th Street in Pilsen, created by a dead-end at Carpenter, Miller and/or Morgan Streets; closing Milwaukee Avenue through the square of Logan Square; and closing portions of the vibrant retail corridor on 26th Street in Little Village to vehicle traffic. “Our hope is to jump-start conversations that lead to further study and the creation of car-free spaces,” writes the Active Transportation Alliance. The civic group said the list is inspired partly by places like Navy Pier, Times Square in New York City, and existing pedestrian plazas like Kempf Plaza in Lincoln Square. A spokesman for Chicago’s Department of Transportation told the Tribune that the agency “agrees with the concept,” but wouldn’t weigh in on any of the Active Transportation Alliance’s specific suggestions just yet. The Make Way for People initiative's so-called “complete streets” have gained traction among urban planners for their inclusion of pedestrians, bicyclists, and green space within the standard two- and four-lane roads that cater almost exclusively to cars. New York has overhauled dozens of public streets and plazas in recent years. Chicago designers, including North Center-based Altamanu, have worked with the city in recent years to draft plans for pedestrian- and bike-friendly streets from Mayfair to the lakefront.
Although it hasn’t yet broken ground, Kansas City plans to revive a long-dormant streetcar network. Voters approved a ballot measure in 2012 to fund a 2-mile starter route from Union Station to the River Market, nearly 55 years after the city halted its original streetcar service in 1957. Now Kansas City residents are likely to vote again to help pay for streetcar construction, this time to approve taxes that would help fund a new streetcar taxing district. The measure goes to City Council on Jan. 23. The district goes far beyond the terminals of the streetcar’s starter line. As the Kansas City Star reported, it would run from State Line to I-435 and from the Missouri River to 85th Street. In a November election, voters need to approve the district and a one-cent sales tax increase there, as well as special property taxes for properties generally within about a half-mile along the actual streetcar lines. To avoid double-taxing some residents, the taxing district would replace an existing downtown transportation district currently funding some of the starter line’s construction. Streetcar expenses could reach $400 million. Some of that could be scrounged from federal dollars and other sources, but supporters say local funding is the critical first step. In Cincinnati, too, boosters of a similar streetcar plan in that city celebrated news last month that work would resume on the project after City Council members narrowly voted to halt construction. Though the governor and members of city council had previously attempted to strip the partially completed project's funding, construction has since resumed. The project is on track to finish in 2016.
In what the Cincinnati Enquirer called “a meeting filled with fire and suspense,” City Council voted 5-4 to halt construction on its $133 million streetcar project. The Enquirer has a breakdown of how and why, in their own words, each council member voted:
“We don’t want to waste money,” said Councilwoman Amy Murray, who voted with the majority. “This is really hard. (But) I don’t feel confident of the numbers I have.”Councilwoman Yvette Simpson nearly salvaged the plan with a proposal to keep going with $35,000 per day of streetcar construction while an independent analysis was done. Vice Mayor David Mann was ultimately unmoved by that bid. The project was a focal point in Mayor Mark Mallory's State of the City address last year, which came shortly after the 18-stop line broke ground. The route was to run from the river front through downtown and past Findley Market in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. Before work began, however, Ohio Governor John Kasich moved to strip the project’s funding. Cincinnati voters ultimately voted down a ballot measure that would have banned rail funding in 2011, and the light rail line was back on track. Streetcar supporters will “regroup” on potential legal action to keep the streetcar project alive.
After a decade as CEO and President of the Congress for the New Urbanism, 64-year-old John Norquist has announced he will retire next spring. In 1993, with 16 years of Milwaukee mayoral reign under his belt, Norquist created CNU as an advocate for mixed-use development in city neighborhoods. Since then, the organization has promoted highway removal, re-design of public housing, and increases in public transportation, building its membership count to over 2,500. In June 2014, after the 22nd Annual Congress in Buffalo, Norquist will leave his position, hoping for “time to write and teach.” (Photo: Courtesy CNU)
Move over Morgan—the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) released renderings Monday of a redesign for the ‘L’ station at Washington-Wabash whose modern look could unseat the sleek Morgan as CTA’s most handsome stop. The so-called “Gateway to Millennium Park” will serve the Brown, Green, Orange, Pink and Purple lines by consolidating two Loop stations: Randolph-Wabash and Madison-Wabash. Replacing two century old stops, it will be the first new ‘L’ stop in the Loop since the Library/State-Van Buren station was built in 1997. Chicago-based exp, formerly known as Teng + Associates, designed the bone white, undulating station. The color and curvature call to mind Calatrava's Milwaukee Art Museum, or perhaps a ribcage. With 13,375 daily entries, it’s expected to become the fifth busiest CTA station on weekdays, according to city estimates. Scheduled to open in 2016, the station will feature 100 percent LED lighting, bike racks, and “a significant amount” of recycled material. The reveal follows news of the planned McCormick-Cermak CTA station, designed by Chicago’s Ross Barney Architects (Ross Barney also designed the system’s newest stop, Morgan Station). Construction on the $75 million station is scheduled to begin in 2014. That money will come entirely from the Federal Highway Administration’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) program.
The Rockefeller Foundation has announced that four cities will receive a combined $1.2 million in grants to foster research, communications, and community outreach efforts in an endeavor to educate local stakeholders about the advantages of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems. The Foundation’s solution to “Transform Cities” and promote fiscal growth and quality of life proposes better mass transit investments. Boston, Chicago, Nashville, and Pittsburgh will participate in the project. The high performance mass transit system, referred to as BRT, offers much of the permanence and speed of a rail system in addition to the flexibility of bus systems for a smaller investment in initial infrastructure costs. BRT systems operate high-capacity vehicles that rely on dedicated lanes and elevated platforms to deliver efficient service. For years, the Rockefeller Foundation has supported Chicago’s attempts to build a city-wide BRT. With the grant, the city could potentially assemble and operate the first gold-standard BRT in the country. Currently, Cleveland operates the nation's highest-ranked BRT system at the ITDP's Silver designation. Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County Port Authority’s Transit Development plan recommends a BRT system to link downtown to its Oakland areas. At least forty stakeholder companies are working together to consider BRT system options for Pittsburgh. A projected BRT system in Nashville would run directly through the city’s downtown hub, although the project remains in the planning stage. In Boston, transportation supporters and state officials are currently considering a BRT system amid alternative transit modernization enterprises. The Rockefeller Foundation selected public affairs firm Global Strategy Group to handle the grant by teaming up with local partner organizations in each city. For the past three years, the Foundation has made over $6 million available to encourage the expansion of BRT.
[beforeafter] [/beforeafter] Above: Before & After: Ashland Avenue at Polk. (Courtesy Chicago Transit Authority) Chicago officials released details Friday about a much-anticipated project to roll out bus rapid transit along Ashland Avenue, a major arterial street that runs north-south a bit more than a mile and half west of downtown. Previous plans from the city included a route on Western Avenue as well, but a statement from the Chicago Transit Authority and the Chicago Department of Transportation revealed only plans for Ashland. The $50 million project would reserve one lane in each direction as dedicated bus routes on a 5.3-mile leg between 31st and Cortland streets, leaving cars with just one parking lane and one traffic lane on each side of Ashland. That would eliminate left turns from some points along the avenue, to be revealed at a later date. Future phases would extend the route to 95th Street and Irving Park Road, connecting to seven CTA ‘L’ stops and two Metra stations. Registering 10 million boardings in 2012, Ashland has the highest bus ridership of all CTA routes. The Active Transportation Alliance posted this useful graphic on BRT in the high-demand corridors. Interested citizens are encouraged to stay involved and contact transit officials with comments as additional analyses are performed in 2013. Depending on funding, final designs could be realized next year. [beforeafter] [/beforeafter] Above: Before & After: Ashland Avenue at Chicago. (Courtesy Chicago Transit Authority)