The Bicycle Commute: Hurdles and Hope

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Commuting to work via bicycle is a lovely choice. It helps the environment, saves commuters a ton of money, helps people get fit and brings communities together.

But it is not without its challenges. There are fears about traffic and safety to overcome. A bike commute also presents certain logistical challenges as well. Those challenges can range from arriving at work looking presentable to figuring out where to leave the bike during the day.

Nevertheless, Greenville, South Carolina appears to be experiencing an increase in the number of people who are choosing to commute to work via bicycle. The city has seen an 80% increase in the number of bicycle commuters between 2000 and 2011 according to US Census Data.

What's the takeaway for us back here in Idaho? It's this: people are starting to see the value in this form of transportation. So now, more than ever, we need to make sure that we find ways to eliminate or mitigate the hurdles to going car-free.

What does that mean? It means creating safe bike routes. It means encouraging businesses to include bike racks in their parking lots. It means educating people on how they can overcome some of the hurdles on their own, using methods that dedicated bike commuters are already using in the absence of any support. It also means smart planning that links bike routes to bus and rail routes in intelligent, intuitive ways. 

Unfortunately, none of this is really optional. The price of gas alone may soon put a traditional car commute out of reach for many families. Encouraging bicycle commuting is a simple move that can have a sustainable positive impact on our communities for decades to come.

Creating Stronger Transit Systems

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A transit system that is efficient, intuitive, and reliable: That's typically what it takes to get people to give up their car keys.

For that reason, this article from Phys.org is especially promising! Mobile computing, big data, and other technologies could soon be coming together to create transit systems that work for people as they've never worked before.

The research is being done by Joseph Chow, a professor in Ryerson's Department of Civil Engineering and a Tier II Canada Research Chair in Transportation Engineering.

"If you think of society as a human body, then the transportation system is the circulatory system," [Chow] says. "Therefore, a strong transportation infrastructure is critical to supporting economic growth.

Chow is studying ways to make Canada's aging transportation systems "smarter." That is done in two ways. First, designing the systems to respond to people's actual behavior in terms of when, where, and how they travel, and for what reasons. Second, the systems need to be designed so they can adapt to random fluctuations in the environment.

As Chow points out, existing transportation systems are traditionally designed without any flexibility to adapt to an uncertain environment. This situation, however, can cause many problems. One example: when multiple street cars on the same route arrive bunched together on one stop due to delays along the line. This lack of adaptation puts a strain on the entire system and significantly reduces the level of service for commuters."

Since public transit is part of a modern city, it only makes sense for that transportation to receive an update and overhaul. Isn't it time that today's technology helped bring commuting into the 21st century?

Transit Keeps Home Values High

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Urban Land recently featured a study by the American Transportation Association (APTA) indicating that homes near frequent-service public transit lines retained their value better than most during the recession. The study was co-sponsored by the National Association of Realtors.

"When homes are located near public transportation, it is the equivalent of creating housing as desirable as beachfront property," says Michael Melaniphy, APTA's president and CEO. Neighborhoods with high-frequency public transportation, Melaniphy says, provide access to three to five times as many jobs per square mile as other areas in a region. Other benefits of living near good public transit: lower transportation costs, walkable neighborhoods, and a variety of transportation choices.

...The most dramatic example was in Boston, where residential property in the rapid transit area outperformed other properties in the region by 129 percent."

This is in part because of the rising annual ownership costs of a car, which are growing more and more untenable for most families. 

The need is not just for transit, but for high-frequency transit that allows people to wait just a few minutes before jumping on board to get where they need to go. People can't tolerate hour-long waits in today's typically hectic life. If they have to, they'll get right back in their cars in spite of the costs, and much of the value of a transit system is leeched away.

Still, it's worth paying attention to this information if you are planning on buying a home in the near future. It's also another transit "plus" that lawmakers and planners should stay aware of as they look towards the future. 

Transit Oriented Development a Boon to Seniors

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The AARP Blog recently ran a feature about the benefits of transit oriented development (TOD). Building walkable communities with a solid transportation infrastructure is a demonstrably important way to keep seniors active and involved in their communities, even after driving is no longer safe for them.

The article featured the excellent walkable neighborhoods in Arlington, Virginia, which are well-designed, attractive, functional, and safe. 

"[The neighborhoods are] nestled around subway stations, which double as hubs for local bus transfers. Not only can residents walk or roll to public transit options, a shopping mall, banks, restaurants, tennis courts, and a swimming pool are all within five blocks of the station. The benefits of these live, work, and play neighborhoods are well known among young professionals, and there is increasing recognition of their benefits for retirees."

The blog post also featured a video that made a particularly salient point. "When planning for older adults you're planning for your future." All of us age, and none of us can guarantee that driving will be a safe bet after a certain age.

Of course, seniors aren't the only ones who benefit from the presence of such communities. As the video mentioned, Arlington's smart communities are great places to raise a family.

Cars are often touted as a sign of independence and freedom. However, more and more people are learning that they can find a much richer, deeper, and longer-lasting independence by embracing this kind of intelligent development. We look forward to the day when adults of all ages can enjoy these kinds of benefits across all of Idaho.

74% of Americans Favor Public Transportation Investments

Thursday, June 13, 2013

RTandS.com recently ran a story indicating that 74% of American citizens support using tax dollars to increase the country's public transportation infrastructure. This indicates that most Americans recognize the benefits of getting more cars off of the road.

"The results of the poll were released today during a nationwide transportation conference taking place at a center city hotel.

Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell...told the transportation leaders that our transportation infrastructure once led the world with innovation, but it's all falling apart now."

Rendell goes on to say, quite sensibly, that public transportation is an investment. Developing the infrastructure isn't "spending" money, but putting that money to work for the country.

RTandS.com reports that the figure rises to nearly 88% when people begin talking about the concept of providing access to opportunities.

"However, public transportation scores its strongest support when discussing access to opportunities. When asked about the affordable transportation options for people, nearly 88 percent of respondents agreed that public transit expands opportunities and provides access to new jobs and careers, as well as to medical care, schools, and colleges."

There's no question that there is a pressing need to develop a 21st century infrastructure. Rising gas prices will virtually ensure that cars as we know them will eventually cease to be viable options. Car ownership is already on the decline due to a number of factors, including gas prices, concerns about the environment, and the ever-skyrocketing annual cost of ownership.

Having the infrastructure in place would make an incredible difference to both today's economy and tomorrow's economy.

The only real question is whether or not lawmakers will actually listen to their constituents, making the necessary investments that are required to create a viable, prosperous future.