transportation

Bus Rapid Transit (via Wikimedia Commons)Bus Rapid Transit (via Wikimedia Commons)The Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART) is set to unveil a proposal to develop “bus-rapid transit” – rail-like service delivered with hybrid buses on Ingersoll and University Avenues between downtown and 42nd Street.

The proposal will be presented at three open houses on Thursday, January 26:

  • 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. – Arthur Davis Room, Greater Des Moines Partnership, 700 Locust St.
  • 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. – Pomerantz Stage, Olmsted Center, Drake University, 2507 University Ave.
  • 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. – Greenwood Room, Plymouth United Church of Christ, 4126 Ingersoll Ave.

From the meeting announcement:

The service would be developed along established transit corridors that feature high-density residential neighborhoods and an abundance of destinations, including two medical centers, three institutions of higher learning, multiple shopping districts and employment centers, and many other services. DART would deploy hybrid buses that are branded specific to that service, build stations along the route with real-time arrival and departure information, offer 10-minute service at peak usage, and use technology to change stoplights and accelerate travel times.

Make no mistake, service like this is a fabulous idea to promote two things our City needs more of:

  • Wider transit ridership - with service that benefits a broad base of users
  • Compact development - Encouraging higher density development along established and consistent transit routes that connect to widely-used destinations

An additional suggestion for DART (no charge):
In conjunction with the establishment of Southwest Airlines service to the Des Moines Intergalactic Spaceport, DART should also explore ways of improving the anemic service to this transportation hub. Three times in the past year I have taken flights out and back from Des Moines at times when public transit does not serve the airport... very disappointing.

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Planning for Tomorrow

12 Jan 2012

This morning I attended the first in a series of speaker events organized around the "Tomorrow Plan". Spearheaded by the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (DMAMPO), the Tomorrow Plan seeks to design a coordinated metropolitan strategy for managing the expected population growth over the next 25 years.

Tomorrow Plan Speaker Series - Bill FultonTomorrow Plan Speaker Series - Bill FultonThe headline speaker was former Ventura mayor, Bill Fulton. Fulton now works for Smart Growth America assisting assist state, regional, and local government agencies around the nation with smart growth policies and tools.

All in all, the talk was an interesting if relatively superficial exploration of some of the fundamental issues that necessitate a reexamination of unchecked single-family suburban subdivision construction. He attempted to navigate the waters between advocating for more compact development, and the undeniable political, social and economic inertia driving (so to speak) suburban migration.

Here are some of his key points:

  • Demographic shifts - Baby Boomers and Millennials are the largest population segments, and they are trending away from traditional suburban living (they tend to seek walkable neighborhoods)
  • Sustainable and walkable neighborhoods - According to a National Association of Realtors survey 77% of of people prefer a pedestrian friendly neighborhood, 88% rank quality of the neighborhood higher than home size, and only 12% prefer a neighborhood with houses only
  • Sense of Place in either an "urban" or "village" form is important
  • Current development patterns strain fiscal resources - Low density development rarely pays for itself in terms of initial infrastructure investment or ongoing maintenance
  • Suburban development costs more money to support fewer people - Things like snow removal, elderly transit, and fire fighting are much less cost efficient in low density areas

Sustainability means making sure that a win today doesn't depend on a loss tomorrow.

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The City will begin resurfacing Grand Avenue from 35th Street to 44th Street starting Saturday, August 13, when it will be closed for remilling. Paving is scheduled for the following Saturday, August 20, but the street will be open for local traffic during the intervening week.

What a great chance to stripe in some bike lanes without incurring an additional mobilization cost!

Ingersoll Streetscape and Bike Lane: Ingersoll streetscape improvements and new bike lane stripingIngersoll Streetscape and Bike Lane: Ingersoll streetscape improvements and new bike lane striping

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We Drive Too Much

In Des Moines, one gallon of gasoline now hovers around $3.50, almost $.50 less than a few months ago. Oil companies continue to rake in record profits based on the fear that supply is unstable and growing short (which it is, but that is another discussion).

Toyota Prius: File source: James Benjamin Bleeker via Wikimedia CommonsToyota Prius: File source: James Benjamin Bleeker, Web Master of http://www.AutoOnInfo.net and http://CarsOnInfo.net [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia CommonsOne of the effects of relatively high gasoline prices is that people have perhaps started driving less. For many of us, when we start paying something closer to the true cost of driving each mile, driving less begins to look more appealing.

Of course, the problem with the high price of gas is that the extra money we spend at the gas pump goes straight to the pockets of the oil producers. very little of the fabulous sums of money generated by skyrocketing prices go towards actually dealing with the externalities of pollution, road maintenance, and traffic safety which are generated and/or exacerbated by driving.

Drivers tend to believe that the only prices associated with driving are cars, insurance, and gasoline. Why? because those are the costs that are most immediate.

Solutions we should work towards:

  • reduce the subsidies for new infrastructure and increase spending on maintenance of existing infrastructure.
  • Increase investment in mass transit.
  • Incentivize connected and compact development/redevelopment
  • Tighten emission standards
  • Tighten CAFE (fuel efficiency) standards
  • Increase the taxes on gasoline
  • Support engineering innovation for alternate fuel sources
  • Explore taxing gasoline per dollar rather than per gallon

It is my hope that we can reduce dependence on oil as a driver (so to speak) of our economic and social systems before it becomes an emergency - and it is pretty clear that it will.

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Via associate transportation planner Bethany Wilcoxon at the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization:

The Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is pleased to announce that, effective September 1, 2011, its office will be located at 420 Watson Powell, Jr., Parkway, Suite 200 in Des Moines. The move to downtown Des Moines comes after ten years in the Merle Hay Centre in Urbandale.

File this one under "Walking the Walk" - this is great news! The new address is smack dab in the heart of downtown, where a quasi-governmental planning organization with responsibility for setting sustainable transportation policy should be located.


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Let me suggest the following as an add-on demonstration of sustainable transportation planning: How about a $150 per month incentive for each employee that commutes to work by public transportation, foot, or bike at least 15 days!

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I-235 Revived

22 Dec 2010

Ed FallonEd FallonYesterday's topic on "The Fallon Forum" radio show was Interstate 235. Evidently, after spending close to a half billion dollars renovating a ten-mile stretch of the highway just a few years ago, Fallon discusses a report that traffic congestion is again a concern.

[Click here to listen to the program]

It is abundantly clear that we can't build our way out of congestion by expanding highways and that they do not "promote economic development" in the existing cities they slice through. Physical evidence of this litters our urban landscapes in the form of destroyed neighborhoods - yet the meme continues to exist. It will take instead a rethinking of our transportation network and the subsidies that encourage automobile-dependent growth.

I want to thank Ed Fallon for the discussion and for mentioning several times my proposal to convert a portion of I-235 back into a street-grid-connected boulevard. I wish he had also mentioned my blog address so people could read it themselves... most of the callers had misconceptions about the actual proposal.

I am most certainly opposed in principal to dumping many more millions into subsidizing westward suburban expansion by widening I235. I am also not convinced that there is actually a congestion problem on I235 in any commonly understood sense of the word. My analysis of MPO data released several months ago reveals that the actual measured average travel time over the I235 segment from downtown to the I35 interchange only exceeds the legal posted minimum travel time between 7:45 and 8:15 am in the eastbound lanes and between 5:00 and 5:45 pm in the westbound lanes. Confusing, yes, but it boils down to this: If you drive the speed limit, there are only two brief times it will take you any longer to commute from the western suburbs. More in-depth discussion of this here.

Progressives appear to be stuck celebrating the recent "bike sharing" coup while the planners and politicians work on getting the big money for the horrible north-south connector and probably inevitable widening of I235. There needs to be more people talking about this now. By the time the project "studies" hit the papers it will be too late.

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During the 2010 Legislative session, the Iowa Smart Planning Task Force (Task Force) was created. Since then, the Task Force has been researching, developing, and evaluating policy options to support and enhance integrated smart planning in Iowa. On September 15, the Task Force released draft recommendations that will be part of a report submitted to the Governor and the Iowa Legislature in November.

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"Shoot Your Commute"

16 Jul 2010

Experience for yourself the impact that a street full of single-occupancy vehicles has on traffic and congestion!

Urban Ambassadors is bringing together sustainable transportation advocates in Greater Des Moines to recreate the famous Munster, Germany photo (see profile pic) in our fair city. Plus, have a fun after...-party to network and meet crazy, interesting, fellow residents!

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This summer, the federal government's Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities is taking applications for $100 million in grants for regional planning projects that promote alternatives to automobile transportation. Unfortunately, despite some high profile transit and rail projects, most of the stimulus spending has gone or will be going towards roads and highways.

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A recent letter to the editor written by Jon Turner to the Des Moines Register in favor of the MLK extension project falls prey to several commonly-held transportation myths. I want to debunk these myths here.

Come to my Beaverdale neighborhood anytime during peak travel hours and try to cross Beaver Avenue at an intersection that does not have crossing lights.

Traffic control and traffic volume are NOT the same thing. The letter to the editor makes this common error of assuming that reducing traffic volume is the only way to make a street easier to navigate at rush hour. In fact, controlling traffic flow is actually easier than controlling traffic volume - one can plan a control strategy. Volume is a function of a variety of factors, most of which are outside the realm of direct control. What the author can control is his own travel path during known times of heavy traffic.

Adding streets and Interstate connections will NOT reduce overall traffic. It is a commonly known, though not commonly acknowledged, fact that new and widened streets do not reduce congestion. Ironically, they increase congestion due to increasing the total vehicle miles traveled. Until we rethink our underlying transportation system and subsidies for single-occupancy vehicle travel, road additions and widening will remain a game of catch-up.

Let's reduce the number of vehicles speeding through my residential area trying to beat the flow out of town every night.

The author bases his entire argument on the fundamentally flawed assumption that a connector from Downtown through I-80 will reduce traffic through Beaverdale - a neighborhood several miles west of downtown, with no direct street connection. It is just too big a leap to assume that any measurable amount of Beaverdale's through-traffic is people trying to save time by cutting through 6 miles of local streets to get to the northwestern suburbs.

The last time I checked, not one single person lives in the pathway of the proposed extension north of Euclid Avenue.

There are two separate sections of the proposed extension. One section cuts through a protected wetland. The other cuts through an established neighborhood. The author minimizes the impact on the wetlands area (not my area of expertise) and ignores the impact on the actual residential neighborhoods affected by the expansion (my area of expertise).

While there may be valid arguments in favor of the extension, I have yet to hear any that positively and demonstrably benefit the City of Des Moines.

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