Monthly Archives: September 2013

Curbing Cars Checks Out Transit In Canada

A streetcar in Toronto.

A streetcar in Toronto.

By Micheline Maynard

Curbing Cars is a North American transportation project, so this week I’m headed north (or technically south, if you’re standing in Detroit). I’m visiting Toronto and Montreal, checking out their blends of bike sharing, public transportation, walking and driving.

Follow my visit on Twitter @curbingcars (with the hashtag #cccanada) and on our Curbing Cars Facebook page. I’ll be posting regular updates on the people I meet and the ideas that I hear about.

There will be plenty about both cities in the upcoming Curbing Cars ebook, and we’re looking for your suggestions on what to see and do. Drop me a note in the comments.

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Filed under bike sharing, Curbing Cars, public transportation, urban planning

How Millennials Are Transforming Philadelphia’s Transportation

Philadelphia has been installing bike lanes for over a decade. They're a big draw for its young residents.

Philadelphia has been installing bike lanes for over a decade. They’re a big draw for its young residents.

Our latest student-written story comes from a master’s degree candidate in the Business and Economic Reporting program at New York University

By Carl A. O’Donnell
Philadelphia newcomers like Shane Smith, 24, wax rhapsodically about the city’s “deep sense of community” and “awesome nightlife.” For Smith, the city is an escape from suburbia where “there are always large gaps between where you are and where you want to be,” he says.

In Philly, Smith doesn’t need a car because “You can walk out the door and find ten great coffee shops or restaurants on every other block.”

Smith’s attitude reflects a broader generational shift. More and more young people are abandoning suburbs and cars, prompting a migration to cities, according to the advocacy group U.S. PIRG.

This has had a dramatic impact on Philadelphia. In the past decade, the city has gained 50,000 residents aged 20 to 34, spurring the first net gain in population since the 1950s, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

By 2035, Philadelphia anticipates another 100,000 new residents, said Gary Jastrzab, executive director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission.

As this flood of newcomers gradually reshapes the city, alternative modes of travel are experiencing a renaissance. Biking, car sharing and public transit have all seen significant bumps in usage. In some cases, this is shifting political or market forces in favor of new transportation investments. In others, it’s simply placing strain on an aging system. Continue reading

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Filed under bicycling, infrastructure, public transportation, urban planning

The Great Big Picture Of American Transportation

By Micheline Maynard

Americans spend more on transportation than any other household item except housing. Now, The Brookings Institution has quantified the massive size of what Americans, and government officials spend on transportation.

Writing in the Journal of Economic Literature, Clifford Winston, a Senior Fellow of Economic Studies, sums in up in terms of both money and time.

“Consumers spent $1.1 trillion on gasoline and vehicles commuting to work, traveling to perform household chores and to access entertainment, and traveling for business and vacations, and spent an astronomical 175 billion hours in transit,” he writes.

This averages out to about 100 minutes per day for each and every American (or a little over an hour and a half), valued at some $760 billion.

Meanwhile, companies spent $1 trillion shipping products using their own and for-hire transportation, while the commodities that were shipped were valued at roughly $2.2 trillion. Local, state, and federal government spending on transportation infrastructure and services contributed an additional $260 billion, bringing total pecuniary spending on transportation up to $2.4 trillion, or 17 percent of Gross Domestic Product in 2007.

This is as much as Americans spent on health care, and with the total spending on everything transportation related amounting to $5 trillion. Continue reading

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Filed under infrastructure, public transportation

The Bicycling Backlash On Both Sides Of The Pond

By Micheline Maynard

How could anybody dislike bicyclists? They’re engaging in a healthy activity. They eschew fossil fuels. They allow garages to be used for storage.

It turns out that there’s plenty of antipathy for bicyclists, on both sides of the Atlantic. And it looks like cycling needs to do something to fix its image.

You don’t have to dig very deep to find someone who thinks bicycling is a bad idea. Not long after Citi Bikes got started in New York City, Wall Street Journal contributor Dorothy Rabinowitz went after the cycling system with both barrels.

Now, Jake Wallis Simons of the British newspaper, The Telegraph, is joining her with his own objection to the bicyclists who are flooding England’s streets. Continue reading

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Filed under bicycling, bike sharing

Learning Lessons From A Car-Free Existence In Austin

In our latest student-written story, a chemistry major at the University of Texas talks about his car-free conversion.

Andrew Hartford with his bike.

Andrew Hartford with his bike

By Andrew Hartford

Before I came to Austin, Texas for college, I lived in a car-dependent suburb of San Antonio. During my high school years there, I bought a car, submitting to societal pressure and parental advice.

According to my dad, buying the car was an investment.  “You can’t get a job without a car,” he told me.  At job interviews, one of the recurring questions I was asked was, “Do you have a car?” lending to the notion that a car symbolized personal reliability and competence.  I was under the false pretense that cars meant freedom and that somehow without one, I’d be less attractive as an employee.

I worked long hours at a fast food restaurant, only to realize I was putting my paycheck directly back into the very thing that was supposed to help me earn money.  I began to grow disdainful about this costly thing that society seemed to be obsessed with.  I felt as though my car was a complete drag on my life; not only having to pay for it but having to maintain it as well.

In addition, I felt guilty  that it polluted the air and used up precious fossil fuels that take thousands of years to form.  This did not feel like “freedom” to me.

The final straw for my car ownership was when I got into an accident the summer of 2010.   Continue reading

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Filed under bicycling, Driving, student stories

In Columbia, Missouri, A Decision To Curb A Car

Lauren Steele on the bridge she crosses each day in Columbia, MO.

Lauren Steele on the bridge she crosses each day in Columbia, MO.

In our first story by a student writer, Curbing Cars presents this tale of trading driving for walking.

By Lauren Steele

Walking out of the Ragtag Cinema in downtown Columbia, Missouri with a friend last August, our conversation quickly went from Silver Linings Playbook to an Ashton Kutcher film from a few years back.

“Dude, where’s your car?”

My smug chuckle was quickly gagged with a lump in my throat and the realization that my friend was not quoting the movie.  My car was gone.

We interrogated some car-towing witnesses and took a cab to a sketchy gas station, where I was reunited with my Pontiac. After writing a $160 check to retrieve it, I made a resolution—my car was getting curbed.

I had a few transportation options, such as the free shuttles that ran from my apartment complex, riding a bike, or walking. As a small-town farm girl and a dedicated runner, I considered each choice with a certain dogged stubbornness.

The shuttle seemed like a lazy option and I didn’t want to wrap my schedule around its pick-up times. My bike was a rusted out piece of unreliability, and the hills of Columbia beat most cyclists, leaving them pushing their bikes and hoofing it.

If I was going to have to walk, I figured I might as well go all or nothing, and walk the whole way. Plus, Columbia caters to pedestrians with lots of trails, great sidewalks and crosswalks that don’t favor drivers. Continue reading

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Filed under cars, student stories, walking

U.S. Cities Where Transit Equals Jobs

New York City employs more people in public transportation than anywhere else in the U.S.

By Micheline Maynard

Public transportation isn’t just a way for people to get to their jobs. It’s also a job creator, as well.

University of Michigan economist Donald Grimes ran some statistics for Curbing Cars after reading our story on the debate over 24 hour transit service in Boston.

You may or may not be surprised at the top cities in the U.S. for transportation jobs. The numbers are from 2011, the latest year for which information is available.

1) New York City, 61,435. The Big Apple dwarfs all American cities in the number of people it employs in transit positions, and no wonder: it has a lot of people to move around.

2) Chicago, 12,746. Chicago is still a city where a lot of people get around in their cars, but there has been a record demand for transit use there. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has taken heat for closing city schools and laying off teachers, actually is hiring more transit workers.

3) Los Angeles, 11,801. Given its vast size, you might think Los Angeles would have more transit workers. But its car dependency is still a significant factor. However, Los Angeles is adding streetcars and expanding its transit system, which may lead to more jobs.

4) Washington, D.C., 10,685. Washington has a big transportation network, and a lot of demand for its transit system. It comes in just behind L.A., even though its population is far smaller.

5) San Francisco, 9,864. The city by the bay has cable cars, buses, a rapid transit system and ferries. It found out during a brief Bay Area Rapid Transit strike this summer just how tough it is to get around when part of its system is shut down. Continue reading

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Does A World Class City Require 24-Hour Public Transit?

By Micheline Maynard

A Red Line station on the T.

Boston is a big city for public transportation. Fewer than 50 percent of trips take place by private car, meaning Bostonians rely on a portfolio of walking, bicycling, ride sharing, and most important, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, better known as the T.

But the T isn’t open 24 hours, to the frustration of many Bostonians, both those out enjoying the city at all hours, and those whose jobs require them to commute late at night and early in the morning.

Now, 24-hour T and late night bus service has become an issue in the Boston mayor’s race.

The two leading candidates — Councilor at Large John Connolly and State Rep. Martin Walsh — weren’t ready to commit to backing 24-hour T service, in part because the city might not be able to pay for it on its own. However, each said longer hours were important to the community.

That brings up the question: does a world class city require its transit system to be able 24 hours a day?

Continue reading

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Places Where People Bike Are Places Where People Are Happy

By Micheline Maynard

How to be happy? Ride a bike.

All this summer, I’ve slowly been getting back up to speed on a bicycle. I haven’t ridden regularly in decades, although I’ve tried just about every kind of exercise. But I made a vow that if I was going to lead Curbing Cars, I needed to feel comfortable on a bike.

It’s still pretty hard for me to pedal up the hills near my house. However, there’s a moment in every ride when I’ve felt the exhilaration of gliding along under the trees, waving to my neighbors, generally just enjoying myself.

So, I was pleased to find that the new World Happiness Report says people are happiest in places where bicycling is popular. According to the report, sponsored by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, Denmark is the happiest nation on earth, followed by Norway, Switzerland, The Netherlands and Sweden.

As the National Geographic puts it:

“Denmark and the Netherlands (the happiest and the fourth-happiest countries on Earth) are renowned for being the world’s most bicycle-friendly nations; the other most-happy countries are also famously bicycle friendly.” NatGeo makes the distinction between people who have to ride bikes because that’s the main mode of transportation they can afford, and those who ride bicycles out of choice. Continue reading

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Multi-Modal Transportation: Car Plus Bike Plus More

By Greg Kagay
(Adapted From GregRides.com)

Folding bikes can be the solution for traveling from public transit to the office. Map: Dallas Area Rapid Transit.

A popular transport term today is “multi-modal”. Although this term encompasses cars, it reaches beyond traditional car-centric travel and emphasizes other transport “modes”. Those modes including buses, ferries, subways, light rail, commuter trains, and more. The term also encompasses combinations of modes, such as “park and ride”.

Of course, the bicycle, too, is a mode. Like the car, and unlike most other modes, the bicycle is personal transport, not public transit (bike share programs notwithstanding). For short trips in good weather, it is hard to beat a bicycle, which can go just about anywhere.

But traditional large-wheel bicycles have multi-modal limitations. Generally, they are great for getting you to one mode or another, but large-wheel bikes do not travel with you easily as you utilize other modes. This is where folding bicycles shine, because you can take them with you easily on virtually all other transport modes.

A folding bike, therefore, can be the thread that ties together multi-modal outings. Think of folding bikes as the master keys to your multi-modal transport universe. Continue reading

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