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Monday, May 5, 2008

Transpo News Roundup

posted by on May 5 at 10:56 AM

I know, you can’t wait to start reading, right?

There’s been a ton of stuff happening in the transportation policy world lately—and not just proposals (ranging from merely pointless and idiotic to outright insane) to temporarily reduce the gas tax.

First up: Bikes! The Worldwatch Institute reports that public bike-sharing programs are taking off all over the world, including here in the United States, where one bike-sharing program is already underway in Washington, D.C. Most bike-sharing programs offer bikes free for the first half-hour or so, then charge a nominal fee for longer use.

To those who say bike-sharing is impossible in Seattle—too many hills, too much water, “unique topography”, blah, blah, blah.—consider this: The next city in line to start a bike-sharing program is San Francisco—hilly, foggy, water-surrounded San Francisco. If San Francisco can make it happen, surely we have no excuse.

But what about the hills? Well, the bikes will probably end up at the bottom of them—and the bike-sharing company will do what bike-sharing companies do all over the world: Send a truck down a few times a day to haul them back up. Compared to the impact of all the cars bike-sharing takes off the road, a small fleet of trucks is a small price to pay.

And speaking of hills: Slog tipper Stinkbug sent us this link to photos of a bicycle lift in Trondheim, Norway, essentially a guided train track that pulls cyclists uphill. Since I don’t think there are many hills in Seattle that are actually too steep to ride, I can’t wholeheartedly endorse this idea; but if it gets more people out of their SUVs and onto bikes, I guess it’s worth considering.

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Photo by Pug Freak, licensed under Creative Commons

Meanwhile, the New York Times has some encouraging news about car sales: US car buyers are buying smaller, greener cars, thanks in large part to rising gas prices. During April, one in five vehicles sold in the US was a compact or subcompact car—up from just one in eight a decade ago. Sales of traditional SUVs, meanwhile, have plummeted. In the words of AutoNation CEO Michael Jackson, quoted in the Times article, “the era of the truck-based large SUVs is over.” Intriguingly, the Times article notes that when gas prices are high, “many drivers simply drive less to save money.” Human behavior, in other words, is adaptable, and people have a choice about how much they drive. That punches a big hole in the the belief that the amount we have to drive is fixed—the kind of arguments I hear all the time from people who live in the suburbs or insist that anything that adds to the cost of driving disproportionately hurts the poor. The idea that we don’t have to drive as much as we do is becoming conventional wisdom—as the Sightline Institute’s Clark Williams-Derry recently pointed out.

Still, not everybody gets it. Unfortunately (as the examples of McCain and Clinton suggest), the people who actually make energy policy still have a lot of catching up to do. Just last week, Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), along with 18 Republican cosponsors, introduced legislation that would increase US production of oil and natural gas and fund the development of oil shale and coal-to-liquid technology. The bill would authorize drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and on the Outer Continental Shelf, and mandate the production of 6 billion gallons of coal-based fuel in the next 15 years.

Finally, in only indirectly transportation-related news, go read Eric de Place’s compelling defense of townhouses, also at Sightline. De Place argues that “socialistic” permitting requirements and off-street parking mandates are driving up the cost of housing and helping to create townhouse developments that sit at a remove from the street, isolating their residents from the surrounding neighborhood.


Nearly every townhouse in the city is required by law to provide offstreet parking. Since cars don’t fly, the practical effect of the minimum parking regulations is that each and every townhouse has a garage on the bottom floor. And these garages are often the prime culprit in walling off the townhouses from the street, and of sending the residents upstairs. They also severely crimp design possibilities, making the units tend toward uniform. Somewhat ironically, because the garages are small and the driveways are tight, the residents who have cars often end up parking on the street anyway. All this puts city planners in a lose-lose situation.

One obvious solution would be to strip out the parking requirements, which would revolutionize the design possibilities. But so far, the city’s modest attempts to remove minimum parking mandates in a few urban areas have been greeted with howls of protest from angry mobs wielding pitchforks and torches. (Socialist-style parking requirements are apparently something akin to a constitutional guarantee in Seattle.)

Oh, and if you’re pissed about high gas prices, keep this in mind: Even with gas at $3.45 a gallon, the US has the 45th cheapest gas in the world, according to a recent survey of 155 countries. In Europe, by comparison, prices top out at well over $8 a gallon.

RSS icon Comments

1
To those who say bike-sharing is impossible in Seattle—too many hills, too much water, “unique topography”, blah, blah, blah

You guys really love those particular straw men, don't you? None of the commenters in the post you linked mentioned those as reasons why bike-sharing programs fail. None.

Posted by tsm | May 5, 2008 11:10 AM
2

I liked Danny Westneat's column in Sunday's Seattle Times "Feeling Blue over Trying to be Green." It was about biodiesel cars and whether they are a "crime against humanity."

Metro buses are the largest consumers of biofuels in the state. So, one could argue...never mind I don't even want to go there.

Posted by PopTart | May 5, 2008 11:17 AM
3

1) In Paris they also give you a reduced rate if you ride your bike and drop it off at a station on the top of the hill.

2) Any hill up from Madison Valley (specifically in the stretch from about Pine to Prospect) is so damn steep that I would pay for one of those bike lifts out of my own damn pocket!

Posted by Sir Learnsalot | May 5, 2008 11:19 AM
4

I live in one of those townhouses with the single car garage on the ground floor. This is the friendliest I've been with my neighbors. In our block of 8 townhouses we're friendly with most of our neighbors, and with several of our neighbors outside our little block. Our common driveway has become a meeting place where our dogs and kids play and we can have a beer and chat. Our last home was a high-rise condo where most conversations involved a quick "Hello" in the elevator followed by 12 seconds of silence.

The garages are awfully small, and we do end up parking on the street over the summer, when the garage gets taken over by various projects. But in the two areas mentioned (Queen Anne & Cap Hill) I wouldn't even think of buying a place without a garage.

Posted by Alan | May 5, 2008 11:23 AM
5

@ 1: Um, have you READ Slog? They may not have mentioned the hills on that one post (Dan was kind enough to mention it for them), but they sure as hell did here: http://slog.thestranger.com/2007/11/paris_gets_bicycles_you_have_to_pedal, here: http://slog.thestranger.com/2006/11/nothing_works_here, and here: http://slog.thestranger.com/2006/11/barnett_on_nickels. It's not a "straw man" argument; it's an argument Seattle people make all the time, and it deserves to be refuted every time.

Posted by ECB | May 5, 2008 11:24 AM
6

anyone have a link for the article predicting the death of the suburbs? I think Dan blogged about it more than once. Suburbs are the ghettos of the future, etc.

Thanks.

Posted by Rotten666 | May 5, 2008 11:26 AM
7

The NY Times was just regurgitating what was front page news in the Wall Street Journal (and lead on B1 and other sections) the prior couple of weeks.

Other than "crossover" cars, the trend is away from big gas guzzlers to smaller more efficient cars.

In fact, demand for electric vehicles and hybrids is skyrocketing, and the untapped demand for plug-in hybrids (which run 90 percent of the time on electricity) is off the charts.

Luckily, just last week Renault and another car firm announced plans to sell more plug-in or electric cars in the USA.

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 5, 2008 11:26 AM
8

Fair enough, @5, but I'd still like to see an argument why a Seattle bike program will not fail in the way the Amsterdam one did. (Are we just "exceptional" that way?)

Posted by tsm | May 5, 2008 11:32 AM
9

@8

This is just a shot in the dark theory but perhaps Amsterdam's failed because everyone already owns a bike there. I dunno.

Posted by Sir Learnsalot | May 5, 2008 11:37 AM
10

@8, I'm pretty sure the program you are referring to in Amsterdam is an older iteration of the wildly successful current programs in Paris, Lyon, Barcelona, etc. They've learned what works and what doesn't, and have changed the strategies and technologies accordingly. In the past, it has been pretty easy to make the blanket statement "bike-sharing programs just don't work," but nowadays evidence in support of that thesis is getting harder and harder to find.

Posted by john | May 5, 2008 11:53 AM
11

Forget the hills, how are you going to keep the tweakers from stealing every last shared bike? And whatever happened to Portland's "shared" yellow bikes. Last time I was down there, I didn't see a one.

Posted by Westside forever | May 5, 2008 11:54 AM
12

I think the bike lifts would be a great and perfectly reasonable idea for a number of the steeper hills around here. I also think that installing lifts would be a good way to counter the "unique topography" arguments against public bike sharing.

Posted by Hernandez | May 5, 2008 11:59 AM
13

The pro-highway, pro-sprawl, gas price relief arguments in defense of "the poor" slay me. There are six billion people on the planet: 800 million of them have cars. They're not the poor ones.

Posted by Grant Cogswell | May 5, 2008 12:01 PM
14

We need more Bike Lifts!

Think of the poor tired bikes, only 3 feet tall, who have no bike lifts and are tired of the sizeist attitudes of height-advantaged Seattle citizenry who mock us!

More Bike Lifts!

Especially for the fixies, they already have an image problem ...

Posted by Bike Lifts Uber Alles | May 5, 2008 12:05 PM
15
I don’t think there are many hills in Seattle that are actually too steep to ride
You say this because you're young and healthy, and because you can't imagine that everyone isn't just like you -- a typical failing of the young and healthy.
Get back to us when you get old.
Posted by Fnarf | May 5, 2008 12:17 PM
16

PS -- gas is still cheap. As a portion of average income it's less than it was in 1980. I'd like to see it go up at least another buck, preferably two.

Posted by Fnarf | May 5, 2008 12:19 PM
17

And nothing on SLOG about this month being the Group Health Bike to Work Challenge? (go to the website for Cascade Bike Club for more info)

Bike sharing though? Really? In a fucked up city that has nearly no damn bike lanes that one would actually use for commuting to work on a regular basis? Bike Sharing in Seattle would be a slaughter of bikers on Eastlake....and we all know it!

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | May 5, 2008 12:43 PM
18

How I loath SUV's and most of the single occupants that drive them. I've hated them for sooooooo damn long. I cannot wait til they die, die, die.
I am 100% with #16 that gas can go up $2 more bucks. Get more of those stinkin' road hogs off the road. As it is now they just poke along slower then ever to conserve gas. Hogging and clogging roads. Death to all SUV's!

Posted by irl | May 5, 2008 12:44 PM
19

@13 american poor do not equal world poor. you would have to analyze car ownership rates by americans below the poverty line to make an adequate argument.

Posted by vooodooo84 | May 5, 2008 12:45 PM
20

I wish there was a way we could charge gas based on the vehicle that the fuel was going to be put into. (but that idea is totally unrealistic to do I know) Imagine being ablt to charge a SUV owner $14.00 a gallon but a vespa something like $2.00 a gallon....

I know it would not work but it is a nice thought. Especially this weekend while I was in the U-District watching the driver only SUV's zipping by....

Totally time for at least $8.00 a gallon for gas; at least!

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | May 5, 2008 12:54 PM
21

@11: Totally different type of program. Portland's bikes weren't locked, were free, and were very easy to steal--bike-sharing programs require that you give them a lot of information, including credit-card information, up front, making it hard for you to steal the bikes... and the bikes themselves are virtually impossible to take apart, making them all but useless to the tweakers who steal bikes for parts.

Posted by ECB | May 5, 2008 12:55 PM
22

Erica's right. Bikes are hard! Especially those crazy fixed-gear bikes that all the hipsters ride reallly fast down steep hills!

Those things will get you killed!

Posted by Jeff | May 5, 2008 12:59 PM
23

Hills are totally irrelevant to whether or not someone takes up biking. We're one of the few places that got you beat, hill-wise, and they don't discourage even the most casual bicyclist. The biggest topography concern is road safety.

It's the "sharing" part that will prove the biggest obstacle.

Posted by Dougsf | May 5, 2008 1:10 PM
24

"Compared to the impact of all the cars bike-sharing takes off the road, a small fleet of trucks is a small price to pay."

Once you add all the cars idling in the traffic mess caused by all those slow moving bikes, acting like they own the road, cruising down the middle of the inside lane at 15 mph, to the small fleet (there's an oxymoron for you) of trucks, it probably just barely increases carbon output...

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | May 5, 2008 1:12 PM
25

@18, the feeling is mutual. Gas can't drop in price fast enough for me to be able to gun my engine and run you the fuck over.

Posted by suv driver | May 5, 2008 1:17 PM
26

@17

agreed, lets spend money on bike lanes so when all those shared wheels are out on the roads we won't have to fight with cars.

@24

and traffic will not be a mess.

san francisco and seattle have hills in a different way. seattle's hills are required riding for most everyday commuters, while much of inner SF is accessible without a major hill climb.

also, if you ride your bike everyday you won't have a problem with them nasty hills after a while, and you'll have figured out the best way to get around. fixed gears are for flat bike utopias like portland and chicago.

Posted by highfives | May 5, 2008 1:26 PM
27

To assert that Seattle's hills aren't an impediment to bicycling is laughable on its face. We're at under 3% of work commutes now by bicycle, and our weather and topography will continue to dissuade most people from taking up this mode of transportation (which is not to say that I oppose bike-sharing programs, just that we ought to have realistic expectations of the number of people who are likely to take up biking as a result. In the overall scheme of things, that number is negligible).

Welcome to the reality-based world.

Posted by Mr. X | May 5, 2008 2:06 PM
28

Oh, and between 1990 and 2000 San Francisco doubled the number of trips made by bike - from .9% to 1.8% - which makes Seattle's negligible mode split for bikes seem positively inspiring.

Posted by Mr. X | May 5, 2008 2:11 PM
29
acting like they own the road
Um, they do own the road. Just like drivers do.
Posted by Fnarf | May 5, 2008 2:33 PM
30

@23: Hills are totally irrelevant to whether or not someone takes up biking. We're one of the few places that got you beat, hill-wise, and they don't discourage even the most casual bicyclist.

That is total crock. Sure, some may not mind the hills, but a number of people DO. Hills are not "totally irrelevant."

Compare a place like portland with seattle. It's very easy to bike from point A to point B without dealing with hills and without having to take a specific route. And guess what, biking is more popular there.

I'm young and able enough to climb hills, but it gets boring dealing with the same hill day after day. Additionally, it creates an imbalance training wise. Coast down a hill (no fixie for me) and then pedal back up. I miss flatness.


Posted by stinkbug | May 5, 2008 2:34 PM
31

@29 - actually, roads were originally built for pedestrians and horses, and then "improved" for carts and eventually bikes.

Motorized vehicles came relatively recently.

Sidewalks are actually to keep the horse poo off of ladies boots, FWIW.

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 5, 2008 2:54 PM
32

@30 - I didn't say it was irrelevant to the experience (I bike, but got wicked asthma, so it bother me as well), but I just don't believe it's a factor in a persons decisions to begin commuting via bike. Some of the most unforgiving city terrain shares the largest per capita bike commuters. Some of the flatest (and warmest) cities have almost no bicyclist.

Posted by Dougsf | May 5, 2008 2:59 PM
33

Good post.

Posted by Miss Stereo | May 5, 2008 3:32 PM
34

@31: no. Most roads, especially around here, were built for cars. As usual, you've conflated a few random misunderstood facts into a worldview that just isn't supported by facts. Yes, the League of American Wheelmen (I'm a former member) were early proponents of the Good Roads Movement, but most of the real work was done at the behest of the American Automobile Association. As for "horses and pedestrians", that really hasn't been true since the invention of the wagon, several hundred years ago. And it has zero relevance to Seattle. My neighborhood, which isn't far from downtown at all, didn't exist in the pre-automobile era.

Posted by Fnarf | May 5, 2008 4:04 PM
35

@34 - the first cars in the west came a lot later than you think ...

Check it out on NPR if you still incorrectly believe otherwise.

Most people used to walk to work until sometime between WW I and WW II.

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 5, 2008 4:24 PM
36

@25 dream on. Gas dropping!
Best laugh I've had all day.

Posted by biker | May 5, 2008 4:27 PM
37

"Check it out on NPR" -- the usual brilliant citation.

SEATTLE came along a lot later than you think it did, Will.

And in your own neighborhood, more than a few people rode the streetcar. People certainly didn't walk downtown. There's even a statue of people waiting for it there, if you've noticed (though it's on the wrong street).

Posted by Fnarf | May 5, 2008 4:48 PM
38

ECB, please please please learn how to use "after the jump."

Posted by kyd22 | May 5, 2008 5:39 PM
39

I see you haven't been hanging around the mud flats, and don't realize that the interstate highway system was built for WW II, Fnarf.

Any idea why they call it Skid Row (or Skid Road), genius?

Why don't you ask some of the city water engineers why some of our "pipes" are still made of wood ...

(frickin Moron ...)

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 5, 2008 7:44 PM
40

Regarding hills:

Electric bikes. http://kozy.com/itemdetails.cfm?ID=8094

Posted by Michael | May 5, 2008 10:27 PM
41

It's Skid Road, asswipe. And the interstate system was authorized in 1956, which is quite some time after WWII, if I recall correctly. Which has very little to do with the construction of Seattle's neighborhoods, i.e., the vast majority of it.

There is a moron in this conversation, and, as it always is, it's you.

Posted by Fnarf | May 6, 2008 12:09 AM

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