My new favorite bridge: with an enclosed walkway

I have arrived in Minneapolis and am busy documenting transit and bike facility improvements. Look for this site to be very active over the next few weeks. Today I discovered my new favorite bridge: the Washington Ave Bridge linking the University of Minnesota campus on either side of the river. This is a two-level bridge featuring an enclosed walkway in the center of the upper level to provide shelter for the long walk.

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An enclosed walkway seems so simple yet so incredibly useful. It's common in private spaces like shopping malls and should be built everywhere a bridge is needed. At least build a canopy.

The entire upper level of this bridge is for bikes and pedestrians only, so you can still walk outside if it's a nice day. The lower level was just reconstructed to add tracks for the new Central Corridor light rail line (the topic of several upcoming posts). It's a critical link for transit as thousands of bus passengers are carried across every day. Next I would like to see the vehicle lanes become exclusive bus lanes, and we'll have a truly sustainable bridge.

Highway Transit

As cities look to expand transit, it's common to use an existing transportation corridor on which extra ground level space is available. Many cities have built rapid transit and regional rail and bus lines in the median of a highway, and many others continue to do so because it's cheap and has only minimal impacts. Aside from the cost, freeway corridors can be great places for long-distance express buses or trains with either no stops or just a few park-and-ride stations.  However, it's not a good place for any other transit service. My experience on Chicago's Blue Line provides a clear case against locating transit stations along a highway.

Just the presence of the highway ensures that walkable neighborhoods will not develop, and any nearby businesses will be hostile to pedestrians. The location of the station means that a long, unpleasant walk is required from the train to anything else. And since the highway divides communities, the lack of street life makes it not only uncomfortable but also potentially unsafe.

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Once you reach the platform, you're still exposed to high health risks from auto emissions, not to mention the discomfort caused by noise and the nauseating feeling of traffic whizzing by within a few meters of where you're standing. Not a nice place to be waiting, and certainly not a good way to attract riders and promote public transit.


There is often a tendency to be lazy and build a transit line along a highway simple because there is room and it's relatively cheap and easy to do. Yet before we take that plunge, let's think hard about what kind of ridership you expect to be serving, as highways and rapid transit lines promote very different kinds of land use.

Rapid transit stations have the potential to attract dense, pedestrian friendly mixed-use development that people will walk to and spend time hanging around.  But highways are usually more powerful in dividing communities and creating hostile walking environments. Next to most highways you typically warehouses, auto repair shops, parking lots and other things that don't create much street life.

While highway transit may be better than nothing at all, I think it's well worth the extra cost and construction impacts to locate rapid transit lines and stations either in existing dense areas in need to better transit or in places with the potential to become walkable, thriving neighborhoods.

Fortunately, CTA seems to recognize this as they have decided that the planned extension of the Red Line's southern portion (also in an expressway median) will move away from the highway.

Crashes are not accidents; they are preventable, as NYPD finally realizes.

With all the dangerous and arrogant behavior I see from car drivers every day, it's amazing that crashes are still considered accidents. It may sound like semantics, but it's important because it's an example of how our car culture manifests itself in law enforcement. In most cases the police will take the driver's word as the truth without even talking to the bicyclist or any witnesses. Every crash is preventable, even according to the DMV. As a vehicle operator you have a responsibility to pay attention and exercise due care, which means scanning for hazards and being prepared to stop if necessary.

There may be no better example of how our car culture impacts policing that the relationship between cyclists and police.  Most police officers spend entire shifts in cars, with the exception of walking short distances to/from their car, and most of them live outside of the cities where they work. They tend to suffer from the "windshield perspective", lacking an understanding of what it's like to bike or walk among car traffic.

Things have been so bad in New York City that the police routinely announce "no criminality suspected" without even investigating. The total lack of traffic law enforcement there means that if you inure kill someone while driving your car over the speed limit through red lights and onto sidewalks, it's okay as long as you stay on the scene and aren't drunk.  Surely you didn't mean it, right? No criminality suspected.

Those three words will become less common as the New York Police Department, pressed by the City Council, expands its (newly renamed) Collision Investigation Squad to investigate any crash with a serious injury as determined by the emergency medical responders. While they should really be investigating all crashes involving non-motorists, this is a good start and a promising change for the city's least responsive agency. Hopefully it represents a growing understanding among NYPD brass of the significance of traffic crimes, and maybe -- just maybe -- we will start to see some enforcement for routine traffic crimes like red light violations, reckless driving ("speeding") and failure to yield the right of way, among many others.

Episode 24: bike emissions, road costs, segregation and stupid lawmakers

This might be called the idiot episode as take a few state legislators to task for being arrogant idiots: the Florida State Senator who wants buses out of his way at all costs, and the Washington State Representative who believes bicyclists' "increased respiration" causes emissions -- too bad they still have trees in Washington! (thanks Erik).  It should help if I debunk the myth that drivers pay for our roads. Contrary to popular belief, most street funding comes from general revenue sources that everyone pays into. Unfortunately the myth in convenient for drivers who continue to demand more space/resources and push others off the streets. We're always told we have no money for transit and livable streets but the reality is we spend too much money for a broken transportation system that is inefficient and unsafe. Plus, we spend much of our money in the wrong places, like highways, big banks, endless oil wars, propping up foreign dictators, ... We have to change our ways before we completely destroy the planet and everyone on it.  Rather than misguided, childish sequester (austerity) measures, we should be employing people in good jobs to rebuild the infrastructure that works and expand our transit, bike and pedestrian networks to serve everyone who needs to travel.

Minku from the Vegan Pedicab Podcast is back to add his thoughts and discuss an effort in Chicago to raise awareness about dooring. Local lawyer Jim Freeman calls auto safety standards to apply to people outside the vehicle, arguing that dooring could be eliminated by design.

The helmet of justice debuts to create a "black box" inside a bike/skate helmet. It's a shame we live in a society where we need video evidence because the police and courts automatically believe the car driver.

Israel steps back a few decades and introduces segregated buses in the West Bank. How will they enforce that? And haven't Palestinians been through enough hardship?

Atlanta legislators haven't learned the lessons of privatization (2, 3, 4, 5, 6) as they push to privatize parts of MARTA. Georgians for Better Transit organizes to fight back.

Nevada pretends to deal with unsafe streets by banning texting while walking ... or as it's better known, victim blaming.

Residential and commercial parking has many consequences -- listen to episode 14 for my interview with Rachel Weinberger -- including encouraging unnecessary car trips and leaving less space for useful activities such as housing. Parking makes cities more hostile to walking and biking and more difficult to serve with good transit. Cities should stop requiring developers to build car parking. We discuss one developer's legal battle to build 40 housing units without parking in a transit rich Boston neighborhood where half of households are car-free.

Let's stop pouring money into endless highway expansion, endless oil wars and ... the big banks!  Occupy activist Jesse Myerson was interviewed on the Radio Dispatch to explaining the real reason New York's MTA is raising fares more than 10% every two years.

Thanks to the Progressive Podcast Australia for mentioning my work in their latest podcast on sustainable transportation, in which they discuss the links between transport and other political and cultural issues.

Biking is not a summer hobby

It's not just a seasonal sport. It's not about fitness. You can bike every day of the year in every place. Bikes are a transport mode to get from point A to point B. Many cities pretend to support bicycling but really they're just trying to make the bike advocates be quiet: "We really wish we could but it's just too hard we just don't really want to". Few things do more to cement the perception of bicycling as solely a recreational hobby than prioritizing a parking spot or other driver amenity over safe bicycle facilities.

One of these things is the routine failure to clear bike lanes of snow. These same cities have always refused to clear walkways, instead "requiring" that abutting property owners clear snow and but declining to enforce this "requirement".

Grimlocke reminds us how Boston and surrounding cities only pretend to make biking safe.

Maybe some of the money going to cycling infrastructure should be funneled into clearing out our bike lanes during the winter months, rather than putting in new bike lanes that will only be available to us during the summer. It’s sad to know that this is a reflection of just how important cyclist safety is to the powers that be.

There can be no excuses. If there is too much snow, pick one of the thousands of lightly used car lanes to pile it in. Don't put it in one of the few and well used bike lanes.

Episode 22: Transitized: Chicago transit, bikes, pedicabs

I sat down with Shaun Jacobsen, Chicago resident and author of the local blog, Transitized.  We learn about the city's transit system which consists mostly of elevated trains, a comprehensive network of slow buses running in mixed traffic, and an infant bike network consisting mostly of sharrows and "weasel lanes". Shaun explains how to redesign our streets for people and tells us where to find the money we're always told we don't have (hint: stop expanding highways and subsidizing car parking). Minku Sharma of the Vegan Pedicab Podcast is back in the second half to talk more about transit, street design and our pedicab experiences (including the big tire blowout).


This week's music is provided by the Weakerthans from Winnipeg.

Visit criticaltransit.com to find out more, follow the blog, make a donation or sponsor an episode to support this work and my ongoing Sustainable Transport Tour.  Spread the word and follow my work on facebook and twitter.  Please contact me if I may be passing through your city, or if you have suggestions on places to go or people to meet.

Transit & Chicago's United Center

Last night I visited the United Center -- home arena for the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team, Bulls basketball team and many concerts -- for the first time. While I was mainly there to drive a pedicab, I did take note of the transportation network as I am known to do. What struck me most about the United Center is its poor access to transportation facilities. It is located two miles west of downtown and surrounded by giant parking lots (the grey areas on the map).

Map-United-Center Even though it was built only 20 years ago, in one of the largest cities in North America, no provision was made for a rapid transit connection. The closest station is Illinois Medical District on the Blue Line but that's a pedestrian unfriendly 15 minute walk (from parking lots to an expressway median). The Pink Line travels within two blocks of the stadium but does not stop nearby.

The CTA runs a bus shuttle before and after the game -- Route 19, United Center Express -- to the downtown area for rapid transit and regional transportation connections. Yesterday there were four articulated buses staged to load as the game ended. That's a capacity of only 400 people. What about the rest of the 20,000 attendees?


It seems that, as a direct result of this built environment, most of them drive. There is no incentive to visit anything nearby and thus no disincentive to driving. In fact, both of the pedicab rides I got after the game were to nearby parking lots.

The developer of the stadium should have been required to build a Pink Line station on Madison Street, make pedestrian improvements on the route to the Blue Line, and pay for increased service before and after the game. I don't know if they pay for the bus shuttle but experience elsewhere suggests it's unlikely. The Prudential Center in Newark, NJ is an example of a stadium built recently with no parking facilities and funding for transit service.

Down with the slush puddles

It's been a weird week. My former host cities in the northeast are seeing record snowfall and all I have here in the midwest in a bunch of slush. We tend to this of snow mounds, slush puddles and ice and necessary evils, but they don't have to be. It's only because we live in a society where cars come first and everyone else is an afterthought if even a thought at all. Notice how the street is completely clear but puddle and uncleared slippery sidewalk makes pedestrian facilities unavailable.


Slush (and rain) puddles can be essentially eliminated by raising the street up to the sidewalk level instead of ramping the curb down to the motor vehicle area. The rest of the hazards can be eliminated by expanding public snow clearing responsibilities to include public walkways. The current arrangement wherein we expect property owners to maintain abutting walkways causes snow to be dealt with in a haphazard fashion, unevenly and unpredictably, with some places being clear and others becoming a skating rink. I love to play hockey, just not on my way to the bus. Rarely do you see an entire street block cleared. It would be so much more efficient and effective if the city just drove a narrow snow plow down the sidewalk, for a miniscule fraction of the current auto-only snow clearing budget. Such a system would also motivate us to spend a summer fixing all the broken sidewalks so we could easily plow them.

Again, we send a very clear message by plowing the way for cars preemptively or within hours yet leaving everyone else to risk injury on hazardous walkways.

Episode 19: Time's Up bike activism, driving a pedicab, and the big tour announcement

After a brief recap of my experience driving a pedicab in Washington, DC during the presidential inauguration, I stopped by the Time's Up bike coop in Brooklyn to chat with Keegan about how bike activists can create the change we want to see in the city. Time's Up is an all-volunteer grassroots direct action environmental organization working to ensure access to safe, sustainable, affordable transportation for everyone. Get involved with Time's Up by joining rides, fixing bikes, and helping and networking with other activists in the broader struggle for social and economic justice. Learn more about bicycles, rickshaws and social justice from the Vegan Pedicab Podcast.

Lastly, an exciting announcement about the future of the show as a component of my sustainable transport tour.  The next stop is Chicago.  Please get in touch if you have anything to share with readers and listeners, and consider supporting my upcoming fundraising campaign if you like the idea and enjoy learning about sustainable transportation.

Episode 16: Livable Streets with Charlie Denison

While in Boston I sat down with Charlie Denison, Advocacy Committee Chair of the Livable Streets Alliance, a local network of sustainable transportation advocates. We discuss the latest in the ongoing effort to redesign our transport networks to serve all users and shift the balance away from car oriented development. Charlie is a multimodal transit user and passionate advocate for safer and more inviting streets where everyone can coexist peacefully. Find out more about the Livable Streets Alliance and read Charlie's blog on the Somerville Patch.