Showing posts with label transportation alternatives. Show all posts
Showing posts with label transportation alternatives. Show all posts

15 February 2013


The city of Portland, Oregon in the USA is one of , if not the most progressive cities in North America when it comes to building bicycle infrastructure. While it pales in comparison to Copenhagen, Portland has managed to build a network enticing enough to have raised the bicycle-to-work/study share up to 6% which is remarkable if you understand that "Portland was a city like any other US city in the 1980s and early 1990s in terms of transportation behavior". (Although we've heard they only do their bike count in June, not like Copenhagen, for example, that counts at over 40 permanent locations and another 160 intermittent locations, but we'll leave that alone for now.)

In other words addicted to the car; though to be fair, Portland did build one of the first post-WW2 Light Rail lines in North America in 1986 and did so by using monies that were originally aimed at widening what Oregon calls a "freeway".

This has come at a "great" financial cost of course, the total being an estimated US$60 Million, which is a lot of money... 

...until you realize what the extension or widening of limited-access divided-highways cost.

And in the case of Portland, US$60 million is also what 1 mile (1.6 km) of "freeway" costs to build.  Now, to be honest, highway projects in the USA vary in price so look at this report and remember that these prices are per "lane-mile" (if the proposed "freeway" is going to have 3 lanes in each direction, multiply these numbers by 6).

Widening roads is not cheap either.  A news item this week announced that 1.2 miles (1.93 km) of road in Los Angeles county would have a Carpool Lane and a General Purpose Lane added in each direction for just US$214 million(!)  An underpass designed to eliminate an at-grade or level crossing in Orange County California is penciling is at US$92 million.

But you won't hear much about the costs of those projects as they are built for the bull in society's china shop, the automobile; because the mainstream media in the USA (and increasingly elsewhere) ignores the bull but then scrutinizes the costs of bicycle and railway facilities.

CNN's domestic USA service (which is very different from that which you may encounter with the CNN logo outside North America) recently ran a report critical of the spending of public funds to upgrade a railway in the Northeastern State of Vermont on a show hosted by Anderson Cooper (Cooper is, ironically, the Great-Great-Great-Grandson of railroad builder and magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt)  

The piece has been roundly criticized by many for being out-of-touch with reality, the best critique being made by DC.Streetsblog's Tanya Snyder who defended the rail improvements for having "spent .00006 percent of the federal stimulus money on needed track improvements and came in on time and under budget."   The cost to the taxpayers of this "outrageous railway boondoggle"?  

US$52 million.

Remember what the Portland Bicycle Infrastructure cost?

Typical service before deregulation
A subsidy you will rarely hear about in the mainstream U.S. media, is "Essential Air Service" (EAS). This program was put in place at the end of the old system of government controls on prices and the number carriers allowed to serve city-pairs that existed until 1978.  It was intended to ease the "shock" created when the now deregulated airlines could then serve any city they chose, based on market forces.  Service to these smaller cities, usually flown as a multi-stop, "milk run" service on jet equipment, had often been a requirement if the airline wanted to also offer non-stop service, often as a monopoly, between two large American cities.  EAS now subsidizes the fares of airlines flying to these smaller cities so that they can keep service and connection to a "hub city" at a level of about US$170 million per annum for the Lower 48, or enough to replace Portland's bicycle infrastructure over three times each year.
Air Greenland now arriving!
By the way, the term "Lower 48" which comes from an Alaskan perspective is a simple way of referring to the contiguous or mainland states in the USA.   Alaska and Hawaii also receive EAS funding, but their history/geography/topography/ethnography and lack of road networks justify there being some assistance. This is not unlike Denmark itself which sends block grants to the home-rule government in Greenland which in turn subsidizes helicopter flights there to small towns un-reachable by any other means of transport. EAS was intended to slowly fade away in the 1980's, but has instead been expanded, and subject to massive intervention by politicians who want to "bring home the bacon" for their constituencies.  Perhaps the prime example is Hagerstown, Maryland to Washington's Dulles Airport (which is in Virginia) a route that covers 54 miles (87 km) in its 40 minutes of flying time, a trip that would take 75 minutes in a car or bus.
The CNN piece focused on a train called "the Vermonter" which runs from Saint Albans near the border with Quebec, (a previous incarnation of this train used to serve Montreal) down to Essex Junction a stop near to Vermont's largest city Burlington, thence to White River Junction,  a city near Hanover, New Hampshire, the home of Dartmouth College.  It then mostly  follows the Connecticut River, which divides Vermont from New Hampshire, south into Western Massachusetts through to New Haven, Connecticut. At this point the train joins the busy Northeast Corridor to New York City and finally ends up in Washington, D.C. 
Source: M.J. Bradley & Associates for NRDC
While focusing on the dollars spent on rail infrastructure that should last for many years, CNN did of course not mention an air route funded under EAS that runs roughly parallel to the train, from the Lebanon, New Hampshire airport, which is close to White River Junction, to White Plains, in New York State's Westchester County.  While the Westchester County Airport is in an area north of New York City itself, it is also close to the headquarters of many large companies.  Those passengers wishing to continue to Manhattan are offered a free connection by van. Before I go on, should I mention that there is a profitable  private bus company that runs from Hanover and Lebanon to Manhattan,  Boston and the Boston Airport?  I think I won't as I would have to look up all the sordid details of what the Interstate Highway System cost to build and now, operate and maintain which would make this post longer than it already is.  And those buses don't have to serve the intermediate stops like previous carriers were once required to, like the train still does, because the time and distance penalty for leaving a limited access highway to serve a city on a route is much greater than it is for the typical railway line which were built through small cities rather than around them.
Only one pilot today!
The Federal Government quietly spends US$1 million per year to subsidize two dailys flights on 8-seat (9 seats when they are flown with only one pilot) Cessna 402s.  It spends an additional US$1.3 million to pay for four trips a day from Lebanon to Boston, for a grand total of US$2.3 million.  Both routes are operated by the same airline, Cape Air, which has transformed itself from a Hyannis, Massachusetts based island-hopping airline that was one of the bases for the TV show "Wings" to a company that has won EAS contracts all over the United States and its territories.
This EAS Subsidy does not include the financial support from City of Lebanon to the airport itself, derived from property taxpayers due to the financial structure of New Hampshre, or the US$1 million that the federal government grants each year to the airport for "improvements", or the airport's traffic control tower, as it is part of the national air traffic control system.  Both of these fundings are based on the existence of the EAS flights.  And since the Boston flights arrive into a "secure" gate there, the Lebanon Airport must have airport security screeners present for those departures, which are paid for through a ticket fee. However at around 6,000 "enplanements" for Boston at US$2.50 per, that's not generating very much money per year, so funding and capital for the security is coming from elsewhere.
EAS rules requires that at least 10,000 passengers board the subsidized flights each year; something which was only pulled off by Lebanon in 2012 by using steeply discounted fares during the last week of the year.  This situation made for a fun day trip  (sponsored by the taxpayers to the tune of US$230 each way (The US$2.3M annual EAS subsidy to Cape Air divided by 10,000)) from Lebanon to White Plains for one member of the forum who wrote a trip report about it.  One way fares on these flights are normally in the US$130 range.  It is touted as a means to access businesses in the area for those who are unwilling to take the bus (see above) from Boston's airport or drive the 76 miles (123 km) from the one in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Might get some work done.
However, I will confess that the fully Wheelchair-accessible 206-seat train, which could operate with many more cars equaling many more seats, requires US$2.7 million in subsidies to operate.  That's still less than the two daily nine-seat airplanes plus their share of the associated Lebanon airport cost to fly to White Plains (I'll ignore the federally-supported costs of Westchester County Airport since it handles many more and larger aircraft operations)  And, yes, the rail project project mentioned was only for Vermont.  There are other projects in Massachusetts and Connecticut, admittedly at additional cost, that will result in even further time savings for the trip as a whole along the entire Vermont to New Haven corridor as well as the potential to add more frequency of service.  But then one should note that this rail corridor that the Vermonter uses north of New Haven is owned by private companies who also contributed funding to the project, and despite the public funding for improvements, unless there is an exemption I am not aware of, these private railroads pay property tax on the land their rail "right-of-ways" occupy.  If you are reading this in the USA, go someday to your local property tax collector and ask who the largest property tax payer is in that municipality or county. If there is one, it is usually the railroad who owns the local rail line.   Is there property tax levied on airports and roads?  No! And in regards to capital expenses, I can't begin to speculate what it would cost to buy the land for the Lebanon Airport today and then build the terminals from scratch.
Rail lives (or dies) on intermediate market business, this is what it does best given the ability to stop in cities along the way without the aforementioned time and distance penalties.  Remember neither the airplane nor the bus can do what this train does, connecting not only Burlington, Vermont  to Washington, but also Wallingford, Connecticut to Waterbury, Vermont or Hanover, New Hampshire to Amherst, Massachusetts (also home of educational institutions), and this part of the world to the rest via New York City, et cetera, et cetera.  And you can bring your bike along, and your laptop, and buy a beer.  
All for less than the cost of an underpass.

10 May 2012

The Scooter - The Unsung Mobility Option

It's important to provide facilities for all forms of human-powered transport. In my neighourhood, many kids live close enough to walk to school, including my kids. They can and do ride bicycles there, too, on safe, separated cycle tracks, but scooters are a popular option as well.

My son Felix started riding his scooter around the 'hood recently. Disappearing off to football practice or to a friend's house. However, when he scooted to school he came home saying he needed a padlock to lock it. There were too many scooters inside the school so a parking rack was provided outside. I didn't really get what he meant until I saw the rack the other day.

Scooter Parking at School
A couple of rows of funky scooter racks have been placed in the schoolyard. You rest the neck of the scooter in the slot and a little bar is tilted down over it. You lock it with a simple padlock.

Brilliant and simple solution. There are six slots per rack and three racks in all. 18 parking spots.

Scooters are quite underrated as transport. They have an air of childishness about them. Playthings. But with so many kids kicking about the neighbourhood I've realised that they are a respectable form of transport in their own right. So certainly facilities must be made available for them.

Scooter Parking
Another place you see a respectable fleet of scooters is at the larger Danish hospitals. And here, as well, parking spaces are provided. The sign at Hvidøvre Hospital, above, reads, "Scooter parking". You'll see hospital staff, from cleaners to surgeons, rolling along the long halls on their A2B journeys. There are the simple versions like the ones in the photos (I love the little kickstands on both of them) but there are also larger ones for carrying gear, blood samples, medicine, you name it.

Home from Sledding - Cycling in Winter in Copenhagen
Heading to the Beach

05 February 2011

Brooklyn's Markowitz Mocks Bicycles

Fading Away Already

Caroline Samponaro from Transportation Alternatives in New York sent this message via Facebook regarding comments that Brooklyn's Borough President Markowitz gave at his State of the Borough Address. I'll just let her do the talking:

"Borough President Markowitz made a mockery of street safety last night at his State of the Borough Address. Contact him today to let him know his lack of leadership on this issue is unacceptable. Let him know that playing politics with safety is not OK with the Brooklyn-ites who put him in office.

Email Marty today and cc your elected official and ask him to explain his lack of leadership:

CC your City Council Member on your email. You can find out who yours is here.

In recent months the Borough President has consistently dismissed the facts on how bike lanes and pedestrians street safety investments are reducing crashes for all street users and eliminating speeding-a leading killer on our streets.

The day before his State of the Borough address, the moment when he speaks to his constituents about how he plans to work on their behalf in the year ahead, safe streets advocates and families of cyclists and pedestrians killed or injured by cars in Brooklyn asked Marty to speak up for street safety. We asked him to let us know how he would work for safer streets in 2011 to prevent needless crashes and loss of life in Brooklyn. See the summary of this request here.

Not only did he not speak for safer streets at the State of the Borough Address, he mocked it. His response to a request to get serious about street safety was to further politicize a basic right that all New Yorkers share: safe passage on our public right of ways--our streets. Read more here.

2011 State of the Borough Address - As prepared for Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz - February 3, 2011

[Borough President rides in on bike lane]

Welcome to beautiful Sunset Park, Brooklyn, USA, and the 2011 State of the Borough address!

As you can see, I’ve taken advantage of the Department of Transportation’s newest bike lane. Of course, I can tell it’s still under construction, because the D.O.T. hasn’t yet removed all the seats in the auditorium to make room for it!


As I’m sure you noticed, I made my entrance tonight on what I like to my senior cycle, so I hope you understand that I am not against bicycles. I’m not even against bike lanes. I’ve supported their creation around Brooklyn, including 9th street near Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Greenway that runs from Greenpoint to Sunset Park.

But for the majority of New Yorkers, it is simply not feasible to make bicycles their primary mode of transport, and unfortunately that’s the direction I believe the City’s policy is heading. They are trying to stigmatize car owners and get them to abandon their cars, when the fact is, even many bicyclists also own cars!

Cycling is no substitute for mass transit, and there are still tens of thousands of Brooklynites who live far from public transportation and who rely on a car to reach their jobs and live their lives. But of course, we must have a comprehensive plan that insures the safety of drivers, walkers and cyclists. And we should all remember to show respect to one another—drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, everybody who uses our streets. I have been a vocal critic of the Prospect Park West bike lane because I think it is a perfect example of how not to install a bike lane. It has disrupted the aesthetics of one of Brooklyn’s most beautiful thoroughfares and made it more dangerous to cross the street safely, especially for seniors, young children and parents with strollers.

Did he really say that?
"Cycling is no substitute for mass transit..."
"But for the majority of New Yorkers, it is simply not feasible to make bicycles their primary mode of transport..."

Talk about out of the loop. Go get him, Brooklyn.

16 August 2010

Torrential Rain? Police Suggest Taking Bikes

Heels and Brolley
We've had some torrential rain here in Copenhagen over the past couple of days. These almost tropical rainstorms are increasing in frequency over the past few years. Flooding of roads and overflowing of sewer systems are often the result.

Last night a new rainstorm was forecast and I thought that the police's advisory was interesting. I caught it on Text TV before going to bed.

"Copenhagen Police encourage motorists to be extra cautious Monday morning.

"Get up early. Listen to the radio or go online. If it looks bad, take public transport or your bicycle.

Even if we don't get the same amount of rain, the traffic can be affected if the sewers once again can't keep up."

Very Copenhagen-esque. The bicycle - and public transport or a combination of the two - recommended as an alternative to the automobile during adverse weather. Nice.

Rainy Day2

Read the article in Danish at DR.

09 February 2010

Bike Crutch

Crutch Bike
Ah, yes, how the bicycle eases our transportational needs, however odd they may be on occasion. This Copenhagener had issues with her foot. It's bandaged and wrapped in plastic.
Crutch Bike
Her companion walked alongside with crutches which were, I'm assuming, too cumbersome and slippery on the wintry sidewalks and crosswalks.

So... take a bike. Training wheels or not, it's still quicker and, most importantly, more comfortable. Viva la bicycle.

19 December 2009

Copenhagen, Jan Gehl and Contested Streets

Here's a clip from Transportation Alternatives' documentary Contested Streets wherein Copenhagen is profiled and architect and urban planner Jan Gehl is interviewed and guides us through the last four decades of Copenhagen's transformation to one of the world's most liveable cities.

As Gehl says in the documentary:
"It's really wonderful to live in a city where every day when you wake up in the morning you realise that the city is a little bit better than yesterday. I've had this feeling now for over forty years."

The bicycle features prominently in the segment. Gehl says about Copenhagen:
" third go by bicycle, one third go by public transportation and one third in private cars. That is why we are the city in the western world that has least traffic - in any big million city [metropolis] - because the bicycle is carrying such a great weight in the total traffic picture."

Brilliant clip and interview with Jan Gehl highlighting Copenhagen's journey.