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Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Busts Myth That “Nobody Walks” in Rural America

Ben Goldman, DC.Streets
One reason why Congress may be so willing to eliminate dedicated funding for bicycle and pedestrian programs is the persistent notion that biking and walking are limited to cities, and therefore of no concern to rural legislators. Setting aside for a moment the arguments supporting a federal interest in urban transportation, the notion that nobody bikes or walks in rural areas is outright false, as amply demonstrated in a new report from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

Yes, it may be true that “rural biking and walking rates are lower than national biking and walking rates,” said report contributor Tracy Hadden Loh, “but it’s not that much lower — and it’s not zero.”

The report, “Active Transportation Beyond Urban Centers,” shows that in large and small “rural cores” of 2,500 to 50,000 residents, the share of total trips made on foot or by bike is only 20 percent below the rate for larger urban cores. Furthermore, when it comes to work trips, rural areas fall right in line with the national rates of biking and walking to work.

Other surveys highlighted by the report show that rural residents rank pedestrian friendliness as being more important than major roads or long-distance transportation.
(30 January 2012)
Link to the report

What’s the Best Way To Get Users To Embrace Mass Transit? – Make it pleasant? Or make it efficient?

Tom Vanderbilt, Slate
A few months ago, at an urban mobility conference in Frankfurt, the British consultant Charles Leadbeater presented a sort of x-y matrix for thinking about how to manage and design cities. The chart was divided into quadrants of “system” and “empathy,” inspired by the psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen’s work with Asperger’s patients, who in some cases are quite good at “systemizing” behavior (e.g., attention to detail, patterns, organization, etc.), but less adept at empathic human relationships.

For cities, “system” implied things like infrastructure and institutions, while empathy implied the cultural texture of a place (that ineffable quality that guidebooks sometimes call “soul”). A planned-from-scratch place like Dubai, or Le Corbusier’s “Radiant City,” Leadbeater argued, was “high system/low empathy,” while the favelas of Rio, which grew up organically and are sustained by a web of informal networks, could be considered “low system/high empathy.” Then there are places—Lagos, he suggested—where neither axis is particularly optimized. How, he wanted to know, could you design for both?

I am habitually doubtful of such sweeping constructs—the world explained in a Power Point slide—but I was piqued by the concept, and I spent the rest of the presentation sketching out matrixes in my notebook. Take U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan. Drones are high system/low empathy; the Army’s “Human Terrain System,” which has used anthropologists and other civilian specialists to meet with tribal elders, is “low system/high empathy.” The High Line in New York? Low system/high empathy. (Although back when it was functioning transport infrastructure it was the other way around). Or think of versus your friendly local bookseller. You get the picture.
(19 January 2012)

House Transportation Bill “a March of Horribles”

Ben Goldman, DC.Streets Blog
There was no grand unveiling of the House’s five-year transportation bill today, but a summary of the bill has been kicking around for a few days. While there aren’t any hard numbers available yet, the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act looks like a return to 1950s-style transportation policy. It is particularly unkind to transit and bike/ped programs, and to cities in general.

The bill’s overarching themes, again in the absence of official language, seem to be:

* Funneling as much money as possible to highways
* Giving even more power to spend that money to state DOTs, not cities and metro regions
* Shortening the environmental review process
* Eliminating programs “that do not have a federal interest,” which apparently includes all dedicated funding for bicycle and pedestrian programs
* Doing away with discretionary transit programs, which would spell the end for the very successful TIGER
* Augmenting gas tax revenue with a yet-unspecified revenue stream from oil and gas drilling
One example the summary gives of a project not in the federal interest is the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program, which distributed four $25 million grants “to demonstrate how improved walking and bicycling networks can increase rates of walking and bicycling.”….
(27 January 2012)