War on Cars Watch for November 8, 2018

Welcome to the War on Cars Watch, a weekly blog to bring together all the stories that affect motorists with regards to street planning such as road diets, and traffic calming as well as programs such as Vision Zero and Complete Streets.

This blog will give you highlights of the week’s stories and commentary from our NMA Foundation Executive Director James C. Walker and California NMA Member Michael Jabbra. Please read this blog and let us know what you think by commenting below!

National

Under Trump, new transportation grants are no longer featuring bike and walkway infrastructure. Is this a change in policy at the national level? TIGER grants which started during the Obama administration are given at the discretion of the department. In this grant cycle, more than 64 percent went to rural projects.

California

Streetsblog recently landed an interview with CALTrans Executive Director Laurie Berman who speaks of changes aloof at the state DOT. She talks in length about the DOTs commitment to the Complete Streets Program.

Officials from Los Angeles area beach cities are working together on possibly putting a road diet for Aviation Blvd. Last week, the city councils for Manhattan, Hermosa, Redondo Beach met together to discuss how to make beach cities more multimodal. When the presentation from the Beach Cities Health District Board included specifics for Aviation Blvd, officials and residents alike likened the idea to the disastrous Vista Del Mar Road diet fiasco of 2017.

The San Francisco Police Department will be getting more traffic cops for the first time in three years…all due to a little program called Vision Zero. Understaffed, the city is hoping the 16 new recruits will be able to better enforce the city’s Vision Zero mandate to bring traffic deaths to zero by 2024. Probably the real reason for the need is the ongoing increased congestion problems brought on by multiple rideshare, bikeshare and scootershare companies plus the increase in mail and package delivery.

San Francisco had one of their many mobility conferences recently and discussed that the most important piece of real estate now is the curb… Read this rhetoric of the Anti-Car lobby… “San Francisco wants to move away from single-occupancy vehicles with free curbside storage to a model promoting high-occupancy, sustainable vehicle types and perhaps an expansion of the sidewalk to alleviate shoulder-to-shoulder foot traffic.”

Commentary from California NMA Member Michael Jabbra

One more item: California’s Proposition 6, which would have repealed the extra gasoline and diesel taxes that went into effect on January 1, 2018, was defeated. 

I had mixed feelings about this. I can testify that work is being done to widen I-405 in Fountain Valley, a congested area. Some of that money may have come from the increased fuel taxes. However, nothing has been done about surface streets in downtown Los Angeles.  

Roads and bridges must be paid for somehow (that is, not through bonds, which are a form of debt). The gasoline/diesel tax is one way to do it that does not involve a Big Brother Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) tax, in which the government knows where you went, when you went, and how often you went. And even though it hits me in the wallet more because I drive a long way, that’s fair because I’m using the roads more than someone with a short commute. However, the real problem is that it’s hard to trust that the California government won’t rake off that money to be used for something else.  

I hope the “road diet” on Aviation Boulevard doesn’t go anywhere. The anger at the Vista del Mar road diet should be a cautionary example. Not everyone has a job close to home (I wish I did!!), not everyone can use mass transit (imagine a plumber hauling all his tools on a subway!) and not everyone can telecommute.  Sadly, the politicians never seem to learn about that. They think we’re all single millennials with office jobs.  

Washington, D.C.

City officials are telling major mail carriers to not park in bike lanes – a new initiative under the Vision Zero umbrella. They wrote nice letters to the big three carriers but critics say that perhaps a more aggressive towing campaign would work better.

Illinois

The state of Illinois recently hosted a summit to find solutions to traffic safety issues under the guise of Vision Zero. The main focus was working together with various partners to stop distracted driving.

Massachusetts

Area Chicopee residents are confused by the new road diet/bike lane configuration on Route 116. Bicyclists have to ride between two lanes of traffic. They run right of the through lane and left of the right hand turn only lanes. Many drivers feel the state made the road more dangerous for all road users than before.

Maryland

Baltimore’s new Complete Streets Policy aims to promote racial equality. Instead of putting bike lanes in wealthier neighborhoods, Baltimore wants to spend the cash where households are less likely to own a car.

Washington State

Just like San Francisco, Seattle has a congestion problem due to rideshare.  Just how popular? Ridership numbers have been kept secret until now.

Commentary from NMA Foundation Executive Director James C. Walker

The change in the federal infrastructure grants to focus on rural areas and real roads is welcome. Bike and walkway projects serve only a small fraction of the population.

“Complete Streets” tends to focus on the needs of the populations close to the city centers where walking, biking, busing, etc. is practical for some people. We need to be sure that transportation systems continue to accommodate the more distant vehicle commuter, visitor, tourist, shopper, and commercial driver where other forms of transportation are not practical.

Again, the San Francisco thoughts on the value of the “curb” are about local residents, but almost totally ignore the commuter – who commutes because the cost of real estate in SF and many similar cities is beyond their ability to afford.

I have a couple of the bike lane between turn and through lane configurations in Ann Arbor near freeway entrances. The markings must be CRYSTAL clear, and there still may be a dangerous learning curve for drivers who need to switch from through to turn lanes – but aren’t really expecting bike traffic.

The growing emphasis for bike lanes in four season weather cities is simply not realistic in many places. Some people who will bike in nice weather will stop doing so in heavy rain, cold, snow, ice, etc. Ann Arbor, Michigan is in the process of putting the bike share program in hibernation for the winter – because most riders stop in bad weather.

Uber and Lyft are a good example of “Be careful what you ask for, you might get it.”  Those services are unlikely to reduce congestion, they are more likely to increase congestion with their convenience. And the ride share companies are pushing congestion charges in some places, so their vehicles can pay one daily congestion charge and spread the cost over multiple rides that day. It is a scam we must fight.

James C. Walker is a life member of the National Motorists Association. He is also a board member and executive director of the National Motorists Association Foundation.

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