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Is our next president going to care about transit and street safety?

What might a Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump presidency look like for transportation? Here's a roundup of what we know about their respective takes on getting around, from roads and bridges to bike lanes and sidewalks.


Hillary Clinton at a bike shop in Iowa. Photo by Hillary for America on Flickr.

Broadly speaking, both candidates say that US transportation infrastructure is in desperate need of attention and vow a massive increase in transportation spending. Hillary Clinton says she would increase funding by $275 billion over a five year period, paid for by means of a higher tax on corporations. Donald Trump says he will double that amount by tapping private investment and taking on more debt.

But opening a giant spigot of cash to fix US infrastructure is not necessarily a great idea. State transportation officials are notorious for spending most of their budgets on either new highways or on widening existing ones. Maintenance projects, which lack the visuals of ribbon cuttings beloved by politicians of all stripes, are relegated to a secondary status. As Angie Schmitt of Streetsblog notes:

Doubling federal transportation spending wouldn't solve this problem. Pumping billions of additional dollars into state DOTs without reforming the current system could actually make it worse—giving agencies license to spend lavishly on new projects that serve only to increase their massive maintenance backlogs
Unfortunately, neither candidate addresses this fundamental structural flaw. Both appear to view the main issue to be a lack of federal funding, when the real issue is how lawmakers spend the funding they get.

With Clinton, expect more road widenings

Hillary Clinton's talk in this last month unfortunately sounds like a plan that will focus on widening roads. Her website states that she "will make smart investments to improve our roads, reduce congestion, and slash the 'pothole tax' that drivers silently pay each and every day."

On the subject of transit, she plans to "lower transportation costs and unlock economic opportunity by expanding public transit options" and "encourage local governments to work with low-income communities to ensure unemployed and underemployed Americans are connected to good jobs."


Photo by torbakhopper on Flickr.

Clinton's website makes no mention of efforts to reengineer infrastructure for the safety of those who walk and bike. That's a key component of streets that are safe and promote more environmentally-friendly uses.

To Clinton, transit appears to be considered primarily a means for moving low-income workers around, with greater subsidies being the preferred means for boosting ridership. That attitude towards transit took hold in the 1960s and has held it back ever since.

A transportation outlook that holds roads so far above all other modes will fail, as road expansions in congested urban areas trigger induced demand that actually worsens congestion. This, in turn, triggers a vicious cycle with calls for more road expansions to relieve the new congestion. Even large departments of transportation like California's Caltrans admit this occurs. So, how did Hillary Clinton's campaign staff fail to catch this?

It may be because of who is in her inner circle. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe is known to be a close friend of the Clintons, with the Washington Post describing him as being virtually part of the family. McAuliffe's transportation focus is primarily on highway expansions, with particular emphasis on HOT lanes. While he has gotten funding for rail projects, such as a light rail system in Virginia Beach, he has also claimed that HOT lanes can cure congestion. If this pro-road enthusiasm is prevalent in the Clinton camp, it is no shock that her agenda might be tilted towards roads.

Hillary Clinton does appear to be committed to reducing emissions that contribute to climate change. Reinforcing this perception is the commitment by Al Gore, perhaps the world's preeminent figure in the fight against global warming, to campaign on her behalf. However, her campaign site focuses on energy generation and lower emissions from vehicles. Neither transit nor walking and biking in urban areas are called out on her site's climate section. For Clinton, the focus is on tweaking sources to combat pollution, not shifting demand to lessen emissions.

Trump doesn't seem like a bike lane guy

Whereas Hillary Clinton's stance on sustainable transportation may leave something to be desired, Donald Trump's attitude can be downright hostile. In 2015, Trump criticized Secretary of State John Kerry for riding a bike, after a crash in which Kerry injured his leg. Trump vowed, "I swear to you I will never enter a bicycle race if I'm president."

Given the debates over bike lanes in New York City and the pedestrian-friendly changes in Times Square, you might have expected Trump to have said something on the matter. But if he has, the media hasn't picked it up.

However, his campaign manager, Stephen K. Bannon, has had very strong views on the matter of bike lanes. During his tenure at Breitbart News, Bannon ran a story on bike lanes in Chicago with the headline, "Rahm to Spend $91 Million on Bike Lanes for the 1%." Given this level of antagonism towards people who bike from such a close adviser, Donald Trump may not be a friend to cycling.


Donald Trump hosted a bike race in 1989 and 1990, but that's probably the extent of his familiarity with bicycling. Photo by Anders on Flickr.

By contrast, Trump supports improvements to passenger rail systems. The American Conservative's Center for Public Transportation explains this split from the traditionally anti-transit Republican Party as being due to Trump's long exposure to subways and commuter rail in his hometown of New York City.

Trump also admires Chinese intercity rail transportation. Time reported Trump saying during a freewheeling campaign speech, "They have trains that go 300 miles per hour…We have trains that go chug … chug … chug."

But Trump's admiration for rail transport may not reflect a desire for sustainability. Trump has consistently denied the science behind climate change, going so far as to call it a hoax by China. His motives for boosting rail are apparent in his effusive praise of large, new airports in China and Dubai.

As he has said repeatedly, "Our airports are like from a Third World country." As with airports, Trump views US rail systems as a source of embarrassment on the world stage. However, in the case of airports, he overlooked the tendency of modern airport planners to build on a gargantuan scale that makes them unusable, a trend I pointed out in 2012. Throwing cash at rail systems probably won't bring any more efficiency than it does for airports or roads.

Neither is exactly an urbanist, but could they get the right advisors?

Essentially, both candidates had questionable approaches to sustainable transportation, whether they are outdated or simply wasteful of taxpayer dollars. That is something that can be remedied if advisors are retained who are current with best practices in the field.

There is no shortage of these: Gabe Klein, Janette Sadik-Khan, and Chris Hamilton spring to mind as US experts worth consulting. Relying less on governors and website editors whose attitudes are frozen in the mid-20th century would be a sign of wise leadership, crucial for being President of the United States.

As to which candidate is more likely to change their approach, I leave that for others to speculate upon.


History


Worldwide links: The most meaningful gold medal?

A US Olympic swimmer's gold medal feels like a triumph over the country's racist past, a Palo Alto planning commission member says she's leaving because it's too expensive to live there, and the guy who built Las Vegas' downtown housing should have gone up earlier in the process. Check out what's happening around the world in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Länsmuseet Gävleborg on Flickr.

More than just a gold medal: Last night, Simone Manuel became the first African-American woman to win an individual Olympic swimming gold medal. Manuel's win is obviously impressive on its own, but it carries even more gravity given that swimming pools in the United States have long been bastions of racism and segregation. "If you know how Jim Crow metastasized in America's pools, you know how significant Simone Manuel's gold medal is," tweeted Post columnist and Maryland professor Kevin Blackistone. (Vox)

Restrictively high rents in Palo Alto: A member of the Palo Alto planning commission resigned, saying she's leaving the city because housing there is too expensive. Kate Vershov Downing, whose family was paying half the $6,200 rent for a house, says that zoning policies that ban 2-story apartments and otherwise restrict density are to blame for the city only being affordable to "Joe Millionaires." (Curbed SF)

Build housing earlier: In order to create a go-to destination away from the well-known Vegas Strip, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh has pumped $350 million into downtown Las Vegas. Some businesses have come and gone, and Hsieh says that if he had it to do all over again, he'd have built housing sooner so more people would have been around to create foot traffic in the area. (CNBC)

Cincy subway, interrupted: Cincinnati built a subway in the early 1900s, but political battles scuttled the project and the trains never actually carried passengers. Today, some of the tunnels house water mains, and people are exploring other ways to use them. But Cincinnati really missed a chance to change the face of the city in the first half of the 20th century. (The Verge)

First electricity, then internet: Also in the early 1900s, people in rural areas in the United States had to form cooperatives in order to get electricity. Now, the laws and statutes that allowed those cooperatives are allowing electric companies to serve those very same areas with broadband internet that major companies deemed too expensive to provide. (New York Times)

The straddle bus on the struggle bus: Testing has been postponed for China's "straddle bus" (which is actually a train) that's supposed to straddle the road and drive over cars. The people who built it have billed it as a solution to busy streets , but the Chinese media is now wondering whether the entire thing is a scam. (Shanghaiist)

Quote of the Week

"In helmetsplaining, people who clearly do not ride bikes and do not know that there is a difference between racing down a mountain at maximum speed on a bike and going to the store for a quart of milk consider themselves experts in bicycle safety and lecture everyone else."

Lloyd Alter at Treehugger on the Olympic sport of "Helmetsplaining"

Links


National links: New transit for Detroit

Detroit is instituting a tax to pay for more transit, the world's longest rail tunnel just opened in Switzerland, and Expedia is moving to Seattle, but wants to be suburban. Check out what's happening around the country in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Graham Davis on Flickr.

Motorbus city: Detroit is going to put a tax measure on the November ballot that would pay for an expanded transit network. The plan has been in the works for 3 years, and would include bus rapid transit lines, improved bus service, universal fare cards, and a Detroit-to-Ann Arbor commuter rail line. (MLive)

All about that Base: Wednesday marked the first run for trains traveling through the 35-mile Gotthard Base Tunnel under the Swiss Alps, now the longest rail tunnel in the world. The project took 17 years and cost $12.5 billion dollars. Project planners claim that a million trucks a year will be taken off the road as goods are shipped through the tunnel's rails. (New York Times)

Suburban campus: Expedia is leaving its offices in Bellevue, WA to move into Seattle. But unlike Amazon, which is downtown, Expedia will be in a more suburban, car-friendly campus, away from high-rise buildings. (Wall Street Journal)

Bad reputation rebrand: Dongguan, a city in southern China, has a reputation for prostitutes and crime. The state hired Hong Kong designers to re-shape the city using modular designs. The project is ambitious, yet officials know it won't fix all their problems. (Fast Company Design)

Shh, don't tell: Cities are hip and fashionable these days, but some of the people you might expect to end up with that loft on a lively street have instead opted for the suburbs. They might even be a little embarrassed about it, but should they be? No. (Philadelphia Magazine)

Red Zone: An influential New York transportation planner in the 70s and 80s, Sam Schwartz created the term "gridlock" and was an early champion of congestion pricing and car-free zones. He's happy to now enjoy some of the ideas he never got to implement, like bike lanes and public plazas. (Guardian Cities)

Quote of the Week

"The floods of 20 years ago are not as bad as the floods that are going to be 20 years from now. But [FEMA's maps] only look at historic experience." Michael Gerrard in an article on Frontline describing how many FEMA floodmaps are out of date and don't take into account the effects of Climate Change.

Transit


Instead of buses that drive over traffic jams, let's just not have traffic jams

A video of a bus that skirts traffic congestion by literally driving over cars has made its way around the internet this week. It's a bold idea, but it raises the question: Why simply deal with congestion when we can just get rid of it?

Chinese engineers debuted a scale model of the Transit Elevated Bus at last week's High Tech Expo in Beijing. The vehicle would carry over 1000 passengers, and effectively form a tunnel above cars, moving forward regardless of what's happening below.

Other purported perks of the "straddle bus" include that it would have its own right of way (the un-used air above the cars), and that drivers couldn't get stuck behind it—sensors would alert drivers if they drift too close to the bus, or if their vehicle is too tall to travel underneath it.

But is this really worth building? And would it really help streets function more efficiently? While it might first seem like the elevated bus would solve the problem of congestion, this idea is implicitly treating congestion as though it's here to stay, and that we might as well just try to work around all the cars on the road rather than find ways to give people other ways to travel.

Traffic jams aren't a given

The thing is, congestion isn't guaranteed; it's far more fluid than it appears, and it comes and goes depending on how we manage traffic.

This is evidenced by the growing list of cities that have started getting rid of their highways—even when some predict chaos and gridlock because there won't be as much space for cars, things work out just fine.

Locally we're seeing the same with road diets and roads that have gotten or will get bike and transit lanes.

We don't need the straddle bus to get rid of congestion. The solution already exists: Rather than building an eight-lane highway and running a futuristic moving tunnel with seats on top over it, let's just give two of those lanes to regular buses and watch congestion go down.

We already have the technology we need

It can sometimes be far too easy to forget about the tools we already have at our disposal, instead pushing for new inventions and technology to revolutionize how we travel. The hyperloop will supposedly get us across California in 30 minutes, and Personal Rapid Transit will apparently be devoid of all the pitfalls that doomed the Columbia Pike Streetcar.

But we already have what we need. We can build bus lanes and bike lanes, and do more to encourage people to drive less rather than give them options for driving more. We don't have to become the Jetsons to solve the problem.

Links


Worldwide links: California's crisis cause

According to California's governor, his state's housing problem isn't that it's not spending enough on affordable housing, but rather that it's way too hard to get a building permit. China is building lots of subway systems, and Jane Jacobs may not have paid enough attention to infrastructure. Check out what's happening around the world in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Travis Wise on Flickr.

It's the permits: California Governor Jerry Brown wants to reduce how long it can take to build new housing in his state. He says there's already plenty of money going toward affordable housing, and that the real focus should be on making local permitting processes less lengthy. (Los Angeles Times)

Smaller metros get more metros: China has been on an subway building frenzy. 26 cities have systems, while 39 others have projects approved. The Chinese Government also recently changed the rules to allow cities with more than 1.5 million people to build new systems. The old minimum was 3 million. (Reuters)

Disadvantaged cities: Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf says that state regulations across the country are hostile toward cities. With his state's budget discussions approaching, Wolf said the state has too often left cities to fund themselves, giving residents raw deals on things like school funding and utility rates. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Missing infrastructure: Jane Jacobs has taught us a lot about how to build great places, where walking around is easy. But she may have also had a a blind spot, as she often neglected to talk about systems and infrastructure, like transit and water pipes, that stitch neighborhoods together. (Common Edge)

Transit mapping tech: A few years ago, Tiffany Chu and some friends put together a program that would allow transit planners to map out routes and immediately see the impact of those decisions based on data. Today, Remix is the toast of planners everywhere who want an easier way to get more people to ride the bus. (Curbed)

The disappearing dive: Dive bars are disappearing at a rapid pace. At the same time, it's increasingly common to see bars that claim to be dives, but are actually washed out versions of the real thing. Many blame the gentrification while others say it's just pure economics, as $2 bottles won't pay the rent. (Eater)

Transit Trends

In this episode of Transit Trends, my co-host and I sat down with Iain Macbeth of Transport for London to discuss how the information from a connected car can improve transportation systems worldwide.

Links


National links: Houston, we have a... well, you know

The right hurricane could devastate Houston, and along with it some major sources of energy for the US, Baltimore's Black Lives Matter candidate is for real, and a California city is considering building a park overtop a freeway. Check out what's happening around the country in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center on Flickr.

For Houston, not if, but when: Houston is the energy capital of the United States, with major chemical, oil, and gas facilities sitting on its ship channel. The city would also be a sitting duck if the right hurricane came along. This interactive story shows what happens when flooding inundates Texas' coast. (Texas Tribune)

Mayor of Baltimore: Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson is running for Mayor of Baltimore on a platform that's heavy on city planning. He wants to revitalize neighborhoods by making it easier for low-income residents to get home loans, along with restart the Red Line subway project that was cancelled last year. (Curbed)

Tip of the cap: Glendale, just north of downtown Los Angeles, could build a park overtop Highway 134, reconnecting downtown with the northern part of the city. City council members are visiting Dallas' Klyde Warren freeway cap, and will take a vote after that. (Time Out Los Angeles)

Circling Atlanta: Ryan Gravel wrote his master's thesis about the idea to turn a a network of old freight rail lines into what is now knows as the Beltline, a green ring of transit and trails around the city. Now, he's head of the "Atlanta City Design Project", a new effort to re-imagine Atlanta as a sustainable and inclusive city. (Atlanta Magazine)

Pilot light out: America's contract air carriers that do a lot of the regional work for major airlines have been suffering from a lack of pilots. Republic Airways just filed for bankruptcy, and some argue that this is a long term deficit that will hamper the industry for some time to come. (The Economist)

The coffee shop it is a changin':The coffee house has gone through four major stages, from a place to simply get a drink to a third space for the community to boutique coffee shops to, finally, the coffee bars popping up today. The general trend: less WiFi and invitations to sit and work for hours, more face time and conversation with baristas. (Core 77)

Quote of the Week

"These new standards are an urban design revolution, they overturn the destructive Chinese model of superblocks, gated communities, and giant streets that has been too long eroding the livability their cities. [The authorities] have been testing these ideas for years, but now they are moving them to a scale that is unprecedented."

- Architect Peter Calthorpe speaking to City Metric about changes a Chinese policy group has made to their urban design standards.

Transit


China may have figured out wireless trams

This December, wireless streetcars will start carrying passengers in Guangzhou, China. The new trams will run using supercapacitor batteries instead of overhead wires.


Guangzhou's wireless tram. Photo from China Central Television.

Cities around the world, including Washington, have been increasingly interested in wireless streetcars ever since Bordeaux, France started using them in 2003. But Bordeaux's trams use an underground third rail that's proven too expensive for widespread use.

The Guangzhou system will use batteries that automatically recharge from an underground power supply at passenger stations. One recharge takes 10-30 seconds, and powers the tram for up to 4 kilometers (2.5 miles).

And a similar system is in the works for another Chinese city, Nanjing.

That's good news for DC, where laws prohibit overhead wires at key locations near the National Mall. Streetcars like Guangzhou's could solve that problem.

It's not clear how much extra this type of wireless tram would cost. Expense doomed the Bordeaux method, so that is a serious concern. But if the price is right, the technology finally seems to be there.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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