TagCMAQ

The Green Lane project is announced in Chicago

I covered this event for a Streetsblog article (which has been delayed). Essentially the Bikes Belong Foundation and its donors are trying to get “better bike lanes” (Euro-style) installed faster across North America. It’s more of a strategic planning thing; the money isn’t going to be used for paying for construction of the bike lanes.

It’s about knowledge sharing and technical assistance and documenting the process. Eventually this knowledge will be shared with all cities in the whole country. But essentially, Austin, Texas, can use this network to be able to get some help from Chicago or San Francisco, without incurring on those cities’ ability to quickly get their own lanes in.

See all photos from the soirée and then the next day’s press conference (Wednesday, May 30, and Thursday, May 31).

I am somewhat impressed that the director of the Federal Highway Administration*, Victor Mendez, pictured above, came from Washington, D.C., to tell us about the federal government’s support for bike lanes. I wish he could have said the same thing about House Republicans’ support. They’re against transit, too. I asked Victor to tell transportation secretary Ray LaHood to read Grid Chicago.

Watch this video by Nick Brazinsky. I believe he was hired by Bikes Belong to shoot it. That he roller skates to take video makes the film a little cooler.

The Green Lane cities are:

  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Austin, Texas
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Portland, Oregon
  • San Francisco, California
  • Memphis, Tennessee (this one’s inclusion is exciting)

* The FHWA administers bike lane funding, as well as funding for roads and highways. They are in charge of the CMAQ, Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality, funding program.

Figuring out how many CMAQ projects are for roads

Simplified, the purpose of Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) grant is to fund projects that reduce congestion and improve air quality. This usually means bicycle, pedestrian, and transit facilities and vehicles. But it also means road projects. Like intersection widening, new signals, changes to signal programming, and “signal interconnect” (timing the signals to cooperate with each other to have some free flowing traffic). It can also mean making grade separations at railroad tracks to eliminate backups when trains cross. However, not everything is infrastructure: there’s also marketing, encouragement, analysis, bike sharing, and education.

In a conversation I was having last night with some transportation advocate friends, one joked that most of CMAQ funds road projects. I agreed (probably because the irony of reducing congestion by making higher capacity roads was funny to me), and we moved on to other topics. I set out verify the actual distribution share for the six-county region in Northeastern Illinois.

I spent almost an hour converting the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s CMAQ 2012-2016 projects list from PDF to Excel and then quickly identified every project as being “road” or “not road”. I tallied the amount of proposed CMAQ funding for the projects to get the answer: road projects take up 25.7% of CMAQ funding.

But I can’t stop there! Now that I have CMAP’s data in a spreadsheet, I can get the average of Daily VOC eliminated for road and non-road projects, as well as the estimated cost per VOC kilogram eliminated.

On average, non-road projects have a lower cost per VOC kilogram eliminated ($4,109.37 versus $9,472.90). And non-road projects on average eliminate 19.7 times more kilograms of VOC daily (5.918 kg versus 0.301 kg for road projects).

There are some disclaimers! These are all estimates and not every project has received funding. Also, projects are not selected solely on cost per kilogram of VOC eliminated, or daily VOC eliminated. I’d also like to see estimates on the number of people affected by each project.

You can check my math by downloading my modified projects list (XLS).

Federal funding primer and why projects take so long to construct

Many Chicagoans who ride bikes are in awe (myself included) at how fast the Kinzie Street protected bike lane (the first of its kind in the city) has been designed and constructed in four weeks.

I explain how it’s been possible to do something so fast:

  1. Federally funded projects, like “commuter bicycle parking” (u-rack manufacturing and installation, using CMAQ federal funding) in Chicago, are under the control of the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), which must review and approve every design.  If it takes IDOT six months to tell the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) it does NOT approve and requires revisions, it will take IDOT another six months to review and approve the revised design. I experienced this directly when I was modifying the current bike parking contract. That’s one extra year added to a project based on a cumbersome state review process. Cities and their mayors have been advocating the federal government to give federal aid directly to cities so they can work faster.
  2. All design work must be completed and approved by everyone before a contract can be advertised for competitive bidding. Federal funds generally cannot be used to pay for local city forces, like CDOT crews, to do the work.
  3. Then comes the procurement process…

[This process is nearly the same for all cities.]

While there is room for improvement in the above process, it’s may not be fair to blame the City or CDOT for taking a long time to implement a project like Stony Island (tentatively scheduled for 2014), when Chicago doesn’t have authority over it’s own roads*.

If every project were locally funded – CDOT is funding the project with budgeted but unallocated funds – and approved, we could see a lot more projects like the Kinzie Street protected bike lane happening very fast. It should be obvious, also, that Mayor Emanuel and new CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein are extremely motivated to show their commitment to the transition plan as well as complete this project by the Bike To Work Day Rally on Friday, June 17th.

*This can be interpreted in two ways:

  1. There are roads in the city that are under the jurisdiction of the state providing an additional burden when it comes to modifying them.
  2. The process described above removes from the City authoritative control of its roads when projects modifying those roads are funded in part by the federal government.

Construction on Kinzie Street has been happening at a breakneck pace.

Bicycle trailer sharing

Bicycle trailers can hold hundreds of pounds of goods, food, and furniture. However, high quality and durable trailers for bikes can be expensive (about $350) for one bicycle rider, especially if they plan to only use it a few times per year. A trailer sharing program could be the answer to distributing the high cost of purchasing and maintaining the trailers for sporadic use.

My friend Josh pulls a trailer with automated bike counting equipment.

West Town Bikes and the Loaded Bikes Collective are asking for your vote in the Pepsi Refresh Project. You’ve probably heard of it by now – when Pepsi advertises something, they really advertise something. It’s on the radio, television, and on every soda can and bottle. Visit their project page for more information, a budget breakdown, and to vote. (Loaded Bikes delivers for Community Supported Agriculture, farmers markets, and city gardens.)

In 2009, I created a proposal (really a shot in the dark) for a trailer sharing program modeled after ZipCar and I-GO. Read the full proposal after the break.

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Benefits of bike parking

I’m working on my master’s project about bike parking distribution and equity in Chicago and while working on a section in the paper, I decided to get some help from readers. Many transportation projects are measured on predicted changes like trip travel time savings or trip cost savings (I give two examples below the photo).

My question is this: What are a bike parking installation’s measurable benefits to a traveler or a community?

Photo: Portland has installed 40 on-street bike parking “corrals” since 2004. What does a traveler or community gain from this bike rack installation? Photo by Kyle Gradinger.

To figure equity (fairness) for these project types, you measure these impacts for different groups (often high, medium, and low income), either in the alternatives analysis, or project selection phases. So, converting a lane on a highway to charge tolls for the lane’s users will have a certain benefit for many trips: a lower trip time. A new bus route may be convenient enough for some travelers to switch from driving to taking the bus, possibly reducing their trip cost.

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