And the Winner Is….

The Alliance for Biking and Walking has released “Bicycling and Walking in the U.S.: 2012 Benchmarking Report.” Funded in part by the Centers for Disease Control, the report is a voluminous compilation of bicycle and pedestrian statistics across the country.  The report also compares the year-to-year trends in these statistics.  The report is here and a Creative Loafing article here.

Here is how Atlanta stacks up against other American cities:

  • 18th highest in bicycle and walking rates;
  • 27th lowest in bicycle and walking fatality rates;
  • 17th  safest places to bike;
  • 27th safest place to walk;
  • 11th highest in per capita funding for bicycle and walking;
  • 23rd highest for cycling to work;
  • 16th highest for walking to work;
  • 4.2% of commuters walk to work;
  • 0.8% of commuters bike to work.

The study also compares cities and states on a variety of bicycle/pedestrian benchmarks, and rates whether they are in the top, middle, or bottom third.

Atlanta scores reasonably well in the study, perhaps because they use the city limits rather than the metro area (thus excluding the less bike/ped friendly suburbs).  The ratings decline when you look at the statewide numbers. The high scores for “Advocacy Capacity” are a testament to the great folks at the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, Georgia Bikes!, and PEDS.

These numbers show that Atlanta does have an appetite and some infrastructure to support bicycling and walking as legitimate transportation options.  And with projects like the Beltline in the works, hopefully these statistics will improve in the coming years.


How Would Consultants Spend our Transportation Dollars?

Defense and civil consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton released a list of policy principles that they believe should guide our infrastructure investment. (Link here).  To enhance America’s economy, global competitiveness, and national security,  they reason that any strategy for spending our transportation and other infrastructure dollars should reflect the following eight principles:

  • Create a shared and comprehensive national vision;
  • Think innovation, not shovels;
  • Take the long and integrated view;
  • Rationalize the bureaucracy and its policies;
  • We cannot afford to buy our way out;
  • Plan regionally and think holistically;
  • Make resilience a forethought—not an afterthought;
  • Build for the next century, not the last one.

What does this have to do with transportation in Atlanta? Although the list is intended for national policies (it was released in anticipation of President Obama’s State of the Union ), they are equally salient for local and regional transportation decisions.

The central theme is that we have too little funding to continue spending it in an ad hoc manner.   Instead, we need to identify our goals and only fund the projects that best achieve them.  Sounds simply enough, and basically the same conclusion Georgia reached in IT3 and the Strategic Statewide Transportation Plan.

But on both the national and state level, the hard part is actually putting the politics aside and making these hard decisions.


Wheels are Moving on State Rail Planning

In December, U.S. DOT awarded a $4.1 million grant to Georgia DOT to complete a service development plan and environmental study for the 250-mile passenger rail corridor between Atlanta and Charlotte.  GDOT is contributing $1.125 million for this phase of the project.  Press release is here.

It’s a good step, but Georgia continues to trail our neighbors on inter-city rail. Other states in the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor have received nearly $581 million to develop high speed rail service in the region.  Most recently, Virginia received $44.3 million for the segment between Washington and Richmond, and North Carolina received $4 million for the stretch between Raleigh and Richmond.

On the state level, GDOT announced that it would fund a feasibility study of passenger rail between Columbus and Atlanta.  This study is presumably a part of, or related to, the revision to Georgia’s State Rail Plan  expected early this year.

With rumblings in two directions, perhaps someday trains will pull into the Multi-Modal Passenger Terminal.

Do More Lanes Make Us Safer?

Alleviate traffic and improve safety. . . .  Virtually every transportation policy, plan, and project tries to achieve these two goals.  But drivers experience traffic jams more frequently than accidents, so in practice alleviating congestion often becomes a higher priority than safety.

study prepared for AAA by Cambridge Systematics compares the societal cost of congestion to that of accidents.  They found that the total cost of crashes in urban areas totaled $299.5 billion in 2009 — over three times the $97.7 billion cost of congestion in those same areas.   This ratio was even higher for Atlanta, with a per capita crash cost of $1,979 versus a congestion cost of $649.  Atlanta’s ratio was among the highest of comparable-sized cities.

The study also explains why adding lane capacity – frequently the go-to strategy for addressing congestion — comes at the expense of safety:

Recent research has attempted to provide an insight into what happens when lanes are added on freeways. The additional lanes briefly alleviate the safety problem as extra capacity lowers the density of vehicles on the facility. However, as the congestion, or vehicle density, increases, the total as well as the injury and fatal crash rates escalate. When vehicle density reaches a certain level, research suggests safety deteriorates and offsets any gains which may be achieved by building the additional lanes. The conflict opportunities increase with additional lanes and more lanes tend to increase the average speed and the speed differential, two major contributing factors for crash occurrence.  In simple terms, we cannot build our way out of congestion without compromising safety on the roadways.

 It looks like safety is the newest addition to the list of problems with the road congestion/road capacity cycle.  And a thought for the next report: to what degree does the increase in crash-related congestion offset the purported congestion benefits of the additional lanes?