Research Rest-Stop │ New Report Evaluates Deficient Bridges

Every Wednesday, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) highlights some interesting research related to or innovations in transportation, sustainability, or energy.

Today, we look at Transportation for America’s recent report and accompanying article on the condition of bridges in the United States. The report looks at more than 18,000 of the busiest bridges across the nation’s largest 102 metro areas to determine their structural integrity.

According to the study, Pennsylvania has a high number of structurally deficient bridges.

“Pennsylvania leads all other states in the nation with six metropolitan areas with a high percentage of deficient bridges. Pittsburgh leads the way with 30 percent of area bridges rated deficient – higher even than the state average of 26.5 percent. It is important to note that these numbers would be worse without the intensive bridge repair program implemented by Pennsylvania in the last several years, including a quadrupling of state funding for bridge repairs.”

Other interesting findings of the report include:

  • In the United States, “210 million trips are taken daily across deficient bridges in just these 102 regions.”
  • “California leads the nation with the busiest deficient bridges. In Los Angeles, for example, 396 cars drive across a structurally deficient bridge every second of each day, on average.”
  • “According to Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)’s 2009 statistics (the most recent year for which national data is available), $70.9 billion is needed to address the current backlog of deficient bridges.”

Do you agree with these findings? What do you think are good ways to address these issues?


MOTUnes Monday │ Back on the Train

This week, as part of its regular MOTUnes Monday series, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) showcases Phish’s “Back on the Train” to get your week rolling.

Research Rest-Stop │ Urban Parks

What makes a good urban park?

Peter Katz of the New Urban Network recently revived an article he first wrote in 1995 for the magazine, Land and People, about public spaces to show how the basics he discussed then still apply today.

For Katz, parks are important places in a city. Today, he argues, most urban parks do not have the upkeep and attention needed to make them inviting places to which people will travel and visit.

Katz argues that many parks today are “quasi-public spaces” represented by concrete plazas. These spaces were typically built by private developers so that they could build higher buildings. In this development, however, a sense of place was lost. Katz provides several recommendations on how to reclaim these public urban spaces:

  1. “A park should be ‘nearby’ for everyone.” Open space accessible to all should be easy to reach. Public transportation can further support access to these areas for residents and visitors.
  2. “A public park should look and feel truly public.” A park should not be bounded by private buildings; rather, it is important to have an open space that invites public use.
  3. “Parks should be simple and not overdesigned.” Most of the time, parks just need the basics – trees, grass, walkways, and benches. An organic place usually results.
  4. “A park should retain or enhance the natural contours of the land.” This will support a stronger connection to the land and to nature.
  5. “A good park should allow you to both see and walk through it.” It should provide access to vistas and simplicity in its walkways.

Today, parks are at the forefront of city agendas and plans across the nation, including in Philadelphia. The City of Philadelphia is actively developing ways to infuse “green” in innovative ways. An August 2011 MOTU blog post discussed how the City has established parklets, removable wooden platforms that typically occupy a few parking spaces in order to provide a place for people to stop, sit, and relax. These parklets represent a new type of urban space, one that has big potential for the future.

MOTUnes Monday │ Leaving on a Jet Plane

Every Monday, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) brings you MOTUnes Monday, a selection of some of our favorite transportation related songs. This week, we present the ever-classic “Leaving on a Jet Plane” for all of you who are traveling this week. Safe travels, and Happy Thanksgiving!

13th Street Bike Lane – Ride on

The 13th Street bike lane pilot is coming to an end and a permanent lane will be installed in the coming weeks.    When we first announced our pilot program last May, the 13th Street was met with broad support and few concerns.   The data collected during the pilot validates the public and our intuition: vehicle traffic flows well with a bike lane and the street attracts lots of cyclists.   The complete report is linked to here


Here are some highlights:

–      Nearly a quarter of all vehicle traffic (anything with wheels) were bicycles during the morning peak at Walnut Street, up from about 10 percent before the lane.

–      The introduction of a bike lane meant that all cars now have to line up single file or queue in a single travel lane making where there is no turn lane.  Some have noticed longer queues where there is no turn lane. However despite these longer queues’s cars have not been significantly affected.  Under normal circumstances vehicles can pass through an intersection at the rate of one vehicle every two seconds.  In such circumstances queue lengths in excess of 12 to 15 vehicles may result in some vehicles being unable to pass through the intersection during a 25 or 30 second signal phase. Even the longest queue at 13th Street was well below 12 vehicles.


Some tweaks are suggested at the Walnut Street intersection and the Market Street intersection, both of which had delays before the pilot. SEPTA has agreed to move its bus “layover” location from the south side of Market Street to the north side of Market Street. This will allow three lanes of traffic to approach Market Street at all times – one for left turns, one for right turns and one for through movements.  This modification would have been recommended even in the absence of a bike lane. Two metered parking spaces should be removed south of Walnut Street in order to create a short queue for left turning vehicles. This too would make sense even in the absence of a bike lane.


Thanks to everyone who shared their views along the way.


So, what about 10th Street?  You ask.


As we posted last week, the pilot bike lane along 10th Street north of Market Street is now painted.  We are collecting data and will be working with stakeholders both north and south of Market Street to review findings in the coming months.  Just as we did regarding 13th Street, we will hold a public meeting.






Research Rest-Stop │ The Price-Induced Energy Trap

Every Wednesday, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) highlights some interesting research related to or innovations in transportation, sustainability, or energy.

The New America Foundation has released its newest working paper, “The Price-Induced Energy Trap: Exploring the Impacts of Transportation Expenditures on the American Economy.” The report argues that rising gas prices are impacting the lower- and middle-class, while traditional public policies for reducing fuel consumption support the wealthy.

With the demand for energy growing steadily, total expenditures for gasoline are expected to increase 25 percent to $489 billion dollars in 2011. The report maintains that the rising cost of gasoline will likely impact individual and household incomes. To navigate these costs, policymakers have traditionally looked to subsidies and incentives to promote smart energy use and energy conservation measures. Many times, however, when fuel prices rise, people are more likely to purchase a used car than a new, fuel-efficient automobile.

The report notes: “Better understanding why very high gasoline prices do not lead to dramatic reduction could lead to policies that more quickly, and less painfully, reduce gasoline demand and consumer spending. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest that what households spend on transportation services, including expenses and payments for the car, is more than what they spend on both health care and taxes combined.”

Looking at ways to supply a variety of lower-cost choices and provide better consumer education may be avenues to explore in the future as ways to reduce the cost of transportation.

What do you think? Do people today spend too much on transportation costs? What are some good alternatives?

Market Street and JFK Blvd Trial – The data is in

The City and Center City District (CCD) see an opportunity to transform Market Street and JFK west of City Hall into truly complete streets: streets that serve pedestrians, busses, cars, delivery vehicles and bikes well.

As CCD President and CEO Paul Levy recently noted,  “These streets were designed in a different era, for a different future that was focused on accommodating cars first and foremost. We’ve subsequently learned that the most vibrant and successful urban areas focus on accommodating a balanced use of all modes of transportation in an attractive and safe environment.” To realize a vision of a complete street would require removing an existing lane of traffic. So, for two weeks in late October, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities and the CCD completed a two week trial of lane reductions on Market Street and JFK Boulevard from 15th Street through 20th Street.  The trial removed the left-most lane of travel on these two roads reducing the four-lane road to three lanes.  The purpose of the trial was to see if the two streets could function well with one less lane.   If Center City became gridlocked, we would know that the idea of rethinking these two streets did not warrant further study.

Our traffic models suggest that the streets would function well and our data seemed to prove it.  Traffic volumes remained within the typical range for the two streets and traffic speeds changed by no more than three miles an hour.  We did notice some additional congestion on the north and south streets and we know that loading for residential properties along the streets is a concern.  For more information, view the report here. We are confident that both issues can be addressed with appropriate traffic engineering strategies.

So where do we go from here? No City capital funds are currently dedicated to the project, but the City and CCD will pursue state, federal and private grant opportunities to develop implement plans.  If and when funds are secured we will be back out in the community to help develop the details of a project that would make for a better street for everyone who uses it.

MOTUnes Monday │ Big Yellow Taxi

It’s that time again – MOTUnes Monday from the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU)! Today, we hope to brighten up your day with Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.”


Research Rest-Stop │ Evaluating Vehicle Fuel & Electricity

Every Wednesday, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) highlights some interesting research related to or innovations in transportation, sustainability, or energy.

Today, we discuss a recent analysis on energy and government actions prepared by the United States Department of Energy. This self-assessment is the first of the Department’s quadrennial reviews.

This report looks at how the federal government should make further investments in transportation energy, especially as solar and wind power do not significantly impact this sector. It notes that “reliance on oil is the greatest immediate threat to U.S. economic and national security, and also contributes to the long-term threat of climate change.”

The report argues that, in the coming years, finding a replacement for oil will be a priority. In working to meet this objective, it proposes focusing research on electric vehicles rather than alternative fuels like natural gas. The report also emphasizes the need to replace oil first rather than fuels like coal and natural gas, which have the potential to be supplemented by electricity-generating solar and wind power. Oil is not traditionally used to generate electricity in the United States.

The goal going forward is to use this generated electricity for hybrid electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, and pure electric vehicles. By using alternative fuels to generate electricity, the report argues, dependency on oil will be reduced.

10th Street Bike Lane Pilot Gets Rolling in Chinatown

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Streets Department crews painted the pilot bike lane along 10th Street north of Market Street on Saturday. MOTU and Streets staff are out regularly watching the flow on 10th Street in Chinatown.  We’ll be keeping a close eye during rush hours and on weekends.  This is in addition to the speed and volume data that will be collected as part of our assessment.  Here you see a few pictures snapped this morning where in a 10 minute period around 8:30 more than 10 bicyclists passed under the Friendship Arch and traffic was flowing smoothly.

In the coming week bike lane signs will be posted and hatching of the buffer completed.  MOTU, the Parking Authority and Chinatown businesses will also work together to institute some new loading zones to facilitate morning deliveries.   For information about the pilot read our bi-lingual FAQ.

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