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Texting and Walking: A Cause for Concern for Planners?

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Texting and Walking: A Cause for Concern for Planners?

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Picture it, a person is walking on a sidewalk, head down, smart phone in hand, and then at the last minute looks up just before bumping into someone or walking into a street fixture. In today’s technology-driven world, smart phones and social media have become the norm in society. Smart phones allow people to constantly receive messages and phone calls from friends and family as well as stay up-to-date on the latest news and happenings. However, these devices have also found a permanent place in many people’s hands, creating a cause for concern for safety.

How many times have you looked around and seen people texting and walking? It has become a common sight in all sorts of places ranging from office buildings to shopping centers; however, the worst and probably most common place has become the sidewalk. People now feel compelled to check e-mails, schedule appointments, and update social media statuses all while walking en route to their destinations. This type of behavior has caught the attention of transportation planners due to the increased number of pedestrian/vehicle collisions that have occurred in recent years.

The Problem

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Texting and walking may seem like an easy task. However, a 2012 study conducted by a team of researchers at Stony Brook University has proved otherwise. The study found that participants who texted while walking veered away from their straight path destination by a 60 percent deviation, thus increasing their distance traveled by about 13 percent. Participants also took about 33 percent longer to reach their destinations while walking and texting.  Additionally, a 2009 study conducted by the University of Alabama-Birmingham found that children who walk while texting or talking on a cellphone are 40 percent more likely to get hit by an automobile due to their delayed reaction times and inattentiveness to traffic while crossing streets.

If you still do not believe that texting and walking is a cause of concern there are several stories that have recently been in the news involving texting and walking incidents including a woman walking off of a pier while updating Facebook and another woman walking directly into an icy canal while texting.

 ‘Mobile Motorway’: The Solution?

The City of London, England has taken to padding lamp posts to keep texters safer.

In 2007, the number of “texting while walking injuries” in Britain included a reported 68,000! Reported injuries included collisions with other people, lampposts, and even garbage bins. Injuries ranged from mild cuts and bruises all the way up to broken noses. Many people went so far as to claim that the injuries were more because of the “high concentration of street fixtures” and not the obvious reason: texting while walking and not paying attention.

Britain’s Brick Lane decided that it had seen enough of these injuries and wanted to do something about it. Thus, the world’s first ‘Safe Text’ Street was born. Essentially, the street contains lamp posts with padding wrapped around it (similar to what you would find wrapped around a football goal post). There have also been talks of creating ‘texting lanes’ similar to cycle lanes that would allow pedestrians texting to more easily navigate the street by relying on the line painted on the pavement; however, this idea has yet to become a reality as far as I know.

Bottom Line: Texting + Walking = Bad

As the ownership of smart phones continues to rise in all parts of the globe, I am sure stories of people walking off of streets and piers while texting or updating social media statuses will continue. If there is anything to take away from this post it is the following.

If you absolutely must text and walk at least check out the Transparent Screen, Android-powered application (Sorry iPhone users, not sure if a similar application is available yet), that uses your smart phone’s camera to show you what is directly in front of you while walking and texting. I tried the application out just for kicks and giggles and it actually does work really well. You can turn the application on when you start walking and use any other applications or functions while it is on. Then whenever you feel you can devote your attention to the actual real world you just turn Transparent Screen off.  Who knows, maybe it will save you from veering off a pier one day when you are sharing a really crucial status update to the world.

–Amanda Douglas, Cities That Work Blog

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Sharing is Caring (About Economic Efficiency)

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Sharing is Caring (About Economic Efficiency)

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Alana Brasier recently wrote two excellent posts about bike sharing and car sharing, which (with some gentle prodding by a colleague) got me thinking a bit about some of the broader economic implications of what has become known as “the sharing economy.” This convergence of mobile apps, ubiquitous smart phones and the blurring boundaries between people’s private and public lives has produced an increasing number of things that you can share with others, depending on your particular preference and need. Lyft Map

I don’t think I could sum up the issues and implications of all this sharing much better than this post by Aaron Renn. He does a great job of tracking the emergence of the sharing economy all the way back to the emergence of less-structured corporate office environments in the 1990s. I witnessed this indirectly through my wife, who works for a large global consulting firm. When she wasn’t working at a client site, her workplace options were to either show up at the office in downtown Chicago to pick up her plastic tub of personal effects and grab a non-assigned desk for the day, or work from home. (I think you can guess which option she usually chose.) Now she works from home full time at an internal position with the company, as does every single one of her immediate co-workers.

A spokesman for her company was quoted saying that it has reduced its real estate portfolio from 3 million square feet to 900,000 square feet even as its headcount increased, which saves it considerable money on overhead. Because the trend of working remotely conflicts with the trend of increasing workplace collaboration (remember the Yahoo work-from-home change?), there are differing opinions out there about the future of office space. Not every company has the business model, means and desire to be as aggressive as my wife’s employer, but an increasing number of companies are taking the opportunity that technological and societal shifts are giving them to be more efficient in how they use space.

Sharing in Transportation

Sharing can help us use our transportation facilities more efficiently too, as Renn astutely points out in his post. (See the part where he talks about “deadweight loss,” which is a classic economics term.) We all know that single-occupancy vehicles are inherently inefficient because there are empty seats going unused in most cars on the road. David Levinson delves even deeper into the waste built into our current transportation system in a recent post. So it turns out that a car-dominated transportation system is a pretty inefficient use of space, which makes sense to anyone who has seen the famous visualization of cars versus transit on a single city block. Space means land, which must be purchased, paved, and otherwise constructed upon, not to mention maintained over the long term. From an economic perspective, the more people we can transport using the same amount of space (or less), the more productive the system will be.

So if we want to improve the productivity of our transportation system, we can start by making non-automobile modes more available, convenient, and comfortable if necessary (so people will actually use them). And we can allow people to make more productive use of those empty seats next to them and behind them in their cars. There’s a lot more we can do, which Levinson outlines in his post, from road diets to congestion pricing to driverless cars. It will probably take an assortment of strategies working simultaneously to make our transportation system more productive, but we need to make the effort. For a part of our physical world and economy that is both so important to daily life and so expensive to build and maintain, we are not doing a very good job in getting the most bang for our buck out of it. But it looks like there are a lot of ideas out there on how to improve that.

–Dave Stamm, Cities That Work Blog

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Car Sharing and Ride Sharing Gaining Traction

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Car Sharing and Ride Sharing Gaining Traction

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In my previous post, I discussed the growing popularity of bike sharing programs in cities across the country. Two other transportation elements of the sharing economy are car sharing and ride sharing. Both trends have popped up in the past several years, and have seen growing popularity particularly within the last year. Car Sharing For Mobility

Car sharing allows users to essentially rent a car, but unlike a typical car rental experience, people can reserve a car for a short period of time, usually at an hourly rate. One of the best-known examples of a car sharing company is Zipcar, which was recently acquired by Avis Car Rental Company. To be able to use the vehicles, you must apply for membership, and once approved are then able to reserve a vehicle for however long you need it. This gives people who do not own a personal vehicle, the option of being able to use a car for everyday errands like grocery shopping, without the need to pay for ownership, maintenance, or insurance.

Creating Social Connections Through Ride Sharing

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Ride sharing connects people who own cars with people in need of a ride. Smartphone apps like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar are some of the service providers facilitating the connections between drivers and riders. These apps allow regular people to become drivers (after an application process) and use their own cars to provide rides to anyone requesting service through the app. Drivers and riders create accounts online and are able to select and rate each other on how well they either drove or rode. One perk of the app is that passengers are able to view the current location of their driver on a map, as shown in the picture to the right, to further improve convenience.

The beauty of the app is that it allows you to rate drivers and passengers, and choose drivers or passengers based on their ratings. Additionally, passengers also have to create an account and input credit card information before catching a ride. Both of these aspects reduce the risk of safety issues. Beyond the transportation benefit of ride sharing, there are also social benefits and a sense of community that comes from sharing rides and getting the chance to connect with others you may never have encountered otherwise.

The Difficulties of Ride Sharing in Florida

Uber also offers an additional service, called UberX, which allows users to order premium car service using professional drivers. Riders typically pay a base fare and a per-mile or per-minute fee, just like they would with a taxi. The difference from a traditional cab is that UberX connects riders with premium vehicles, wait times are usually shorter, and in most cities the fares are comparable or even cheaper than a cab.

Last summer during the Republican National Convention, UberX attempted to provide its service to conference attendees. However, the difficulty of providing this service in Tampa was quickly realized. Due to a Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission (PTC) rule, any private service, premium vehicle must charge a minimum of $50 per ride, no matter how short the trip. Other cities in Florida have similar issues with regulations, such as Miami and Jacksonville which also have arcane laws that prevent the usefulness of ride sharing. However, Jacksonville City Council recently approved overturning its law, and Miami is getting closer to removing its legislative road block.

Florida Senator Jeff Brandes and state representative James Grant are considering abolishing the Hillsborough PTC through legislation, so that services like UberX can be usable in Tampa. While the PTC was setup to provide oversight on the taxi industry, it has snowballed into a barrier to transportation options for Hillsborough County residents, and the role of this commission is in need of a re-evaluation. At the heart of the issue is enabling Tampa to have more transportation choices, especially because it is a city with so few choices to begin with. The next few months will decide the fate of this useful service in Tampa.

The Sharing Economy

Bike sharing, car sharing, and ride sharing are only a few aspects of the sharing economy. The sharing economy is an economic trend gaining momentum rapidly since the economic recession and aided by the continued prevalence of the internet as a social link. The implications of this shift in the economy are only beginning to come to the surface as the trend evolves, which will be the topic of my next post.

–Alana Brasier, Cities That Work Blog

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Advocacy Amid Acrimony

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Advocacy Amid Acrimony

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Amid the rancor and hand-wringing over the government shutdown precipitated by the GOP fight against Obamacare, the American Planning Association held its annual Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., sending about 60 planners from across the country into Congressional offices to advocate for funding of important programs focusing on infrastructure, resilience and livability. Preceding "advocacy day" on October 1st, APA held a series of well-organized sessions with experts discussing emerging issues such as aging, hazards mitigation and resilience, economic development, and tax reform. Noted speakers included Time magazine national correspondent Mike Grunwald, author of The Swamp and The New New Deal, and former Reagan and Bush I administration official, Bruce Bartlett, who repeatedly lamented the "wackos" and "nut jobs" forcing the shutdown. Rep. Scott Peters discusses energy and resiliency issues with APA members and staff.

Unlike several previous Planners Day on the Hill events, Congress was in session. The House of Representatives held a floor vote until nearly 2:30 AM on the day of our visits to pass a Continuing Resolution on the budget with the provision for a one-year delay in Obamacare. When the "clean" CR failed to pass, the shutdown became official. This made for a strange spectacle. Yellow tape blocked national parks and many entrances to Congressional office buildings, the Congressional gift shop was closed, and only one of the several restaurants on the Hill was open. Yet, the corridors and many offices were filled with people - staffers, lobbyists, students and members.

I met with Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL), who was visibly tired and, although a cordial and receptive listener, was crankier than when I've talked with him informally in the past. He seemed worn down, and became curt when I pressed him to reconsider his opposition to the American Community Survey (he called it intrusive, time-consuming, unscientific and wasteful). I also met with the staff of Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL), who is a long-standing friend of planning. Sen. Rubio (R-FL) cancelled my meeting with him, and flight plans prevented me from meeting with Florida's other Senator, Bill Nelson.

APA members met as a group with Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA), who was recognized by APA for his leadership on climate change and energy policy. Peters spoke about how the military, especially the Marine Corps, is gung-ho on expanding use of solar energy and improving military base resiliency based on science and mission impacts. He found it ironic that the armed forces would be such staunch supporters, yet the chairmen of GOP-led House committees dealing with those issues are in denial.

Advocacy Day focused on asking Congress to support several primary issues of interest to planners:

FY14 appropriations amounts in the Senate's budget bill that maintains funding for key transportation and HUD programs (known as T-HUD) that support infrastructure investment and community redevelopment like CDBG, TIGER and Choice Neighborhoods. The Senate's version puts $550 million toward the TIGER program. The Senate would also restore $75 million for the vital Partnership for Sustainable Communities programs at HUD and U.S. DOT. The House budget proposal eliminates funding for TIGER and dramatically cuts the others.

Bikes outside the Rayburn House Office Building

Promote innovative financing tools through the Partnership to Build America Act (H.R. 2084 by Rep. Delaney, D-MD) and expanded federal financing programs. The Partnership to Build America Act would finance the rebuilding of roads, bridges, transit systems, water treatment plans, etc. through an infrastructure fund using repatriated corporate earnings to provide financing to local governments. Proven tools, like TIFIA, can also be expanded.

Support efforts to provide local communities with better information and tools to plan for natural disasters through the Digital Coast Act (H.R. 1382) and the STRONG Act (S. 904 and H.R. 2322). The bipartisan Digital Coast Act and STRONG Act would improve and leverage existing federal efforts and programs to help planners improve local hazard resiliency. In the past two years, the federal government spent $136 billion on disaster relief. For every $1 spent now on disaster preparedness and resilience-building, we can avoid at least $4 in future losses. The STRONG Act would help promote greater coordination of existing federal programs and address gaps in key areas of resiliency planning.

Use tax reform to support critical infrastructure investments. Proposed changes in Congress would undermine proven tools like municipal bonds and low income housing tax credits. Instead, tax reform should provide an opportunity to address funding needs in existing sources, like the highway trust fund, which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects to be bankrupt by 2015, requiring more deficit spending from general revenue. Tax reform presents an opportunity to create more sustainable funding sources that enable state and local governments, and private business, to invest in smart growth.

It might not have been the best time to advocate for planning issues and better funding of important planning programs, but there is a difference between a manufactured crisis and a real crisis. Failure to plan and fund our critical national infrastructure presents a very real crisis facing America that threatens to undermine our global, national and regional economic competitiveness. I'm glad APA is working to raise awareness and educate members of Congress and the American people about these issues.

-- Whit Blanton, Cities that Work Blog

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