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Archive of posts filed under the Multi-Modal Transport category.

Gas is suddenly cheap(er), and the reason is bigger than you think

Gas prices have fallen below $3 per gallon in much of the US, and the explanation isn’t the simple seasonal differences that always make gas cheaper in autumn. The bigger reason: US oil shale deposits are turning the global oil market on its head.

Photo by Wil C. Fry on Flickr.

Photo by Wil C. Fry on Flickr.

How did cheap gas happen?

In the simplest terms, supply is up and demand is down.

Travel drops between the summer travel season and the holidays, and cooler fall temperatures actually make gas cheaper to produce. That’s why gas prices always fall in autumn.

But that’s not enough to explain this autumn’s decline, since gas hasn’t dropped this low in years. China is also using less gas than expected, but that’s also only part of the explanation.

The bigger explanation seems to be that supply is also up, in a huge way. North American oil shale is hitting the market like never before, and it’s totally unbalancing the global oil market. Oil shale has become so cheap, and North American shale producers are making such a dent in traditional crude, that some prognosticators are proclaiming that “OPEC is over.”

It’s that serious a shift in the market.

Will this last?

Yes and no.

The annual fall price drop will end by Thanksgiving, just like it always does. Next summer, prices will rise just like they always do. Those dynamics haven’t changed at all.

Likewise, gasoline demand in China and the rest of the developing world will certainly continue to grow. Whether it outpaces or under-performs predictions matters less in the long term than the fact that it will keep rising. That hasn’t changed either.

But the supply issue has definitely changed. Oil shale is here to stay, at least for a while. Oil shale production might keep rising or it might stabilize, but either way OPEC crude is no longer the only game in town.

Of course, oil shale herf=”http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-10-10/u-dot-s-dot-shale-oil-boom-may-not-last-as-fracking-wells-lack-staying-power”>isn’t limitless. Eventually shale will hit peak production just like crude did. When that happens it will inevitably become more expensive as we use up the easy to refine reserves and have to fall back on more expensive sources. That’s a mathematical certainty. But it’s not going to happen tomorrow. In the meantime, oil shale isn’t very scarce.

So the bottom line is that demand will go back up in a matter of weeks, and the supply will probably stabilize, but at higher levels than before.

What does this mean?

Here’s what it doesn’t mean: There’s never going to be another 1990s bonanza of $1/gallon fill-ups. Gas will be cheaper than it was in 2013, but the 20th Century gravy train of truly cheap oil is over.

Oil shale costs more to extract and refine than crude oil. Prices have to be high simply to make refining oil shale worth the cost, which is why we’ve only recently started refining it at large scales. Shale wouldn’t be profitable if prices dropped to 1990s levels. In that sense, oil shale is sort of like HOT lanes on a congested highway, which only provide benefits if the main road remains congested.

So shale can only take gas prices down to a little below current levels. And eventually increased demand will inevitably overwhelm the new supply. How long that will take is anybody’s guess.

In the ultimate long term, oil shale doesn’t change most of the big questions surrounding sustainable energy. Prices are still going to rise, except for occasional blips. We still need better sustainable alternatives. Fossil fuels are still wreaking environmental catastrophe, and the fracking process that’s necessary to produce oil shale is particularly bad. It would be foolish in the extreme for our civilization to abandon the progress we’ve made on those fronts, and go back to the SUV culture of the 20th Century.

There will probably be lasting effects on OPEC economies. The geopolitical situation could become more interesting.

In the meantime, enjoy the windfall.


West Colfax Mobility Improvement Project Completed

This past weekend, the West Colfax Business Improvement District (WCBID) celebrated the near completion of a mobility improvement project on West Colfax Avenue between Federal and Sheridan Boulevards. The project, which has been in planning and development for nearly three years, includes new pedestrian-scale signage, seven artist-designed bus shelters and entry monument signage on both ends of the corridor. The project aims to encourage pedestrian traffic and mass transit use on West Colfax and throughout the surrounding neighborhood by connecting people to local parks, light-rail stations and other destinations such as the new Denver Library branch set to open on West Colfax in early 2015.  All aspects of the project incorporate the WCBID’s logo therefore helping to create a brand for the up-and-coming West Colfax corridor. The “W” logo can be seen on the entry monument shown in the photo below.

2014-10-22_Entry Monument1w

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Funded by the Denver Office of Economic Development the new signage, bus stations, and branding is also intended to help jump start additional redevelopment along the corridor. Together with bicycle signage also being installed throughout the neighborhood, these new elements form a wayfinding system that is designed to comprehensively connect pedestrians and bicyclists to neighborhood assets. Together with the bus shelters, these directional signs and enhanced transit amenities support WCBID’s efforts to encourage pedestrian and bike transport in West Colfax and create a more healthy, dynamic and  interactive community culture that will support local businesses.

While this project certainly isn’t as monumental as the recent reconstruction of 14th Street downtown or as pretty as improvements to South Broadway or North Tennyson Street, for example, there is certainly something unique to be seen here. I believe that the exciting thing about this project (unlike so many other pedestrian improvement projects) is that it anticipates the pedestrians rather than simply acknowledging an existing pedestrian presence. As it exists today, there is very little pedestrian traffic on West Colfax, but with new developments coming online including Mile High Vista at Colfax and Irving and the redevelopment of the St Anthony’s hospital, there is potential for more pedestrian traffic in the near future. Additionally, acknowledging and enhancing what little pedestrian traffic is already on the street goes along way toward encouraging more pedestrians to make their way onto the corridor. Putting just a few more people in front of existing businesses and empty storefronts just might be the ticket that sparks additional redevelopment.

Here’s a closer look at the components.

2014-10-22_Signage1w

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The wayfinding signage (above) and entry monuments designed by Tom Rodgers with Hyperform Design Cooperative (as part of a larger master plan for the corridor executed several years ago) are designed to reflect the rich history of mid-century “Googie” signage on Colfax Ave while also giving the corridor a bold modern look. The entry monument on the east end (pictured earlier) replaced an existing, but tired, welcome sign located at Colfax and Irving, while on the west end of the corridor, Dan Shah of the WCBID somewhat miraculously managed to convince the Walgreen’s corporation to mount an identical sign on the concrete wall surrounding their parking lot at the intersection of Sheridan and Colfax. The wayfinding signs are located on both sides of Colfax Avenue and occur on nearly every block throughout the corridor. They help to continually reinforce the theme set up by the entry signage.

2014-10-22_Orange Bus Stop 2014-10-22_Bus Stop Detail

The bus shelters, designed by local artist Emmett Culligan, also pay homage to the mid-century modern car culture with their unique “inflated” stainless steel columns and bright colors (as seen in the pictures above). Each of the seven shelters is painted a different color of the spectrum and has matching plexiglass panels. As you travel down West Colfax from east to west the stations are placed in spectral order from red to purple. Interestingly enough, however, the shelters aren’t actually new. In order to complement the WCBID’s other sustainability goals (you can see the solar streetlight in the photo above) the BID and the artist worked with RTD to refurbish and place seven identical bus shelters along the corridor. This was no easy task as only three of the shelters already existed on West Colfax. In order to create the rest of the set, RTD and the BID swapped out three non-matching shelters from West Colfax with matching shelters elsewhere in the system and pulled one more matching shelter out of storage. A pretty amazing feat if you ask me. Once the refurbished shelters were placed on site, the artist simply mounted his inflated stainless steel tubes to the corners of the existing shelter to finish off the new look (the “inflated” tubes are made by blowing compressed air into extremely hot steel to create the “air-stream” like forms).

So next time you’re traveling by on West Colfax (in whatever transit mode you happen to be taking) check out the new bus shelters and wayfinding signage. And maybe (if you’re so inclined) linger a bit and imagine a fully revitalized corridor complete with shops, restaurants, new housing and, most of all, healthy and sustainable pedestrian street life. It’s not so much of a distant future.


Help Create “Great Paths” for Walking in Northwest Denver!

By Jill Locantore, WalkDenver Policy and Program Director

Donate to “Great Paths: The Boulevard at Jefferson Park” on Thursday, October 23 and your contribution will be matched dollar for dollar!

WalkDenver is leading a project called “Great Paths” that will make walking in northwest Denver neighborhoods more safe, comfortable, and fun. Like many urban neighborhoods, northwest Denver is experiencing a true renaissance. With new restaurants and businesses opening their doors on and near Federal Boulevard, there are more places to visit and more people moving in to enjoy these amenities. Residents would like to walk to local destinations but there are many barriers that discourage walking such as busy streets and poor sidewalk conditions.

2014-10-23_JeffersonPark

On Thursday, October 23, we have just 24 hours to raise $8,000 ($4,000 from local donors and $4,000 in matching funds) for the Great Paths project, which will fund:

  • a community mapping exercise that will identify the top destinations for walking in northwest Denver and a priority path that connects these destinations
  • improvements to that priority path such as pedestrian wayfinding signs or public art; and
  • a series of fun community events that will raise awareness of and celebrate the improvements to the priority path.

Will you help make this project a reality? Every dollar you contribute to this project will be matched 100% by our national partner, but you must donate on October 23!

The Great Paths project is led by WalkDenver and involves a unique coalition of neighborhood interests including the Federal Boulevard Business Improvement District and Partnership, Jefferson Park United Neighbors, and Sloan’s Lake Citizens Group. Our national partners, ioby and the Transit Center, are providing the matching funds.

Please join us in this effort, which will demonstrate the type of quick, low-cost improvements that can improve walkability in neighborhoods throughout Denver. You can learn more about the project and make a donation directly through WalkDenver’s ioby campaign page here.


USDOT Prioritizes Safe Walking and Biking

This post was written by WalkDenver Board member Gideon Berger and was originally presented here:

WalkDenver was excited to participate in the Pro Walk/ Pro Bike/ Pro Place conference in Pittsburgh earlier this month. While there is always lots to learn from advocates and practitioners from all around the country at this national conference for walking and bicycling professionals organized by the Project for Public Spaces, federal Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx also made headlines by announcing a new US Department of Transportation initiative to enhance pedestrian and bicycle safety.

Called “Safer People, Safer Streets,” Secretary Foxx—who was once hit by a right-turning driver while jogging during his first term as mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina—called the action plan, “the most comprehensive, forward-leaning initiative U.S. DOT has ever put forward on bike/ ped issues.” While there has been a 33% reduction in passenger vehicle occupant deaths in the US in the past decade, the DOT reports the number of bicycle and pedestrian fatalities has increased by about 15% since 2009. And pedestrian fatalities are a far larger problem: 4,743 were killed while walking in 2012 compared to 726 cyclists.

Recent data also indicates that residents of low-income and minority neighborhoods are disproportionately involved in bike and ped injuries and fatalities, and low-income neighborhoods often have fewer sidewalks and other safe infrastructure. Ped and bike safety is also a more serious problem in cities and urban areas: 73% of pedestrian deaths and 69% of bicyclist deaths in 2012 occurred where interactions between vehicles and non-motorized users are frequent, and where many people walk or bike to reach destinations or transit stops and stations. The majority of fatalities occur on urban arterial streets.

So what is DOT proposing to do about all this? Over the next 18 months they will be rolling out a variety of new resources and highlighting existing tools for transportation practitioners. On pedestrian safety, these will include:

  • bike/ped safety assessments of selected corridors throughout the country
  • a new road diet guide (studies show that road diets reduce all traffic crashes by an average of 29%)
  • an “aggressive research agenda” on a range of topics including pedestrian safety, performance measures, design flexibility and network development
  • an updated resident’s guide for creating safe and walkable communities
  • evaluation of pedestrian safety engineering countermeasures at urban and suburban mid-block crossing locations (about 70% of ped fatalities occur away from intersections)
  • pedestrian countermeasure crash modification factor study (focusing on sites and 18 countermeasures in San Francisco, Las Vegas and Miami)
  • a new Road Safety for Transit Patrons Initiative to bring staff from federal agencies to provide technical assistance to transit operators
  • requiring transit agencies to establish policies for encouraging safe access to transit as part of their Transit Agency Safety Plans
  • promoting the improvement of pedestrian networks such as by evaluating new ped facilities for inclusion in the next addition of the federal traffic control device manual in 2016
  • evaluating new law enforcement and education techniques as pilots in New York City, Philadelphia and Louisville, Ky.
  • developing new safety campaign materials

As we gear up for a new pedestrian plan in the City & County of Denver, we at WalkDenver could not be happier about the timing of this announcement. We hope to see the city officials take advantage of these new resources, tools, guidance and research.


Denver Proposes Arterial BRT on East Colfax

The Colfax Corridor Connections project held two public meetings last week, following a year of extensive modeling and analysis, to review the “preliminary locally preferred alternative” of arterial bus rapid transit on Colfax between Auraria and the Anschutz Medical Campus, with all-day service and using exclusive lanes during peak hours. Previous public meetings described the screening out of non-traditional urban corridor options, and options that would only be appropriate in areas with vastly higher capacity needs. This third phase closely analyzed the three remaining alternatives: enhanced bus, modern streetcar, and bus rapid transit.

The three alternatives, which would replace today’s 15L service, would all feature distinct low-floor vehicles with multi-door boarding, off-board ticketing at bulb-out stations, real-time passenger information at stations, signal priority at intersections and frequent operations with 5-minute headways.

Image source: City of Denver: www.ColfaxCorridorConnections.com

Image source: City of Denver: www.ColfaxCorridorConnections.com

In keeping with the Denver Strategic Transportation Plan’s direction to use multimodal improvements to increase the person-trip capacity of our streets (a true multi-modal evaluation, rather than older methods counting vehicle capacity), this study used DRCOG’s Focus Travel Model, an activity-based demand model, to estimate total corridor person-trip demand under the remaining alternatives. By evaluating alternatives with an eye towards total corridor person-trip demand, and confirming that the proposed service can meet the demand generated by the new service, BRT demonstrates nearly all the capacity benefits of the streetcar alternative at approximately 25% of the capital cost and at lower operating cost.

The lower capital cost of the BRT alternative means that the project would be appropriate for federal Small Starts or New Starts funding (total capital costs of less than $250 million), which have relatively low local match requirements. The project team told attendees that the very good “cost effectiveness” for this alternative  – a number calculated based on an Federal Transit Administration formula for an all-inclusive cost per rider – shows that it would be highly competitive for federal funds, driven by the high ridership on the corridor.

A key feature of the BRT and streetcar alternatives is exclusive use of one lane in each direction during peak hours. This is critical to alleviating the unpredictable arrival times of buses on Colfax which today “bunch up” due to getting caught in traffic – a situation that would only get worse without the dedicated lanes as traffic and demand increase over time. The modeling estimates that daily transit demand would only increase from 22,000 today to 26,000 in 2035 with no action, or to 33,000 with an enhanced bus option in shared lanes. But transit ridership would increase to 43,000 per day under the BRT proposal with peak-hour exclusive lanes. (Streetcar with peak-hour exclusive lanes would be similar, with a small further increase due to slightly shorter end-to-end times and a passenger bias to use rail.)

Another way to look at the higher person-trip capacity on Colfax with these improvements is to realize that the demand for east-west travel will exist whether or not the improvements are made – but without the improvements, Colfax won’t be able to carry as much of it, meaning increased traffic in adjacent neighborhoods and less economic activity on Colfax.

Is it a bold proposal? I would say it’s a bold, smart proposal. It’s a bold proposal because it will take real political will, backed by the support of urbanists, to walk our multimodal talk and make choices such as peak-hour dedicated lanes to optimize for person-trip capacity on this key urban corridor. We cannot let our elected leaders become paralyzed with fear of offending those who only think about the world as a single-occupant-vehicle driver. It’s a smart proposal because it captures nearly all of the benefits possible at a reasonable price with a good shot at near-term funding.

This should be just the first in what becomes Denver’s new direction to lead on transit planning throughout the city.

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Joel Noble is a Denver native who focuses on neighborhoods, transportation and city development topics through his many volunteer roles. He is President of Curtis Park Neighbors, Co-chair of the Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation‘s Transportation Committee, a Boardmember with the Five Points Business District (FPBD), and a member of the Denver Planning Board. He has been an active participant in developing area plans, business district plans, streetcar and transit plans, and in the citywide Zoning Code Update. Joel believes that there is great power in bringing community together with city departments and other agencies to develop vision and to implement plans for the future of our city. Professionally, Joel works in IT as a systems engineer.