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Opinion: Our Gas Prices Are Way Too Low

October 4, 2017 Economy, Featured, Transportation Comments Off on Opinion: Our Gas Prices Are Way Too Low

Gasoline here in the U.S.is cheap compared to much of the world.

The average price of gasoline around the world is 4.09 U.S. Dollar per us gallon. However, there is substantial difference in these prices among countries. As a general rule, richer countries have higher prices while poorer countries and the countries that produce and export oil have significantly lower prices. One notable exception is the U.S. which is an economically advanced country but has low gas prices. The differences in prices across countries are due to the various taxes and subsidies for gasoline. All countries have access to the same petroleum prices of international markets but then decide to impose different taxes. As a result, the retail price of gasoline is different. (GlobalPetrolPrices)

Comparing gas prices alone doesn’t tell the full picture. For that I turned to a handy Bloomberg site,

Global gas prices are on the decline—about 2.3 percent, on average, in the past three months. Behind that modest decrease is a wide range of price swings felt differently around the world. We ranked 61 countries by three economic measures to see which has the most affordable gas and which feels the most pain at the pump.

It listed the US is the third most affordable — behind Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. Initially I decided to limit myself to the G7 countries:

Canada

Canada is seeking to restore its image as a leader on global warming with a nationwide tax on carbon pollution. The country has a lot to lose: Vast reserves of difficult-to-extract oil will mean either an environmental toll to produce it or an economic toll to keep in the ground. Cheap gasoline in Canada goes hand in hand with high consumption—only Americans use more per person.

France

The French can afford to pay for their expensive gasoline, but they’re increasingly turning to electric cars instead. French automakers Peugeot and Renault are both competing in the expanding market for EVs. France has one of the world’s highest EV sales rates and one of the densest charging networks.

Germany

German gas isn’t exactly cheap, but it’s little bother for the average driver in Europe’s largest economy. Gas consumption is average and is likely to decrease as the country commits to battery-powered cars. Incentives were introduced for car buyers in 2016, and BMW and Volkswagen are now working to electrify their fleets.

Italy

Car ownership in the home country of Ferrari and Maserati is among the highest in the world. However, the prolonged slump in global oil prices offered less relief to Italian drivers than in most countries, largely because of the country’s high taxes on fuel.

Japan

Japan’s long-standing national gasoline tax helped its carmakers take an early lead in developing fuel-efficient vehicles. Toyota and Honda invested big in fuel-cell technology, while the Nissan Leaf became the world’s best-selling electric vehicle. Japan now has more public battery chargers than gas stations.

United Kingdom

Sales of electric vehicles are accelerating in the U.K.—one of the biggest markets for battery-powered transportation. EVs make a lot of sense in a region defined by short driving distances and one of the highest gasoline prices in the world.

United States

President Donald Trump has scrapped environmental regulations and supported fossil-fuel production in the first months of his presidency. But if success is judged by the price of gasoline, there isn’t much room left for improvement. U.S. gasoline prices tumbled under his predecessor, Barack Obama, while oil production soared and cars became more efficient. Americans still guzzle more gas than any other country, so even with low prices, a thirst for the open road takes a bite out of the average paycheck.

I then decided I needed to also look at the country with the most expensive gas and the two where gasoline is more affordable than here:

Norway

Norway’s high gas prices and high incomes are an electric car maker’s dream. The country has the biggest share of electric vehicles in the world. That may seem strange for an economy built on oil, but Norway is one producer that doesn’t subsidize gasoline at the pump. Instead, the country uses its oil riches to fund national services, such as free college education and savings for infrastructure improvements.

Saudia Arabia

The Saudis sit atop two enormously valuable bodies of liquid: oil and water. Both are being pumped to the surface at unsustainable rates. Saudis rank among the greatest gas guzzlers in the world, but they devote a below-average share of their incomes to buying it. That’s because the government heavily subsidizes the price at the pump.

Venezuela

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Countries have different ideas as to which rights are inalienable, and Venezuela stands alone in considering nearly free gasoline a birthright. In 2016, President Nicolas Maduro raised pump prices 6,000 percent, but filling up a tank of gas still costs less than a cup of coffee. Venezuela isn’t a rich country but consumes gas like one.

I complied some of the information into a chart — looking at price per gallon, affordability relative to wages, gallons used per driver, and how each compares to the highest user of gasoline.

As you can see four other G7 countries (France, Germany, Italy, UK) have gas prices that are at least twice ours. Twice. We use far more gasoline than everyone else — even the two countries with more affordable gasoline.

The recent non-scientific Sunday Poll had fewer responses than usual:

Q: Current gas prices in St. Louis, at around $2.27/gal, are…

  • Extremely high 0 [0%]
  • High 1 [5%]
  • Somewhat high 1 [5%]
  • Neither low or high 7 [35%]
  • Somewhat low 4 [20%]
  • Low 3 [15%]
  • Extremely low 4 [20%]
  • Unsure/no opinion 0 [0%]

Still, more than half said our gas prices are on the low side of the scale. Decades of low taxes enabled us to build a non-sustainable auto-centric built environment. We can’t just raise taxes to where they should be, at least not too quickly. But we can’t continue to neglect our massive amount of crumbling infrastructure.

— Steve Patterson

 

Bus Stop Design In The St. Louis Region De-Prioritizes Transit

September 25, 2017 Featured, Planning & Design, Public Transit Comments Off on Bus Stop Design In The St. Louis Region De-Prioritizes Transit

Last month I posted about how St. Louis Does the Opposite of the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), this is the first example: bus stops.

Transit is returning to its central place in the life of cities. With more people using buses, streetcars, and light rail than ever before, our street design paradigm is shifting to give transit the space it deserves. People are choosing to live, work, and play in walkable neighborhoods, and cities are prioritizing highly productive modes like transit as the key to efficient, sustainable mobility for growing urban populations. Transit agencies and street departments are working together to create streets that not only keep buses and streetcars moving, but are great places to be. Cities are extending light rail systems, investing in streetcar lines, and creating new rapid bus lines at a stunning pace, with ridership growing even faster in city centers. Transit agencies are rethinking their networks to serve neighborhoods at a high level all day, not just at commute times, while bike share and active transportation networks make it even easier to not only reduce driving, but to avoid the expense of owning a car.  (NACTO: Transit Street Design Introduction) 

Some of NACTO’s principles:

On streets of every size and context, design can directly improve transit travel time, reliability, and capacity. Major projects like dedicated transitways can substantially increase transit speeds and the total person capacity of a street. On smaller streets, fine-grained improvements like bus bulbs and signal timing combine to transform the way the street works.  (NACTO: Transit Street Principles)

Transit streets are built around safe, low-stress, and complete pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure. Transit riders are active users of the street, relying on comfortable sidewalks and bikeways—and orderly motor vehicle traffic moving at safe speeds. Intuitive travel paths and frequent opportunities to cross the street make it easy and safe for people to get to transit stops, and are essential to building ridership.

Factors like presence of bicycle and pedestrian facilities, mixed land uses, and transit stop amenities have all shown significant positive correlations with transit ridership. However, the most significant indicator to ridership is transit level of service—transit frequency, transit alternatives, and route density—at a given stop location. (NACTO: Transit Street Principles)

On stops…

Use boarding islands and bulbs to allow transit vehicles to stop in their moving lane. Buses have long been expected to pull out of traffic to the curb, but this practice de-prioritizes transit, sometimes significantly on mixed-traffic streets. In-lane stops eliminate that delay, and provide an opportunity for near-level or level boarding. They also create shorter, safer pedestrian crossings, provide more walking space on the sidewalk, and make the street more predictable by sorting out bike-bus conflicts at stops. (NACTO: Transit Station & Stop Principles)

Sr. Louis, naturally, makes buses pull out of traffic rather than stay in the travel lane, as recommended. A problem I see often is people parking in the pull-out bus stop, from the archives:

MetroBus stop on the north side of Market Street filled with parked cars.
Cars on the north side of this 14th Street bus stop made it impossible for buses to pull up to the curb
Car parked in a bus stop on Forest Park
A St. Louis police car parked in front of a fire hydrant in a bus stop at 16th & Market.

More on the benefits of in-line stops:

By allowing buses to move in a straight line, in-lane stops eliminate both pull-out time and traffic re-entry time, a source of delay and unreliable service. In-lane stops are especially valuable on streets operating at or near vehicle capacity, or on streets with long signal cycles, in which transit vehicles may experience long re-entry delays while waiting for traffic to clear. (NACTO: Stop Placement & Intersection Configuration)

And the negatives of requiring buses to pull-out of the travel lane:

Where buses are required to pull from traffic to make stops, longer bus zones are needed to accommodate transitions to and from traffic.

Short transition distances add delay to transit service and require sharper transitions to the curb, wearing transit vehicles and infrastructure more quickly.

Enforcement is required to keep pull-out stops clear; vehicles standing or parking in the stop zone constrain the operator’s ability to pull completely to the platform.

Longer stops ease transitions into and out of stops, but require more curb length, reducing curbside parking spots.
At high-volume boarding locations, longer stops can be used to distribute queuing riders along the sidewalk and to ease pedestrian congestion.

The design of the humble bus stop can prioritize or de-prioritize transit. For decades the entree St. Louis region has de-prioritized transit use through the design of streets in the the public right-of-way.

— Steve Patterson

 

STL Downtown Multimodal Study Engagement Week Begins Today

September 18, 2017 Downtown, Events/Meetings, Featured, Transportation Comments Off on STL Downtown Multimodal Study Engagement Week Begins Today
Click image to view larger version in Facebook

Today kicks off a week of events, from the Facebook Event page:

You’re invited to join the City of St. Louis as we talk about the future of our Downtown transportation system. Join any of these half-day workshops. We hope you are able to attend and take part in the discussion!

The week includes 8 half-day workshops scheduled around various topics. Please review the engagement week flyer pictured for more information about the schedule breakdown. Each workshop consists of different activities to gain feedback important to the study.

Walkabouts in Downtown will take place periodically throughout the engagement week. If you have an interest in participating in this portion, please contact Jacque at [email protected]

For more information contact Jacqueline Ann (Jacque Lumsden) at [email protected] (CBB Transportation Engineers + Planners) or at (314) 449 – 9565.

City of St. Louis Project Manager: Dan Buschmeyer, Board of Public Service.

The schedule is as follows:

  • Monday 9/18
    • Morning: bike
    • Afternoon: pedestrian
    • Evening: general session
  • Tuesday 9/19
    • Morning: event traffic management/traffic
    • Afternoon:parking
  • Wednesday 9/20
    • Morning: transit
    • Afternoon: technology
  • Thursday 0/21
    • Morning: hot spot locations
    • Afternoon: policy issues (freight/travel demand/curbside issues)

All will take place in the 1st floor boardroom at 1520 Market. Foe more specifics see the Facebook Event page.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

St. Louis Does the Opposite of the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO)

August 18, 2017 Featured, Planning & Design, Transportation Comments Off on St. Louis Does the Opposite of the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO)

Last month I wrote about a new book, an excellent design guide, see Reading: Urban Street Stormwater Guide by the National Association of City Transportation Officials. I loved it so much I asked the publisher to send me the rest pf the hardcover guides: Transit Street, Urban Bikeway, and Global Street. All information in the printed guide books is available for free online.

There are some here trying to get the City of St. Louis to become a member city of the National Association of Transportation Officials (NATCO). Who you ask?

NACTO’s mission is to build cities as places for people, with safe, sustainable, accessible and equitable transportation choices that support a strong economy and vibrant quality of life.

We do this by:

  • Communicating a bold vision for 21st century urban mobility and building strong leadership capacity among city transportation officials.
  • Empowering a coalition of cities to lead the way on transportation policy at the local, state, and national levels.
  • Raising the state of the practice for street design that prioritizes people walking, biking, and taking transit.

Here’s their intro video:

Since St. Louis, and the region by extension, does the opposite of what NACTO recommends, we could benefit greatly if the city joined — and followed their lead. But I doubt the traffic engineers in the Streets Dept and the like-minded engineers at the Board of Public Service are willing to change the way things have always been done.

Peer cities like Indianapolis, Memphis, and Nashville are affiliate members. Click image for their member cities page

Again, see various departments fighting NACTO’s recommendations. In the coming months I plan posts showing the NACTO way vs the St. Louis way.

— Steve Patterson

 

The Civic Center MetroBus Transit Center Reopens Today…Smoke-Free!

August 14, 2017 Downtown, Featured, Public Transit, Transportation Comments Off on The Civic Center MetroBus Transit Center Reopens Today…Smoke-Free!

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A look back at the original Civic Center MetroBus Center. The block North of Spruce had many trees.

In October 2011 many brown areas could be spotted on the evergreen trees
To prep for a new Civic Center bus transfer facility, all the trees were cut down. The Feds will require Metro to plant new trees
The official route from 14th to the MetroLink platform involves steps or two switchback ramps

The new design is substantially different, it has 3 times as many bus bays. First we have to get to it. For both the ribbon cutting (8/10) and open house (8/11) I arrived from the North on the West side of 14th Street (next to Peabody Opera/Scottrade Center). Both times I had to take a detour, hopefully this morning this is open.

AS I arrived for the open house I saw Fredbird walking on 14th because the sidewalk at the corner was closed.
Moments later Fredbird made it around the corner
Later I made it around to the other side, it appears done so hopefully the fencing is pulled back today. The North plaza area, left, is still being finished.
To accèss Civic Center I usd ri go West along Clark, almost to 16th. I couldn’t get to 14th & Spruce because the sidewalks don’t connect on the East side of 14th, which surprised some Metro officials.
On Thursday holes were being dug for a new fence along Clark.
Since opening in 1993 this sidewalk has been too narrow. now the added fence is close leaving no room for people to step side on the South
Heading up the West ramp to the building
Looking back to where I’d been.
Once the corner st 14th & Clark is open pedestrians will use a 14th Street sidewalk not filled with bus stops. Trees will be planted, providing separation from the traffic lane.
Those pedestrians who approach from the South will likely take a shortcut, those of us in mobility devices don’t have that option because bio ramp is provided on the South end
There are several very long crosswalks, the able-bodied will take less risky short-cuts
Some will enter any 14th & Spruce, facing the new building. The MetroLink platform ids beyond, with Amshack 3 beyond that.
Inside the building are restrooms, concessions, security, etc
Each bank of seating has an outlet, carry your phone charger
Like North County TC, the bathrooms don’t have doors . Great for those of us who use a mobility device
From the building you can look down at the MetroLink platform
View of the building from the platform
View north from the steps next to the building
Trees, plants, and art will be installed at the North this full .

At the ribbon cutting on Thursday Metro Transit Exec Dir Ray Friem was adamant Civic Center would open allowing smoking, like their other bus centers. I argued this was the perfect time to make Civic Center smoke-free. Metro staff told me their inconsistent policy of no-smoking on train platforms but smoking at bus shelters on their private property had been the subject of many internal debates over the years. Friem said Metro would go smoke0-free, he just didn’t know how or when.  I rallied others to talk to Friem. It worked.

Metro has announced Civic Center is opening smoke-free, other bus transit centers will go smoke0-free  next month. Finally I can change buses at a transit center without having my eyes water or throat close because of smokers around me.

Four bus routes are being split up:

  • The #30 is being split into the #19 St. Louis Ave and #30 Arsenal
  • The #32 M.L. King-Chouteau is being split into the #31 Chouteau and #32 M.L. King.
  • The #40 Broadway route becomes the #20 S. Broadway and #40 N. Broadway  — yes, both are being routes through Civic Center.
  • The #99 Downtown Trolley is having a West portion split off into the #96 Market Street Shuttle.

You can read all the changes here.

— Steve Patterson

 

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