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House Panel Calls on U.S. DOT to Measure Access to Economic Opportunity

A bill working its way through Congress may prompt federal officials to get a better handle on how transportation projects help or hinder access to jobs, education, and health care.

California Congresswoman Maxine Waters was one of the sponsors of the provision. Photo: Wikipedia

Representative Maxine Waters of California sponsored the provision. Photo: Wikipedia

The legislation, which passed out of a House Committee this week, calls for U.S. DOT to measure “the degree to which the transportation system, including public transportation, provides multimodal connections to economic opportunities, including job concentration areas, health care services, child care services, and education and workforce training services, particularly for disadvantaged populations.” Details of how the proposed metrics work would be determined by U.S. DOT in a formal rule-making process.

Sixty years of highway-centric transportation policies have systematically curtailed opportunity for poor Americans — spreading jobs and housing farther apart and limiting access to employment, especially for people without cars. Even today, projects like the Tampa Bay Express Lanes demolish properties in low-income urban areas to save time for more affluent suburban car commuters.

The provision in the House bill aims to make change through accountability. It won’t dictate policy, but it should illustrate how transportation policy decisions expand or diminish access to economic opportunity.

Advocates including PolicyLink and the Leadership Conference on Human and Civil Rights campaigned for such legislation for years, but it was not included in the last federal transportation bill.

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Streetsblog.net
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Funding California Rail With Cap-and-Trade Revenue Hits a Snag

California’s cap-and-trade program is one of the boldest state-level climate change policies in the U.S. By capping statewide carbon pollution and then auctioning off emissions allowances, the state hopes to both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and generate about $10.6 billion for projects to improve energy efficiency. Among other things, that money would support various rail and transit projects, including the state’s high-speed rail line.

The state plans to borrow against future cap-and-trade revenues to provide a local match for $3.5 billion in federal funds for high-speed rail, according to the LA Times. But Adina Levin at Green Caltrain reports that there’s been a hitch:

Results of the most recent Cap and Trade auction announced yesterday, where only 2% of carbon credits were sold, pose risks to Caltrain electrification funding, the High Speed Rail project, and other state transportation and housing goals. The auction brought in $10 million, compared to $150 million that the state was expecting.

The LA Times reports that the reason for the low auction reports is unclear…

Caltrain is seeking $225 million from state Cap and Trade funds this summer to be able to move ahead with the electrification project, and High Speed Rail’s budget depends on a 25% earmark of Cap and Trade funds. The budget has a $500 million reserve in case of auction shortfalls, but cuts are expected to spending for programs that had been depending on the funds.

Auction revenue may have fallen short because reducing emissions has been easier than expected, or due to uncertainty about the program created by a pending legal challenge, or greater-than-expected trading on the secondary market.

Does this mean the cap-and-trade program is broken? In terms of meeting the state’s emissions-reduction targets, probably not, says the Environmental Defense Fund. But as a revenue source for rail and transit projects, there are now some big question marks.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Urban Milwaukee reports that Milwaukee County’s decision to make transit free for seniors and disabled people, regardless of income, has not worked out well for the transit system as a whole. And Biking Toronto reports on a Twitter bot tracking where people are getting hit by motorists.

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Today’s Headlines

  • CNN Highlights the Sorry State of America’s Infrastructure
  • Georgia Threatens to Shut Down Atlanta Streetcar (AJC)
  • Seattle Bumps Up Timeline for Light Rail Projects (Seattle Times)
  • Uber Preps to Meet Demand During DC Metro Work (WaPoThe Hill)
  • Google Plans Self-Driving Car Center Near Detroit (Detroit Free Press)
  • Driverless Car Tech to Get Boost from US-Israel Collaboration (Jerusalem Post)
  • Parksify Talks Walkability With Jeff Speck
  • Upstate New York Gets Millions for Transit Upgrades (AP)
  • Philly Mag: Better Bike Lanes Could Stop the Self-Righteousness
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Talking Headways Podcast: Moneyball for Transit

Laurel Paget-Seekins joins the podcast this week to talk about her days as a transit activist in Atlanta, what Santiago, Chile, taught her about transit networks, and her current work on data collection and dissemination as the director of strategic initiatives at the MBTA in Boston.

We discuss the MBTA’s data blog and dashboard, how the agency collects information, and the way it makes data available for people outside the agency to use it. Laurel is also the co-editor, along with Juan Carlos Munoz, of the recently published Restructuring Public Transport through Bus Rapid Transit. She shares her thoughts on BRT and its role in urban transportation networks.

It’s a can’t-miss episode for all you transit lovers out there.

Streetsblog.net
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No, Seattle Isn’t Waging a “War on Cars”

The most efficient way to move people in a crowded city simply isn't cars that are three-quarters empty. Graphic: Fehr & Peers via The Urbanist

The most efficient way to move people in a crowded city simply isn’t cars that are three-quarters empty. Graphic: Fehr & Peers via The Urbanist

It’s cliché at this point for newspapers to label any effort to improve walking, biking, or transit as a “war on cars.” The latest in this proud tradition is Seattle Times columnist Brier Dudley, who wrote recently that the city is waging “a shock-and-awe campaign targeting anyone who dares to drive in, through or around Seattle.” What was it exactly that set him off?

The offense Seattle committed was to shift away from measuring streets using “Level of Service,” which prioritizes the movement of vehicles. Instead the city will measure how many people are moving on streets, regardless of the mode they’ve chosen, writes Scott Bonjukian at the Urbanist:

This is indeed a novel approach to measuring the performance of local streets. The traditional Level of Service (LOS) tool ranks roadways based on how fast cars move; free flowing traffic gets an A, and gridlock gets an F. As demonstrated by over 60 years of post-WWII sprawl, the problem with this is it leads to an infinite loop of congestion, construction, and poor urban environments. Cities set a high standard for LOS, see that traffic is congested, widen roads or build new ones, see that the roads fill up with more cars due to induced demand, and repeat ad nauseam. This is also results in limited, if any, consideration for other users of the street: people walking, bicycling, and riding transit.

Read more…

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Today’s Headlines

  • Subways in the Northeast Are Showing Their Age (NYT)
  • What D.C. Commuters Can Expect When Metro Shutdowns Begin (WaPo)
  • Delaware May Increase Fine for Hitting a Pedestrian to $550 (Delaware Online)
  • Austin Mayor to Intro Transpo Bond Proposal, Includes Protected Bike Lanes (Austin Chronicle)
  • One in Four Traffic Crashes in Minnesota Caused by Distracted Driving (Star Tribune)
  • Is Google Losing Interest in Self-Driving Cars? (Transportationist)
  • Why Americans in the 1950s Were Scared of Suburbia (Curbed)
  • Third Safety Report to Study Cincinnati’s 2.2-Mile Protected Bike Lane (Enquirer)
  • Reno’s Mayor Wants More Green Bike Lanes (Kolo News Now)
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Clinton Pledges to Make a Big Infrastructure Push in Her First 100 Days

The industry groups behind last week’s “Infrastructure Week” campaign got exciting news today when presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton announced she’s going to make a big $275 billion “infrastructure” push in her first 100 days.

An anonymous Clinton aide told the Washington Post:

This proposal would represent the most significant increase in infrastructure investment since President Eisenhower built the Interstate Highway System.

Streetsblog took a look at Clinton’s infrastructure proposal when she introduced it in December, and there wasn’t much more to it than a large dollar figure. Her proposal calls for spending $275 billion on top of the $300 billion for surface transportation already on the books for the next five years. It doesn’t, however, call for raising the gas tax, a mileage fee, or even the barrel of oil tax recently proposed by President Obama.

Instead, Clinton ‘s proposal envisions additional funding from a vague “business tax reform.” Whatever that turns out to mean in practice, it sounds a lot like the funding gimmicks that Washington has increasingly come to rely on to subsidize roads.

On the bright side, Clinton did call for more investment in transit, biking, and walking; for more accountability for state DOTs; and for greater use of “merit-based” project selection, rather than just shoveling money at states to pour into expensive highway projects, no questions asked.

Overall, Clinton’s infrastructure plan falls short compared to what Obama called for in his final budget proposal. That Obama blueprint would substantially raise transit funding without increasing the allocation for highways. It would have been a real policy shift, rather than the “more of everything” approach Clinton seems to favor. Congress, however, would not even dignify the Obama proposal with a formal hearing.

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7 Steps to Phase Out Carbon Emissions From American Transportation

Eliminating carbon emissions from the American transportation system can be done, according to a new report from the Frontier Group [PDF]. The tools to reduce energy use from cars and light trucks at least 90 percent are at our disposal or in advanced stages of development. The remaining 10 percent could be supplied by renewables like wind power.

The U.S. transportation sector produces about 28 percent of domestic GHG emissions and 4 percent of total global emissions. Here's how we compare to other nations right now. Graph: Frontier Group

The U.S. transportation sector produces about 28 percent of domestic GHG emissions and 4 percent of total global emissions. No other nation produces more transportation emissions per capita. Chart: Frontier Group

“We have the technical capacity to do all of these things,” Frontier’s Tony Dutzik told Streetsblog. Here’s how it would work, if we can muster the will.

The first step is to reduce driving. Frontier Group estimates that the following four strategies could cut miles driven per capita by 28 to 42 percent, which amounts to a 10 percent total decline by 2050 when accounting for population growth.

1. Walkable Development: We have to build more walkable places where people don’t have to hop in a car for every trip. People living in compact neighborhoods drive 20 to 40 percent less than people living in spread out areas. If 60 to 90 percent of new construction between now and 2050 is walkable development with good transit connections, it could reduce total GHG emissions from transportation 9 to 15 percent.

To accomplish that, Frontier says big coastal cities like New York and San Francisco need to “build up” and make room for more people. Meanwhile, sprawling places like Atlanta and Houston need to seize opportunities to redevelop existing space — parking lots or closed malls, for example — in a compact form.

2. Pricing Roads: Pricing parking alone could reduce total vehicle miles traveled by up to 3 percent. A blanket vehicle miles traveled tax, meanwhile, could reduce mileage by 10 to 12 percent. Congestion pricing, which puts a higher price on road use where and when traffic is most intense, is another avenue to cut mileage. London’s congestion pricing system, which only covers the central city, has helped reduce driving 10 percent even as the population has grown, Frontier reports.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Study: Walkable Neighborhoods Cut Obesity, Diabetes 10 Percent (NYT)
  • Opening Date for Cincinnati Streetcar Set for This Fall (WMUB)
  • Milwaukee Area Planners Predict BRT Will Attract an Additional 9,000 Riders (Wauwatoosa Now)
  • Twin Cities Light Rail Plan in Doubt After State Punted on Funding (Star Tribune)
  • Gainsville Sun to FDOT: Don’t Expand Underperforming, Sprawl-Inducing Toll Road
  • Business Owners in San Diego Up in Arms Over Bike Lane Plan That Would Reduce Parking (CBS 8)
  • The Stranger: Seattle Betrays Cyclists by Ignoring Dangerous Streets
  • Salt Lake City Changing Zoning to Promote Streetcar Ridership (Tribune)
  • Racial Divide Over Wake County’s Transit Plans (Indy Week)
  • Forbes Writer Compares Light Rail to Landlines
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KC Conspiracy Theorists: Walkable Development Will “Devastate” Auto Giants

Now that Kansas City has its streetcar up and running, the city is taking the logical step of updating its zoning code to allow for walkable development along the transit route. And according to some local Agenda 21 believers, anyone who works for the automotive industry should be very afraid.

Kansas City's new transit-oriented development plan calls for some common sense changes, like supporting multi-story mixed-use buildings. Image: Kansas City

First they build up to the sidewalk, then they smash the entire automotive industry. Image: Kansas City

Up for a vote this Thursday at the City Council is a transit-oriented development policy that, in very general terms, calls for compact, mixed-use growth and better walking and biking conditions. It’s not a detailed zoning plan, more like a statement of principles to encourage development that pairs well with the streetcar, instead of the low-slung buildings, surface parking, and drive-throughs that predominate now. Only areas near the stations would be affected.

You might call it a common sense step to get more out of the city’s new transit line.

Or you could call it a “dangerous” law that will destroy “our freedoms.” At least, that’s the tack that a local group calling itself “Citizens for Responsible Government” has taken. A vocal opponent of the streetcar, CRG posted a paranoid screed on its Facebook page (reprinted for preservation at TransitKC).

It begins:

This ordinance would be devastating to us all but special attention should be paid by anyone involved in the Automobile Industry in any way, this would include FORD MOTORS, GENERAL MOTORS, UAW and all Auto Workers, Auto Dealers, Mechanics, Auto Leasing Companies, Auto Transport Companies, etc., etc., etc.,

Got it. Encouraging walkable development around Kansas City’s two-mile streetcar is the straw that will break the back of General Motors.

Moving on, there’s nothing like caps-lock to hammer home the sinister concepts at work here. Someone has studied Glenn Beck’s “keyword list” well:

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