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Posts from the "Fresno" Category

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Talking Headways Podcast: California Über Alles

Welcome to our all-California, all-the-time episode of the Talking Headways podcast.

We start with a statewide debate over whether $60,000+ Teslas should qualify for tax breaks — or whether any electric vehicles should get tax breaks. Then on to the conversation about how California’s cap-and-trade dollars should be spent. One proposal, from the State Senate leader, would spend it on affordable housing, sustainable communities, transit, and high-speed rail. And then we zoom in on Fresno, where one blogger wonders why the political threat to BRT didn’t get as much attention as it did in Nashville.

We missed the podcast after a long-ish break and are glad to be back! We hope you filled the gaping hole in your life by listening to back episodes of Talking Headways goodness and subscribing to us on iTunes or Stitcher or signing up for the RSS feed.

And, side note: The giveaway for our spring pledge drive has changed since we recorded this podcast. Now, you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a package of zines and books by feminist bike activist and writer Elly Blue. Thanks for your donation!

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Talking Headways Podcast: How Does This Podcast Make You Feel?

This week, Jeff Wood and I get indignant about Miami-Dade County’s misuse of transit funds for roads, and we speculate about why — with the current success of pedestrian projects like Times Square — old-style pedestrian malls are still going belly-up. And then we peek behind the curtain at an exciting new frontier for urban planning: connecting urban form with the feelings they inspire.

And then, just for you: a bonus Valentine’s Day outtake at the end. How could you not listen to the whole thing?

You can subscribe to this podcast’s RSS feed or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes — and please give us a listener review while you’re at it.

Leave your comments — and your Valentines and pickup lines — below.

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Fresno City Council Slams the Brakes on BRT

Sprawl and big money prevailed over progress last night in Fresno. The City Council dealt a major blow to local plans for smart planning and bus rapid transit, but stopped short of killing the project completely.

Fresno City Council members caved to specious arguments about BRT, delaying the project. Image: Fresno Bee

Fresno City Council members caved to specious arguments about BRT, delaying the project. Image: Fresno Bee

About $50 million in federal and state grants have been secured to build a bus rapid transit system and operate it for the first three years. But council members — voting 4-3 not to fund the final design phases and hire a project manager — moved to delay the project indefinitely.

The council did vote 7-0 to adopt a state requirement that the project would not negatively impact the environment. That left the door open for it to continue, but it’s possible the Federal Transit Administration will yank $38 million if major changes are made to the agreement.

Council members indicated they expected the project to come back before them, according to the Fresno Bee. But Christine Barker of Flare Together, an organization representing residents of south Frenso, said she expects the next iteration would be lower quality, if it is approved.

The route already barely qualified as bus rapid transit under federal regulations, as it had almost no dedicated right-of-way. The system would have included some prioritization for buses at stop lights, off-board payment and real-time travel information at enhanced bus shelters, as well as frequent service along important east-west and north-south routes.

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Fresno BRT Threatened By Last-Minute Smear Campaign

Will Fresno City Council pull the plug on bus rapid transit before it even starts? Image: Fresno Bee

Will Fresno City Council pull the plug on bus rapid transit before it even starts? Photo: Fresno Bee

The city of Fresno, California, is a sprawling place, not known for having a strong transit system. But it’s been making big strides. Last year, this city of 500,000 passed a “general plan” that called for 45 percent of new development to be “infill,” or built in already developed areas.

The plan relies on beefing up transit service as well. The proposal the city settled on calls for two bus rapid transit lines — one running north-south and the other running east-west. About 60,000 people make their homes within a quarter mile of the proposed routes. Fresno was able to win some $50 million to make it happen, as well, thanks to a federal Small Starts grant and state environmental grants.

The city’s major real estate developers, however, never liked the proposal to limit sprawl, and now they’re threatening to derail BRT and the general plan. Those plans — representing almost $60 million in spending — are on the line in a City Council vote tomorrow. Will local officials vote to proceed with the BRT proposal, as required by state law?

Christine Baker is a coordinator with a group called FLARE Together — Fresno Leaders Advocating Regionally for Equity. She said city government could go either way. In their opposition campaign, local real estate developers have teamed up with the Tea Party and the Amalgamated Transit Union, whose local leader is allied with Tea Party groups, Baker said. ”We have a local PAC that has been running fear mongering ads on local conservative talk radio: ‘If BRT is approved crime will increase in Riverpark,’” a shopping center.

If the city refuses to support BRT, it will lose the $50 million in funding — which included three years of operating money — as well as some $7 million that was spent developing the general plan. Plus, it will cost millions to develop a new plan.

“There’s no rational argument against it at this point,” said Baker. “It’s just all out war.”

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Federal Government Offers a Helping Hand to Six Struggling Cities

In a move to help buoy crisis-stricken cities, the Obama Administration this week introduced a program designed to provide administrative support to help local government officials “cut through the red tape” and access urgent federal assistance.

“Strong Cities, Strong Communities” will offer expert technical support — but not additional funding — in the areas of jobs, housing, transportation, the environment, education and economic development to cities that are suffering the staggering effects of economic displacement or natural disaster.

Memphis, New Orleans, Detroit, Cleveland, Fresno and Chester, Pennsylvania were chosen to pilot the program, which begins immediately.

Pilot cities will receive assistance from a team of mid-career federal administrators from a variety of agencies. The goal is to not only help these cities take better advantage of existing federal programs, but also to secure additional investment from the private sector and wider community.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan told the Wall Street Journal that the program was inspired by difficulties experienced in the city of Detroit as it struggles to implement its Detroit Works blueprint for revitalization. Federal officials observed that complicated federal regulations and the difficulty of accessing federal officials were a major stumbling block in the city’s recovery efforts.

“We found they had millions in federal block grants that they either were not using or not using in the best way,” Donovan said.

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