Skip to content

Posts from the "North Carolina" Category

5 Comments

NC Gov. McCrory Sets Out to Let Highway Money Flow While Blocking Transit

A new transportation plan put forward by North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory will make it “almost impossible to find money for passenger trains, sidewalks, bicycles and regional transit,” according to the Raleigh News Observer.

Why is North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory trying to torpedo plans for transit in the "Golden Triangle?" Image: Wikipedia

McCrory’s Strategic Mobility Formula will clear the way for more spending on the state’s highway system, designating about 40 percent of the state’s transportation money for projects of statewide importance (big highways, airports and freight rail only). Another 30 percent will be divided between seven regions of the state. Projects eligible for this smaller pot of money would include “second-tier” highways and ferries, but no transit and no Amtrak, reports the News Observer’s “Road Worrier” Bruce Siceloff.

Siceloff adds that the governor’s plan might torpedo a rail “triangle” between Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill:

It creates new barriers that appear likely to kill prospects for money to build greenways or upgrade Amtrak service.

Also in jeopardy are Triangle plans – endorsed by Durham and Orange residents who have voted to increase their local sales taxes – for light-rail lines and rush-hour commuter trains that could eventually reach beyond the region as far as Greensboro and Goldsboro.

McCrory — who helped secure funds for Charlotte’s Lynx light rail system when he served as mayor — has also obstructed the city’s streetcar plans.

It’s something of a mystery why McCrory has become such a dogged transit opponent. Jeff Wood at the Overhead Wire speculates that there are greater political rewards for McCrory in supporting sprawl, since certain individuals stand to profit from some $3 billion in road projects for the Charlotte region, and big-ticket transit projects are seen as competition.

According to the News Observer, state legislators will vote on McCrory’s plan “in the next week or so.”

No Comments

How States Are Adapting to MAP-21’s Changes to Bike/Ped Funding

One state's plan for Transportation Alternatives: Utah will use some of its $6.4 million for Recreational Trails and Safe Routes to School, give some to metro areas, and spend the rest on any type of surface transportation they want. Image courtesy of UDOT

The current transportation law dealt a few hard knocks to bicycling and walking programs. One big one was the restructuring of the Transportation Enhancements program into something called Transportation Alternatives, which has to fund more types of projects with less money.

The idea is that each state’s TA money will get split in half. Fifty percent gets allocated to Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) and Transportation Management Areas (TMAs) based on population. Let’s call that the “Local 50.” Then the state gets the other half – the “State 50” – and is supposed to distribute it via a competitive grant process.

Local 50: It’s not quite 50

The first thing to know is that even the Local 50 isn’t always entirely under local control. The Local 50 gets distributed according to population to whatever entity represents each area. For large metro areas and sometimes even small urbanized areas, there’s an MPO or TMA in charge. But for rural areas, sometimes it’s just the state that run things.

President Obama signed MAP-21 nearly five months ago, but states are still trying to figure out what it all means. Photo: Fastlane

Take Michigan, for example. The state is looking to get $26 million in Transportation Alternatives funds. Of that, $2.9 million comes off the top for Recreational Trails, a separate program with its own money (raised from off-road vehicle fees) that’s administered by the Department of Natural Resources, not MDOT.

That leaves $11.6 million each for the Local 50 and the State 50 in Michigan.

About $6.5 million of the Local 50 will go to the TMAs in jurisdictions of more than 200,000 people. But the rest of the money — over $5 million from that supposedly “Local” 50 — goes to the state to distribute.

That’s before you even get to the half that the state is supposed to control.

This is how the Cardin-Cochran amendment is being interpreted on the ground. The amendment was a creative and hard-fought way to make sure that some TA money actually went to the sorts of projects the old Transportation Enhancements program used to fund – primarily bike and pedestrian infrastructure, plus some safety education.

Read more…

6 Comments

This Could Be the Biggest Year Ever for Transit at the Ballot Box

Next month, 19 transit-related measures will come before voters. If the rest of this year is any guide, 16 of them will pass.

The "Transportation Penny" in Richland County, South Carolina will fund some pedestrian improvements, along with roads and transit, if voters approve it November 6. Image: Richland County

Despite a high-profile loss in Atlanta a few months ago, transit referenda have an 86 percent success rate so far this year, according to the Center For Transportation Excellence.

It strikes some as counterintuitive: During an economic downturn, in a virulently anti-tax climate, why are voters deciding time and time again to tax themselves to support transit?

CFTE Director Jason Jordan says the lousy economy is one reason so many of these measures keep popping up — more this year than any other since CTFE started counting in 2000. With states crying poverty and the federal government, for the first time ever, passing a transportation bill that was no bigger than the one that preceded it, local governments have had to take matters into their own hands.

Jordan says the most unique of all of next month’s ballot initiatives is a gas tax measure in Memphis. Almost all the initiatives we see are sales taxes or property taxes, with a handful of bond measures and vehicle fees. Most cities don’t have the authority to raise gas taxes independent of the state — but Memphis does, and it’s trying to increase the tax by one cent to raise $3 million to $6 million for the transit authority. “Here we have an example of communities being pushed to be as creative as possible,” Jordan said.

No other local gas tax measure is on the ballot. Indianapolis has a citywide income tax hike in the works, which will also be novel, but they didn’t make it happen for this year.

Another one to watch is the half-cent sales tax in Orange County, North Carolina, which includes the city of Chapel Hill. If it succeeds, the three counties of the so-called Research Triangle will likely join together to improve their regional transit system. If it fails, the whole thing falls apart.

Read more…

19 Comments

NRDC Gives Gas Consumption Maps a Helpful Revision

The overwhelming sentiment that greeted our story on the gas consumption maps the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club put out last week went something like this: These are almost useful. Just about everyone agreed that looking at total fuel consumption per county wasn’t very informative without weighing that number against population.

There were problems with doing per-capita fuel comparisons, but after hearing from several sources (including Streetsblog) that it was needed, NRDC’s Deron Lovaas has put out a follow-up post with new maps and charts that have, in my opinion, much more useful information.

First, the map of per-capita fuel consumption:

This per-capita map of gas consumption provides more nuance than the previous map, giving totals per country, but it still doesn't answer all the questions. Graphic: NRDC.

As Lovaas mentioned last week, there are problems with this map too. Some of these places are so rural and lightly populated that massive per-capita fuel consumption just isn’t a big enough problem to worry about, since there are few capitas there. Plus, there’s the problem of through-traffic — in many rural states, most traffic neither originates nor ends up there. So, since NRDC and the Sierra Club designed these maps, in part, to help them strategize where to focus their efforts, this per-capita map is of limited value.

This chart is where it starts getting good. It shows the counties with the highest total gasoline usage and ranks them by per-capita gas usage, showing where there are a whole lot of people using a whole lot of gas:

Read more…

3 Comments

Study: Access to Light Rail Can Reduce Obesity Risk — If You Use It

Living near transit can help you stay trim and healthy. That’s the result of a study published last year in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. This study is a little old — it was published in August 2011 — but we just came across it in the Reconnecting America resource center and the results are too interesting not to share.

Transit riders in Charlotte North Carolina are 81 percent less likely to be obese than those who drive to work. Photo: Forbes

A team of social scientists and public health experts examined the health effects of Charlotte, North Carolina’s Lynx light rail line, which was installed in 2007. The study was designed to avoid a common problem in studies of transit’s impact on health: selection bias. People who are already active may choose urban, transit-accessible neighborhoods to suit their preexisting lifestyles. In this study, however, the researchers only looked at those who lived along the Lynx route both before and after light rail arrived.

The light rail riders’ Body Mass Index, the researchers found, fell by an average of 1.18 points compared to those who didn’t ride the system. That translates into a loss of about six and a half pounds for a person who is 5-feet, 5-inches tall. In addition, light rail users were 81 percent less likely to become obese over time.

The results were weighted to control for education, age, race gender, distance to work, neighborhood features and other factors that might skew the results.

Researchers said the weight loss reported by subjects was consistent with adding as much as 1.2 miles walking to a person’s daily routine. All the subjects lived within one mile of the light rail corridor, which has surpassed ridership expectations.

“The results of this study suggest that improving neighborhood environments and increasing the public’s use of LRT systems could provide improvements in health outcomes for millions of individuals,” the authors concluded. “Public policy investments in transit should consider potential increases in physical activity as part of the broader set of cost–benefit calculations of transit systems.”

2 Comments

Today Is Decision Time For Local Transit Contests

If you live in Durham County, North Carolina, Montcalm County, Michigan, Cincinnati, Ohio, or anywhere in Washington state, today is Election Day – and you’ve got decisions to make about transit.

Rally for Proposition 1 in Clark County, WA to prevent deep transit cuts. Photo: Preserve Our Buses

There are six ballot initiatives up for a popular vote today that will determine the future of transit service in these areas. They follow two referenda last week in Colorado on sales taxes to pay for transit service. One, to implement a new 0.35 percent sales tax increase in Avon, CO to pay for bus replacements, bus stop improvements, and other expenses, was voted down 38 percent to 62 percent. But another measure, in Sterling, CO, that merely sought to extend indefinitely a 0.1 percent sales tax increase to fund the transit system, was approved 70 percent to 30 percent.

So how will transit-related measures fare today? Here’s a rundown of what’s on tap (thanks to the Center for Transportation Excellence for collecting this important information):

A “Candy Store” for Buses and Bikes in Seattle, WA: Seattle’s going right to the source in proposing a $60 increase on the vehicle license fee. The allocation of the $204 million in expected revenues (over a decade) is supremely civilized: 49 percent to transit, 29 percent to road maintenance and safety, and 22 percent to bike/ped infrastructure. Opponents say it’s a “candy store” for special interests. The campaign chairman of “Citizens Against Raising Car Tabs” takes a page out of the Tom Coburn/Rand Paul playbook by blaming bike/ped spending for crumbling bridges, too. Proponents of the measure say it corrects mistakes of the past, when the city declined to make necessary investments and got “four decades of political paralysis and gridlock” as a result. They say revenues from the “car-tab” fee would improve transit, double the annual investment in sidewalks and repaving projects, and expand “family-friendly bicycle infrastructure.” More on other Washington state measures below.

Cincinnatians for Progress logo for fight against streetcar ban.

Streetcar Bans for Cincinnati, OH: Cincinnati is voting on a different kind of measure. This is a city charter amendment to deny funding for transit, not provide it. The amendment would prohibit the city from spending or borrowing money to move forward the streetcar project planned for downtown. The ban would last until 2020. It’s the second time in two years Cincinnati voters have gone to the ballot to decide whether the city should continue with its plans for a streetcar. Transit advocates call the measure “disastrous” because it would keep the city from taking advantage of new technologies and potential funding sources to build commuter and light rail, in addition to the streetcar, and it could “undermine the city charter… by usurping the lawful functions of elected officials.” As of about a week ago, streetcar advocates had raised about 800 times more money than Citizens Against Streetcar Swindle, which had raised a total of $116. CASS is trying to tie streetcar money to layoffs for police officers and firefighters.

Read more…

2 Comments

The Secrets to Success for Transit-Oriented Development

Proximity to downtown and employment centers, and the availability of developable land, are what lead to big real estate impacts from transit expansion. Source: CTOD

“Transit alone is insufficient to make a real estate market,” said Dena Belzer, the president of Strategic Economics, an urban design consulting firm. Her group is a partner in the Center for Transit-Oriented Development (CTOD), which this week released a new report on the effects of transit expansion on real estate markets.

Transit won’t, on its own, create a booming market for compact, mixed-use development, but if a city has a good, walkable grid and simply needs better access to jobs and centers of activity, it can do wonders. “There are sites where you can see that opening up access just really ‘popped’ things,” Belzer said. For the best chances of success, you need to use transit to connect underutilized land with walkable downtowns and employment opportunities.

The new CTOD report, “Rails to Real Estate: Development Patterns along Three New Transit Lines” [PDF], picked corridors in the Southeast (Charlotte, NC), the West (Denver, CO) and the Midwest (Minneapolis) to see how transit affected development patterns.

Residential units under construction near Charlotte's Blue Line. Photo: Willamor Media/Flickr

The big success story was Charlotte’s Blue Line – where transit “popped things,” as Belzer said. It’s the newest of the three lines, having just opened in 2007, at the height of an ongoing real estate boom. (It went bust along with the rest of the country, and all the big investors pulled out, but until that happened, everything was going great.)

Even in that short timeframe, this corridor saw the biggest spike in development after the opening of the transit line – nearly 10 million square feet of new development, compared with 6.7 million in Minneapolis and 7.8 million in Denver – and that’s along a rail line that’s only half as long as Denver’s (though tightly packed with 15 stations, compared to Denver’s 14).

Charlotte was destined for greatness because the city aligned its transit along all the right places, according to Belzer.

Read more…

No Comments

EPA Recognizes Cities for Using Smart Growth Tools That Get Seniors Active

Sprawl can take a disproportionate toll on older people. Their eyesight might make them nervous about driving at night, or unable to drive at all. It can take them a long time to cross wide, high-traffic arterial roads. Poor transit options can make them feel like a burden on others whom they depend on for rides, or can leave them stranded at home. Besides, if they don’t have places to walk to, the effects of aging can creep up faster on those who aren’t out getting regular exercise.

Charlotte, NC added median refuge islands to help seniors cross the street safely. Photo courtesy of Charlotte DOT.

Recognizing these dangers for older Americans, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) honored four cities yesterday with its “Building Healthy Communities for Active Aging Award.” Combining the principles of smart growth with the concept of active aging, the awards are intended to raise awareness about ways to build communities where seniors can lead active lives.

The population of American seniors – persons 65 years or older – is rapidly increasing. By 2030, there will be about 72.1 million senior citizens, or about 19 percent of the population – up from 12.9 percent in 2009.

Mecklenburg County, NC

One of the EPA’s awardees, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina recognized this silver boom and began improvements in 2005 by adopting the Status of Seniors Initiative (SOSI), making improvements to the built environment to make it more age-friendly.

The county and city of Charlotte have concentrated new growth in several existing corridors, creating higher densities, mixed-use development and a more walkable community. More than 5,000 new housing units have been constructed. Sixteen miles of greenways, 88 miles of bike facilities and 106 miles of sidewalks have been completed.

Read more…