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Posts from the "South Carolina" Category

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How 3 Communities Fought Discriminatory Transportation Policies

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The Ohio faith-based advocacy group LEAD held demonstrations to protest the suburb of Beavercreek’s refusal to allow bus service. Photos: Policylink

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, which outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

To celebrate the occasion, PolicyLink and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights held a discussion this week about how that legislation has affected transportation policy. Three local community leaders shared stories about how they used legal protections to combat discriminatory transportation projects.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Advocates have been fighting for better transit in the Milwaukee region for about a decade, says the Wisconsin ACLU’s Karyn Rotker.

In the notoriously segregated Milwaukee region, nearly 50 percent of African Americans depend on transit. But regional leaders have severely limited transit access to the suburbs, which is especially problematic because Milwaukee’s suburbs have captured an increasing share of the region’s jobs over the last few decades.

“There are huge racial issues here as well as the urban sprawl issues,” said Rotker.

The Wisconsin DOT has been planning to rebuild and expand the “Zoo Interchange” near Milwaukee for the jaw-dropping sum of $1.7 billion. The ACLU, in partnership with some of the region’s civil rights groups, filed suit against WisDOT, alleging the project violated the National Environmental Protection Act, or NEPA. The complaint asserted that transit riders and transit-dependent communities were not considered in WisDOT’s planning process. They also alleged that the state failed to consider the “interrelated social effects” of expanding highway capacity, and the impact that was likely to have on sprawl and racial segregation in the region.

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The “Elite Eight” of Parking Madness: Milwaukee vs. Columbia

So far, Texas is really dominating our Parking Madness tournament. The two Final Four spots awarded so far have gone to Lone Star heavyweights Dallas and Houston. We might have an all-Texas final.

But there are still two remaining spots in the Final Four of terrible downtown parking craters. One of those spots is going to go to either Milwaukee or Columbia, South Carolina — today’s Elite Eight match-up.

Let’s refresh ourselves with the Milwaukee parking crater:

Submitted by reader Aaron from Milwaukee, this one is not a crater so much as a lunar landscape bereft of human life forms.

The area is between Milwaukee’s Third Ward — a rather hip area — and the lakefront. Aaron tells us they occasionally hold summer festivals on part of this lot — so a few times a year, at least, this place has people in it. One thing’s for sure, though: parking lots so close to the waterfront are even sadder then regular parking lots.

Here’s a wider view where you can see the parking/freeway complex divide the Third Ward from the lake:

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Parking Madness: Minneapolis vs. Columbia, South Carolina

Today we’re getting a look at the last two contestants in Streetsblog’s Parking Madness bracket, the tournament that will “crown” the worst parking crater in the U.S. But don’t worry. Milwaukee, Tulsa, Dallas, Atlanta, Louisville, Cleveland, Houston, and today’s winner still need to do battle to determine the final victor. The final first round match-up is Minneapolis versus Columbia, South Carolina.

First, Minneapolis. Twin Cities resident Eddie Cunat sent us these photos, taken from his downtown office building.

This crater is located on the corner of 9th Street and 2nd Avenue South in the City of Lakes. It takes up an entire city block, with the exception of two very tiny-looking buildings. Eddie tells us: “That structure in the upper right is also a parking ramp, formerly home to the Leamington Hotel.”

An alternate view shows the crater nestled against some of the city’s tallest buildings.

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McClatchy Muckrakers Expose Seedy Underbelly of the Highway Bonanza

The 46,000-mile interstate system was completed in 1991, costing a total of $216 billion (in 2012 dollars). Since then, these seven interstate highways - totaling 2,800 miles -- have been built at the cost of $45.4 billion. They were funded through Congressional earmarks. Graphic: McClatchy

The work of a sustainable transportation reporter can be a lonely lot. But it’s a lot less lonely now that two McClatchy reporters, Curtis Tate and Greg Gordon, have taken up the mantle of exposing wasteful road expansion.

With their far-reaching and well-researched three-part series, published last Sunday, Tate and Gordon brought stories of highway corruption and waste to a mainstream print audience. They spent four months researching the series, digging into 15 years of campaign finance records and interviewing leaders inside and outside of the transportation field.

“America’s highway system,” they wrote, “once a symbol of freedom and mobility envied the world over, is crumbling physically and financially, the potentially disastrous consequence of a politically driven road-building binge.”

Kentucky and South Carolina still gripped by highway madness

Tate is from the same hometown as Rep. Hal Rogers, the powerful Kentucky Republican who wields the gavel of the Appropriations Committee in the House. Tate couldn’t help but notice that Kentucky was using its federal formula funds to build Rogers’ pet project (I-66) while borrowing against future federal highway funds to do badly needed maintenance and repair work. The state has even used $4.2 million in interstate maintenance funds for I-66, despite the fact that the project didn’t meet the necessary criteria.

Meanwhile, although surrounding states have given up on their plans to create a new interstate, I-69, Kentucky charges forth. Rogers and Democratic Governor Steve Beshear “have received large contributions from road builders and highway engineers” but deny that these donations have influenced their zealous cheerleading for the project. Kentucky’s part of the new interstate will essentially stitch together three existing roads and slap the number 69 on them – meanwhile widening shoulders and reconfiguring interchanges simply to meet interstate standards. Tate and Gordon said that their “examination of campaign finance data revealed a mutually beneficial relationship between Kentucky highway contractors and their local and state elected officials.”

But this story doesn’t end with Kentucky. The push to get I-73 built in South Carolina is just as unsavory (although it doesn’t end, as the Kentucky story does, with the former governor and 15 members of his administration getting indicted on corruption charges related to politicking in the transportation department).

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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.

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Making Rural Transit Work

Transit in rural areas is tricky. Folks need to go farther, the passengers are more dispersed, and there’s less money to go around.

Allendale County, South Carolina dramatically improved transit availability by better coordinating existing, fragmented service providers. Pictured above is its "Scooter" bus. Photo: Reconnecting America

But that doesn’t make it any less necessary. On the contrary, according to a new report from Reconnecting America [PDF], nearly 40 percent of the United States’ transit-dependent population — including senior citizens, the disabled and low-income individuals — lives in rural areas.

There are 1,358 transit agencies working hard to serve these people. But they operate much differently than urban transit providers. Only 31 percent of rural transit operators use fixed-route service. Meanwhile, 86 percent provide demand-response service, which operates much more like a public taxi service than a big-city bus.

Despite the challenges, investment in rural transit is improving, Reconnecting America reports, and communities that prioritize services are seeing economic results.

Consider Allendale County, South Carolina. ”Do more with the same” should be this county’s motto. In 2003, Allendale County leaders came together to solve a vexing mobility problem: a finely dispersed population with a staggering 28 percent poverty rate. They discovered that the county was already running a number of fragmented transit services — those that served only the disabled, for example, or Medicaid recipients in need of healthcare services.

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Streetsies 2011: The Local Edition

Yesterday, we started our year-end 2011 round-up. We lamented transit cuts in places where transit is more important than ever, cheered the successful ballot initiatives that will fund transportation lifelines, took a moment to explore the nuances of some difficult issues, and called out Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin for some hare-brained ideas about the best way to spend money.

Now we continue with the second installment: What cities shone a little brighter and what cities lost their luster?

Let’s start with the good.

Cities That Led the Way: Bike-share caught on in 2011 like never before. New York City announced a system to dwarf all others, complete with 10,000 bikes. Boston had a great first season. DC and Arlington expanded Capital Bikeshare. Chicago got a TIGER grant to go full-tilt on its system. And bike-share is popping up in places you wouldn’t necessarily expect it – most recently, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. All those cities deserve credit for investing in active transportation options for their residents.

Minneapolis took the Greenway to a more sustainable future. Photo: Micah Taylor / Flickr

Meanwhile, in the DC area, suburban retrofits in White Flint and Tysons Corner started transforming these into urban, transit-rich communities with vibrant daytime and nighttime populations.

And Salt Lake City showed the country how to solve some of the most vexing geographic, political, cultural, and ecological challenges of urbanism. The city got behind a set of growth principles that champion walkability, density, transit options, and land conservation. The city’s new, sustainable developments are wildly popular and incredibly successful at encouraging active transportation.

But it was Minneapolis that stole our hearts this year. The city rocketed to the top of the Bike-Friendliness charts with its Nice Ride bike-share system and its beloved Midtown Greenway, which transformed an old industrial railroad trench into a major cyclist thoroughfare connecting key parts of the city. And that’s not all – Minneapolis has gone through the whole complete streets shopping list, from road diets to bike parking to improved crossings to bike boulevards.

Perhaps even more significantly, the Twin Cities aren’t just tacking some nice cycling amenities onto an otherwise roads-heavy transportation program. They’re actually divesting from road infrastructure, tabling 14 planned highway expansions and improving transit options instead. They’re maximizing existing highways by adding bus lanes and priced shoulder lanes, and they’re investing in transit-oriented development. As one city transportation planner said, “We couldn’t keep going on acting as if we were going to get money to build our way out of congestion.”

Cities That Lagged Behind: We at Streetsblog aren’t shy about calling out state leaders who make bad decisions in favor of sprawl and against smart transportation options. We talked about some of those yesterday (we’re looking at you, Scott Walker). But sometimes it’s not the state but the cities themselves that have a special knack for making bad decisions. And this was a big year for it.

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Biking and Walking Score Big in TIGER III

In the third round of TIGER funding, the Obama administration has continued to demonstrate a strong commitment to bike and pedestrian projects.

Boundary Street in Beaufort, South Carolina will be transformed from a suburban arterial to a walkable, bikeable main street, thanks to a $12.6 million TIGER III grant. This project was one of 22 awarded funding in this round that will benefit cyclists and pedestrians. Photo: WSAV

Of the 46 projects chosen for funding, 22 incorporate some aspect of bike and pedestrian accessibility, and nine of them make cyclists or pedestrians the primary beneficiary, said Kartik Sribarra of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

Among the more important active transportation projects to win the nod from U.S. DOT in this round of funding is Chicago’s bike-share system. RTC also highlights Beaufort, South Carolina’s success in securing a $12.6 million grant to improve the walkability on a major thoroughfare.

Currently, the town’s main street, Boundary Street, is a visually unappealing, car-oriented suburban-style arterial. But TIGER III money will help convert the street into a landscaped, walkable, bikeable boulevard.

This project is the result of a great deal of planning and investment by the local community. According to U.S. DOT, the city of Beaufort has adopted a new land use plan and form-based codes, and they’ve approved a one-cent sales tax increase to pay for transportation projects.

TIGER III money will also provide for Main Street revitalization projects in Buffalo, New York; St. Albans, Vermont and American Falls, Idaho.

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