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It Could Cost More to Shut Down Cincy Streetcar Than Finish It

Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory is frustrated that all his work to bring the streetcar to fruition might be for naught, now that anti-streetcar John Cranley has been elected to take his place. “I’m from the tough part of town,” Mallory joked. “I will take the guy in a dark alley. I’m not afraid to use the threat of physical violence.”

Streetcar project manager John Deatrick told Cincinnati's City Council today what it will cost to abandon the project now.

Streetcar project manager John Deatrick told Cincinnati’s City Council today what it will cost to abandon the project now. Add to that the money already spent and the returned federal grant and it climbs much higher.

All jokes aside — assuming Mallory was joking — it’ll cost the city of Cincinnati up to $125 million to halt progress on its streetcar project now — but that’s just what Mayor-elect John Cranley plans to do. It was his campaign promise.

“We’re going to have to keep this fight going,” Mallory said yesterday at Transportation for America’s re-launch event. “We’re probably going to have to go to court.”

Obstacles like this are extremely frustrating to local officials trying to improve their cities. At Tuesday’s event, a celebration of local control over transportation projects, the panel on “barriers to success” became a bit of a support group for Mallory.

“At the state level, I don’t have a partner on this project,” Mallory lamented. Well before he had John Cranley to worry about, he’s had to battle the state over transportation investment, regarding the streetcar and more. “My governor gave back $400 million to the federal government for high-speed rail and took away $52 million that a previous governor put into my streetcar project and spread that around the state for other highway projects.”

The story gets even worse. “Insult to injury,” Mallory said, “the state legislature in Ohio passed legislation specific to the Cincinnati streetcar project that you can’t get any state money for this project. And that’s an assault.”

“It’s punitive,” piped in Urban League CEO Marc Morial, in solidarity.

“For me, it’s not a matter of a lack of support,” Mallory said. “I have adversaries on this project. That doesn’t bode well if talking about the advancement of our region, driven at the local level.”

That was the theme of the day: Transportation for America is trying to empower mayors and other local leaders who are trying to innovate in their cities, adding transit and infrastructure that invites people to bike and walk more.

It’s probably safe to assume John Cranley won’t be joining T4America’s new alliance of innovative mayors. But Mallory is a natural. He listened to the 14 economic development studies that all came to the same conclusion: Cincinnati needed to link downtown with uptown and the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. So he went to work rebuilding the streetcar network, which existed in his city from the 1860s until 1951, running on 220 miles of track. He can’t recreate that system overnight but he’s starting in the urban core, with the hope of bringing it outward to the neighborhoods.

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UPDATED: Last Night’s Quiet Transit Victories

Yesterday was a relatively quiet election day for transportation-related ballot measures, but of the six transit initiatives that came before voters yesterday, five six passed, with a sixth seventh too close to call. That’s in line with last year’s 79 percent success rate — 71 percent since 2000. When asked, voters overwhelmingly choose to raise their own taxes to improve public transportation.

Spencer Township, Ohio, appears to have voted by the narrowest of margins to leave the TARTA regional transit system. Photo: Ability Center

There were no high-profile campaigns this year in major metropolitan areas, but that doesn’t mean this year’s ballot contests aren’t worthy of note. “I see a statement about the viability of both transit and these campaigns in smaller regions and rural places,” said Jason Jordan, director of the Center for Transportation Excellence.

Ohio: Let’s start with the most unsettling news: Residents of Spencer Township, Ohio, were asked whether they wanted to secede from the Toledo area’s transit agency, TARTA. It’s the exact same question they were asked last year, when they voted 59 percent to 41 percent to stay in.

Yesterday, however, was a different story. With low voter participation on an off-year, the secession referendum appears to have won by the narrowest of margins — “by 16 votes out of 520 cast, according to preliminary results” reported by the Toledo Blade last night.

Spencer Township isn’t the only Toledo-area jurisdiction to question its participation in TARTA. It’s been happening in outlying areas on the fringe of the regional system, Jordan said, where residents might feel they’re not getting much service and want to start their own transit agency, focused on their community. That’s what happened in Perrysburg.

In March 2012, Perrysburg voters opted to leave TARTA in favor of starting a new local system — but then in November of that year, they voted narrowly to defeat the property tax proposal to fund that new system. Caught in a bind, they passed a funding measure earlier this year, but at about half the level originally proposed, making possible only dial-a-ride and fixed route service for people with disabilities.

Nearby Sylvania Township considered secession as well, but without a plan to create local service. That measure failed resoundingly last November, 37 to 63, and Sylvania Township remains part of TARTA.

A recount could still be necessary for Spencer Township, given the closeness of the vote.

Either way, let’s not let this blow to regional transit darken our view of what was a very successful night for transit.

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Setbacks and Victories For Urbanism in Yesterday’s Mayoral Races

Mayoral elections broke both ways for livability in American cities yesterday: The results of some may slow progress on transit and street safety, while one-midsized city elected an executive who campaigned strongly on light rail expansion and bikeability.

John Cranley, who campaigned on stopping the under-construction Cincinnati streetcar, defeated Roxanne Qualls in the Cincinnati mayoral race yesterday. Image: Whistleblower-newswire

The biggest story was Cincinnati’s mayoral race, where Queen City voters backed Democrat John Cranley by a wide margin. Cranley campaigned on a platform of tearing out the city’s under-construction streetcar, even though stopping the streetcar at this point could be more expensive for the city than continuing it.

Cranley doesn’t have the power to stop the streetcar unilaterally. He will need council approval. But the Cincinnati City Council added three new members yesterday as well, and now a majority appear to oppose the project. Hopefully, reason and respect for public finances will still prevail in this case.

Cranley defeated former Cincinnati mayor Roxanne Qualls, who was vice mayor to outgoing Mayor Mark Mallory. While Qualls made it this far thanks in part to the political activism of streetcar supporters, her defeat was a blow to their cause.

Meanwhile, a champion of sustainable transportation in Seattle, Mayor Mike McGinn, fell to challenger Ed Murray, a state senator best known for crafting the state’s marriage equality law. McGinn came to the office as a political outsider after serving as the statewide chair of the Sierra Club and was known to ride an e-bike to political events. He presided over major zoning and parking reforms in the city, as well as some important street redesigns.

Ed Murray defeated incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn yesterday in Seattle. Will Murray be the "anti-bike lane mayor?" Image: The Stranger

Murray campaigned on a platform of uniting various political factions and making government work better. Last month, alt-weekly the Stranger wondered if he was also running to be the “anti-bike lane mayor.” Some of Murray’s fundraising came from groups who were upset about a recently-installed protected bike lane, the paper reported. On transit, Murray has stressed the importance of taking a regional approach and building collaborative relationships at the state level, but not necessarily the need for additional funding.

Seattle Bike Blog endorsed McGinn for reelection, as did the Cascade Bicycle Club. Seattle Transit Blog called his land use and transit policies “simply unassailable.”

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How StreetsPAC Emerged as a Political Force in NYC

“Livable Streets has arrived as a political force,” tweeted NYC Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson the morning after last week’s all-important primary election. StreetsPAC — a political action committee formed earlier this year to strengthen local candidates who support policies that improve walking, biking and transit — endorsed the winner in 13 of the 18 City Council races in which it was active, and might pick up another victory pending the results of a recount.

New York City's newly-formed StreetsPAC made an impact in its first election cycle. Photo: Stephen Miller

In New York, which tilts heavily Democratic, primaries are where most City Council races are decided. StreetsPAC-endorsed candidates won several contested open seats, and in one much-watched election ousted a sitting City Council member — a rare feat. Even StreetsPAC organizers (disclosure: Streetsblog founding editor Aaron Naparstek was active in forming StreetsPAC) were somewhat surprised at the results, said Steve Vaccaro, a board member and founder.

Livable streets advocates in other cities are probably asking, “How did they do it?”

When StreetsPAC was founded, its members wanted to ensure the new mayor wouldn’t undo the progress made by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who introduced measures like protected bike lanes, Select Bus Service, pedestrian plazas carved from traffic lanes, and the city’s successful bike-share system.

A reversal doesn’t seem likely anymore. With opinion polls consistently showing that the public supports these changes, “ripping out bike lanes” clearly wasn’t going to be a winning message. Part of what tipped StreetsPAC toward the eventual Democratic mayoral primary winner, Bill de Blasio, was his campaign promise to aim for zero pedestrian deaths if elected.

The races where StreetsPAC primarily focused were the City Council elections, in which a few hundred votes can make all the difference. In New York, as in many other cities, council members play a large role in determining whether street redesigns move forward.

StreetsPAC found that most candidates were willing, even eager, to sit down with the group for an endorsement interview. In these interviews, StreetsPAC could get candidates to commit on the record to specific policies and positions. Part of the draw, said Vaccaro, was simply establishing the PAC. ”It surprises me how much it means to political officials for you to constitute yourself as a political action committee that can endorse,” said Vaccaro. “It’s part of how politics works. You get a lot of credibility from hanging out a PAC symbol.”

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Why Traffic Deaths Are More Common in Red States Than in Blue States

Public interest journalist Stuart Silverstein at FairWarning.org has uncovered the fact that red states (defined as those that went for Mitt Romney in the last election) have higher traffic fatality rates than blue states (those that went for Barack Obama). The correlation is striking, Silverstein says, but he’s at a loss to explain it:

The 10 states with the highest fatality rates all were red, while all but one of the 10 lowest-fatality states were blue. What’s more, the place with the nation’s lowest fatality rate, while not a state, was the very blue District of Columbia.

Massachusetts was lowest among the states, with 4.79 road deaths per 100,000 people. By contrast, red Wyoming had a fatality rate of 27.46 per 100,000.

The numbers are based on 2010 fatality statistics from the NHTSA.

Silverstein asked a few sources to weigh in — including Thomas Frank, author of “What’s the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America,” and former federal auto safety researcher Louis V. Lombardo — but they couldn’t quite put their finger on what’s going on.

“It may be something we don’t have a definitive answer for,” Lombardo said.

“This is someplace where you would not expect to see a partisan divide,” Frank said.

I’m not nearly as smart as either of these guys, but I couldn’t help noticing that there are different travel patterns in the (mostly rural) red states and the (more urban) blue states. Perhaps that has something to do with it.

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What Kind of Leadership Would Bill Shuster Bring to the Transpo Committee?

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) could be the next chair of the House Transportation Committee. Photo: Office of Rep. Bill Shuster.

This is the first of two posts examining Rep. Bill Shuster’s candidacy for the chairmanship of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. We’ll post the second one, focused on his positions on bike/ped programs and funding issues, tomorrow.

Over the next few weeks, we could see a shake-up on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the House. Current Chair John Mica (R-FL) has been the top Republican on the committee for six years, and according to GOP rules, that’s the limit. While Mica is asking leadership for a little wiggle room, his deputy is making the case for his own candidacy. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) announced late last week that he would seek the chairmanship.

If that name rings a bell, it may be because his father was a legend on Capitol Hill. Evoke Bud Shuster’s name in Washington and you’ll hear story after story of the deal-making he pulled off when he chaired the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure from 1995 to 2001. He brought home more bacon to his district in rural Pennsylvania than it could even handle, according to a profile that ran in the National Journal as his Congressional career came to an end.

Bill Shuster took over his father’s seat in Congress in 2001, and soon joined the committee his father presided over. Now he could take over his dad’s gavel, too, when the new Congress is seated in January.

Mica is meeting with Republican leaders this week to discuss the possibility of getting a waiver to the six-year rule. Rep. Paul Ryan is expected to receive such a waiver, so that he can go on serving at the helm of the Budget Committee. But does Ryan’s exception mean Mica will get one too? Unlikely. Last spring, rumors circulated that Republican leaders were fed up with Mica’s inability to pass a transportation bill and were looking to Shuster to step in. Those rumors were somewhat overblown, but may indicate that leaders aren’t looking for two more years of John Mica at the gavel of T&I.

Shuster, meanwhile, has excellent relationships with House GOP honchos. And as chair of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, he put his own stamp on the reauthorization process. He, with Mica, inserted a highly contentious “red meat” provision (later dropped) to privatize Amtrak’s profitable Northeast Corridor service, and he supported the inclusion of automatic approval for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

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Communities Vote to Tax Themselves to Support Transit

Of the pro-transit ballot initiatives that the Center For Transportation Excellence counts, 80 percent were victorious this year. Source: CFTE

In addition to some of the high-profile measures that we covered already, Election Day brought many successes on some smaller ballot initiatives. According to the Center For Transportation Excellence, pro-transit campaigns had an 80 percent success rate this year at the ballot box, with more ballot measures coming up for a vote than any previous year.

Arlington County, Virginia voted by a 4-to-1 margin to approve a $32 million bond, with about half the proceeds supporting Washington Metro capital projects and the rest paying for street repair, bike/ped infrastructure, and traffic calming. The path to victory is easy in Arlington – it’s the country’s third-wealthiest county, and no bond measure has failed there since 1979, according to the Washington Post.

Richland County, South Carolina, home to the city of Columbia and the University of South Carolina, passed a one-cent sales tax – one-quarter of which will pay for regional bus service, with the rest funding road improvements, greenways, and bike lanes.

In Lynden, Washington, outside of Bellingham, voters approved a 0.2-cent sales tax hike expected to bring in $300,000 over two years to pay for road maintenance and walking trails.

And Stephenson County, Illinois, approved an advisory measure voicing support for a countywide transit system funded by federal, state, and local sources.

Much of this information comes from the Center For Transportation Excellence, which tracks transit-related ballot measures. CFTE doesn’t track referendums for road projects, so don’t take the passage of these measures to mean that transit is uniquely successful at the ballot. The biggest bond measure to pass this year — for anything — was $1.3 billion for roads in Arkansas. Despite the fact that it levied a half-cent sales tax to pay for the bonding, voters approved it 58 to 42. Alaska also approved a $453 million bond measure to pay for ports, harbors, and roads. And Maine approved a $51.5 million bond for road repair [PDF].

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Two Big Wins For Mayors With Sustainable Transpo Cred

On the local level, the night’s biggest win for sustainable transportation was the victory of Kirk Caldwell over Ben Cayetano to be mayor of Honolulu. Caldwell had won just 29 percent of the vote in the three-way primary race, facing a steep uphill battle in the general election versus Cayetano, a popular former governor who had pulled in 44 percent of the primary vote.

Former Gov. Ben Cayetano failed to convince Honolulu to join him in killing a long-awaited transit project. Photo: KHON2/Facebook

Cayetano had come out of retirement and joined the race for the explicit purpose of stopping construction of a rail line that’s been decades in the making. Caldwell remains a staunch supporter of the transit line and promised to see the project through. He won 54 to 46 percent — handing Cayetano the first loss of his political career.

Meanwhile, Republican Carl DeMaio has just conceded the San Diego mayor’s race, which was still too close to call just a couple of hours ago. DeMaio held a slim lead through most of last night, but the balance flipped early this morning and U.S. Rep. Bob Filner pulled off a narrow victory.

As we mentioned in our story on the race, San Diego bike/walk groups did an impressive job getting the two candidates to fight over who could be the most supportive of active transportation. While DeMaio put together an admirable plan for making San Diego a top-50 bicycling city and creating an environment more conducive to walking, Filner has a decades-long record of supporting sustainability. His passion for active transportation and the need to reduce car dependency in San Diego came through in his at times acerbic debate with DeMaio on transportation issues.

It appears Filner’s offer to settle the mayor’s contest with a bicycle race won’t be necessary.

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Election Reveals Who Will Shape the Next Transportation Bill

Yesterday’s election made history on many different fronts: gay marriage, immigration, consumer protection, and more. But America also voted to maintain essentially the same balance of power in Washington that has brought about so much gridlock. In the transportation arena, that gridlock meant three years of dithering on a national bill and, ultimately, a new law that failed to make many of the reforms needed to help the country build a greener, safer, 21st century transportation system.

Republicans hung on to their primacy in the House of Representatives and the Democrats maintained control of the Senate and the White House. This Congress, which closely resembles the last one but is tilted a little more toward the Democrats, has less than two years until the current transportation law expires.

With his newly-won second term, will President Obama be emboldened to fight for increased revenues for transportation and infrastructure in order to resolve the paralysis over spending? Will he take action on climate change, as environmentalists are urging him to do?

As Steve Kretzmann of Oil Change International wrote this morning, “The top candidate backed by the fossil fuel industry – big oil, gas and coal – just lost the election.” Mitt Romney raised more than six times as much money from these industries as Obama, and his loss is a sign their message failed to resonate with Americans.

Whether that verdict translates into bolder action in Obama’s second term remains to be seen. Other lingering questions: Will Ray LaHood really leave, as he said he would, or might he stick around at least for another year or two, as some insiders speculate? Will a somewhat chastened Republican Party be more willing to compromise on legislation in the next session? The current transportation bill, MAP-21, expires September 30, 2014. The people elected yesterday will negotiate the next one.

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Where to Get Your 2012 Transportation Ballot Results

It’s Election Day — finally! The top of the ticket has sucked most of the oxygen out of the room, but don’t forget that there are 19 transportation-related measures on ballots across the country. So far this year, pro-transit measures have an 86 percent success rate at the ballot, and there are more transportation amendments being voted on this year than any other in recent memory. Here’s Streetsblog’s overview of the big ones.

Yonah Freemark took a look at some of the most important local elections here, spotlighting 11 charter amendments and one mayoral race, in Honolulu, which we also profiled. And below, we crib from Jeff Wood’s fantastic roundup of where to find election results at his blog, The Overhead Wire. He’ll also be live-blogging and tweeting election results.

For a little historical perspective, here’s Jeff’s coverage of the 2008 results and the 2010 results and, of course, the fantastic wealth of information at the Center For Transportation Excellence’s website.

What follows is from The Overhead Wire.

California
Alameda County is looking for a half cent sales tax increase in order to help AC Transit operate better bus service and build a horrible BART extension to Livermore. Measure B1 results can be found here. 

Los Angeles County needs a 66.6% or higher vote to extend 2008′s Measure R so that projects can be fastracked. Measure J results can be found here.

Colorado
El Paso County is looking to pass a sales tax measure that would benefit rural transit capital projects. Results can be found here.

Hawaii 
The Mayors Race is likely to decide the direction of rail transit over the next decade. Ben Cayetano wants to halt the project and has his own plan for BRT. Honolulu election results here.

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