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Talking Headways: You’ve Got to Fight for Your Right to Party Politics

podcast icon logoHas the stupor worn off yet? Election Day was last Tuesday, and we’ll be living with the results for years. But Beth Osborne, a former Hill staffer and U.S. DOT official now at Transportation for America, says the changes on the Hill are no big deal: Nothing was getting done anyway.

So Beth, Jeff, and I examine the prospects for a new transportation bill. The next bill is due in May, and a Republican House and a Republican Senate will draft it. Will lawmakers suggest that the Highway Trust Fund should just be used for highways? Of course they will! But the conversation won’t end there.

Does a long-term bill have a shot in this Congress? Even short-term extensions of the current transportation bill aren’t as easy as they used to be, but that could actually make the politics of a long-term bill a little easier to manage. And while some people blame the end of earmarks for the difficulty passing a bill (you can’t buy votes with pork anymore), Beth makes the point that you can’t very well turn a transportation bill into a Christmas tree for every member of Congress when there’s absolutely no money.

We don’t have a crystal ball, but here’s everything you need to know to make an educated guess about how the next six months will play out — this, and our coverage of the ballot initiatives, governors’ races, Senate leadership shakeup, and the new top transportation Democrat in the House.

Do you subscribe to this podcast yet? You’ve got three choices: iTunesStitcher, and the RSS feed.

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How Clayton County Turned Its Zero-Transit Nightmare Around

Walking is great, but Clayton County's car-free households are about to get some transportation options. Photo courtesy of Georgia Chapter, Sierra Club

Walking is great, but Clayton County’s car-free households are about to get some transportation options. Photo courtesy of Georgia Chapter, Sierra Club

Whether Tuesday’s election left you feeling elated or devastated, there’s one happy story we can all rejoice in: Clayton County, Georgia, will finally get transit service.

For 10 years the county had a skeletal bus system with three routes, known as C-TRAN, which was then completely dismantled about four years ago. Having gotten its jump-start with federal air quality money, C-TRAN never really had the sustainable funding it needed. In 2010, facing a severe budget crisis, county commissioners voted to eliminate the service entirely. Advocates begged the commissioners to try other options, even raising fares and cutting service; anything but removing it entirely. But in March 2010, C-TRAN ceased operation.

Clayton County is a spread-out suburban area south of Atlanta. It’s the most economically depressed county in the region, and 7.5 percent of households don’t have access to a car. Most of the towns in the area have huge arterial roads but no real downtown.

So without a car and without even the barest of transit systems, people walk — along these unsafe arterial roads with no sidewalks.

“It’s not uncommon to see young people, old people, moms with babies, people with groceries walking in a ditch,” said Colleen Kiernan, director of the Georgia chapter of the Sierra Club. “In hot weather, in cold weather, in rain — in all conditions, at all times of the day and night.”

Just eight months after the bus service ended, nearly 70 percent of voters in Clayton County agreed in a non-binding ballot measure to join the MARTA regional transit service.

But nothing happened.

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Streetsblog.net No Comments

Pennsylvania’s New Governor Is Awesome

Here’s another race for governor with big implications for transportation policy: In Pennsylvania, businessman Tom Wolf handily beat incumbent Tom Corbett.

Pennsylvania Governor-Elect Tom Wolf penned a transportation manifesto for a Philadelphia blog. Photo: Tom Wolf for Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Governor-Elect Tom Wolf penned a transportation manifesto for Philadelphia-based urbanism blog This Old City. Photo: Tom Wolf for PA

Though Pennsylvania made some important progress on transportation issues during Corbett’s tenure, Wolf wants to usher in much more meaningful reforms. In its election round-up, Philly-based This Old City points to a post the governor-elect himself wrote for the blog while he was battling it out in the Democratic primary. In the piece, Wolf lays out a vision for a more multi-modal state:

We need to prioritize investments in local public transportation systems. Many of Pennsylvania’s cities have felt the effects of industrial decline over the last fifty years and, as a result, they have struggled to maintain once vibrant neighborhoods and smaller economic corridors. With declining populations and state funding that favors new development over redevelopment, we have neglected our public transportation systems, which put our major cities, like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, at an economic disadvantage.

While other states and cities have continued to expand and modernize their transit systems, our transit authorities, like the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA), have struggled to survive. Instead of updating equipment and tackling major improvement projects — like expanding the Broad Street Line to the Navy Yard — SEPTA has had to plan for significant cut-backs in services.

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GOP Will Control the Senate in 2015 — What Does It Mean for Transportation?

The forecasting models were right: As the polls closed last night it quickly became apparent that Republicans will gain control of the Senate, with at least 52 seats now held by the GOP. The implications for transportation are immense. To understand what they are, first let’s look at what last night means for the prospects for a new transportation bill next year. Then we’ll get inside the committees for a nitty-gritty look at the leadership shakeup.

The Bill

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) will take the reins of the powerful EPW committee -- and he just can't wait to eliminate all federal bike/ped funding. Photo: ##http://www.inhofe.senate.gov/newsroom/photo-gallery/greater-oklahoma-city-chamber-of-commerce-fly-in##Office Sen. Inhofe##

Climate denying Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) will take the reins of the powerful EPW committee — and he just can’t wait to eliminate all federal bike/ped funding. Photo: Office of Sen. Inhofe

First and foremost, both chambers of Congress will be in GOP hands when the current transportation bill, MAP-21, comes due for renegotiation next spring.

Bicameral Republican control strongly suggests that the door to increased revenues is closed. (It was hardly open under a Democratic Senate, either.)

GOP control could make it challenging to extend the current law as well. Senators had to scrounge for ways to pay for MAP-21, settling for a grab-bag of gimmicks. There isn’t more loose change to be found under the cushions. And no one in Congress, on either side of the aisle, has the appetite for deficit spending.

Other scenarios don’t look much better. Republicans and Democrats could use the lame duck period between now and January to hammer out a revenue deal, for instance. That would benefit the Republicans by raising taxes on the Democrats’ watch (but after the elections, when they don’t have to worry about the Republican base slamming them for not fighting hard enough). With the funds in hand for a multi-year bill, the details of how to spend it would then get hammered out after the GOP takes control of the Senate.

This is unlikely, however. There’s enough that already has to be done during the lame duck, first of all. Second, the reluctance on both sides to raise revenues isn’t all show: Most members of Congress are truly unwilling to increase what they see as a middle-class burden, no matter who’s watching. Besides, House Speaker John Boehner doesn’t have the cohesion within his party to do something so strategic, and the Democrats might not even go along with it.

The other possibility, of course, is that instead of raising revenues to match desired expenditure levels, Congress can limit spending to match gas tax receipts. Former House Transportation Chair John Mica tried that a few years ago and it didn’t go anywhere. Many people think that idea has been tried and discarded, but others think it could easily return, given how few options remain.

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Streetsblog NYC 1 Comment

SF Voters Reject Measure to Enshrine Free Parking and Stop Livable Streets


In case you need a little pick-me-up this morning, here’s some good news out of San Francisco. Voters resoundingly rejected Proposition L, a local ballot measure designed to halt the city’s progress on improving streets for walking, biking, and transit. As of the most recent available count, with nearly all precincts reporting, 62 percent of San Francisco voters had said “No” to Prop L.

The Prop L contingent, backed by internet billionaire Sean Parker and the local Republican Party, framed their measure as a way to “restore balance” to San Francisco streets by enshrining free parking and elevating traffic flow as a decisive factor in street design. This in a city that has only taken modest steps to reclaim street space for transit, biking, and walking, and where the mayor recently reneged on a shortlived policy to charge for metered parking on Sundays.

While Prop L was a non-binding policy statement, it could have put a serious chill on livable streets policies in the city. The campaign strategy was to turn car-based populism into votes — handing out flyers in parking lots was the most visible tactic.

As the closest thing to an up-or-down vote on transit-priority lanes, bikeways, and pedestrian improvements ever put before the electorate, the Prop L results are going to make an impression on local officials who decide the fate of those projects. Instead of rejecting the nascent reforms happening on the streets of the city, voters sent a signal that they want more.

For more on the Prop L vote and its implications, check Aaron Bialick’s reporting at Streetsblog SF later today.

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Don’t Drive? It’s Getting Harder to Vote in Texas

Today is the first federal general election since the Supreme Court struck down key portions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Texas and other states have taken full advantage of their new ability to make changes to their voting rights laws without federal approval. And under the new law, people without a driver’s license are finding themselves disenfranchised.

Without a valid Texas drivers license, many registered voters are finding themselves disenfranchised. Photo: ##https://www.flickr.com/photos/athrasher/2965451844/in/photolist-95cxQr-9JAy66-5zoGVG-95CyRJ-i5e3jX-5w3KvS-gTKTdq-a7wMAT-5w3Hw5-5vYuX4-aj7BCv-9YMp3r-an2x1D-8JnnQC-6SCqom-a4Vc83-91T9Fk-5zsqey-4tpFtF-4ttMMS-awvHe-5xBjcC-5zo8Eg-4z6vEw-4z6vAj-5w3Xrf-5vYq4c-5w3GJS-drahms-4tpJVa-aww8h-4wg3qj-4wg3xQ-4twvxe-27YQW-4z6vDo-aww3m-4z2gm8-5wakHY-5w5ZQt-5wam81-5w5ZAK-5w5Zox-5w5ZYP-5wakZ7-c49ttG-4w6g5e-8QaPFi-4twvki-4twvmk##Andy/flickr##

Without a valid Texas drivers license, many registered voters are finding themselves disenfranchised. Photo: Andy/Flickr

The Brennan Center for Justice has gathered stories of would-be voters who have been frustrated at the polls over the past few days of early voting. Poll workers are even turning away people who have ID, just not a current Texas driver’s license.

Voter ID laws like the one causing so much trouble in Texas today disproportionately disenfranchise people who don’t drive, the Brennan Center has previously reported [PDF]. People without a license may have a hard time getting to the necessary offices to obtain the paperwork they need to exercise their voting rights. And many of the offices issuing the IDs are located well outside the reach of transit.

When states were enacting the recent wave of voter ID laws in 2012, Streetsblog contributor Fran Taylor warned, “The implications are clear: If you don’t drive, you become a second-class citizen.” In states where the political landscape is already tilted against people who can’t afford a car, participating in the democratic process is getting harder.

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The Stakes Are High for Smart Transpo Policy in These 6 Races for Governor

Today, voters go to the polls to exercise their constitutional right to self-government — if their state hasn’t disenfranchised them with onerous voter ID laws, that is, and if they can get motivated to turn out for a mid-term election. In 27 states, voters are choosing a governor. These elections are perhaps the most important in the country when it comes to transportation policy, because governors set the agenda for major infrastructure decisions and control the state DOTs that spend the lion’s share of U.S. transportation funding.

Here’s a look at six close contests that will have major implications for transportation and development.

Maryland

Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, left, and Republican challenger Larry Hogan, right.

Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, left, and Republican challenger Larry Hogan, right.

Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown has served as number two in Governor Martin O’Malley’s pro-rail, smart-growth-minded administration for eight years. Republican challenger Larry Hogan runs a land brokerage and development firm that specializes in suburban greenfield strip malls and subdivisions. While Brown would continue O’Malley’s emphasis on transit expansion, including the planned 16-mile Purple Line linking key Maryland suburbs and the downtown Baltimore Red Line light rail, Hogan argues that the state should focus on its backlog of road projects instead of bothering with transit.

The state has allocated the money for the line, but according to Ben Ross of Maryland’s Action Committee for Transit, “there’s nothing to stop them from changing their mind.” Advocates worry that Hogan’s car-centric transportation priorities would redirect all that money toward highways.

“The governor of Maryland has virtually absolute power over the budget,” Ross said in an email. “All the legislature can do is cut. So if Hogan takes the Purple Line out of the budget, no one else can put it in.”

Brown started off the campaign with a commanding lead over Hogan, but that lead has dwindled to almost nothing. The race is now a nail-biting toss-up.

Illinois

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6 Transportation Ballot Initiatives to Watch Next Tuesday

Activists in Clayton County, Georgia, support a ballot measure that would connect the county with the regional transit system. Photo: STAND UP via ##http://saportareport.com/blog/2014/07/as-clayton-commission-gets-a-marta-vote-do-over-spotlight-shines-on-gail-hambrick/##Saporta Report##

Activists in Clayton County, Georgia, support a ballot measure that would connect the county with the regional transit system. Photo: STAND UP via Saporta Report

Next week, voters in Maryland and Wisconsin may tell state officials to keep their greedy paws off transportation funds. Louisianans will consider whether to create an infrastructure bank to help finance projects. Texans will weigh the wisdom of raiding the state’s Rainy Day Fund for — what else? — highways. And Massachusetts activists who have been fighting to repeal the state’s automatic gas tax hikes will finally get their day of reckoning.

Those are just a few of the decisions facing voters as they go to the polls Tuesday. They’re the ones getting the most press and that could have the biggest impact. For instance, if Massachusetts loses its ability to raise the gas tax to keep up with inflation, it could inspire anti-tax activists in other states that would like to gut their own revenue collection mechanisms, too.

There are lots of local initiatives on next Tuesday’s ballot that aren’t generating so much buzz but could still have major implications for the state of transportation in key parts of the country. Here are some contests you should pay attention to.

This is what Pinellas County's rail system could look like in 10 years, if it passes Tuesday's ballot referendum. Image: ##http://greenlightpinellas.com/about/view-the-maps##Greenlight Pinellas##

This is what Pinellas County’s transit system could look like in 10 years, if it passes Tuesday’s ballot referendum. Map: Greenlight Pinellas

Pinellas County, Florida: For years, transit advocates have been trying to correct what they see as a major deficiency in Tampa’s regional transportation network: It is the largest metropolitan area in the country without rail transit. Voters in the three counties that make up the Tampa Bay region — Polk, Pinellas, and Hillsborough — all have to approve a new one-cent sales tax to pay for a potential light rail system and other transit improvements. Voters in Hillsborough rebuffed an attempt to get approval in 2010. Pinellas and Polk are trying this year.

Specifically, Pinellas County voters will decide on Greenlight Pinellas, a plan to increase bus service by 65 percent and build a 24-mile light rail line from downtown St. Petersburg to downtown Clearwater. It would form part of a regional transit system that the three counties are still trying to figure out. It’s by no means a done deal: The Pinellas contest has been one of the most bitterly and loudly contentious of this cycle. But a vote in favor of building the system would be a game-changer.

“The hope is that a positive vote, particularly in Pinellas, would really be a shot in arm for Hillsborough to come back to the voters or to proceed with some other funding mechanism to support the system,” said Jason Jordan, who tracks transit-related ballot initiatives around the country for the Center for Transportation Excellence.

Polk, the least urban of the three counties, will vote on a one-cent sales tax measure that would fund both transit and roads.

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#MinimumGrid: Toronto Advocates Move Politicians Beyond Bike Platitudes

Bike advocates are putting these questions to Toronto mayoral candidates. Image: #MinimumGrid

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Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Almost all urban politicians will tell you they think bikes are great. But only some actually do anything to make biking more popular.

In Toronto’s current mayoral and city council election, a new political campaign is focusing candidates on a transportation policy issue that actually matters: a proposed 200-kilometer (124-mile) citywide network of all-ages bikeways.

The campaign, led by advocacy group Cycle Toronto, was given its name by international walking-bicycling advocate Gil Peñalosa. It’s called “#MinimumGrid.” And it seems to be working: Last week, 80 percent of responding city council candidates, including more than half of the council’s incumbents, said they supported building such a system by 2018.

Speaking this month at the Pro-Walk Pro-Bike Pro-Place conference in Pittsburgh, Peñalosa (a Toronto resident) explained the concept: to move cities from symbolic investments in bike transportation to truly transformative ones.

“We focus on the nice-to-have,” Peñalosa said in his keynote address at the conference. “Signage, maps, parking, bike racks, shelters. Does anyone not bike because they don’t have maps?”

Those amenities “might make it nicer for the 1 or 2 percent” who currently bike regularly, he said. But “nice-to-haves” won’t deliver the broader public benefits that can come from actually making biking mainstream.

“What are the must-haves?” Peñalosa went on. “Two things. One is we have to lower the speed in the neighborhoods. And two, we need to create a network. A minimum grid.”
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Missouri Says No to Amendment 7′s Monster Tax Hike for Roads

Amendment 7 would have helped pay for road expansions like this diverging diamond on Stadium Boulevard. Image: ##http://www.modot.org/central/major_projects/Boone740_PublicHearingMay2011.htm##MoDOT##

Amendment 7 would have helped pay for road expansions like this diverging diamond on Stadium Boulevard. Image: MoDOT

Last night, Missourians decided overwhelmingly to reject a ballot initiative that would have raised the sales tax by three-quarters of a cent to pay, almost exclusively, for roads. It would have been the largest tax increase in the state’s history.

Voters voted 59 percent to 41 percent to reject the tax.

“It’s difficult to pass a tax increase in Missouri,” said Terry Ganey, spokesman for the opposition group Missourians for Better Transportation Solutions. “It’s impossible to pass an unfair tax increase in Missouri.”

Missourians for Better Transportation Solutions opposed the tax, saying 85 percent of the $5.4 billion it would have raised over 10 years would have gone toward roads, with just 7 percent for transit and a small fraction for local governments. The measure would have made nearly every purchase more expensive for everyone, whether they drive or not, while freezing gas taxes and prohibiting new tolls. That’s essentially a free pass for drivers while the state forces the general population to foot the bill for new roadway capacity the state doesn’t need. Missouri’s cities already have more highway capacity than most, and the state’s population is barely growing.

While the construction industry tried to sell the initiative as a cure for deteriorating infrastructure, a big chunk of the revenues would have gone to interchange enhancements and road extensions.

Though a tax increase this big would have been a tough sell under any circumstances, voters clearly considered this one to be a particularly bad investment.

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