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Posts from the Transit Category


The Looming Transit Breakdown That Threatens America’s Economy


Categories of maintenance needs, in billions of dollars, for America’s large transit agencies. Graph: RPA

While federal transit funding stagnates, the nation’s largest rail and bus systems have been delaying critical maintenance projects. Without sustained efforts to fix infrastructure and vehicles, the effects of deteriorating service in big American cities could ripple across the national economy, according to a new report from the Regional Plan Association [PDF].

RPA focuses on ten of the nation’s largest transit agencies — in Boston, San Francisco, Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York, Cleveland, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. Between them, these agencies face about $102 billion in deferred maintenance costs. To bring the systems into a state of good repair will require about $13 billion in maintenance spending per year — more than twice the current rate of investment.

These regions house about one-fifth of the country’s population and produce about 27 percent of the nation’s economic output. They also carry about 60 percent of the nation’s total transit ridership, up from 55 percent 20 years ago. That’s a reflection of how transit has become increasingly important in these regions, with passenger trips growing 54 percent over the same period.

That level of ridership growth can’t be sustained if the transit systems aren’t maintained properly. RPA cites a 2012 report from San Francisco’s BART that says if the system is allowed to deteriorate…

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Transit vs. Highways: Which Came Out on Top in Local Elections?

Ed Murray's Move Seattle plan got a $900 million nod from voters yesterday. Photo: Seattle Bike Blog

Ed Murray’s Move Seattle plan got a $900 million nod from voters yesterday. Photo: Seattle Bike Blog

There were several local ballot measures with big implications for streets and transportation yesterday, and results were all over the map. Here’s how three of the most notable votes turned out.

Seattle’s property tax increase to fund walking, biking, and transit

This map shows all the projects planned as part of Ed Murray's 10-year Move Seattle Plan. Image: Seattle. Click to enlarge

This map shows all the projects planned as part of Ed Murray’s 10-year Move Seattle Plan. Image: Seattle. Click to enlarge

Voters have spoken and they decided to enact Move Seattle, the $900 million property tax levy for transportation.

The funding will support Mayor Ed Murray’s 10-year transportation vision [PDF], which lays out an agenda to reduce traffic deaths and greenhouse gas emissions, and generally make it safer and more convenient to walk, bike, or ride the bus.

Among the projects that will receive funding: seven rapid bus routes with dedicated lanes, a creative plan to fill gaps in the sidewalk network, and a network of 50 miles of protected bike lanes.

One of the longer-term goals of the plan is to put 75 percent of Seattle households within a 10-minute walk of frequent bus routes, running at least every 15 minutes.

The constitutional mandate to subsidize highways in Texas

In Texas, voters overwhelming passed Prop 7, a sales tax measure that will generate revenue for free highways. The measure mandates spending $2.5 billion in sales tax revenue annually on highways without tolls. As expected, Prop 7 won in a landslide, with about 83 percent of voters supporting the measure, according to the Austin Statesman.

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House Transpo Bill Spells Trouble for Transit Projects Across America


Chicago’s Red and Purple Line modernization project could be delayed or worse under the funding formulas in the House transportation bill, says Representative Dan Lipinski. Image via CTA

A provision in the House GOP’s new transportation bill threatens to upend how transit agencies fund major capital projects, delaying or killing efforts to expand and maintain rail and bus networks.

The Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act (STRR), released Tuesday and marked up in committee yesterday, would change funding rules for the three federal programs that support transit maintenance and expansion projects, known as New Starts, Small Starts, and Core Capacity.

Currently, transit capital projects are eligible to receive 80 percent of their funding from federal sources, with local sources providing the remaining 20 percent. This is the same as the federal match available for highway projects. But the new House bill would cut the maximum federal match for transit projects to 50 percent while leaving the highway formula untouched. The bill would also prohibit transit agencies from counting funds from other federal programs (TIFIA loans, for instance) toward the local portion.

Representatives from urban areas warn that the House bill jeopardizes projects to maintain and improve transit systems. At the mark-up hearing yesterday, Representative Dan Lipinski, a Democrat who represents Chicago, said the measure “could end or delay Red and Purple Line modernization projects in Chicago.”

By cutting the potential share of project funds available from federal sources, the bill would also make transit projects less appealing relative to highways in the eyes of local governments, which would have to pitch in a smaller percentage for road projects.

Smaller cities are more likely to take advantage of federal matching funds that exceed 50 percent of a project’s total cost. Albuquerque, for instance, is counting on an 80 percent match to build its downtown BRT route. Larger cities are more likely to supplement a 50 percent federal grant with another source of federal funds, like TIFIA loans.

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Simple, Creative Ideas to Build a Better Bus Stop

Waiting for the bus can be a pain. To make transit more appealing, nothing beats frequent service, but studies have shown that if you’re going to wait, small improvements like shelters and information about when the next bus is coming can make the wait feel shorter.

A community group in Denver, Colorado raised money to post walking directions signs advising riders of nearby destinations that are a sort distance by foot. Photo: ioby

WalkDenver raised money to post wayfinding signs pointing the way to destinations within walking distance. Photo: ioby

That was a big impetus behind “Trick Out My Trip,” an initiative that helped transit riders in cities across America implement creative ideas to make the rider experience better. The project was sponsored by TransitCenter and ioby (in our backyards), a crowdsourcing platform for community improvements.

Ten grassroots teams raised a combined $54,000 for their projects, matched by $26,000 from the sponsoring organizations. Among the ideas that got funding: play equipment at transit stops for waiting children in Denver and bike repair stations at rail stops in Atlanta.

Here are a few cool examples.

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Without Transit, American Cities Would Take Up 37 Percent More Space

Even if you never set foot on a bus or a train, chances are transit is saving you time and money. The most obvious reason is that transit keeps cars off the road, but the full explanation is both less intuitive and more profound: Transit shrinks distances between destinations, putting everything within closer reach.

A new study published by the Transportation Research Board quantifies the spatial impact of transit in new ways [PDF]. Without transit, the researchers found, American cities would take up 37 percent more space.

Transit-oriented development in Portland's Pearl District. Photo:

Transit-oriented development in Portland’s Pearl District. Photo:

The research team from New York, San Francisco, and Salt Lake City modeled not just how many driving miles are directly averted by people riding transit, but how the availability of transit affects the way we build cities.

By allowing urban areas to be built more compactly, the “land use effect” of transit reduces driving much more than the substitution of car trips with transit trips. Total miles driven in American cities would be 8 percent higher without the land use effect of transit, the researchers concluded, compared to 2 percent higher if you forced everyone who rides transit to drive.

On average, the study found, the “land use effect” of transit is four times greater than the “ridership effect,” or the substitution of car trips with transit trips. But the land use effect of transit varies a great deal across urban areas, the study found. In places like Greenville, South Carolina, it’s responsible for reducing driving 3 percent. In San Francisco and New York City, it’s 18 and 19 percent, respectively.

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North Carolina Lawmakers Try to Sabotage Durham-Orange Light Rail

A rendering of the 17-mile Durham-Orange light rail plan. Image: Go Triangle

A rendering of the proposed Durham-Orange light rail. Image: Our Transit Future

State lawmakers in North Carolina launched a sneak attack this week on plans for light rail between Durham and Orange County — and nobody’s sure exactly who’s behind it or why they did it.

Leaders in Durham and Orange are counting on the state to deliver about 10 percent of the funding for the $1.5 billion, 17-mile line, which would connect the booming area between Durham and Chapel Hill. But North Carolina residents learned this week that the state budget compromise between the House and Senate includes a new provision that would outlaw directing more than $500,000 in state funds to a light rail project. Lawmakers never openly debated the provision.

Durham-Orange light rail is expected to draw 23,000 daily riders. Image: GoTriangle

Daily ridership on the Durham-Orange light rail is expected to be 23,000. Click to enlarge. Image: Our Transit Future

The move was sudden and unexpected. “Nobody knew about it, and bang – it was there,” said Ron Tober, a retired transit executive who lives in the state. “It’s a fairly dramatic event that has occurred.”

Voters in Durham and Orange counties have approved a half-cent sales tax to fund the light-rail project. The plan also called for $138 million from the state, with federal funding to close the gap.

Just this week, the Federal Transit Administration awarded $1.7 million to GoTriangle to plan transit-oriented development around the stations. Project leaders recently completed a draft environmental impact statement and were preparing to approach the federal government for funds to begin the engineering phase.

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A Major Bike Lane Upgrade, Brought to You by Portland’s Transit Agency

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

It’s safe to say Portland has found a way to solve the problem of people confusing a sidewalk with a sidewalk-level bike lane.

The answer: lots and lots of green.

Here are some pictures of the raised bike lanes on Southwest Moody Avenue in 2013.

Comfortable separation between bikes and cars? Yes. Confusing interactions between people walking and biking? Also yes.

Now, here’s what a once-similar section of the same street looked like as of last week.

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Cities Lead the Way as U.S. Car Commuting Takes Historic Downturn

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Graph: U.S. Census Bureau

The decline is small in number, but in the scheme of things, it’s huge: New census data [PDF] out last week show car commuting among Americans is finally, after decades of growth, starting to reverse itself.

Driving to work is still the predominant mode to a depressing extent. Almost nine in 10 Americans get to work by car and about three in four drive alone. But those numbers are beginning to fall.

Since 1960, the percent of Americans driving to work rose from 64 percent to a high of 87.9 percent in 2000. Since then, it has declined slightly but meaningfully to 85.8 percent. The percent of the population commuting by car ticked down again in 2013, the latest year for which numbers are available.

Even solo car commuting is down from its high in 2010 of 76.6 percent. Despite a precipitous decline in carpooling, solo car commuting was down to 76.4 percent in 2013, after two decades of rapid growth.

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Declines in car commuting for the 10 cities with the highest transit commuting rates by age. Table: U.S. Census

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People Won’t Ride the Tysons Corner Metro If They Can’t Walk to Stations

A Tysons Corner Metro station under construction in 2012. Photo: Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz/Wikipedia

A year after the Washington Metro opened the Silver Line in Northern Virginia, apartment rentals are booming and development is roaring ahead. But Martin Di Caro of WAMU reported Monday that the Metro itself isn’t meeting expectations:

Only 17,000 riders board the Silver Line on a typical weekday, a figure that includes more than 9,100 commuters at the Wiehle-Reston East station, the western terminus with a 2,300-space parking garage. The total is even less impressive when you consider roughly two-thirds of Silver Line ridership is former Orange Line commuters.

The Silver Line as a whole is operating at about two-thirds of predicted ridership.

The retrofitting of Tysons Corner’s suburban office park model into a walkable, mixed-use place has been called “the most ambitious re-urbanization project on Earth.” But according to Metro’s own analysis, progress on walking and biking infrastructure is lagging far behind the transit.

People simply can’t get to and from the Metro safely. While the Tysons stations were built for pedestrian access, without park-n-rides, the blocks are still too long, the street grid hasn’t been built out yet, and sidewalks and bike lanes are still lacking in many places.

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Transit Union Slams DRIVE Act

The Amalgamated Transit Union wants more protections for transit in the multi-year transportation bill. Photo: ##

The Amalgamated Transit Union wants more protections for transit in the multi-year transportation bill. Photo: ATU

Yesterday, the Senate passed both a three-month transportation extension and a six-year reauthorization bill (albeit with three years of funding), which the Senate hopes to workshop with the House in the fall. The bill’s name itself — the DRIVE Act — raised the hackles of transit advocates. Looking deeper, it seems those advocates have more to worry about than just semantics.

The Amalgamated Transit Union summed up their top five concerns with the bill in a letter to the Senate before yesterday’s vote. The Union said that “people who care about public transportation” should vote against the bill because it:

  • Expedites New Starts grant funding for public-private partnerships, encouraging communities to get into deals with private entities. The ATU worries that this policy could lead to “bridges to nowhere” and calls it a “shameless, partisan, and unprecedented nearly $2 billion give away to private — mostly foreign — corporations that have a long history of providing low quality transit service all across the nation.”
  • Removes the requirement for metropolitan planning organizations to include transit agency representatives on their governing boards.
  • Seals information about truck and bus crashes, keeping the public in the dark. The ATU charges that many bus crashes are the result of underpaid and overworked drivers employed by non-unionized bus companies falling asleep at the wheel.
  • Fails to restore bus capital funding that was cut from $980 million to $440 million in MAP-21. The union says without proper funding, unsafe and antiquated buses stay on the road way past the end of their useful life.
  • Is the result of an undemocratic process, as Banking Committee Chair Richard Shelby “broke off negotiations and completed the public transportation title of the bill without reaching an agreement with Ranking Member [Sherrod] Brown.”

Meanwhile, Transportation for America criticized the Senate for missing a chance to give local communities more control over decisions that impact them. A bipartisan amendment from Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) to direct more funding to towns and cities was rejected, and the bill instead reduces the overall amount of funding controlled at the community level by nearly $200 million in the first year alone.

And of course, T4A and many other observers are disappointed that the bill is funded — well, half-funded — with gimmicks and shell games rather than a sustainable income source that the transportation sector can count on.

The DRIVE Act will be the Senate’s contribution to a compromise to be worked out with the House, which hasn’t passed a bill yet. Maybe they will, or maybe they’ll go to conference without one, like last time, and just hack away at the Senate’s bill. Either way, House Speaker John Boehner says he’s “confident” they’ll pass a multi-year bill in the fall.