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Cincinnati’s Highway Revolt on the Verge of Victory

Ohio State Rep. Tom Brinkman, a Republican who believes in lower taxes, is taking a principled stance against a wasteful highway project. Photo: Wikipedia

Ohio State Rep. Tom Brinkman, a Republican who believes in lower taxes, is taking a principled stance against a wasteful highway project. Photo: Wikipedia

Could the end be near for the $1.4 billion Eastern Corridor highway project proposed for eastern Cincinnati? Language added to Ohio’s transportation budget, which is being debated right now, would specifically “prohibit [Ohio DOT] from funding the Eastern Corridor Project in Hamilton County.”

The amendment was introduced by Republican state lawmaker Tom Brinkman, who represents an eastern portion of Cincinnati. Brinkman told the Cincinnati Enquirer, ”I am representing constituents who say, ‘We don’t want to tear down our communities.’” The boondoggle highway project is opposed by residents in Newton, Mariemont, Madisonville, and other towns east of Cincinnati.

The highway does have its defenders in the legislature. At a House Finance Committee meeting Monday, Democrat Denise Driehaus, who represents Cincinnati, signaled her concerns about Brinkman’s amendment.

“It’s been going on for about a decade and so there has been significant investment at both the state and local level,” she said. “It seems to me this sets a precedent that the legislature prohibits ODOT from spending on a local project that has been vetted locally.”

Ryan Smith, a Republican from southeastern Ohio, countered: “This project has gone on for a decade but I think everyone can agree that heading down the wrong path and continuing down the wrong path may be problematic.” As to whether it would represent some kind of dangerous precedent for elected leaders to direct state transportation officials not to fund specific projects, he said, “This is the first time I can remember somebody asking not to be funded on a project.” (For what it’s worth, Governor Kasich added legislation to a previous budget that forbid state money from being spent on the Cincinnati Streetcar.)

You can watch the exchange between Driehaus and Smith here at about the 8:30 mark.

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The “Urban Renewal Mindset” Persists in St. Louis

This building would be razed to make way for National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency relocation in St. Louis. Photo: Urban Review STL

This building would be razed to make way for a new National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency campus in St. Louis. Photo: Urban Review STL

St. Louis is home to one of the more notorious failures of the “urban renewal” era: the Pruitt-Igoe housing project. When these towers were demolished a generation ago, it seemed like the end of an era in city planning. The clearance of city blocks to make way for mega-development projects is now considered a colossal failure.

But that doesn’t mean American cities have actually stopped doing it. The urban renewal mentality is still alive and well in St. Louis, writes Steve Patterson at Urban Review STL.

A current example: The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is looking for a new location for its St. Louis facilities, and Patterson says it’s nearly a foregone conclusion that a large portion of the city will be razed to make room for the agency:

Jane Jacobs’ 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities rebuked the ongoing land clearance policies advocated by supporters of urban renewal. By the late 1960s one of St. Louis’ most prominent urban renewal projects – Pruitt-Igoe – was a disaster. Before the 20th anniversary the first of 33 towers were imploded in 1972 — urban renewal was unofficially over.

But forty plus years later the St. Louis leadership continues as if nothing changed. The old idea of marking off an area on a map to clear everything (homes, schools, businesses, churches, roads, sidewalks) within the red lined box remains as it did in the 1950s. The message from city hall is clear: don’t invest in North St. Louis because they can and will walk in and take it away.

Here is a likely scenario for the relocation of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Patterson says:

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Today’s Headlines

  • States Watch as Oregon Pioneers Road-Usage Fee (Transport TopicsRoll Call)
  • Why Are Developers Still Building Sprawl? (Atlantic)
  • 86 Cities Have Accepted DOT’s “Mayors’ Challenge” for Safer Streets (Fast Lane)
  • Shouldn’t Phoenix Focus on Transit Instead of Freeways? (Phoenix Biz Journal)
  • Bus Start-up Bridj to Launch in DC This Spring (WaPo)
  • Boston Globe Rides the Rails With MBTA’s New Point Man
  • Better Bikeways Coming to Maryland (GGW)
  • Center for American Progress Tackles Heritage Foundation’s “Tortured Logic” on Transit
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Maryland Gov Larry Hogan Plays Chicken With Purple Line Funding

Newly elected Maryland Governor Larry Hogan says he’s putting off bids on the Purple Line light rail project in an attempt to cut costs, but the delay could also jeopardize the whole project by putting federal funding at risk.

The Purple Line would represent a major expansion of Washington, D.C.,'s transit system and would likely lead to a boom in development in the Maryland suburbs. Image: PurpleLineMD

The Purple Line would be a major expansion of Washington, D.C.,’s transit system and would likely lead to a boom in development in the Maryland suburbs. Image: PurpleLineMD

A cloud of uncertainty has been hanging over the Purple Line since Hogan’s election in November. On the campaign trail, the Republican threatened to kill the project, which has been in the works for more than a decade and was expected to break ground this year. Hogan has kept some state funding for the project in his budget, but hasn’t committed to building it.

In his latest announcement, Hogan said he is extending the deadline for bids to construct the Purple Line five months, from March to August. He had already pushed the deadline back two months, before taking office.

The additional time, Hogan argues, will allow firms to revise their proposals to lower costs and save money. His newly appointed transportation secretary, Pete Rahn, will study and review the proposals.

But is this move really about cost containment? Advocates are concerned that Hogan’s foot-dragging will have another effect: jeopardizing federal funding.

Nick Brand, president of the Action Committee for Transit in D.C.’s Maryland suburbs, says Hogan’s new timeline would put the project out to bid in early August instead of March. Then, the state must spend some time reviewing and ranking bids before making a selection. But $100 million in federal funding was appropriated for the fiscal year ending September 30. Even if there are no additional delays, it’s going to be tough to finalize a funding agreement with the Federal Transit Administration before then, Brand said.

Running past the September date isn’t a dealbreaker, but it will increase uncertainty surrounding the project, according to Brand. “There’s apparently not a fixed deadline for the money to be spent or committed,” he said. But “once you’re into a new fiscal year, the competition is out there saying, ‘Maryland’s not ready but we’re ready.’”

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In Major Shift, Central Cities Edging Out Sprawl in Competition for Jobs

Jobs are moving back downtown. Graph: City Observatory

Dramatic reversal: Jobs are moving back downtown. Graph: City Observatory

Job sprawl — picture suburban office parks with lots of parking — might be past its peak. The last few years have been good ones for central cities, as far as job growth is concerned, and not so hot for mid-height, reflective glass office campuses.

That’s according to an analysis by researcher Joe Cortright at City Observatory. Cortright reviewed the data across American metro areas and found that central cities gained a key edge over suburban competitors in the last few years:

Our analysis of census data shows that downtown employment centers of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas are recording faster job growth than areas located further from the city center. When we compared the aggregate economic  performance of urban cores to the surrounding metro periphery over the four years from 2007 to 2011, we found that city centers — which we define as the area within 3 miles of the center of each region’s central business district — grew jobs at a 0.5 percent annual rate. Over the same period, employment in the surrounding peripheral portion of metropolitan areas declined 0.1 percent per year. When it comes to job growth, city centers are out-performing the surrounding areas in 21 of the 41 metropolitan areas we examined. This “center-led” growth represents the reversal of a historic trend of job de-centralization that has persisted for the past half century.

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Today’s Headlines

  • 10,000 Low-Income Workers Travel Daily to Detroit Suburbs With No Transit (Free Press)
  • Slate: Why It’s So Hard to Punish Drivers Who Kill Pedestrians
  • Pennsylvania “Flush With Cash” for Transportation After 2013 Tax Hike (Associated Press)
  • The Man Who Single-Handedly Started Dallas’s Highway Teardown Momentum (D Magazine)
  • Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed Says Streetcar Numbers Actually Above Projections (MyFoxAtlanta)
  • The Unpopular Eastern Corridor Highway Project in Cincinnati Might Be Officially Dead (Enquirer)
  • States Scrambling to Make Up for Declining Federal Highway Funding (Baltimore Sun)
  • Houston Public Media: More Money Can’t Fix Texas’s Road Problem
  • Governing: Boston’s Transit Troubles Can Be Traced to Weak State Support
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Boston Cyclists Excavate Massive Snow Tunnel To Restore Bike Path

This 40-foot snow tunnel, built by Boston cyclists, made a biking and walking path useful again. Image: Dragonbeard on Youtube

This 40-foot snow tunnel made an important biking and walking path useful again. Image: Dragonbeard on Youtube

For every pedestrian and cyclist who’s had your journey interrupted by an impassable mound of snow, we bring you this story from Boston. Earlier this month, Beantown resident Ari Goldberger found his journey to the Wellington Station T stop impeded by a ”15-foot mountain of snow.”

He registered his complaint to the powers that be, but he got the run-around.

“Rather than waiting on hold for a million years calling the MBTA, I posted the picture online and said, ‘If nothing is done about this, it’s going to take months to melt,’” he told BDC Wire.

So Goldberger and his friends took matters into their own hands, and after a long, beer-fueled digging session, tunneled their way through. Now people can use this route to bike or walk again, and the excavators are heroes. He’s a look at what it’s like to ride through it. Pretty awesome.

Update 2/23/15 1:27 p.m.: The tunnel was destroyed by an unknown entity late Saturday, according to Mashable. So this story has a sad ending after all. 

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You Can Make a More Effective Bus System for Cheap, But It’s Not Easy

This bus system redesign forced some tough decisions, but should make it more user friendly for more people. Image: Human Transit

Houston’s bus system redesign forced some tough decisions. Click to enlarge. Map: Human Transit

Bus service in Houston is about to get a lot more useful — without costing any more to operate.

The city’s new bus network, which transit consultant Jarrett Walker of Network blog Human Transit helped design, will bring frequent service to much more of the city. The plan was unveiled last year and has been getting a fresh round of coverage after Houston transit officials approved it earlier this month.

Walker says that a system overhaul forces communities to make hard decisions between ridership and coverage. Low ridership routes (or “coverage” routes) provide an important lifeline to some people, but they also divert resources from routes where more people would ride the bus. To create a more effective bus network without spending more money, the Houston plan cut low-ridership service by about 50 percent, at the city’s behest.

In a new post, Walker writes that the process of overhauling the system is much more difficult than the headlines let on:

Much of the press about the project is picking up the idea, from my previous post on the subject, that we redesigned Houston’s network to create vastly more mobility without increasing operating cost — “without spending a dime,” as Matt Yglesias’s Vox piece today says. An unfortunate subtext of this headline could be: “Sheesh, if it’s that easy, why didn’t they do it years ago, and why isn’t everyone doing it?”

Some cities, like Portland and Vancouver, “did it” long ago. But for those cities that haven’t, the other answer is this:

Money isn’t the only currency. Pain is another.

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Today’s Headlines

  • If Washington Were Rational, Infrastructure Investment Would Be a Slam Dunk (Bloomberg View)
  • MD’s Transpo Funding Plight a Familiar One Across the Nation (Baltimore Sun, Denver Post)
  • Feds Move for States to Have Oversight of Rail Safety (The Hill)
  • What Can Long-Distance Train Travel Teach Us About Great Public Spaces? (Next City)
  • How a 3-Year-Old’s Story Helped Activate the Senior Mobility Movement (Forbes)
  • Foxx Wrapped Up “Grow America” Tour Back in DC This Weekend (Transport Topics)
  • In Denver, Development Thrives Along Airport Rail Route (Denver Biz Journal)
  • APTA To Review DC’s Troubled Streetcar Project (Associations Now)
  • As Winter Thaws, Philly Readies for Long-Delayed Bike-Share (Inquirer)
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Atlanta Streetcar’s Early Ridership Numbers Disappoint

The first batch of numbers are in for ridership on Atlanta’s brand new $98 million, 2.7-mile downtown streetcar — and the project is off to a rocky start.

The Atlanta Streetcar is underperforming projections. Photo: City of Atlanta

So far, the Atlanta Streetcar is not meeting projections. Photo: City of Atlanta

The streetcar, which opened December 30, is carrying 18 percent fewer riders than anticipated, according to data released by the city this week. That’s actually worse than it sounds because the streetcar is still offering free fares. Passengers will start having to pay $1 per trip in the coming months.

In its first six weeks of operation, the streetcar carried 102,000 people. Project sponsors had predicted 124,000, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

The city, which is running the streetcar, also says operating costs are 50 percent higher than anticipated. Service was expected to cost about $3.2 million annually. Instead, it will cost $4.8 million.

The cost overruns aren’t as alarming upon closer examination. A big chunk of the additional expense comes from introductory fees the city is required to pay MARTA for its cooperation on the project. Those will wind down next year. The city also decided to spend $1 million to seek federal funding for additional transit projects, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports, and that expense has been budgeted to streetcar operations.

Critics of the project, including many national transit advocates, have pointed out that the route, which mainly connects the city’s tourist destinations, is of limited use. It also runs in mixed traffic, which makes it painfully slow at times.

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