- Obama Budget Outlines “New Starts” Grants for Transit Projects Nationwide (The Hill)
- Including Rail Lines in Maryland (WaPo), Florida (Orlando Sentinel), Fort Worth (Star-Telegram)
- D.C. Metro Also Poised to Get Support From Feds (The Hill) Along With Honolulu Rail (Pacific Biz News)
- Nashville’s AMP Bus Line Could Get Boost from “Small Smarts” (Tennessean)
- At Bike Summit, Foxx Talks Safety, Politics, Money (Bike Portland)
- Utah Transit Authority Could Get More Involved in Real Estate (SL Trib)
- California Judge Allows High-Speed Rail Lawsuit to Go Forward (Fresno Bee)
- Poll: Is Bike-Sharing a Good Fit for Portland? (Oregon Live)
- Atlanta Beltline Visionary Analyzes “Snowjam” (Curbed National)
A few more details about the Obama administration’s proposal for a new transportation bill surfaced today when the president unveiled his 2015 budget proposal.
The topline numbers came out last week and look good for transit, biking, and walkability. The White House’s four-year, $302 billion surface transportation plan proposes an “historic increase” in transit funding — from $12.3 billion to $22.3 billion annually. The budget also proposes $600 million in annual TIGER spending, a new program with $4 billion annually to help modernize state departments of transportation, and $19.1 billion for intercity rail spread over the next four years.
While White House transportation proposals have gone nowhere with Obama at odds with House Republicans, there’s a slim chance that the administration and the GOP will align this time over how to pay for the program.
The budget document released today offers more information on the White House’s plan to keep wasteful highway expansion in check. The budget introduces a new program that appears to be aimed at reforming old-fashioned state DOTs. The administration proposes $4 billion annually for a new program it calls “Fixing and Accelerating Surface Transportation,” which is “designed to create incentives for state and local partners to adopt critical reforms.” The administration says this funding would be intended to be spent on “modifying transportation plans to include mass transit, bike, and pedestrian options,” and “peak travel demand management,” such as tolling or congestion pricing programs.
The budget document also promises “a fix-it-first approach for highway and transit grants”:
States and localities have incentives to emphasize new investments over improving the condition of the existing infrastructure. The Administration’s reauthorization proposal will underscore the importance of preserving and improving existing assets.
This year marks the third time a Women’s Bicycling Forum has preceded the National Bike Summit in Washington, DC, and, despite weather emergencies and an epidemic of flight cancellations, this is by far the best-attended one yet.
Despite impressive momentum, the movement to get more women on bikes faces many obstacles. Yesterday, National Organization of Women President Terry O’Neill laid out some barriers to women’s cycling that don’t often make it into the conversation. When bike advocates focus on safe infrastructure, group rides, and kitten-heel-friendly bike fashion to lure women, O’Neill says they might be missing some important points.
Commuting to work by bike is all well and good if you live near work, O’Neill said, but low-wage women workers in the service industry — who live on the poor side of town and work on the rich side — might have long commutes on dangerous arterial streets at non-traditional hours. Telling them to bike that route is a losing battle.
But it’s also an opportunity to make important connections with other movements, she said — like the fight for affordable housing in all communities, so that more people can live near their jobs.
Women are also more sensitive than men to the dangers they face, not just from cars but from predators, O’Neill noted. Being exposed and unprotected on a bike might be a deal-breaker for women who have been victims of sexual assault or stalking.
Plus, it’s well-known that women’s days are more complicated than men’s. Grocery shopping, child-care dropoff, and soccer practice all create multi-point trips with different cargo. As Megan Odett of Kidical Mass DC says, a $100 investment will allow you to do about 75 percent of everything you need to do on your bike with your kid. But to make all your trips on a bike requires an investment of thousands: Cargo bikes and electric assists are not cheap.
Charles Marohn at Strong Towns has posted a pretty epic analysis of 150-plus years of rail and highway expansion in the United States. The upshot of this historical overview: Marohn argues that raising more money for transportation using what he calls “slush funds” — including the federal gas tax — will only prolong the era of wasting huge sums on unnecessary roads and other public infrastructure.
Marohn goes back to the 19th century, when the transcontinental railroads were by financed primarily by private companies. American railroad companies typically recouped much of their capital investment through a process we would today call value capture. They were also developers and profited from the increased value of land as new towns sprung up by their stations. Government would come in afterward to provide additional public infrastructure and services.
When the interstate era came around in the mid-20th century, the financial dynamics flipped. Now, the government was responsible for the capital outlay, and the risk was socialized. Rather than being financed by capturing the value unlocked by infrastructure investment, highways were funded by enormous pools of gas tax revenue and other money with no connection to the value of real pieces of infrastructure. Expansion was governed by the political process, not a business process.
As a result, Marohn writes, the transportation system has become drastically overbuilt:
What happened when the private railroad companies overbuilt their system? What happened when they got out in front of market and had too much supply without enough demand? They, of course, got the painful feedback of losing money and watching their assets drop in value. Sometimes entire companies went out of business.
What happens when the government, operating in the automobile era, overbuilds? What happens when we create so much supply, so many miles of roadway, that demand can’t possibly utilize it effectively? Well, the feedback isn’t quite so direct. Budgets start to be frayed. Obligations go unfulfilled. There isn’t enough return on these government investments and so there ultimately isn’t enough money to care for them. These things can be attributed to many causes, of course, most of which appeal to our psyche more than the idea that we’ve overbuilt.
- Obama Gets Credit for Broaching Transpo Funding, But It’s Up to Congress (National Journal)
- Boehner Won’t Be Reviving Idea to Use Oil Drilling Revenue for Transpo (The Hill)
- Indy House Clears Bill to Expand Mass Transit (Indy Star)
- Atlantic Cities Looks Inside Nashville’s Heated BRT Battle
- How Did DC TRaffic Congestion Decline (Slightly) This Year? (WaPo)
- In Search of the World’s Most Bike-Friendly City (Guardian UK)
- New Orleans Highway Teardown Is a Sensitive Topic (Metropolis Mag)
- Detroit Transit Activists Study Cleveland BRT (Model D)
- Las Vegas Group Offers Vision for Better Urban Corridor (Las Vegas Review Journal)
- Utah “Daybreak” Community Offers Anti-Pollution Model (SL Trib)
- An IndyGo Rider Shares Her Experience (Indianapolis Monthly)
A team of 11 women made the journey to the Summit in DC from New York City by bike, working their way 262 miles through some of the East Coast’s major metropolises. Among the participating groups were We Bike NYC, Gearing-Up, Black Women Bike DC, the Washington Area Bicyclists Association, and the Philadelphia Bike Coalition. They call their pilgrammage We Bike to DC.
Streetsblog’s Tanya Snyder caught up with a few of the riders after their arrival last night. Kristina Sepulveda of We Bike NYC, a women’s bike advocacy organization, said the journey helped illuminate the connection between transportation and inequality in the U.S.
“One of the high points for me was to see the income inequality that goes through each city and to see how much work has to be done and to see how much of that poverty is connected to transportation,” she said.
Sepulveda works with low-income groups in NYC, and she sees the effect of limited transportation options all the time. ”A lot of people I work with in New York City don’t live near transit, and in New York City that makes life very difficult,” she said. “If they were able to have a bicycle and safe routes, they would be able to do things like go to work and go to school safely.”
The U.S. Department of Transportation seems to be stuck in a bizarre time warp. For nine years in a row Americans have decreased their average driving miles. Yet U.S. DOT’s most recent biennial report to Congress on the state of the nation’s transportation system, released last Friday, forecasts that total vehicle miles will increase between 1.36 percent to 1.85 percent each year through 2030.
Just how out of whack is that forecast? Consider the following:
- Vehicle travel hasn’t increased by even 1 percent in any year since 2004. Yet the U.S. DOT assumes that driving will increase at a rate significantly faster than that every year on average through 2030.
- The new report uses for one of its two scenarios the same flawed forecasting model that has overestimated vehicle travel 61 times out of 61 since 1999.
- In a particularly absurd twist, the U.S. DOT forecast doesn’t even get the past right. The report “projects” (based on 2010 data) that Americans drove 5 percent more miles in 2012 than they actually did. To hit the DOT forecast for 2014, Americans would need to increase their driving by 9 percent this year alone.
Why should we care about all this? With transportation funds increasingly scarce — and especially with Congress due to reauthorize the nation’s transportation law — policy-makers need good guidance about where to invest. A sensible approach, especially given the recent decline in driving and increasing demand for transit, would be to plow a greater share of those limited resources into expanding access to public transportation and active transportation modes while focusing highway spending on fixing our existing roads and bridges.
Instead, the U.S. DOT’s travel forecast is used as justification to propose a dramatic increase in highway spending to fund all the new and expanded highways that the DOT presumes we’ll need to accommodate all of those imagined new cars and drivers. The agency asserts that the nation would need to spend between $124 billion and $146 billion each year to maintain and improve the highway system — numbers that are sure to find their way immediately into highway lobby press releases and be repeatedly cited in congressional hearings.
What makes the DOT forecast so bewildering is that the agency — elsewhere in the very same document — acknowledges the strong possibility that many of the factors that have caused the recent drop in driving may be long-lasting. The report states:
What do proponents of healthy cities — or smart growth, if you prefer — really want? Is it top-down government bureaucracy interfering with everyone’s lives, or is it more choices? Like the choice not to live in tract suburbia and drive to work alone each day.
In a pretty paranoid screed at Investors Business Daily, Lawrence McGuillan asserts it’s the former. Smart growth advocates want to move people around “like chess pieces,” he says, even suggesting they will soon “ban gasoline-powered automobiles” altogether. (LOL!)
But at the end of McGuillan’s tirade, he argues for the very thing urbanists are demanding.
If governments ended their war on home construction, builders could buy the land they need to construct the housing that local people want, not housing that politicians and smart-growth activists want. That would increase the stock of affordable housing and help the environment too.
David Edmondson at The Greater Marin responds:
While McQuillan digs at smart growth, his critique more aptly applies to our country’s existing urban policies. We have spent so long trying to structure and restrict where and how our cities grow, especially within already built-up areas, we’ve made our cities totally unaffordable for those who want to live there and our suburbs too far from the core for those who want the big-yard, drivable lifestyle.
- The National Bike Summit Starts Today in Washington
- President Obama Looks to Urban Rail Transit to Burnish Transportation Legacy (The Hill)
- Delaware’s Tom Carper to Lead Key Transportation Panel in U.S. Senate (WaPo)
- Alliance for Biking and Walking Announces ”Navigating MAP-21″ Workshop Dates for 2014
- Seattle’s Bell Street Park Doing Everything a City Street Should (Pedestrian Chronicles)
- Even Amid Safety Concerns, Connecticut Raids Its Own Transportation Fund (News Times)
- Naming Rights for Transit Aren’t Selling Too Well in Boston (2nd Ave Sagas)
- Picking Apart Upstate New York’s Passenger Rail Plans (Pedestrian Observations)
- California Governor Defends Plan to Fund HSR With Cap-and-Trade Revenue (CAHSR Blog)
- Nissan Touts New Car as “Ultimate Urban Experience”… in Bike-Loving Denmark (Copenhagenize)
Google Glass: Buying one will set you back $1,500. It makes even the most attractive people look ridiculous. It may or may not be the future of mobile technology.
A handful of states are trying to get out ahead of any risk this product might present to public safety. Bills are bubbling up in eight states would ban the use of Google Glass while driving.
Meanwhile, Google (corporate motto: “Don’t be evil“) is actively lobbying against such legislation in Illinois, Delaware, and Missouri. In Illinois, according to Reuters, Google has hired Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s former political director, John Borovicka, to try to defeat the measure. The Illinois legislature is expected to vote on it this spring.
California courts have already seen a case involving Google Glass. Last month a San Diego woman’s distracted driving ticket was overturned because a judge ruled that police couldn’t prove the device was on at the time.
Google has been arguing that legislation preventing the use of the technology while driving would be premature, since there are a limited number in circulation, Reuters reports. There are about 10,000 Google Glass devices being tested nationwide and they will likely start being sold to the general public sometime this year.
But regardless of how many Google Glass units are out there, the science on distracted driving is clear. Thousands of people are killed each year in the U.S. because of distracted drivers. People can’t safely use hands-free devices while driving — the human brain just isn’t wired for multi-tasking. So why should states put lives at risk by letting people use internet-enabled eyewear while they’re behind the wheel of a multi-ton machine?