The Green New Deal Must Prioritize Transit, Group Says

Photo:  TransitCenter
Photo: TransitCenter

The Green New Deal must include a major reform of how the federal government funds, maintains and expands transit, an advocacy group said this week.

In an effort to finally put some meat (er, soy protein) on the bones of the much-talked about but ultimately thin ecology program, TransitCenter put forward a four-point agenda to build on the narrow transit strategy in the initial Green New Deal trial balloon announced in February by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). That announcement called only for increased investment in “affordable and accessible public transportation; and high-speed rail.”

The recommendations from TransitCenter are a long way from being adopted, of course, says organization spokesperson Ben Fried.

“We’re just at the beginning of these conversations,” said Fried. “The specifics that are lacking would take shape, I would hope by the time of the next presidential election. The spirit of it is to state the ambition first and use that to launch into the more concrete policy. The next step is to turn that into more concrete policy ideas that could be plugged into federal legislation.”

Here’s the essence of TransitCenter’s proposal, which was published on the blog of the  left-wing think tank Data for Progress:

More money for transit, less for highways

Current funding formulas dedicate 80 percent of federal surface transportation funding to highways and 20 percent to transit. TransitCenter recommends shifting the formula, though the group did not set specific numbers.

In addition, the organization calls for changing how federal funding is applied. Right now, federal transit funds can only be spent on capital expenses like new tracks or buses. TransitCenter instead recommends allowing transit agencies to spend money on actually running more buses or trains — because service frequency is one of the greatest drivers of ridership.

In order to prevent transit agencies from offloading their operating costs entirely on the feds, the two groups propose making federal funds for operating available only as matching funds, when equal funding is provided by local entities.

Build sidewalks, not walls

Good transit depends on save ways for people to access bus stops. But right now, federal policy makes it nearly impossible for transit agencies to allocate funds to improve accessibility.

“Agencies shouldn’t have to apply for sidewalk funds from an alphabet soup of tight-fisted federal programs,” the TransitCenter proposal states. “If the feds gave state DOTS a free and easy hand to build highways for the past 60 years, they can finally do the same for local transit agencies and sidewalks.”

No environmental review for transit projects

Minor transit improvements, such as creating dedicated new bus lanes, are inherently good for the environment and therefore should not be subject to lengthy regulatory review processes, TransitCenter says.

“The federal government already exempts certain types of projects, like bike lanes, from environmental review,” the report stated. “These exemptions should be expanded to include simple transit-priority projects.”

No more highway expansions

Expanding highways is antithetical to the goal of reducing carbon emissions. But the federal government spent about $40 billion in 2018 on roads and highways.

Data for Progress and TransitCenter recommend redirecting this funding to cities and regional planning agencies rather than highway-focused state departments of transportation. Localities and regional planners should be instructed to invest in projects that reduce driving miles.

Where traffic congestion is a serious problem, it should be managed with pricing schemes, like variable tolls, or bus-only lanes, TransitCenter recommends.

114 thoughts on The Green New Deal Must Prioritize Transit, Group Says

  1. fdtutf and others miss the point that deliberately mis-engineering lights with short yellows is larceny – literally stealing. The engineers doing this should have their PE licenses suspended or revoked. Engineering for conditions that do not exist is fundamentally unacceptable for engineers.

    Lights with no all red phase are rare today and even with a 0 all red, drivers who violate by up to one second clear the intersections before cross traffic arrives.

    Note that correct length yellows permanently reduce violations and drivers do NOT adapt to them to push the point further – that is a lie told by the for-profit camera racket companies.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  2. fdtutf and others miss the point that deliberately mis-engineering lights with short yellows is larceny – literally stealing.

    What exactly is being stolen here?

    Beyond that, part of me can’t believe you’re actually advocating red-light running here. The other part of me knows that it’s perfectly in line with your general agenda of promoting speed at the expense of safety.

  3. Is fdtutf (and perhaps others) actually incapable of understanding the physics of time & distance that a yellow interval should be set with a perception/reaction time long enough for more than about half the drivers (usual method when cameras are used) ? Are they incapable of understanding the physics of time, speed, and distance to know that the yellow interval has to be slightly longer when the approach speed of most drivers is 35-39 mph rather than the 30 which was improperly used for calculations?

    These are simple engineering calculations which can be used for safety with properly set yellows and VERY few violators – or they can be maliciously used to increase the numbers of tickets going to safe drivers to increase the profits of the red light camera rackets. I prefer properly set yellows with VERY few violators. For some strange reasons, fdtutf seems to prefer improperly set ones for more camera racket profits.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  4. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I am capable of understanding that motorists are human beings with a moral responsibility to follow the traffic laws. If the posted speed limit is 30, the appropriate way to engineer the yellow light is to assume an approach speed of 30. Period.

  5. The for-profit ticket camera racket companies and their for-profit city business partners LOVE your view – it helps makes their rackets more profitable. I notice you did not comment on the 0.4 short yellow due to using a perception/reaction time good for only about half the drivers. When Florida mandated 1.4 instead of 1.0 for that parameters, violations dropped 30% to 50% at most camera intersections. Red light cameras require engineering for conditions that do not exist to be profitable, and engineering for conditions that do not exist should cause the PE to have their license suspended or revoked.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  6. The for-profit ticket camera racket companies and their for-profit city business partners LOVE your view

    So does anybody who actually gives a shit about safety. You, of course, do not.

    I notice you did not comment on the 0.4 short yellow due to using a perception/reaction time good for only about half the drivers.

    Of course I did: “If the posted speed limit is 30, the appropriate way to engineer the yellow light is to assume an approach speed of 30. Period.” What speeders are doing is irrelevant. They need to slow down.

    When Florida mandated 1.4 instead of 1.0 for that parameters, violations dropped 30% to 50% at most camera intersections.

    What a surprise! If you stop enforcing the law against lawbreakers, you find fewer violations.

  7. You missed the point on perception/reaction time of 1.0 for about half the drivers leaving the yellow 0.4 short at a 30 mph light – even if no one is above 30 mph. The lawbreaker involved is the engineer who engineers yellows adequate for only about half the drivers who are obeying the posted limit.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  8. Aside from the cost savings of moving people that favor cars and roads, The second economic advantage to individual cars has to do with personal employment income. A small % of the places of employment in the country, are well served by mass transit.
    For many people the single best way to increase their earning potential is to have the ability to move around freely, and not be tied to a Bus or Trolley schedule, or limited in how far they can easily commute by walking or biking.
    The ability to choose from a vast array jobs, and work any schedule, give people an upward mobility that they can not get any other way. It increases their housing options, and their children’s education is not limited by whatever transportation is, or is not, offered by a school district.
    Low cost private cars are the best tool for increasing a families wealth and opportunity.

  9. We are in agreement that yellow-light engineering should take into account drivers’ actual reaction times. We disagree about the fact that yellow-light engineering should be based on speed limits and not on the actions of lawbreakers.

  10. Thanks for the agreement on the perception/reaction times. It would at least add 0.4 seconds to most camera intersection yellows and about 50-60% of all violations happen in the first 0.5 seconds of red – so it prevents a large percentage of unfair tickets going to safe drivers that endangered no one.

    Insisting on setting the yellows on posted limits assured profitability of the camera rackets and assures much higher levels of violations than would occur if the lights were engineered for the actual conditions. In my view that makes a total mockery of any claims the cameras are about reducing violations – because another 0.5-0.7 seconds of yellow plus the 0.4 for perception reaction times almost always reduces violation rates below the levels where cameras can be justified on either financial or safety grounds.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  11. It’s worth noting that the pressure on engineers to use the minimum allowed amber intervals comes from the assumption within traffic engineering that automobile throughput is more important than safety.

    Usually when that skewed prioritization shows up — in wide streets and urban freeways, for instance — the NMA zealots are quick to rally in support. It’s nice to see you folks recognizing that maybe we should consider more factors than just what shaves a few seconds off the commute.

  12. In the 3 (or some say 4) Es, Engineering is by far the most important.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  13. Insisting on setting the yellows on posted limits assured profitability of the camera rackets and assures much higher levels of violations than would occur if the lights were engineered for the actual conditions. In my view that makes a total mockery of any claims the cameras are about reducing violations – because another 0.5-0.7 seconds of yellow plus the 0.4 for perception reaction times almost always reduces violation rates below the levels where cameras can be justified on either financial or safety grounds.

    You’re so confused.

    It is patently obvious that turning violations into non-violations reduces violation rates. It is equally obvious that this does not necessarily do anything to improve safety and may in fact make things less safe.

    If we were to abolish second-degree murder as a crime, murder rates would go down, but our society would hardly be any safer.

  14. The attempted analogy by fdtutf with 2nd degree murder fails entirely. We are not talking about deeming something illegal as legal, we are talking about changing the rules so the illegal behavior does not happen at all.

    It is absolutely clear that drivers who do not violate red lights do NOT cause crashes. Timing the yellows to reduce violations by about 90% cannot in any way be deemed as ” … may in fact make things less safe”.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

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