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.

  • newtonmarunner

    No, you do have to scale by time frame — not VMT. Otherwise, you’re not taking into account our safety gains being eaten up by people driving more, and driving more dangerous vehicles.

    The way to improve safety gains is to encourage people to drive less, period. 6,000 pedestrian deaths per year is a lot, period.

  • newtonmarunner

    Using fuel taxes for items other than roads isn’t theft here anymore than it is elsewhere in the world, where they use fuel taxes for items other than roads. Come on.

  • jcwconsult

    Sorry, I respectfully disagree – at least in situations like we have where the total fuel tax revenues are insufficient to support the roads because the rates are too low. Every penny collected should be spent on the roads in cases like ours. If the fuel tax rates are high enough to adequately support the roads – as they are in most of Europe – and the government wants to spend the excess elsewhere, that is OK.

    Similarly, since the fare box is inadequate to support the costs of transit in almost every case, stealing some fare box revenue to spend on roads or other things would be equally wrong.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • MikeS

    Did you ever consider why they ripped it all out? Why was it more economical to embrace the motoring public? What about autonomy and the ability to go where you want? Why should we all be like rats in a maze, ants on some predetermined public transit system? What about the comfort of the drivers seat? Being able to set the ambient temperature in the vehicle? Being able to listen to your own news/music/books without having to wear earbuds? Being secure without worrying about who is sitting next to you? Not having to smell who is sitting next to you? Not having to listen to who is sitting next to you? Not having to be groped by who is standing behind you? There is no superiority or desirability in mass transportation. Humans were not made to cram together, they need space.

  • MikeS

    Where I live farebox recovery is 10% (as reported by the local transit agency). The other 90% is supported by the theft of fuel taxes and registration taxes as well as other taxes. The people have made their choice and their choice is not to cram onto mass transit. People like and desire the autonomy of their personal vehicle. They like to be able to control the environment of their personal vehicle. They like the security given by their personal vehicle. It is only radical environmentalists that would have normal people cram together in city centers and cram together on mass transit. They claim this will save the environment. Well so will euthanising old people and distributing licenses for babies. These actions will remove and reduce the population on earth and eventually remove the creaters of the environmental disaster created by so many humans. What happens to all the CO2 emissions when the road is full of electric cars? Does this remove the environmental disaster? No now there will be a economic disaster where people can’t live within walking distance of their jobs. Etc, etc, etc. There are people that hate the thought of people having free will and people not wanting to live crammed together with their fellow man. These people are trying to force their will on the rest of us normal people.

  • MikeS

    Fuel tax revenues are not the property of the non-motorist. Fuel tax revenues should go to maintaining the roads and motorist system that enable the fuel tax to be collected. Using fuel taxes to prop up a failed mass transit system so a few nutcases can feel like they are saving the environment is not justified or desirable. The few nutcases should pony up the cash to keep the mass transit functioning on it’s own. Given that the majority of people in the U.S. drive cars it is impossible to make the case that an environmental nut job is supporting the highway system. In fact all the motorists in the U.S. are supporting the highway system (and other related costs) AND they are ALSO supporting mass transit for the few nut jobs that think it is better than having an autonomous vehicle. If this was not true this conversation would not be taking place. And there would be not need for a nut job to advocate using fuel tax revenues to support mass transit.

  • Michael

    Those are some fun ideas. Really, it was just big government, big regulation trampling property rights. The streetcar companies were unbelievably successful from a financial perspective. But 3 decisions proved the their undoing. 1. The for-profit streetcar companies owned built, owned, maintained, & paid property taxes on their right of ways (the tracks & the roads around them). Big Government decided that anyone, even bus competitors, should be able to operate on them free of charge. 2. The government decided that for-profit streetcar companies shouldn’t be able to set their own fares! 5 cent fares became a virtual birth right in America. It was a regime that lasted 50 years. Inflation after WW2 was the final financial nail in the coffin. 3. Socialists, who loved the idea of government owned roads & highways instead of for-profit street car companies & toll roads, eminent domained the most important streetcar & interurban right of ways to build their freeways.

    There was a decades long effort for socialize transportation in this country. Today, we have public roads, public airports, public railroads, public transit. All taxpayer funded. Nothing left is profit maximizing.

  • Newtonmarunner

    I think our time for road expansion has come to an end — the space for new roads in our cities has been exhausted — so I don’t see federal fuel taxes going to transit stealing from anything. Our future capacity is in rail, buses, bike paths, and sidewalks.

  • TakeFive

    Okay, if you totally disregard the capital costs of equipment and stocking needed parts or tire replacement etc. Not quite sure why you limit yourself to operating costs but so be it.

  • LinuxGuy

    How about transit USERS can pay their own way at full price without subsidies?

  • jcwconsult

    I agree that new roads INSIDE our cities are not the right answer in most cases. What is needed is to make the main collector & arterial roads operate efficiently with the high volumes of traffic they were designed to carry. Choking down the flow of traffic for commuters, shoppers, visitors, tourists, and commercial traffic is not the answer. Federal and state fuel taxes are desperately needed to maintain our existing roads and bridges that are crumbling due to inadequate funding for 20+ years. Potholes are even more dangerous for cyclists than for cars. Stealing money from taxes for road maintenance is wrong. There are opportunities to build more lanes on some suburban freeways – on the existing rights of way, some to be HOV lanes to encourage sharing.

    Rail is rarely the answer inside cities, the intrusions needed to build and run new lines that don’t follow existing routes are worse than building a new road for the same route – and the costs per passenger mile are outrageous. Well designed park & ride lots in the suburbs make sense to ease rush hour vehicle numbers.

    Bike paths off the main road surfaces and bike lanes installed on more minor streets parallel to the main collectors & arterials make perfect sense. It is safer & more efficient for the cyclists. It is not a 4 season answer in the north, but can be in the south and a part-year help in the north.

    Decent sidewalks should be the norm almost everywhere. Well marked and well lit crosswalks should be the norm – equipped with pedestrian-demand flashing beacons for some mid-block cross walks on main roads. Low pedestrian count traffic lights on arterials can have pedestrian-demand buttons for safety. Downtown areas can have advance pedestrian walk signals. Some places work best with pedestrian-scramble lights where cars are stopped in all directions for pedestrians.

    It is necessary to recognize that a high majority of commuters & shoppers will always prefer the freedom, privacy, convenience, and efficiency of private car travel.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    I have answered your questions on this issue adequately.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    If someone cannot understand how rates of events per exposures are key, then I cannot help them understand the issues. We drive 3.2+ trillion miles per year now and comparing the numbers versus time frames when we drove 2 trillion/year or under 1 trillion/year requires using VMT to understand the differences.

    If no one walked outside their homes, the rate of pedestrian injuries and fatalities in auto accidents would be virtually zero. The level of exposures to possible events is key to understand the issues and make valid comparisons for different areas or time frames.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    I and the NMA have long advocated for proper user fees for the roads and fuel taxes are the fairest plus the least expensive to collect at about 1% of revenue. But we cannot force the gutless federal and some state legislators to do the right things with fuel taxes and spending to maintain our crumbling roads & bridges.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    Correct, and spending the amounts above what it takes to have superb roads in most European countries on other things is a fact that most Europeans accept.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • @jcwconsult – Interesting claim. So I expect to see a headline like this some day soon:

    National Motorists Association Advocates Double Federal Gas Tax and State Gas Tax Raised To Same Doubled Amount

    Of course, the one-member NMA doesn’t make headlines, but maybe adopting this far more proper policy will do the trick.

    Mind you, that’s only to pay for highways, not surface streets, not the impacts from pollution (manufacturing and disposal as well as burning fuel), health damage, oil wars, a large fraction of police, fire, and emergency medical expenses, etc. etc., but it would at least be a start.

  • Newtonmarunner

    I live in Boston. I am from DC. I have plenty of relatives living in DC, Boston, NYC, SF, and Seattle. My brother lived in LA, and now lives in Barcelona. Clearly, plenty of people in those places prefer living and shopping in the city given the cost of housing. They should be able to enjoy that freedom at an affordable price the same way suburbanites currently enjoy their lifestyle.

    And rail in the CBD is the answer. Rail along highway medians has crummy ridership figures relative to the cost. See the ridership on WMATA compared to BART, which is far more along highway medians than Metrorail (which is plenty along highway medians) and has 55-60 percent of Metrorail, as an example. Rail is meant to scoop people up where they live (e.g., Second Ave.), and take people where they want to go (e.g., Midtown West/Times Sq.). Rail going to the CBD may have higher absolute costs, but has lower per rider costs as that’s where people want to go. Rail in the CBD also has a level of permanence that rail in suburbia doesn’t: the CBD is and will continue over time to be where the most number of people work. Rail in the CBD in cities where either demand exceeds supply or high-growth cities makes the city more attractive to employers as there is more talent within a short amount of time who can reach their office. It also is more equitable as it means the cost of participating in society less and less includes operating a vehicle. And it is more environment as fewer and fewer carbon-spewing roads are necessary.

  • fdtutf

    You can’t engage in sincere, effective debate, got it.

  • fdtutf

    Your view is warped.

  • fdtutf

    In fact, road user fees do not come close to covering the costs of the road system; the system has to be propped up with general fund revenues. But sure, fine.

    Fuel tax revenues are also not the property of the motorist.

  • Pete Bachant

    In your cost calculations are you considering the cost to drivers to purchase, maintain, and operate their own vehicles?

  • GRY

    No; Just the public cost, the cost of the infrastructure.

  • Stephen Simac

    It’s hard to see your ideology hiding behind the frothing at the mouth.

  • Craig Northey

    To a moron, yea i guess it would be….

  • Craig Northey

    First of all, prove ny pays more than it recieves because with the rampant welfare in that state i question that statement. 2nd coumo has already asked the fed for 12 billion to repair EXISTING rail in nyc. 3rd you missed the SUPPLY CHAIN methodology I’ve been trying to explain to you morons without luck. How are you going to get needed goods from other parts of the country without interststes? Ocasio hss an answer I’m sure. 4th I live in the most diverse, successfull, labor and tax friendly state in the country, TEXAS. So don’t even go there. I see license plates here from all over now. People WANT to live in my state. Why? Because we know how to do it right.

  • newtonmarunner

    It’s well documented that NY State gives more than it takes and Texas takes more than it gives: https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.theatlantic.com/amp/article/361668/

    I won’t get into Gateway since I think it can be done a lot better. But reality is that demand for the current tunnels going to Penn Station exceeds the supply of service. That’s why another Hudson River Tunnel is necessary.

    How do you ship goods across interstates to other states if you don’t widen existing interstates? You don’t have to widen existing interstates, silly. You can place a congestion charge on roads where demand exceeds supply during that time if necessary, but most trucks don’t travel during that time, so it’s not really relevant.

    And people live in Texas because they can’t afford NY, MA, CA, etc. They’d prefer to live in the places I mention, where the wages are higher, but are priced out by the high costs of housing. I, for one, would not like to train for the NYC Marathon in the Texas summers. Heck, I’d still rather be in Boston in February than Texas.

  • newtonmarunner

    James, you’re entitled to your opinion. You’re not entitled to your own set of facts.

  • GRY,

    Good comment. Would it be OK if I posted it as an article on my website WriterBeat com? I think the title “Why mass transit is often not the best use of resources” would make for a good draw. Please note, I’ll be sure to give you credit and the the only thing I’m asking you to do is reply “sure.”

    Autumn

  • Craig Northey

    The Atlantic? Really? I saw food stamp usage higher in ny than Texas. Congestion toll? You mean TAX. Bottom line is which states are losing citizens and where are they going. This REALITY is extremely telling. And in febuary I’d rather be here in a nice76 degrees than shoveling snow up north.

  • jcwconsult

    The facts are we drive 3.2+ trillion miles a year and the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled is drastically lower than in decades past. 1960 5.05 fatalities per 100 M VMT. 2016 1.16 fatalities per 100 M VMT. If people cannot or will not recognize the >75% improvement in safety per mile traveled, then they are just refusing to see the facts.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • fdtutf

    It’s still way, way too many dead people for no good reason.

  • jcwconsult

    Agreed, and greater progress to lower the numbers could be made. One key change would be to get the profits out of enforcement. Once big money is available in for-profit enforcement, it often perverts the purpose of enforcement into profit-making businesses, rather than real safety programs.

    NMA members and most of our 220+ million US drivers want safe and efficient travel for ALL users of our main roads – the collectors, arterials, highways, and freeways. There are many available engineering changes that would make the joint goals of safety and efficiency more achievable. But we first need to get the profit motive out of deliberately mis-engineering our main roads for more tickets, more court profits, and more profitable insurance premium surcharges that turn enforcement programs aimed at mostly safe drivers into profit making businesses.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Transportation contributes significantly to climate change and congestion. A large part of the solution deals with land use. Fortunately, an over-overlooked source of funding, “land value return and recycling,” can help induce more compact and affordable development while also making transportation facilities and services (both roads & transit) more financially self-sustaining.

    The Transportation Research Board recently posted a presentation about this at http://www.trb.org/Main/Blurbs/178905.aspx .

  • Alicia

    Craig, I live in a small city in Northern Michigan, and I don’t own a car and rarely use the highway. (95% of the time I walk, bike or take the bus to get around, occasionally I carpool or take taxis). Speak for yourself.

  • Craig Northey

    Well get a descent job so you can afford one. Makes life so much easier and you don’t have to rely on friends and neighbors.

  • fdtutf

    And yet you have an amazing ability to find a profit motive in every effective enforcement technique you come across, which forces the conclusion that you really don’t want effective enforcement.

  • Alicia

    I like my job, I don’t want a car.

    Get lost with your ranting about “sjw fantasy lifestyles”… you’re out of touch with reality if you think everybody wants, needs, or is able to use a car and that there should be no other options.

  • jcwconsult

    There are VERY few effective enforcement techniques used in most cities, because if they were effective enough to prevent most violations – they would be a huge cost item in the budgets instead of a large profit center. For example: almost every time a city considers removing red light or speed cameras a serious part of the discussions at council meetings is about “How will we replace the revenue lost?”.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • GRY

    Sure

  • fdtutf

    Yes, I’ve heard this song and dance from you before. The point is that red-light cameras ARE very effective in reducing red-light running, and speed cameras ARE very effective in curbing speeding, but you don’t favor any curbs on motorists at all, so you find excuses to oppose these methods.

  • jcwconsult

    If red light cameras ticketed only dangerous drivers entering intersections well after correctly-timed lights were red; and if speed cameras ticketed only dangerous drivers whose speeds are well above the 85th percentile – no one would object.

    But then there would be no red light or speed cameras because they would lose so much money that no city would use them. The profit reports tell the true stories on purpose and results.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • The comment you wrote is a little dated now, as it was 7 days ago that I contacted you. By chance have you written anything recently that could stand alone as an article?

  • fdtutf

    Sensible people know that, regardless of the timing, drivers entering intersections after the light turns red are inherently dangerous. They need to learn what the yellow light means. Red light cameras are one way to teach them.

  • jcwconsult

    People who understand how traffic lights are timed and understand the physics of time-speed-distance know that drivers who enter intersections in the first second of red have zero crash risks because the cross traffic is not present. The drivers who get most of the tickets for harmless split-second violations are a totally different and unrelated group to the very small percentage of distracted drivers that enter after the lights have been red for several seconds and cause the t-bone crashes.

    Fining safe drivers for the “crime of driving safely” at deliberately mis-engineered traffic lights is about profits, not safety. It is a racket that no one should tolerate. Many states ban red light cameras or never authorized them – to prevent those rackets.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • fdtutf

    People who understand the psychology of driving, which you have repeatedly and conclusively proven that you don’t, know that the important factor is to train drivers not to enter intersections when the light is red. Drivers should not be relying on the intersection being empty for the first second of a red in their direction because that leaves them with entirely too little margin for error.

    Also, sometimes I have the impression that you think that a one-second all-red phase is universal. It’s definitely not.

  • jcwconsult

    What I and officials in the for-profit camera companies and their for-profit city business partners understand is the importance of deliberately mis-engineering the traffic lights to make the camera rackets profitable. Even with the now-rare cases of intersections with no all-red phase, the first second of red is safe because the cross traffic has not yet moved into the intersections.

    And if the 0.8 second violator is in the intersection perpendicular to the about-to-move cross traffic, they are NOT a hidden hazard. The cross traffic is most unlikely to floor their gas pedals to t-bone the violator. Understanding the physics of time-speed-distance is key to understanding how the profit rackets work.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • TM

    You don’t care about safety. Never have. Never will.

  • pieinthesky

    Respectfully beg to differ. You never factor in the cost of all the “free” parking so landmass dedicated solely to storing vehicles. It’s a huge portion of urban and suburban areas. In my area a single “free” parking spot in the commuter parking garage costs 40K a space to construct, never mind maintain.

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