By Stephen Lee Davis
The news many had suspected was confirmed to be true this morning in a blog post from Secretary LaHood himself — the Transportation Secretary is planning to step aside for President Obama’s second term:
“I have let President Obama know that I will not serve a second term as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. It has been an honor and a privilege to lead the Department, and I am grateful to President Obama for giving me such an extraordinary opportunity. I plan to stay on until my successor is confirmed to ensure a smooth transition for the Department and all the important work we still have to do.
At a time like this, it’s entertaining to go back and read the wide spectrum of reactions from transportation reformers and local advocates back when the relatively unknown former Republican Representative from Illinois was tapped to be President Obama’s Secretary of Transportation.
Our response was hopeful for the future as we faced the imminent 2009 expiration of transportation law and knew that a strong voice at DOT could be helpful in moving a bill along — that hope was rewarded with four years of a strong DOT Secretary who shared our vision for the future.
We released the first edition of our report on pedestrian safety (Dangerous by Design) in 2009 at a time when a new DOT secretary in his first year was still honing what would become his key message for his four-year term: safety. We arranged a meeting and took the names of 4,100 of our local supporters like yourself to his office and sat with him for an hour and explained how the design of our federally-funded streets and roads results in preventable pedestrian deaths every year.
After the meeting, he gave us his promise that he would review the report and direct his newly convened safety council to investigate these 76,000 preventable pedestrian fatalities and make recommendations on what DOT could do apart from Congress. He also became a champion for the cause on the Hill and released an official DOT policy statement on the issue.
Though he tried to apply pressure to Congress where he could to move the transportation bill along and offer his thoughts on the duration of the bill, those decisions were still ultimately up to the policymakers in Congress. But Sec. LaHood knew that he still had great influence over scores of day-to-day DOT decisions and the money that they spend. So he became the foremost champion of the innovative TIGER grant program — awarded by his office directly — touring and touting the projects at every opportunity and doing his best to advocate for the program with skeptical House members…some of whom who became defenders of the program, touting their own communities’ applications as worthy TIGER grantees and urging Congress to expand the program.
Perhaps one of his most valuable roles over the past four years has been as a plainspoken yet highly visible advocate for a smarter way of using transportation dollars to better line up with what Americans really want — which he described after seeing our national poll that affirmed that Americans want more transportation options
This is precisely what I’ve been talking about here in this blog with regard to livability, transit, and walking and biking. I have traveled all over this country in the past 14 months, and everywhere I go people want better options. Options that offer reduced greenhouse-gas emissions. Options that offer reduced fuel-consumption. Options that offer better health. Options that bring communities together.
Now, let me make this absolutely clear: I never said we would stop repairing, maintaining, and–yes–even expanding roadways. I said only that it’s time to stop assuming that putting more cars on more roads is the best way to move people around more effectively.
This survey demonstrates that, by and large, the American people get that. I never doubted them, but it sure is nice to see the numbers.
So, thank you, Transportation For America, for that 82%-strong vote of confidence.
So as a handful of critics began to assail President Obama’s focus on “livability,” Sec. LaHood became its most outspoken advocate, turning to his own personal experience to explain how livability was really just a newfangled buzzword to describe a lifestyle that many Americans knew anyway, by sight or memory:
Q. So tell me, what does this concept of “livability” really mean?
A. This is something I’ve never really talked about, but growing up, I lived on the east side of Peoria. When I was growing up, I could walk to my grade school. We had one car, but we would bike everywhere we went. We could walk to the grocery store. In those days, we had streetcars and buses, which people used to get to downtown Peoria, which was probably five miles from my house. I used to take a bus to my dad’s business. I grew up in an era [of] livable neighborhoods and livable communities — what we’re really trying to offer to people around America…
When the groundbreaking Partnership for Sustainable Communities — the partnership between DOT, Housing and the EPA — was under threat of budget cuts Sec. LaHood was a strong advocate for the partnership and its common sense approach of coordinating their efforts and making the most of these three agencies’ work.
Perhaps moreso than any other recent Transportation Secretary, LaHood leaves behind a signature initiative with his distracted driving campaign that registered with the national zeitgeist in a way that will be hard to match.
Sec. LaHood has proven to be a remarkably smart choice by the President, and all of us at T4 America will be sorry to see him leave the office. We hope his successor, whoever he or she may be, takes some cues from the hardworking Republican from Illinois as they craft their own agenda for the next four years.January 23, 2013
By Transportation for America
On Thursday, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett will release his long awaited proposal for remedying the Keystone state’s daunting transportation funding and policy difficulties. Leaks from several key legislative staffers indicate that his plan will propose a new source of transportation revenue that doesn’t violate his pledge to never increase taxes.
(This post is by Andrea Kiepe, T4 America’s regional organizer in Pennsylvania. -Ed.)
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Governor “intends to uncap the so-called oil company franchise tax,” allowing this tax to be applied to the full wholesale price of fuel, rather than an artificially limited $1.25 per gallon level. Removing this limit would eventually yield nearly $2 billion annually, according to information from the administration.
Pennsylvania’s key location as a shipping crossroads, rugged topography, cold weather and massive backlog of aging rails, roads and bridges have made the commonwealth a perfect example of the critical infrastructure problems affecting so many states. And like the rest of the country, declining gas tax revenues due to increasing fuel economy standards and/or reduced driving results in less available revenue as needs continue to grow.
Pennsylvania has the highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges in the US, according to our report “The Fix We’re in For.” More than 26 percent of PA bridges – almost 6,000 in total – are in need of significant repairs and maintenance.
Just tackling the state’s vast backlog of road and bridge repair needs could consume every penny of the new funding source, according to 2008 figures from FHWA, gathered in Smart Growth America’s Repair Priorities report for Pennsylvania.
Repair Costs for Pennsylvania’s Road and Bridge Network
- PennDOT state-owned major roads: 57,307 lane miles
- Lane miles in “poor” condition 12,357
- “Structurally deficient” bridges 5,789 (28%)
- Annual preventative maintenance needs for road/bridge network: $2.9 billion
- Annual major rehabilitation needs for “poor” and “deficient” roads/bridges: $509 million
- Total annual road/bridge repair need: $3.4 billion
In light of the Governor’s new plan for funding, Pennsylvania residents and advocates will be wondering: Will this influx of new money fund expensive new roads and added lanes, or focus on repair, as PennDOT has successfully done in the past?
According to Repair Priorities, “The Pennsylvania DOT (PennDOT), for example, has taken major steps in prioritizing repair and preservation projects … In recent years, PennDOT has steadily increased the portion of highway capital dollars spent on road repair and preservation projects from just 10% in 2004 to 43% in 2008. As a result, PennDOT, which is responsible for some of the oldest road infrastructure in the country, has increased the percentage of its lane-miles in good condition from 26% in 2004 to 29% in 2008.”
Many local advocates are also insistent that any transportation fixes must include funding for public transportation.
Recently, Philadelphia’s transit system, managed by SEPTA, was named the best in the US. Despite these accolades, the legacy system badly needs millions in upgrades and repairs to continue reliably carrying tens of thousands of passengers each day. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh transit system was rocked by massive proposed cuts last year – as much as cutting service by one third. Though the funding gap was resolved without drastic cuts, there’s no long term funding solution for Pittsburgh transit on the horizon.
In a recent opinion piece, business and labor leaders including representatives of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO and the Laborers, said unanimously “We believe that additional revenue, if immediately and properly invested, would go a long way toward allowing the commonwealth to repair aging roads and bridges while meeting the capital requirements for our mass transit systems.”
Governor Corbett’s PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch has issued recent statements that make it clear the Administration values transit and recognizes the need for adequate, stable funding for it.
“Mr. Schoch also said the governor’s plan will address all modes of transportation, including a long-term strategy for funding public transit agencies like the Port Authority…’We actually subsidize rural roads at a much higher rate than we subsidize mass transit. If you think about a two lane road – if it doesn’t carry at least 10,000 vehicles a day, it’s being subsidized.’ Schoch says most rural roads carry fewer than 2000 vehicles. And he says most of PennDOT’s revenue comes from vehicle fees and gas taxes; the lion’s share of which is paid by residents in Pennsylvania’s urban areas.”
Finally, Schoch also has indicated that the Governor will also propose new legislation creating new ways for cities and regions to raise funding for transportation improvements. This could be a great opportunity for beleaguered urban areas to use innovative financing mechanisms like TIFIA to fund system improvements.
Will this be the only source of revenue on the table? The Governor’s TFAC Commission report identified dozens of potential revenue sources, everything from LED signal light conversion to a host of increased fees and fines. Will the Legislature make repair a priority?
Many critical decisions still need to be made.January 18, 2013
By Stephen Lee Davis
The Sandy relief bill on the cusp of final passage will provide billions for cleanup and more than $12 billion for transportation — including an unprecedented step toward making transportation networks around the northeast and NYC more resilient in the face of climate change, more frequent and unpredictable storms, and rising sea levels.
The MTA A Train bridge to the Rockaways was heavily damaged during Hurricane Sandy. This photo shows early repair work underway as of November 3, 2012. Photo: MTA New York City Transit / Leonard Wiggins
It’s not completely a done deal yet — the House and Senate passed slightly different bills — but the $50.66 billion Sandy relief bill was passed by the House this week more than two weeks after the promised vote by Speaker Boehner to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (and others) at the end of 2012.
The Senate passed their version of the bill back in 2012. The bills are almost identical in their funding amounts, though there are some small programmatic differences in funding. Also, earlier this month, Congress approved and President Obama signed a measure providing $9.7 billion in additional funding for the federal flood insurance program, bringing the total expected Sandy spending up around $60 billion.
Part of the reason the House did not vote on this comprehensive package was due to pushback from House Republicans against approving such a large emergency spending package, and particularly because the package included funds for “future disaster mitigation,” i.e., acknowledging that climate change exists and is something worth preparing for. As a result, northeastern legislators from both parties were livid at the delay in approving disaster funding for their hard-hit region — actually a longer wait than for Katrina funding in 2005.
So what’s in the two bills for transportation?
The Senate package included over $12 billion for transportation. The bulk of that ($11 billion) is for the damaged transit systems that millions of daily commuters and riders depend on, to be distributed through the new Federal Transit Emergency Relief program (created by MAP-21). Close to $5.4 billion of this funding is directed to mitigation efforts to reduce the risk of damage from future disasters. As noted above, this unprecedented inclusion of mitigation funding represents a major shift in the federal dialogue about the real need to address and prepare for the impacts of climate change.
The Senate bill also included $336 million in mitigation relief to Amtrak and the Northeast Corridor for damages caused by the storm as well as advancing projects critical to improving resiliency in the case of future disasters. (According to our partners at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, that money also helps NJ Transit, which operates commuter service on the same tracks.) There was also about $920 million to repair Sandy-related damage on our nation’s highways and bridges.
The House-passed package included relief for all of the above, but there are some important differences in the transportation funding distribution. Amtrak’s relief was cut by about 64% down to $118 million. Transit system relief is still close to $11 billion with close to $5.4 available for projects to alleviate future damage (there were some slight language changes and a small boost in funding). Highway disaster relief increased to a little over $2 billion.
Though there was opposition to the package from many House Republicans, the measure was pushed through with the support of the House Republicans from the region as well as House Democrats. Now, the Senate will likely take up and pass the House bill, or potentially attempt to amend it before final passage.December 17, 2012
By Stephen Lee Davis
One place illustrating the national positive voting trends for transportation is Michigan, where citizens voted to raise taxes for transportation investments in cities and counties across the state, at least one anti-transit elected official was ousted, a Republican governor led the charge for regional transit investment in the state’s biggest metro and when given a chance to bail in the name of “cost savings,” local voters doubled down on their existing transit system.
There were a lot of eyes on Michigan during Transportation Vote 2012, in part because of the sheer number of transportation measures being decided there: over 30 different ballot questions in 2012 alone, according to the Center for Transportation Excellence.
Though there were dozens of worthwhile transportation ballot measures passed this year, Eaton County, Kalamazoo County, Muskegon City, and Ogemaw County all either renewed or passed new substantial tax millages to support public transportation specifically.
That’s no fluke, as Tim Fischer of the Michigan Environmental Council told us. Fischer, the Deputy Policy Director for MEC and part of the Transportation for Michigan coalition echoed a familiar refrain about the success of transit related ballot measures.
“I think the real message is that voters will support transit almost every time when they know where their money is going and what it will be used for,” he said.
Along those lines, a handful of cities around the country were offered a choice to secede from existing transit systems and decide to send that money elsewhere — a phenomenon explained in more depth by Angie Schmitt at Streetsblog Capitol Hill a few weeks ago — including one vote in Walker
County, Michigan, a city in the western suburbs of Grand Rapids. In a show of support for their existing system, voters in Walker rejected that attempt by a huge margin (73 percent opposed), “because residents see real value in their local transit systems even though they might not ever use them,” Fischer added.
“Road millages, by comparison, don’t always fare so well and have been rejected more often than passed in recent years. People perceive that they already pay for roads through the gas tax and are less inclined to pay for roads through millages.”
(That wasn’t the only good news in Grand Rapids, which also recently received $20 million in federal funds to build a BRT line.)
In a more recent development, just last week, the Michigan legislature passed landmark legislation finally creating a regional transit authority in Detroit, something that transit advocates and Detroit leaders have been trying to do for decades.
They were no doubt urged along by USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood, who told Michigan leaders they wouldn’t receive federal money for the Detroit Woodward light rail line without a regional authority to receive and manage the money.
“The RTA passage will trigger USDOT to release $25 million in promised federal funds which will add to about $80 million in private money,” Fischer said. ”In addition, a component of that legislation is the development of about 100 miles of rapid bus transit (‘BRT light’).”
The coalition that helped the RTA legislation along to victory was a broad one.
MOSES (Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enables Strength), which does faith-based organizing within over 40 congregations in southeast Michigan, was a key part of the successful coalition. MOSES did much of the legwork to push the bill through, holding scores of meetings with legislators to affirm to them the importance of investing in public transportation (pdf), and explaining how the lack of this regional authority was a significant roadblock to doing that.
Michael Tasse with MOSES said that their leaders and members had been having meetings with legislators for over two years on the regional transit bill.
“We pushed the governor to support it,” Tasse said. “We helped persuade legislators who were on the fence or who might not have initially supported it by helping them to understand the bill. A big part of what we spent a year doing is educating them on the bill and pushing them to read through it and understand it. We made scores of visits in district, and we went to Lansing more than ten times.”
MOSES is celebrating the passage of the bill as 2012 comes to a close. “This is important because it’s about transportation — not just rail lines to Chicago, but the bus lines that connect people across town and the factories across town and the suburbs,” he explained. “Connecting people to those jobs is how we’re going to build strong families and communities in Southeast Michigan. If people can’t get around, they’re stuck, and that creates a gap between the few and the many.”
But the wins go beyond just local or regional transit in Michigan. Passenger rail statewide has had a significant boost in the last year, certainly helped along by the leadership and straight-up boosterism of the Republican Governor Rick Snyder.
Michigan has received about $500 million for the Chicago-Detroit/Pontiac passenger rail route, including funds to purchase about 130 miles of track from NS, adding to the 100 miles already owned by Amtrak. 234 miles of the 300 mile Chicago-Detroit route are now under public ownership. Trains are already running at speeds of 110 mph on some of this stretch, and they’ll run that fast for longer stretches once more track is upgraded next construction season.
Incidentally, this line from Detroit to Pontiac runs right through the town of Troy, where a mayor who refused a federal grant to build a new train station there was ousted by recall in November and removed from office.
All of these stories of Michigan communities and the state seizing control of their futures and declaring the importance of transportation at the ballot box are encouraging, but they still can’t go it alone — they need the feds to step up and support these kinds of communities leading the way.
“The rail projects wouldn’t exist without it [federal support], nor would the Grand Rapids BRT line,” Tim Fischer told us. “The locals must do their part, but federal money is necessary to turn the projects into reality.”
Michigan boosters like Fischer see the positive trend continuing.
“I am optimistic for Michigan’s future. Our passenger rail programs and transit systems have come a long way in just a few short years. Also, communities across the state have great interest in complete streets — over 80 have adopted complete streets policies or resolutions since we established our complete streets law in 2010.”
“Things are coming together at long last,” Fischer said.December 11, 2012
By Transportation for America
Transportation for America today released an easy-to-follow handbook to help stakeholders understand and engage in implementing the new federal transportation law adopted last summer.
Making the Most of MAP-21: A Guide to the 2012 Federal Transportation Law — And How to Use it for Positive Change in Your Community features both narrative chapters and two-page explainers on the key features of the new program, from the consolidated highway program to the new transportation alternatives, as well as new financing options.
“Making the Most of MAP-21 is in an invaluable tool for those at the municipal level who are seeking both to understand the scope of the changes in the federal law, and determine how they can effect change at the local level,” said John Robert Smith, the co-chair of T4 America and the former four-term mayor of Meridian, MS.
After nearly three years of extensions of the expired previous transportation law, Congress in July adopted Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st century, or MAP-21. While it stopped short of providing more robust funding or a sweeping vision for infrastructure in the 21st century, MAP- 21 makes significant changes to federal transportation policy.
For one, it will mean that much more will depend now upon how well state departments of transportation manage affairs and attend to the needs of all their constituents. Federal law no longer sets aside a minimum amount of money for repairing our roads and bridges, leaving it to states to decide whether to repair or replace what we have, or to build new facilities that will themselves need to be maintained. More types of projects now compete for the money allocated to metropolitan areas. The law cuts by a third the money dedicated to make our roads and neighborhoods safer for walking or biking, but it gives localities more direct control over what remains.
“MAP-21 provides some opportunities for communities like ours to win federal support for our vision for a better future – but only if we know when, where and how to affect the decision-making process,” said Peter McLaughlin, a commissioner in Hennepin County, MN. “With this handbook, T4America has given us a road map for doing that.”
The handbook includes handy reference tables for funding by program for each state, as well as public transportation apportionments, bridge conditions, pedestrian and bicycle fatalities, the impact of transit service on local congestion and transportation costs by metro. It also offers a compendium of arguments that community supporters can use to bolster their desire to broaden local transportation options, make their streets safer and keep their system in good repair.
Find the handbook on the web with all of T4 America MAP-21 resources at http://t4america.org/resources/map-21.December 3, 2012
By David Goldberg
OK, now it’s official: Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) will replace Rep. John Mica (R-FL) as chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee. That much has been resolved after a 2012 election that still leaves a number of key questions hanging in the balance.
It is too soon to say, obviously, what sort of chairman Rep. Shuster will be. His early remarks – seeking to strike a middle ground while avoiding dogmatic statements – appear to put him more in the mold of his father, Bud Shuster, who served 28 years in Congress and chaired T&I for six years in the 1990s. In remarks honoring him in 2002, former T&I Chairman Jim Oberstar praised Bill Shuster’s dad thusly: “His perseverance, patience and willingness to find common ground made him one of the greatest committee chairmen we have seen in recent years in the House.”
However, “Things are different (now),” Bill Shuster told The Hill last week. “To move legislation, I think certainly takes some of the skill set that he had. … But also, you’ve got to make sure that you’re listening to the … committee and the (GOP) conference to move these things forward. I’ve learned a lot from him, but there’s some things that happen around here today that he didn’t have to deal with.”
In other comments, Shuster has said that he does not support rolling back the federal role in transportation or giving the entire job to the states. Rather, he said he wants to find the additional revenue and financing strategies that can help make up the gap between necessary investment levels and a federal gas tax whose earning power is in decline. In a nod to reality, he also endorsed exploring the potential of transitioning to a per-mile fee, or vehicle miles traveled tax (VMT), rather than a per-gallon gas tax.
“Longer term, VMT seems to me to be the only way to stop the decline because we’re all going to be driving cars five, ten years from now that are going 40, 50 miles [per gallon] or more, or maybe not using any gas at all,” he told The Hill. Whatever the revenue source, he and his colleagues will need to move quickly: His committee needs to be ready to adopt the next transportation in just 22 months.
But what about raising the gas tax in the meantime?
Suddenly, almost everywhere you look in transportation land, people are talking about the possibility of a gas tax increase, and Shuster himself raised the possibility this week. Some argue that a lame duck session provides the perfect opportunity. They and others also see the potential to include a gas tax increase as part of the debt deal that is expected in the so-called “fiscal cliff” negotiations.
There is some justification for that argument. A shortfall in expected gas tax revenues already has led Congress to make increasingly large transfers from the over-burdened general fund to the highway trust fund, and was a key reason that last summer’s transportation bill lasts only two years, rather than the typical six. A gas tax increase large enough to cover all the highway and transit funding now coming from general revenues would hardly cure all the budget issues, but it certainly could help, the argument goes.
But will the Obama Administration end its opposition to talk of a gas tax increase? The President had declared it a non-starter as long as the economy is sputtering. Has the U.S. economy stabilized enough – even as fears of a Europe-led global recession lurk in the wings – to allow a gas tax increase to be put on the table?
Whither Ray LaHood?
And speaking of the Administration, if Ray LaHood has the old Clash song “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” on his iPod he’s probably listening to it a lot these days.
A year ago he announced – or rather blurted out – that he planned to step down if Obama got re-elected. The possibility has fueled much speculation as to replacements, but he has been silent since the election. That didn’t stop The Atlantic Cities from running a recent piece on why a mayor should get the nod for the job. The article quotes yours truly praising LaHood as one of the best to hold that job, and given his support for innovations like the TIGER program, his emphasis on the safety of everyone who uses road and transit systems, his strong support for local communities trying to improve their livability … Well, we’ll stand by those remarks.
November 9, 2012
By Stephen Lee Davis
One of the most powerful avenues for persuading a skeptical community to invest in transit is to see it successfully implemented nearby — whether in the community or neighborhood right next door, or a city and region a few hours away. This trend is illustrated in two of this year’s Transportation Vote 2012 ballot measures through two very different stories in Virginia and North Carolina.
In the tidewater region along the Virginia coast, discussions ramped up in the 1980s and 90s about a light rail system connecting the neighboring cities of Norfolk — a little more inland — and Virginia Beach on the Atlantic Ocean, mostly via an underutilized Norfolk Southern railroad corridor that runs in a neat, straight line from Norfolk all the way to the beach.
In 1999, an attempt was made to pass a referendum on the potential light rail system in the City of Virginia Beach, but voters rejected it. Perhaps as a result of the controversy or simple issue fatigue after talking about it the concept for more than a decade, the Virginia Beach city council washed their hands of the whole affair and passed a resolution affirming that the city would have nothing to do with the future construction of the light rail system for ten years.
That setback didn’t stop the project in its tracks.
Norfolk decided to forge ahead on their own with a system spanning the core of their mostly linear city along the Elizabeth River. And in summer of 2011, The Tide — the first light rail system in Virginia — opened to huge crowds and daily ridership exceeding projections.
Down the road in nearby Virginia Beach, citizens there finally got to move beyond renderings and promises and meetings and see a brand new working light rail system through the center of their neighboring city just a few miles away. Perhaps they bemoaned the perpetual traffic congestion on I-264 between the two cities and wistfully thought about how nice it would be to hop on a train at the beach and get to the downtown mall or the Tides baseball park right on the river in Norfolk.
But most powerfully, the idea of rail transit in their community was no longer an abstraction; a figment of some planner’s or city councilperson’s imagination. There it was, dropping off students by the thousands at Norfolk State and winding right through a newly rebuilt MacArthur Square and park by the mall every day with shiny new passenger vehicles on the way to the burgeoning hospital complex on the west side of town.
A year and a half later, it’s easy to understand how Virginia Beach voters went to the polls Tuesday and gave a hearty “me too!” to the Tide system. Though it was a nonbinding resolution directing the city council that still has the final say on moving forward, 62 percent of voters supported the measure. And in no small part because of the case study of success just a few miles west.
MacArthur Square in the center of Norfolk before, and how it looks after tearing down an old office building and creating a stop and a new park across from the downtown mall. First photo from Bing Maps, second photo by Steve Earley, the Virginian-Pilot
North Carolina Research Triangle
Raleigh-Durham and Charlotte are just a few hours apart on Interstates 85 and 40 and about the same size in population (1.7 million) yet Charlotte has done far more to invest in rail transit in the last decade, with more to come. (Though acknowledging the differences: Charlotte is a metro anchored by a central city and the more spread-out Triangle region is composed of the large and small cities of Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Cary and the suburban Research Triangle Park.)
After the better part of two decades of discussion and study, Charlotte’s new Lynx Blue Line opened in 2007 and is a popular line running south from downtown to “uptown” Charlotte that has stimulated a wealth of new development along the way. According to our friends over the Center for Transit-Oriented Development, the Blue Line has catalyzed more than 10 million square feet of new housing, retail and office development along the corridor.
Simliar plans have been discussed in the Raleigh-Durham metro area for almost as long, but with four cities in three different counties trying to agree on a single region-wide plan, they’ve certainly had a harder time making it happen.
Perhaps prodded along by the success of the Blue Line down the road in rival Charlotte, Durham approved a half-cent sales tax last year to fund transit operations and a regional light rail line toward Chapel Hill, and Orange County (Chapel Hill) approved their half-cent tax to do the same just this week on Tuesday.
Rendering of a station in Durham courtesy of Triangle Transit
Unfortunately, the third partner in the region, Wake County (Raleigh), decided not to put a sales tax on the ballot this fall, so as of yet, there’s no truly regional commitment to building rail transit.
Leaders of similar sized cities and regions know that investing in transit, the signals it sends to employers, and the kind of growth that it can stimulate are key to continuing to attract a smart workforce. In a similar story about Nashville, Ralph Schulz, president of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, told the Nashville Ledger that “the lack of a mass transit system costs the area about one in five businesses considering relocating here.” (In that story you’ll see that Nashville Mayor Karl Dean knows it too and is a tireless advocate for investing in more transit.)
With Charlotte signing on the dotted line with the Federal Transit Administration just a few weeks ago to move ahead on a 9-mile expansion to the Blue Line that will reach northward to UNC-Charlotte, the bar has been raised in the region which the Triangle most closely identifies as their competition for jobs and workers.
While they’re two-thirds of the way to a regional system with Orange and Durham approving the tax, unlike Norfolk’s story, the utility of a Chapel Hill-Durham line will be incredibly limited without including lines into Wake County to connect the thousands of jobs in the Research Triangle Park and downtown Raleigh with Durham.
But every trip that a Triangle leader or citizen takes down the road to Charlotte will be a powerful reminder that successful new rail transit in a similar still-sprawling southern city is a downpayment on future growth that reaps dividends in shorter commutes, more access to jobs and neighborhoods, and an increase in the type of walkable neighborhoods that are so heavily in demand these days.
On an optimistic note, if a booming suburban city in the South with jobs scattered across the region like Raleigh can find a way forward with more transit, there’s hope for many other similar regions.
Though these regions have voted to tax themselves to invest in transit and make their vision for the future a reality, they can’t do it alone. They need a strong federal partner to come through and help leverage those local dollars into tracks in the ground one day.November 8, 2012
By David Goldberg
They say all politics is local. Well, that goes double for transportation.
During a federal election season that saw the presidential candidates making only the barest mention of our teetering system for funding transportation infrastructure, local voters took transit funding into their own hands in more than two-dozen locales Tuesday. Most of the measures that included public transportation and a more balanced set of transportation options appear to have passed – or in the case of California, came achingly close to the required two-thirds majority. (Read The Transport Politic for a great summary of important measures. -Ed.)
According to the Center for Transportation Excellence election tracker, 14 of the 20 measures whose ballots have been tabulated at this point passed, a 70 percent rate. And in two of the “losses”, the funding proposal actually won 65 percent of the vote. Despite continued doubts on the economy, voters confronted with a well-presented plan to fix or improve local transportation networks generally said “yes” to slightly higher taxes. Up until yesterday, 2012 had seen 33 of 39 such measures pass, for an 85 percent pass rate.
One of the most closely watched votes Tuesday was Measure J in Los Angeles, where voters were asked to extend their 2008 transit tax another 30 years out to 2069. It was an ambitious scheme to build more of the expansive rail and rapid bus network faster by taking larger upfront loans over the next several years. The longer repayment stream was necessary in order to be able to sell long-term bonds in the coming years. Outside observers thought it was a heavy lift to get voters to approve another transit tax just four years after passing Measure R, but Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and others felt that Angelenos are impatient to get the transportation options they’re seeking sooner.
Metro Board member Richard Katz, Los Angeles Mayor and Metro Board Chair Antonio Villaraigosa, Metro Board member and Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky earlier this year celebrating the new Expo Line light rail, funded in part by 2008′s Measure R. Photo by Metro Library and Archives.
Apparently they were right: The measure won 64.7 percent of the vote. Unfortunately, that’s just shy of the two-thirds required for revenue measures in California. (Notably, only 2.3 million Angelenos voted this year versus the 3.3 million who voted in 2008, when LA’s breakthrough sales tax for transportation, Measure R, passed with 67.8%.) A similar fate befell Alameda County, across the bay from San Francisco, where a half-cent sales tax would have helped improve local bus service and build a BART extension to Livermore. It’s likely to fail despite also receiving a strong majority of support — over 65.5 percent. (That vote is still too close to call and might not be decided for a few days, though it is still trailing. -Ed.)
Transportation issues played a significant role in a few mayoral races, as well. In Honolulu, the election became a referendum on construction of the $5.26 billion light rail line voters approved in 2008 (and which is already under construction today.) There, rail supporter Kirk Caldwell, the former city managing director, bested former Gov. Ben Cayetano, who came out of retirement to stop the rail project. Caldwell, who said he will “do rail better”, came from behind to win 54 percent of the vote to Cayetano’s 46 percent.
In Portland, OR, Charlie Hales – a longtime rail and streetcar proponent – beat state Rep. Jefferson Smith with 62 percent of the vote. In San Diego, U.S. Rep. Bob Filner, a Democrat, beat city council member Carl DeMaio in a race in which both candidates passionately embraced complete streets and safer conditions for walking and biking. And in Troy, MI, Mayor Janice Daniels, who rejected federal funding for a transit center in 2011, was recalled.
In other key votes, a few jurisdictions voted to join the transit party begun by neighboring communities. In Orange County, NC, home of Chapel Hill and the University of North Carolina, third city in the Research Triangle formed with Raleigh and Durham, voters approved a sales tax expected to raise $661 million for upgraded bus service and light rail to connect to Durham. Partly prodded by in-state rival Charlotte, which has seen multiple benefits from its own rail line, Durham County approved a half-cent sales tax for those purposes last year. Now it remains to be seen whether Raleigh will complete the triangle.
Rendering of a future light rail/Amtrak station in the Triangle Transit System in Durham, courtesy of Triangle Transit
Inspired by the success of light rail in neighboring Norfolk, voters in Virginia Beach approved an advisory measure in support of extending it to their city and, potentially, waterfront. The city council will make the ultimate decision whether to go forward. Elsewhere in Virginia, the D.C. “suburb” of Arlington approved a $32 million bond issue for transit, roads, bike, and pedestrian projects, with half going toward improvements related to the Metro rail service in Arlington. In Michigan, where four jurisdictions – Kalamazoo, Muskegon and Eaton and Ogemaw counties – passed transit levies, the Grand Rapids suburb of Walker overwhelmingly rejected withdrawing from the regional transit system.
In South Carolina, voters in Richland County – home of the state capital, Columbia – passed a penny sales tax to would widen and build roads, expand bus service and extend miles of sidewalks, bike lanes and trails. It passed with 54 percent and will be collected for 22 years.
Bucking the trend, voters in Clark County, WA – across the Columbia River from Portland – appear to have rejected a proposal to fund transit service on the proposed Columbia River Crossing, a controversial, multibillion-dollar bridge and freeway project connecting Vancouver, WA to Portland. That loss likely wasn’t just about transit — transit-supporters such as Mayor Tim Leavitt of Vancouver and the Clark County Chamber of Commerce opposed the sales tax measure, claiming there were other ways to fund operations and maintenance of proposed transit improvements. (This vote is still too close to call, though the measure is currently losing. -Ed.)
A couple of the ballot failures were nonetheless winners in the “worth a try” category. Memphis city leaders sought a one-cent per gallon gas tax to raise money to expand eight bus routes and build a downtown trolley, but were rebuffed. In Houston, transit advocates sought to end the practice of diverting a quarter of the one-cent transit sales tax to local roads. Voters confused by the fact that a “for Metro” vote continued the diversion and effectively ends light rail expansion, overwhelmingly approved it.
So many localities ponying up their share for expanded transportation options has led some to argue that the feds can shrink from their commitment to fund infrastructure. But ask any of the local communities that have just taxed themselves to improve transportation options and you’ll quickly hear that it’s not an either/or proposition.
Local communities have a vision for a 21st century transportation system that provides affordable options for every resident. They’re willing to tax themselves to get there, but they can’t do it alone. Stay tuned in the next several days for our take on what seems likely to change – or not – at the federal level as a result of election 2012.October 1, 2012
By David Goldberg
Reconnecting America today released a trove of data measuring access, walkability, affordability and livability in an ambitious report dubbed Are We There Yet? Creating Complete Communities for 21st Century America.
Though not (yet) in common parlance, some planners and advocates have used “complete communities” to connote neighborhoods that offer access to jobs, a range of housing types and costs and transportation options that begin and end with a safe walking trip.
This report analyzes 366 metro areas to identify where they have complete communities, as well as “opportunity areas” that have the bones that can be fleshed out as complete communities. Amassing a wealth of indicator statistics, the report then gives every region a letter grade in four areas: Living, Working, Moving and Thriving.
For “living”, the authors looked at indicators such as how many homes were within easy reach of a rail line or bus rapid transit, how many were living in “opportunity areas”, etc. Similarly, “working” statistics examined how many jobs are within reach of transit and walkable neighborhoods, and how densely jobs are concentrated. “Moving” looks at how robust the transit network is and how safe or dangerous the streets are for people on foot, among other indicators. And “thriving” assesses health measures, such as asthma and obesity rates and the prevalence of food deserts and fast food outlets.
Under this grading system, among regions over 3 million, New York and San Francisco each get straight A’s. Riverside, CA, gets all D’s, while Atlanta and Dallas each get a C and three Ds. Valedictorians among those 500,000 to 3 million include Portland and San Jose, while Richmond and Greenville, SC join the remedial class.
While the letter grades offer easy comparisons and potential bragging rights, it is the aggregation of all these indicators in one place that makes the report interesting and valuable to those looking to make – and track – progress in their own communities.
Transportation Vote 2012: San Diego mayoral candidates indicate strong commitment to investing in transportation options in a televised debateOctober 1, 2012
By Ryan Wiggins
In San Diego, a region facing significant growth on a congested transportation system, the two mayoral candidates signaled their commitment to expanding transportation options throughout the region in the years to come — but shrinking transportation funding will test that commitment.
This post is one of our Transportation Vote 2012 series, looking at the role of transportation in local and state elections this fall.
Like most other metro areas across the country San Diego is facing major transportation challenges. Over the next 40 years the region’s population is expected to grow by 1.3 million, 42 percent, with the city itself absorbing half of that increase.
With regional freeways and roads already straining to deal with the congestion that threatens economic competitiveness, health, and quality of life, San Diegans need and are demanding more and better options for getting around where they need to go day-to-day. While the city is making plans to significantly expand their public transportation systems and invest in making streets safer for walking and biking, the limited transportation funding available in the years to come will test its leaders’ commitment to prioritizing these investments over more of the status quo.
And just who that leader will be is a decision voters will make this election season.
Last week in San Diego, Transportation for America partners Move San Diego, WalkSanDiego, and the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition held a mayoral debate titled “Walk Bike Move Live” between the two candidates for mayor. Congressman Bob Filner and San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio, both put forth their visions for improving transportation and quality of life in San Diego.
“We want San Diego residents to know the candidates’ plans on how to improve transportation alternatives that support smart growth, and what those plans are for improving our environment, the local economy and preserving and enhancing the quality of life that defines America’s Finest City”, said Elyse Lowe, Executive Director of Move San Diego.
Though accelerating public transportation improvements were emphasized, most of the energy of the debate focused on how to make San Diego one of the most bikeable and walkable cities in the country.
Both candidates stressed their commitment to making San Diego’s communities safer for biking and walking with Councilman DeMaio saying it is in an investment in making the city more competitive, creating jobs, and “the San Diego way of life.”
Congressman Filner stressed that this would be one of his top priorities and that he sees San Diego’s future as a “city of villages” connected by walkable and bikeable streets that promote the arts, community, and the economy.
Biking and walking are gaining significant traction as transportation options in San Diego. The regional transportation planning organization SANDAG is planning to invest more than $3.5 billion in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure by 2050. This investment will make streets safer as more people travel by foot and bicycle and enhance access to transit, jobs, and housing while reducing the cost of transportation.
“Making our communities more walkable is one of the best ways to make the San Diego region a better place to live”, said Jim Stone, Executive Director of WalkSanDiego. “Walkable neighborhoods lead to healthier people, lower healthcare costs, higher real estate values, better retail sales, less air pollution, and an improved quality of life. Walkability is a winning proposition.”
Even as both candidates repeatedly trumpeted their commitment to this approach — certainly easy to do in debates typically long on promises and short on specifics — questions remain as to how they’ll achieve this vision given the fiscal realities facing cities today and in the days to come.
The federal programs that fund the majority of bicycle and pedestrian projects was significantly cut in the recently passed federal transportation bill, (MAP-21) and state revenues for transportation funding have remained flat and sometimes decreased.
“The San Diego County Bicycle Coalition is looking for a bold leader who will commit to join us in our quest to become the nation’s most bicycle friendly city”, said Andy Hanshaw, Executive Director of the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition.
“Working together we can change the way we think and get around by taking the initiative to provide safe and accessible bike connections throughout our city.”
You can watch a full video of the debate below.