To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Transportation Secretary Foxx's Bill to GROW AMERICA


By Deron Lovaas,  May 7, 2014


For the first time, the Obama Administration has set detailed terms for legislating by developing a blueprint for a new four-year transportation policy. Last week, Transportation Secretary Foxx rolled out the GROW AMERICA Act, which within its 350 pages makes several big changes and heralds an overdue evolution in national transportation policy. Here are the top eight provisions in this remarkable bill:

Transportation System Resilience Assessment: In a nod of recognition to the impacts of climate change, the bill requires Metropolitan Planning Organizations[1] (MPOs) to conduct an assessment of potential risks to highway and transit systems. MPOs will be required to explain potential strategies for the adaption and resilience of transportation assets in the long range transportation plan.

Consolidated and High Performing Metropolitan Planning Organizations: This is a particularly exciting section for those interested in rational, efficient regional planning. Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) are federally designated entities that coordinate investments across metropolitan regions. They have varying levels of authority as determined by state and local policymakers. They also, strangely, aren’t necessarily congruent with the boundaries for metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs). This yields situations in which a metropolitan region might be governed by multiple MPOs, which leads to inefficiencies such as in Florida where 26 MPOs cover just 20 MSAs. This bill explicitly allows and encourages MPOs within the same MSA to consolidate (and collaborate), and allows consolidated MPOs to create one transportation improvement program, one Long Range Plan and one set of performance targets for the region. This section also introduces funding for the newly designated “high performing MPOs” in larger urban areas – encouraging greater collaboration within the region and access to additional funds for transportation projects that are more regional in scope, equitable and coordinated.

Strengthening the Statewide Planning Process:  The Administration closes an accountability gap for state highway agencies in this section, making requirements for grantees consistent (MPOs and state agencies). MPOs have long been subject to a certification process based on their planning, with some loss of some funding if they fail to perform well. This bill applies this policy to state agencies too.

Connection to Opportunities Performance Measure and Pilot Program: A powerful fact often overlooked in the transportation world: this infrastructure isn’t an end in itself, it’s a means for Americans to achieve their desired ends and thereby to increase economic prosperity or us all.  To address this, the Administration adds a new “multimodal connectivity” performance measure to gauge access to opportunigy (economic and otherwise) and establishes  pilot (programs for communities  to “develop and deploy one or more pilot measures and targets to improve multimodal connectivity and increase connections for disadvantaged Americans and neighborhoods with limited transportation options.” Other laudable program elements include a peer learning network and a final report useful for policymakers.

Stormwater Planning and Project Funding: This bill requires that metropolitan and state plans  mitigate stormwater impacts of highways and makes STP funds available to fund “green infrastructure” projects. Polluted stormwater runoff is a huge threat to lakes, rivers and streams and there’s a large toolkit of viable design techniques to tackling it, so this is a welcome change to current law. Having said that, the Administration didn’t propose a specific setaside of STP monies for these investments. Such a program was passed by the Senate when the 2005 transportation law was debated, and it deserves renewed consideration.

21st Century Infrastructure Investments:  The oversubscribed and wildly popular TIGER (Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery) program which roared to life in the 2009 Recovery Act is given a permanent seat in the new multimodal account. TIGER funded projects such as the Sugar House Streetcar in Salt Lake City, Utah and the East Bay Pedestrian and Bicycle Network in California. The bill boosts TIGER to $5 billion within four years. The Administration also builds on TIGER’s success by creating a new “Fixing and Accelerating Surface Transportation” (FAST) grant program to help accelerate and scale up the adoption of best practices including innovative non-federal funding concepts, development of novel analytical tools and making more efficient use of existing infrastructure. In addition, the section establishes a new “Metropolitan Mobility Program” with one billion dollars spread over four fiscal years for projects in high performing MPOs providing another sweetener for MPOs to virtuously compete for that status.

Tolling: The bill opens up a previous pilot program to fund the reconstruction of aging Interstate Highways nationwide. Public transportation and projects reducing environmental damage in rebuilt corridors are now eligible to use those funds, delivering important mobility and environmental benefits.

Transit and Rail Titles: I’m rounding up this list with the most revolutionary improvements to the transportation law. The bill replaces the highway trust fund with a “transportation trust fund” and creates a couple of new accounts, including for the first time a rail account! Transit receives nearly $60 billion worth of investment in this bill, which gives it a proportionately greater share of the added funding than in previous bills. With 82 percent (and rising; it was 64% in 1950) of Americans living in urban areas, this significant increase in funding for transportation projects is clearly warranted. This includes a $2.175 billion program targeted at transit investments in regions experiencing rapid growth, where such investments can pay big dividends by acting as magnets for new development next to transit stops and helping to reduce the sprawling, environmentally damaging form of new growth increments.

It also includes $19.550 billion for current rail services as well as improvements, along with requirements for robust national, regional and state rail planning. This bill is a big downpayment – not just with money, but with crucial strategic planning – towards a serious national rail system. It also includes some small-but-important items including the first-ever “Shared-Use Study” to examine and evaluate the often strained relationship between passenger and freight rail companies that share the system.

The whole bill adds up to an excellent national transportation strategy for 2014 and beyond.  It lifts up planning and investments that are keys to making our metropolitan regions economically competitive and environmentally responsible.. And it includes a host of other substantial and overdue changes that would spur more investment in climate preparedness and stormwater cleanup, funding of reconstruction of aging Interstate Highways, and more connectivity within and virtuous competition between metropolitan areas and states. Such policy changes will help drive down our dependence on oil and reduce suburban sprawl. This bill is a leveraged use of federal taxpayer dollars, and deserves speedy consideration by Congress.

Metro Extends Reach With Its New First Last Mile Strategic Plan


By Joe Linton, May 9, 2014

At its April 2014 meeting, the Metro board approved its First Last Mile Strategic Plan & Planning Guidelines. For readers unfamiliar with ”first last mile” terminology, it’s planner-speak for looking at the portion of a transit trip between a transit stop and one’s final destination, most often a home or work place. Generally every transit trip includes some non-transit at each end. This last mile can include: walk, bicycle, skate, scooter, transit, taxi, carpool, driving, etc., or some combination of those. First last mile planning looks at the infrastructure that makes it safer and easier for riders to get to transit stops.

It is a welcome step forward that Metro is taking first last mile facilities seriously. Control over first last mile tends to reside somewhat outside of Metro’s direct jurisdiction. Metro drives the bus and operates the train, but passengers arrive via sidewalks, paths and streets that are designed and regulated by various cities.

In planning and building its transportation system, Metro already coordinates with cities. In some cases Metro accommodates car traffic by widening roads, etc., so it only makes sense that Metro can also work with cities to accommodate safer walking and bicycling to Metro stations.

Comparison of
Comparison of greenhouse gas emissions per person trip. From Metro First Last Mile Plan page 6.

Though there are a lot of ways to get to transit stops, but a lot of first last mile planning focuses primarily on active transportation: walking and bicycling. Walking is already the most frequent first last mile mode. Per Metro surveys, more than 80% of Metro trips begin by walking to transit.

Metro’s First Last Mile Plan is part of its overall sustainability strategy. As the above chart shows, to the extent that people chose to take transit and/or bike, transportation’s environmental benefits increase. Walking is even better, though not shown in the above chart. Similar graphics could be developed for other pollution — air, water, noise — and for public safety, public health and more. For all these reasons, the first last mile priority is fostering walking and bicycling.

To date, Metro hasn’t had any significant coordinated investment in encouraging walking and bicycling to Metro Rail stations. To some extent, the contrary is true; Metro has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to build free parking, but that’s another story. Even without significant investment, Metro on-board surveys show that roughly 90 percent of their transit riders arrive without driving or being dropped off. For Metro rail, roughly 75 percent of riders already arrive without any driving.

Investment in first last mile facilities can, as the plan states (p. 3), “extend the reach of transit, with the ultimate goal of increasing ridership.” It can also shift existing riders on to healthier, more sustainable modes. These facilities also make areas around Metro stops more pleasant and more commercially viable. 

Access Sheds defined. To get to a transit stop, it's generally doable to walk about half a mile, bike about three miles, or skate about two miles. Graphic from Metro's First Last Mile Plan, page 14
Access Sheds defined: to get to a transit stop, it’s generally doable to walk about half a mile, bike about three miles, or skate about two miles. Graphic from Metro’s First Last Mile Plan, page 14

Metro’s plan shows the general distances that people will walk, bike or skate to get to a transit stop, calling these “access sheds.” According to the plan, to get to transit, people will walk roughly half a mile, or bike roughly three miles.

Federal transportation policy sets walk-shed and bike-shed distances at 0.5-mile and 3 miles, respectively. Graphic: Metro First Last Mile plan page 18
Federal transportation policy sets walk-shed and bike-shed distances at 0.5-mile and 3 miles, respectively. Graphic: Metro First Last Mile plan page 18

The walking and bicycling distances, though shorter than what many people who use active transportation daily might expect, are actually specified in federal transportation policy.

From these access sheds, Metro’s plan comes up with a “bold concept” which it calls: “the Pathway.”

From the plan:
The Pathway is a proposed county-wide, transit access network designed to reduce the distance and time it takes people to travel from their origins to stations and from stations to destinations, while simultaneously improving the user experience. At its core, the Pathway is a series of active transportation improvements that extend to and from Metro Rail and BRT stations.

The Pathway extends the positive experience of the transit user. It is intuitive, safe, efficient, universally accessible and fun.
Scramble Crossings are one component of the Pathway toolbox in Metro's First Last Mile plan. Image from page 30
Scramble Crossings are one component of the Pathway toolbox in Metro’s First Last Mile plan. Image from page 30

The plan then details an extensive toolbox of pedestrian and cycling facilities that would comprise the Pathway. These include nearly all of the livability improvements that Streetsblog readers know and love: mid-block crosswalks, signage, scramble crossings, landscaping, bus-only lanes, bike lanes, bike share, car share, even protected bike lanes, which the plan renames “rolling lanes”.

These are exactly the kind of facilities that are needed to make it safe and convenient to walk and bike to Metro.

The plan subsequently includes generic sample Pathway illustrations to show how various features can be combined. After those, the plan includes three real Metro station case study sites: 103rd Street/Watts Blue Line Station, Wilshire/Normandie Purple Line Station, and North Hollywood Red/Orange Line Station. Though these existing station case studies are detailed and well-thought out, that plan states that they are “meant for illustrative purposes only” with more detailed site-specific planning needed.

In April, Metro approved the First Last Mile Strategic Plan, as well as a series of First Last Mile pilot projects, anticipated to be funded by the current round of the state Active Transportation Program. The pilots are basically local jurisdiction projects that connect with Metro rail stations. These projects were already underway before Metro’s plan, so Metro is sort of re-branding them as first last mile:
  • 17th Street/Santa Monica City College Station (Expo Line, Phase 2) First Last Mile Enhancements
  • Exposition/Bundy Station (Expo Line, Phase 2) Multi-Modal Connectivity Enhancements
  • Arcadia Gold Line Station (Foothill Extension 2A) Pedestrian Linkage Project and Bicycle Facility Improvements
  • Duarte Gold Line Station (Foothill Extension 2A) Pedestrian Improvements
  • Unspecified projects at Metro Red Line Universal City and North Hollywood stations.
Overall, it’s important that Metro is acknowledging that transit trips are multi-modal, and that Metro’s passengers’ trip experiences extend outside the boundaries of Metro’s stops and stations.
Nonetheless, there are a few things missing from the plan:
  1. Connections to Metro Bus: The First Last Mile plan is too narrowly focused on Metro’s rail system stations. Similar first last mile issues exist throughout the Metro Bus system. Many bus stops in population-dense areas have greater numbers of daily boardings than outlying Metro rail stations. A thorough Metro first last mile program would include bus, rapid bus, BRT, and rail stops. Ideally, it could extend beyond Metro’s direct purview to municipal bus system stops and even Metrolink stations. Thanks to UCLA Planning graduate student Daniel Berez for raising the lack of bus connections at Metro’s April board meeting.
  2. Missing the Bike Shed: After stating that the bicycling access shed extends a 3-mile radius from each transit stop, all the First Last Mile Plan examples design for only a half-mile radius. Especially as Metro proceeds with implementation of regional bike share, it’s important that Metro consider a sphere of influence well beyond a half-mile from its transit stops.
  3. Lack of Funding: Despite billions of dollars for building rail, there’s no Metro funding source for implementing first last mile improvements that will make rail successful. Pilot projects are anticipated to be funded by the state using federal pass-through monies, and implemented by local cities. Construction of rail, road, and parking lots is expensive. Walking and bicycling facilities are relatively cheap. Where is Metro’s leadership on funding for extending the reach of its own transportation system? Perhaps first last mile will be included in Metro’s Short Range Transportation Plan underway? One potential future funding source would be the proposed “Measure R2.” Move L.A.’s straw man proposal includes a 3 percent first last mile set-aside in its proposed new rail project funding.
Some Metro facilities have included active transportation facilities: the Expo Line bikeway, and the Orange Line bike path. Generally, though, Metro has treated these facilities as peripheral, and only included them at the insistence of local cities and communities. With Metro’s new embrace of first last mile planning and facilities, Metro can now fully partner with local jurisdictions and make great safe places to walk and bike at each end of every transit.

In the long run, Metro will need to include first last mile facilities as a component of all its transportation system planning. When a new bus line is established, a new BRT facility is installed, or a new rail station is built, Metro can respect its customers by including new walkways, bike share, and other first last mile features.

Pay-Per-Mile Road Taxes Coming To A State Near You?


By Jeffrey N. Ross, May 8, 2014

 Driving a fuel-efficient car might be great for the environment and even better for your wallet, but state and federal projects funded by gasoline taxes are starting to feel the pinch.

It's a classic conundrum: we expect a safe and well-maintained infrastructure that relies on a tax system that will continue to draw less revenue as our cars get more efficient.

As agencies try to find a way to pay for repair and maintenance of roadways, CBS News reports that more states are testing pay-as-you-drive taxes to augment or replace those tied to gasoline sales. 
A few states will begin pilot programs soon, using devices similar to those used by some car insurance companies to track the mileage and driving style of drivers who opt to use the device. Next year, Oregon will start the largest program to date, using 5,000 volunteers that will pay a tax of 1.5 cents per mile rather than 30 cents per gallon. California, Minnesota and Nevada are also looking into similar programs.

While they could raise more money that could be used to upgrade deteriorating roadways across the U.S., pay-per-mile taxes could also be seen as punishment toward drivers who choose more efficient vehicles like hybrids or electric vehicles. With a per-mile gas tax, the incentive would just be to drive fewer miles rather than burn less gas.

Jan SooHoo's comment on Facebook, May 10, 2014: Here's another article about VMT replacing the gas tax. In Oregon, the plan is for 1.5 cents per mile. The new bill introduced by DeSaulniers for California pegs the proposed rate at 5 cents per mile. Yes, we have more road miles to maintain, but we also have more people to pay this "fee". A threefold difference seems extreme.