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TransForm to Host Third Transportation Choices Summit in Sacramento

TransFormLogoTransForm, an organization that advocates for sustainable transportation, smart growth, and affordable housing throughout California, will host its third annual summit next week to discuss the state’s transportation priorities. The Transportation Choices Summit will take place in Sacramento on Tuesday, April 22, and feature speakers from advocacy organizations including the Greenlining Institute, Move LA, and Safe Routes to Schools, as well as state legislators and representatives from state agencies.

The summit’s agenda includes panel discussions on opportunities and challenges in 2014, including cap-and-trade funds and Caltrans reform. Senator Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), the keynote speaker, will discuss the connection between climate change and equity issues. De Leon authored S.B. 535, passed in 2012, which requires that at least 10 percent of funds earmarked for greenhouse gas reduction go directly to disadvantaged communities, and that 25 percent of them be spent in a way that benefits those communities.

Other highlights from the conference include a breakout session on increasing funding for walking and bicycling, led by Jeanie Ward-Waller, the California Advocacy Organizer for the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership. Another session will feature Kate White, Deputy Secretary of Environmental Policy and Housing Coordination at the California State Transportation Agency, who will talk about Caltrans reform with TransForm Executive Director Stuart Cohen. You can see the other speakers listed on the agenda [PDF].

Two related events will bookend the summit: On Monday, the day before the summit, Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates Executive Director Jim Brown will lead summit attendees on two local bike tours. One will showcase the innovative bicycle master plan in West Sacramento. The other will focus on issues around new infill housing in the city.

On Wednesday, after the summit, Transportation Choices Advocacy Day will bring advocates and volunteers to the offices of legislators to talk about biking, walking, transit, and affordable, accessible housing near transit. This event is free and all are invited, but pre-registration is required.

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Advocates Push for Bike/Ped Funding From CA’s Cap-and-Trade Funds

A coalition of bike and pedestrian advocates are inviting organizations to sign on to a letter [PDF] asking the state legislature to recommend allocating $50 million of the state’s cap-and-trade revenue towards the Active Transportation Program. Currently, none of the $850 million in cap-and-trade funds are allocated specifically for walking and bicycling in this year’s budget.

Bicycles produce zero greenhouse gas emissions but get zero funds from cap-and-trade. Photo by Brian W. Knight from Streetsblog’s “Kids + Cities Photo Contest, 2013″

Caltrans recently released its first ATP call for projects, and applications are due May 21. Eligible projects support walking and bicycling, and must compete for funding that will be awarded according to a formula in the ATP guidelines, recently adopted by the California Transportation Commission. Applications are expected to request and amount exceeding the program’s current funding levels of $120 million per year.

Revenue from cap-and-trade, the system chosen by California to meet the requirements of the Global Warming Solutions Act, A.B. 32, must be spent on activities and projects that help meet its goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The governor’s proposed expenditure plan for cap-and-trade funds includes $100 million for the Strategic Growth Council for transit oriented development grants, which may include some bike and pedestrian infrastructure as part of larger projects. However, there is no cap-and-trade money specifically allocated to those modes.

The governor’s plan proposes an allocation of $250 million to high-speed rail, $200 million to the Air Resources Board for low-emission vehicle rebates, and $50 million to Caltrans to improve intercity rail, in addition to $250 million for other projects including energy efficiency, clean energy, and natural resource programs that will help reduce GHG emissions.

Building infrastructure for bicycles and pedestrians, and educating and encouraging people to use these emission-free modes, can reduce vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions in the short term. In their letter, advocates argue that bike/ped projects are crucial in meeting the state’s emission reduction goals, though they do not specify what budget line should be reduced to create the $50 million cap-and-trade allocation for active transportation.

“There is a lot of demand for the ATP program,” said Jeanie Ward-Waller, California Advocacy Organizer for the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, one of the organizations putting together a letter asking the legislature to consider the allocation from cap-and-trade funds. “There are projects that are ready to go, and ready to start reducing emissions in the short term.”

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Wider Highways? Bay Area’s Smart Growth Plan Has Some Glaring Mistakes

Population growth in the Bay Area doesn’t have to mean more traffic and more suburban sprawl, if it’s planned for in a sustainable way. To that end, regional planners at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission recently released a draft of Plan Bay Area, a state-mandated blueprint for focusing housing growth over the next 25 years near transit hubs, where new residents are less likely to need a car to get around.

A high-occupancy toll lane on Highway 680. Photo: Laura Oda, Bay Area News Group

Sustainable planning advocates say the plan is mostly headed in the right direction, but it still falls short in some areas. One glaring mistake is that the plan calls for spending billions to widen highways to create high-occupancy toll lanes — carpool lanes that single-occupancy drivers can pay to use. Those lanes should instead be created by converting existing highway lanes, says TransForm, an Oakland-based group that advocates for better walking, biking, and transit policies on a regional and state level.

“MTC’s plan follows a 1970s-era Caltrans practice that limits Express Lanes to new construction only, without even studying the option of optimizing existing lanes,” wrote TransForm Deputy Director Jeff Hobson in a blog post. “This kind of outdated thinking is hardly the best approach to solving 21st century transportation problems – and would completely exclude some of the most congested stretches of highway from the plan.”

Because most of the revenue from HOT lanes will be soaked up to pay for the highway widenings, instead of just charging single-occupancy drivers to alleviate congestion in existing lanes, SPUR has pointed out that they will generate little money for transit improvements. Meanwhile, the new lanes will induce more demand for driving and do nothing to reduce existing congestion.

Shown in pink: Priority development areas, where housing growth will be focused over the next 25 years under Plan Bay Area. Image: MTC

“MTC’s plan continues the cycle of ‘build more lanes, attract more drivers’ by creating new options for solo drivers, but no new transportation choices,” wrote Hobson. ”Over the long term, this strategy is virtually guaranteed to land us back at square one: gridlock on heavily-traveled highways.”

The MTC’s draft plan also fails to include enough new transit-oriented affordable housing to reduce the projected costs of housing and transportation, TransForm says. While the MTC set a goal of reducing those costs from an estimated 66 percent of household income for low-income families region-wide to 56 percent, the agency actually projects those costs to increase to 73 percent of household income. That means living in a walkable community would be less affordable than it already is.

“Without stronger policies in place to prevent that from happening, folks will end up living farther and farther away from places like San Francisco, and we will then encroach on our precious farmland and open space that we’re so fortunate to have in the Bay Area,” TransForm Community Planner Joél Ramos told MTC commissioners at a recent public meeting.

The MTC does expect the plan to meet its goals in six areas, including providing enough housing for all of the Bay Area’s projected new residents without any expansion of sprawl; exceeding the state-mandated 15 percent reduction in per capita greenhouse gas emissions (the projected improvement is 18 percent); and reducing residents’ exposure to dangerous fine particulate pollution, which largely comes from trucks, by 71 percent. MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger also said that the spending plan for transit improvements focuses primarily on fixing existing systems first before embarking on expansions.

Yet Plan Bay Area falls short in addressing other major problems [PDF], with some even expected to get worse:

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Oakland’s Holiday Gift: Parking Dysfunction and Traffic Congestion

The City of Oakland would apparently like to think it’s doing merchants and shoppers a favor by declaring all on-street car parking free every Saturday until New Year’s.

Of course, parking meters were invented to encourage turnover and allow more driving customers to park near businesses. So while the city’s “gift” probably won’t do much for the local economy, it will help ensure that parking won’t be available. The city is basically inviting car owners to drive on down and circle endlessly for spots.

Meanwhile, the city didn’t see fit to bestow free fares to AC Transit riders, so shoppers considering taking the bus will have even less of an incentive to do so while free parking is on the table. Can the city do any more to get Oaklanders into their cars?

“If parking is filling up, it’s self-defeating — it can actually hurt stores,” said Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm, which is based in Oakland. ”You want to look out for unintended consequences, because it could backfire.”

This isn’t the first time Oakland has fallen for the hare-brained notion that free parking is good for business. In 2009, the City Council caved on a proposal to extend parking meter hours into the evening after complaints from some vocal merchants, while businesses in other cities that have chosen to expand meter hours reap the benefits.

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Three-Foot Passing Bill Up for Vote at State Assembly Friday

Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz. Photo: Richard Masoner/Flickr

A state bill that would require drivers to give three feet of leeway when passing bicyclists in California is headed to the State Assembly for a vote this Friday.

TransForm and the California Bicycle Coalition are calling on supporters to email their Assembly members and urge them to vote “yes.” If approved by the Assembly, the bill could be signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in September, bringing California in line with 21 other states and the District of Columbia, which have similar laws.

Support for the bill looks strong. The bill sailed through the State Senate in May, and by yesterday afternoon, supporters had sent at least 1,340 letters to their Assembly members, according to the CBC. The real question remaining is whether the bill will be signed by Governor Brown, who vetoed a previous version of the bill last year.

The new bill was modified to address Brown’s complaints about a provision which would have required drivers to slow down to 15 MPH if they are unable to safely provide three feet of room. Instead, the bill would require drivers in that situation to “slow down to a speed that is reasonable and prudent given traffic and roadway conditions and give the bicyclists as much clearance as feasible.”

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Oakland City Council Gives Final Approval to East Bay BRT

Image: AC Transit via TransForm

The Oakland City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved the 9.5-mile East Bay Bus Rapid Transit line that will run from downtown Oakland to San Leandro. The vote in Oakland follows a similar approval by San Leandro’s City Council on Monday.

The dual approvals mark a huge victory for advocacy groups and AC Transit, which first recommended BRT in 2001 as way to improve transit options on heavily traveled corridors. The East Bay BRT is expected to be completed in 2016 at a cost of between $152 million and $172 million, and will include seven miles of dedicated bus lanes in Oakland along International Boulevard with 33 stops, most located no more than one-third of a mile apart. Once finished, it will be one of the longest BRT routes in the country, and one of the few constructed in such a densely populated urban area.

“It’s tremendously significant,” said Joél Ramos, a community planner with TransForm. “It’s an indication of Oakland being a forward-thinking city… improving infrastructure to make travel, conducting business, accessing services, or even living along the corridor, more sustainable, more enjoyable, and more liveable.”

Before the vote, Tina Spencer, Oakland’s director of planning and service development, told the council: “The issue is slower transit, and it really creates an unsustainable condition. It’s a downward spiral. More congestion equals more delay, which contributes to unreliable service, fewer riders, which leads to less revenue, fewer riders and finally, service cuts.”

International Boulevard is one of the busiest and most important corridors in Oakland, with many homes and businesses, as well as near-by hospitals and medical centers, civic centers, shopping complexes and churches.

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Advocates Rebuff Merchant’s Absurd Argument Against East Bay BRT

Image: AC Transit

In an op-ed in the Oakland Tribune yesterday, local business owner Randy Reed laid down a whopping piece of misinformation: For businesses, he wrote, enhancing East Bay transportation options with Bus Rapid Transit will be no different than when construction removes all of the car parking on a street.

Reed, who led the charge in killing the Telegraph Avenue leg of the East Bay BRT route, got the piece published just as the project faces two critical hearings next week (see below for the schedule). Based on this new op-ed, Reed isn’t content to just squash transit improvements in his backyard — he also doesn’t want to let residents on the rest of the Downtown Oakland – San Leandro route reap the benefits.

Here’s what Reed calls the BRT “test run” that forms the backbone of his screed:

We have tested the effect of removing all street parking in our area, and it was devastating to our business. A test was run with city staff several years ago to see what happens with lane closures and parking removal on Telegraph from 43rd to 45th streets.

The problems were tracked: When the street was repaved; when ramps were installed on the corners; and when sidewalk repairs were performed.

Staff concluded that it would be disastrous.

Two local advocates offered up some fantastic rebuttals in the comments section. I’ll hand the mic over to Streetsblog’s own Oakland-based intern Robert Prinz, who is also the education coordinator for the East Bay Bicycle Coalition:

Maybe you would have a point if removing all street parking was actually part of the plan. Removing a few spots, sure, but the bulk of curbside parking spots will remain. The BRT planners I have talked to bent over backwards to keep as much parking as possible, to the detriment of other parts of the plan.

What is really going to happen is the reduced scope San Leandro-Oakland BRT is going to be built, it will be a huge boon for the communities along that corridor, and then the Telegraph merchants with a collective case of selective memory loss will start lining up to ask for an expensive extension into their business districts.

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CA Senate Approves Funds for High-Speed Rail, Commuter Rail Upgrades

In a pivotal vote Friday, the California Senate approved $4.5 billion in bonds to begin construction of CA High-Speed Rail (CAHSR) connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles. The funds will help fund construction of the line’s initial segment in the Central Valley and upgrades for the Caltrain and Metrolink commuter rail lines in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, respectively.

CA High-Speed Rail depicted sharing tracks with Caltrain in the Bay Area. Photo: CAHSRA via igreenspot.com

The vote, which reached a majority by just one senator, came as a major relief to high-speed rail advocates. The project, which has been increasingly scrutinized since voters approved over $9 billion in bonds for it in 2008, could have been scrapped without the approval. Had the vote failed, California could have lost another $3.2 billion in matching federal funds.

“Building high-speed rail in California could reinforce cities as the hubs of our economies, significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, get commuters off congested roads, and cost much less than highway and airport expansion,” said Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm, which lobbies for smart growth and sustainable transportation in California.

“It will provide Californians with an improved transportation option that has for decades been available in other nations,” added Cohen, who noted that the vote comes exactly 150 years after the Transcontinental Railroad was authorized. Although high-speed rail is popular — and expanding — in other countries in Asia and Western Europe, CAHSR would be the first such system in the United States.

The previous plan from the CAHSR Authority lacked support even from TransForm, but the group praised the revised plan released in April, which reduced the project’s cost from about $100 billion to $68 billion, reduced the impacts on communities which it would run through, and provided funding to upgrade Caltrain and Metrolink tracks, which would be shared with CAHSR. “This new plan is simply much better,” said Cohen after it was released.

In San Francisco, funds approved in the Senate bill would help electrify the Caltrain tracks by 2019 and extend them to the Transbay Transit Center currently under construction. Friday’s vote was widely praised by SF officials.

The approved Senate bill “provides not only the beginning of the nation’s first high-speed rail line that will connect its diverse and growing communities, but also the local connections that will deliver the economic growth from high-speed rail into our towns and cities in the form of travelers be they commuters, tourists or students,” said a joint statement from SF Municipal Transportation Agency Director Ed Reiskin and Chairman Tom Nolan.

Read more…

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Tell Your State Senator to “Give Me 3″ This Thursday

Senate Bill 1464, the three-foot bike passing bill proposed by California Senator Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), heads back to the Senate on Thursday, May 24 after sailing through committee last week. Buoyed by a strong campaign by the California Bike Coalition (CBC) and TransForm, thousands of supporters have already written letters to their senators urging them to pass the bill.

The first Give Me 3 poster on 1st and Main in Los Angeles, 2010. Photo: LADOT Bike Blog

“The community of people who care about the safety of bicyclists continues to be the backbone of support for this bill,” said Jim Brown, spokesperson for the CBC. “Nearly 1,800 people have contacted their state senators to urge a yes vote this Thursday. This is a very large response by any measure, especially for bike-related legislation. It shows how strongly people care about making our roads safer.”

If passed, SB 1464 would require drivers to give cyclists a three foot passing berth when passing them. A nearly identical proposal, SB 910, was vetoed by Governor Brown in October due to pushback from AAA and the CA Highway Patrol (CHP), despite making its way through both houses of the legislature. As reported in Streetsblog  last month, the CBC worked with AAA and the CHP to revise the language they objected to and propose a new bill.

SB 1464 differs from last year’s bill by allowing drivers to cross a solid double yellow centerline (when safe) if necessary to give a bicyclist at least three feet of space. If three feet aren’t available, the bill requires drivers to pass by slowing down to a “reasonable and prudent” speed and giving bicyclists as much space as “feasible.”

The CBC launched the “Give Me 3” campaign to support the bill last year using imagery from Los Angeles’ bike safety campaign in 2010. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told Streetsblog that the passage of a safe passing law in Sacramento is “a top legislative priority” for him.

If the Senate passes SB 1464 on Thursday, it would then head to the State Assembly for approval by the appropriate committees and the full assembly. After that, it’s back to the Governor Brown’s desk, where he could sign it into law or veto it again.

TransForm and the CBC partnered to provide an easy form which supporters can use to write their legislators. By clicking on this link and entering your zip code on TransForm’s website, you can generate an email addressed to your senator. You can also modify the email with a more personal message, which is especially powerful if you know someone who was injured in a crash. If you would prefer to use email or regular mail, click here for instructions from the CBC.

Sample letter. Click here to generate your own.

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East Bay BRT EIR Approved, Final Agreements Set for June

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Image via TransForm

Bus rapid transit (BRT) between Oakland and San Leandro in the East Bay cleared a major hurdle this week after AC Transit unanimously approved the project’s environmental impact report. Agreements with the cities of Oakland and San Leandro must still be finalized in June before the project can officially break ground.

“This plan represents a big step in making bus service significantly better in the East Bay,” said Marta Lindsey, communications director for TransForm. “But it’s also a big step for the entire Bay Area, as it will showcase what’s possible: faster, more reliable, and more frequent buses – plus a better experience for riders all-around and at an incredible value.”

Marta noted that East Bay BRT has the highest cost-efficiency rating from the Federal Transit Administration of any public transportation project in the nation currently competing for federal funds.

The full Oakland-to-Berkeley corridor won’t get true BRT after merchants in Berkeley complained about losing car parking to dedicated bus lanes. But this section will bring substantial benefits on its own: 22 community organizations have signed a letter [PDF] cheering the estimated 39 percent improvement in travel times, 300+ jobs, and transit-oriented growth the project is expected to bring along the International Boulevard corridor.