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House Transportation Bill: What’s at Stake for the Bay Area

Reliable transit and safer streets in San Francisco and the Bay Area could be crippled by what U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has called ”the worst transportation bill [he's] ever seen” making its way through the U.S. House of Representatives.

As Streetsblog Capitol Hill has been reporting, H.R. 7, the federal transportation bill being pushed by House Republicans, would be disastrous for transit riders and crippling for programs that fund pedestrian and bicycle safety.

In the Bay Area, the damage would be especially severe: “California receives a huge share of the federal funding for public transportation because of our extensive systems, and the House bill could end up zeroing out federal support for transit,” said Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm, a Bay Area transit advocacy group that lobbies at the state and federal level. Instead, transit “would have to battle in the ever-shrinking general fund.”

Transportation for America spokesperson David Goldberg told the San Francisco Examiner today that about $638 million annually could be withheld to Bay Area transit agencies, which “could ultimately lead to service cuts, fare increases and deferred maintenance on vehicles.”

Yesterday, Bay Area mayors Ed Lee of San Francisco, Jean Quan of Oakland, and Chuck Reed of San Jose expressed their opposition to the bill in an op-ed in the Examiner, calling on Congress to protect their cities’ transportation funding:

While roads and bridges are a critical component of California’s infrastructure, diverting vital funding for sustainable modes of travel is unwise. If this wrongheaded approach moves forward in the House, the nation’s transportation network will take a giant step backward to a “roads only” policy for dedicated funding…

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Mica Transpo Bill Would Have Dire Impact on California Transit

The federal transportation bill by Rep. John Mica would focus on the federal highway system, not sustainable transportation.

Public transit programs in California could take a $468 million annual hit under the proposed transportation bill unveiled last week by Rep. John Mica (R-FL). The Mica plan would also potentially result in the loss of 17,565 annual jobs, according to an analysis [pdf] by Transportation for America. Overall, T4A predicts the scaled-down bill would result in a 37 percent reduction in federal investments in public transportation when compared to current levels.

“What you will see, more than likely, is transit agencies taking what money they have available for operations and shifting some of that over into making up that federal cut for the capital expenses,” said Ryan Wiggins, the T4A Southern California field representative. “What they might be forced to do is a combination of fare increases, and/or service cuts.”

“This is the federal government not investing in our infrastructure. That’s what it is,” said Randy Rentschler, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. “I think there are some elements to it that are positive, but often what matters most is the money, and the money is clearly inadequate.”

In San Francisco, SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said Muni would be forced to defer or delay some major capital investment projects, including work on the Central Subway, Van Ness BRT, the replacement of trolley coach and motor coach vehicles, and an upgrade of rail and overhead line infrastructure. It would also force the agency to “defer fleet rehabilitation of motor coach and historic fleet vehicles which will impact service due to lack of available vehicles” and delay the scheduled replacement of 35 paratransit vans, along with other projects.

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Dangerous Street Designs Threaten Oakland’s Communities of Color, Seniors

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Pedestrian fatalities 2006-2010 (in black) from the CHP SWITRS database, 2010 race and ethnicity distribution from Eric Fisher (whites represented by red, black by blue, Asian by green, Hispanic by yellow)

With freeways and wide thoroughfares running through neighborhoods of color, the City of Oakland demonstrates many of the deadly trends discussed in Transportation for America’s new Dangerous by Design Report.

Across the country and locally, people of color make up a disproportionately large share of pedestrian deaths. Nationwide, the annual pedestrian fatality rate among African Americans is 2.39 deaths for every 100,000 people. Hispanics suffer a somewhat lower rate (1.97), while rates among Asians (1.45) and whites (1.38) are substantially lower.

As the map above illustrates, all of Oakland’s traffic fatalities during the last five years occurred in the flats, an area with a higher proportion of people of color than the relatively affluent hills. Less than three percent of pedestrian fatalities in the 2000s occurred in the hills (the most recent in 2005). You can see data for 2001-2009 on Transportation for America’s site.

Seniors are also disproportionately likely to die in a crosswalk. Nationally, people over 65 make up 22 percent of pedestrian fatalities but only 13 percent of the population. In Oakland, the risk inequality is more exaggerated: seniors account for 26 percent of pedestrian fatalities but only 11 percent of the population.

The higher mortality rate of seniors is partially attributed to older bodies’ difficulty recovering from serious injuries. Seniors are more susceptible to short crossing times and unprotected crosswalks, but several design elements that protect seniors, such as “count down” crossing signals and mid-street refuges, actually make streets safer for everyone.

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National Transit Funding Report Highlights Local Transit Woes

ATU_rep_small.jpg ATU Local 192 representative Anthony Rogers, who has been an AC Transit bus driver for nearly 20 years. Photo: Matthew Roth
Genesis, a local affiliate of the Gamaliel Foundation, joined with representatives from the national Transportation Equity Network (TEN), AC Transit, and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192 today to call on Congress to act to stem the tide of transit service cuts, fare hikes, and operating budget shortfalls. The press event coincided with the release of Stranded at the Station, a report prepared by Transportation for America (T4A), Gamaliel, Nelson Nygaard and TEN, which details the woeful fiscal conditions of most of the major transit operators around the country and offers solutions for how to get them out of the quagmire.

As the report notes, in 2008, Americans took 10.7 billion transit trips, the highest since 1956 and the signing of the Interstate Highway System. "Transit ridership has been growing at nearly triple the rate of the population and almost twice as fast as the number of miles driven," the report states.

Locally, according to advocates and community leaders, especially in the East Bay, funding cuts have hurt the most vulnerable demographics, making it difficult to get to work, to school, and to medical appointments.

"The federal government is slicing the pie for their guests without asking them how hungry they are," said Reverend Scott Denman, President of Genesis and Rector, St. John's Episcopal Church in Oakland. "As a result, some guests are overeating, others are going hungry, and might I add, some are not even invited to the party."

He continued: "Our government says it is committed to reducing our dependency on foreign oil, says it is concerned about greenhouse gases, claims that government is by the people, for the people. Nonetheless, federal policy currently encourages more cars on the road and less help for those who have no cars."

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Transportation for American Releases Blueprint for Transportation Reform

Picture_1.pngToday Transportation for America is releasing a 100-page document called "The Route to Reform," in which they outline policy recommendations related to the upcoming reauthorization of federal transportation funding legislation (download the executive summary here or the full report here). 

From the executive summary: 

The next transportation program must set about the urgent task of repairing and maintaining our existing transportation assets, building a more well-rounded transportation network, and making our current system work more efficiently and safely to create complete and healthy communities. It should invest in modern and affordable public transportation, safe places to walk and bicycle, smarter highways that use technology and tolling to better manage congestion, long-distance rail networks, and land use policies that reduce travel demand by locating more affordable housing near jobs and services. And it should put us on the path towards a stronger national future by helping us reduce our oil dependency, slow climate change, improve social equity, enhance public health, and fashion a vibrant new economy.

Getting there from here will require some significant reforms. To meet these goals, the T4 America coalition offers four main recommendations for the upcoming transportation authorization bill:

  • Develop a New National Transportation Vision with Objectives and Accountability for Meeting Performance Targets.
  • Restructure Federal Transportation Programs and Funding to Support the New National Transportation Vision and Objectives.
  • Reform Transportation Agencies and theDecision-making Process.
  • Revise Transportation Finance So We Can Pay for Needed Investments.

This transportation bill is going to be of crucial importance to all the issues we discuss on this site on a regular basis. The T4A report provides a great overview of the key points on which advocates can push for reform. Take a look.

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Fear Growing Senator Boxer Won’t Deliver Progressive Transportation Act

Dallas_High_Five.jpgThe "High Five" in Dallas, via jmmadrid on Flickr

California Senator Barbara Boxer will be at the center of a battle over whether or not the reauthorization of the transportation bill will address the global warming impacts of transportation, given her Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee is responsible for writing much of the bill's language. Any chance of reforming the transportation bill, which advocates are clamoring for, will require deft political maneuvering to mollify ranking committee member Senator James Inhofe. 

Several sources said that Boxer's cooperation with Inhofe is simple math. The $312 billion baseline for transportation over six years is insufficient to meet state of good repair needs and set the country on a course for innovation. Minnesota Representative James Oberstar, chair of the House Transportation Committee, has suggested $400-500 billion would be needed, while the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Organizations (AASHTO) and the American Public Transit Association (APTA) argue in their Bottom Line Report that at least $160 billion will be needed annually. In order get from $312 billion to $500 billion or better, Boxer will need to get approval for new revenue streams, which would require a filibuster-proof majority, something she might not get without Inhofe and other reluctant members on the committee. 

Several interviewees also pointed to Senator Boxer's alliance with Inhofe on an amendment in the federal stimulus bill for an additional $50 billion in highway money as a bad sign.

"You have polar bears and glaciers on your website... then throw people back in their cars?" said one official who insisted on anonymity.

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John Muir and Livable Cities

113791028_8b3ff55c04_1.jpgTeddy Roosevelt and John Muir in Yosemite.
Over the holiday I read a new biography of John Muir, the iconic Victorian-era environmentalist and tireless advocate for wilderness conservation who helped establish the Sierra Club.  Written by environmental historian Donald Worster, the book narrates Muir’s well-known struggle and political machinations over the damming of Hetch Hetchy.  Less widely known was that as a pacifist Muir was a draft dodger during the Civil War (he did abhor slavery), and although he believed America was immoral for allowing the 19th century killing-off of animals, he had to subsume his values to court Teddy Roosevelt, an avid sports hunter, in order to advocate for protecting wilderness.  The storylines about Muir included a critical deconstruction of the politics of the early American conservation movement and this led me to reflect on the similarities between that movement and San Francisco’s contemporary livable city movement.

Muir never articulated an urban environmental agenda but a significant parallel involves the moral and ethical discourses that were invoked by Muir and by today’s livable city movement.  Both Muir and the livable city movement frame their cause in moral terms and as benefiting society through a kind of civilizing process.  Muir believed that a love and understanding of nature would elevate humanity and help alleviate tension and conflict. Nature was a type of social therapy. Similarly many livable city advocates believe that "how we get there matters" and have a moral discourse that links things like bicycling and walkable streets to good health, less pollution, and less dependency on corporate-controlled oil.  In this framework, urban configurations are connected to wider moral-social problems of over-consumption and excessive materialism.  To address pressing problems like global warming, resource depletion, and alienation, the city of today must be reorganized and made more humane and connected to nature.  This reorganization, like wilderness preservation for Muir, is guided by ethics and not money.

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Schwarzenegger Long on Fiscal Stimulus Rhetoric, Short on Transit Specifics

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Governor Schwarzenegger sent a letter Tuesday to President-elect Obama encouraging massive expenditure in the federal stimulus package on a host of projects in California.  The letter comes a month after the governor and president-elect discussed the stimulus package in person:

When we met, I had identified $28 billion in infrastructure projects ready to break ground in California within the first 120 days of your administration.  I am writing to report that we now have nearly $44 billion in projects that are ready to start construction or place orders.

Schwarzenegger proposes spending $11 billion of the $44 billion "in investment in road, transit and rail construction."  But when pressed for a detailed project list, the governor's press office refused to elaborate and punted to regional officials.

The Municipal Transporation Commission (MTC), the Bay Area's transportation planning and federal fiscal conduit, was only slightly more forthcoming with specifics.  While the MTC confirmed it has a long list of projects, it would not elaborate on the specifics for fear the public would view the project wish list as a slate of promises.

MTC spokesman Randy Rentschler was clear most of the projects that could be built within 90-120 days of Obama's inauguration would be road maintenance repairs that would not significantly alter the long-term strategic vision for the region

"We could dig holes in the desert and they might contribute to the economic recovery," he said.  "But then you've got holes in the desert."

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