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Posts from the "Transit Advocacy" Category

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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.

Read more…

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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.

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Will the SFMTA Gut Muni Improvements to Prop Up the Central Subway?

Central Subway construction on Stockon Street at the site of the planned Union Square Station. Photo: SFSU Xpress Magazine via Flickr

The Central Subway’s latest funding troubles with Congress have brought some burning questions to the surface: How far will the SFMTA go to prop up the project, and what will the price be for Muni riders?

The U.S. House of Representatives approved an amendment to an annual appropriations bill last week that would block $850 million in federal funds for the project. The amendment could be stripped in conference with the Senate, but as the Bay Citizen revealed, SFMTA management is concerned that Congress may not deliver the $942 million — the majority of the project’s funding –  in a timely manner (assuming it comes through at all). The SFMTA had expected the funds to be approved in December 2011. If the agency doesn’t get the funds by September, according to the Bay Citizen, it will waste $4 million in staffing costs every month until it does.

When asked what the SFMTA’s backup plan is, agency spokesperson Kristen Holland didn’t provide one, stating only that the funding probably won’t be blocked because the “amendment is not in the Senate version and should be eliminated in conference.”

“The bottom line is that this project will improve transit for the city, region and state and has been vetted by every level of government and given high marks every step of the way,” Holland told Streetsblog.

But the project’s cost has already risen from the original estimate of $995 million (in 2011 dollars) to $1.6 billion, according to the SFMTA’s Central Subway blog. Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City, said he’s worried the SFMTA may take funds from Muni’s existing service, its abysmally neglected maintenance department, or needed improvements like the Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP), which he says should be a higher priority than the Central Subway.

Though the SFMTA insists that the Central Subway won’t take funds away from other projects, Radulovich said the agency has already been digging into discretionary funds — the money that could be used for any project. ”That’s part of their funding plan,” he said. ”The trajectory this project is on is to take more and more and more funding from the necessary and essential improvements to Muni.”

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No More Mr. Nice Guy: Transit Advocates Get Organized

Members of the L.A. Bus Riders Union march to a MTA board meeting. Americans for Transit wants to help seed transit rider groups like this one across the country. Photo: Organizing Transit Riders: A How-To Manual

What do you do if your bus service is cut by a third? If you’re Metropolitan Communities United in St. Louis, you hold a ballot initiative – and win. What if your transit system neglects less affluent areas compared to the wealthy part of town? If you’re the L.A. Bus Riders’ Union, you bring a civil rights lawsuit – and win. And what if a regressive tax system starves your transit service? If you’re the Seattle area’s Transportation Choices, you organize an unprecedented coalition to pressure the County Council – and win.

But what do you do if there’s no transit rider organization in your area? You can just live with service cuts and fare increases – or you can organize.

That’s the idea behind Americans for Transit, a brand-new nonprofit dedicated to building grassroots support for quality, affordable transit service around the country. “There’s no national organization doing this,” said Andrew Austin, the organization’s new executive director.

“[The American Public Transportation Association] is a trade association that represents transit agencies,” Austin told Streetsblog in an interview yesterday. “But right now there’s no prominent voice for transit riders.”

A4T won’t spend much time on Capitol Hill, putting white papers in front of lawmakers. It plans to help create transit rider organizations where there aren’t any, strengthen them where they do exist, and unify those groups around the country. They want to help mobilize people around legislation and service issues from the local level all the way up to the national level.

While federal legislation won’t be a primary focus, Austin said “there should be a national outcry” against legislation like H.R.7, the House transportation bill that ultimately imploded. APTA strongly objected when the bill would have stripped away dedicated funding streams for transit, but once that language was dropped, APTA was on board, publicly supporting the bill’s advancement even though it would have reduced transit funding compared to current levels.

Austin sees A4T as an opportunity for advocates to speak more freely without worrying about “staying on the invite list.”

“Almost no one who does lobbying on the Hill will talk openly about changing the 80/20 split, because it’s not going to happen anytime soon,” Austin said, referring to share of federal funding that goes to highways and transit. “But transit riders should be talking about it. Because it’s crazy, considering where we’re going demographically as a country; we should be looking at a more equitable balance for transportation funding.”

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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.

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Coalition of California Advocates Headed to Sacramento to Save Transit

Members of a broad coalition hailing from throughout California are headed to Sacramento next week to push policymakers to save transit funding and enact sustainable transportation planning reforms.

The Oakland-based transit advocacy group TransForm has amassed about 150 advocates to descend on the capitol for its two-day Transportation Choices Summit, the first known event of its kind, where they will meet with state representatives and urge them to prioritize walking, bicycling, and transit.

TransForm State Policy Director Graham Brownstein said the action came out of the organization’s Invest in Transit campaign, launched last year to address the “very, very serious crisis” facing transit systems in California. The state has made dramatic funding cuts totaling more than $4 billion over the last decade, and TransForm recognized the immediate need for “creative policy reforms that will stabilize, and then grow transit funding in California,” said Brownstein.

The cornerstone of the campaign is a push to ensure that a major portion of the revenue from California’s nascent cap-and-trade program will be dedicated to transit operations and affordable housing projects located near transit.

The cap-and-trade revenue could go a long way toward restoring the damage done to transit funding under the Schwarzenegger administration. By selling emissions permits, Governor Jerry Brown’s administration anticipates the cap-and-trade program will generate $1 billion in the 2012-2013 budget and $10 billion annually by 2020, according to TransForm [PDF].

Brownstein said transit agencies need all the help they can get to avert a much deeper statewide crisis.

Read more…

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Toward a Faster Muni: Detailed TEP Improvement Proposals Now Available

Detailed plans for proposed improvements on eight Muni routes are now available for viewing on the SFMTA’s Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP) website. Head over for a block-by-block breakdown of proposed street changes like transit-only lanes, sidewalk extensions, boarding islands, relocated or consolidated stops, replacing stop signs with traffic signals or traffic-calming measures, and more to help keep Muni vehicles moving quickly and reliably.

To help ensure the SFMTA implements the most effective improvements as quickly as possible, it’s crucial for supporters to attend one of the five remaining TEP workshops and weigh in on the eight priority routes: the 28-19th Avenue, the N-Judah, the 30-Stockton, the 8x-Bayshore Express, the J-Church, the 14-Mission, the 5-Fulton, and the 22-Fillmore.

A recent workshop on the 14 and 22 lines in the Mission was derailed by a small but vocal group who dominated the discussion with unrelated complaints, according to reports from some who attended. To help provide a more balanced and constructive conversation at future workshops, riders eager to see more reliable Muni service on these corridors must be well represented.

The SFMTA will hold two more workshops this week. Tomorrow, the 28-19th Avenue‘s second workshop will take place at Lakeside Presbyterian Church (201 Eucalyptus Drive at 19th Ave.) at 6 p.m. The proposals for the route include extending sidewalks to ease boardings and shorten pedestrian crossings at over 20 intersections along 19th Avenue as well as removing excessive stops at seven intersections.

Read more…

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The Impact of Poor Muni Service on Transit-Dependent San Franciscans

A new video from People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER) highlights the impact of unreliable and unaffordable transit on low-income San Franciscans who rely on Muni.

In San Francisco, “transportation is a dividing line of access and opportunity for African American, Latino, Asian and Pacific Islander communities who have the highest transit dependency in the city,” writes POWER. The group is campaigning “to shift local, regional and national mass transit priorities towards the needs of working class communities of color and to bring an analysis of race, class, and gender to bear on transportation planning decisions.” They have also called on the SFMTA to distribute free Muni passes to low-income youth who lack transportation options to school.

While the SFMTA has struggled to find funding for such a program, SFMTA board member Joel Ramos has suggested that the revenue could be come from extending parking meter hours.

Thanks to Fran Taylor for the video.

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Assemblymember Bob Blumenfield: Time to Think Big on Transit

Editor’s note: The following op-ed was written by Assemblymember Bob Blumenfield (D-SFV), chair of the Assembly Budget Committee in support of AB 650. Blumenfield’s legislation has already passed the Assembly and passed the Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday. It needs to pass the full Senate and go back to the Assembly for a concurrence vote before heading to the governor’s desk. This piece first appeared in the California Progress Report and is republished here with consent from Blumenfield’s office.

Traffic is killing us. It eats up our time, it thins our wallets as our cars idly burn through expensive gasoline, and it spoils the air we breathe. We need a path to real public transportation alternatives in order to get out of our cars and on with our lives.

That’s why I have authored legislation calling for a group of experts to develop California’s first statewide public transit development and financing plan. And, ever mindful of our trying budget times, it will not cost our state’s besieged General Fund a dime.

Assembly Bill (AB) 650 establishes a blue ribbon task force to craft a public transportation development plan for California based on an assessment of what transit we have, what amount of transit we need, and how we can finance transit construction. The task force will be composed of 12 experts in finance, transit, the environment, and public health who must complete their plan by September 30, 2012. This work would be undertaken, in part, through workshops conducted across the state. And, it would be financed from existing transit moneys provided through California’s gas tax, specifically those devoted to transit planning.

The blue ribbon task force is a tried and true way to help California find solutions to complex and enduring problems, like public transportation. In recent years, task forces have helped California enact comprehensive fisheries protections off our coast and achieve breakthrough reforms that balance our state’s water supply needs with environmental protection. Read more…

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Deteriorating Transit Service Will Leave Bay Area Seniors Stranded

There are a lot of disturbing numbers in Transportation for America’s new report, “Aging in Place, Stuck Without Options.” It says the Bay Area currently has the best transportation access for seniors, but points out that in the coming years a rising number of people over age 65 will live in neighborhoods where transit service is either poor or doesn’t exist.

“In just four years, 62 percent more seniors in the San Francisco metro area will live with poor transit compared to 2000, versus 56 percent more for Oakland metro area and 66 percent more for San Jose metro area,” notes a press release from TransForm, an Oakland-based non-profit advocating for transit and smart growth.

In San Mateo County, as an example, 1 out of 4 residents will be over the age of 65 by 2030, and the number of people over the age of 85 will increase to two and half times the current number, according to the San Mateo County Health System. Sixty percent of baby boomers are projected to have more than one chronic disease, while nearly a third will be obese, and 25 percent will have diabetes.

“If we want to have healthy seniors, we have to invest in reliable, frequent and safe public transportation systems so that people can get where they need to go without a car,” said Jean Fraser, the San Mateo County Health System Chief. “If we develop our communities using the 8-80 rule — so sidewalks, bike lanes, streets, buses and trains are safe and welcoming to kids aged 8 and seniors aged 80 — we will keep both our seniors and our children much healthier.”

As Congress prepares a long-term transportation bill, transit advocates say it’s important that residents urge their representatives to adopt policies to ensure that seniors “remain mobile, active and independent.”

“The situation is already acute in the Bay Area, with annual transit cuts and growing demand,” said Stuart Cohen, the executive director of TransForm. “But now Congress is threatening to further slash funding and take away our flexibility to spend it on our greatest needs; more than ever we need Senator Boxer’s leadership as her committee finalizes the six-year transportation bill.”

Following T4A’s easy link to send a letter to Senator Boxer. More coverage at Streetsblog Capitol Hill.