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Posts from the "Transportation Policy" Category

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Misconceptions Fuel Non-Profit Opposition to Crucial Muni Funding Reform

The city's proposed reforms on transportation fees would end a non-profit exemption for major developments like hospitals and university campuses, but opposition is stirring from smaller organizations who seem to believe they'll be affected. Photo: THE Holy Hand Grenade!/Flickr

With any increase in the number of people living and working in San Francisco comes an added strain on the city’s streets and transit system. To account for that, San Francisco collects fees on new development — with an exception carved out for just about any non-profit organization. That means that even massive developments like hospitals, university campuses, or museums — which generate thousands of daily trips — may pay nothing to help the city’s transportation agencies accommodate them.

That would change under a city-led effort to reform the way San Francisco collects and distributes transportation revenue, but city officials say they’ve met with unexpected opposition from small non-profit organizations based on misconceptions about who would have to start paying fees. The fact is that most non-profits would not pay the one-time fee under the proposal.

The debate is expected to culminate at a Board of Supervisors hearing on December 4 on changes to the city’s Transit Impact Development Fee (TIDF). The board routinely approves TIDF updates, but this one is more significant because it would be used as a stepping stone toward the proposed Transportation Sustainability Fee (TSF). The TSF is expected to replace the TIDF in 2014 as part of the Transportation Sustainability Program (TSP), a broader effort to reform the way the city plans and funds transportation projects with a focus on improvements for transit, walking, and bicycling.

Championing the effort is Supervisor Scott Wiener, who says that the TIDF reform will provide crucial funding for Muni while leaving the vast majority of non-profits unaffected.

“City Hall rarely puts its money where its mouth is in terms of funding Muni, and we know that Muni has a $100 million annual operating structural deficit, and that leads to inadequate maintenance, not enough vehicles, and all of the other things that reduce Muni’s reliability,” Wiener told Streetsblog. “The updated TIDF, and ultimately the TSP, is going to be a critical stable source of funding. We have this broad non-profit exemption that was put into the original TIDF which is something of an anomaly because non-profits typically pay other impact fees, and I don’t think it makes any sense to exempt particularly larger non-profit projects like hospital projects and large private schools or university campuses from the fee.”

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East Palo Alto Begins Design Process for Bike/Pedestrian Overcrossing

This early rendering conveys the potential for a landing and park on the west side of East Palo Alto. Click to enlarge. Image: Alta Planning + Design

This is part two of our series on the proposed bike and pedestrian overcrossing in East Palo Alto. You can read part one here.

During the public outreach for the proposed bike and pedestrian overcrossing in East Palo Alto, residents made clear to city planners and consultants that their main concern is safety. For decades, west side residents have been forced to cope with freeway traffic and congested intersections when they walk or bike to the grocery store or school on the east side.

“There’s a lot of traffic that comes through the city, both north/south and east/west,” said Casey Hildreth of Alta Planning + Design, which was hired by the city to design the overcrossing. “An alignment that can connect the community and really avoid as much traffic as much as possible is first and foremost our top priority.”

The bridge, expected to facilitate between 180,000 and 230,000 new biking and walking trips annually, would connect east to west over Highway 101 south of University Avenue. On the east side the access point would be in the vicinity of Clark and East Bayshore roads, and on the west side the landing would be on Newell Road.

Before the city can really focus on the design, it has to agree on an alignment. That is complicated by the fact that East Palo Alto is in the midst of a water crisis, said Hildreth, and the area where the city wants to build the overcrossing has been identified as an ideal location for water wells and towers. How, for example, would the city integrate a 76-foot-wide water tower?

“We’re working with city engineering staff to understand the contraints and requirements for those types of facilities and seeing if on either side of our bridge we can accommodate that,” Hidreth explained.

The city has narrowed down the possible alignments to three that provide the most direct connections to schools and services, and will begin a community process in December to get feedback on which one works best. The city is also conducting a survey of schools and collecting feedback from parents.

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With Turnover at the Top of C/CAG, an Opportunity for Change in San Mateo

A bike rider braves the Willow Road highway overpass in Menlo Park. Photo: Bryan Goebel

San Mateo County has the third highest rate of driving mileage per capita in the Bay Area, behind Marin and Sonoma counties. Eighty-two percent of residents drive as their primary mode, due in part to a built environment that keeps people stuck in their cars. Low-income and transit-dependent populations who take the bus face dwindling service, while those who ride their bikes and walk face hostile street conditions, enduring dangerous highway overpasses to get to their jobs or school.

The county also faces a rising adult obesity epidemic and a population of people over 65 that is expected to double by the year 2050, according to the Indicators for a Sustainable San Mateo County report, issued in May. The report notes that automobiles are the primary source of pollution in San Mateo County, which contributes to a variety of health problems.

Bicycle, pedestrian and transit advocates interviewed for this story say the City/County Association of Governments (C/CAG) is partly to blame, with its history of favoring the automobile over other modes in the way it disperses state and federal funding to cities for transportation projects. It’s been slow to embrace sustainable transportation and livable streets principles.

“You look around Highway 101 and you’ll see huge new projects in place for additional expansion,” said Gladwyn d’Souza, a pedestrian advocate and Belmont planning commissioner. Read more…

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A Critical Change in Leadership Faces San Mateo County’s Planning Agency

Advocates say C/CAG has historically funded automobile infrastructure to the detriment of the environment and the health of San Mateo County residents. Photo: San Mateo County Transportation Authority.

As San Mateo County’s congestion management agency, the City/County Association of Governments (C/CAG), is supposed to be responsible for reducing auto congestion. It also controls the purse strings on transportation projects, doling out millions of dollars in state and federal grants to the region’s 20 cities, whose appointed representatives make up the agency’s governing board.

“It started primarily as a transportation planning agency and to a large extent it still is,” said Joseph Kott, a former transportation planning manager at C/CAG who is now a consultant and visiting scholar at Stanford University.

The man at the helm of the agency for the last 17 years, Richard Napier – an engineer who is a former Sunnyvale mayor — is now retiring. As executive director, he gained a reputation as a skilled politician whose biggest accomplishment was building consensus among his member cities’ parochial interests.

“Richard has been a combination of a traditionalist and a cautious innovator. A traditionalist in the sense that he’s convinced that the automobile is and will remain dominant in our society,” said Kott.

Some of those innovations include programs Napier is proud to talk about: a transit-oriented development incentive fund and a “green streets and parking lot” program. The agency also oversees the county’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC), which makes recommendations on funding.

“He’s a super administrator and really made C/CAG what it is today,” said Sue Lembert, a former San Mateo mayor who sat on the C/CAG Board for four years and writes a weekly column for the San Mateo Daily News. “It wasn’t just a job for him.”

While no one doubts he was dedicated to his work and successful in attracting money, more than a dozen bicycle and pedestrian advocates interviewed by Streetsblog — some of whom would not go on the record — said Napier’s auto-oriented thinking on transportation would be a welcome departure.

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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.

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Six Ideas for Saving Bay Area Transit

[Editor's note: This article is re-published with permission from the transit-themed March issue of The Urbanist, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association's (SPUR) monthly member magazine. The article, written by SPUR Regional Planning Director Egon Terplan, is based on a discussion paper developed by the SPUR Transportation Policy Board. Read the full paper at spur.org/tsp.]

Improving transit by changing financing, fares, speeds, metrics, territory and maps.

Every day, Bay Area residents and visitors take more than 1.4 million trips on one of 27 different public transit operators. But for more than a decade, the costs to operate these transit systems have been increasing far faster than any improvements in the service. Unless we make changes now, the system will not be sustainable in the future.

Regionwide, transit carries one in ten people to work. It costs more than $2.2 billion to run these 27 transit systems each year. More than $700 million comes from fares and $1.5 billion is a direct subsidy from a hodgepodge of sources (sales taxes, federal funds, state gas tax revenues). By looking out to 2035, these systems will face a combined $17 billion capital deficit and an $8 billion operating deficit.

In recent years, the costs of running these transit systems have increased far faster than inflation, even as ridership on some bus systems has declined. About 14,000 people work full time for the region’s public transit systems. Wages and fringe benefits account for more than three-quarters of the operating and maintenance costs of transit, and the cost of fringe benefits in particular is rising fast. At the same time, budget shortfalls, unpredictable revenues and service cuts are degrading the quality of public transportation. Transit systems face competition from an underpriced alternative — driving — and often operate in low-density and auto-oriented environments that are not conducive to growing ridership.

Unless there is some change to costs and revenues, with corresponding improvements in service, the viability of transit in the Bay Area is at risk. Recognizing this looming crisis, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the regional agency that funds transportation, launched the Transit Sustainability Project (TSP).

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SF Agencies Take Aim at Bureaucratic Obstacles to a Transit-First City

San Francisco agencies are developing a wide-ranging program to streamline the funding and construction of improvements for walking, bicycling, and transit.

Image via SFMTA. See full PDF here.

The Transportation Sustainability Program (TSP) would reform the city’s transportation practices in three key areas: by eliminating reliance on the automobile-centric measuring stick known as Level of Service (LOS), by instituting a system of development impact fees that fund sustainable transportation improvements, and expediting the review process for pedestrian, bicycle, and transit projects. The details are on the wonky side, but if the city delivers on these reforms, SF could be looking at a much more rapid build-out of transit corridors, bikeways, and pedestrian safety measures.

“This program is taking a look at how we manage, regulate, and mitigate for development as it relates to transportation to develop a process that’s more transparent, equitable, and meaningful, and provides a much better nexus between land use planning and transportation,” said SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin.

SF Planning Department Assistant Director Alicia John-Bauptiste presented details [PDF] about the TSP Tuesday to the SFMTA Board of Directors. The program, currently planned for adoption in late 2013, is a coordinated effort between the SFMTA, the Planning Department, the SF County Transportation Authority, and the Office of Economic and Workforce Development.

One key component to the TSP is the Transportation Sustainability Fee (TSF), which would replace the current Transit Impact Development Fee (TIDF) that building developers pay to the SFMTA to account for infrastructure costs due to car trips and transit trips made by users of those buildings. The TSF would be based on offsetting car trips added by a project, and its revenues could only be spent according to a spending plan to directly fund projects that improve transit service and bicycle and pedestrian safety. Developers would receive discounts on the TSF for building less car parking, and it would apply to residential buildings (except affordable housing), which the TIDF doesn’t.

According to John-Bauptiste, many developments and transportation projects will also no longer be required to conduct an environmental impact report (EIR) as part of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which would lead to major time and cost savings. “Individual projects will be relieved of having to study cumulative transportation impacts because the TSP EIR will study those impacts. Project-specific analysis will be limited to site design issues such as loading docks, curb cuts, and pedestrian and bicycle safety,” the presentation says.

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New Legislation Seeks to Lower Voter Threshold for Transit Tax Approval

In 2008, Bruins for Traffic Relief Rallied for the Measure R transit sales tax which despite earning nearly 70% of the vote barely passed. New legislation seeks to lower that threshold from 67% to 50%.

A series of amendments proposed by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) to SB 791 would lower the threshold of voter approval for new taxes to fund transportation improvements from 67 percent to 50 percent.

“SB 791 empowers local communities to meet their local transportation needs, improve regional mobility, and invest in high-priority, job-creating infrastructure improvements,” said Sen. Steinberg.

News of this change broke over the weekend, and already transportation groups such as the Bay Area’s TransForm are providing Action Alerts for Californians to contact their representatives in Sacramento.

The anti-congestion charge, in the form of per gallon fees on fuel paid at the pump, could be used to fund transit, bike and pedestrian projects, toll lanes, and the safety and maintenance of state highways and bridges. The charge would be levied on the sale of gasoline and diesel fuel and, for electric cars, on vehicle registration, and could be implemented for up to 30 years.

Revenues could pay for transit capital, operations and maintenance; bicycle and pedestrian programs and projects; programs and projects that would demonstrably reduce the growth in vehicle miles traveled (VMT); conversion of carpool lanes to toll lanes; and improvements “relative to the maintenance, safety and rehabilitation of state highways and bridges.”

“Almost half of California’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation,” said Warner Chabot, CEO of the California League of Conservation Voters. “SB 791 will provide Californians with better transportation choices. It will lead to fewer cars on the road and will greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This bill is an environmental milestone.”

As we’ve seen with other proposals that would allow expansion of transit, bicycling or pedestrian networks, there is unity between environmental groups, organized labor and business leaders when it comes to supporting “pro-transit” ballot initiatives. Read more…

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Boxer Confirms Bike-Ped Funding, Gang of Six Loves infrastructure Spending

At today’s hearing, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee celebrated the bipartisan consensus it has reached on a new transportation reauthorization – but details of that consensus are still not public. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) did confirm that dedicated federal funding for bicycle and pedestrian programs remains in the bill. Addressing LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa:

A full bike rack outside the Senate building where today's EPW hearing was held. Photo: Tanya Snyder.

You’ve worked with us on Safe Routes to Schools, because that’s so crucial, and we kept it, and bike paths, and we kept it, and recreational trails, and we kept it. Tough debates, giving here, taking there. But that has remained in the bill.

The reauthorization negotiations have been largely overshadowed by the ongoing talks over the debt ceiling. For a long time it appeared that if the debt talks had any impact on the transportation program, it would be to institutionalize the 33 percent cuts mandated by House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan’s budget. However, as Boxer mentioned a few times during today’s hearing, the outlook is looking brighter.

The bipartisan Gang of Six has a plan to cut the deficit and raise the debt ceiling. That plan calls for very little spending – but the one area they did see fit to spend on was infrastructure. The Gang of Six plan calls for the following:

Tax reform must be estimated to provide $1 trillion in additional revenue to meet plan targets and generate an additional $133 billion by 2021, without raising the federal gas tax, to ensure improved solvency for the Highway Trust Fund.

According to our sources, that additional revenue would stabilize the trust fund for the next 10 years.

The vote of confidence by the Gang of Six is encouraging and should be a shot in the arm to the Senate. If that debt plan passes, it could even give House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica enough political cover to raise the total price tag of his bill.

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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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