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U.S. DOT Blows Chance to Reform the City-Killing, Planet-Broiling Status Quo

The Obama administration purportedly wants to use the lever of transportation policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx recently said he’d like to reverse the damage highways caused in urban neighborhoods, but you’d never know that by looking at U.S. DOT’s latest policy prescription.

U.S. DOT has drafted new rules requiring state DOTs to track their performance. Reformers hoped the rules would get states to reconsider highway expansion as a method of dealing with congestion and emissions, since widening roads induces more traffic and pollution. By introducing better metrics and reporting requirements, the thinking goes, U.S. DOT could compel states to document the failure of highway expansion, which would lead to pressure for a new approach.

Is U.S. DOT teeing up a lot more projects like Houston's Katy Freeway? Photo: Wikipedia

U.S. DOT isn’t taking steps to hold transportation agencies accountable for building ecological disasters like the Katy Freeway. Photo: Wikipedia

But the rules released yesterday are a big disappointment, say analysts. While it will take a bit more time to fully assess the 423-page document [PDF], advocates are already going on the record panning U.S. DOT’s effort.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

On the question of whether state transportation agencies should be required to at least report the emissions impact of their transportation plans, U.S. DOT “whiffed,” writes Joe Cortright at City Observatory:

There’s nothing with any teeth here. Instead — in a 425 page proposed rule — there are just six pages (p. 101-106) addressing greenhouse gas emissions that read like a bad book report and a “dog-ate-my-homework” excuse for doing nothing now. Instead, DOT offers up a broad set of questions asking others for advice on how they might do something, in some future rulemaking, to address climate change.

This is hugely disappointing, considering that anonymous Obama administration officials were bragging about the impact of these reporting requirements to Politico earlier this week. At the rate things are going, half of Florida will be under water before American transportation officials acknowledge that spending billions to build enormous highways serving suburban sprawl is broiling the planet.

Traffic Congestion

There was also some hope that U.S. DOT would reform the way congestion is measured. Current measures of congestion emphasize vehicle delay, which leads to policies that actually promote more driving and more total time spent in cars, as agencies seek to temporarily reduce delay by widening roads. Policies that reduce traffic by improving transit or enabling people to live closer to work don’t rate well under this measure of congestion.

Stephen Lee Davis at Transportation for America says the new rule “would still push local communities to waste time and money attempting to build their way out of congestion by using a measure of traffic congestion that’s narrow, limited and woefully out of date.”

Read more…

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Today’s Headlines

  • Scott Wiener Proposes Tax to Take Care of Street Trees (SFGate)
  • More on Muni Service Increases and Changes (Hoodline)
  • More on Re-Imagined and Car Free Haight (SFGate, SFist)
  • More on SF Housing Market Showing Signs of Cracking (SFGate)
  • More on Partial Car Closure of Road to Twin Peaks (SFExaminer)
  • Does BART Have a Way to Pay Labor Agreement? (SFist, SFGate)
  • Editorial: The Realtors are to Blame for SF’s Housing Woes (SFExaminer)
  • Man on VTA Tracks Hit and Killed by Train (SFGate, EastBayTimes, Kron4)
  • Sausalito Reviews New Ferry Landing Proposals (MarinIJ)
  • Bike Thief Cuts Lock with Angle Grinder as People Look on (SFist)
  • Second Street is Number One (SFChron)

Get national headlines at Streetsblog USA
Get state headlines at Streetsblog CA

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Mission Businesses Tussle with Transit Advocates over Bus Lanes

SFMTAs newly painted transit lanes on Mission are raising the ire of many. Image: SFMTA

SFMTA’s newly painted transit lanes on Mission are raising the ire of many. Image: SFMTA

Businesses in the Mission are complaining to Supervisor David Campos about the new “Red Carpet” painted transit lanes. And there’s already talk about taking them out. The San Francisco Transit Riders Union (SFTRU) reacted in an email blast last week:

Starting in March, after a decade of numerous community discussions, planning and studies, Muni finally started installing transit priority treatments on Mission Street. Just a month in and despite flagrant violations by drivers, they are already benefiting riders by making their rides faster and more reliable.

However, there has been a major backlash against these changes, and some, in particular Supervisor Campos, have called for rollback of this major progress. It is a betrayal of the 65,000 riders who are served by the 14, 14R and 49 buses, as well as a betrayal of the Transit First charter of this city.

This is what Campos had to say about the lanes on his Facebook page:

While I understand the intention was to enhance the commute of 65,000 transit riders, the changes look better on paper than in practice. I have heard from many of you–car commuters frustrated by traffic jams that stretch multiple blocks…That’s why I’m calling on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to make a radical shift in the program. We look forward to announcing a solution shortly. In the meanwhile, please email your concerns to the SFMTA at matthew.brill@sfmta.com.

The SFTRU is pretty peeved that Campos is even suggesting undoing the results of all their hard work. They’ve set up a web page, letting transit-supporters know how to stop this roll back. As the SFTRU put its outrage:

The paint has hardly dried. Yet the transit only lanes on Mission Street may go away soon. If prioritizing transit is not possible on Mission Street, one of Muni’s key corridors, then will we ever see Muni become world-class system in our lifetimes?

But let’s back up a second. Do the business owners who say the transit lanes make it harder to drive to their shops and are keeping away customers, really have a basis to complain?

Read more…

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U.S. DOT Wants States to Disclose Climate Impact of Transportation Projects

The Obama administration wants state DOTs to report on the climate impact of their transportation policies, reports Michael Grunwald at Politico, and the road lobby is dead set against it.

Dallas' "High Five" Interchange. Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

As part of the implementation of the MAP-21 federal transportation bill, U.S. DOT officials are preparing a new rule that would require states to set goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and report their progress, according to Grunwald.

It’s the same idea behind similar rules requiring states to track progress on traffic congestion and walk/bike safety. No penalty would apply to states that fail to attain their goals, but the rule would increase transparency and enable advocates to hold transportation agencies accountable for their climate performance.

The road building lobby appears to hate the idea. From Grunwald’s piece:

Nick Goldstein, vice president for regulatory affairs with the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, warned that a mandate for agencies to set climate targets could be used as a pretext to discourage highway construction at a time when America desperately needs better infrastructure. He suggested the Obama administration has embraced an anti-asphalt mentality.

The draft rule has yet to be released by U.S. DOT. Once that happens, it will be subject to a period of public comment, and that feedback could shape the final form of the rule.

The climate rule is definitely one to keep an eye on. We’ll post more details as they become available.

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This Week: Second Transbay Tube, Transit Riders Union Fund Raiser

sblog_calendar1Here are this week’s highlights from the Streetsblog calendar:

  • Tuesday: SFMTA’s Board of Director’s Meeting. One of the highlighted topics under consideration: whether or not to approve a pilot phase under the Twin Peaks Figure 8 Redesign Project. Under the proposed pilot project, the eastern section of the roadway on Twin Peaks would be made car-free, and the western section would carry two-way vehicle traffic. Tuesday, April 19, 1:00 pm, City Hall, Room 400, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Pl., San Francisco, CA 94102.
  • Wednesday: SPUR will hold a talk on the possibility of a “A New Transbay Transit Crossing.” Infrastructure investment on this scale raises big questions about regional transit capacity, connectivity, reliability and resilience, and requires consideration of broader land use, equity and sustainability impacts. Hear from four Bay Area organizations with recent or soon-to-be published papers on this topic and learn more about how we might be crossing the bay in the future. Co-presented by the City of Oakland Mayor’s Office and the San Francisco County Transportation Authority. Admission is free for SPUR members, $10 for non-members. Wednesday, April 20, 12:30 to 2:00pm. SPUR Oakland, 1544 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612.
  • Thursday: Muni Transit Riders Union holds its “Make Transit Awesome: Party & Campaign Kick-off.” Drinks generously donated by Speakeasy Ales & Lagers, music by DJ Spinnerty, and some very special guest speakers, including: Eugenia Chien, founder of Muni Diaries, the center of SF’s online transit culture, Jeffrey Tumlin, Principal and Director of Strategy at Nelson/Nygaard, the transportation planning firm founded by former Muni directors, Tim Papandreou, Director of SFMTA’s new Office of Innovation, Thea Selby as MC, board chair of SF Transit Riders and also on the board of California High Speed Rail. Sliding Scale Donation $5-25, (but no one is turned away for lack of funds). RSVP on Facebook and invite your friends. Thursday, April 21st, 7-9PM, DG717, 717 Market St, San Francisco (between 3rd and 4th st)
  • Saturday: The annual Cesar Chavez Parade. Commemorate & Celebrate the Life and Work of Labor & Civil Rights Leader Cesar E. Chavez. The parade will proceed from Dolores and 19th streets, east on 19th Street, south on Mission Street, east on 24th Street to Folsom Street. The festival area will take place on 24th Street between Treat and Bryant streets. In addition to the parade, the event will include music, entertainment, and arts and crafts booths. Saturday, April 23, 10 am, Assemble for Parade Dolores Park-19th Street/Guerrero Street. Parade starts at 11 am.
  • Saturday: The 46th Annual Earth Day Celebration. (This is in conjunction with the Cesar Chavez event). There will be speakers, food and three Stages of Multi-Cultural Entertainment. Saturday, April 23rd in the Mission District on 22nd Street from 10am-7 pm.

Keep an eye on the calendar for updated listings. Got an event we should know about? Drop us a line.

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Today’s Headlines

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Get state headlines at Streetsblog CA

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A New Blueprint for Streets That Put Transit Front and Center

This template shows how transit could be prioritized on a wide suburban-style arterial. Image: NACTO

A template for transit-only lanes and floating bus stops on a wide street with parking-protected bike lanes. Image: NACTO

The National Association of City Transportation Officials has released a new design guide to help cities prioritize transit on their streets.

How can cities integrate bus rapid transit with protected bike lanes? How can bus stops be improved and the boarding process sped up? How should traffic signals be optimized to prioritize buses? The Transit Street Design Guide goes into greater detail on these questions than NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide, released in 2013.

Before the publication of this guide, city transportation officials looking to make streets work better for transit still had to hunt through a few different manuals, said NACTO’s Matthew Roe.

“The kinds of problems that the guide seeks to solve are exactly the kinds of design problems and questions that cities are trying to solve,” said Roe. “How do you get transit to get where it’s going quicker, without degrading the pedestrian environment? Some of that has to do with the details of design.”

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The Big Shakeup at America’s Transit Agency Trade Group

Transit spending has risen in recent years but ridership has stayed stubbornly stable. Why? Graph: TransitCenter

In a blockbuster development, New York’s MTA has withdrawn from membership in APTA, the industry organization representing American transit agencies.

The MTA’s rejection of APTA is a big deal. The agency accounts for 35 percent of all transit trips in the nation, and its annual fee to support APTA is larger than what other agencies contribute. The future of APTA is up in the air, and the way transit agencies share information and try to shape federal policy seems bound to change.

TransitCenter says the rebellion is understandable:

The essence of the MTA’s complaint is that APTA is not worth the investment. In the letter, officials noted the agency pays $400,000 per year because of its size but in return has little influence within the organization (though it’s worth noting even that fee pales in comparison with the salary of APTA President Michael Melaniphy, whose total compensation approached $900,000 in 2013). Not one of the major northeast transit agencies is on APTA’s governing executive committee despite their relative importance to U.S. transit policy. For no readily apparent reason, members of the committee include people from six relatively small agencies in California.

Though at first glance just a case of some transit industry inside baseball, the MTA’s withdrawal hints at a larger disagreement in how transit agencies view APTA’s purpose as an industry association.

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Today’s Headlines

Get national headlines at Streetsblog USA
Get state headlines at Streetsblog CA

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Planning for the Future of San Francisco’s Hub Neighborhood

Map of the HUB. Image: SF planning department.

Map of the HUB. Image: SF planning department.

About a hundred planners, developers, neighbors, and interested citizens crowded into a conference room at One South Van Ness yesterday evening for a presentation from the San Francisco Planning Department on their plans for the area immediately around the intersection of Market and Van Ness, also known as the Hub.

The Hub, of course, got its name back in the 1800s, when four trolley lines converged there. And, as John Rahaim, Planning Director for San Francisco, reminded everyone at the start of the meeting, it remains a major transit hub for bikes, Muni trains and buses, and BART.

“We felt it was time to take a fresh look at this portion of the plan,” he said to the group, noting the the Hub neighborhood is also part of the larger Market and Octavia Area Plan adopted in 2008.

So why is the planning department paying special attention to the Hub and, in effect, creating a plan within a plan? Rahaim said they hoped to move more quickly with this area that is such a focus of activity, with its many transit lines, including dedicated Bus Rapid Transit coming to Van Ness, and its proximity to the Opera House and Symphony.

“We felt this part of the plan needed another look to create new open spaces and improve sidewalks,” he explained.
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