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MobilityMondayLA: Let City Council Know You Support Multi-Modal Future

Today is Mobility Monday. Contact your L.A. City Councilmember to urge approval of the city Mobility Plan

Today is Mobility Monday. Contact your L.A. City Councilmember to urge approval of the city Mobility Plan

The City of Los Angeles is in the process of updating the transportation portion of the city’s General Plan. The new citywide transportation plan is called Mobility Plan 2035. The Mobility Plan was recently approved by the City Planning Commission. It is expected to go to a joint meeting of the City Council’s Transportation and Planning and Land Use Management committees next week, on Tuesday June 23.

Though it could go further, there’s a lot for livability advocates to like in the latest version of the Plan. More than the 1999 plan in effect today, Mobility Plan 2035 outlines a multi-modal future for Los Angeles, including complete streets, less road widening, and a Vision Zero commitment to make streets dramatically safer for everyone.

The latest version of the Mobility Plan has a great deal of support from a fairly diverse spectrum of interests – from active transportation allies to the business community. At the Planning Commission hearing, supporters included the Valley Industry and Commerce Association (VICA), Lyft, the Sierra Club, T.R.U.S.T. South L.A., Community Health Councils, the L.A. County Department of Public Health, and many others. But, because the Mobility Plan shows a future that some Angelenos stuck in their cars aren’t used to, it’s starting to get just a bit of backlash, for example, this topsy-turvy CityWatch commentary.

The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, Los Angeles Walks, and others, have called today “Mobility Monday L.A.” They urge people who bike, walk, use transit, drive, live, and/or breathe in the city of Los Angeles to contact City Council representatives and urge support for the plan. For lots more details, see the Bike Coalition alert page. Councilmember information and sample wording are after the jump. Read more…

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Planning Commission Approves L.A. City Mobility Plan, Includes Vision Zero

The latest cover of the city of Los Angeles draft Mobility Plan 2035. Image via DCP [PDF]

The latest cover of the city of Los Angeles draft Mobility Plan 2035. Image via DCP [PDF]

At its meeting this morning in Van Nuys, the Los Angeles City Planning Commission unanimously approved Mobility Plan 2035. The Mobility Plan is the official transportation policy component of the city’s General Plan. Before taking effect, the new Mobility Plan will need the approval of the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) and Transportation committees and, then, the full City Council.

Department of City Planning (DCP) staff emphasized that the city “cannot widen our way out of congestion” and that this multi-modal plan will provide choices, by making a “conscious shift toward complete streets.”

The commission heard just over thirty people provide public testimony on the plan; the vast majority of speakers spoke in favor of the plan’s livability components. Speakers urging plan approval included representatives of L.A. Walks, Fixing Angelenos Stuck in Traffic (FAST), Pacoima Beautiful, T.R.U.S.T. South L.A., the L.A. County Bicycle Coalition, the L.A. City Bicycle Advisory Committee, Community Health Councils, Climate Resolve, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, and the L.A. County Department of Public Health. Business interests in favor of the plan included the Valley Industry and Commerce Association (VICA) and Lyft.

Livability proponents tended to emphasize the health and safety benefits of the plan, especially Vision Zero. The Vision Zero component of the plan would specifically “decrease transportation-related fatality rates to zero by 2035.”

One lightning rod issue that drew critical testimony was the inclusion of a half-mile of bike lanes on Westwood Boulevard between Wellworth Avenue and Le Conte Avenue, immediately south of UCLA. The Transportation Deputy for Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz attended today’s hearing, testifying specifically for removing Westwood Blvd from the Bicycle Enhanced Network (BEN) in the plan. About a dozen speakers expressed support for the Westwood Blvd bike lanes, with one speaker in opposition. Commission president David Ambroz asked DCP staff their opinion regarding the Westwood bikeway; senior city planner Claire Bowin recommended that the Westwood lanes remain in the Mobility Plan, but that they not necessarily be implemented right away. Ultimately the disputed half-mile remained in the approved plan, although Councilmember Koretz may push to remove it when the plan is heard before the City Council.  Read more…

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Your Moment of City-Planning Zen: Lulu Guides You Through the Community Plan Implementation Overlay Tool

How will South L.A. develop over the next twenty years?

It’s the question city planners working on the Southeast and South Los Angeles Community Plans have been asking themselves for the past several years. As draft plans move closer to finalization, the decisions they make now about how the communities will be structured and zoned will guide future growth, impact the creation of economic opportunity, safeguard (or change) neighborhood character, and (hopefully) enhance the quality of life there over many years to come.

The new video City Planning just released (above, also available in Spanish) explains the role of the Community Plan Implementation Overlay (CPIO) tool. Where the goals, policies, and programs of the community plans are aspirational, the video suggests, the CPIO can provide the teeth necessary to help bring the specific vision of a community or neighborhood to life.

The ten-minute, easy-to-follow video is narrated by a cheerful, animated Lulu (who sounds kind of depressed in the Spanish version), who claims to be a long-time South L.A. resident (she’s actually voiced by city planner Haydee Urita-Lopez). She explains that the CPIO puts restrictions on nuisance land uses, provides incentives for desired developments, and establishes rules that will guide the appearance of new (or remodeled) structures.

There is a brief tutorial on how the CPIO has broken up each of the communities into four districts — Corridors Districts, Transit-Oriented Districts, Industrial Districts, and Residential Standards Districts — and explains (briefly) how its rules will guide development in each. Read more…

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Bay Area’s New “Vital Signs” Website Tracks Transportation Stats

Data lovers can now nerd out on a new website that collects Bay Area transportation data and puts it into customizable maps and charts to play with.

MTC’s new Vital Signs website provides data on bicycle commute rates and other transportation states for the Bay Area. Image: Metropolitan Transportation Commission

Vital Signs is part of an effort by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to make its performance measures and data more accessible to the public. It also lays the groundwork to measure the effects of Plan Bay Area, which was adopted in July 2013 after a state law mandated each region to produce a plan for smart growth oriented around transit.

The first rollout of the interactive website includes transportation data from a variety of sources, including the US Census. Land use data is scheduled to be added in March, followed in June by stats on the economy and the environment including job creation, housing affordability, emissions, fuel sales, and traffic injuries, according to Dave Vautin, a senior planner at MTC who is managing the project.

“This project is about transparency,” said Vautin. “We’ve opened up the data so anyone can do an analysis, mixing and matching data in about forty issue areas.”

Currently, users can inspect and play with data on commute mode, congestion, transit ridership, vehicle miles traveled, and pavement and road conditions.

Read more…

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Editorial: Four Ways To Encourage Transit-Friendly Affordable Housing

Metro should pursue joint development beyond the five rail lines under construction, including sites like this bus parking on Wilshire Boulvard just east of the Vermont/Wilshire station. Image via Google maps

Metro should pursue joint development beyond the five rail lines under construction, including sites like this bus parking on Wilshire Boulvard just east of the Vermont/Wilshire station. Image via Google maps

I’ve been thinking about Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s recent motion to help Metro partner on joint development of affordable housing near stations. Also, Garcetti-ally L.A. City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell expressed support for reducing parking requirements in new affordable housing developments along transit corridors, to “help lower construction costs and therefore rents.”

A new report this week, joins previous reports with similar findings: Los Angeles is one of least affordable places to live in the U.S., second only to Honolulu.

So, I figure it is time to offer some of my sage advice.

I don’t know that Garcetti, O’Farrell, Metro, or city departments need my advice, but I’ll go ahead and offer four suggestions on how Southern California can foster transit-oriented affordable housing. None of these are easy. They would involve different governmental agencies operating on different timelines. But perhaps a number of these measures could combine over time to overcome some of our systemic biases for sprawl and against infill transit-oriented development (TOD) and make a dent in L.A.’s affordable housing shortage.

1. Additional Metro Joint Development Sites

Garcetti’s motion [PDF] to the Metro Board of Directors encourages housing at Metro owned-sites on the five new rail lines under construction. These are good places for affordable housing, but there are a lot more joint development sites among Metro’s holdings. It is possible that some projects that I am not aware of could already be underway at some of these sites. Here are three categories of additional Metro site that come to my mind:

  • Existing stations: Just in my Koreatown neighborhood, I’d like to see joint development of affordable housing on top of the Vermont/Beverly and Vermont/Santa Monica Blvd/LACC Red Line stations. These aren’t big vacant lots (like some of Metro’s Boyle Heights vacant lots, currently in early development stages) so housing would likely be directly over the station portal, similar to Hollywood/Western Red Line Station.
  • Existing transit parking lots: I think that there are fairly low-hanging fruit opportunities for development at the stations that are at the end-of-line until further extensions open: Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line station and Culver City Expo Line Station. I know Metro tried and failed to jointly develop the San Fernando Valley Red Line parking lots, in part due to excessive replacement parking requirements. It’s going to take some creative architect/developer to balance some needs for parking at these sites (in the short run.) They’re not going to go from 100 percent parking to 100 percent housing overnight, but they should remain under consideration for future joint development, ideally, mixed-use affordable housing with retail.
  • Existing Metro bus parking areas: It bugs me that, on prime mid-city real estate on Wilshire Boulevard at Shatto Place, immediately east of the busy Vermont/Wilshire Red Line station TOD, Metro has a large bus layover surface parking lot that appears 95 percent empty 95 percent of the time. It looks as though Metro employees park cars there, too. Yes, Metro needs bus parking in this area and I expect that bus parking inside a building isn’t easy; it’s going to need high ceilings, large turning radii, etc., but it is not rocket science. The Wilshire surface lot could be jointly developed as affordable housing on top of Metro bus parking, hopefully with walkable, maybe retail, frontage on Wilshire. There’s another similar bus parking site at 6th Street and Oxford, just around the corner from the Wilshire/Western Purple Line station.

2. Separate “Un-Bundle” Parking from Housing

Right now, when someone rents or buys housing in Southern California, the price automatically includes a couple of parking spaces. Whether you use them or not. For homebuyers, this can mean $20,000-$30,000+ per parking space. This parking is “bundled” with the cost of the housing. Cities can un-bundle the parking, with individuals and families renting/purchasing only as many parking spaces as they actually use. Un-bundling is L.A. City policy in some areas, mainly the recently-approved Cornfield-Arroyo Seco “CASP” plan area north of downtown L.A. Un-bundled parking is a staple in adaptive re-use projects downtown, too. If you live in a building that doesn’t have parking, and you need parking, then you rent parking space nearby.

Read more…

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L.A. Planning Commission Won’t Approve Mobility Plan Before April 2015

Planning Commission

Department of City Planning staffer My La summarizes Mobility Plan 2035 before L.A.’s Planning Commission. The Commission continued the plan until April 2015. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

The Los Angeles City Planning Commission hosted its initial review of the city’s proposed new transportation plan, called Mobility Plan 2035. The meeting included Department of City Planning (DCP) staff presentations, public testimony, and discussion by planning commissioners. At the end of today’s hearing, the Planning Commission voted to direct planning staff to:

  • incorporate planning commissioner comments into a revised version of the plan
  • create a separate document specifying priorities and implementation strategy
  • return to the Planning Commission in April 2015, when the plan’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is expected to be complete

DCP has made 34 pages of revisions to the draft plan released two weeks ago. Planning staff stated that they expect to post the revisions document later today at the LA2B website.

It is encouraging that among its revisions the plan will use the broadly accepted meaning of Vision Zero, not the partial version proposed in the previous draft. The plan, as currently proposed, includes this goal:

Vision Zero: Decrease transportation-related fatality rate to zero by 2035.

Public testimony included representatives from various business groups, L.A. Chamber of Commerce, Valley Industry and Commerce Association (VICA), the L.A. County Business Federation, and others speaking in support of keeping the plan’s proposed Vehicle Enhanced Network (VEN – profiled here.)

The L.A. County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC) and Cyclists Inciting Change thru Live Exchange (C.I.C.L.E.) supported the Bicycle Enhanced Network, and the plan’s overall “aspirations.” Los Angeles Walks founder (and Streetsblog L.A. board member) Deborah Murphy suggested that the plan needs to “go further,” including by outlining a clear “strict process” for making streets more livable.

Also testifying were South Los Angeles groups, including TRUST South L.A. and Community Health Councils, which supported the plan’s focus on safer streets.  Read more…

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Ten Reasons L.A.’s Mobility Plan Needs to End Road Widening

The Department of City Planning thinks that Beverly Boulevard needs to be 32 feet wider. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

The Department of City Planning thinks that Beverly Boulevard needs to be 32 feet wider. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

The City of Los Angeles is updating its primary transportation plan, something it hasn’t done since 1999. The new Mobility Plan 2035, authored by the City Planning Department (DCP), will be before the city’s Planning Commission tomorrow.

There is some welcome stuff — especially in the vision statements — in the latest draft Mobility Plan. It is better than 1999’s plan. But what gets most stuck in my personal craw is road-widening.

This is 2014. Vehicle miles driven are declining. We’re building five rail lines. We spent a billion dollars widening the 405 Freeway only to experience slower commute times. Greenhouse gas reduction legislation is mandating sustainable communities. And Los Angeles is about to reaffirm its self-destructive policy of continuing to widen the crap out of the majority of our already built-out road network.

Briefly, how street-widening plans work in L.A.: Perhaps 100 years ago, someone (usually the city or developers) built a street. Let’s say said street was and is 50 feet wide. During the post-WWII car-centric planning era, following the latest car-centric traffic engineering standards, DCP decided that the 50-foot wide road should really be 60 feet wide. Someone buys a property on this street with the intention of tearing down the existing building and replacing it with a new one. DCP mandates that when that new building goes up, the developer must pay to widen the street to some or all of that now “missing” 10 feet, typically half of it, sometimes more. So, in this case, the developer loses a 5-foot strip of land which goes toward widening the street. Corner lots, perhaps the most desirable for visibility and foot traffic, often lose two strips of land, one for each street that they front. In theory, all of the properties on the street would be redeveloped and the whole length of the street would be up to the new standard, but that could take hundreds of years.

Civilized nations like Pasadena and even Downtown Los Angeles ended street widening practices a while ago.

Some folks already read this when I opined about it this past May, but one especially heinous example just three blocks from where I live, walk, and bike is Beverly Boulevard. In L.A.’s most population-dense neighborhood, alongside the Metro Red Line subway station, Beverly would be widened from 78 feet to 110 feet. Really. Beverly is just one of many streets that DCP wants to widen.

I urge the Planning Commission to reject the Mobility Plan unless it explicitly ends road widening.

Here are my top ten reasons to end road widening:

1. The City Can’t Afford to Maintain Wider Streets - Wider roads are more expensive for the city to maintain. With gas tax revenues at their lowest inflation-adjusted levels ever, transportation funding is scarce at the federal, state, and local level. The feds resorted to budget gimmicks, including “pension-smoothing,” to make up for huge transportation funding shortfalls. Los Angeles is looking to its own budget gimmicks, including closing parking tax loopholes, to fund street resurfacing, which L.A. already has trouble keeping up with. Though it is apparently on hold, L.A. was also looking to float a $3+ billion road repair bond.

The first thing we should be doing when we find ourselves in a hole like this is to stop digging. Stop the bleeding. Stop the road widening. Though roads seem cheap when the feds or developers pay to build or widen them, excessively unnecessarily wide roads come with excessive maintenance costs. They are ticking fiscal time-bombs for cities. (Thanks to Strong Towns for getting me thinking about this in this way.)

2. Widening Hurts the Local Economy – Street-widening requirements drive up the cost of new development. New housing, retail, etc., is not only required to pay to build a chunk of new street (up to 32 feet wide in the Beverly example above), but that development also loses that strip from what can be developed, meaning a smaller building footprint, so less housing, less retail… not to mention impacts on public projects: less park, less school, less library, less transit station, etc. 

3. Widening Hurts Affordable Housing – A noteworthy subset of item 2 above, shaving that road-widening dedication off of housing parcels drives up the cost of housing. This is especially true in core older neighborhoods where streets are at sane dimensions but not up to the latest car-centric standards. As Mayor Garcetti pushes Metro to step up joint development of affordable housing at transit stations, let’s not dedicate a bunch more of that land to streets when it should go to housing.

Read more…

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Lightly Revised L.A. City Mobility Plan At Planning Commission Thursday

Cover of L.A.'s revised Mobility Plan 2035. Apparently lots of empty transit platforms in L.A.'s future. Image via DCP draft [PDF]

Cover of L.A.’s latest draft Mobility Plan 2035. Apparently Los Angeles’ future includes lots of mostly-empty gray transit platforms, with prominent restrictive signage and surveillance cameras. Image via DCP draft [PDF]

The Los Angeles Department of City Planning (DCP) recently released an updated version of its proposed Mobility Plan 2035, the transportation element of the city’s General Plan. The Planning Commission is scheduled to vote on the proposed plan at its meeting this Thursday at 8:30 a.m. [agenda PDF – see item 7]. The revised plan documents are available online via the LA/2B project document page; they include a staff report [PDF], the Mobility Plan, Map Atlas, Complete Streets Guidelines, and Environmental Impact Report.

Though the staff report summarizes a number of changes, the revised plan appears to be very similar to the earlier version, analyzed in earlier SBLA articles. See this March article for overall background.

One new inclusion in the plan is Vision Zero. Well, sort of.

Vision Zero, from Sweden to LA’s Department of Transportation (LADOT), has always meant eliminating all traffic fatalities. Zero dead drivers, passengers, pedestrians, or cyclists. DCP’s new draft Mobility Plan (p.38) re-defines the term as:

Vision Zero: Decrease pedestrian and bicycle fatality rate to zero by 2035.

DCP’s version is more like “Vision 108,” well below the current “Vision 219,” based on 2010 traffic fatalities enumerated in DCP’s Health Atlas (219 overall traffic fatalities, including 100 pedestrians and 11 cyclists.)

People who identify as cyclists and pedestrians certainly welcome the end of bicycling and walking fatalities. Keep that in the plan! 108 annual deaths are better than 219. Unfortunately DCP is re-defining an already widely-used term, taking an all-inclusive safety framework and carving it into a benefit for what is currently a minority slice of road users. This could confuse or mislead the public, and might erode public support for the truly universally-beneficial Vision Zero.

As SBLA noted for the earlier version, the revised documents remain full of mealy-mouthed non-committal language when it comes to describing safety and livability advances, for example:

The Plan builds upon the bike plan framework and goes a step further by proposing fully protected bicycle lanes. (Staff Report, p.19, italics added)

L.A.’s past car-centric road-widening, parking, funding plans don’t just “propose” or “consider” car-centric infrastructure, they very clearly plan it, designate it, and then it gets built. Perhaps some wiggle-room is needed in the volatile current period where travel modes are shifting, new technologies are emerging, and car miles traveled are declining. Unfortunately ambiguous non-committal road designations are likely to mean that car-centric streets will remain the city’s default. While road-widening and speed-limit increases continue, livability and safety projects could continue to face long-drawn-out community dialogue processes. Look no further than the city’s “Year Two” bike lane projects: eight months down the road with zero mileage completed or even finalized.

Other earlier critiques remain applicable. Read more…

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City Planners Listen to Stakeholders Regarding Potential for Bike Lanes Along Boyle and Soto

Multi-modal Boyle Heights: A family rides bikes, boys skateboard, and car commuters make their way home. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Multi-modal Boyle Heights: A family rides bikes, boys skateboard, and car commuters make their way home. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

As I pedaled my way up the hill towards Mariachi Plaza, I had to dodge a skateboarder coming straight at me at a rather significant clip.

It’s not the first time I’ve seen a skateboarder in the middle of the road there.

The eastbound stretch of 1st between Boyle Ave. and Pecan St. is quite wide, and the skaters usually turn onto Pecan or hop back onto the sidewalk and out of traffic at the Pecan/1st intersection. The thrill of an unfettered downhill is brief, in other words, but apparently worth the risk of skating against traffic.

That’s who needs special lanes, I thought as I crossed Boyle and picked up the 1st St. bike lane. There are more skaters than bikers, and they need to be able to get around easily, too. 

I was thinking about the possibilities for community-specific road reconfigurations because I was on my way to a roundtable meeting to discuss the possible implementation of bike lanes on Soto St. and Boyle Ave., two of the 19 streets on the 2010 Bike Plan’s Second Year slate of projects. The roundtable, run largely by David Somers of City Planning and LADOT Bikeways Engineer Tim Fremaux, was the city’s first stab at connecting with a few Boyle Heights stakeholders and gathering specific feedback regarding mobility and other issues along those streets.

Screen shot of the 2010 Bike Plan's lanes planned for Soto (from Huntington to 8th) and Boyle (from 5th to 8th).

Screen shot of the 2010 Bike Plan’s lanes planned for Soto (from Huntington to 8th) and Boyle (from 5th to 8th). Click to enlarge.

I was looking forward to hearing other stakeholders’ thoughts on the lanes. Although I didn’t expect any of the participants to offer push-back, I knew they would be aware of the concerns that others in the community might raise when the city looked for support for the project from the wider public.

First among those concerns is the view that bike lanes can act as a gateway drug for gentrification.

When the city comes a-calling in a long-marginalized community and only offers the one thing that is at the bottom of that community’s lengthy list of needs, it’s not unusual for some to be suspicious of the city’s intentions.

The popular “bikes mean business” mantra doesn’t help allay fears, either, as it doesn’t necessarily hold up in lower-income communities. There, bicycles can signify of a lack of resources, and long-standing businesses catering to hyper-local needs are not the ones well-heeled cyclists are likely to favor (see the discussion of the gentri-flyer debacle for more on this).

Another key concern is that Boyle Heights is a largely (bus) transit- and pedestrian-heavy community and that it needs upgrades to its pedestrian and bus infrastructure much more than it needs bike lanes that facilitate connections to rail.

This is not to say there aren’t a lot of cyclists in the area — there are. There is a sizable number of commuters, as well as a growing contingent of youth that regularly ride for both transport and recreation.

But they aren’t as visible a presence as the pedestrians. And it is often economics and community mobility patterns (i.e. moms needing to run errands with a few kids in tow) that keep many reliant on walking, skateboarding, and/or transit, not the lack of bike infrastructure–meaning that the community may be unsure that it would reap any benefits from the presence of the lanes. Read more…

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SGC Awards Grants to Boost Smarter Urban Planning in CA Cities

California’s Strategic Growth Council recently awarded $40 million for sustainability plan projects like this transit-oriented development above L.A.’s Metro Red Line Wilshire/Vermont Station. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

The Strategic Growth Council, a state committee made up of representatives from six California agencies, awarded over $40 million in planning grants last week for projects large and small that are aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

One of the grants went to the Los Angeles City Planning Department to help quantify the GHG emission reductions brought by infill housing development as a strategy to help meet the state’s climate targets set under A.B. 32. The $491,770 grant will allow planners to develop ways to measure the reductions in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) from affordable housing and infill development near transit, and to quantify the trip reduction benefits of transportation demand management measures. Ultimately, the goal is to develop a VMT-based metric that can be used to satisfy California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirements.

Other grants were awarded to L.A. Metro and the L.A. County Department of Regional Planning, as well as numerous other cities and counties throughout the state.

The grants were divided into two streams: the Sustainable Communities Planning Grant and Incentives Program, which awarded $16 million to 33 projects, and the Urban Greening Grant Program, which awarded $24 million to 40 proposals. A list of this year’s planning grants appears after the jump.

The Sustainable Communities Planning Grants fund plans to build infill development and efficient transportation, local climate plans, and zoning plans for transit-oriented development and renewable energy, among others.

The Urban Greening Grant Program awarded funds to shovel-ready projects that create and develop parks and greenways, reduce runoff by creating bioswales and converting pavement to permeable surfaces, restore habitat, plant trees, and similar projects.

Read more…