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Five Things I Learned at This Week’s L.A. Transportation Committee

Here are the top five things I learned listening in to this week’s Los Angeles City Council Transportation Committee meeting. The public meeting took place Wednesday, August 27, at Los Angeles City Hall. If you’re nimble and/or having trouble sleeping, catch the full audio here.

1. Seleta Reynolds Hearts Car Share

In discussion of the city’s anemic car share program, new Transportation Department (LADOT) General Manager Seleta Reynolds described herself as a “long-time fan of car share and a frequent user of it.” Reynolds bemoaned the lack of a viable car share option in her new Silver Lake neighborhood.

Hertz car share didn't work out so well for Los Angeles. Image via Flickr user tom-margie

Hertz car share didn’t work out so well for Los Angeles. Image via Flickr user tom-margie

The GM announced an “immediate expansion” of the city’s provisions to enable basic car sharing planned for this September, with a more robust expansion, likely including point-to-point options, coming at some unspecified later date. Reynolds stated that she favors a system that would include multiple providers. This should prevent issues like those associated with the failures like the city’s selected vendor Hertz becoming unresponsive.

To be continued. I too dig car share, and am happy Reynolds is on it.

2. Protected Bike Lanes This Year – Or Probably Not

In public testimony (audio at 01:05 here) about Los Angeles some day maybe perhaps one day you know possibly getting around to implementing those newfangled protected bike lanes that are all the rage in other cities, LADOT Bikeways’ Michelle Mowery stated:

MyFig is certainly one of these [protected bike lanes]. We’re also looking at Los Angeles Street right now. We believe we will have that on the ground within this next fiscal year.

When SBLA tweeted the good news, LADOT Bike Program took to the Twittersphere to let folks know that no protected bike lanes are coming this year, but that My Figueroa construction will happen soon. SBLA will dig more into this story. Did Mowery mean “a Los Angeles street” or “Los Angeles Street?” Could it be part of longer-term plans for Union Station? In any case, I am looking forward to protected bike lanes arriving on these shores. Ones not inside tunnels, that is.

3. Streetsblog Hearts Great New Traffic Metrics

Spoiler alert: wonky acronyms ahead. I knew that changes in California’s traffic modeling was big news, with the state ditching its car-centric car-only car-always Level of Service (LOS) measures for evaluating California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) environmental impacts, and instead using Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT)

It was great to hear it from LADOT Assistant General Manager Jay Kim.

Read more…

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CA Transportation Choices Summit Tackles Policy Issues

The California Transportation Choices Summit, held in Sacramento this week, was an opportunity for sustainable transportation and public health advocates to spend the day learning about current state policies and legislation in the works to change them.

Christopher Cabaldon, Mayor of West Sacramento, discusses bike infrastructure on a pre-summit bike tour along the Sacramento River. Photos: Melanie Curry

This year’s summit was titled “2014: A Year of Opportunity.” The “opportunity” comes in the form of new funds from cap-and-trade and current discussions in the legislature about how to spend that money. As Streetsblog has reported, these funds are required to be spent on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which could include projects that encourage walking, bicycling, and transit.

The annual summit is hosted by TransForm and a long list of partners across the state including ClimatePlan, MoveLA, Circulate San Diego, the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership, National Resources Defense Council, and the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network. In addition to discussing current policies, the learning day prepared attendees for TransForm’s “Advocacy Day,” in which participants meet with State Assembly members and their staff to talk about the issues that matter most to them and push for legislation.

Summit speakers laid out facts about funding, discussed trade-offs between spending on different programs, and urged everyone to share their personal stories about why their issue is important. “Let’s pull those heart strings,” said Elyse Lowe of Circulate San Diego, “so we can do a better job advocating for good transportation policies.”

Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm, created an “applause-o-meter” to gauge summit attendees’ views on trade-offs between funding categories. He asked participants to applaud for the categories of activities they thought were most important: planning; bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure; transportation demand management programs like shuttles, carpool programs, and guaranteed ride home programs; affordable homes near transit; and transit capital and operating costs.

The audience, mostly comprised of savvy transportation advocates, applauded for all of these categories, although there two clear “winners”: affordable homes near transit and transit capital and operating costs. These also were the most expensive categories, according to Cohen’s estimate of how much it would cost to fully fund needs in these areas: $6 billion for transit and $1 to $1.5 billion for housing. Read more…

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Advocates Push for Bike/Ped Funding From CA’s Cap-and-Trade Funds

A coalition of bike and pedestrian advocates are inviting organizations to sign on to a letter [PDF] asking the state legislature to recommend allocating $50 million of the state’s cap-and-trade revenue towards the Active Transportation Program. Currently, none of the $850 million in cap-and-trade funds are allocated specifically for walking and bicycling in this year’s budget.

Photo by Brian W. Knight from the Streetsblog "Kids + Cities Photo Contest, 2013"

Bicycles produce zero greenhouse gas emissions but get zero funds from cap-and-trade. Photo by Brian W. Knight from Streetsblog’s “Kids + Cities Photo Contest, 2013″

Caltrans recently released its first ATP call for projects, and applications are due May 21. Eligible projects support walking and bicycling, and must compete for funding that will be awarded according to a formula in the ATP guidelines, recently adopted by the California Transportation Commission. Applications are expected to request and amount exceeding the program’s current funding levels of $120 million per year.

Revenue from cap-and-trade, the system chosen by California to meet the requirements of the Global Warming Solutions Act, A.B. 32, must be spent on activities and projects that help meet its goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The governor’s proposed expenditure plan for cap-and-trade funds includes $100 million for the Strategic Growth Council for transit oriented development grants, which may include some bike and pedestrian infrastructure as part of larger projects. However, there is no cap-and-trade money specifically allocated to those modes.

The governor’s plan proposes an allocation of $250 million to high-speed rail, $200 million to the Air Resources Board for low-emission vehicle rebates, and $50 million to Caltrans to improve intercity rail, in addition to $250 million for other projects including energy efficiency, clean energy, and natural resource programs that will help reduce GHG emissions.

Building infrastructure for bicycles and pedestrians, and educating and encouraging people to use these emission-free modes, can reduce vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions in the short term. In their letter, advocates argue that bike/ped projects are crucial in meeting the state’s emission reduction goals, though they do not specify what budget line should be reduced to create the $50 million cap-and-trade allocation for active transportation.

“There is a lot of demand for the ATP program,” said Jeanie Ward-Waller, California Advocacy Organizer for the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, one of the organizations putting together a letter asking the legislature to consider the allocation from cap-and-trade funds. “There are projects that are ready to go, and ready to start reducing emissions in the short term.” Read more…

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Transportation Priorities Jostle for CA’s Cap-and-Trade Revenue

A series of hearings in Sacramento have been revisiting California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, Assembly Bill (A.B.) 32, which calls for a statewide reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) to 1990 levels by 2020. Two recent hearings have opened discussions of Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed spending plan for the revenue received so far from the state’s cap-and-trade program, implemented as part of A.B. 32, and another recent Senate hearing discussed the program’s impacts to date.

Mary Nichols, Chair of the California Air Resources Board, explains cap and trade.

The auction of cap-and-trade credits is producing money for the state, which, under A.B. 32, must be spent on helping further reduce GHG emissions. Last month, Governor Brown released his cap-and-trade expenditure plan for 2014-2015, in which he proposed to spend $850 million in expected revenue from the auctions. Of that, $600 million would be used for transportation-related projects and programs, with the lion’s share of that ($250 million) for high speed rail.

Other transportation categories include $50 million to Caltrans to expand and modernize existing rail; $200 million towards programs that encourage the use of zero-emission vehicles, including trucks, buses, and cars; and $100 million over the next two years to the Strategic Growth Council for Sustainable Communities programs, including plans that encourage compact and infill development near transit.

The governor’s plan does not include any funds for bicycling, walking, or transit other than what would fall under the above categories, even though these transportation modes offer a huge potential savings in GHG emissions.

At a Senate Transportation Committee hearing Wednesday, a long line of public advocacy groups spoke up for reshuffling the cap and trade funds, mostly in the direction of the respective group’s preferred emissions-reduction strategy (better transit, for example, or forest fire prevention given this dry year).

But only a few speakers questioned why so much money was being given to high speed rail. The Legislative Analyst’s report questioned the GHG benefits of California’s planned high speed rail, which would not have any effect on emissions until 2022 at the earliest, and would at best provide a modest contribution to GHG reductions.

“We need to fund GHG reductions in the near term,” said Catherine Phillips of the Sierra Club. “It doesn’t warrant spending 31 percent of the money on high speed rail. Many other programs will get you reductions sooner than will high speed rail.” Read more…

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New Report Outlines How CA Can Kick Its Addiction to Oil, Foreign and Domestic

If you want to reduce oil dependency, go after the big dark green area first.

The government is encouraging you to drive a car, and if California is truly serious about reducing its oil dependency that needs to change. This is the unequivocal conclusion of Unraveling Ties to Petroleum  a new report commissioned by Next 10 California and written by UCLA researchers  Juan Matute, Director of the UCLA Local Climate Initiative, and  Stephanie Pincetl, Adjunct Professor and Director of the California Center for Sustainable Communities at UCLA.

“State and local policies that promote autos over other modes make it hard to drive less, even when someone is determined to do so,” writes Matute.

In addition to compiling mountains of statistics about car use, energy use, and gasoline dependence, the authors looked at fifteen policies that change incentives for driving or land use, and evaluated their total effects on statewide petroleum use.  Most of the time, the incentives were not transparent.  Together, the policy choices made at the state and local level impact statewide petroleum use by as much as 50 percent.

It used to be that CA got almost none of its oil from other countries. That has changed.

The biggest change governments can make? Change the non-residential parking policy by changing or removing parking minimums, encouraging different land use through zoning and creating a more attractive urban form. The researchers estimate these changes could reduce gasoline demand in the transportation industry by nearly 25% under the best circumstances. Other potential areas for reform include encouraging insurance companies to offer per-mile rates (an estimated 8% drop), an affordable rideshare and taxi program (up to an 18.35% drop) and even allowing jitney and dollar van services to operate (a whopping .1% drop.)

Sadly, the buffet of options for reducing oil usage also points back to one of the reports’ other main points. The government is encouraging car usage, and has a variety of ways to soak the car-free and car-lite. These include: Read more…
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Brown’s Budget Sends Cap and Trade Funds to Black Hole of General Fund

When California passed it’s land-mark Greenhouse Gas reduction laws in 2006, residents and businesses were assured that funds raised through the controversial “cap and trade” program would be invested in programs and projects that would further reduce emissions.

That promise is turning out to be a lot of hot air.

Yesterday, Governor Jerry Brown unveiled his budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year that includes the first round of funds collected under the cap and trade system. In the budget, Brown “loans” the half billion in funds collected to the general fund to be paid back at some point in the unspecified future.

“We disagree with the Governor’s proposal to transfer the $500 million in cap-and-trade auction revenues to the general fund and postpone needed investments in projects and programs that could achieve greenhouse gas reductions this year,” writes Stuart Cohen, the executive director of TransForm CA.

“While we appreciate the Governor’s interest in taking a prudent approach to ensure that the cap-and-trade revenues are spent in ways that best meet the program’s goals of maximizing greenhouse gas reductions there are existing and proposed transportation projects and programs that these revenues could be invested in to meet these goals and reap significant economic and public health benefits for all Californians, especially disadvantaged communities most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. “

Brown’s budget announcement comes on the heels of reports that carbon concentrations have crossed the 400 parts per million threshold widely recognized as a dangerous level that could drastically worsen human-caused climate change. In recent months, environmental and transportation advocacy groups were arguing over how the cap and trade funds could be spent. Debates over questions on whether highway repair should be considered a project that reduces greenhouse gas emissions seem quaint when the state refuses to actually use the funds on climate change projects. Read more…

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The Keys to Beating, or at Least Fighting, Climate Change: Bikes, Transit, Parks, Trees

Much is being made, and rightly so, of “Mid-Century Warming in the Los Angeles Region,“ the report released today by UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. The report breaks down the impact of Climate Change on Los Angeles down to the 2 square mile level using new technology over the coming decades.

The maps with the bar graphs detail the number of hot days different areas across the City of Los Angeles as well as the County. The best ways to fight back includes bikes, buses, trees and parks.

The bad news is that Los Angeles is going to get hit hard.  Temperatures will increase between 3.7°F and 5.4°F across Los Angeles by mid-century. Rising temperatures will be most notable during the summer and fall, with the number of “extreme heat” days above 95°F tripling in downtown Los Angeles and nearly quadrupling in the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys. Extreme heat is of particular concern for planners and policymakers because of the associated public health consequences.

“Higher temperatures bring higher health risks,” says Dr. Richard Jackson, the UCLA Professor who links transportation planning and development to Public Health. “Longer, harsher heat waves will cause more cases of heat stroke and heat exhaustion – even among otherwise healthy people who believe they’re immune – and higher temperatures mean more smog, with consequences for respiratory health as well.”

That’s the bad news.  The good news, even by acting locally there is something that L.A. can do.  The UCLA study found that aggressive mitigation efforts could reduce mid-century warming by about 30%.  Under Mayor Villaraigosa, the city has acted aggressively to curb green house gas emissions by reducing the city’s dependency on dirty energy and increasing use of fossil fuels through his GREENLA plan. Read more…

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Amidst Budget Impasse, GOP Tries and Fails to Gut Clean Air Act

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson doesn't have to worry about getting hamstrung by theatrical House GOP legislating.

With budget talks reaching a critical pass to avert a government shutdown, House Republicans have been busy passing an ideological wishlist, including an attempt to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from “raising taxes.” H.R. 910, which they are calling the “Energy Tax Prevention Act” would undermine the EPA’s ability to restrict greenhouse gas emissions from industrial and manufacturing plants and gut the Clean Air Act.

Democrats offered a few amendments to the bill which made for some good political theater, including a gem from Representative Earl Blumenauer. Stating that “I, too, am opposed to any attempts by the EPA to impose taxes,” Blumenauer offered an amendment that struck the provisions of the bill and replaced them with a measure to “help us find out whether Republicans are truly concerned about the Environmental Protection Agency imposing an energy tax on America.” The amendment text continued: “During its 40 year history, the Clean Air Act has prevented millions of hospital visits, asthma attacks and cases of lung cancer while strengthening our economy. A record like that deserves support, not partisan attacks.”

Blumenauer’s amendment didn’t get far but environmental and public health groups can rest easy, for now. The bill, and a few others attempting to curb the EPA’s regulatory powers, didn’t make it through the Senate. President Obama had also stated that he would veto any bills that did not reflect “scientific consensus on global warming.”

Meanwhile, budget talks have continued behind closed doors. Billions for transit, rail, and green transportation are still at stake in the negotiations. Read more…

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Get Rich While Reducing Emissions: Smart Growth Keeps Looking Smarter

Just when you may have been looking for ways to counter that Pew report which poo-pooed the environmental impacts of transit and smart growth, here’s more evidence that reducing driving has an essential role to play in meeting economic and environmental goals: A new report from the Center for Clean Air Policy concludes that compact development will build wealth and cut carbon emissions.

Compact urbanism even works in the suburbs, like Bethesda, Maryland. Image: ##http://maryland.sierraclub.org/montgomery/growth_what.html##Maryland Sierra Club##

Compact urbanism can work in the suburbs, like Bethesda, Maryland. Image: Maryland Sierra Club

Growing Wealthier: Smart Growth, Climate Change, and Prosperity” starts with the simple assertion that accessibility – “bringing origins and destinations closer together” – is, after all, “the very reason that cities exist.”

“You want to have your choices nearby so you can meet your daily needs as efficiently as possible,” said report author Steve Winkelman.

By separating residential areas, commercial services, and places of employment, suburban planning requires that people travel long distances to meet their needs. All those miles used to be viewed as a measure of economic progress.

“[Vehicle Miles Traveled] and GDP have grown concurrently since World War II and in lock step for much of that time,” the report states. But around 1996, GDP began growing faster than VMT, and, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, “the importance of travel as a component of the U.S. economy has been declining since the early 1990s.”

Indeed, CCAP’s research shows that states with lower VMT per capita tend to have higher GDP per capita.

Excessive travel is more likely to be an economic detriment than a benefit. Ironically, GDP counts as economic productivity many of the counterproductive aspects of motorized travel, such as fuel consumed waiting in traffic jams, oil spills, vehicle repairs and medical treatment resulting from collisions, costs of air pollution, and defense operations to protect U.S. petroleum interests around the world. In fact, many costs of sprawling land use patterns (particularly increased infrastructure) themselves boost GDP figures.

The authors also urge us to distinguish between economically productive travel and what they call “empty miles.” It’s like differentiating between empty calories and nutrition.

Read more…

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California’s Climate Laws Undermined by Weak Transpo Policies, Investment

California's lack of good transportation policies and transit investment points to a failure in Sacramento. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/aquafornia/2731909303/##aquafornia##

California's lack of bold transportation policies and transit investment points to a failure in Sacramento. Photo: aquafornia

A new report from NRDC and Smart Growth America — which examines what all 50 states are doing to curb greenhouse gas emissions from transportation — lauds California as the most progressive state on policy, but points out that its transportation and spending priorities don’t match the bold blueprints, particularly as it relates to public transit.

It all points to Sacramento, where legislators have continuously raided the only dedicated fund for transit, leading to massive cuts statewide.

The report praises the state’s smart-growth law, SB375, as a model for other states, noting that “it puts in place a strong framework that can be used to drive better coordination between transportation and land use, and, of particular relevance to this analysis, to do so in a way that reduces GHGs.” It remains uncertain, however, “whether SB 375 will deliver results on the ground as opposed to just changes in planning documents.”

In September, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) adopted ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and 2035, a move that will compel the state’s metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to better integrate land use and transportation planning. The real test for SB375 will come at the local level as MPOs draft plans to meet the targets.

Unless the state prioritizes investments in sustainable transportation, California’s progressive policies will continue to be undermined.

“Huge cuts to public transit threaten these (policy) gains and could lead to even more devastating consequences for California communities and the economy,” said a joint press release from Smart Growth California, NRDC, TransForm and the Sierra Club of California. “In California, transportation policies and spending decisions are not in line with the state’s bold commitments to reduce the amounts of carbon dioxide and other emissions being pumped into the air.”

Read more…