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Posts from the "Transit Advocacy" Category

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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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Metro’s “Short Range Transportation Plan” Meetings Start Today

Goodbye, articulated buses. Photo: ##http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Metro_Rapid_LA_articulated_bus_08_2010_331.jpg##Wikimedia##

Goodbye, articulated buses. Photo: Wikimedia

Starting this evening and continuing during the next two weeks Metro is holding community meetings seeking input on its Draft 2014 Short Range Transportation Plan and the companion technical document.

Metro describes the plan thusly:

… a ten-year action plan that guides our programs and projects through 2024. It advances us towards the long-term goals identified in the 2009 Long Range Transportation Plan, a 30-year vision for addressing growth and traffic in Los Angeles County.

Among the revelations of the technical document on page 29 is the following:

Articulated and extended length buses are assumed phased out over the Plan time frame. Metro is
standardizing on 40-foot buses as the maximum vehicle size. While this will increase operating costs,

it is expected to be offset by a reduction in acquisition and maintenance costs.

I understand Metro CEO Art Leahy has in the past stated his lack of enthusiasm for the articulated vehicles but one wonders how their elimination would impact operation of the dedicated busway services (i.e. the Orange Line and Silver Line). Read more…

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How Liberating Is Your Transit System? An Interview With Jarrett Walker

I first became aware of Jarrett Walker’s work through his blog, Human Transit, a few years ago. Here was someone writing about transit in a completely refreshing way, framing questions not in terms of mode or technology but through the prism of values and desires. To call Walker’s site a transit blog doesn’t quite do it justice. It’s about what we want from our cities, and how transit can help us get there. His 2011 book, Human Transit: How clearer thinking about public transit can enrich our communities and our lives, is a must-read if you’re interested in cities and want to understand what makes transit work well.

jarrett_walkerA transit planning consultant by trade whose clients literally span the globe, Walker will be in NYC next month to lead his two-day workshop in transit network design (as of press time, a few spaces are still available) and give a talk at the New School on the evening of February 6 (no registration required). When we first got in touch about doing an interview, he was about to leave for a gig in New Zealand for several weeks. A few days ago we caught up for a discussion that touched on transit on three continents, why simplicity matters in transit networks, and the legibility of New York City’s bus system.

The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Can you tell us a bit about what you were working on in New Zealand?

I have been working in New Zealand on and off for five years now. The main project that brings me down there over and over is a complete redesign of the bus system in Auckland. Working with my New Zealand colleagues from a firm called MR Cagney, I led workshops with Auckland transit staff that completely redesigned the network, with the goal of much higher ridership and much higher levels of freedom for almost everyone. Aucklanders will see that network rolling out over the next few years. And since then I’ve been back there several times to help them work on the details. There are lots of interesting details around what the buses do downtown and how that interacts with various people’s ideas about what downtown ought to be.

Does the Auckland bus system consist of what we’d call conventional lines and rapid lines, specifically BRT lines?

They have one very nice busway, they have a couple of old commuter rail lines that they’re in the process of turning into rapid transit lines. They have an extension of the rail line through the downtown in the works. But most of the system is bus routes, and the system has grown incrementally, because New Zealand had gone through this period of Thatcherite madness where they had privatized the whole bus system and essentially given over to private companies the right to run buses in particular areas, and had pretty much hollowed out the government role in planning transit service. And so for quite a while you’d see routes being designed by various local bus operators without caring very much about how they fit together into a network.

Lots of people who are used to having a bus at 7:32 right where they need it at their favorite bus stop may find that the bus stop is a little further way, but that’s part of the process of building frequency. You have to reduce the complexity.

This is the first time the entire city has been looked at as a single unit without regard to the historic bus operator boundaries. This is a very common issue in Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. And Australia and New Zealand in particular are swinging back toward asserting strong government control over transit planning. Quite a different set of issues than we have in the states.

Do they run up against the problem where the current system has its own constituency? That’s a pretty big overhaul.

Absolutely. Lots of people who are used to having a bus at 7:32 right where they need it at their favorite bus stop may find that the bus stop is a little further way, but that’s part of the process of building frequency. You have to reduce the complexity, and you have to eliminate the things that only had historical justifications but don’t really make sense and aren’t generating ridership or coverage.

Read more…

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Transit Passes a Smart Choice for Youth, Economy, Climate

(The following op/ed appeared in the San Diego Union Tribune earlier this month in support of a new program that will provide free transit passes for students using Cap and Trade funds. While the piece has a lot of San Diego particular information, the overall message is a good one for any city. We are reprinting it with the author’s permission. – DN)

Santa Monica College's "Any Line Any Time" Program with the Big Blue Bus is held up as a model for agencies and educational institutions.

Santa Monica College’s “Any Line Any Time” Program with the Big Blue Bus is held up as a model for agencies and educational institutions.

With the summer now long gone and San Diego students back in school, some are being armed with a promising tool for fighting the impact of high gas prices and climate change: free transit passes.

A new pilot program, modeled after numerous other successful efforts throughout the state of California, is providing 1,000 area students with free transit passes so that they can get to school, jobs, and other destinations safely, reliably, and with fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

Expanding these free and low-cost youth transit pass programs throughout the state is a fast and effective way for California to reduce climate pollution and spur the economy. While few cities have the financial resources to go it alone, the state has a powerful new funding tool to make free and low-cost transit passes a climate change-busting, economy-boosting reality throughout California.

As the centerpiece of its efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, the state has initiated a cap-and-trade program to reduce emissions from more than 350 of the state’s largest industrial facilities. While most of the emissions permits are provided for free, a small amount are auctioned every year — and between now and 2020, the revenues from these auctions are expected to generate billions of dollars.

By law, cap-and-trade revenues must be invested in projects in our communities that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide other benefits such as economic development and public health improvements.

The transportation sector accounts for nearly 40 percent of all carbon emissions — the largest of any sector — so achieving California’s climate goals will require significant investments in expansive, efficient, and affordable public transportation.

For many students and their families, a lack of transportation choices is a barrier to both education and economic opportunities. In the San Diego region, $4-a-gallon gas has become the norm — and the overall cost of car ownership was estimated by the AAA as $8,946 in 2012. Read more…

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Metro Explores Ways to Make Commute More Comfortable for the Physically Disabled

If you’ve ever spoken to someone who is physically disabled—any one of the 650 million who are estimated to be living with disabilities on Earth—though resilient, there is still something a bit disconcerting about boarding a public bus.

...but will Long Beach Transit?

Even in a transit system that is as efficient and progressive as Long Beach Transit.

And as I was taking the 121 along Ocean, I did something I rarely do as an introvert: I removed my headphones and asked someone in a wheelchair just precisely what their experience was.

“You can’t help but feel, ‘Here I am, holdin’ everybody up,’ y’know?” said Maria, a 53-year-old paraplegic.

When I had asked her to offer me her last name, she skeptically looked up and succinctly informed me that “there ain’t no need to give you my last name unless you plan on giving me a new one.” I was taken aback and my expression had probably shown it. Maria, however, moved on like a train with no breaks.

“Clearly, I’m not a bullshitter—and judging from this situation right here, I don’t think you are one either. Look around: we all have places to be and we are all hoppin’ on this bus together and… Of course, if you’re like me, you get beyond it; you have to. But still, there’s something about having to stop the whole routine of everybody else just to get someone like me on the bus.”

Beyond this short exchange, Maria didn’t want to talk—and rightfully so. Someone shouldn’t have to defend accessing basic rights due to a biological disposition of their abilities; disability does not translate into inability.  Her point, more importantly, was not driven by a need; she was far from victimizing herself or demonizing the all-too-human selfishness that overtakes each of us when we are trying to get from Point A to Point B.

And though the American Disabilities Act (ADA) widely swept away previous legalities that hindered those who were disabled, there is still an unneeded sense of humility that many disabled people carry with them because of the largely misconstrued concept of what “disabled” means for able-bodied folks: handicapped, crippled, even retarded.

In short, horrifically pejorative conceptions that perpetually drive them to sadly and inappropriately question their own worth; to relegate them to the role of holding-up rather than lifting-up. And it explains why, for the 2 million people with disabilities who never leave their home, 560,000 never do so because of transportation difficulties. Read more…

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Is CEQA Reform Truly on Its Way? If It Is, Should We Be Happy or Worried?

California Forward released this video last November making the case for CEQA reform on transportation issues.

There are nine days left in the legislative session in Sacramento, and there is still no vote scheduled in the Assembly on SB 731, Senator Darrell Steinberg’s efforts to “reform” California’s landmark environmental protection law, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). SB 731 passed the Senate earlier this year.

Followers of the statehouse seem unsure whether the legislation will pass in the last days. Those that believe the effort is doomed point to Steinberg’s recent introduction of legislation that would exempt the construction of a basketball arena in Sacramento from CEQA as proof the Senator doesn’t believe SB 731 will pass. Others note that the Senator is still shopping amendments to 731, something a powerful senior senator wouldn’t do at this stage unless there was a clear endgame.

Further complicating issues, Governor Jerry Brown has hinted he may veto 731 even if it does pass. The governor that once proudly declared he “never met a CEQA exemption he didn’t like,” is worried that if 731 becomes law, stronger legislation won’t pass in future sessions.

So with nine days left for the legislature to make a move, the fate of CEQA reform is unclear. But for environmentalists and other supporters of Livable Streets, the question of whether reform of CEQA is something that should be avoided or applauded remains difficult. Most of the legislation deals with public review and other legal matters. But two significant issues, infill development and the measurement of transportation impacts are major issues to transportation advocates and environmentalists who have been involved in legislative negotiations.

Despite some high-profile examples of CEQA being used to stop or slow environmentally friendly projects, most notably the multi-year delay inflicted on San Francisco’s bike plan, NRDC Senior Attorney David Petit thinks the law “is working well now” but that improvements can be made to encourage more infill development in transit priority zones and encourage greater use of renewable energy.

At the NRDC’s Switchboard, Petit argues that CEQA is a valuable piece of law because it empowers citizens to enforce the law through legal challenges instead of vesting the power in a state agency. Less than 1% of projects that fall under CEQA review are ever brought to court, and most of the time the courts side with the developer over the citizen groups.

While stopping short of saying he supports SB 731, Petit states that portions of NRDC’s position on CEQA reform are included. Read more…

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In Battle Over Pensions, Federal Government Lets Unions Hold Transit Hostage

Labor unions weren’t happy when Governor Jerry Brown signed the Public Employees Pension Reform Act of 2012. The law, which applies to government workers across the state, allows government agencies more flexibility in extending the retirement age, increase employee contribution, and halt the practice of “pension spiking” for new employees. A full summary of the legislation is at the bottom of Brown’s press release from last September.

Brown rides on a BYD electric bus in April. Photo:Wall Street Journal

In the battle over pension reform, the federal government has given transit unions a powerful hostage: federal appropriations to transit agencies. U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez decided that the new pension law runs afoul of the 1964 Urban Mass Transportation Act. Perez, and two of California’s more powerful unions, argue the state’s pension laws diminish the collective bargaining rights of unions.

Perez is threatening to withhold federal funds for state transit agencies that follow the state guidelines if and when transit unions object.

The Wall Street Journal argues that Perez is mis-interpreting the act and that Brown and state agencies are operating within the law. California Labor Secretary Marty Morgenstern agrees.

So either the state changes labor law for transit employees, the federal government backs down and sends the $2 billion in grants that were promised, or transit agencies throughout the state lose out on roughly $2 billion in expected, and budgeted, federal funds.

Potentially withheld funds include both capital and operating funds. Los Angeles Metro is first in-line to lose out on funding. The federal government will decide on a $268 million request on Friday. Next in line is the Orange County Transit Agency. Smaller agencies will be hit hard as well. Sacramento’s regional agency could lost $70 million, including funds needed for a new light rail line. Santa Barbara’s Metropolitan Transit District would have to reduce services by 30% and lay off 50 bus drivers without its federal grant.

Thus far, transit unions in the Bay Area have not formally protested to the Department of Labor over the pension plans despite their ongoing strike. While Streetsblog is certainly not privy to the internal negotiations, it’s hard to imagine that the unions aren’t threatening to do so at the bargaining table.

To make the issue more pressing, Moody’s Investor Services is considering downgrading the credit ratings of Metro and other state transit agencies because of the confusion over whether or not they will receive federal funding. A change in credit rating could cost agencies even more, as Moody’s ratings help determine the interest rate agencies will receive on loans that finance most major expansion projects. Read more…

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Dana Gabbard’s rules of transit advocacy (2000 version)

In 2000 the industry group for public transit agencies in California, the California Transit Association, held its Fall Conference and Expo at the Westin Hotel near LAX. I was invited to participate in a panel discussion about transit activists and our relationship with agencies, the legislature, regulatory entities etc. As a bonus I presented a list of 11 rules of transit advocacy.

Recently I stumbled across an old Word file where I had preserved it and for the edification of the readers of this blog present it below verbatim. How well do you think it has aged?

1) There are no magic bullets

2) Transit’s main purpose is to move people, not solve pollution, social equity, congestion, etc.

2a) Transit is a means (mobility) to an end (the destination), not an end in itself

3) Beware (and be aware) of unintended consequences

4)Things can always get worse; change should be for the better not just for the sake of change

5) The greatest challenge is changing perceptions

6) Parochialism will always rear its ugly head (aka “fair share”)

6a) Also NIMBYism

7) Never promise congestion relief resulting from a transit project

8) Always get the actual documents and studies; don’t rely on summaries or media stories about them

9) Everyone is a transportation expert, just ask them

I credited transportation professionals Jim Seal and Thomas Rubin as inspiring some of these points. They were kind enough to share their contemporary addenda to my 13 year old musings when I recently e-mailed both of them.

Mr. Seal suggested “Don’t bet that most transit governing structures will reward success and punish failure”.

Mr. Rubin had two inspirations:

“Yes, Mr. Director, the Board can vote to repeal the law of gravity, but that doesn’t mean that pigs will fly.”

“No man, women, child, or dollar bill is safe while the Legislature is in session.”

And here are brief bios of both gentleman. My thanks to them for their insights and good humor (you need a bit of that when you have been involved as long as they have with the often bewildering world of transit policy):

Tom Rubin is a consultant with over 35 years of experience in the transit industry as a senior executive of two of the largest transit agencies in the U.S. and as the founder and director of the transit practice of what is now Deloitte & Touche, LLP, which he grew to the largest practice of its type, serving well over 100 North American transit operators, Metropolitan Planning Organizations, state Departments of Transportation,  the U.S. Department of Transportation, and transit suppliers and associations.

James C. Seal is President of Jim Seal Consulting Services, headquartered in Santa Monica. He is a ground transportation consultant to private transportation companies nationwide. He specializes in competitive procurement, transit bill analysis, school bus transportation funding, public/private partnerships, and preparation of alternative fuel grant proposals.

Also my thanks to Amy J. Lai, Association Services Director for the California Transit Association, who kindly researched what year the Conference I attended was held.

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Memories of Julian Burke

Kudos to the Los Angeles Times for its excellent obituary memorializing former Metro CEO Julian Burke.
His tenure was during the period when I actually attended Metro Board meetings. These days I figure between Steve Hymon of The Source, Laura Nelson of the Los Angeles Times and our own Damien Newton you don’t have to attend to know the scuttlebutt about what happened. Albeit I do read selected staff reports for agenda items to educate myself.

Photo: Memories of Julian BurkeLos Angeles Transportation Headlines

The Times doesn’t exaggerate when it describes the turmoil that Burke found when he was recruited to head Metro. Multiple “recovery plans” for the dysfunctional budget had gotten thumbs down from the feds. Land had been condemned for the east-side extension of the Red Line but the agency had no money to build it. Then Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan had labored mightily to recruit a new head for the troubled agency only to be frustrated at several turn downs including the amazing case of the thin skinned New York transit official.

The L.A. Times coverage by Richard Simon of this surreal situation includes hilarious quotes by L.A. County Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Michael Antonovich — I guess they needed to laugh to forestall crying in frustration at the seemingly endless search for a new Metro CEO after the previous CEO, Joe Drew, quit in disgust in response to back stabbing sniping remarks by Board members appearing in the press. And note Simon confirms Burke was supposed to be a temporary fill-in; he ended up serving 4 years.

A high point of the Burke era is when he was able to find 20 new buses to expand the fleet as I have written about previously. But what I didn’t mention in my previous coverage is Burke announced this at a Metro Board meeting, describing the extraordinary circumstances under which staff had found new equipment without the long wait that ordering from transit bus manufacturers usually entails. The Board received this news without comment, not even a simple thank you. So I used my public comment later in the meeting to express appreciation on behalf of the bus riders for what Mr. Burke had done. I think he smiled in response. Frankly it just felt like the right thing to do. Read more…

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MyFigueroa Unveils New Designs: Promises Cycletracks, Transit Lanes and More for South Fig, MLK, and 11th

The future of South Figueroa at 11th Street? Doesn't seem far fetched now. Click on the image for a high-res copy.

The MyFigueroa team will be presenting all their images and renderings at the Andrew Norman Hall Orthopaedic Hospital at 5:30 pm on April 9th. Get the event details at the MyFigueroa website. Of course, we’ll be Live Streaming at Streetsblog TV. Bookmark our event page now.

It seems like just yesterday a team of Los Angeles’ most progressive planners and international planning rock stars from Gehl Architects unveiled some planning images showing how the rather bleak South Figueroa Corridor could be transformed into a complete street. While the public was “mostly positive,” it seemed a stretch that such a project would ever take place in Los Angeles.

In truth, it wasn’t yesterday. It was over two years ago. But despite some major hurdles, such as the minor issue of the dissolution of the Community Redevelopment Agency responsible for the project, the $20 million project should be completed on-time before the end of 2014.

The newly released images don’t look quite as dramatic as the ones shown a in 2011, but still promise bus only lanes, new transit waiting areas, fixed sidewalks, zebra crosswalks and the minor issue of separated bike lanes, proudly marked as “cycletracks” in MyFigueroa’s promotional materials.

“While our design still includes cycletracks on Fig, as we have always shown, we have more to share about the design of the entire corridor, and the multimodal components serving pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders,” writes Melani Smith, the president and principal of Melendrez Design Partners, the firm who has teh lead on the project. “We think there’s something in our design for all kinds of people using the streets.  Ultimately, we’re planning a corridor that is a safer, more comfortable place for people to be.”

The project isn’t just about improving Figueroa Street between 7th Street (in Downtown Los Angeles) and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard  (in South Los Angeles) by offering a full buffet of safe and comfortable transportation options. It also includes new streetscapes on 11th Street between Figueroa Street and Broadway and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard from Figueroa Street and Vermont Avenue.

“I am thrilled that the pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders in Downtown and South Los Angeles are benefactors of the 2006 State of California bond measure that provides funding for the implementation of new infrastructure,” writes Deborah Murphy of Deborah Murphy Urban Design + Planning, another project partner. “The MyFigueroa! project supports the development of new housing, particularly affordable housing, in dense transit-oriented urban neighborhoods.” Read more…