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Posts from the Transportation Policy Category

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At the Crossroads: In Order to Create a More Walkable L.A., Start with the Basics.

(Max Podemski is the Planning Director of Pacoima Beauftiful…but you already knew that, right? – DN)

In recent years, the media has been filled with stories about Los Angeles transformation into a more livable and walkable city. This has been spurred by recent developments such as CicLAvia, the expanding transit and bike network, and revitalized older neighborhoods.

To see Max's full presentation, click ##https://www.scribd.com/doc/264258343/Crosswalk-Comparison-LA-V-SF##here. ##(PDF)

To see Max’s full presentation, click here. (PDF)

In many ways, this is not so much the emergence of a “new city” but rather Los Angeles returning to its roots.  Los Angeles did not develop around the automobile but around a massive intra-urban rail network the legacy of which still influences development. The city also has a rich history of walkable, commercial business districts along major boulevards as described in Richard Longstreth’s book “City Center to Regional Mall.

The “good bones” are evident in neighborhoods across Los Angeles.

Many Los Angeles neighborhoods  are laid out on a grid, have a mix of relatively dense housing types, and thoroughfares lined with vintage commercial storefronts. These qualities combined with the city’s Mediterranean climate should make it one of the finest places to walk in the country. So why in so many respects is Los Angeles such a terrible place to be a pedestrian?

The simple answer is that we have engineered our streets to be highways.

Over the decades, they have been widened to the point that the sidewalks are so anemic in some places that telephone poles and other utilities block them. What has made it easy for a person to drive on Sepulveda or Sunset as an alternate to the 405 or 101 has resulted in streets that are incredibly dangerous to pedestrians.

In no area is our streets lack of regard for pedestrians more apparent than in one of the most fundamental features of a walkable street: crosswalks. Read more…

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Metro Takes Another Step Forward in Effort to Build and Preserve Affordable Housing at Transit Hubs

The map of potential transit-oriented affordable housing sites. Source: Metro

The map of potential transit-oriented affordable housing sites (blue dots). Click to enlarge. See the original, here, on p. 24. Source: Metro

In case you haven’t heard, we’re in a bit of an affordable housing crunch.

According to the L.A. Times, “the city recently estimated that 82,000 additional affordable units will be needed by 2021.”

Non-profit developers have been aware of this problem for some time. Approximately 8000 families applied for the 184 units of affordable housing that the East L.A. Community Corporation has built in Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles recently. 1500 families vied for a spot in the 60-unit residence on Whittier Bl. built by the Retirement Housing Foundation last March. And RHF was expecting as many as 2500 applications for the affordable, 78-unit senior residence set to open next door. More than 1000 families applied to live in a 90-unit residence in Macarthur Park built by McCormack Baron Salazar on land owned by Metro. And these figures likely don’t include the folks who are desperate for housing but do not earn the minimum amount required to qualify for consideration.

But even as the need for affordable housing grows, the city’s ability to provide and maintain it has declined significantly. Since 2008, funding for the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF) has dropped from $108 million to approximately $26 million. And, despite Mayor Eric Garcetti’s vocal support for affordable housing, no new funds were allocated to the AHTF in the last budget. While L.A. will likely receive some of the (anticipated) $130 million in funds set aside for affordable housing from the first year of cap-and-trade, the funds will first need to be divvied up among municipalities across the state.

Which is why it was heartening to see the Metro Board move forward on its plans to set aside at least 35% of units built on Metro-owned land for affordable housing and to establish a fund to assist non-profit developers in building or preserving affordable housing on privately-owned land near transit.

It’s not a panacea, as discussion of the 30-page staff report assessing the viability of the plan made clear. And there is much left to be done in the way of hammering out funding structures and sources for the loan fund or the criteria for discounts on Metro-owned land to entice developers to build affordable units. But it is a step in the right direction. Read more…

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How Can We Invest in Infrastructure Without Raising Taxes?

(Odysseus Bostick is a Los Angeles teacher and former candidate for the Los Angeles City Council. He writes The Bostick Report for CityWatch.)

Our roads are swiss cheese, our sidewalks are like a broken fault line, our bridges are sagging, and our cars are still the most convenient way to get through the mess.

We’ve gotten to the point where our infrastructure problems are so large in scope and the cost to change this is so high that we really can’t pass enough taxes or bonds to cover all of our needs. That’s not to say that passing specific bonds isn’t necessary.

Upcoming ballot measures within the County of Los Angeles aimed at extending Measure R are not just merited, but crucial to ensuring that all the money we’ve already spent on building a basic network of light isn’t wasted. And finishing our rail lines is just Phase One.

The basic structure of a rail transportation system won’t be the cure-all because logistics prevent even a vast network of rail lines from actually getting people to the places they need to go. Clearly, we need micro-networks to cover areas that rail doesn’t reach.

Some of these solutions are small in scope – like bike share programs, walkable/bikeable design, and the like. Others are larger in scope than that, like a streetcar.

The problem is that bonds and tax increases only go so far and funding the build out of our rail network will consume most of those big scope revenue increases. So we are posed with the question of how to fund the smaller scale, “end of the line” public transportation ecosystems so that a user has access to the nooks and crannies not conveniently located at the base of the train station platform?  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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Caltrans on the Hot Seat: Assembly Looks at State, Local Planning Tensions

It was the California State Assembly’s turn to review the recent State Smart Transportation Initiative (SSTI) report on Caltrans at a Transportation Committee hearing Monday.

Chair Bonnie Lowenthal addresses the Transportation Committee (find a video of the hearing here)

The discussion played out along the same lines as the Senate Transportation Committee hearing last month, where Professor Joel Rogers, who led the team that produced the report for the California Transportation Agency (CalSTA), presented his findings on the dysfunction at Caltrans.

Rogers drew questions from committee members when he cited the lack of coordination between local transportation planning agencies and Caltrans. 

Joan Buchanan (D-Alamo) was defensive of local planning. “Locals need a strong voice in the planning process,” she said. “I don’t see how the state has the resources or ability to do that kind of planning on the local level.”

Rogers was compelled to clarify himself several times. “I do not mean to imply that local control is a bad thing,” he said, but the report was “quite critical that the self-help counties build projects and then push all the maintenance onto Caltrans without doing anything like a lifecycle accounting on the actual costs.”

Professor Joel Rogers emphasizes a point to the Assembly Transportation Committee

Professor Joel Rogers emphasizes a point to the Assembly Transportation Committee

“We just don’t think local control has been well managed,” he said. “Caltrans needs to give locals the flexibility they need. What we heard over and over in our interviews was, ‘It’s such a drag dealing with Caltrans, we just try to go around them.’ As a state agency you don’t want a system that is deliberately at war with itself.”

Rogers skewered both Caltrans and the legislature in much the same words he used in the recent Senate hearing, where he criticized Caltrans for its “hypertrophic aversion to risk” that prevents it from being an effective partner. This time he evoked an appreciative, if sheepish, laugh from the committee members when he remarked that they had a hand in making Caltrans the dysfunctional organization it is today.

Two committee members, Assemblymembers Tom Daly (D-Anaheim) and Katcho Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo), seemed eager to move reforms along. “What’s our plan of action? How can we be involved?” asked Daly.

“This needs to be taken care of on a much higher level than the local level,” Achadjian said. “Let’s not let this end up on a shelf. We need a follow up.” Read more…

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Sen. Steinberg Proposes Carbon Tax on Gas Instead of Cap-and-Trade

Estimated effect of a carbon tax on sources of United States electrical generation Source: US Energy Information Administration via wikimedia.

Estimated effect of a carbon tax on sources of United States electrical generation Source: US Energy Information Administration via wikimedia.

CA Senator Darrell Steinberg proposed a change yesterday to California’s nascent cap-and-trade program that would replace next year’s cap on fuel emissions with a per-gallon carbon tax. Steinberg called it a “broader, more stable, and more flexible” way to reduce emissions from fuels than cap-and-trade.

His proposal would apply the revenue raised from the tax towards tax relief for poor and middle-income Californians, who would feel the greatest pinch from higher gas prices. That could help defuse anger at having to pay more at the pump, while still discouraging demand for gas. “Under either [program], consumers will pay more at the pump. That’s necessary,” said Steinberg. “If carbon pricing doesn’t sting, we won’t change our habits.”

CA Senate President Pro Temp Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. Photo: Sacramento Bee

CA Senate President Pro Temp Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. Photo: Sacramento Bee

Reactions to Steinberg’s proposal so far have been mixed. The Western States Petroleum Association prefers it as “a transparent alternative” to cap-and-trade, and the Environmental Defense Fund criticized what it sees as a mid-stream switch that could “compromise” CA’s emission reduction strategies.

Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm, said “we strongly believe that California is creating an excellent cap-and-trade program that is, and will work, effectively. Yet a carbon tax is an extremely clear and straightforward, and ultimately more predictable, way to approach the fuels sector.”

“If this had been offered as a serious proposal seven years ago, we would have thought it was heaven-sent,” he added. “I don’t think it makes sense to reject it outright. It’s certainly worth having the discussion” about cap-and-trade vs. a carbon tax.

John White of the Clean Power Campaign, a coalition of public interest groups working for clean fuels, says his organization has no official stance yet on the proposal. However, he said, “This is a good conversation to have. A carbon tax is a different way to do the same thing. The point of collection is also at the pump, but with cap-and-trade there’s no clear signal except for a higher price, and no predictability of what that price would be.”

Read more…

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California Transportation Commission: $538 Billion Needed to Maintain System

To maintain and operate it's transportation infrastructure, California needs a massive investment in the next decade. Photo Caltrans

One of the things I do each year is read the California Transportation Commission Annual Report. I find it a useful snapshot of policy and operation issues for transportation in California. Intriguingly the 2011 Report’s introduction mentions a statewide transportation needs assessment the Commission released late last year. Over 10 years ago the Commission undertook a similar assessment in response to legislation (Senate Resolution 8 [1999]). That document has withstood the test of time and years after it was issued I would see it still being cited in media coverage of transportation funding needs for California.

The rationale for the new assessment is laid out in the introduction:

The goal of this report is to detail what is needed for California’s transportation system and how we can pay for it. The report, therefore, allows transportation agencies and stakeholder groups to provide a consistent message to decision makers on these important subjects.

One of my first thoughts was this effort may have been what the Governor had in mind when he vetoed creation of the Blue Ribbon Committee last year.

Certainly the magnitude of the need and the challenges the state shortfall in transportation investment presents are daunting:

The total cost of all system preservation, system management, and system expansion projects during the ten-year study period is nearly $538.1 billion. Of this total, the cost of system preservation projects (both rehabilitation projects and maintenance costs) during the study period is $341.1 billion. It should be emphasized that the costs for system preservation contained in the report are based on the goal of meeting accepted standards that would bring transportation facilities into a “state of good repair” within the tenyear study period. These goals would lead to higher levels of investment in system preservation than are typically reflected in existing transportation plans and capital improvement programs.

The cost of system management projects and system expansion projects over the same period is estimated at $197 billion.

Quietly the Commission has been reaching out over the past few months to key stakeholders such as Mobility 21 and the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG). In January the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee held an informational hearing

The Associated General Contractors in testimony before the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Transportation expressed support for the assessent’s findings. Read more…

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Model Street Manual: A Generic Road Map to Sustainable Transportation Planning

Its difficult to create a safe mid-block pedestrian crossing, but there is always something you can do to make aModel Street Design Manual crossing safer. All images in this story come from

Over the past few months, we’ve checked in on the efforts of five communities in Los Angeles County to create more livable, walkable, bikeable and healthier communities through better transportation planning through the Los Angeles PLACE Grants.  However, Los Angeles County is home to 11 million residents, and less than 750,000 live in PLACE communities.

But that doesn’t mean that the LA County Public Health Department (LACDPH) doesn’t have a plan for the rest of the county.  Partnering with the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, LACDPH awarded a RENEW Grant to create a “Model Street Manual” to help the rest of the county, and anyone else who was interested, begin to think of their streets in a different way.

“It’s time we started designing our streets for people and quality neighborhoods instead of just cars,” explains super-planner Ryan Snyder, the lead consultant for the plan. “We hope the street manual will change the way cities here and across the US design their streets. The manual should be real a game changer.”

The manual starts with an explanation of the difference between traffic control devices, the application of which is controlled by the state, and traffic calming which isn’t.  The state’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices biases streets towards moving traffic makes installing traffic control devices a difficult undertaking.  Making a difference between traffic calming and traffic control is an important legal distinction, because if a municipality deviates from state rules, it could be found at fault in traffic crashes.

For example, stop signs, traffic signals, and flashing beacons are expected to meet minimum thresholds before application. These thresholds include such criteria as number of vehicles, number of pedestrians or other uses, distance to other devices, crash history, and more.

Traffic calming, such as speed humps and bump outs, don’t fall under the same restrictions.  Thus, municipalities are encouraged to adopt a strategy of slowing traffic to increase street safety as one of many practices to make streets safer for all users.

The manual also lists the benefits of adopting a true “complete streets” ideal when completing road projects.  The benefits are many, and this list is probably familiar to many Streetsblog readers, but seeing the list together creates a striking picture.

  • The goals of designing living streets are to
  • Serve the land uses that are adjacent to the street; mobility is a means, not an end
  • Encourage people to travel by walking, bicycling, and transit, and to drive less
  • Provide transportation options for people of all ages, physical abilities, and income levels
  • Enhance the safety and security of streets, from both a traffic and personal perspective
  • Improve peoples’ health
  • Create livable neighborhoods
  • Reduce the total amount of paved area
  • Reduce streetwater runoff into watersheds
  • Maximize infiltration and reuse of stormwater
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollution
  • Reduce energy consumption
  • Promote the economic well-being of both businesses and residents
  • Increase civic space and encourage human interaction

While the manual doesn’t give a list of the potential negative impacts of promoting living streets, we’ve prepared a list for comparison purposes.

  • People driving cars will find it more difficult to drive dangerously Read more…
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Glendale Invests in Safe and Healthy Streets for a Safe and Healthy Future

Glendale PLACE Grant Coordinator Colin Bogart shows off the new tri-lingual pedestrian safety markings at an intersection adjacent to Glendale City Hall.

This week’s series on the grants from the L.A. County Department of Public Health’s Policies for Livable and Active Communities and Environments (PLACE) Grants focuses on Glendale and their groundbreaking Safe and Healthy Streets Plan.

Glendale’s grant was different than most because it wasn’t the city that was actually awarded the grant, but the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC). The LACBC and the city worked together on the grant application. We’ll discuss the unique collaboration between the LACBC and Glendale tomorrow. On Friday we’ll discuss some of the physical changes that have happened over the last three years and that are currently underway.

Today, we’ll focus on Safe and Healthy Streets, the planning document passed unanimously by the city in June and how their plan sets a new bar for clean and green transportation planning in Los Angeles County.

For their part, the City of Glendale professes confidence and optimism that Safe and Healthy Streets will bring a change to the city’s transportation grid.

“People in Glendale are really frustrated by our record on traffic safety,” provides Mayor Laura Friedman. “It’s a way to get a grip on traffic safety in the city, and it’s probably the most cohesive effort we’ve ever had.”

The Baseline: Glendale knew it had a problem and was open to change.

When she first joined the City Council, Laura Friedman (pictured above) pushed for bike parking at City Hall. Now the City's racks are partially filled everyday by staff with a few spots held for visitors. The LACBC's Jen Klausner calls the racks "beautiful."

By its own admission, Glendale was in desperate need for a new approach to transportation planning. The unintended consequences of a transportation network that emphasized moving cars can be seen in the statistics. In Glendale, approximately 17.4% of adults (age 18+) are obese as are approximately 15.8% of children. An additional 46. 2% of adults and 17.9% of children are overweight. Many of Glendale’s health problems could be solved by a transportation system that emphasizes “people powered” transportation, but for years they weren’t ready to make the change. In 2008, almost 40% of adults in Glendale engage in minimal to no physical activity and 66.4% of adults drive to go on an errand less than one mile from their home. Read more…