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Repeat Until Complete: Transportation, Housing Bills Reintroduced

bikeatCapitollabel2Wasting no time, lawmakers opened the first day of the California legislative session by introducing a slew of bills and resolutions to get things started.

The two biggest bills—S.B. 1 from Senator Jim Beall (D-San Jose)  and A.B. 1 from Assembly member Jim Frazier (D-Oakley)—are pretty much identical, and pretty much the same bills that got nowhere in the Transportation Special Session that ended a few weeks ago. Both raise funds by increasing gas and diesel taxes, by increasing vehicle registration fees and imposing a higher fee on zero emission vehicles to make up for not contributing any gas taxes, and by finding and identifying “efficiencies” within Caltrans to save money and reallocate it to other priorities.

The crucial issue is, what are those investment priorities? And will they align with other state priorities like greenhouse gas reductions? So far, the answer is: not exactly.

Read more…

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ATP Funding Recommendations Get Reshuffled; More Projects Added

The CV Link multi-use path will not be recommended for ATP funding. Image: CV Link

The CV Link multi-use path will not be recommended for ATP funding. Image: CV Link

Just before the California Transportation Commission (CTC) was set to approve staff recommendations on Active Transportation Program funding, the largest project on the list was moved down and is no longer recommended for funding. CTC staff recommended that CV Link receive $24.3 million, or almost a fifth of the total funding available, for a fifty-mile multi-use path connecting cities in the Coachella Valley. However, a mistake was discovered in its application, which led to its score being revisited. The new score put it further down the list, so that it will not be recommended for funding at tomorrow’s CTC meeting in Riverside.

The immediate consequence is that funding is freed up for five other projects that hadn’t previously made the cut-off. Those include: a project to build bike and pedestrian connections in Sunnyvale (which had been recommended for only partial funding, but will now receive its full request of $4.8 million); the Central Avenue Complete Street Project in Alameda (for $7.3 million); the McGowan Parkway, a bike lane and pedestrian improvements in Yuba County (for $1.2 million); pedestrian improvements along First Street in Santa Ana (for $4.5 million); a regional Safe Bicycling and Wayfinding project connecting the cities of Compton and Carson (for $1.6 million); and Long Beach’s Citywide 8-80 Connections project (for $6.7 million).

CV Link is a planned multi-use path that would have allowed bicycles and pedestrians, as well as “low-speed (up to 25 mph) electric vehicles”—golf carts—to travel along its route. Eventually the path would connect Palm Springs to the Salton Sea, although not in the first phases of construction.

In their funding application, planners had to address the question of how the project would benefit disadvantaged communities, in keeping with equity requirements in state law. The project emerged with a high score in this section, showing that the areas it served had a low median household income.

Equity advocates reviewing the ATP applications noticed this—and that it didn’t seem to ring true. The communities that the CV Link would go through include areas of very high median income, and closer inspection revealed that those areas weren’t included in the calculations used for the application.

Read more…

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Fresno Active Transportation Plan Is Flawed, But Better After Public Input

South Fresno residents discuss challenges they face when bicycling or walking in their community at an Active Transportation Plan workshop. Photo courtesy Cultiva La Salud.

South Fresno residents discuss challenges they face when bicycling or walking in their community at an Active Transportation Plan workshop. Photo courtesy Cultiva La Salud.

Community organizations have heralded Fresno’s draft Active Transportation Plan as a road map for bringing struggling neighborhoods in the south up to par with the north end of the city. But some say the plan could be stronger, and they are advocating for changes before the City Council approves it on Dec. 15.

“Overall it’s better than what I’ve seen in the past of other drafts,” said Grecia Elenes, policy advocate for Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, an advocacy organization in Fresno. “They incorporated comments that I heard at workshops and comments from residents I work with.”

The draft plan calls for adding 937 miles of new bike facilities and 805 miles of sidewalks, to significantly improve safety and connectivity in Fresno in the years to come. The plan prioritizes a network that could feasibly be built in the next ten years that includes 24 miles of Class I bike paths and 55 miles of sidewalks.

The priority network is estimated to cost $124.8 million. Building out the entire network would cost a total of around $1.4 billion. The city plans to apply for state and federal grants as well as use funds from the county’s Measure C.

Elenes, who helped organize south Fresno residents to provide comments at the city’s ATP workshops, said the plan does a good job of acknowledging the bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure inequities in the city, but that the proposed solutions aren’t enough. Read more…

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Interview With Out-Going Climate Champion State Senator Fran Pavley

Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) addresses the media after the passage of S.B. 32 in August. She's flanked by Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella), Governor Jerry Brown, and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De Leon, from left. Image courtesy Fran Pavley's office.

Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) addresses the media after the passage of S.B. 32 in August. She’s flanked by Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella), Governor Jerry Brown, and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De Leon, from left. Image courtesy Fran Pavley’s office.

Senator Fran Pavley is one of the members of the California legislature who will, with the end of the 2015-2016 session next week, bring a close to her tenure there. Pavley served for six years in the Assembly and six years in the Senate, where she worked hard to find consensus on environmental and climate change policies.

Pavley had a very successful career in the legislature, passing numerous bills on issues ranging from the environment and energy efficiency to education and women’s health. Among her biggest—and most famous—accomplishments is A.B. 32, California’s landmark Global Warming Solutions Act, which created targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and set the stage for the state’s cap-and-trade system. She also wrote a followup bill, S.B. 32, which extended those targets beyond the fast-approaching original deadline of 2020. In addition, Pavley headed up a successful fight to win the unprecedented right for California to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, and she wrote a bill that could help California finally create a rational, sustainable groundwater management policy.

Streetsblog talked with Senator Pavley about some of her accomplishments recently. There was a lot more we could have talked about, but we had to cut the conversation short so she could deliver a speech. The conversation below has been edited for length.

Senator Pavley started by talking about her groundwater management bill, because, she said, “It doesn’t get as much attention as all the climate things.” With a growing population—“We are at 39 million people, moving probably in the next ten to fifteen years up to 50 million people”—California can’t afford to ignore the problems inherent in its historical approach to water rights. “Water supply is certainly part of the discussion on how you strategically plan for that growth, along with transit along with other kinds of necessities.”

Besides, S.B. 1168 was, she said, one of the toughest bills she’d worked on. “It was complicated,” said Pavley, “and it wouldn’t have passed without a couple of things going on. One was record drought: 125 of our 515 basins were in severe overdraft, and in a drought sixty percent of California’s water supply comes from groundwater.”

“Right now we have too many basins where whoever can drill the deepest well gets the water. People literally—especially small farmers or lower income people—have been left high and dry, with the state of California providing huge containers of water, trucking them to their homes. It’s just amazing,” she said.

Read more…

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Equity Concerns Fall on Deaf Ears at OC Active Transportation Forum

Darrell Johnson, Orange County Transportation Authority CEO, speaks at October's 2016 Active Transportation Forum. Photo by Kristopher Fortin

Darrell Johnson, Orange County Transportation Authority CEO, speaks at October’s 2016 Orange County Active Transportation Forum. Photo by Kristopher Fortin

As far as equity, everyone has a very different definition of equity.

Wait, what?

If you ask the folks in South Orange County, they say, ‘We’re not having equity. [We’re] investing $350 million in the streetcar in Santa Ana—where’s our $350 million?’

You can’t be serious . . .

When you’re asking people in Santa Ana about the streetcar, what that means is issues around property . . . those are market driven issues that will be what they will become.

Please, don’t.

I think the urbanization of our county is changing regardless of whether there’s a streetcar project there or not. And those issues around property valuations, and property taxes–those are going to be there regardless. This may accelerate it in some way, but it’s going to occur no matter what.

. . . sigh . . .

Read more…

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Recap: California Transportation Sales Taxes on Today’s Ballot

These twenty counties already tax themselves to pay for transportation. Image: Self-Help County Coalition

These twenty counties already tax themselves to pay for transportation. Image: Self-Help County Coalition

Among the many important issues to be decided in today’s election are a whole bunch of transportation funding measures. We have already covered many of them at Streetsblog, and there’s a quick summary of them at Streetsblog USA.

All but one add 1/2 cents to local sales taxes for transportation purposes–but transportation is a wide target. Does it mean roads? Buses? Trains? Bike lanes? It used to be valid to say that roads were built with gas taxes. The theory went that the more gas you used, the more miles you drove and the more wear and tear you put on the roads—but the more tax you paid as well. It worked out more or less evenly.

But energy efficient cars mean people buy less gas per mile than they used to. People who can afford a fully electric car pay no gas tax at all. Gas costs more than it used to, but gas taxes haven’t been raised in California in more than twenty years. Also, federal and state policies prioritize building new things over taking care of what we already have, so finding funding for maintaining pavement isn’t easy. Add ever-rising construction costs, and voila, a transportation funding crisis.

Over the years counties and transportation agencies have asked residents to vote to add regular sales taxes as a transportation funding source. Not all of the measures pass, but many have. Twenty counties in California are “self-help” counties, meaning that they have agreed to raise sales taxes for transportation. Fifteen such measures are on local ballots today, and if they all pass the total number of “self-help” counties in California would come to 28.

Because everybody pays sales taxes on almost everything they buy, it is incumbent on those deciding how to spend the new tax revenue that the travel needs of everyone using the roads be considered–not just car drivers. And when proposing a sales tax measure that needs 2/3 of the vote to pass, the smart agency reaches out for public input on the question.

Increasingly, members of the public who weigh in at the early stages are saying they want that money to be invested in fixing potholes, making transit better, and creating safer ways for people walking and biking to get around. This happened in L.A., and informed the project list for Measure M. It happened in Sacramento, leading to Measure B‘s focus on pavement condition and complete streets before anything else can be funded. It happened in Contra Costa County, where almost a quarter of the revenue from Measure X is slated for a “sustainable communities” effort that will build and test complete streets projects on major corridors. It happened in Santa Cruz, where almost a fifth of Measure D‘s revenue is slated for a coastal rail trail for bicycle riders and pedestrians.

Despite what the public said, however, highway widening projects still made the list every time. Read more…

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Oakland Forging Ahead with New Ideas for Transportation

Oakland's new Department of Transportation has a new Strategic Plan

Oakland’s new Department of Transportation has a new Strategic Plan

It’s exciting times in Oakland, California. In the past six weeks, Oakland has passed a raft of policies that promise to have a lasting effect on the city’s future transportation and development. This is all being done as part of the city government’s reorganization, creating a new Department of Transportation to better strategize and coordinate transportation planning and construction.

The new policies include a strategic plan, an organizational chart for the now-forming Oakland Department of Transportation, a new citywide parking strategy (adopted last night by the City Council), parking requirements that better suit the city’s planned growth, and the adoption—before being required to do so by the state—of induced vehicle travel instead of car delay to measure environmental impacts from new development.

Oh, and the city just posted a job listing for the permanent DOT Director. A national search has begun for the right person for what might be the most exciting job in planning available right now.

Much of this rapid progress is due to the guidance of Jeff Tumlin, who has been Acting Interim Director of the DOT, in charge of heading up the reorganization and laying the foundation for its future. Tumlin gives credit to the high level of local public support for changes, a great team, and the city’s “willingness to align civic values with the mechanics of governance.”

The reorganization is giving the city an opportunity to step back and rethink its priorities, of which it has taken full advantage. Read more…

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ATP Funding Recommendations: Fewer and Larger Projects This Cycle

Screen Shot 2016-10-31 at 2.05.13 PM

Oakland’s 14th Street project, long recognized as a gap in Oakland’s bike network, was recommended for $10.5 million in the 2017 round of Active Transportation Plan. It will include protected bikeways, rain gardens, and a protected intersection. Image: City of Oakland

California Transportation Commission staff released their recommendations for projects to be funded in the 2017 round of the Active Transportation Program (ATP) yesterday. These recommendations will go to the full Commission for official adoption at its December meeting in Riverside.

The recommendations are for projects applying for money under the “Statewide” and “Small Urban and Rural” categories. A third category, to be awarded through regional Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), will be decided next spring.

The ATP received 456 applications this round, requesting a total of $977 million in just these two categories. After teams scored the applications, staff chose forty projects under the Statewide category, for a little over $131 million, and ten projects under the Small Urban and Rural category, for a little over $26 million. The ATP awards only fulfill about half of the amount needed, and all the projects have funding from other sources.

The list of recommended projects is available here.

As usual, unfortunately, worthy projects were left on the table. Many will be disappointed, but some of the unfunded projects are still eligible under their regional MPO allocations, which will be submitted to the CTC in January. There is a little over $105 million available in that category, divided by formula among the regional organizations. Read more…

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The Legacy of S.B. 375: Transforming Planning to Transform California

ClimatePlanReportClimate Plan, a coalition of more than fifty nonprofits working on California climate policies, released a report [PDF] about what we’ve learned from S.B. 375, one of California’s policy efforts to grapple with climate change. The coalition held a day of presentations in Sacramento on Monday to celebrate the release. Presenters—people who’ve been working in state and local agencies and advocacy organizations—confirm that we’ve learned quite a lot, that planning practices in California are changing, and that there is still more work to do to achieve state goals.

S.B. 375 requires regional planning agencies to create, as part of their already-required Regional Transportation Plan (RTP), a Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS). The SCS is supposed to identify ways regions can reach state-mandated greenhouse gas reduction targets by coordinating land use and transportation planning. This had never been done before; land use planning—which decides the location, shape, and size of housing, jobs, retail, schools, etc.—is done locally, and regions planned transportation around it. Under S.B. 375, regional agencies had to find a way to make all those plans consistent with each other and work with local agencies to shorten and reduce driving trips as much as possible.

It was a recognition that you can’t just plant housing out where land is cheaper, have everyone drive to jobs in the city centers, and expect to reduce emissions.

The SCS has to take into account current development patterns (is your community a sprawled suburban place? A small town? A dense city?), local general plans (which likely don’t address greenhouse gas reductions and probably need updating), housing needs (few areas are building enough housing), federal Clean Air Act requirements, and input from community residents and their advocates.

Because the regional transportation planning agencies control most state and federal transportation funding, these requirements affect what kind of projects get funding. Even self-help counties that tax themselves for transportation projects still rely on state and federal funding, so the regional requirements to address greenhouse gas emission reductions have brought pressure on local planning efforts to do the same.

Of course, this is a giant simplification of a very complex process, for which I apologize. Even the full day of talks at Climate Plan’s event couldn’t begin to cover every caveat, complication, and unintended consequence of S.B. 375. But it’s fair to say that eight years after that bill became law, transportation planning throughout the state has changed, and generally for the better.

Climate Plan’s report [PDF], “Leading the Way: Policies and Practices for Sustainable Communities Strategies,” outlines how that happened, and how the progress can continue. Read more…

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Contra Costa County Transportation Sales Tax Measure X Pleases Some

A general breakdown of Contra Costa County's transportation sales tax plan. Note that "Sustainable Communities" includes money for bike and pedestrian infrastructure, community development, and Complete Streets pilot projects, among others.

A general breakdown of Contra Costa County’s transportation sales tax plan. Note that “Sustainable Communities” includes money for bike and pedestrian infrastructure, community development, and Complete Streets pilot projects, among others.

Contra Costa County voters are considering whether to tax themselves to pay for transportation, and the plan accompanying the measure has a few potentially game-changing aspects. That doesn’t mean that sustainable transportation advocates all support it, however.

Measure X, like most of the other county measures on November ballots, is a thirty-year ½ cent sales tax increase. It’s expected to generate almost $2.9 billion over that period of time. It comes with a plan for how to allocate the money it raises, and will require at least 2/3 of the vote to pass.

Like other local measures, it allocates funds for both transit and roads, but Measure X also has a separate allocation for “sustainable communities,” a category that includes things like complete streets pilot projects and pedestrian and bike infrastructure. It allocates a fifth of its funding for “congestion reduction,” but language in the measure specifically calls for doing so not by widening roads but by creating alternatives for drive-alone trips.

Bike East Bay, working with several other partners including Rich City Bikes, Bike Concord, and Bike Walnut Creek, is working to help pass the measure. They see big gains for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, including a robust “complete streets” program for major arterials, which includes almost $60 million for several pilot complete streets projects that will include accommodations for walking, biking, transit, and shuttles. That money will be distributed in the first five years of the measure, frontloading projects to test out concepts and show what can be done to make streets work better.

“People will realize we don’t have to widen roads to relieve congestion, and that they can be better for everyone, including drivers,” said Dave Campbell, Advocacy Director for Bike East Bay.

In addition, a separate four percent set-aside for bicycle and pedestrian projects, is expected to run to about $115 million. Two-thirds of that amount will go to cities, and one-third to the East Bay Regional Parks District for trails and bike access.

It’s less than advocates were hoping for, but they are willing to compromise for a reason: Measure X has strong language about accommodating all road users on “complete streets.” Read more…