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CA Active Transportation Program Funding Unchanged for Next Two Years

This Complete Streets plan in Albany, CA, won a grant from the Active Transportation Program in 2014. Image: Wallace Robers & Todd, via City of Albany

The Complete Streets plan for San Pablo Avenue in Albany, CA, won a grant from the Active Transportation Program in the 2014 allocation. Image: Wallace Roberts & Todd, via City of Albany

Although Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed FY 2015 budget showed a decrease in the line item for the Active Transportation Program (ATP), Caltrans Budget Chief Steven Keck assured the California Transportation Commission at its meeting last week that the change was technical and the funding level would be the same as last year’s.

Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty later confirmed that “as of today going forward, our plan is: no change in the ATP budget.”

While the funding is not being cut from 2014 levels, there is still concern that the need to improve conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists is far greater than the funding provided in the ATP.

And the commissioners seem to agree.

Commissioner Yvonne Burke expressed surprise that there wasn’t more of a fuss kicked up at the meeting. Commissioner Carl Guardino was the only speaker who called attention to the program’s paltry funding, noting that the need for it “greatly outstrips the amount of funding available.”

The ATP allocates most of the state’s funding targeted at increasing walking and bicycling. It was created by statute [PDF] in 2013, combining state and federal funding for bicycle infrastructure, Safe Routes to Schools, and other similar funds into a single pot. In its first two-year cycle, it awarded a total of a little over $350 million for 267 projects throughout the state.

Tracing the sources of money in the ATP can be tricky. Early budget proposals typically incorporate some uncertainty about funding levels, since calculating the state’s revenues from taxes can be an inaccurate science. Other budgetary practices, like last year’s repayment of $9 million that had been borrowed from the ATP’s precursor, the Bicycle Transportation Account, further muddy the waters.

Whatever the reasons for it, the confusion over an issue as simple as “how much money will the state be spending on walking and bicycling infrastructure” adds to the impression that Caltrans is not a very transparent organization.

At last week’s meeting, commission staff presented and discussed draft revisions to the program guidelines [PDF] for the second two-year cycle of funding, set to begin in June.

Read more…

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CA Adopts Guidelines for Cap-and-Trade Affordable Housing Program

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Screen shot 2015-01-21 at 11.50.22 AM The Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program hopes to support projects that transform neglected, auto-dependent streets like the one on top into vibrant mixed-use transit corridors. Image: Strategic Growth Council

Yesterday the Strategic Growth Council adopted guidelines for the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities (AHSC) program and scheduled workshops for early February to provide technical assistance to potential applicants.

California’s Strategic Growth Council is a state committee that coordinates a variety of activities by multiple state agencies, including efforts to improve air and water quality, increase affordable housing, improve transportation, and other issues related to quality of life in California. The Council was given the task of overseeing the AHSC program, created last year during negotiations on how to spend cap-and-trade revenue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The AHSC is tasked with reducing greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging the development of affordable housing near transit and by creating walkable, bikeable communities that encourage few car trips.

There is $130 million in AHSC’s first round, and staff estimate it will be able to provide partial support for between 15 and 25 projects. The second round of funding is slated to receive $200 million, pending how much revenue cap-and-trade raises this year as well as final budget decisions in June.

The AHSC is a new program, and the process of creating the guidelines has been on a fast pace. After a series of intensive public workshops held throughout the state, proposed guidelines were released in October. At yesterday’s hearing, speaker after speaker remarked that SGC staff succeeded in creating a remarkable, important program in an extremely short time.

And almost everyone agreed it still needs work. Read more…

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Transit and Intercity Rail Funding: Upcoming Workshops

Capitol Corridor train running through Oakland. Photo: Ale Sasso, Wikimedia

The Capitol Corridor train serves intercity travelers between San Jose and Sacramento; in this photo it’s passing through Oakland. Photo: Ale Sasso, Wikimedia

State agencies are seeking input on one more program that will receive funds from California’s cap-and-trade system. Guidelines for the Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program [PDF] were released in December. Two public workshops will be held next week to gather feedback, one in Los Angeles and one in Sacramento.

The stated goals of the program are to fund capital and operational improvements to transit and rail to reduce greenhouse gas emission, increase ridership, integrate the various existing rail services, and improve safety.

The first round of funding will allocate $25 million. Discussions at earlier workshops touched on whether there is enough money to make it worth rail agencies’ time and effort to apply. However,  future funding cycles are likely to get more funding as the cap-and-trade program is expected to bring in more money in the next five years.

The guidelines currently cover eligibility criteria, the application and evaluation processes, and the selection process.

The workshops will be held:

  • Tuesday, January 20, 10 am, at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board Room, One Gateway Plaza, third floor, Los Angeles. [Agenda PDF]
  • Wednesday, January 21, 10 am, at the California State Capitol, Room 447 (historic building), Sacramento [Agenda PDF]

Comments may also be submitted here.

The draft guidelines are scheduled to be presented to the California Transportation Commission for approval at its January 22 meeting.

Email tips, alerts, press releases, ideas, etc. to melanie@streetsblog.org.
For social media coverage focused on statewide issues, follow Melanie @currymel on Twitter or like our Facebook page here.

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CA Budget Details: Active Transportation Gets Less Money

Active Transportation Project applications pile up at Caltrans headquarters on May 21.Photo: California Bicycle Coalition

Caltrans received over 770 applications for Active Transportation Projects in May last year.
Photo: California Bicycle Coalition

Last Friday, Governor Jerry Brown released his proposed 2015-16 budget. The 270-page summary [PDF] included a passing reference to $360 million previously allocated for the Active Transportation Program (ATP), as part of state efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging more bicycling and walking. But the budget summary offered no details about future funding, nor what allocations for the coming year might be.

The details were released late that afternoon, and they show that the state is not yet taking the commitment to active transportation seriously. The ATP’s allocation for 2015-16 under Brown’s proposed budget is considerably less than the previous year’s funding level.

This is the first step in the budget process. The governor proposes a budget, which then is discussed in the legislature–the first such hearing was held today in the Assembly. In the spring Brown will propose revisions, based on legislative feedback, which will then undergo further discussions and revision. The final budget must be passed by June.

The budget proposal reads like an exercise in bureaucratic obfuscation. You can find the transportation section here [PDF], but good luck figuring it out. With some hand-holding and a lot of consultation with people who know way more than I do, this is what I found buried in the numbers:

  • The overall budget for transportation, almost $16 billion, will increase by $200 million over last year’s budget
  • That doesn’t seem like a lot, given inflation
  • Despite that increase, the proposed 2015-16 ATP allocation from state funds will decrease by twenty percent over the 2014 allocation, from $43 million to $34 million
  • In addition, the proposed 2015-16 ATP allocation from federal funds will decrease by five percent over 2014, from $95 million to $90 million

There are caveats and many questions remaining. For example, the aforementioned $360 million to the ATP in the budget summary was for three years’ worth of funding. The next round of ATP funding will also be for a multi-year program, but how that fits with the numbers in the current budget is not clear. It’s also not clear yet whether the next round of ATP funding will be for two years or three years.

The initial round of ATP funding, allocated in May, received 770 applications that requested about $1 billion in funding. Only 265 of those projects got funded. Sure, they probably weren’t all perfect applications, but likely many of them were, and 34 percent is still a small portion of projects to fund. It is clear that there is heavy demand for the Active Transportation Program funding.

Yet the proposed budget shows no commitment to expanding the ATP, and little commitment to keeping its funding at the same level, despite the climate change goals articulated in the governor’s recent speeches, and despite the clear connection between increased bicycling and walking trips and reduced fuel use and emissions.

Calls to the California Transportation Commission and Caltrans have not yet produced any answers to the remaining questions. Stay tuned as we dig further.

Meanwhile the California Transportation Commission is set to approve revised guidelines for the second round of ATP funding. It held one workshop last week in Los Angeles [PDF], and the draft guidelines [PDF] will likely be approved at the commission’s next meeting on January 22 in Sacramento.

Email tips, alerts, press releases, ideas, etc. to melanie@streetsblog.org.
For social media coverage focused on statewide issues, follow Melanie @currymel on Twitter or like our Facebook page here.

 

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Report: CA Cap-and-Trade Program Is Up to Snuff

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The Environmental Defense Fund’s new report says California’s cap-and-trade system is succeeding

Note: The original post has been edited slightly to clear up a misconception. Companies subject to the emissions cap cannot pay for the right to exceed the cap.

The Environmental Defense Fund released a report this morning that says the second year of California’s cap-and-trade program is a success on several fronts.

The report, “Carbon Market California Year Two” [PDF], follows up on its first-year report by analyzing results from the 2013-14 cap-and-trade program.

Cap-and-trade is the part of California’s climate change law that puts teeth into the state’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It works by defining an upper limit, or “cap,” on emissions for different industry sectors, and creating credits per ton of carbon pollution.

Companies are allowed a certain number of “free” emission credits, and a limited number are also made available for auction — thus the “trade” part, wherein companies buy and sell credits amongst themselves. The total number of available credits, free and auctioned, equals the industry-wide emissions cap.

The cap is set to shrink over time as the state moves towards its carbon emission reduction goals, thus requiring companies to further reduce  emissions. At the same time, the price of emission allowances will rise as competition for them becomes hotter, and the more a company can reduce its emissions the fewer credits it will need.

Revenues from the auctions are to be used for projects that can help the state further reduce emissions, for example by building affordable housing near transit, although raising money is not one of the goals of the program.

According to the report, California is succeeding in limiting, pricing, and reducing emissions by getting industries to pay for the pollution they produce.

Key conclusions from the report after the jump: Read more…

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2015 CA State Budget: for Transportation, More of the Same

California Governor Jerry Brown explains the need for fiscal restraint as he presents the preliminary 2015 state budget

California Governor Jerry Brown explains the need for fiscal restraint as he presents the preliminary 2015 state budget

Governor Jerry Brown released his preliminary budget proposal [PDF] today in Sacramento, missing the opportunity to articulate the connection between spending on roads and meeting the climate change goals he proposed Monday in his inaugural speech.

The draft budget holds no huge surprises for sustainable transportation advocates. It mostly follows last year’s budget for transportation spending. Brown made no move to change the allocations of cap-and-trade funds, which include a 25 percent for high-speed rail, with the rest of the expected $1 billion going to other projects that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The budget mentions the $350 million for last year’s Active Transportation Program, but makes no mention of increasing that amount.

At the press conference, Brown highlighted funding for road maintenance and repair, but failed to connect spending on roads with his stated goal of reducing fuel consumption by 50 percent over the next fifteen years. That goal won’t be easy to reach, and will take more than high-speed rail and electric cars.

“Getting people biking and walking is a critical part of that effort,” said Jeanie Ward-Waller of the National Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership. “Yet the Active Transportation Program is only one percent of the budget—less if you include cap-and-trade money,” which the governor’s office expects to add another $1 billion to next year’s budget.

“Yes, we have unfunded highway maintenance needs,” she added, “but as long as we keep building highways, we always will. We need to focus on shifting people to other modes.”

Instead Brown emphasizes high-speed rail as his main solution for reducing fuel consumption. His budget lists HSR among “healthy transportation alternatives,” alongside transit and walkable and bikable communities, that will receive half of cap-and-trade revenue.

But high-speed rail won’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions any time soon, and the amount of money allocated to it dwarfs the Active Transportation Program, which has the potential to increase the number of people who choose bikes and walking.

Read more…

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High-Speed Rail Breaks Ground in Fresno

Photo by Alex Brideau III

At today’s groundbreaking in Fresno, Governor Jerry Brown celebrates construction of California’s High-Speed Rail. Photo by Alex Brideau III

California signaled its commitment to high-speed rail with a groundbreaking today in Fresno. The ceremony, featuring a speech by Governor Jerry Brown, marks the official beginning of construction on the long-awaited train.

It also puts California on track to be the first state in the nation to build high-speed rail. That depends on how you define it, though; Amtrak’s Acela Express service between Boston and D.C. comes close, getting up to 150 miles per hour on some sections.

The first section of track to be constructed will run 29 miles between Fresno and the town of Madera to the north. It includes two viaducts, a trench in downtown Fresno, and twelve grade separations—most of them lifting existing roads over the at-grade tracks.

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Route of high-speed rail between Madera and Fresno. The first construction phase ends at Avenue 17, just south of Avenue 19 1/2. Image: CAHSR Authority

Today’s groundbreaking was held at the site of the future downtown Fresno high-speed rail station. It was largely ceremonial, as actual construction may not start until April. However, pre-construction activities have been underway, including archaeological and geotechnical preparation work.

In his speech Governor Brown addressed project criticisms, saying it is necessary to be critiqued to build a better project.

“It’s not about money,” he added. “You’ve got to get something in the ground. You’ve got to put the building trades people to work.”

He compared building high-speed rail with other large projects that have met with opposition, like the Central Valley Water Project, the Golden Gate Bridge, and BART. “All those projects were a little bit touch-and-go,” he said.

Read more…

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San Diego Sued for Putting in a Bike Lane

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Before (above) and after (below) a road diet and new bike lane on Fifth Avenue. The street still has two travel lanes after the road diet. Top: Google Streetview. Bottom: from a tweet from Councilmember Todd Gloria

A lawsuit filed last week in San Diego [PDF] claims that the city did an inadequate CEQA analysis for a recent road diet and new bike lane on a stretch of Fifth Avenue.

The city’s Bicycle Master Plan calls for a bike lane on that section of the street, and lists it as a priority project. A recently completed water main repair there, followed by repaving, gave the impetus to restripe it and, in the process, the city removed one lane of traffic and added a wide, buffered bike lane.

Fifth Avenue is part of a north-south duo of one-way streets that connect downtown San Diego to Balboa Park through San Diego’s urban core. Together, they comprise one of the main corridors for bike access to downtown, with other parallel routes interrupted by steep canyons. They are also part of a planned “downtown loop” [PDF] which is being set up in anticipation of the bike share launch, now scheduled for next month.

The section that is subject to the lawsuit is between Laurel and Upas streets, a nine-block segment that connects to Balboa Park, the zoo, and several museums, just north of the downtown bike loop. Although from the photos above there is clearly plenty of room on the street, at peak times it can get congested.

For some people, that is an argument for a road diet, which can slow down and smooth traffic, allowing bicyclists to ride with at least some illusion of safety. But for others, the congestion is an argument to leave the bad design in place.

The lawsuit was filed by Leo Wilson on behalf of the Bankers Hill Community Association–not to be confused with the Bankers Hill Community Group, which currently celebrates the new bike lanes on its website. The suit claims that the bike plan calls for narrowing traffic lanes to squeeze in a bike lane while preserving all three existing lanes, and that removing a lane should require a new CEQA analysis.

The city won’t comment on pending litigation, but the lawsuit quotes San Diego Senior Traffic Engineer Brian Genovese as saying that the new striping is exempt from CEQA because the project is included in the adopted bicycle plan.

It’s depressingly reminiscent of the 2006 lawsuit against San Francisco’s bike plan, which caused the city to delay putting in any bike facilities, including bike racks, for four years while it completed an expensive Environmental Impact Report that came to the same conclusions the city had reached without the report: that bike facilities do not create a significant environmental impact.

This lawsuit makes claims similar to those in the San Francisco suit, saying that traffic congestion will worsen, and that vehicles will be diverted to other local streets.

Unfortunately, the state’s Office of Planning and Research has not yet completed its guidance on S.B. 743, under which vehicle congestion will be removed from the list of environmental impacts that need analysis.

The city is trying to do what the state mandated in its Complete Streets Act [PDF] that requires cities to “plan for a balanced, multimodal transportation network that meets the needs of all users of streets, roads, and highways, defined to include motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, children, persons with disabilities, seniors, movers of commercial goods, and users of public transportation, in a manner that is suitable to the rural, suburban, or urban context of the general plan.”

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San Diego Fights CA Courts for Its Highway-Happy Plan to Increase Emissions

San Diego insists on its plans for greenhouse gas emissions to keep going in the wrong direction. Image from TransitSanDiego.org via Citylab

Despite what CA’s courts say, San Diego insists on plans to widen freeways in its 2050 Regional Transportation Plan, even if it defies the state’s ambitions to reduce climate-changing car dependency.

As Eric Jaffe at CityLab wrote, the story is told in one simple chart created by opponents of the plan, which shows that it projects that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions would rise through 2050. The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) apparently has no problem with that.

SANDAG does expect its plan to meet short-term GHG reduction targets through 2020, as mandated by A.B. 32, California’s Global Warming Solutions Act. A.B. 32 sets specific GHG reduction targets through 2020, but the spirit of the law implies that emissions should continue dropping through 2050, as called for in an executive order from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the CA Air Resources Board’s scoping plan. A.B. 32′s author, State Senator Fran Pavley, has introduced a new bill for the 2015 session, S.B. 32, which aims to extend GHG reduction mandates through 2050.

But since the 2050 goals in the Governor’s executive order aren’t actually written into law, SANDAG argues that it doesn’t have to follow them. SANDAG lost the initial legal challenge against its plan, and lost its appeal, but now intends to take the case to the CA Supreme Court.

Jaffe writes:

SANDAG presented its plan as a balanced vision of highway improvements matched with transit expansion. But opponents (the state attorney general among them) said that by front-loading road projects, the plan ensured car dependency in the region for decades and ran counter to California’s climate goals.

On that last charge, SANDAG’s own numbers show that the … plan meets the state’s short-term emissions goals (established in a law known as S.B. 375). Greenhouse gases fall 14 percent by 2020 from current levels, and 13 percent by 2035. But by 2050, the plan estimates that emissions will have fallen just 10 percent, meaning for most of the plan’s duration they’ll actually be on the rise—the reason being an “increased demand for driving” as people moved into more remote areas of the region, according to SANDAG.

Whatever the current law says, SANDAG is willfully ignoring the facts on climate change, and denying the urgency of avoiding its impacts by changing business as usual. So far, the courts have not agreed with SANDAG’s short-sighted arguments.

SANDAG was the first region to adopt its long range plan after the passage of A.B. 32. Other regions in CA are paying close attention to San Diego’s legal wrangling, as it may set a precedent for long-term transportation planning throughout the state.

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California Bicycle Coalition Announces Its 2015 Legislative Agenda

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CalBike thinks bicyclists would learn more from skills classes like this one offered by Bike East Bay than from paying fines for infractions. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

The California Bicycle Coalition (CalBike) released its ambitious agenda for the 2015  legislative session. Their top priority is to increase funding for cities to build complete bike networks — not just piecemeal bikeways.

Also on its agenda is the less glamorous but equally important task of clarifying some outdated regulations that prevent people from riding bikes. The list includes:

  • Defining low-speed electric bikes and allowing them on bike paths
  • Creating subsidies for electric bikes
  • Clarifying vehicle code rules including what happens at inoperative signals and when protected bike lanes cross intersections
  • Insurance reforms to help bicyclists collect damages in near collisions
  • Ticket diversion programs for cyclists

Funding for Bicycle Networks

CalBike’s goal is to create a funding source for competitive grants that could fund larger projects than the current Active Transportation Program (ATP) can support. Although the details are not yet fully fleshed out, the new grants would require the development of a complete, connected bicycle network, thus creating an incentive for cities to think more broadly about bike planning.

“We need to more rapidly and more broadly fund bike infrastructure,” said CalBike board member Christopher Kidd. “We’re hoping to change the ways that cities think about bike projects. Much of the time the available funding is so small that it only covers particular bike lanes, individual complete streets projects, and bike paths, and we end up with disjointed, piecemeal bike routes rather than networks.”

“It could be really game-changing for the way we build out our bike networks,” he added.

The existing ATP tends to focus on funding individual bike infrastructure projects rather than encouraging cities to think holistically about how bikes fit into the transportation system. CalBike hopes that with a new, larger funding source, cities and counties will be encouraged to take a much broader look at their bike networks, and address the gaps that remain after they tackle the easy parts first.

“We saw that on Telegraph Avenue [in Oakland],” said Kidd. “If there’s a difficult part of the project, it makes more sense to put it off, and to first do the things that are easy. But that is how we end up with all these gaps. And those gaps are what’s keeping more people from getting on bikes.”

Read more…