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First Cap-and-Trade Funds Awarded for Transit Projects

Sacramento's light rail will buy new vehicles with money from cap-and-trade proceeds. Image: Wikipedia

The Sacramento Regional Transit District will buy new light rail vehicles with money from cap-and-trade proceeds. Image: Wikipedia

The California Transportation Commission began the process of allocating funds from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund at its monthly meeting on Friday. The first official allocations for the Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program went to Sacramento, LA’s MetroLink, and San Diego for projects that will allow them to offer better transit service, thus encouraging transit ridership and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Meanwhile, the program is moving into its second round of considering projects to receive the cap-and-trade funds. It was created last year as one of the programs charged with using cap-and-trade funds to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, along with high speed rail and the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program. Fourteen projects were awarded a total of $224 million in the first round.

Two workshops will be held this week—one tomorrow in Los Angeles, and one in Sacramento on Thursday–to talk about current program guidelines and “help shape the future of the program.” [PDF]

  • Tuesday, September 1, 3 to 5 p.m.
    Metro Board Room
    One Gateway Plaza, 3rd floor
    Los Angeles
  • Thursday, September 3, 10 am to noon
    915 Capitol Mall, Conference Room 587, 5th floor

The three agencies that were awarded funds on Friday are the first of fourteen that won funding approval by the California State Transportation Agency in June. They are:

  • Sacramento Regional Transit District (Sac RT) will receive $6 million to refurbish seven light rail vehicles. This will allow the agency provide fifteen-minute peak-hour service, and enable future limited-stop service on the Gold and Blue lines.
  • Southern California Regional Rail Authority (Metrolink) will receive $41 million to buy nine new clean locomotives, to improve and increase service on the Ventura and Antelope Valley lines.
  • San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) will receive $4 million to complete the last eleven miles of the South Bay Bus Rapid Transit project between downtown and the international border, with new natural-gas-powered buses and increased service. The project will also include a new intermodal transportation center at the border connecting to trolleys and Amtrak.

The other  eleven already-approved TIRC projects will be allocated funds at future CTC meetings, as agencies request funds.

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Opaque Process Leaves Californians in the Dark about Transportation Funding

bikeatCapitollabel2Amid the swirling madness that is the final few weeks of the California legislative session—all bills must be voted on by September 11, or wait until next year—the question of how to raise, and spend, money on transportation is still very much up in the air. Increasingly, it looks like major decisions will be made behind closed doors and out of the public eye.

Governor Brown called for two “special sessions” to force agreements on major issues the state must confront, or face serious consequences in the near future: transportation and health care. But learning what “special session” means has been a quixotic exercise, as they are rare, and few capitol staffers have a clear understanding of exactly what one entails. This is what Streetsblog has been able to find out:

  • The rules for a special, also known as “extraordinary,” session follow the rules of a regular legislative session, except when they don’t.
  • Special Session committees are formed for each subject in each house, apart from the regular session committees. Members are appointed by the Senate Pro-Tem or the Assembly Speaker.
  • Those committees are a Rules Committee, an Appropriations Committee, and a subject committee—for example, the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
  • The committees are set up to consider bills on their subjects, which can be introduced by any legislator, just like in the regular session.
  • But the usual legislative deadlines don’t apply. That is, a bill doesn’t have to be “in print” for thirty days before it gets a hearing, so it can be introduced up until the last minute. Also, it can go directly from a committee to be voted on the floor of the legislature. It’s not even clear that anything must be decided before September 11, when the regular session ends—except that the lawmakers will be heading back to their districts then, and not likely to willingly stick around in Sacramento for more hearings.
  • Information about the special session committee hearings is hidden deep within the respective legislative websites, harder to find and follow even than the traditionally obtuse regular session information.

So far each subject committee has held only two hearings, and only one of those was for the purpose of discussing legislation. The Assembly committee held a sparsely attended informational hearing this week about improving freight movement, but the only legislator who stayed to listen to testimony was committee chair Assemblymember Jim Frazier (D-Oakley).

It looks increasingly like there may be no more hearings on any of the proposed bills, although there are quite a few of them pending [PDF]. There are two “spot” bills waiting to be considered by each house right now, each containing only a few vague words about “legislative intent,” signifying nothing. At some point before mid September those bills will be amended after private negotiations between the power players, and involving who-knows-what compromises between the two houses, between the two parties, and among legislator’s pet projects. And then they may be voted on immediately in both houses.

So much for the process. The outcome, at this point, is far from certain. Read more…

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Senate Leader Dismisses Idea of Using Cap-and-Trade Funds for Road Repairs

"Kevin de Léon 2012" by Neon Tommy - Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons

Kevin de Léon in 2012. Image by Neon Tommy – Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons

At a press conference in Sacramento yesterday, Senate President Pro-Tem Kevin de Leon dismissed the idea, floated by Republican legislators and anti-tax advocates, that revenue in the state’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction fund could be used for road maintenance and repair.

“That is not a serious proposal,” said de Leon. “There is no nexus between greenhouse gas emissions and potholes.”

The proposal is part of a package of recommendations [PDF] from Assembly Republicans, who say they will refuse to support raising taxes to pay for what is generally agreed to be a crisis in funding for transportation in California. The Republican package includes finding ways to use existing revenue, including, they say, applying $2 billion in cap-and-trade revenue towards road repair.

“I admit I’m not a lawyer,” said de Leon, “but the thesis behind cap-and-trade is to use the revenue for carbon reduction. Repairing roads contradicts what cap-and-trade funds are for.”

His remarks came on the same day that the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, a Special Session committee formed by Governor Jerry Brown to tackle the problem of transportation funding, rejected a bill that would have defunded high speed rail and used any remaining funds for highway and road repair and new construction.

“We do have to repair our crumbling infrastructure,” said de Leon, “and we can grow our economy [at the same time]. We need serious proposals.”

So far proposals considered by the Senate committee have included the one to scuttle high speed rail and another that would have forced Caltrans to reduce its payroll by contracting out an increasing percentage of its work. Those were both defeated yesterday, but the committee did pass a bill that would create the position of Transportation Inspector General to oversee all transportation funding in the state. It also passed a bill from the committee chair, Senator Jim Beall (D-Campbell), that would raise taxes on gasoline and diesel, create a “road access charge” for all vehicles, and require Caltrans to tighten its belt and increase its efficiency by a third.

Because it raises taxes, Beall’s bill needs to be approved by two-thirds of the legislature. Although it sailed through this committee, its fate on the Senate floor and in the Assembly is unclear. Senate Republican leader Bob Huff had said a few days earlier that Republican legislators will not support any tax increases.

De Leon expressed surprised at Huff’s comments. “He is keenly aware of the need for funds,” he said. “Simply saying ‘no taxes’ stymies the discussion” before it can get started.

“All solutions are on the table,” said de Leon, “and I hope my colleague Mr. Huff will see the wisdom” of being open to discussing them.

Look for more coverage of the transportation funding discussions at Streetsblog California over the next few weeks.

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New Website Quantifies Benefits of California Climate Change Policies


A screenshot of TransForm’s Climate Change website, showing all of the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities projects in the San Joaquin Valley. It shows no GHG reductions because some state data is slow in coming.

Each time California legislators consider its climate change policies, questions arise about what benefits the state is receiving for its current investments. Until today, there has been no centralized source of data on the state’s investments from its cap-and-trade program nor on resulting greenhouse gas emissions or other benefits.

Now there is. TransForm, a nonprofit that advocates for rational transportation and land use policies, just unveiled a searchable online map to track investments from California’s cap-and-trade program. The Climate Benefits Map, currently in beta form, will eventually collect all the data available about the various programs and projects funded by the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) and make it available for the public to peruse.

TransForm’s aim is to highlight the benefits of California’s climate change policies, including environmental, economic, and community benefits. With this map they have begun the process of quantifying those benefits in consistent terms across various programs funded by the GGRF. “We really believe that California is benefiting from its climate change policies,” said Shannon Tracey, TransForm’s communications director, and they want to make that information public. “With legislation like S.B. 32 and S.B. 350 advancing” in the legislature, “it’s important for people to see what we’re getting from these investments.”

The data will be available to guide future decisions about climate change legislation, as well as ongoing discussions of investment plans. “This tool will help people evaluate whether we’re doing the right kinds of investments,” said Tracey.

It might also serve to light a fire under the California Air Resources Board, which is developing its own online tracking tool for climate change policies but is not anywhere close to having it available for use.

California’s GGRF currently funds a wide range of programs, administered by different state agencies:

Read more…

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California Legislative Update

bikeatCapitollabel2In Sacramento, bills are beginning to move more quickly through the committee process as this week’s policy committee deadline approaches. Below are highlights on some of the bills pertaining to sustainable streets issues.

Cap-and-Trade Funds for Transit: After Streetsblog wrote about its focus on large projects, author Jim Beall (D-Santa Clara) amended S.B. 9 to allow projects of any size to compete for funds in this program. TransForm says the bill still includes a provision that would make it hard for disadvantaged communities to access the grant funds, by giving priority to projects with non-state funding. The main benefit of the bill is that it allows a commitment to funding larger projects over time, making it easier to secure financing and leverage other funding. S.B. 9 still eliminates operations funding from this program in future cycles, but that change has caused no ripples. Operations were nominally eligible during the first round, but none of the first year’s recipients won operations funding–perhaps because the grants are one-time-only, and operations are an ongoing expense.  The bill goes next to the Assembly Natural Resources Committee.

Parking Requirements: It wasn’t as exciting as the tiff in the Labor Committee hearing, but the conversation in the Transportation and Housing Committee last week about A.B. 744 did get strange. The bill, authored by Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park), would lower parking requirements to make developing affordable housing easier. Ultimately it passed the committee this week and moves next to Governance and Finance. See Streetsblog’s coverage here.

Slow Vehicles Ahead: A.B. 208 from Frank Bigelow (R-O’Neals) was originally an attempt to clarify the three-foot rule on rural roads and has undergone a number of changes, reflecting legal semantics more than anything. For example, one amendment would have changed the word “roadway” to “highway,” but that was an awkward change that would have left no legal place for slow vehicles to pull out and let others pass. In its latest iteration the bill settles for language making it clear that bicycles are included in the definition of “slow-moving vehicle” and must pull aside if there are five or more vehicles piled up behind them. The bill is now on the Senate consent calendar, which means it could be passed without further discussion.

Bus Cameras to Catch Parking Violators: A.B. 1287 from David Chiu (D-San Francisco) would allow San Francisco Muni to keep using cameras on its vehicles to catch people parking in transit lanes. Muni did a study that found that the program could help reduce delays. There was no opposition to the bill, which passed the Transportation Committee and now goes to the Judiciary Committee. The bill applies only to S.F. Muni, but it could open the door to other transit agencies; L.A. Metro experiences similar issues.

Temporary Vehicle Plates: A.B. 516 from Kevin Mullin (D-San Mateo) would require new cars to have temporary plates affixed to them at the point of sale. This was a retry of a bill that died in the Appropriations Committee last year (A.B. 2197). A temporary license plate could make it easier to enforce existing law that makes it illegal to drive without a permanent plate for more than ninety days, which caused complaints that a driver may not be to blame if plates don’t arrive on time. The bill has support from toll-collecting agencies and hit-and-run reform advocates. It passed the Transportation and Housing Committee and will be modified slightly to address concerns, then go to Public Safety.

Are Uber Cars Commercial Vehicles? A.B. 828 from Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Campbell) would exempt private cars used for “transportation network companies” (such as Uber or Lyft) from designation as commercial vehicles under DMV rules. Impassioned testimony from many people pointed out over and over that Uber drivers provide the same service as taxis but without the same regulations. The authors promised to amend the bill to add a two-year sunset date and call for a study on the impact of new regulations. The bill squeaked by the Transportation Committee and goes back to the Rules Committee.

Via Streetsblog California
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Bill to Reform Parking Minimums Passes CA Senate Transportation Committee

Screen shot 2015-07-08 at 1.38.34 PM

Assemblymember Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park) presents his bill

After some delay and a surreal debate, a bill that could help create affordable housing by easing parking requirements passed the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee on Tuesday on a 5-4 vote. Now it goes to the Committee on Governance and Finance, where it will be heard as soon as next week.

The bill, A.B. 744, would reduce parking requirements for affordable housing developments, making it less expensive to build affordable housing and using federal tax credits to build housing rather than unnecessary parking.

Some of the senators on the transportation committee showed a deep misunderstanding of the effects of parking policies, as well as of the larger purpose of the bill. They told anecdotes about spillover parking, asked about what happens after the entitlements run out after fifty years, and complained that the bill would take away local decision-making power and give it to profit-seeking developers. “There will be many unintended consequences of this bill if it passes the way it’s presented,” concluded Senator Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) with disapproval before voting no.

But the purpose of the bill is to fix existing unintended consequences of current parking requirements. Those consequences include unnecessarily high construction costs that make affordable housing infeasible to build, thus exacerbating an already dire shortage of housing for low-income people.

The bill’s author, Assemblymember Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park), had to repeat several times that A.B. 744 is targeted at a very specific type of housing: for people who either cannot afford a car or are not likely to drive. It would reduce the number of required parking spaces in new housing developments that provide 100 percent affordable units and either:

  • have unobstructed access to a major transit stop within a half mile
  • are for seniors
  • are for developmentally disabled adults

Senator Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton) may have had the most difficulty understanding what the bill was about. “I’m having trouble with the idea that as a senior, I could only have half a car,” she said, hopefully with tongue firmly in cheek. Chau explained that the number of spaces required by the bill—0.5 parking spaces per unit—was an average based on an estimate of how many low-income senior residents would need a parking space. That is, some wouldn’t.

Finally Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont), who had been squirming in his seat during much of the discussion, spoke up. “I applaud you for bringing this bill,” he said to Chau, “because there are dozens of tone-deaf, bitter city councils that are using parking requirements to not allow affordable housing to be built in their communities, and somebody needs to say that.” City councils throughout the state of California, he said, need to “get the message that we need to move forward and stop playing games with parking requirements.”

The bill had already gone through the mill in the same committee last week.

Read more…

Via Streetsblog California
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Dems, Repubs Far Apart on Solving CA Transportation Funding

Screen shot 2015-07-06 at 9.59.31 AM

Senator Jim Beall (D-Santa Clara), chair, addresses the special session of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Image: Screengrab from CATV

The California legislature held its first joint special session on transportation funding just before the holiday weekend. The session was called by Governor Jerry Brown when he and the legislature punted some big decisions so they could sign a budget before the June 30 deadline.

The first extraordinary session of the Transportation and Infrastructure Development committee was an informational overview. Testimony from Caltrans and the Legislative Analyst’s Office reiterated what attendees mostly knew: that California roads are full of potholes, its bridges are in dire need of repair, and there’s nowhere near enough money available to pay for any of it.

Democrats and Republicans have offered very different proposals for solving these problems, although there are a few things everyone seems to agree on. For example, that funds collected for transportation should be spent on transportation. And that voters will demand accountability on how any funds are spent.

But where the much-needed funding should come from is not an area of agreement, and how it should be spent hasn’t even entered the conversation. Committee chair Jim Beall (D-Santa Clara) has proposed increases in the gas tax and vehicle registration fees. Assembly leader Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) has proposed a road-user fee. Republicans propose to divert money from high-speed rail bonds and use cap-and-trade funds to pay for roads.

That’s right. Money that by law—and logic—is supposed to be spent on reducing greenhouse gas emissions is, in the eyes of some legislators, fair game for spending on roads. That’s because….why? According to the Assembly Republican Caucus, because “Better roads means better fuel efficiency which leads to a clear reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.”

That would be worth a good laugh if they weren’t so serious about it.

Senator Beall, when the subject came up at the hearing, politely considered the idea. “We would need to know what elements of road repair engender GHG emissions reductions,” he said, “and how that compares to other GHG reduction programs. We would have to determine the nexus between road repairs and emission reductions.”

He had to be polite, because he is a politician. But he also has to be politic because his proposal to raise the gas tax, the only serious short-term solution presented so far, needs a two-thirds majority to pass. And that means it needs Republican support, even though that party’s members have been vocal in their opposition to raising any taxes.

Read more…

Via Streetsblog California
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Amended Hit-and-Run Alert System Bill Sails Through Committee

After last week’s warning that Assemblymember Mike Gatto’s legislation to create a “Yellow Alert” system was imperiled by Senate Transportation and Housing Committee staff and the California Highway Patrol’s (CHP) objections, there was a feeling of a looming showdown before today’s committee hearing. Assembly Bill 8 would create a system to use electronic road signs and the emergency alert system to notify people when a deadly hit-and-run crash occurred to help apprehend suspects. A similar system has proven effective in Colorado.

Screen grab of Asm. Mike Gatto at today's Senate Transportation and Housing Committee.

Screen grab of Asm. Mike Gatto at today’s Senate Transportation and Housing Committee.

However, the fireworks were kept to a minimum. A.B. 8 advanced with a unanimous committee vote. The committee chair, Senator Jim Beall, was not present, somewhat nullifying the announcement that he was urging a “no” vote on the legislation.

As for the CHP, Gatto staff had worked with the department to amend the legislation to address “95 percent of their concerns.” While the Highway Patrol was officially urging a “no” vote, its lobbyist all but stated that the CHP would support an amended bill but had not had a chance to review it yet. Under the amended bill, it will be the California Highway Patrol, not Caltrans, that determines whether or not variable message signs broadcast information about deadly hit-and-run drivers in the area near where the crime was committed.

Similar legislation passed with overwhelming support last year, but was vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown, who cited the recently created “Silver Alert” following unexplained disappearances of senior citizens or people who are physically or mentally impaired. Brown was worried that adding the “Yellow Alert” in addition to the “Silver Alert” to the four pre-existing alerts could overwhelm the system.

Senator Ted Gaines brought up the Governor’s concerns to discover if Gatto had any insight on whether or not it could cause a second veto. After brief discussion, the committee and Gatto asserted that they had never personally seen a Silver Alert on the highway signs. Statistics backed their anecdotal accounts. There are some areas of the state that have not had a single “Silver Alert” campaign.

Read more…

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CHP Opposes Gatto’s Yellow Alert for Hit-and-Run Legislation

Earlier this week, news slowly leaked out that the California Highway Patrol (CHP) was opposing Assembly Bill 8, legislation by Asm. Mike Gatto that would create a “yellow alert” system after deadly hit-and-run crashes. The system would use electronic road signs and the emergency alert system to notify people when a deadly hit-and-run crash occurred to help apprehend suspects. A similar system has proven effective in Colorado.

Assemblymember Mike Gatto speaking on the importance of reducing hit-and-run crimes.

Assemblymember Mike Gatto speaking on the importance of reducing hit-and-run crimes. Behind Gatto are, left to right, LACBC’s Eric Bruins, two LAPD representatives, L.A. Councilmember Mitch Englander, and Finish the Ride’s Damian Kevitt. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

If you can’t see the embed of the CHP’s letter of opposition, you can read it here (PDF).

The California Highway Patrol gives three reasons for its opposition. The first is that there will be too many alerts added to a system that already broadcasts alerts for abducted children, missing seniors or mentally disabled people, and information about other dangerous criminals. The second is that, because of legislation allowing undocumented immigrants to earn driver’s licenses, there is no need for the system. The third is that adding a fourth kind of alert would confuse the system, as there is no way to prioritize the messages, should multiple alerts be out at the same time.

As one would expect, Gatto doesn’t agree with the CHP’s evaluation.

“We are currently working with CHP to discuss the complexity of the hit-and-run epidemic in California.  To be clear, use of the Yellow Alert system would be limited to the general vicinity of where the hit-and-run resulting in serious bodily injury or death occurred,” writes Gatto in a statement to Streetsblog.

“The current alert system in our state is not overburdened as evidenced by its use to display messages urging Californians to “buckle up” or “conserve water” during the drought.

To address concerns regarding the prioritization of alerts — we plan on taking a friendly amendment to clarify CHP’s ability to prioritize the alerts if they happen to occur on the same day.  I would also like to point out that California does not broadcast the Silver Alert on our changeable message signs.”

The expectation that AB 60 will lead to a drop in hit-and-runs because more drivers will be licensed actually undercuts the other arguments. Yes, creating safer roads through more universal licensing was a goal of AB 60. But the hit-and-run crisis cannot be reduced to an immigration issue. And even the CHP seems unconvinced of their own position, arguing, in essence, that there would be too many alerts and it would clog the system, not enough alerts to justify an addition to the system, and too many alerts and it would confuse the system in just three paragraphs.

“The CHP wants it both ways,” writes Jim Brown with Sacramento Area Bike Advocates. “They say AB 8 might create too many alerts. Then they turn around and say that giving driver’s licenses to undocumented drivers could reduce the incidence hit-and-runs to the point that alerts aren’t really necessary.”

Read more…

Via Streetsblog California
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Affordable Housing Awards from Cap-and-Trade Funds Announced


Funding from the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program could help transform this corner of Stockton. Images: top, Google Street View; bottom, courtesy Domus Development

On Monday, the California Strategic Growth Council announced its recommendations for the first round of funding under the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program. SGC staff recommended 28 projects, to be awarded a total of $122 million. The projects are split about evenly between Northern and Southern California.

Most of the recommended projects are for infill housing that include some transit, pedestrian, or bicycle improvements.

The Affordable Housing program is funded by California’s cap-and-trade auctions. By law, auction proceeds must be used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The AHSC was formed in recognition of the role that affordable housing can play in reducing emissions. That is, if housing is built near transit and with quality connections for biking and walking, it’s easier for residents to choose alternatives to driving, and thus reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is found to be especially true with affordable housing.

The program is ambitious. In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the funds must also benefit disadvantaged communities. The Strategic Growth Council has also added other goals such as creating collaborations among entities working on housing and transportation–encouraging public agencies and private developers to work together, and housing developers to coordinate with transportation planners. Because of its complex requirements, staff created a two-step application process, in which potential grantees first submitted a simplified application. Those that were deemed likely to be eligible were invited to complete the more complex, detailed second application. Fifty-four projects were invited to apply in the second round, and offered assistance throughout the process.

The program awarded funds to projects all over the state: in nine regions, fifteen counties, 21 different cities. “I’m very pleased with the geographic distribution,” said McCoy. “One of our goals was to have projects that could serve as regional and local examples of what could be done. A diversity of places was important to us.”

He says that in the final scoring, they made no allowance for geography other than the cap on how much money any one locality could be awarded. Some otherwise worthy projects did not get grants in this round because of that cap. Others didn’t make the list simply because of the limited funds available.

The staff recommendations are expected to be approved by the Council at its next meeting on June 30. In July, a series of workshops is planned to discuss lessons learned from this first round of funding. (See end of post for details.)

“We’ve learned so many things in this round,” said Mike McCoy, director of the SGC. “It’s been great to roll up our sleeves and get something out in twelve months, rather than philosophize for a couple of years about how this could be done.”

“And we’re coming right back in July to talk about revisions to the guidelines.”

Most of the projects recommended for funding are infill housing projects near transit, and many include some element of transportation infrastructure to improve connections to transit or encourage active transportation. For example, a senior housing project in Hayward will build new sidewalks, improve street lighting and crosswalks in the surrounding neighborhood, and create wayfinding between the project and the nearby BART station. It will also include bike lockers so residents can safely store their bicycles in an easily accessible location. Another project, the Westside Infill Transit Oriented Development in National City, will include construction of bike lanes, pedestrian pathways, and ADA enhancements in the surrounding neighborhood.

Read more…