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Today’s Headlines

  • No Charges for Distracted Sheriff Who Killed Milt Olin with His Car (Daily News)
  • Kind of Takes the Wind Out of the “Give Me 3″ Sails, But PR Campaign Moves On (ZevWeb)
  • Insurance Company Study Says L.A.’s Roads Getting More Dangerous (Curbed)
  • Man Who Sexually Assaulted Woman on Purple Line Pleads Guilty (Register)
  • Different Levels of Excitement from OC Cities Towards State Bike Grants (Voice of OC)
  • Metro Releases Study for Gold Line Extension from East L.A. to Whittier (Boyle Heights Beat)
  • SaMo Will Change Unpopular New Bus Stops, But Won’t Bring Back Benches (Patch, SMDP)
  • Santa Monica Next Turns 1 (SaMo Next)
  • Long Beach Will Modernize Parking Meters (LBP)
  • Lancaster Mulls Closing Metrolink Station to “Stop Poaching of Homeless Services” (AVT)

More Headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Are There Any Affordable Cities Left in America?

When you factor in both housing and transportation costs (H+T) as a percent of income, the car-dependent cities in the right column expensive. But are DC, SF, and NYC that much more affordable, even if you count the benefits of transit? Source: Citizens Budget Commission

When you factor in both housing and transportation costs (H+T) as a percent of income, the car-dependent cities in the right column expensive. But are DC, SF, and NYC that much more affordable, even if you count the benefits of transit? Source: Citizens Budget Commission

Are Washington, San Francisco, and New York the most affordable American cities? A new report from the New York-based Citizen’s Budget Commission [PDF], which made the rounds at the Washington Post and CityLab, argues that if you consider the combined costs of housing and transportation, the answer is yes.

But a closer look at the data casts some doubt on that conclusion. Between the high cost of transportation in sprawling regions and the high demand for housing in compact cities with good transit, very few places in America are looking genuinely affordable these days.

The CBC report uses a better measure of affordability than looking at housing costs alone. Transportation is the second biggest household expense for the average American family, and looking at what people spend on housing plus transportation (H+T) can upend common assumptions about which places are affordable and which are not. Regions with cheap housing but few alternatives to car commuting don’t end up scoring so well.

There are some problems with the CBC’s methodology, however. While abundant transit is absolutely essential to keeping household transportation costs down, and it provides a lifeline to low-income residents of major coastal cities, the report still tends to exaggerate overall affordability in these areas.

According to the report, for example, New York City ranks third in affordability among 22 large cities. A “typical household” in New York City, the CBC finds, spends 32 percent of its income on housing and transportation combined. Part of the reason New York comes out looking good, though, is that CBC used a regional measure of income but looked at typical rents only in the city itself. Because average incomes in the whole region are higher than average incomes in the city ($62,063 vs. $51,865, respectively, according to 2008-2012 Census data), NYC appears more affordable than it really is.

Another issue, flagged by Michael Lewyn at his CNU blog, is that by looking at average rents, which in some cities include many rent-stabilized units, the calculation doesn’t necessarily capture what someone searching for shelter is likely to pay. If you’re trying to find an apartment in New York now, getting a place for the average rent would probably be extremely difficult.

What really stands out in the CBC report isn’t that New York, San Francisco, and DC are affordable — it’s that car-dependent areas that may have cheap housing turn out to be so expensive once you factor in transportation.

Read more…

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Steinberg Kills Bill That Sought to Delay Cap-and-Trade on Fuels

Mobile billboard against the "hidden gas tax." Photo via CA Drivers Alliance Twitter

Mobile billboard against the “hidden gas tax.” Photo via CA Drivers Alliance Twitter

The misinformation campaigns trumpeting an imminent “hidden gas tax” in California lost a battle with the defeat of Assemblymember Henry Perea’s bill, A.B. 69, which was designed to delay application of cap-and-trade to the fuels industry for three years.

Fuel companies have already begun participating in the state’s cap-and-trade auctions, buying pollution credits that they can use to help them meet the greenhouse gas emission cap set by the state. Emission caps will not apply to the fuel industry until this coming January, but they have had years to prepare for it.

Senate President Pro Tem Darryl Steinberg sent a letter to Perea [PDF] explaining his decision not to let A.B. 69 go forward. The bill may not have had much of a chance of passing anyway, but this settles the question without the Senate or Assembly having to take it up in the final few days of the legislative session.

A.B. 69 was originally a bill about water quality, and had been considered and passed in the Assembly as such, when at the last minute Perea completely rewrote it, in what’s called a “gut and amend.” At that point, it was in the Senate, where it would have had to pass out of several committees and then pass with at least a two-thirds vote on the Senate floor before the Assembly could take it up.

Steinberg killed it in the Rules Committee. In his letter to Perea, he wrote that “bringing non-stationary fuels under the cap is not an unforeseen issue that demands legislation which sidesteps the democratic process.” And “a measure of this importance should not be considered in the final weeks of a two-year session.”

Read more…

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LADOT Seeking Input on Plan to Offer Discount to TAP Users

Are reduced fares on the way for users of LADOT’s TAP on DASH bus service?

The LADOT recently held public hearings seeking comments on proposed new Electronic Payment Incentive Fares along with sharing new Disparate Impact and Disproportionate Burden Fare Policies that it says “are supportive of the incentive fares, and also establish criteria for how fares would be raised in the future”.

New TAP Cards

New TAP Cards

Here is a summary of the main proposals per the announcement on the LADOT website:

The implementation of the Los Angeles Region’s TAP smart card system has enabled LADOT to offer new pricing options to riders that were not available with LADOT’s existing passes and tickets. LADOT’s demonstration of mobile ticketing, through the use of smart phones, will also support these proposed fare options. That mobile ticketing demonstration, called LA Mobile, will take place in Fall 2014.

LADOT is proposing to reduce its DASH single-ride fare from 50 cents to 35 cents if a rider uses a TAP card to pay the fare. The 30% discount is intended to lure riders to using the TAP card that provides multiple benefits including the ability to protect the card balance from loss or theft. Read more…

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Downtown Houston Will Get Its First Protected Bike Lane

Houston's protected bike lane should look a lot like this one from Seattle. Photo: Seattle DOT, via Flickr

Houston’s protected bike lane should look a lot like this one in Seattle. Photo: Seattle DOT/Flickr

A piece of top-notch bike infrastructure is coming to the largest city in Texas.

That’s the word today from Kevin McNally at Houston Tomorrow, who relays the news that a two-way protected bike lane is on tap for downtown:

The City of Houston will install the City’s first on-street protected bike lane along Lamar Street in Downtown, possibly as early as October, according to the Houston Chronicle’s Mike Morris. The two-way protected bike lane will help to connect Downtown to both the Buffalo Bayou trails and the Columbia Tap Trail.

The bike lane will be three-quarters of a mile long and will be painted green, the Houston Chronicle reports. It will be separated from car traffic by “armadillos,” or hard, low-lying plastic bumps. McNally says:

Based on the description from the article, the bike lane should look similar to the above photo of a two-way protected bike lane in Seattle, with the exception being that the white plastic bollards will be replaced by plastic “armadillos” or “zebras” (see examples of those here).

Bike Houston Executive Director Michael Payne said the objective is to make “people feel comfortable” about biking and getting “out of their cars.”

Elsewhere on the Network today: Washington Bikes shares a poll showing overwhelming support for Safe Routes to School among the state’s residents. And Bike Portland reports that advocates in that region are trying to ensure that every school district has a Safe Routes to School program.

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Today’s Headlines

  • The Urban Oil Fields of Los Angeles (The Atlantic)
  • Cap-and-Trade Survives Oil Companies’ Attack (CA HSR Blog)
  • How L.A. Doesn’t Quite Repair Its Broken Sidewalks (LA Register)
  • General Motors Does Private Bike Share for Detroit-Area-Tech-Ctr Employees (LAT)
  • Overflow Crowds Call for San Gabriel Mountains National Monument (KPCC)
  • Burbank’s Burbank-Chandler Bike Path Going Strong at 10 Years (Burbank Leader)
  • Big Blue Bus Benches That “Encouraged Loitering” Not Coming Back (SMDP)
  • Report: L.A. Solar Energy Potential Is Huge (EDF)
  • Analogizing White Privilege to Driver Privilege (A Little More Sauce)

Get National Headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Eyes on the Street: Mad Men Writer Tom Smuts Bicycles to the Emmys

It is already all over the web: youtube, L.A. Times, NBCU.S. News and World Report, The Hollywood ReporterPittsburgh Post-Gazette… oh my… did the Post-Gazette scoop Streetsblog? Again?

Streetsblog L.A. was there, so we present this photo essay on Mad Men’s producer-writer Tom Smuts’ bike ride to the Emmy Awards. Smuts stated that he rode “to raise awareness of bicycle commuters” and “to support more bike lanes and better bike lanes.” He actually rides pretty fast.

Unfortunately Mad Men did not receive any of this season’s Emmy Awards. No word, though, on whether Smuts’ controversial new Mad Men made-for-TV-movie (rumored to be about Don Draper returning to Los Angeles to retire and establish a livable streets advocacy organization) has been green-lighted yet.

Tom Smuts and entourage barrel over the sharrows on 4th Street Bicycle Boulevard. All photos: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Tom Smuts and entourage barrel over the sharrows on 4th Street Bicycle Boulevard. All photos: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Tom Smuts (left, blue helmet) waits for traffic at Vermont Avenue.

Tom Smuts (left, blue helmet) waits for traffic at Vermont Avenue.

Read more…

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Expanding the Mission of “Safe Routes to School” as Kids Return to Class

It’s hard to believe summer is almost over. In many places, the weather was so mild it seems like it never quite started. But kids are already going back to school.

Crosswalks and adult supervision are two ingredients in keeping kids safe from both traffic and violence. ##https://www.dot.ny.gov/safe-routes-to-school##NY DOT##

Crosswalks and adult supervision are two ingredients in keeping kids safe from both traffic and violence. NY DOT

While the weather has been cool, temperatures have reached a boiling point on many of our nation’s streets. In many communities, violence is very much on people’s minds as kids return to school, following incidents like the rash of shootings in Chicago over the July 4th weekend and the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Last week, the Safe Routes to School National Partnership teamed up with Generation Progress, The League of Young Voters Education Fund, the Million Hoodies Movement, and the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans to hold a Twitter town hall with the hashtag #Back2SaferSchools. Generation Progress kicked things off with this sobering thought:

Q1: In 2015, gun violence will be leading cause of death for Millennials. What can communities do to ensure students go #Back2SaferSchools?

— Generation Progress (@genprogress) August 20, 2014

There are many ways to address this problem. But as Keith Benjamin of the SRTS National Partnership says, “Place-making plays a pivotal role in combating violence.”

Late last year, the Partnership released “Using Safe Routes to School to Combat the Threat of Violence” [PDF]. It weaves together in-school conflict resolution programs and anti-bullying work with the group’s regular program of walking school buses and infrastructure improvements.

“In some communities, the danger of violence and crime discourages children from walking to school and keeps people off the street, limiting physical activity and restricting errands and trips,” the report begins.

Read more…

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New Parking in Seattle Comes With a Side of Mixed-Use Development

This new mixed-use development on a light rail line in Seattle will have 505 units, 523 parking spaces. Image: The Urbanist

This new mixed-use development by a light rail station in Seattle will have 505 housing units and 523 parking spaces. Image: The Urbanist

Part of the promise of Seattle’s Link light rail was its potential to create walkable places in the sprawling Rainier Valley. And that’s starting to happen, locals report, but developers are getting some important things wrong.

The proposed mixed-use development at MLK Way and Othello Street, for example, calls for way more parking than appropriate for an urban location near light rail. Will Green at The Urbanist explains:

The Seattle Housing Authority has found a developer for its 3.2 acre site at the corner of MLK Way and Othello Street, right next to Sound Transit’s Othello Link Station. The plans are impressive: 505 market-rate apartments spread over three buildings, 17,800 sq. ft. of retail space, and a 10,000 sq. ft. of public plaza intended to provide space for a farmer’s market and community events. But the developer, Everett’s Path America, has fallen into the same trap many have when planning TOD by forgetting the “Transit” and focusing on the parking. Instead, Path America is proposing a whopping 523 surface and underground parking stalls for those 505 apartments.

It’s a serious and well known problem: A recent report from the Sightline Institute found that 21 of the 23 recent multifamily developments studied had more occupied units than occupied parking stalls, with an average overnight parking vacancy rate of 37%. Those empty stalls do more than waste space; they cost developers a lot of money, costs that ultimately get passed on to tenants.

One study cited by Green estimated that parking costs add about $246 to monthly apartment rents in Seattle. Green continues:

It’s exciting to see development in the Rainier Valley take off. Seattle needs more affordable housing, and converting low-density (or vacant) land uses to medium- and high-density housing is a great way to meet that need. Likewise, taking advantage of major regional investments in transit is critical for ensuring affordability by freeing tenants from the burdensome cost of owning and maintaining car. Considering such realities, it boggles the mind that a major developer is planning to put more parking stalls than actual apartment units next to three frequent transit lines (Central Link Light Rail and King County Metro Transit Routes 8 and 36) in one of the poorest parts of Seattle. Not only is it a wasted opportunity, but it denies affordable housing in an area that desperately needs it.

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Architect’s Newspaper reports that Michigan is getting its first bus rapid transit route, Grand Rapid’s Silver Line. And Urban Milwaukee explains Wisconsin’s history with the “wheel tax” — a local tax on vehicle registration that’s being explored as a way to boost funds for road maintenance.

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State Agencies Host Various Workshops on Cap-and-Trade Funding Programs

Screen shot 2014-08-25 at 4.58.26 PM

Disadvantaged Communities in California, as measured by CalEnviroScreen. For detailed maps by census tract, go to this website.  Image: CalEPA.

The end of summer has become Public Workshop Season in California. With new funding coming from the state’s cap-and-trade system in several categories, state agencies are figuring out how to best spend that money, and the first step is asking for help in creating guidelines for eligible projects.

Last week the Strategic Growth Council held workshops on guidelines for the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program.

This week and next the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) will ask for help figuring out how to define “disadvantaged communities,” which by law must benefit from a proportion of projects funded by cap-and-trade money (more about this below).

Last week and this week, the California State Transportation Agency is hosting input sessions for the Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program ($25 million, and 10 percent of future cap-and-trade proceeds) and the Low-Carbon Transit Operations Program ($25 million and 5 percent of future proceeds).

These somewhat overlapping efforts are all supposed to demonstrate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) to move California towards the climate change goals of SB 32, which requires a reduction in GHGs to 1990 levels by 2020.

It’s all new: the funding source, the program intentions, the attempts to measure GHG reductions, and the collaborations required between agencies, operators, and government sectors.

Transit Capital and Operations Funding

The low turnout at Friday’s workshop on transit funds—the first of three—may have been due to lack of publicity or maybe the amount of money available ($50 million total for all of CA) does not add up to much for individual agencies. There are more than a hundred transit agencies, large and small, throughout the state. While the Intercity Rail portion will be allocated to particular projects, the Low-Carbon Transportation Fund will be divided up according to existing state funding formulas.

Only $25 million spread statewide for operations funding means that small agencies in areas with low populations and low farebox revenues are likely to see only very small amounts of money. For some, this will be less than $100—at least in this first year.

That’s hardly enough to enhance or expand services to increase mode share, as required by the allocation.

And it may not be worth the effort at all, if reporting requirements are anything more than a simple check-box. A number of those attending the workshop requested that administrators keep the process as simple as possible so as not to cause more work for small and understaffed agencies.

The last workshop on transit funding will be in L.A. this Wednesday, August 27,  from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. 
at the Metro Board Room. Written comments on transit funding can be submitted to tircpcomments@dot.ca.gov and lctopcomments@dot.ca.gov

What Qualifies as a “Disadvantaged Community”?

CalEPA workshops this week and next on defining “disadvantaged communities” will play a crucial role in deciding how to allocate cap-and-trade funds. Overall, at least 25 percent of all cap-and-trade funds must be spent in, or somehow benefit, a disadvantaged community. In the case of the Affordable Housing/Sustainable Communities category, half of funds must benefit these communities.

So the definition of “disadvantaged community” is pretty important. Read more…