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Funding California Rail With Cap-and-Trade Revenue Hits a Snag

California’s cap-and-trade program is one of the boldest state-level climate change policies in the U.S. By capping statewide carbon pollution and then auctioning off emissions allowances, the state hopes to both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and generate about $10.6 billion for projects to improve energy efficiency. Among other things, that money would support various rail and transit projects, including the state’s high-speed rail line.

The state plans to borrow against future cap-and-trade revenues to provide a local match for $3.5 billion in federal funds for high-speed rail, according to the LA Times. But Adina Levin at Green Caltrain reports that there’s been a hitch:

Results of the most recent Cap and Trade auction announced yesterday, where only 2% of carbon credits were sold, pose risks to Caltrain electrification funding, the High Speed Rail project, and other state transportation and housing goals. The auction brought in $10 million, compared to $150 million that the state was expecting.

The LA Times reports that the reason for the low auction reports is unclear…

Caltrain is seeking $225 million from state Cap and Trade funds this summer to be able to move ahead with the electrification project, and High Speed Rail’s budget depends on a 25% earmark of Cap and Trade funds. The budget has a $500 million reserve in case of auction shortfalls, but cuts are expected to spending for programs that had been depending on the funds.

Auction revenue may have fallen short because reducing emissions has been easier than expected, or due to uncertainty about the program created by a pending legal challenge, or greater-than-expected trading on the secondary market.

Does this mean the cap-and-trade program is broken? In terms of meeting the state’s emissions-reduction targets, probably not, says the Environmental Defense Fund. But as a revenue source for rail and transit projects, there are now some big question marks.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Urban Milwaukee reports that Milwaukee County’s decision to make transit free for seniors and disabled people, regardless of income, has not worked out well for the transit system as a whole. And Biking Toronto reports on a Twitter bot tracking where people are getting hit by motorists.

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No, Seattle Isn’t Waging a “War on Cars”

The most efficient way to move people in a crowded city simply isn't cars that are three-quarters empty. Graphic: Fehr & Peers via The Urbanist

The most efficient way to move people in a crowded city simply isn’t cars that are three-quarters empty. Graphic: Fehr & Peers via The Urbanist

It’s cliché at this point for newspapers to label any effort to improve walking, biking, or transit as a “war on cars.” The latest in this proud tradition is Seattle Times columnist Brier Dudley, who wrote recently that the city is waging “a shock-and-awe campaign targeting anyone who dares to drive in, through or around Seattle.” What was it exactly that set him off?

The offense Seattle committed was to shift away from measuring streets using “Level of Service,” which prioritizes the movement of vehicles. Instead the city will measure how many people are moving on streets, regardless of the mode they’ve chosen, writes Scott Bonjukian at the Urbanist:

This is indeed a novel approach to measuring the performance of local streets. The traditional Level of Service (LOS) tool ranks roadways based on how fast cars move; free flowing traffic gets an A, and gridlock gets an F. As demonstrated by over 60 years of post-WWII sprawl, the problem with this is it leads to an infinite loop of congestion, construction, and poor urban environments. Cities set a high standard for LOS, see that traffic is congested, widen roads or build new ones, see that the roads fill up with more cars due to induced demand, and repeat ad nauseam. This is also results in limited, if any, consideration for other users of the street: people walking, bicycling, and riding transit.

Read more…

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Why Expensive Parking Is a Blessing

Graph: Patrick Kennedy

The more stores packed into a three-mile radius of downtown (Y-axis), the higher the price for a parking space (X-axis). Graph: Patrick Kennedy

Patrick Kennedy at Dallas Magazine’s Street Smart blog says that when parking gets expensive, the conventional wisdom he hears is that more parking should be built. But what high parking prices really signify, he writes, is simply a strong concentration of businesses and/or housing — the parking isn’t even necessary.

To illustrate the point, Kennedy mashed up parking costs compiled by real estate services firm Colliers International with City Observatory’s new “Storefront Index” that maps customer-serving businesses in cities. He explains:

The high cost of parking, to paraphrase the godfather, suggests (at least to the conventional wisdom) that there “isn’t enough parking.” That is incorrect. There is just the right amount of parking, give or take. That parking is substituted by nearby housing and jobs. People are nearby and therefore, those people create demand for services. Thus, storefronts people can walk to.

As you can see, retail density as represented by storefront density rises precipitously as parking costs rise. The best parking spot in service of retail is a nearby bedroom. Ideally, many of them. Like, thousands of them within walking distance, which ensures a measure of stability to those businesses, repeat business, and some protection against cannibalization from the ‘new’…

Space for parking is unproductive real estate. It is space wasted in service of other productive real estate. As it serves other real estate land uses, the conventional wisdom always suggests, “give us parking, so we can get X, Y, or Z land use.” However, that provision of parking is often at the expense of those same X, Y, and Z land uses as well as the stability and predictability of success for those land uses.

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Growth in the Houston Region Shifts to the City

In the past few years, a greater share of the population growth in and around Houston happened in the city itself, compared to the first decade of the millennium. The trend is pretty clear, reports Houston Tomorrow:

The city of Houston is capturing a much greater share of new residents, compared to the suburbs, than in past decades. Map: Houston Tomorrow

The city of Houston now accounts for a greater share of residential growth in the region than in years past. Map: Houston Tomorrow

From 2010 to 2015, the City of Houston has added an average of 39,355 people every year — 28% of the 142,281 added every year on average in the 13 County Houston region.

From 2000 to 2010, the City of Houston added an average of 14,582 people every year — 12% of the 145,820 added every year on average in the 13 County Houston region.

The shift comes even though Houston’s existing development rules make it difficult to build walkable places, Houston Tomorrow’s Jay Blazek Crossley says:

We know from the Kinder Houston Area Survey that there is a massive pent up demand for walkable urban lifestyle options that traditionally has not been met in the last four decades of development. The shift in regional growth may be due to a shift in development as the City of Houston has started making urbanism legal. Walkable urban development remains illegal by City of Houston development code in most of the city, requiring a variance unless the development is within a quarter mile of a light rail station. In this small area, the Urban Corridors code is allowed as an alternative to the car dependent codes required for the entire city.

Transit, walking, biking, and green space improvements may also be facilitating the shift.

Read more…

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Anthony Foxx Envisions a “Gradual Shift” Away From Car Dependence

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx criss-crossed the country last week on a tour of the seven finalists for U.S. DOT’s $50 million “Smart City Challenge” grant.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is taking a "measured" tone about changing transportation in the U.S. Photo: Bike Portland

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. Photo: Bike Portland

When Foxx was in Portland, Jonathan Maus at Bike Portland got a chance to ask him how he plans to change the transportation “paradigm” so walking, biking, and transit become the norm. Six years after Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood climbed on a table at the National Bike Summit and announced “the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized,” Maus notes, federal policy still tilts heavily in favor of car-based infrastructure.

Here’s what Foxx said:

I think we’re going to need cars. We’re going to need a mix of transportation options. I think we have a supply-side mentality right now at the federal level where we presume that 80 cents on the dollar should go to the automobile within the Highway Trust Fund. And I actually think over the longer term we’re going to need to look at a more performance-based system where we look at things like: How it congestion best reduced? How do we increase safety? How do we move significant numbers of people most efficiently and effectively and cleanly. And I think that’s going to push us into a different mix of transportation choices.

But I think it’s a slow, gradual process. Look around the world and no country has created a multimodal system overnight; but I think that’s ultimately where we’re headed. We have to have a mix of transportation choices. It includes the automobile, but it’s not exclusive to the automobile.

Foxx’s power to set transportation policy pales in comparison to Congress and the White House, but he could be doing more to speed up a shift of priorities at the federal level. U.S. could, for instance, reform the way states measure congestion, so people riding the bus count as much as solo drivers. But so far Foxx’s agency has been reluctant to do that.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Transport Providence considers how insight from conservatives could improve transit projects. The Transportationist explains how the “modernist” vision for transportation undervalued places and diverged from thousands of years of human experience. And City Block considers the advantages and drawbacks of Denver’s new airport train.

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Priced Lanes Can Move Everyone Faster — Even People Who Don’t Pay

Since adding tolled lanes o I-405 outside Seattle, all the lanes are less congested. Image: Washington DOT

Since tolling began on two lanes of I-405 outside Seattle, all lanes are less congested. Image: Washington DOT

Remember the uproar over the HOT lanes on I-405 outside Seattle? Republicans in the state senate fired transportation commissioner Lynn Petersen to register their displeasure with priced roads. The political furor isn’t over. Bill Bryant, a GOP candidate for governor, continues to use the HOT lanes as a wedge issue against incumbent Democrat Jay Inslee.

Look at the actual effect of the tolls, however, and the complaints seem like so much hot air. Josh Feit at PubliCola reports the tolls are reducing traffic even for people who opt not to pay:

Despite the noise, the latest data (such as measuring traffic speeds) shows that I-405 tolling has actually improved traffic conditions and commutes. What’s more: the surveys show that people are pleased with the program. (By the way, earlier data, available during last session’s attack on Peterson, found similar results.)

A presentation on the I-405 tolling program put together by WSDOT this week documents the following:

Read more…

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More Evidence Bike Lanes Can Be More Efficient Than Car Lanes

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Contrary to all those cranky newspaper columns about how every last inch of asphalt needs to be allocated to motor vehicles, bike lanes can actually move more people with less street space than general traffic lanes.

Here’s a good example from Toronto. Biking Toronto reports that while bike lanes take up just 19 percent of College Street, cyclists now account for nearly half the traffic in the peak direction during the evening rush:

Anyone who has biked College St at rush hour knows it’s packed with bikes … but last fall Cycle Toronto went out and counted bikes AND cars, and found that bikes make up 46% of westbound vehicle traffic at College and Spadina!!

That’s good news for air quality, for public health, and for the city’s ability to keep people moving as its population grows. Maybe that helps explain why 86 percent of Toronto residents support greater investment in bike infrastructure, according to a recent poll.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Market Urbanism says compact development should not be limited to locations near existing transit routes. Transportationist considers how tolling some roads but not others can have unintended consequences. And Seattle Bike Blog reports that local advocates packed a city meeting this week to demand an end to delays in implementing the city’s bike plan.

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A Better Way to Track How Well Transit Performs

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“Excess wait time” — or how long riders have to wait beyond the scheduled time between buses — captures the inconvenience of unreliable transit better than on-time performance metrics that many agencies prefer to use. Graphic: NYC Bus Data API

When you’re riding the bus or the train, an unexpected delay is the last thing you need. If transit agencies want to know how well they’re doing and how they can improve service, they have to track how reliable their service is for riders.

But not all reliability metrics are created equal, writes TransitCenter. Some agencies track their performance in a way that’s much less rider-friendly than others:

At the moment, the [New York] MTA and many other agencies tend to use indicators of success that reflect the concerns of the people who actually run subway or other systems. These include on-time performance and the average distance a train car travels between mechanical problems.

But those measurements might not actually indicate whether the agency is delivering good service to riders. For example, regarding subway delay, the MTA relies heavily on a performance metric known as “wait assessment,” defined as the percentage of train arrivals that cause passengers to wait at least 25 percent longer than expected.

Wait assessment has two major problems. First, it is not obvious what it means to have a “good” wait assessment score. If the A train has a wait assessment score of 85 percent, what does that mean for riders? Second, wait assessment is indifferent to how late a train is or how many riders are affected by its lateness. On a line with service every four minutes, a gap of six minutes between trains in the Bronx at 6 A.M. is equally as “bad” as a gap of 15 minutes between trains passing through Grand Central at rush hour.

TransitCenter says Boston’s MBTA has adopted a metric more in line with international best practice, one that captures what matters to riders:

Read more…

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The Crucial Connection Between Street Width and Walkability, in 3 Photos

There’s a good deal of empirical evidence that narrower travel lanes are safer for everyone because they slow motorist speeds.

On a perceptual level, narrow streets just feel more inviting, writes Katie Matchett at Network blog Where the Sidewalk Starts. Matchett looked at Jewel Street in the Pacific Beach neighborhood of San Diego, which varies in width. She shows how, as it transforms from a narrow neighborhood street to a wide road for fast-moving traffic, Jewel Street becomes more forbidding for people on foot:

Here’s what Jewel Street looks like when it’s 30 feet wide, with parallel parking on both sides and a parkway between the sidewalk and street.

Screenshot (186)

Notice that even with only a few scrawny palm tree for shade and relatively narrow sidewalks, the street still feels comfortable and “human-scaled.” (It also feels safe to bike on, even without fancy bike infrastructure, because the narrow travel way forces cars to slow down.) I regularly see kids playing in the street here, using the roadway as an extension of their yard.

Here’s Jewel Street a few blocks further down, with a 40-foot width. This would be considered the pretty much the minimum width for a street built today.

Read more…

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Transit and Parking Mandates Go Together Like Peanut Butter and Tuna

Cleveland is finally getting around to establishing guidelines to foster walkable development around rail stops — which is in very short supply. Some stations are surrounded by little more than vacant industrial space or parking lots. (One of the stops on the underused Waterfront Line, called “Muni Parking,” is in the middle of the enormous City Hall parking lot.)

Surface parking by Greater Cleveland RTA's downtown rail hub. Photo: GCBL

Surface parking by Greater Cleveland RTA’s downtown rail hub. Photo: GCBL

A 2011 report, “BUILT Ohio” [PDF], recommended the elimination of parking minimums to foster transit-oriented development. But it remains to be seen whether the city will have the conviction to follow through on that idea. Reducing parking minimums came up at a recent planning meeting and immediately ran into the “people can’t live without their cars” pushback, reports Marc Lefkowitz at Green City Blue Lake.

Lefkowitz says the city should not be deterred:

It may be instructive for Cleveland to see how some other cities have handled the elimination of parking minimums. Cities where parking requirements were loosened and places were built without parking also invest in the pedestrian environment and connections to transportation options such as transit, car hailing and car share service. In fact, there may be no better way to leverage the $17 million new train station at Little Italy or $30 million Public Square upgrade.

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