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Vanterpool: Trump Can’t Take Away Our Ability to Make Transit Better

In less than two months, Donald Trump will be sworn in as president, and he’ll be working with a GOP majority in Congress that is highly antagonistic to transit funding, climate sustainability efforts, and other policies that benefit walkable urban places. It’s a scary scenario for transit riders.

Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool

Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool. Photo: David McKay Wilson/Binghamton University

But if you want better transit, now is not the time to get discouraged. At a Riders Alliance panel in Soho last night, Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool delivered a message to transit advocates — all politics is local, and city residents still have the power to win important transit victories:

Where I see a positivity is in us, and it’s in the energy in this room, and the energy in cities that we see across this country. The outlook is glum, and it’s grim. But we need to focus and remember that a lot of the wins and a lot of success has happened at the local level and at the state level. And not just in transportation — think about, you know, paid sick leave. Those were local fights, when the federal government wasn’t making these changes. There’s a lot of innovation that has happened in the cities. We cannot let that die. We need to wrap that up. We need to empower local and state advocacy, and make sure that our state government and our state elected officials, and our local government and our local elected officials, are representing what we want.

Keep going for those easy wins, because that is how we inform our elected officials…You know, all politics is local. Even at the federal level. They want to look to their district for examples. They want to look to their states and their counties for examples. Let’s give them the right examples to run with, to heed, to model. So they’re looking to us. Let’s show them. Let’s give them the message that we want them to deliver.

Vanterpool said advocates also need to refine their messages in a way that effectively communicates to rural and suburban communities the value of investment in transit.

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Streetsblog USA
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If Not for Trump, Last Night Would Have Been Great for Transit

Last night had the makings of a historic election for transit. Voters in cities as varied as Raleigh, Indianapolis, and Los Angeles turned out to support ballot measures to dramatically expand bus and rail service. But the election of Donald Trump and the retention of GOP majorities in both houses of Congress cast a pall of uncertainty over transit agencies everywhere, with continued federal support for transit suddenly in doubt.

Transit backers had a stellar night in local elections, but the Trump win brings funding uncertainty. Photo: Seattle Chamber

In local elections, transit ballot measures performed well, but the Trump win brings broader uncertainty. Photo: Seattle Chamber

In the regions with major transit ballot initiatives, the returns look good. (You can track the results at The Transport Politic.)

Indianapolis area voters approved a comprehensive transit expansion package that will significantly upgrade bus service throughout Marion County.

Raleigh and the rest of Wake County voted for a similar package of additional bus service and BRT routes, as well as a commuter rail connection to Durham.

Atlanta handily passed a half-cent sales tax that will expand MARTA’s rail and bus networks, as well as a separate measure to fund local complete streets projects.

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Transit Vote 2016: What’s at Stake on Local Ballots and How to Track Results

Presidential theatrics aside, $200 billion in local transit funding is at stake in this election. Map: CTFE

$200 billion in local transit funding is at stake in these elections. Map: CTFE

With federal transportation policy stuck in DC gridlock, more cities and regions are taking it upon themselves to shape the future of their transit systems. Today there are 78 local ballot measures that will affect funding for transportation in some way, with $200 billion in transit investment at stake, according to the Center for Transportation Excellence.

Since 2000, 71 percent of local transportation ballot measures have succeeded, according to CFTE, and the rate tends to be higher in presidential election years. Today’s ballot measures could provide millions of Americans with better transit — and that means easier access to jobs, more affordable household transportation costs, and greater freedom to get around without a car.

Here’s a quick review of the big measures we’ve written up on Streetsblog. You can get a summary of more ballot measures from Yonah Freemark at the Transport Politic and track the results as they come in tonight with CFTE.

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Transit Vote 2016: Raleigh’s Chance to Grow Smarter

Map: Wakeup Wake County

Wake County’s transit package would build 20 miles of BRT and bring frequent bus service to 83 additional miles of streets — vastly expanding the extent of bus routes that run at least every 15 minutes. Map: Wakeup Wake County

We continue our overview of what’s at stake in the big transit ballot initiatives this November with a look at Wake County, North Carolina. Previous installments in this series examined Indianapolis, Seattle, Detroit, and Atlanta.

Ask Wake County Commissioner Sig Hutchinson how Raleigh’s transit system is currently functioning, and he doesn’t sugarcoat it.

“I just really don’t think we’ve got a functional transit system now,” says Hutchinson. “It’s definitely not something you can rely on for people to get to work.”

The booming Raleigh area has only 17 miles of bus routes where buses run at least every 15 minutes. There’s no high-capacity service like rail or BRT. And if you need to take the bus somewhere on a Sunday, good luck.

Voters have a chance to change that next Tuesday. On the ballot in Wake County is a measure to raise $2.3 billion over 10 years to improve and expand the transit system, via a half-cent sales tax and a $10 increase in vehicle registration fees. The package would enable the region to quadruple the extent of frequent local bus service, build 20 additional miles of frequent-running BRT routes with dedicated bus lanes and off-board fare collection, and construct a 37-mile commuter rail connection to Durham.

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Transit Vote 2016: Atlanta May Finally Expand MARTA and Beef Up Bus Service

Atlanta's MARTA rail (left) hasn't been expanded since the 1970s. On the right, D.C.'s Metrorail, which has undergone continual expansions.

Atlanta’s MARTA rail (left) hasn’t been expanded since the 1970s. On the right, D.C.’s Metrorail, which has undergone continual expansions.

We continue our overview of what’s at stake in the big transit ballot initiatives this November with a look at Atlanta. Previous installments in this series examined Indianapolis, Seattle, and Detroit.

Back in the 1970s, both Atlanta and Washington, D.C., received federal grants to build rail networks. After finishing the first wave of Metro construction, D.C. continued to invest, creating one of the country’s best high-capacity urban transit networks. But in Atlanta, MARTA’s rail lines pretty much cover the same ground as in the 1980s.

Unreliable bus service is a huge problem too. The FX show “Atlanta,” as Grist pointed out this week, depicts the struggles facing Atlantans who rely on transit, especially in suburban areas where trains don’t reach.

Proposed rail transit expansions for Atlanta. Map: MARTA

Proposed rail expansions and infill stations for Atlanta. Map: MARTA

The Atlanta region has had some opportunities to improve transit recently, but the political stars never aligned. That could change next month, when city voters weigh in on two issues:

  • A MARTA expansion, funded by a half-cent sales tax increase that will raise $2.5 billion over 40 years.
  • A “TSPLOST” measure that would raise the sales tax by .4 percent for five years, generating $300 million for complete streets and the “Beltline” — the rail-plus-trail project that encircles the city’s central neighborhoods.

The MARTA measure would pay for major bus service upgrades and up to 30 miles of light rail expansion. The City Council has selected a menu of transit improvements that will be eligible for funds, but the tax revenue won’t be able to pay for all of them.

One improvement that will certainly receive funding involves double service frequency on major bus routes from every 30 minutes to every 15.

Also eligible for funds: building light rail along the Beltline; seven miles of bus rapid transit with exclusive lanes, level boarding, and off-board fare collection; five enhanced bus routes with 10-minute headways and limited stops; and up to 17 infill rail stations.

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Growing Coalition Urges de Blasio to Fund Discount Fares for Poor Residents

Community Service Society President David Jones (podium) speaking this morning alongside Rider Alliance Executive Direction John Raskin (left) and Public Advocate Letitia James. Photo: David Meyer

Community Service Society President David Jones (podium) speaking this morning alongside Rider Alliance Executive Direction John Raskin (left) and Public Advocate Letitia James. Photo: David Meyer

Advocates are turning up the heat on Mayor de Blasio to fund discount MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers.

The Riders Alliance and the Community Service Society led a rally on the steps of City Hall this morning calling on Mayor de Blasio to fund discount fares in his FY 2018 budget, which will be drafted early next year. A majority of the City Council — 27 members — now support half-priced transit fares for New Yorkers between the ages of 18 and 64 who fall below the federal poverty line. Public Advocate Letitia James and Comptroller Scott Stringer are also on board [PDF].

Most New Yorkers agree. In CSS’s annual “Unheard Third” survey, 73 percent of respondents said they support discount fares, though the question did not mention the cost of the program.

Providing half-priced fares to the 800,000 New Yorkers living below the poverty line would likely cost around $200 million, CSS President David Jones said this morning. Jones, whom de Blasio recently appointed to the MTA board, argued that discount transit fares will help de Blasio achieve his goals of reducing economic inequality. “For low income New Yorkers and the working poor, the cost of riding the city buses and subways is moving further and further out of reach,” he said.

The Transit Affordability Crisis,” a CSS and Riders Alliance report released in April, showed that low-income New Yorkers, particularly in black and Latino communities, rely on transit more than affluent New Yorkers. Riders have been asked to assume the burden of rising MTA debt service, pension obligations, and para-transit costs, with fares rising 45 percent between 2007 and 2015 and set for another 4 percent increase next year. Each fare hike is especially hard for poor New Yorkers to absorb.

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Streetsblog USA
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Transit Vote 2016: Seattle’s Huge, Imperfect Transit Expansion

We continue our overview of what’s at stake in the big transit ballot initiatives this November with a look at Seattle. The first installment of this series examined Indianapolis.

The transit expansion plan on the ballot in Seattle this November is a big one.

Seattle's "ST3" plan would add 62 miles of grade-separated light rail. Map: SoundTransit3

Seattle’s “ST3” plan would add 62 miles of grade-separated light rail. Map: SoundTransit3

Known as ST3, the proposal calls for a 62-mile expansion of grade-separated light rail extending across three counties, including about four miles that will run underground in central Seattle. Also included: bus rapid transit routes along two highway corridors, and $20 million to plan transit-oriented development.

The total package comes to $54 billion, which will be paid for by a mix of property taxes, sales taxes, and excise taxes. And it will take more than 20 years to complete.

Sound Transit estimates that under this plan, ridership will nearly double by 2040 to 800,000 daily trips, and that 361 million miles of driving will be averted each year [PDF].

There are some downsides to the plan, which has drawn criticism for devoting too much to park-and-ride transit in car-centric areas. While expanding the transit network could create new walkable communities across the region, different suburbs have shown varying levels of commitment to transit-oriented development.

ST3 calls for spending $661 million on parking at suburban stations, which works out to $80,000 per space. And much of the suburban light rail will run along highway rights-of-way, which is a bad fit for walkable development.

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Transit Vote 2016: Indianapolis’s Chance to Get a Real Transit System

indyconnect

The Indy Connect plan would dramatically expand frequent transit routes (in red). Maps: Indy Connect. Click to enlarge.

The presidency and Congress aren’t the only things at stake when voters go to the polls next month. In several cities, people will also be deciding the future of their transit and transportation systems. With the odds of increasing federal transit funding looking remote in gridlocked Washington, these local ballot measures take on even more importance. Before the election, Streetsblog will be looking at what’s at stake in some of the big transit ballot initiatives, starting with Indianapolis.

Indianapolis is a growing city, but the region’s bare-bones transit system is not keeping up. Bus routes that provide service at least every 15 minutes are almost non-existent. Only about 2 percent of the city’s commuters take transit to work, compared to 8 percent in Cincinnati and 18 percent in Pittsburgh.

Voters will have a chance to change that in November when they decide on a major expansion of the region’s transit system, funded by a .25 percent income tax hike. If it passes, the Indy region will dramatically expand frequent bus routes, extend service hours, and build three bus rapid transit lines.

Kevin Kastner, who writes at Urban Indy, says right now the bus system does not provide service that people want to use.

“Every 30 minutes is the best you can do,” he said. “The bus I rode this morning, I don’t want to say it was falling apart, but it was in about as bad a shape as a bus can be.”

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Sprawl Is a Global Problem

daf

Even in the places with the best transit systems, there’s a steep drop in transit access once you venture outside the central city. Graphic: ITDP

Sprawl isn’t just a problem in car-centric America. Even cities with the world’s best transit systems are surrounded by suburbs with poor transit access, according to a new report by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. As billions of people migrate from rural to metropolitan areas in the next few decades, these growth patterns threaten to maroon people without good access to employment while overwhelming the climate with increased greenhouse gas emissions.

For 26 global cities, ITDP looked at the share of residents with access to frequent, high-capacity rail or bus service quality, rapid transit within 1 kilometer of their homes, or roughly a 10- to 15-minute walk. Then ITDP looked at the same ratio for the region as a whole. The results suggest that coordinating transit and development will be a major challenge in the fight against global warming.

In Paris, for instance, fully 100 percent of residents have access to good transit. But the city of Paris is home to only 2 million people in a region of 12 million. And looking at the region as a whole, only 50 percent of residents live within walking distance of good transit. That still manages to beat most other regions ITDP examined.

In New York, the highest-ranked American city, 77 percent of residents live within reach of high-quality transit, but region-wide only 35 percent of residents do.

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Will the MTA Deliver Bus Service That People Want to Use?

“You have to have a mass transit system that people want to use,” Governor Cuomo asserted at a transportation-themed press event today. At least he got that much right.

USB ports aren’t going to turn around NYC’s troubled bus system.

Cuomo’s transit announcements tend to glorify grand edifices like a new Penn Station train hall, boondoggles like a roundabout AirTrain link to LaGuardia by way of Flushing, or bells and whistles like charging ports and Wi-Fi on buses. The nuts and bolts of transit service “that people want to use” don’t get much attention from the man in charge of the MTA.

The neglect of core service is most apparent in the deterioration of New York City’s bus system. Since 2002, bus ridership in New York has fallen 16 percent, even as population and jobs have rapidly grown. At an average weekday speed of 7.4 mph, the MTA operates the slowest bus service in America. Riders can’t rely on buses to come at regular intervals instead of clumped in bunches with long gaps between arrivals.

In a recent report [PDF], TransitCenter prescribes a comprehensive approach to turn around NYC bus service, recommending changes to streets, signals, bus routes, fare payment, and dispatching that will make buses run faster and more reliably.

A coalition of advocates has urged NYC DOT (which controls the streets and signals) and the MTA (which controls the rest) to embrace those recommendations. At a City Council hearing tomorrow, both agencies are expected to testify about how they plan to tackle the problem of poor bus service.

So far, the response from DOT has been promising, TransitCenter reports, but the MTA has not acknowledged the scale of what needs to be done.

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