Monday, November 01, 2010
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) It's been a rough election season out there. Unless you've crawled into a cave for the last three months, you know the airwaves have been flooded with ads calling candidates everything from thieves to hooligans to rogues and everything in between. But the sour voter mood isn't just about advertisements -- it's about reduced circumstances, drastic cuts in local government services, higher taxes and fees, fewer jobs, and dramatically higher health care costs -- despite health care reform and an $800 billion stimulus bill.
Or as one Florida election volunteer Marcia told me in a largely African American neighborhood in Tampa last week: "People are disappointed," she said. "They thought they were going to have this magic wand that I'm going to save my home because we have Obama as President. And I'm going to have a job because we have Obama as President." But then, people lost their jobs, and they lost their homes.
"Where's the change?" retired Hoovers vacuum worker Alice Prestier asked me in Canton, Ohio. Or, more bitterly, as one Colorado contractor told me in Loveland, Colorado: “I don’t need to spend $2,000 to support every illegal f*****g Mexican in this country. Nor do I need to keep busting my ass for this government. You know, my son can’t ride the bus to school anymore. He’s got to walk two miles to school, explain that to me! You know, why does education have to go, but yet we can support illegals, we can piss money away on stuff that doesn’t’ matter, a health care plan that will never work?"
All of which has created a wary public, seemingly unwilling to spend on big transit projects like the ARC tunnel, high speed rail, or even roads. Even though the President has bracketed this campaign season with a call for $50 billion in additional spending on roads, rails, and airports and the distribution, last week, of some $2.5 billion in high speed rail grants, kitchen-table cut backs have spilled over into an attitude about government spending. Where once voters seemed to have faith that large infrastructure projects would create jobs, both in the long and short terms, they now worry that worthy as projects may be, there simply isn't enough money to spend on things like new transit tunnels, high speed rail systems, or even roads.
“It should all be fixed,” Debbie Horoschock told me at the Wilkes-Barre farmers market in late September" of the president’s proposal to spend money fixing rail, roads, and airports. So she thinks that would be a good thing to spend money on? “No. But they should be fixed.” How are they going to be fixed without money? “I don’t know how they are going to be fixed without money. But we need money to fix the damn roads.”
High speed rail, actually pilloried by some candidates (Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Rick Scott in Florida, John Kasich in Ohio) gets a lot more raised eyebrows. "They just shouldn't be spending on that project," one Ohio retiree in downtown Canton who wouldn't give her name told me. Even if that meant losing hundreds of millions of federal money coming straight to this depressed area? "Even so."
There are some bright spots for those who support big transit projects. In Colorado, the Democratic Gubernatorial candidate, John Hickenlooper, who made his bones pushing a sales tax for transit when he first became Mayor of Denver, in 2004, is leading in most polls, and his support of a sales tax is drawing some crossover support. And in Tampa, a similar measure is intriguing some voters who are supporting Marco Rubio, the Tea Party-backed candidate for U.S. Senate. The logic seems to be in how the tax is paid--it's a pay-as-you-go tax, not a large, one-time, acquisition of debt, much disfavored this election year.
Transportation Nation has been out in swing counties this election season. What we've learned about how America wants to build its future has been surprising, enlightening, sometimes harsh, and always deeply, deeply educational. Everyone looking at how government should address these questions in the next Congress should be reading these posts. In order of our visits:
Monday, November 01, 2010
The New York Times has an incredibly cool article about an art installation in an abandoned -- or unfinished -- subway stop (photo above). The location of the stop is carefully concealed at the request of the artists. But there's a pretty big clue, in the photo above. Any subway history buffs or infrastructure experts reading this who have ideas where it is? Post a comment, or email us at email@example.com.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) -- Four days before election day, Democratic Candidate for NY Governor Andrew Cuomo released a green agenda. It's slighter than some of his other agenda books -- about half the size of his urban agenda -- but it does contain both an endorsement of construction of "sustainable communities" -- a big agenda item of the Obama administration, and a call for "improved public transportation" as part of an environmental agenda. Here's what he has to say about public transportation (in its entirety.)
We must Encourage Alternative Vehicles and Public Transportation. Technology has made it possible for cleaner, greener modes have transportation. From high speed rail to other alternative forms of transportation that reduces pollutants, the State should encourage the research, development and manufacturing of alternative modes of transportation. Such investment is a positive step for the environment and economic development. Moreover, the State must continue to invest and improve public transportation in order to improve the environment.
He does not address the transit financing issue that came up at the press conference releasing his urban agenda.
There's also a section on sustainable communities, which hews closely in philosophy to the Ray LaHood-Shaun Donovan-Lisa Jackson (DOT-HUD-EPA) effort.
You can read that part, after the jump.
Friday, October 29, 2010
(Tampa, FL -- Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) It's hard to imagine, that in this year, in these times, there's a measure anywhere that asks voters to approve a new tax. But in the Tampa, Florida, area there's actually a referendum on the ballot, asking voters for an extra penny for every dollar they spend to build a local transit system and improve area roads.
Tampa's county -- Hillsborough -- is a key swing county (it voted for both Obama and Bush) in a key swing state, so the outcome of the vote here will no doubt be studied by Mayors and transit planners for evidence of how to fund cash-strapped transit systems for years to come.
Some other context about Florida -- for years the state was a boom state, fueled largely by housing construction. But that market, as you know, tanked. Unemployment is now at 12 percent, one of the highest in the nation. The African-American community, which helped fuel Obama's victory here two years ago, has been particularly hard hit. Over by the C. Blythe Andrews Jr. public library, Sadiqa Muqaddam told me his story -- he'd been working as a welder for forty years, starting at a shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi.
"One day I was going all over the state of Florida. I was working out of Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, everywhere, I was everywhere, you know? And now, when I look around, there's no jobs. There's no jobs." In the last year, Muqaddam lost his home. "I'm renting, now I'm back renting. Before I used to own. I'm used to walking in my three bedroom house, two jobs, my little Chihuahua. I don't have that no more. Even my dog died. Lost my cars, everything."
"I got the raggediest car out here."
I Ask Muqaddum about the transit tax, and at first, he's dubious. "We don't have -- It's just like you're taking, you know, we ain't got. And then the little bit we do got, you're taking, you know."
I push Muqaddum, asking, as I frequently do, about the opposing view.
I say, "Some people say well, it's going to help create jobs, particularly in what you do, welding, construction."
"Maybe," he says "Maybe down the line."
In the past, sales tax ballot measures have proven successful -- Charlotte funded their LYNX light rail system with a 1998 ballot measure for a half-cent tax that was again supported by voters in a 2007 measure championed by Republican Mayor Pat McCrory, and in Colorado, where the Denver Mayor, John Hickenlooper, now running for Governor, -- got a ballot measure passed in some 32 counties in 2004, the year Goerge W. Bush won the state of Colorado for a second time.
And here too there are independents and Republicans who believe in this initiative. One man, who didn't want his name used because he works for a large non-profit, told me he had voted for the Tea Party-backed Marco Rubio for U.S. Senate, but also for the transit tax.
Monday, October 25, 2010
One of our partners The Takeaway has opened a collaborative project to get people like you all across the country helping us really understand the American commute. You can send in snapshots and sounds of your daily routine.
Share the pictures and the sounds of your morning commute. Send us a photo, a video or audio of one thing that tells the story of your commute. It could be the train that always comes late. The people you see on the bus line. The spot where you always park your car.
The Takeaway will harvest your daily observations, insights and gripes and post the collection here for listeners to vote on their favorites. You can upload a photo or audio file here, or you can download The Takeaway iPhone app and use that.
What is the American commute? Tell us.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
(New York -- Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo has been a bit of a cipher when it comes to transportation and transit. He's bemoaned MTA inefficiencies, called into question an employer-tax imposed last year to help bail out the MTA, and said fares shouldn't go up. But he's said little about financing the authority over the long term.
Today, in his most extensive remarks to date on transit, he didn't add much.
The occasion was the release of his 273-page urban agenda, which by the way, did NOT include transit. It was the kind of "urban agenda" you'd hear in the 1990's: anti-poverty, affordable housing, minority jobs. (By contrast, Shaun Donovan, the current HUD Secretary -- Cuomo's former job -- has made sustainable, walking, transit-rich communities a major plank in his agenda.)
But all the journalists there, pretty much, wanted to talk transit. In fact, I didn't raise the subject. A Daily News reporter did.
"There's going to be a need for more efficiency," Cuomo said of the MTA. "More effectiveness, better management. You can't have over $500 million in overtime. You can't have thousands of people making over $100,000 a year . I believe the Governor should be accountable for the MTA."
My turn. But what about funding for the MTA? Does he support congestion pricing? [As Mayor Bloomberg does?] Bridge tolls? [As Lt. Governor Richard Ravitch does?]
"Congestion pricing was proposed," Cuomo parried. "It was discussed. It was basically rejected by the legislature. I don't know that there's been any change in opinion. I think it's moot. I understand the concept. I understand that it was rejected. I don't think it would pass if it came up again, unless something changed."
Without offering specifics, he added. "There's going to be a number of revenue raisers. The instinct is going to be to say 'more money more money more money.' I understand that. Part of the discipline I want to bring is a fiscal discipline to the state and the MTA. The answer can't always be more money."
But then Melissa Russo of WNBC Channel 4 asked (I'm paraphrasing): how could he say, if it didn't happen, it won't happen? What about all the other things he wants to happen -- like government reform? Isn't the problem that the legislature hasn't made them happen?
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
By Kate Hinds
(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) As we reported earlier today, the United States Department of Transportation released the full list of transportation investment grants (known as TIGER II)--a pool of money totaling $600 million for 75 separate projects. How does this round differ from the previous TIGER grants, announced earlier this year? Not very--but there's one key difference: HUD got involved in the planning grants.
DOT Secretary Ray LaHood said in a press release today: "This marks the first time that the U.S. Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have joined together in awarding grants for localized planning activities that ultimately lead to projects that integrate transportation, housing and urban development."
That sentiment was echoed today by the Pratt Center's Joan Byron, who spoke to WNYC about the $1.5 million planning grant that New York City received to look at sustainable ways to redevelop the Hunts Point area of the Bronx. She said: "It feels like a real vindication for the community organizations of the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance and for ourselves that the federal government is now on the page where South Bronx communities have been for ten years."
While HUD and the DOT collaborated on the first round of TIGER grants, this is the first time that planning grants were jointly awarded--which seems to indicate that the Obama Administration is putting its money where its mouth is in terms of taking livability and sustainability criteria seriously.
TIGER grants were awarded in two categories: capital and planning. Atlanta was the big capital winner, with a $47.7 million grant for its streetcar project. Fort Worth received $34 million to upgrade its rail capacity, and Seattle also received $34 million for a bridge replacement.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
(Jackson, Michigan - Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) None of the bailouts have made Americans particularly happy. TARP was a Bush initiative -- supported by Obama, but not of his making. The stimulus was a series of internal compromises which gave a huge part of the spending control to Congress. But the GM bailout was an Obama plan, and one the White House considers an almost unqualified success. "The contrast between where these companies" -- Chrysler and GM -- " and the auto industry are today, and the situation President Obama faced when he took office are stark," the White House wrote in a report of April of this year.
In careful language, the analysis says some 1.1 million jobs had been at risk, but that the bailout had enabled the car companies to stay afloat, restructure, and, in GM's case, repay their loan 5 years ahead of schedule. Obama called the bailout a "success," and analysts agreed.
Writing in Bloomberg Business Week, David Welch noted:
"So far, it is tough to argue that the bailout hasn’t worked. GM is in the black, having reported an $865 million profit in the first quarter with black ink looking likely for the rest of the year.... Chrysler is at least making an operating profit, which puts the company in much better shape than most analysts thought it would be a year ago."
So, you'd think this would be a big selling point for the White House, right? A political plus? Dems should be cruising in Michigan -- if nowhere else? You'd be wrong.
Monday, October 18, 2010
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) There was a fascinating segment on The Brian Lehrer Show this morning, where he spoke with each of the five non-major party candidates for NY Governor. Well worth a listen, particularly because three of the candidates: Charles Barron, the Freedom Party candidate, Howie Hawkins of the Green Party and Warren Redlich of the Libertarian Party made transit or transportation part of their plans. We've already written about Barron's proposals on free transit (here and here), and he expanded on it today. Hawkins also spoke at some length about transit being part of what would make the state more sustainable. And Libertarian Party candidate Redlich put forth a proposal to combine the State DOT and the Thruway Authority. This is not such a fringe idea -- Massachusetts Governor Duval Patrick did something similar last year, and that state's DOT has been something of a hotbed of innovation.
In his policy "book," Democratic candidate Andrew Cuomo does wax at length about the need to streamline New York's government, and reduce the number of authorities. It's one of his main animating principles. But there are no specifics about how he'd reorganize transportation agencies, and while his economic development proposal offers a bit more, the details are still maddeningly few. We'll be trying to find out more in the next two weeks -- meantime, send us what you know.
TN Moving Stories: TIGER Grant Winners Leak Out, Flights into France Cut, Tappan Zee Bridge Replacements Unveiled
Saturday, October 16, 2010
By Kate Hinds
TIGER II grants to be announced this week, but the winners have begun to leak out. (Streetsblog)
Swiss complete drilling for 35.4 mile tunnel, the world's longest (BBC)
Unrest continues in France over possible increase in retirement age. Today, government to cut flights into French terminals by 50%. (New York Times)
Final replacement Tappan Zee Bridge spans unveiled. With: rail link. Without: funding. (Second Avenue Sagas)
Q&A about the Chevy Volt, including the key question "Is the Volt an electric car or a hybrid?" (New York Times)
On a list ranking 10 low-stress jobs, transportation engineer comes in at #2. "(They) love what they do because they often interact with the folks that use the crosswalks or traffic systems that they develop." (CNN Money)
Build a Better 'Burb exhibit showcases different futures for Long Island. Like: "'SUBHUB' envisions a multipurpose commuter train station, along with shuttle buses that pick up passengers and products at schools and take them to the station." (New York Times)
Friday, October 15, 2010
(Matt Dellinger, Transportation Nation) – I recently visited Lufkin, Texas, to meet with Louis Bronaugh, the former mayor of Lufkin and the original champion, in Texas, of the proposed Interstate 69. Like a surprising number of his fellow highwaymen, Bronaugh has a soft spot for public transportation too. In fact, he is now the Chairman of the Brazos Transit District, an agency serving a sixteen-county area in northeast Texas including the cities of Lufkin, Bryant-College Station, Nacogdoches, and the Woodlands.
Bronaugh was mayor for eighteen years, and during that time he grew adept at shepherding public and private largess toward community improvements. His main sidekicks in this were Arthur Temple, Jr., chairman emeritus of Temple-Inland timber company, and Congressman Charlie Wilson, whose covert dealings in Afghanistan (and in various bedrooms and hot tubs) were the subject of the Tom Hanks movie “Charlie Wilson’s War.” All three men played a part in creating a unique transit amenity for veterans in Texas.
Temple helped Bronaugh build a new center for the Boys and Girls Club, a recycling plant, an educational building at the local zoo, and a dozen other amenities. Charlie Wilson, who managed a lumber store for Temple-Inland as a young man, was instrumental in securing federal funding for a local veteran’s clinic and convincing Lockheed-Martin to locate an
electronics factory in town. When Temple died, in 2006, Wilson joined the board of the T. L. L. Temple foundation, and at his urging the board agreed to fund a new Veteran’s shuttle between the outpatient clinic in Lufkin and the VA Hospital in Houston, a two hour drive away.
The grant—$221,000 per year—pays for the operation and maintenance of the bus (contracted through Coach America), which each day ferries thirty to fifty veterans of conflicts spanning from World War II to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
(Canton, Ohio — Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Once, people believed in Canton Ohio. Its Palace Theater hosts statues of gods and goddesses in the balcony boxes. Its Canton Tower has deco details like a mini-Rockefeller center. But now it’s mostly boarded up.
In the last decades, large employers have, one by one, pulled up stakes and left Canton, nestled where the cornfields begin to meet the Appalachian foothills. “Ford Company. Bliss Company. Hercules. Canton Stamping. Canton Provisions.” Alice Prestier, who worked at Hoover’s Vacuum (also gone) for 30 years, ticks off names. “There were a lot of companies around here. We lost them all. Everything is gone.”
Prestier is standing in the Walmart SuperCenter parking lot in Canton, after putting away her groceries. “People are just desperate. They want to eat. They want to feed their children. They want to take care of their families. It’s gotten to that place,” Prestier told me, recounting a story she’d just heard on the radio warning people to lock their cars when they bought groceries because people were roving the parking lots, looking for ways to feed their families.
Canton’s in Stark County, Ohio, a classic swing district. This county voted for Obama in 2008, Bush in 2000. In 2008, Democrat John Boccieri, a former state legislator and Air Force Major, won an open Congressional seat, after 18-term Republican Ralph Regula retired. Now Boccieri is struggling to retain his seat, in an environment where thinking for the long term seems next to impossible.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
(Houston-Wendy Siegle, KUHF News) Houston has a lot of nicknames: Space City, Petro Metro, H-Town, The Bayou City. It got that last appellation because of the city's vast network of bayous. Ten of those bayous are slowing transforming into a series of parks and pathways thanks to The Bayou Greenway Initiative, an expansive project that started earlier this year. The goal is give Houstonians an alternative way to get around the city on multi-use trails that connect all ten bayous. Trails are already in place along many of the bayous, the key is to link them.
The project received a small, but still noteworthy grant recently, which will allow an important section on one of the bayous to be finished.
But before we get to that, let's start with some history:
Almost 100 years ago a Harvard-educated landscape architect proposed a comprehensive park system along Houston’s bayous. His name was Arthur C. Comey, and he believed the city’s network of bayous could ultimately become a web of interconnecting parks and trails. In 1913 he wrote that the “bayous and creek valleys readily lend themselves to trails and parks and cannot so advantageously be used for any other purpose.” Well, 97 years later it looks like his vision is finally coming to fruition through the Bayou Greenway Initiative. It’s a massive undertaking stretching from Spring to Clear Creek, which will take 10-15 years to complete. The goal? Three-hundred miles of connected trails along ten of the region’s bayous.
A short time ago, the city and the Houston Parks Board received a $2 million dollar transportation enhancement grant to go toward the Brays Bayou part of the initiative, which is located south of downtown. Considering the total cost of the initiative is $490 million dollars, the grant is a tiny drop in the pond. Still, the money means a crucial portion of Brays Bayou will be completed.
Listen to the rest of the story over at KUHF News.
Monday, October 11, 2010
(Wendy Siegle, KUHF - Houston) Suburban America has never been a place where public transit thrives. In suburbia, the car is king. But as communities look to the future they're finding residents want more options for getting around. Sugar Land, Houston's southwestern neighbor, is one of them.
Like most suburban communities in the Houston region, Sugar Land is growing, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop any time soon. A 30 million dollar minor league baseball stadium is expected to be completed around 2012 and the historic Imperial Sugar Mill next door is getting refashioned into a new multi-use development in the near future. Both projects mean this older part of Sugar Land is likely to become much more popular, making it ripe for heavy congestion.
Sandy Hellums is on Sugar Land’s citizens’ Mobility Advisory Committee and says the biggest problem right now is lack of options. “It is very difficult to move around as a pedestrian in a lot of our entertainment districts," she said. "There is no alternative in terms of pubic transportation. There’s no rail; there’s no buses; it’s pretty much your car and that’s it." Sugar Land's Transportation director Patrick Walsh says more transit alternatives are exactly what the city’s exploring and is part of the reason it’s spending $200,000 on a long-range mobility plan.
Hear the full story over at KUHF News.
TN Moving Stories: Transportation Fatalities Down, Poverty On the Rise, and State of the Subways Report Out
Thursday, October 07, 2010
By Kate Hinds
Poverty is on the rise across the country, but it's worse in the suburbs, where (since 2000) there's a 37.4% increase. Rise in cities: 16.7%. "Future poverty increases will be partly determined by...government policy decisions promoting job growth, affordable housing and transportation." (AP via New York Times)
The new Straphangers Campaign State of the Subways report says that overall, New York's subways have improved (New York Daily News). Especially compared to 25 years ago, when "17 percent of trains were mislabeled with the wrong line number or letter." All aboard the mystery train! (WNYC)
The implementation of New York's "bikes in buildings" law is proving...challenging for some. (AM NY)
Ford is working with the New York Power Authority to prepare New Yorkers for electric vehicles. (Automotive World)
U.S., Japanese airlines win antitrust immunity for cooperating on pricing and routes (Bloomberg). Meanwhile, in other antitrust news, a company that provides ferryboat service to Mackinac Island (MI) is suing the local government and another ferry provider, saying that the latter two have conspired to create a monopoly. (Detroit Free Press)
The Seat Not Taken: John Edgar Wideman's op-ed on race and seating on the Acela. "Unless the car is nearly full, color will determine, even if it doesn’t exactly clarify, why 9 times out of 10 people will shun a free seat if it means sitting beside me." (New York Times)
Monday, October 04, 2010
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Matt D. wrote on Friday about Indianopolis's flirtation with privatizing its on-street parking. Turns out former Indy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, now the Deputy Mayor of NYC, is eying it too, as first reported in the New York Post. But his boss, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, sounded a little iffy about the idea at a press conference on Governor's Island, in the NY Harbor.
"We're trying to think outside the box and look at everything," the Mayor said, preparing for the big BUT. "What we're not going to do is sell our birthright, take some money to balance the budget toady and leave our kids with a greater liability. If the private sector can do something better than the public sector then we certainly would talk to them. What's generally done with these privitization things is to take all the money for budget balancing, leaving those cities or states without assets and with an obligation going forward. That's just terrible fiscal planning."
Monday, October 04, 2010
The Joint Budget Oversight Committee voted 4 to 1 in favor of a 1-point-7 billion financing package that the Christie administration said was necessary to keep projects going until the spring. Democrats on the committee had refused to approve the financing last week, leading Governor Christie to suspend about hundreds of road and transit projects as of this morning.
Assemblywoman Nellie Pou from Paterson was one of two Democrats to break ranks with the party's leadership and approve the borrowing.
"I'm not happy the way things are working out," Pou said, " and I'm not happy with how we got to this situation, but my vote is yes for the purpose to making sure the right thing is done today and getting those jobs back in order.
Another Democratic Assemblymember, Louis Greenwald, voted against the measure, saying the state needed to fix the nearly bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund before it borrowed more money.
The vote came as Governor Christie is mulling whether to go forward with another large transportation project -- a trans-Hudson tunnel which would increase NJ Transit's capacity, but which Christie fears may cost too much.
Expert: New York City Zoning Regs Won't Really Encourage People to Give Up Private Cars for Car Sharing
Thursday, September 30, 2010
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) (Updated) New York yesterday changed its zoning regulations to clarify that yes, car-share cars can park in private garages. But Dr. Rachel Weinberger, a parking expert at the University of Pennsylvania, says, despite the city's glowing words about car-share, this plan might not really encourage people to give up their cars and use car share instead. Weinberger's reasoning is this: cities like Toronto and Philadelphia have created incentives for developers to create car-share spots, by allowing them reductions in parking requirements (the requirement they build a certain number of spots for a certain size building.) Some developers really don't want to build extra parking, because of the cost, so allowing them to reduce the space they have to build, she says, is a real incentive to create a car-share spot.
But in New York "there's so much latent demand for parking," Weinberger points out, that there's no incentive to create car share spots over other spots. To encourage car share, she says, you can't just make ZipCars more readily available, you have to make owning a car less convenient.
NY's new resolution will reduce the number of spots for owner-car use somewhat, but not enough, she says, to be a "game-changer."
The change, she said, could "result in more driving, not less," but making it easier to pick up a car-share, but no harder to drive your own.
Note: This post was updated to reflect the fact that Weinberger didn't say the new regs wouldn't make car sharier easier, but rather said it wouldn't discourage private car ownership.