Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Garden Villages: More from across the pond

I recently wrote about several progressive transportation initiatives being taken by the Conservative – I repeat, Conservative - government in the UK (here).
 One initiative I didn’t mention (it’s not strictly transportation) is a new round of garden towns and garden villages that are being advanced as a way to ease a housing shortage.  These new developments, which are descendants of the century-old garden city movement, are supposed to be more or less freestanding and self-sufficient rather than add-on or infill.  In theory, at least, they will be environmentally friendly, with lots of green spaces.
The garden “villages” are smaller-scale than garden “towns” and can fit into smaller footprints.  To get an idea of what they have in mind, take a look at Dissington Garden Village in Northumberland (news story here, concept plan here).  This particular development hasn’t gotten planning approval yet, but it showcases some of the features that an ideal garden village should have: walkable/bikeable layout, community facilities, retail shops, employment opportunities (ratio of one job per household), range of housing options built to high environmental standards, internal and external green spaces, and high-quality infrastructure, including fast broadband.

Many of these garden village plans, including Dissington, have attracted local opposition for various reasons (Dissington takes a bite out of a preserved green belt), and each should of course be reviewed on its own merits.  And I understand that the British planning and regulatory regime is much different than that in the US.  But really, we should be doing a much better job of rural planning than we do in this country.  Contrast the garden village concept with the sprawl development that is still so prevalent here.  I think there is much to learn from watching Dissington and its cousins.


Monday, April 10, 2017

California Cap-and-Trade clears a big hurdle (and why that’s important for transportation)

California’s cap-and-trade program for reducing greenhouse gas emissions has just cleared a big legal hurdle in the state courts (story here).  And this could be important for the transportation sector.
Why?
Unlike some other cap-and-trade programs, California’s very explicitly includes transportation fuels.  And if it proves successful in encouraging cleaner transportation it could provide a model for other states.
Climate change experts and policy makers are looking more closely at the California system for three reasons:
1.     The transportation sector has recently overtaken the electricity generation sector as the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions in this country.  While GHG emissions from electricity generation have been going down (government regulations, cheap natural gas), emissions from transportation have been going up (cheap gasoline, rising post-Recession VMT).
2.     Although many strategies for transportation GHG reduction have been developed – and many of them have been at least partly implemented – the trend lines are not good and even aggressive implementation of more conventional strategies looks to fall short of science-based targets for emission reductions.
3.     The federal government appears to be out of the game for the foreseeable future, leaving the initiative for climate policy squarely in the hands of the states.
The California program is (not surprisingly) a bit complicated.  A good overview can be found here.
One of the key features of the California program is that it generates significant revenue, which by law has to be plowed back into “green” investments.  (Some people have called a program like this “cap-and-invest” rather than “cap-and-trade.”)  According a recent report to the Legislature (here), in the first four years of the program, $3.4 Billion has been appropriated from cap-and-trade proceeds.  In the transportation sector, this has funded, among other things, more than 100,000 rebates for zero-emission and plug-in hybrid vehicles and more than 200 transit projects. 
At least 25% of the appropriations from the program must be targeted for disadvantaged communities.  California policy makers have decided – I think wisely – that for both practical and moral reasons it’s a bad idea to make rural and disadvantaged communities pay a premium, say in higher gas prices, without receiving targeted investment in their mobility needs.

Is California-style Cap-and-Invest coming to other states?  Perhaps.  It certainly has major potential benefits and should be watched closely as it develops.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Meanwhile, north of the border……

Having compared the most recent British transportation budget (here) to the awful U.S. budget document (here), I thought it would be useful to take a peek at the new Canadian budget (synopsis here).
In truth, it’s not as aggressive as I would have hoped, but there are definitely some steps in the right direction.
While the U.S. budget calls for eliminating the transit New Starts program – and foreshadows cuts in the formula programs – the Canadian budget calls for a greatly expanded program of federal aid for transit capital.  The budget earmarks $20 Billion Canadian over 5 years for Phase II of the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund.  (By my back-of-the-envelope calculations, this would translate to a program of about $30 Billion US a year in this country.)
The transit initiative is an element of a “Transportation 2030” strategic plan (here) which, although not as focused as I would like, includes an emphasis on “clean and innovative” transportation.

We look for more to come, Canadians, especially in these difficult times down south!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Meanwhile, across the pond…..

I wrote recently about the ugliness of the proposed transportation budget in this country (here).  As it turns out, the recent British budget for transportation provides a dramatic contrast – one that should make us shake our heads, or perhaps hope for better days.
The British budget lists 10 transportation programs targeted for increased funding (I won’t go into the differences in budgeting practices.  Suffice it to say that I’m referencing the mid-year UK “Autumn Statement” budget released last November, details here).  The 10 programs (translated into Americanese) are:
1.     Local aid,
2.     Strategic highway bottlenecks,
3.     Technology: EV charging infrastructure, alternative fuels, autonomous vehicles, etc.,
4.     Digital rail signaling,
5.     Oxford-Cambridge Growth Corridor
6.     Highway and rail flood resilience,
7.     Strategic highway studies,
8.     Smart ticketing for transit customers,
9.     Discretionary major local projects, and
10. Rail upgrades and realignment in Birmingham (a la CREATE).
Bear in mind this is from a Conservative government!

I particularly like the Oxford-Cambridge Growth Corridor project, which aims to coordinate new housing with rail and roadway improvements to support this strategic corridor (report here).  I think we call that planning.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Just How Bad is the White House Transportation Budget?

Bad.  Just how bad is unknown, since we don’t have the details.  The budget summary document (available here) proposes a $2.4 Billion, or 13%, cut from baseline funding, but only 5 specific provisions are identified:
1.     Privatize air traffic control,
2.     Eliminate funding for long-distance Amtrak trains,
3.     Eliminate FTA’s New Starts program for transit (for projects not yet at the stage of “full funding agreement”),
4.     Eliminate the Essential Air Service program, and
5.     Eliminate funding for the TIGER discretionary funding program.
These changes certainly don’t add up to $2.4 Billion, and I have no idea how OMB plans to get to that number.  It won’t be pretty.
The 5 provisions themselves reflect the thinking of the 2016 Republican platform, although in less radical (or perhaps only introductory) form (see my comments on the platform here).
Ironically, two of the targets for cuts – Essential Air Service and Amtrak long-distance trains – are subsidies for transportation in mainly Red State “flyover” territory.
The largest and most consequential hit is transit New Starts.  This program is already starved for funds compared to demonstrated need – let alone what we should be doing to build an advanced, greatly expanded public transportation component for a resilient, sustainable 21st century transportation system.

What about the anticipated infrastructure initiative that is supposed to draw bipartisan support?  Certainly there is no money for anything like that here, adding to the suspicion that that initiative will focus on a giveaway of highways and bridges to concessionaires who will fund improvements through very high tolls.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

David Burwell RIP

I was saddened to learn of the recent passing of my old friend and colleague David Burwell.
David was a giant in the transportation reform community and had a real impact in changing how transportation happens in this country.  From rails-to-trails, to federal reauthorization, to land use and transportation, to climate change and transportation, he always seemed to be at the cutting edge, using his fertile mind and sharp wit to open up new possibilities.

David was also a real gentleman and a great guy.  We will miss him.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Prince Charles on Climate Change

One of Prince Charles’ virtues (he has many in my opinion – for which he gets scant appreciation at home and abroad) is his consistent public commitment to addressing climate change.  Within the limits imposed on him by his royal position, he has been a strong voice for action.  His latest initiative is a book for popular audiences, entitled simply Climate Change (may still be difficult to find in the US).
The book (co-authored with two climate scientists) is a simple, well-illustrated introduction to the topic.  In fact, it looks like a children’s book, but isn’t.  (The publishing genealogy of these “Ladybird Expert” books can be found here.  The next book in the series is on quantum mechanics!)

I’m not sure what impact this little book will have in the UK, let alone this country, but folks who work on climate change communications issues should definitely give it a look.  Maybe Scott Pruitt should read it!