Tuesday, December 17, 2013

DVRPC: Changing Technology, Changing Transportation meeting

The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) has held its annual Board Retreat and, as usual, has given us some provocative thoughts and thinkers.
The meeting focused on changing technology and its effect on transportation.  Some nuggets from the speakers will give a sense of the sessions:
Andrew Bata of MTA in New York showed us some cutting edge technology in transit, including realtime multimodal information, automated transit, and no-catenary light rail.
Daniel Lee of Penn impressed upon us how rapidly new transportation technology, such as driverless cars, is arriving (and entertained the group with a video of robotic soccer!).
Sabrina Sussman of ITS America said we are entering the “my transportation” era, when people can use their smartphones and other devices to move around in a wide variety of modes.  Just ahead are integrated payments systems, multimodal navigation and trip planning, smarter cities, and connected and semi-autonomous vehicles.
John Gartner of Navigant talked about the future of electric vehicles.  He believes the EV industry is “vibrant and healthy” and expects the German manufacturers (stimulated by the success of Tesla) to be the key growth market in the next couple of years. 
Jim Hughes, dean of Rutgers’ Bloustein Planning School, gave a fascinating account of the growth of New Jersey’s “autocentric office corridors” and their relation to the advent of personal computers and a style of office-based knowledge work based on them.  That day has now passed, he argued, as we enter an “untethered era” based on a mobile internet technology.  Both the new technology and the Millenials who have grown up with it are more oriented to dispersed work and “interactive team spaces” than to the old world of office parks and cubicles.  This shift has left New Jersey with an obsolete suburban office infrastructure that is “oversupplied and underdemolished” with “stranded assets” sitting in “seas of asphalt.”  He suggested that “densification” is no longer just a planning concept: it is being pursued by private sector executives who find the old model expensive and inefficient.
Deron Lovaas of the National Resources Defense Council pointed out the interconnection between new technology and climate change preparedness.
Tom Glendening of E3THINK described new developments in urban mobility, including new bikeshare technology and a new bike-boat-bike trans-Hudson intermodal system under development in New York and New Jersey.
How do all these ideas link up?  See the board below!
On a nontechnical note, Jim Simpson, New Jersey Commissioner of Transportation (and DVRPC Board Chair) recounted some of the frustrations he has experienced in New York/New Jersey relations and said he intends to use the example of Pennsylvania/New Jersey cooperation (facilitated by DVRPC) as a model for improving bistate problems to the east.
DVRPC also presented its Regional Excellence awards (described here), including one of my favorites, the new Pennsauken Transit Center, which provides a connection between NJ Transit’s Atlantic City Line and River Line (story here).  Networks are good!

Congratulations to Barry Seymour and company for another outstanding program in cutting-edge transportation planning!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Troubling Predictions for the Jersey Shore

Just a year after Sandy, and scientists are giving us some pretty glum predictions about future flooding possibilities for the middle of this century.
Rutgers and Tufts scientists have just published a study (link here) suggesting that sea level could rise by 1.5 to 2.3 feet at the shore by 2050.  In addition to climate change (including changes in the Gulf Stream), other factors at work include such esoteric forces as sediment compaction and adjustments following the last ice age!  You would have thought climate change was scary enough!
Fortunately, planners in New Jersey and elsewhere in the middle Atlantic area are taking the issue very seriously.  Still, I don’t think anyone has really mentally processed the enormity of large portions of the densely populated East Coast potentially disappearing into the surf.

At a minimum, it seems to me, transportation planners need to seriously focus on building “allweather” transportation systems to provide travel during emergencies.  A hundred years ago, that meant paved roads.  Now it needs to be much more.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

New U. S. PIRG Report Highlights Big Changes in Transportation Patterns in Urbanized Areas

U. S. PIRG has issued another report in their series highlighting and documenting the big changes in travel patterns happening in this country.  Their previous reports this year – “Moving off the Road” and “A New Direction: Our Changing Relationship with Driving and the Implications for America’s Future” (my comments and links here and here) pretty persuasively argued that the changes we are seeing in travel – especially falling VMT – are not just a product of the current economic slump but are serious, long-term changes that we as a nation have not yet come to terms with.
The new report, “Transportation in Transition: A Look at Changing Travel Patterns in America’s Biggest Cities” (available here), pushes the analysis down to the level of urbanized areas, using data from the Census, FHWA, and FTA.
The results are striking:
·      54 of 74 urbanized areas showed a drop in VMT per capita from 2006 to 2011
·      47 of 74 showed a drop in total VMT
·      60 of 98 urbanized areas showed an increase in transit passenger miles traveled per capita from 2005 to 2010
·      67 of 98 showed an increase in total passenger miles traveled
The report tracks similar findings for numbers (and shares) of workers who commute by car to work, who bike to work, and who work from home.
The authors also put some more holes in the theory that the economic slump is the main cause of these changes.  They matched up various indicators of economic distress (increase in unemployment rate, increase in poverty level, etc.) with indicators of change in travel patterns and found a negative correlation.  In other words, those urbanized areas that have weathered the economic crisis relatively well have tended to show more change in travel patterns (drop in per capita VMT, increase in transit, etc.) than their less successful cousins.
The real fun (I know, this probably falls into the “get a life” category) is in diving into the tables at the back of the report, which list scores for all the urbanized areas analyzed.  (Not all urbanized areas are scored in all categories due to problems with availability and comparability of data.)  Perhaps not surprisingly, these data show all kinds of local divergences and anomalies, perhaps explainable by differences in economies, demographics, transit policies, etc. 
Just a few nuggets gleaned from a quick look through the tables:
·      In Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Lancaster all rank highly in the metric of decline in per capita VMT (4th, 5th, and 11th).  However, while Harrisburg also ranks high in increase of transit passenger miles per capita (5th), Pittsburgh and Lancaster rank poorly, showing actual declines in that number.
·      In Massachusetts, Boston doesn’t rank highly in either VMT decrease or transit increase, but ranks 7th in the nation in increased bike commuting (Hubway effect?).
·      In New York, Poughkeepsie-Newburgh scores near the top nationally in VMT decline (6th) and increase in working at home (6th), but near the bottom (83rd) in increase in transit passenger miles per capita, with an actual decline in that category.
·      In Wisconsin, both Milwaukee and Madison are near the top in VMT decline (2nd and 3rd) and also in increased bike commuting (19th and 2nd).  The example of Madison, which already is a very bike friendly city, suggests that we are nowhere near saturation levels for bike commuting anywhere.
·      The Washington DC urbanized area (including significant populations in Maryland and Virginia) scores at middling levels on most of the indicators, but ranks 14th in increased bike commuting share (Capital Bikeshare?).
The report concludes with stating five policy recommendations suggested by the results of the analysis:
1.     Revisit transportation plans,
2.     Reallocate resources,
3.     Remove barriers to expanded transportation options,
4.     Use innovative travel tools and service, and
5.     Get better data.

Congratulations to Phineas Baxandall and company at U. S. PIRG for putting together a compelling report that should be required reading at state DOTs, MPOs, and planning firms!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Taming the Parking Monster, Black Friday edition

Parking is one of the great untamed monsters of transportation and land use planning.  There are no easy answers (that I have seen), although more transit, better walkability, reduced parking requirements, pricing parking, and of course mixed use development all help. 
Congratulations to Strong Towns for taking on one aspect of the monster: the fact that developers and towns often size parking fields to meet the alleged demands of the greatest parking demand day of the year – black Friday.  Smarter Towns invited readers to send in photos demonstrating that, at least in many places, even black Friday parking spaces are way in excess of need (see #BlackFridayParking).
My shot (below) is of Quakerbridge Mall in Lawrenceville, NJ (between Trenton and Princeton) at 3:00 on Friday afternoon.

Thanks Strong Towns!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving! (and Pennsylvania transportation professionals have even more to be thankful for!)

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett may have the worst poll numbers of any governor in America, but he put some smiles on the faces of transportation folks before Thanksgiving as he signed a major transportation funding bill that he had successfully steered through a very rocky course (details and background in my earlier post here).

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Congrats to PlanSmart New Jersey for 45 Successful Years!

PlanSmart New Jersey, one of the state’s most influential nonprofits, has just celebrated its 45th birthday and shows no signs of slowing down.  Under the leadership of new ED Ann Brady (formerly with other positions in the organization) PlanSmart continues to be an energetic and persuasive advocate for smart planning in the Garden State. 
The breadth of PlanSmart’s influence can be seen in their latest honorees (see their website here).  One of my favorites is the Lawrence-Hopewell Trail, which proves that building nonmotorized transportation infrastructure really can happen in suburbia!
On their website, also check out the excellent town planning guide, “Out and About: A Guide to Sustainable Local Circulation Planning,” by Carlos Rodrigues and colleagues. 

Congratulations to PlanSmart New Jersey and best wishes for another successful 45 years!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

PA House Reverses Course, Passes Transportation Funding

In a dramatic turnaround, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives has approved a $2.4 Billion transportation funding package, only a day after voting it down (good summary story here).  The bill passed the Senate in June by a bipartisan 45 – 5 vote, but has been hung up in the House, where anti-tax Republicans seemed content to let Pennsylvania lead the nation in structurally deficient bridges rather than increase any taxes or fees (sound familiar?).
Governor Tom Corbett, who’s approval ratings are underwater, didn’t shrink from the fight and pressed hard for the measure, including bringing in former governors Ed Rendell, Tom Ridge, and Mark Schweiker to speak for it.  PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch put together a “Decade of Investment” project list and posted weight limits on 1,000 bridges to dramatize the problem.
The politics got pretty crazy toward the end. The sweetener to get Republicans on board was an anti-labor provision that increases the exemption from state prevailing wage rules for projects from $25,000 to $100,000.  However, the sweetener for Republicans was also a poison pill for many Democrats. The cause appeared lost Monday night, when the House voted the bill down, but several Republicans were persuaded to switch by Tuesday, no doubt with interesting stories behind each switch.  In the end, the bill passed 104 – 95, with a small majority of Republicans voting aye and small majority of Democrats voting no.
Of course most transportation funding votes these days have complicated politics, the details of which vary from place to place and time to time.  The takeaway here, I think, is that bipartisan funding votes really are possible. 
The Pennsylvania bill (which I should point out still has more hurdles to get across) raises several taxes and fees, with the largest revenue coming from removing the cap on a wholesale fuels tax, which will effectively, in a few years, increase the motor fuels tax by about 25 cents per gallon.
The plan includes a robust increase in funding for transit and multi-modal programs (air, rail, bike/ped) and some structural reforms, but doesn’t go as far as many of us would like (my earlier comments here). 

I think we have to score this a big victory for transportation funding.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

New Jersey Takes a Big Step Toward an Interstate EV Network with Opening of First Fast Charger

New Jersey now has its first “DC Fast Charging” station for electric vehicles, with the official opening of the new U-Go charger at the Wyndham Hotel in Mount Laurel.  The new facility is located on Route 73, just off Exit 4 of the New Jersey Turnpike and very close to Exit 36 of I-295.  Why is this important?  Unlike typical home and public EV chargers, Fast Chargers can “fill up” a depleted battery in 30 minutes.  That means that a strategically placed network of Fast Chargers can make long distance travel practical, even for today’s first-generation electric cars.  And that’s exactly what the U-Go Stations people – owner/operator of the site – plan to do.  They are looking for locations up and down the Northeast Corridor, from Washington, DC, to Boston (company website here).
In the frustratingly non-standardized world of electric vehicles, not all EVs will be able to charge here, at least for now.  The Mount Laurel charger is a “CHAdeMO”  design, meaning it will only work for the Nissan LEAF and other Japanese electrics (although Tesla has said they will offer a CHAdeMO adapter for sale for $1,000).
EV drivers will be able to find Mount Laurel via onboard information (on the LEAF) and via the USDOE website.  What would be helpful – and hopefully on the way – would be wayfinding signs on the Turnpike, I-295, and Route 73.
A real network of Fast Chargers would not only make longer distance travel practical for EV drivers, it would also reduce their “range anxiety,” by reassuring them that if they travel a little farther afield than intended and the battery runs low, they are not far from a place where they can get a quick recharge.
Congratulations to U-Go Stations for an important step forward!
Congratulations also to Nissan, which continues its commitment to electric transportation, Chuck Feinberg and New Jersey Clean Cities, the state’s chief EV boosters (see their website here), Wyndham Hotels, and Mayor Linda Bobo and Mount Laurel Township!

(Photos are of the ribbon-cutting and of Chuck Feinberg and yours truly.)

Atlanta Braves Go For Record ERA: Extreme Relocation Absurdity

Poor Atlanta.  So many assets, so many problems.  So many opportunities, so many lost opportunities (previous thoughts here).  And now a new self-inflicted wound.
The Atlanta Braves are moving.  Are they moving to a new urban neighborhood, accessible by transit, poised to serve as the springboard for exciting urban mixed-use development?  Stimulating new restaurants, bars, and shops in a walkable setting?  Luring Millennials and Baby Boomers to revitalized housing?  Following the success stories of St. Louis (my comments here), San Diego, Baltimore, San Francisco, and others?
Not so much.  In fact, not at all.  The Braves are moving from the city of Atlanta to a suburban, sprawltown, 100 percent auto-oriented location at the junction of two Interstates.
Now I can see why the Braves were unhappy with their current location, Turner Field.  Although some news stories refer to it as a “downtown” location, that’s a bit of a stretch.  It’s an urban location, but not really downtown, and not really near anything.  Certainly nowhere near MARTA (is it a rule in Atlanta that major new activity centers must be located away from MARTA stations?).  The experience of leaving a ballgame at Turner Field is certainly no fun.  Instead of walking out to well-lit streets with cheerful crowds heading for bars and restaurants, you walk down empty streets and under dark freeway underpasses to find your car and get out of the neighborhood.  And now, bad planning is replaced by worse planning.
For those of us who spend our time immersed in sustainability and resiliency issues, Atlanta seems like a throwback.  Are there still people who believe that edge cities and bigger freeways and suburban sprawl are the wave of the future?  Apparently.

The good news is that many cities understand that well-planned urban ballparks create economic value and promote a better quality of life, not only for city dwellers but for the entire region.  This chart from Deadspin shows clearly how most cities have been moving ballparks in toward the region’s center, not outward.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Climate Change: Scary Numbers, Scary Maps

Obviously our thoughts and prayers right now are with the people of the Philippines, who are dealing with the calamity of Typhoon Haiyan.  Although, as we know, climate change doesn’t cause individual weather events, it seems to be the scientific consensus (reinforced by everyday observation) that scary events are getting scarier and more common.
And speaking of scary, the latest predictions for the longer term just keep getting grimmer.  Do you find numbers or maps more compelling?  If you’re a numbers person, the latest report from the World Meteorological Organization will give you a chill.  The report is here, but the gist is in the first sentence of the press release: “The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new record high in 2012, continuing an upward and accelerating trend which is driving climate change and will shape the future of our planet for hundreds and thousands of years.” 
Want to see a chilling set of maps?  Try these from the National Geographic!

I continue to anticipate (and push for) a paradigm shift in national consciousness on this issue.  It’s got to be sooner, not later.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Congrats to Tri-State Transportation Campaign!

Congratulations to Tri-State Transportation Campaign on 20 years of successful advocacy for sustainable transportation policies in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut!
If you aren’t familiar with Tri-State’s work, check out their website (here) and their blog (here).
The honorees for their recent 20th anniversary bash were:
Board members Rich Kassel, Charles Komanoff, Jim Tripp, and Jeff Zupan,
AARP New Jersey, for advocacy of safer streets,
Patty Woodworth, Action Wheels Bike Shop, Deptford, NJ, for bike/ped safety advocacy,
And – my favorite – New Jersey DOT, Commissioner Jim Simpson and my old friend Sheree Davis, for successful implementation of Complete Streets programs in the Garden State.

Best luck for another successful 20 years!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Time to Hit the (Overton) Window on Transportation Funding

Earlier this year I wrote a piece (here) about how an effort to radically change the Washington debate on Social Security benefits (don’t cut them, increase them!) could be used as a model for recasting the debate (or lack thereof) on transportation funding.
Now comes a new story (here) explaining how the effort to change the Social Security debate was consciously crafted to change the “Overton Window.”  The supershort explanation of the Overton Window is that public policy options are considered to be serious only if they fit within a narrow window of acceptability (the Overton Window).  So in the field of transportation finance, the conventional wisdom is that increasing taxes for transportation is politically infeasible and therefore is not a serious option.  That option is not within the current Overton Window.  Since all the “serious” options – within the current Overton Window – lead only to national decline, my answer (from the earlier piece) is: move the goalposts!  Or, in Overton parlance: widen the Overton window!

Whatever parlance or metaphor you prefer, it seems to me to be time to stop accepting failure as an option, let alone as a decree of the Fates.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sandy – One Year Later

There’s not much I can add to the one-year-later Sandy retrospectives in the New York Times and other sources.  They have covered many of the short-term and long-term impacts to transportation and other types of infrastructure.
Just two thoughts:
First, as some of us have pointed out (my comments a year ago here), the silver lining to the Sandy disaster, and other weather related disasters, could be that a growing majority of people involved in our public policy discourse will be climate change believers, not Flat Earthers.  I believe there have been signs of that, although it’s discouraging when we see the prime minster of Australia, whose country is literally on fire, holding steadfast to denial.
Second, it’s pretty clear that more and more public agencies – DOTs and others – are seriously incorporating climate change resilience and adaptation into their planning.  That will be very helpful in coping with future events.

Finally, just to give a little perspective, this photo shows Sandy damage still visible a few weeks ago in a wildlife preserve along the Delaware River about 60 miles inland.  Although the Jersey Shore and urban areas got the most news coverage in the Sandy aftermath, the damage to inland rural areas and woodlands was immense.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Electric Bikes Humming Along in Arlington

A new electric bicycle shop in Arlington, VA – Hybrid Pedals – is creating a lot of “buzz” (see their website here).  Alan Levine’s showroom is crammed with dozens of electric bikes: special built bikes (starting at around $1500), custom rebuilds (also at around $1500), folding bikes (for the Metro), and very high-end bikes (what Levine calls the “Lamborghini” of ebikes, for around $15,000!).  He is working on an order now for the Atlantic City Policy Department, who are buying 30 ebikes with very fat tires for riding up and down the beach.
Levine says that ebikes now make up better than 20 percent of bicycle sales in Europe, and he sees a similar trend here. 
The idea behind electric bikes, if you’re not familiar with them, is that you can use them like regular bikes, in bike lanes, etc., but can switch on the power for help getting up steep hills or on long commutes.  You can even go entirely electric if you choose, say to commute to work without working up a sweat. 
The good news about ebikes – as with electric cars – is that batteries continue to get lighter and more powerful. 
The electric bicycle is just one more development, along with bikesharing, that is making bicycle transportation a mainstream option.

Good luck to Hybrid Pedals! 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Keystone State Transportation Funding Still Hangs in the Balance

After a very solid, bipartisan vote for increased transportation funding in the Pennsylvania state Senate in June (45 – 5!), the funding bill’s future is still very much in doubt in the House of Representatives (see press update here).
The Senate bill (SB-1) isn’t perfect and lacks in substantive transportation reform measures.  Nevertheless, it provides a significant funding bump and a real rebound from the Act 44 debacle (which hinged on the failed proposal to toll I-80).
What I find most encouraging is, first, the real bipartisan support for a transportation revenue increase (at least in the Senate) and, second, the willingness to go to the motor fuels tax (although in a roundabout way) for revenue. 
The bill, if passed, will enable PennDOT to invest heavily in attacking the structurally deficient bridge backlog (in which it has the dubious distinction of leading the nation) and to provide stable funding for transit.  Hopefully, PennDOT will also use this as an opportunity (if the bill passes) to take on some other issues: a new Community Transportation Fund (based on the successful Pennsylvania Community Transportation Initiative of a few years ago), increased bike/ped funding, etc.

Stay tuned!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Blogger Argues EVs on the Verge of Causing Irreversible Changes in Auto Market

Having spent a good deal of time reading (and some time writing!) officially-sounding papers on electric vehicles, it was refreshing to read a posting by Daily Kos blogger Assaf Oron that provides a somewhat grittier analysis (here). 
Oron’s takeaway point: “EVs are very close now, perhaps a single year away, from attaining the critical mass and momentum needed to irreversibly affect the automotive-market economy.”
Oron does a pretty good takedown of some of the “conventional wisdom” negativity that often emerges from opponents – I use the term advisedly – of electric vehicles, although I am probably a bit more skeptical than he is about a quick blossoming of EVs. 
The most interesting part of the piece is his argument that electric vehicles are not really out of reach of average consumers.  Leasing an EV, he argues, is actually cheaper than owning and maintaining a middle-age conventional car. 
He also analyzes the market forces affecting EVs, particularly noting the successes of Tesla.

Oron ranges through a variety of EV issues in his string of posts on the subject, but, as I said above, the big takeaway is his assertion that we are rapidly approaching a tipping point at which EVs are no longer “the future” or a possible technological option but become a permanent part of our lives.  Is he right?  I’m not 100% sold on the proposition…but I’m probably 80% sold! 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Good New Summary Report on Reauthorization Funding Options

The Congressional Research Service has published an excellent new report summarizing the transportation funding options we are likely to look at during a Reauthorization legislative process (“Funding and Financing Highways and Public Transportation,” available here).
As they usually do, CRS manages to summarize a lot of material, some of it pretty complicated, in a readable document that policymakers can actually use.  The reader can quickly learn where we are in terms of federal surface transportation funding, how we got here, and what our options are for going forward (including “do nothing” and let the Highway Trust Fund shrink or disappear altogether).  Although most of this ground has been plowed before, two sections should be noted for their fresh treatment.  First, the paper describes the Trust Fund financing problem in a remarkably clear fashion, with both text and numbers.   A simple spreadsheet (yes, it is possible to use a simple spreadsheet to communicate complicated information!) sets out the shortfall in high relief.  Second, the authors provide a two-page legislative history of the motor fuels tax and the Highway Trust Fund over the past 30 years that reminds us not only of the controversial nature of the subject but also of the convoluted nature of the Congressional process.  These process issues are often given little attention, but they are important for the Capitol Hill audience for whom the paper is oriented.  (They are not for the faint of heart, being essentially a report from the industrial engineers at the sausage factory.)
However, I do have a few quibbles.  I have the same quibbles with most papers done on this subject, but I want to note them here as they can affect the policy process that the CRS paper will help to inform.
First, the authors call attention to the growing gap between motor fuels tax revenues and identified transportation needs, suggesting that Congress may need to find new sources of income.  One of the sources discussed later is indexing the motor fuels tax.  However, I think it is fairer to say that increasing the motor fuels tax and indexing it and maybe adding a few refinements would in fact solve the problem, at least for a considerable time
Second, the paper alludes in passing to the “political difficulty” of raising the gas tax, but I think does not fully recognize that the perception of that “political difficulty” is pretty much the only reason we are passing over the obvious solution (increase and index the gas tax) in favor of more exotic options.
Third, in common with most papers on the subject, the CRS effort, I believe, seriously underestimates the “political difficulty” of passing alternative taxes.  Do we really think that the anti-tax forces will be just fine with enacting a national sales tax or a VMT tax?  I don’t understand why we think that novelty will make the medicine go down better.
Fourth, I believe that the authors – again in common with many others – also seriously underestimates the likely opposition to a VMT tax due to the privacy issue.  True, they suggest that data collection not using GPS systems may provoke less resistance than a system that does.  That may be so, but remember we live in an age in which enacting a middle-of-the-road health insurance reform bill leads to talk of nullification and secession and in which scientists identifying the crisis of climate change are held to be fraudulent conspirators.  What do you think these people will say about a national VMT tax, even if it starts out on a low-tech basis?

Fifth, I would have preferred that the report more clearly point out the difference between “funding” and “financing” options.  I think many people still think of PPP and Infrastructure Bank money as “funding” rather than “financing.”  That’s like confusing money you get from a paycheck with money you get from a payday loan.  Last year (here) I called attention to language I like a lot in a GAO report:  “While these tools have promise to help meet increasing transportation demands, they are forms of debt that must be repaid, not new revenues.  New revenues for transportation infrastructure investments can come only from two sources: new taxes or new fees. Ultimately, raising new revenues or reducing transportation spending or both will be needed.”

Monday, October 14, 2013

Good Luck to yet another Blue Ribbon Commission – Indiana

Indiana has joined the ranks of states empowering a blue ribbon commission to deal with transportation issues.  Governor Mike Pence has announced the cochairs (press release here) and has given the group a mission: identify priority transportation projects for road, rail, air, and water (based on metrics they will develop) and “explore and monitor innovations in transportation infrastructure to keep Indiana on the cutting edge” (whatever that means exactly).  The governor has also stated three “guiding principles”: “taking care of what we have; finishing what we start; and planning for the future.”
All of that is fine, but does anyone notice anything missing? 
Is the commission going to be charged with creating an actual program, as opposed to just a prioritized list?  And will they also be charged with calculating the cost of that program and proposing options for raising the revenue to pay for it?

Hmmmm.  We’ll see.

Friday, October 4, 2013

New York, New York, It’s a Walkable Town!

Or at least it’s getting to be one.  I still find walking through the canyonlands of midtown Manhattan to be more work than pleasure, but even there the work done to tame Times Square (very much under construction) promises a bright future.  And strolling down Broadway is much more pleasant than it previously was, with many pedestrianized areas that seem to be very supportive of a revitalizing retail economy.  The older squares along Broadway (Madison Square and Union Square, in particular) I found to be delightful urban experiences on a beautiful Fall day. 
Kudos to Mayor Bloomberg, Janette Sadik-Kahn, and New York City DOT for a fine job (amid the usual New York sound and fury) in planning and implementing a new way of thinking about transportation and land use in the city.
Social and economic trends are also making a big difference.  Many parts of lower Manhattan and Brooklyn – with a much better development scale for pedestrians than midtown – have seen major revitalization, with exciting residential, commercial, and cultural development.

For those of us that remember a grungier – and more dangerous – New York, these changes are heartening indeed.  And they show how solid (and sometime fearless) transportation policies can enable transformations that benefit everyone’s quality of life.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

High Line in Early Fall – Spectacular!

I’m sure there’s nothing new I can say about New York’s High Line (the former elevated freight rail line now repurposed as a landscaped walkway) but I will just note that a recent visit on a beautiful early Fall day confirms that this is one of the best pedestrian projects in the country.  Tourists from around the world (the variety of languages is amazing) come to walk the High Line, and with good reason.  Now open for four years, the High Line’s incredible views, lush landscaping, and well-maintained pathway combine to make the walk a delightful experience.  When the new Whitney Museum building opens in 2015 at the bottom end of the High Line, the whole area (the “Meatpacking District” describes its past) will be a real showcase.
Unfortunately neither the Whitney nor any other adjacent building has any direct access to the High Line, and apparently does not plan to. 
The High Line is maintained by its own nonprofit (link here) which has done a remarkable job. 

I know that the success of the High Line has started other cities thinking about how they can repurpose some of the odd remnants of infrastructure they are left with.  Can’t see to see some more creative projects!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A 21st Century Transportation System: Pedal to the Metal

I frequently call attention to the “inconvenient truth” about transportation funding, which is that even the most ambitious funding initiatives that get bandied about at the federal and state levels are pretty much limited to patching up our inherited, legacy transportation system.  They do little to plan, design, and build a 21st Century system (see my posting here).  That comment is sometimes followed up by a question to me: so what does a 21st Century transportation system look like?
That’s a good question, and one that some of us are working away at.
One possible answer is put forward by Michael Hoexter and his recent “Pedal-to-the-Metal Plan” (posted on the New Economic Perspectives website here).  Hoexter approaches the question from the view that the climate change crisis will require an urgent, radical response.   He also deals with many non-transportation issues (the Plan is aimed at “energy system transformation”).  But I’ll limit my remarks to his agenda for surface transportation.  His main goal is to “electrify land-based transportation and machines,” under which he lists eights specific objectives:
1.  Shift long­distance freight transport to electrified rail or electrified grid­charged or powered trucks.  Build out rail infrastructure to allow modal shift to rail versus road.
2.  Shift freight and passenger fleets to battery electric transportation with battery swap or in­motion inductive charging capability.
3. Build high speed rail, electrified express rail or equivalently rapid electrified public transit between major cities to replace much short and middle distance air travel.
4.  Shift high traffic public transportation routes to electrified commuter rail, light rail, subway, elevated rail, trolleybus, street car or electric bus.
5.  Build electric vehicle charging infrastructure in multifamily, single family residences, office parking facilities and public streets.
6.  Build rapid charge, roadway charging, and/or battery swap infrastructure to facilitate electric vehicle travel over middle and longer distances.
7.  Increase electrical energy storage performance by a factor of 2 per decade.
8.  Facilitate transition from self­driven to programmable computer driven autonomous vehicles (increasing capacity of existing road infrastructure and reducing emissions).
Interestingly, most of the technology to make these changes is already available or reachable within the near future.  And all of them make pretty good sense to me.  As always, the institutional issues are the tough ones.  The toughest of these eight are probably number 1 and number 2, dealing with freight.  Building an electrified Steel Interstate and shifting long-haul freight to it is not something we can easily figure out.
And in case you were wondering, the author recognizes the importance both of land use planning and of decarbonizing electricity supply.

Hoexter goes into a lot of other issues involving climate change and related social and political concerns – all controversial – but on the transportation side, at least, I’d give him high marks for a envisioning a real 21st Century transportation system.