Monday, August 7, 2017

Rest areas should have farmers’ markets

Why don’t all rest areas have farmers’ markets?
Farmers’ markets (or farmstands) provide fresh local produce and farm products for travelers and cash income for local farmers, while advertising the virtues of the host state and the local countryside.
So, why don’t all rest areas have farmers’ markets?
Mainly because of institutional barriers.  (Which, by the way, is no excuse for the poor traffic design and inadequate traveler information at typical rest areas.)

(See below – Jersey tomatoes on the Atlantic City Expressway!  Thanks to South Jersey Transportation Authority.)

UK “drives forward” with EV infrastructure

You may have heard that the UK plans to ban the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2040 (story here).  You may even have heard that they are experimenting with air quality barriers and canopies to clean the air along highways (story here).
Perhaps less sexy – but I think just as important – is the fact that they are committed to providing electric vehicle charging stations along all major highways (see their new plan here).
“Highways England,” the agency that operates motorways and trunk roads (roughly equivalent to the US Interstate and National Highway Systems) is committed to building a “comprehensive national network” of rapid charging stations, with a goal of placing charging stations at 20-mile intervals on 95 percent of their system.  These will be rapid (30-minute) chargers where feasible.

We need to catch up in this country!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Climate Change Adds Urgency to Restoring Environmental Protection

A true statement, and also the name of a new report focusing on New Jersey.  The Fund for New Jersey is publishing a series of reports developed by expert groups and aimed at influencing policy debate in the 2017 election cycle for Governor and Legislature (New Jersey, like Virginia, is an odd-year state).  The series, called Crossroads New Jersey (website here), will cover seven topics: state fiscal policy, climate and environment, criminal justice, education, housing and land use, jobs and the economy, and transportation (full disclosure: I participated in the transportation group).
The climate change and environment report (full report here, two-page summary here) advocates a set of “common-sense policies” that will form the framework of “a sustained, well-coordinated effort to prevent climate change from being disastrous for New Jersey.”
Sadly, many of these recommendations would simply restore New Jersey to where it was a decade or so ago.  At that time, New Jersey had a vigorous statewide planning mechanism, aggressive climate change and energy programs, intensive regional planning in environmentally sensitive area (e.g., the Pinelands), and a state DOT in the forefront of linking transportation and land use planning.  These policies fit well with the state’s advantages for the 21st century: a location at the heart of the Northeast Mega-region, an affluent and educated population, enough population density to support transit and walkable communities, a robust (if aging) infrastructure, and a governmental system and political culture oriented toward finding and implementing solutions.  Alas, the past decade has seen considerable slippage in the state’s situation.  The Crossroads New Jersey project, however, looks squarely ahead, “to promote aspiration and action, not blame.”
Some of my favorite recommendations from the report:
·      Rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative – Should be a no-brainer, but here we are.
·      Expand electric car infrastructure and accelerate expansion of fast charging stations – Despite noble efforts by the Transportation and Climate Initiative (cited in the recommendations) and others, state governments in the Northeast have a very mixed record of putting electric vehicle infrastructure in the ground.  New Jersey should be a leader here!
·      Develop a climate-change action plan to address the coastal threats from rising sea levels; the plan should include effective growth-management strategies, sustainable-development practices, and protective shoreline-management practices – Superstorm Sandy had a huge impact on New Jersey, but the state has not yet made the tough decisions that are needed to ensure a sustainable, resilient shoreline.
·      Update the State Development and Redevelopment Plan, Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan, and Highlands Regional Master Plan to address the threats New Jersey faces – As I suggested earlier, the statutory and institutional infrastructure for comprehensive planning (including climate change, sustainable energy, and environmental protection) is in place, but it has been allowed to become – in the report’s word – moribund. 
Congrats to the Fund for New Jersey for taking on this challenge.  Let’s hope they are successful in informing the political debates.

Meanwhile, stay tuned for more reports!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

NASTO Notes, 2017

Regional transportation conferences often provide a good snapshot of what problems transportation officials are chewing on at the moment.  NASTO, my regional conference (Northeast Association of State Transportation Officials), annually gathers state DOT folks, together with consultants and hangers-on (like me) from DC to Maine, with an extension north of the border to Ontario and Quebec.
This year’s NASTO conference was all about coping with change, especially of the technological and economic variety. 
A few nuggets will provide the flavor of the presentations and conversations on technological change:
·      Autonomous vehicles are not science fiction.  They are already here and will be spreading rapidly.  Lot of discussion about how to make them safe and workable.
·      Look to Helsinki!  They are working out how to make public transportation and new point-to-point technologies work together in a seamless network.
·      Drones are also here and are being used daily by state DOTs for specialized tasks (e.g., inspecting high-mast light poles) where they are safer and more efficient than traditional methods.
On the economic/goods movement front, some key takeaways:
·      Home delivery is getting faster and faster, leading to construction of smaller, closer-in distribution centers.
·      As home grocery delivery services expand, the need for a resilient “cold supply chain” becomes more important.
·      Coal business is way down for railroads, who are looking for new business, including intermodal shipments.
·      Railroads are moving to a hub-and-spoke model to supplement the older long, through-train model.
·      State DOTs are beginning to look at the value of commodities shipped in a corridor, not just volume, in doing freight planning.
·      Marine highways (yeah!) are being seriously discussed again.
Two topics stood out to me by their relative absence, both in formal panels and private discussions: funding and climate change.
The need for greater (and more stable) funding is almost always a major theme at these events, although its prominence varies with the tax cycles and capital program needs of the state DOTs – and with the usually crazy federal reauthorization cycle.  This year, not much talk.  I expect more next year.
I was disappointed that climate change got virtually no attention, given the gravity of the issue.  When someone (me) asked the goods movement panel how they saw the freight sector responding to the need to decarbonize, the answers were….mixed.  Hopefully NASTO (and other regional and national organizations) will cycle this issue back to the top.

Congratulations to Leslie Richards and the PennDOT staff for hosting a productive and enjoyable conference!

Monday, June 12, 2017

A step forward for Paris and carbon caps

Despite all the hullabaloo about the US leaving the Paris Accord (and joining the new Triple Entente with Syria and Nicaragua), work to advance the (almost) worldwide climate change effort goes forward.  Many of these initiatives have been covered in the media.  One important step forward – with miniscule media attention – is publication of a new report on carbon pricing.
The Report of the High-Level Commission on Carbon Prices, written by a blue-ribbon group of economists, sets out a global strategy for putting an extra price on carbon dioxide emissions (report available here).  Their argument:  “A well-designed carbon price is an indispensable part of a strategy for reducing emissions in an effective and cost-efficient way… Carbon prices encourage producers to decrease the carbon intensity of the energy sector and manufactured products, and consumers to choose less carbon-intensive goods.”
The report goes on to discuss the two main policy alternatives for putting a price on carbon (a carbon tax and a cap-and-trade system) and how these alternatives might be applied in a variety of settings throughout the world.  There is a good account of how the revenue raised from carbon pricing can be used to pursue an array of policy choices: cutting other taxes (the revenue-neutral option), assisting the poor and vulnerable, easing the transition for the hardest-hit economic sectors, investing in infrastructure, fostering technological change to support the transition, and – my favorite – investing in public transportation infrastructure and supportive urban planning.
None of this analysis is particularly new, although it is crisply and clearly presented.  The big takeaway is probably the price that the authors recommend for carbon.  The bottom line recommendation is pricing of $40 to $80 per metric ton of carbon dioxide emitted by 2020 and $50 to $100 by 2030.  Applying these costs through carbon taxes, cap and trade, or some combination should incentivize market forces to “decarbonize” the economy enough to keep us within the magic 2°C ceiling that scientists have established.
What would those rather esoteric numbers mean in the real world?  Those of us who are old transportation hands like to think in terms of cents per gallon of motor fuel.  In the surface transportation sector, CBO has estimated that a tax of $20 per ton of emissions would raise the price of gasoline about 20 cents.  By this measure, the $40 to $80 range of pricing recommended for 2020 would be equivalent to about 40 to 80 cents per gallon.  Of course this is just a rule of thumb for one sector in one country, but I think it gives a sense of what we are talking about.  Imposition of a federal gas tax (or equivalent) increase certainly isn’t politically viable at the present time in the present Congress.  But it’s not crazy either.

Thanks to Joe Stiglitz, Nicholas Stern, and their colleagues for giving us another step forward for Paris (and Paris is never a bad idea).

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Storrs Center at 15

I recently wrote about Poundbury (here) and garden villages (here) in Britain, but there are also good things happening in the US.
Storrs Center, Connecticut is now built out!
Storrs is the central place of Mansfield Township, home to the University of Connecticut………..and lots of trees. 
A few years back, the town leadership decided to build themselves a real town center, put together a master plan (approved 15 years ago), and then built it!
Storrs Center is a mixed-use, Smart Growth development, with a real town square, lots of retail and entertainment, and housing (see their website here).  The agency that implemented the plan insisted on strict sustainable, New Urbanist design standards (available here) for buildings, streets, and open spaces.  The result is a handsome and virtually complete town center.  The center is heavy on retail, serving as the “college town” for UConn, just across the street, as well as for the surrounding area.  But there is also intensive housing, with 618 apartments (with about 1,000 tenants), 32 townhomes, and 10 condos. 
As I mentioned in discussing Poundbury, the transportation value of communities like this lies mostly in “being there already” – the sense that people are only a few minutes’ walk from most everything they need.
For longer trips, Storrs Center has a transportation hub – the Nash-Zimmer Transportation Center – with access to buses serving the UConn campus, local communities, and intercity service to Hartford (about 40 minutes away), Providence, New York, and Boston.  The Transportation Center also has parking, bike rentals, and electric vehicle chargers.

Storrs Center is a real success story in community planning, a story that I for one will continue to follow with great interest.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

UK General Election: Transportation issues

It’s always fun (for me at least) to follow British politics as well as their transportation policies (see my recent comments here and here). 
So how big a role does transportation play in the current UK General Election campaign?  Actually, not much. 
Overall, the main political parties are broadly supportive of significant, and generally responsible, investment in transportation.
A look at the party campaign manifestos (what we would call platforms) gives an insight into their overall approach.
The Conservatives (the party in power) mainly emphasize increased investment, with promises to build a new runway at Heathrow, build the new high-speed rail line (HS2), and add lanes to congested motorways.
Labour focuses its manifesto on renationalizing the railroads.  In part this is a reaction to deteriorating service on the passenger network and in part a reflexive return to old Labour policies (party like it’s 1945!).
The Liberal Democrats do the best at linking transportation, environment, and energy policies, with calls for a Green Transport Act.
The Greens, although advocating a “People’s Transport System,” don’t offer a lot of specifics (interesting cross-national perspective: the Greens oppose the new high-speed rail line).
It is refreshing, from this side of the pond, to see all the major parties take serious positions about reducing the carbon component of the transportation system.  The Conservatives state an ambition “for Britain to lead the world in electric vehicle technology and use.”  Labour promises to “position the UK at the forefront of the development, manufacture and use of ultra low emission vehicles, supporting the creation of clean modes of transport through investment in low emission vehicles.”  The Liberal Democrats pledge to “support the manufacture of low-emission and electric vehicles, generating jobs and exports” and “reform vehicle taxation to encourage sales of electric and low-emission vehicles and develop electric vehicle infrastructure including universal charging points.”
Surprisingly, given the increase in extreme weather events in Britain in recent years, the parties devote little attention to transportation system resilience, although the
Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, and Greens advocate increased investment in flood management infrastructure.
There’s probably no immediate policy takeaway for the US from these campaign positions – the circumstances of each of these issues has very localized features – but it is clear to me that whoever wins this election will provide a more progressive transportation approach than what we are struggling with here!
(An overview of all the party transportation manifestos can be found here.  Those wanting to dive deeper can find the texts as follows: Conservatives here, Labour here, Liberal Democrats here, Greens here).

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Poundbury at 30

Poundbury, Prince Charles’ experimental new town in southwest England, has turned 30 years old (story here) and deserves a fresh look.
The town is an urban extension of Dorchester (population 20,000) and currently has 3,000 residents and 2,000 jobs.  Its design concept was developed by Prince Charles himself as a way to implement the neo-traditional architecture and planning ideas he set out in his book A Vision of Britain in 1989.  (The book attracted a lot of snark, as does virtually everything Prince Charles does.  See my review of his recent climate change book here.)  Still not built out (not sure why it’s so slow), Poundbury is notable for its walkability, mixed uses, and use of traditional building designs and materials.  Its “retro” look has drawn scorn from modernist architectural critics, although a few are now beginning to appreciate the livability of the town (see Witold Rybczynski’s account from a few years ago here). 
From a transportation standpoint, Poundbury underscores the point that the best transportation is “already being there.”  Residents have access to a wide variety of shops (a local grocery store, pub, florist, photographer, post office, farmers’ market, gift shops, etc.), amenities, and green spaces, all within easy walking distance.  An electric bus carries people into the center of Dorchester, including the train station, although with unsatisfactory (to me) 30-minute off-peak headways.  Cars are permitted, though kept relatively tame (see Rybczynski’s review for details).

All in all, I think Poundbury is a wonderful experiment, and I look forward to seeing its continued growth and success.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

BC’s carbon tax: Once again no political opposition

I have written before about the remarkable (at least to Americans) political resilience of the British Columbia carbon tax, and the current general election campaign there underscores that phenomenon (my comments on the last general election here).  Voting is on May 9 (story here) and none of the three major parties contesting the election wants to eliminate or roll back the tax. 
The BC Liberals (despite the name, the most conservative party in the race, and not affiliated with the federal Liberal party) form the current government.  Their platform calls for a continuing carbon tax freeze, which they argue will support the principles of affordability, competitiveness, and revenue neutrality while advancing the goals of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Climate Change.
The New Democratic party (basically a labor/social democratic party) anticipate that the carbon tax will need to increase to meet federal targets and promise that when it does, they will use the increased revenue to fund climate change projects and to send “climate action rebate checks” to lower and middle class families.  They want to position themselves as “leaders in climate change solutions.”
The Greens (self-explanatory) want to increase and expand the scope of the carbon tax, while eliminating the principle of revenue neutrality and using at least some of the revenue to fund climate change investments.
My summary may be an oversimplification, but I think the overall picture is clear.  The BC political parties are arguing over how to use the carbon tax and whether to increase it.  No one is arguing for reducing or eliminating it.

Is there a takeaway for US observers?  I’m not sure, but at least it’s refreshing to see political arguments that don’t include the anti-scientific, flat earth viewpoints we see here.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Happy Ed Balls Day!

Having mentioned recent British innovations in transportation (here) and sustainable rural development (here) I should mention another British innovation, which is unfortunately not widely celebrated on this side of the Atlantic.

Happy #EdBallsDay!

Strasbourg Tram now extends to Germany!

(Alternative title, Meanwhile on the Continent!)
The Strasbourg Tram, for those that don’t know it, is a very modern, attractive, popular light rail system (or streetcar, depending on who you ask) that connects just about every place in the historic city.  Strasbourg, home to the European Parliament, calls itself the “European City,” and that name takes on even more significance today as the Tram opens a new extension from Strasbourg (France), across the Rhine, to the neighboring German city of Kehl.  The transit extension is filled with symbolic attachments, especially at a time of tension within Europe.  (An earlier streetcar connection was pulled up in 1918, after World War I.)
A good story on the Tram extension is here and a good video here.  Note on the video the various redevelopment schemes that the Tram will tie together.
The Europeans are really good at this sort of thing.  Another study topic for us in the US!
Well done Strasbourg!  Gràtülierung!

(Photo below is yours truly with tram, a few years ago.)

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.
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.