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.

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!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

How they do Climate Change in European highway departments

There is often a lot to learn from checking on what our European counterparts are doing. 
A report was just released describing how European highway agencies are addressing climate change mitigation and adaptation and it bears looking at by people in the US who are confronting the same issues.
The report, called Acting on Climate Change, was published by the Conference of European Directors of Roads (a sort of European AASHTO) and is available here.
The authors suggest that mitigation and adaptation are “fundamentally different” and suggest a distinctive approach for each.
With respect to mitigation, they argue that new strategies are needed.  Business as usual planning just won’t meet national or Europe-wide targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  Instead of generating typical solutions based on standard forecasting, they recommend using scenario planning and pursuing a wide range of solutions, including more efficient transportation modes, renewable energy, and reduced demand.  Building new roads could, in fact, be counterproductive.  I was particularly struck by their takeaway from a recent IPCC report warning that “infrastructure developments that lock societies into GHG-intensive emissions pathways may be difficult or very costly to change and that this reinforces the importance of early action for ambitious mitigation.”
With respect to adaptation, the authors appear to feel more comfortable taking a practical, engineering approach.  Rather than attempting to put together a theoretical construct, they offer a set of “templates” based on Danish and Swedish experience.  These templates are basically checklists to suggest to national road authorities the climate change adaptation issues they may need to confront.  The template subjects are Management, Improvement, Prevention, and Cooperation.  For each subject they offer a list of topics that should be considered.  For instance, under Management they list Incident Management, Information, Clearing up, and Depot equipment.  Each of these is further broken down into topics.  So Incident management (defined as “How to handle given situations in climate change induced crises, e.g., flooding and landslides.”) includes:
·      Incorporating climate (weather) incidents into emergency planning
·      Drills that include weather incidents
·      Guidelines
·      Call-out services
The report is also laced with fascinating examples from European experience (Norway is developing “Urban Environment Agreements,” which mandate that all future transportation demand be met by transit, walking, or biking.  Sweden has set a goal of having a fossil-free vehicle fleet by 2030.).

Congrats to the CEDR team for a thoughtful approach to providing real-world tools to agencies confronting climate change.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

40 big projects we aren’t building

In the waning days of the Obama Administration, the U. S. Treasury published a report on big infrastructure projects we are not building in this country.  The report (40 Proposed U. S. Transportation and Water Infrastructure Projects of Major Economic Significance, available here) was a product of the Administration’s Build America Investment Initiative and was presumably intended to bolster the “needs” side of that effort.
The projects selected (there were strict criteria) range from building California High Speed Rail to rebuilding the entire I-10 corridor to completing the Second Avenue Subway in New York.  Most are site-specific, although some – such as Positive Train Control and National Traffic Signal Coordination – are nationwide in scope.  Each project is given a two-pager of facts and figures.
This report is very effective in demonstrating the sort of projects that other countries are building and we’re not.
Would I have selected the same projects?  Some, but not all.  There is too much highway widening (more urban freeways will only exacerbate long-term problems) and too much port improvement (why exactly are we subsidizing Asian manufacturing by spending huge amounts of money to accommodate Panamax ships?). 
A few nationwide projects I would add:
·      Electrify the Interstate system (fast chargers for electric vehicles)
·      Double the fixed-guideway rapid transit network
·      Fund sustainable neighborhoods (infrastructure “islanding”)
·      Advance climate change resilience in the most vulnerable areas
·      Design and operate marine highways (a great idea that never advances beyond the concept stage)
The report authors note that the main reason most of these projects aren’t advancing (or are advancing too slowly) is lack of funding.  In keeping with the Obama Administration’s stance, they suggest more public-private financing and avoid talking about the obvious need for much greater tax revenue for infrastructure.

Quibbles aside, the authors (including two friends and occasional colleagues of mine, Ray Ellis and Dick Mudge) have done a real service in demonstrating the scale of investment (with real project examples) that we need to thrive in the 21st Century.

Monday, January 23, 2017

What do you want? Information! (transit edition)

I recently commented on the disparity between the remarkable breadth and depth of highway traffic information collected and managed by transportation agencies and the all-too-often paucity of information made available to the customer.  On a recent visit to DC, I experienced really good information and really bad information on the transit side of things, on the same Metro line.
As an only-occasional Metro rider, I like to have reassurance that I’m on the right train (this is the voice of experience speaking) and to keep track of when my desired station is approaching.  On one trip on the Orange Line, I was in an information black hole.  There were two system maps in the car (not near me).  There was no line map and no notice of the next stop.  The name of the station on the platform couldn’t be made out through the tinted windows if it was on the far side.  And the announcements by the operator were totally unintelligible.  (Don’t these folks get training?)
The next day I had a ride on one of the newest cars, and it was a real contrast.  There were electronic signs displaying the next station, electronic line maps, and very clear recorded announcements!

Information can be a wonderful thing.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

What do you want? Information! (highway edition)

We spend a ton of money on intelligent transportation systems and are rapidly expanding our ability to collect, analyze, and display traffic information.  How much of this high-tech stuff reaches the customer?  Not enough.
As one example, I recently saw a display of the cool things that folks at the University of Maryland are doing…..

But visiting the Maryland House rest area I saw nothing but a dumb map………….

Smart phones, GPS systems, and satellite radio are putting lots of information into travelers’ hands, but the public sector really needs to become more customer focused too.

Update:  On a later visit to Maryland House, I did see a live camera view!  So at least some data is making it to the consumer!