Today is a day of celebration for housing and transportation in California, with the possibility of more to come in the next two days. Yay!
But I want to caution about the alignment of housing with transit. It seems like a no-brainer, right? As I’ve long said, you can’t have affordable housing without effective transit, and you can’t have effective transit without widely available affordable and other housing. The problem I’m concerned about is that most of our transit system is oriented to arterial roadways (the semi-high speed, many-lane roads that are also called stroads because they don’t function well as streets or roads, and also called traffic sewers). Or in the case of rail transit, often uses old railroad corridors or freeway medians that make housing development difficult and probably unwise.
Research indicates that people, particularly kids, who live near freeways and arterials have much higher rates of asthma, and many other health problems, and shorter lifespans. Is that where we want low income families and kids living?
Apart from freeways, most traffic crashes happen on arterial roadways, and particularly at intersections of arterial roadways, and freeway on-ramps an off-ramps. Is this the hazard we want for low income families and kids?
I don’t have an answer for this challenge, but I often think it would be better to upzone everywhere (the next increment of development), so that additional housing can be built in places with better air quality and lower traffic violence. Maybe we should be fixing the arterials first, before we build housing along them. Yes, that delays the benefit of easy transit access to housing, but good transit in a poor living environment is just not what I want to see.
I recently attended a meeting of SacTRU (Sacramento Transit Riders Union) and heard complaints about the bus stops along J Street between 19th Street and 29th Street, in the section where a separated bikeway (cycletrack, protected bike lane) was installed. I have heard these concerns before, so let me talk about them. Two SacRT routes run along this section of J Street, Bus 30 and Bus 38.
The concerns are two:
The bus stops are too widely spaced.
The bus stops are very difficult for disabled people (and bus operators) to use because the bus no longer stops at the curb, but rather in the street.
Actually, there are TOO MANY bus stops in this section of 10-1/2 blocks, from 19th Street to nearly 29th Street where the separated bikeway ends. Five bus stops, two of them only one block apart. In a central city setting like midtown, bus stops should be no closer than three blocks apart (about 1/4 mile), and preferably more, like four to six blocks. Why? Because every stop slows the bus significantly, not only the deceleration to the stop and acceleration from the stop, but dwell time. Buses in some areas like this actually spend more time stopped than moving, and as a result, the speed of the route is often below 10 mph. The following five photos show the five bus stops. It is significant that there are too many stops, because solutions to issue 2 are not inexpensive.
The second issue is real. Bus operators can have a hard time deploying ramps to the street, particularly when the street is strongly crowned as parts or J Street are. A disabled passenger needing the bus ramp, which might be a wheelchair user or someone with a disability making stepping up to and down from the bus difficult, have to wait in the bikeway to board, not appreciated by the rider or by bicyclists. After debarking, the person must travel along the bikeway to the nearest driveway or corner curb ramp, again, not appreciated by the rider or bicyclists.
So, what is the solution? Bus boarding islands, which have been implemented in many cities. The first photo below is from Seattle. Riders have an large area to wait for the bus, the bus ramp is easy to deploy, and there is a safe crossing to the sidewalk at the end of the island. A slight disadvantage for the rider is that they must ramp down off the island and then back up to the sidewalk.
The diagram shows an alternative configuration, where the bikeway humps up over the crosswalk, but the route from platform to sidewalk for bus riders is level. This is probably safer for both riders and bicyclists.
There are two significant challenges for these bus boarding islands. First is that installing them may require addressing drainage, which can greatly increase the cost of the installation. If three of the five bus stop photos, you can see drainage inlets, so this would be an issue on J Street.
The second is that by placing the bus boarding island where the bus stop now is, buses then stop in the travel lane rather than pulling out into the bus stop. The positive of this is that they don’t then have to negotiate their way back into traffic, which can be challenging and lead to significant delays to the bus schedule. The negative is that private vehicle drivers will complain about the slight delay to their drive from having to wait behind the bus. The convenience and safety for the many people on the bus outweighs the slight inconvenience for private vehicle drivers, but there will be complaints. Timed points on the route, where the bus would stop to wait if it is ahead of schedule, should not be in the travel lane, but that is not true for any of these stops.
To solve the boarding issue on J Street would take a cooperative project with SacRT and the city, and funding from both sides. The number of bus stops should be reduced, probably to three, so that fewer bus boarding islands are needed. This should be carefully planned so that they don’t need to be changed. It is possible to install temporary bus islands, as Oakland and other cities have done in a few places, so if the stop doesn’t turn out to be the best location, it can be moved without great expense.
Due to a miscommunication with a person who gave me a ride from the end of my backpack trip in Foresthill, I ended up in the Galleria part of Roseville yesterday instead of old downtown, which was what I intended. What a hellscape!
Roseville Transit does not run on Sunday, or course not, why would a transit system serve people on Sunday? So there is no way to get from the Galleria area to any place else in Roseville, or to any place else in the world.
Being stubborn, I decided I needed to walk to the closest transit, which is the Louis/Orlando Transit Center just off Auburn Blvd/Riverside Drive in Citrus Heights. On my three mile walk between the Galleria area and old downtown Roseville, I saw two bicyclists and one walker. And thousands of cars, most of them high end SUVs (pedestrian killers). Galleria Blvd has sidewalks in some places, but rarely on both sides, so you have to cross back and forth. No warning ahead, no crosswalks, just cross when you come to the end.
If you wonder what people were doing on the Memorial Day weekend, they were shopping. And shopping. And shopping. Though there is a Roseville Transit line that serves the main mall area, Monday-Saturday, it is almost not possible to walk to or from there. Sidewalks come and go, and with all the freeway onramps and off-ramps surrounding, it does not feel safe to walk. Once on the mall property, there are no sidewalks, just the ones around the buildings.
If you want to see how bad the Galleria part of Roseville is, take a look at Google: https://goo.gl/maps/jGX7BrAJFyDUrwja9/. Follow a piece of sidewalk to see how far it goes, whether it actually connects to anything. Remember that the mall area itself is much more pedestrian friendly that any of the surrounding shopping areas.
I thought, well at least things will be better when I get to old downtown Roseville. In some ways, yes. It is not a place designed for the exclusive needs of cars. There are actual locally owned businesses instead of national chains. There are places to eat, drink, shop. But… it was late Sunday afternoon and the sidewalks had been rolled up. It is hard for local business to compete with the huge subsidies that the national chains and malls get. All that car infrastructure that supports the mall, the six to ten lane roadways, the freeways and interchanges, that all was paid for by you, not by the developers, and that is money out of not just your pocket, but the the pockets of local business owners trying to compete.
On to the transit center, at least some of the walk through quiet OLD residential neighborhoods, the original part of Roseville. Thankfully, SacRT saved the day, bus and then light rail, to home. Of course service is less frequent on Sunday, and other than light rail, it doesn’t run late, but it runs! It is a lifeline for people who can’t drive, who don’t want to drive, who don’t want to be a part of car-centric hell places like Roseville.
I was walking, not bicycling, but of course was also looking at bicycle facilities. There are bike lanes on most of the stroads in Roseville. And what welcoming bike lanes they are! The photo below is of the dashed bike lane on Galleria Blvd northbound, approaching Hwy 65. It runs for 900 feet! Between high speed traffic on the left and high speed traffic on the right (40 mph posted means the minimum speed, not the maximum, most drivers are going about 55). The right hand lane is the freeway access lane, so drivers are accelerating towards the entry, hoping to catch a green light and squeal tires onto the onramp. Yes, this is the behavior I observed. Roseville seems to be of the impression that painting lines on the roadway for bicyclists is all it takes, that and nothing more.
The one good thing about being in Roseville is that it reminds me of how lucky, and how privileged, I am to live in Sacramento central city.
The first of the tax options is a Land Gain Tax, basically a capital gains tax on sales of property, applied through the capital gains section of California’s personal income tax. The paper presents some models, based on the distance from rail stations and major bus hubs, with Transit Value Capture Districts, and the type of property (commercial or owner-occupied). This tax would be implemented at the state rather than local level, because it is an income tax which counties and cities in California are not permitted to levy, so the funds would be redistributed to the transit agencies. This option would require some legislation, but not anything on the level of a constitutional amendment.
The second option is a Regional Real Estate Transfer Tax, a tax on the transactions like a county or city level tax, but intended to fund large infrastructure projects of regional significance. For the Sacramento region, that might be enhancements to Capitol Corridor and San Joaquins train service, and bringing high speed rail to Sacramento. This option would also require some legislation.
Several other options are mentioned in the paper. Regular real estate transfer tax (RETT), implemented at the county or city level in some but not all locations (City of Sacramento is one), though the percentages are generally low except in a few cases. But counties can set their levels, and could allocate the increase to transit. It is not clear to me whether any transit agencies have the authority to levy this tax, but of course funds could still be used for transit. The state documentary transfer tax is an insignificant source of income, and it appears to go into the general fund.
2020 Proposition 15 would have removed the Proposition 13 property tax reductions for commercial property, resulting in $billions of dollars in state income, much of which would have gone to education but some to other uses such as transit. It did not pass, but it will be back on the ballot in the future.
Mello Roos community facilities taxation districts can be established around specific projects, as was attempted for the Sacramento Riverfront Streetcar. I don’t know enough about these to say whether they are useful or appropriate.
The other major mechanism the paper presents is development value capture, where the transit agency is directly involved in development, the profits of which can go to transit capital and operations. Since in the Sacramento region almost all transit agency owned property is associated with SacRT’s light rail system, the use of existing properties would be limited to those properties that are excess or are currently used for underutilized parking lots. SacRT has preferred to sell off properties, which has a one-time income impact, but can’t lead to ongoing income. They have been encouraged to become involved as leads or partners in development, but have so far resisted. The transit agency most involved in development in California has been BART in the bay area. Legislation has allowed them more flexibility and types of involvement than most transit agencies have, though even they have some unfortunate restrictions. To be effective, additional legislation would be required.
Of these options, the one over which people at the local level have significant control is the Real Estate Transfer Tax. But having transit agencies, cities and counties getting behind legislation necessary to ease or implement the other value capture ideas would be very worthwhile.
As with all my posts on transit and transportation funding, I am not presenting myself as an expert. If you have corrections to fact or implication, please let me know.
This evening, while walking across Q St at 12th, with the light, a driver in a SacRT police vehicle drove directly at me, stopping just short of the crosswalk, and just short of hitting me. His comment was: “I didn’t hit you, did I?” in a smart-alecky tone. He was clearly being belligerent and trying to intimidate me with his vehicle.
Way to gain public support and trust, SacRT. Please do a better job of screening your officers. SacRT knows where its police vehicles are at all times, and who is driving them. I would hope that this person is severely disciplined. He attempted to intimidate me with his vehicle, which is assault.
From our friends SacTRU and also noticed by Ridership for the Masses.
Mayor Steinberg is appointing a member of the private sector to the SacRT Board. This seat will replace one of the Sacramento City Council seats currently filled by Councilman Rick Jennings and will serve until the end of 2018. The member of the private sector would have full voting rights as a board member representing the city of sacramento.
Position: Seat A – A member of the private sector with an understanding of the importance of regional transit and public transportation.
Deadline to Apply: March 30, 2018 at 5:00pm
The requirements and selection process are vague, but all are encouraged to apply. We hope many qualified members of the community will apply and represent the needs of riders, and that this seat is not simply filled by an interested member of the business community.
It has been suggested that the best candidate is a woman of color. There is only one woman serving on the board currently, Linda Budge. There are two people of color, Rick Jennings and Phil Serna, but it is Rick Jennings seat that is being offered (see board list). STAR believes it is important to have someone who is a regular user of the transit system, since the current members range from low transit use to no transit use. Finding that ideal candidate that increases the diversity of the board and better represents riders will be a challenge. If you know that person or those people, please let them know and ask them to serve.
At the same time, STAR encourages everyone to apply. This can be a transformative moment for SacRT, and a strong interest in the position may encourage the other entities, county and cities, to appoint citizens. The board suffers from having politicians as members who are already very busy with their other boards and commissions, and other interests, and don’t pay enough attention to transit. We need someone whose passion is transit that works for everyone.
Streetsblog posted today information from a City Observatory project that compares the cost of parking to the level of transit use, and the cost of parking to the number of ride-hailing (Uber, Lyft) users: What the Price of Parking Shows Us About Cities.
Sacramento (highlighted dot, which is otherwise hard to find):
Perhaps transit supporters should be specifically advocating for increased parking fees, though the position of Sacramento on the graphs, above the trend line, indicates that there are additional factors in Sacramento that suppress transit use.
“But, what is more important is that only a small portion of jobs, and other destinations can be accessed through transit in any reasonable time and the travel time for transit is far higher than for driving.”
There are four employment centers in our region: downtown Sacramento, Rancho Cordova, Folsom, and Roseville. However, downtown is by far the most important. Check yesterday’s post (SacRT and employment) to see what a remarkable concentration of jobs there is, and how much of the county is essentially empty of jobs. Downtown is easily accessible by transit, the other three have much more limited options. So, how about time? Yes, there is a big time difference.
Three examples of morning commutes:
Greenback/Sunrise to downtown: 78 minutes by transit (bus route 21 and Gold Line) while Google reports driving is typically 35 minutes but can be 70 minutes. So on a bad traffic day, the two modes are comparable, but on a good traffic day driving is more than twice as fast.
Zinfandel/Sunrise to downtown: 61 minutes by transit (Gold Line and some walking) while Google reports driving as typically 22 minutes but can be 45 minutes. Again, driving is more than twice as fast.
Florin/Greenhaven to downtown: 30 minutes by transit (route 6), while Google reports driving as typically 10-16 minutes. Again, driving is more than twice as fast.
So, back to why. The nature of buses is that they have frequent stops, and spend a significant portion of their time in dwell, not moving. Light rail has fewer stops, so spends less time in dwell. There are express buses, of which SacRT has a few that run very limited schedules. It is also possible to create Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) routes with few stops, and travel times close to light rail. The commuter buses operated into downtown by Placer County, El Dorado County, Elk Grove, Roseville and others have only a few stops at each end, with long runs in between, and so have travel times as good as or better than light rail and BRT. However, these commuter buses serve a much smaller number of riders than any of the other options, and are also quite a bit more expensive than SacRT fares.
A second big difference it that you don’t have to wait for the next bus or light rail. You jump in your car and go. Of course there is time parking at the destination (an urban area typically sees about one-third of traffic is circling for parking, and my observation says Sacramento is similar. I live very near the CDPH buildings, and when I’m home during the day, I see a lot of employees walking to their cars to pay more or move them. More time time lost to the driving habit.
Perhaps the biggest difference is the amount of money we spend on driving, both individually and as a society. A transit pass costs $120 per month. Commuting can cost many times that much (before you say but… realize that almost all drivers underestimate what their vehicle really costs them). As a society, we spend incredible amounts of money on highways, far, far more than we spend on transit. One data point is the $133 million “80 Across the Top” project which is adding just a single travel lane in each direction for about 10 miles. $133 million for a lane. Wow! I have previously estimated the cost of the freeway system in Sacramento county as about $1 trillion. I don’t have a cost estimate for the light rail system, but it is a tiny fraction of this. What if we had spent the money on transit instead of privately owned vehicles? How would travel times compare then? We have created a transportation system whose primary purpose is to move a lot of cars at high speed. We have not created a transit system move a lot of people at a reasonable speed.
I earlier produced maps showing how SacRT routes related to population density and income (SacRT with income and population). I also wanted to present a map on employment or jobs – where people are going to on the transit system. It took much longer to track down that data, and I needed help from SACOG’s GIS staff. The employment data is from the Census Bureau’s Longitudinal Employment-Household Dynamics (LEHD). The data is normalized over area. The map is below, with the SacRT_employment pdf also available.