housing plus transportation affordable

I have mentioned the concept of H+T, housing plus transportation, in previous posts, but not focused on it. H+T is a concept developed by Congress for a New Urbanism’s Center for Neighborhood Technology. The Affordability Index concept is explained as:

“The H+T® Index provides a more complete measure of affordability.

By taking into account the cost of housing as well as the cost of transportation, H+T provides a more comprehensive understanding of the affordability of place.

Dividing these costs by the representative income illustrates the cost burden of housing and transportation expenses placed on a typical household.

While housing alone is traditionally deemed affordable when consuming no more than 30% of income, the H+T Index incorporates transportation costs—usually a household’s second-largest expense—to show that location-efficient places can be more livable and affordable.”

The traditional way of finding ‘affordable’ housing, for those able to, is to ‘drive until you qualify’. The further away from the core city, the less expensive housing becomes, because the cost of land is lower, and the level of subsidy for development is higher. Of course there are exceptions – think Granite Bay, the most expensive and highest income area in the region. But with lower housing costs come higher transportation costs. In fact, it is almost an inverse relationship. The longer travel distances and the lack of choice of modes – driving becomes the only choice – eat up savings from less expensive housing.

For Sacramento County, the map of H+T is below. The fact sheet for Sacramento County is here. In general, the affordable areas (light color) are downtown, Stockton Blvd (with SacRT bus route 51), Interstate 80 east (with SacRT light rail Blue Line and bus route 1). Overall for the county, 52% of income is spent on housing plus transportation, with 29% being housing and 23% being transportation. That is a remarkably high transportation component. Why? Because Sacramento County is so spread our, vast areas of low density housing, and undeveloped land (that used to be agricultural land) that has been leapfrogged over by developers seeking even less expensive land to develop. If time allows, I will use the H+T data to overlay with the transit system and pin down better the relationship between transit and transportation costs. But for now, you can clearly see there is a relationship.

Why is H+T so important, at this point in time? Because the proposed transportation sales tax for Sacramento County, Measure A, focuses mostly on the old model of transportation, where freeways and arterials provide fast travel to far flung developments. The banner project in the measure is the Capital Southeast Connector, which comes nowhere close to the capital, in fact avoids the city of Sacramento and will provide no benefit to the city. See all the high transportation cost areas, the darker blue? The measure envisions more and more of those, places where the housing might be relatively affordable, but transportation costs are back-breaking. The measure wants to build more freeways and interchanges, expand freeways, widen roadways, and ease travel along major arterials. It is not interested in sidewalks and bicycle facilities that would support more housing in the already transportation affordable areas. The complete streets are all along major arterials, the dangerous, busy, noisy, pollution generating roadways that are not where affordable housing should be.

The measure provides some funding for transit, but significantly less than the existing Measure A, less than the 2016 Measure B which failed at the ballot box, less than the draft 2020 Measure which was withdrawn in part due to the pandemic. It also sees the function of transit as mitigating motor vehicle capacity expansion projects, not as a valid mode of travel.

Infill housing can be affordable, if priced correctly. Yes, under current housing cost inflation, almost nothing anywhere is affordable, but in concept infill can be affordable. Greenfield development can never be affordable because the transportation component of H+T will always be too high in greenfield areas.

Sacramento County and the cities in the county are obligated by state law, under the RHNA (regional housing needs assessment) process, to zone sufficient areas for housing at many income levels (very low, low, moderate, above moderate). The proposed measure, because it sucks up nearly all transportation funding into areas of moderate and above moderate housing, pretty much ensures that the governments will not be able to meet their very low and low obligations.

infill housing for GHG reduction

The Carbon Footprint Planning Tools and Scenarios webpage of the Cool Climate Network of UC Berkeley has a tool for calculating how much of a contribution various local policies and actions could make to reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). For Sacramento County, the graph produced is:

What is the leading category? Urban infill, which is primarily but not entirely housing. Electric vehicles, the solution most touted by agencies and politicians, comes in fifth.

This finding tracks with other analyses:

Many cities in the region, including Elk Grove, Rancho Cordova, Folsom, and Roseville, and the county of Sacramento, envision of future of continuously expanding greenfield development, which is the exactly opposite of infill. Why? Because greenfield developers make bigger contributions to candidates than infill developers, and greenfield development is the perfect way of gaining property tax income now, while deferring maintenance to the future, when current office holders will be long gone. Greenfield development is climate arson, simple as that. Yes, the developments may have nice walking and bicycling paths within them, but travel to jobs, grocery stores, coffee shops, medical services, and really anything people want, requires driving a motor vehicle. As you well know, we already are not able to maintain our transportation system because most of the money goes to building more roadway capacity (particularly very expensive freeways and interchanges), not to maintenance. If what has already been built were maintained to high standards, your tax rate would be about half your income.

The answer is residential infill. That does take some investment. Some utilities may need to be upgraded. We may need to spend more on transit. But the costs are far far lower over the life of the development than is greenfield development.

Some recent articles and research on the different costs of infill and greenfield, but if you search online, you will find almost unlimited references, with a few that come to other conclusions.

celebration, and caution

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.

traffic engineering ‘profession’

This post is provoked by two articles on the Strong Towns blog: Strong Towns Will Defend Engineers’ Right to Free Speech From the Minnesota Licensing Board, and We Are Holding Engineers Accountable for Dangerous Road Designs. The Engineering Powers That Be Want Us To Shut Up. However, I’m going to go far beyond anything Strong Towns would say. Strong Towns would say that traffic engineers are good people, just working from a flawed set of assumptions and a flawed understanding of what streets are for. I’m not so sure.

Our transportation system, which largely does not work for walkers and bicyclists, and doesn’t work very well for transit users, was designed by traffic engineers. Our transportation system kills 43,000 people a year in the US, and injures far, far more. Not to mention climate change, which in California is largely the result of our transportation system (57% of GHGs). Not to mention the asthma and other health problems of the kids who live near freeways and arterial roadways. Not to mention… well, you get the idea. The list could be very, very long. Not all of this is the fault of traffic engineers, but I’m saying most of it is. What other profession gets away with killing so many people, and harming far more, and shirks responsibility for it? A little education and a little enforcement will solve the problem? Bullshit.

I have long questioned the use of ‘traffic engineer’ and ‘professional’ in the same phase. Traffic engineering is more akin to quackery. Give us all your money, and we’ll design and build something that will make you happy! Oh, it didn’t, well, give us the rest of your money and we’ll fix the thing that didn’t work. Yeh, we know that what we design doesn’t really work to ease congestion or make your life better or safer, but give us some more money, and it will eventually (one more lane lane will fix it). Snake oil!

Traffic engineers fall back on two things in an effort to absolve themselves of responsibility:

  • The MUTCD made me do it. This is akin to that old expression ‘the devil made me do it’. The MUTCD (Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices) was written largely by traffic engineers, and it could be changed by traffic engineers. But when the revision process started, traffic engineers whined loudly about any change that would reduce traffic flow, or increase safety for other users of the roadways. It’s the two-year-old response: if you don’t let me have my way, I’m going to take my ball and go home, and give me your lunch money while you’re at it (sorry, real two-year-olds, to align you with traffic engineers, that’s mean). The MUTCD is full of ‘facts’ that are largely made up by the engineering ‘profession’. There is almost no research to back up what is claimed in the MUTCD. And even if it were a valid document, it doesn’t require that it be followed, it just says, if you are designing something, here is the the best practice that we’ve documented. In California, the Highway Design Manual also makes up ‘facts’ to fit the desires of traffic engineers, and prohibits many safety features because someone imagined that they were unsafe (or slowed traffic).
  • It was the politician’s decision, not ours. But the fact is that politicians almost always follow the recommendations of the traffic engineers. Most politicians don’t have the expertise to question what the engineers suggest, nor do they usually listen to the concerns of the people who will be harmed by projects (unless those harmed are big campaign donors). After all, ribbon cuttings are a path to reelection. If the traffic engineers propose bad solutions, those are almost always what gets implemented.

So, traffic engineers: If you are not working today and every day to fix the problems your profession has created, you are not only part of the problem, you are the problem. If you spend any time working on roadway capacity expansion projects, I ask that you not go into work, that you find a job where your values don’t harm so many people, while sucking the public budget dry and incurring maintenance liabilities that will be with us for the foreseeable future.

Traffic engineers have embraced a concept called ‘complete streets’ to a degree that surprised everyone. Not me. How else to fund traffic signals and lighting and new curbs and utilities, except by capturing funds meant for active transportation? As though the other roadway projects didn’t provide enough money, here is another source we can capture.

My attitude towards traffic engineers has been simmering for a long while, and it has boiled over. Why do citizens who just want to travel safely by foot, bicycle, and transit have to fight the designs and desires of traffic engineers? Why do we have to fight for walkable sidewalks? Why do we have to fight for bikeable streets? Why do we have to fight for the money and priorities to run an effective transit system? Why are the roads continuing to deteriorate, while roadway capacity expansion projects receive the bulk of funding? Why? The answer is, largely, the traffic engineering ‘profession’.

e-bike incentives crawl along

The state e-bike incentive program continues to crawl along, with snails outpacing it. Some posts from StreetsblogCal:

It is clear to me that the e-bike incentive program rates the lowest priority with California Air Resources Board (CARB). The Clean Cars 4 All program (up to $9500) has been in place since 2015. The Clean Vehicle Rebate Project (up to $7000) has been in place since 2010. The Clean Vehicle Assistance Program has been in place since 2018. It is 2020. E-bike incentives? Nada.

Converting motor vehicle trips to bicycle trips is a top action for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). The other two are transit and infill housing.

Seeing the failure of the state to act in a timely manner, several locations have created e-bike incentive programs. See E-Bike Incentive Programs for more detail. Alameda, Central Coast, Contra Costa, Healdsburg, and Santa Clara County have a rebate programs. Berkeley, Oakland, San Gabriel Valley, and Santa Barbara have bike lending programs. South Coast AQMD, Bay Area AQMD, San Mateo County, and Santa Cruz have voucher programs.

Sacramento Metropolitan AQMD offers a Clean Cars 4 All program that allows voucher credit to be used for transit rather than motor vehicle purchase, but does not offer e-bike incentives.

whither Sacramento Vision Zero?

The City of Sacramento adopted Vision Zero in 2017, and developed a Vision Zero Action Plan in 2018. The plan identified five high injury corridors for projects to slow traffic and increase safety for walkers and bicyclists. The city then developed a plan for these five corridors in 2021. The city has obtained grants for some of these corridors, and will apply for more. The city lowered speed limits in a number of schools zones (though street design, drop-off/pick-up procedures, and motorist behavior are the issues in most school zones, not speeding). The city also developed a public outreach education program, though there is no evidence of such programs having any effect on driver behavior (NHTSA and California OTS have thousands of programs with no demonstrated success). So far, so good.

But…

  • The city has intentionally ignored high injury intersections, unless they are on one of these corridors. No grant applications have been made to fix intersections, though intersections are where most fatalities and severe injuries occur. No non-grant actions have been taken to fix high injury intersections.
  • The city has failed to set up a crash investigation team to determine causes and solutions for every fatality. The police department (or CHP if the crash occurs on a state highway) will do an investigation, and sometimes involve traffic engineers, but never involves planners, never involves experts in nonprofit organizations (who have as much if not more expertise than city staff), and never involves citizens who walk and bike.
  • The Vision Zero Task Force, which met in 2016 and 2017, has never met since. That means there is no community guidance for the Vision Zero program. City staff is making all the decisions on Vision Zero.
  • The city has ignored all the low cost options for reducing motor vehicle crashes. As just one example, the city has been asked to remove pedestrian beg buttons and create leading pedestrian intervals (LPIs) at all signalized intersections, but did only a small beg button set to auto-recall on five crosswalks, and have not increased the number of LPIs in years.

Solutions?

  • The city should create an effective crash investigation team, composed of law enforcement, city traffic engineers, city planners, nonprofit experts, and citizens who walk and bike, and perhaps a representative of the neighborhood association in which the crash occurred. The team should never be led by law enforcement, which has an anti-walker and anti-bicyclist windshield bias. It has been suggested that streets where fatalities have occurred be shut down until the investigation and resulting fixes are in place, which is an idea worth considering.
  • The city should identify the top five high injury intersections, and commit to significant changes to eliminate crashes at those intersections, within three years. And then move on to the next five. The corridor projects and intersection projects should be considered co-equal in city funded projects or grant applications.
  • The city Active Transportation Commission should take on a strong leadership role in advising the council on the Vision Zero program. It may also be appropriate to re-convene the task force to provide more detailed guidance to staff.
  • The city should implement a Vision Zero project to change all traffic signals in the entire city to auto-recall (with removal of the physical beg buttons as staffing allows) and leading pedestrian intervals.
  • The city should undertake a review of peer cities that have reduced speed limits city-wide, to determine whether to implement this change and how to learn from the experiences of other cities. If the review indicates that speeds can be reduced by as little as 3 mph by a reduction from 25 mph to 20 mph, the city should implement it city-wide. Similarly for higher speed streets.

motorist hegemony

I have been seeking a term for the car dominance of our society that captures how oppressive it is to anyone walking or bicycling. Totalitarian is not it, that implies that walkers and bicyclists would be disappeared and have absolutely no rights. Authoritarianism certain overlaps, but doesn’t really capture it. I saw a term used recently that I think does capture it: motorist hegemony.

Hegemony is the political dominance of one group over all others. Others (walkers and bicyclists) are tolerated so long as they don’t get in the way of or inconvenience the ruling class (which is car drivers, in this case). To be more specific: “In Marxist philosophy, cultural hegemony is defined as the ruling class’s manipulation of the value system and mores of a society, so that the ruling class perspective is the world view of society; thus, in the relations among the social classes of a society, the term hegemony describes the cultural dominance of a ruling class, which compels the subordination of the other social classes.” (Wikipedia)

What do you think? Do you have other ideas? The War on Cars is a frequently used term, but the irony of this escapes most drivers (it was a term used by a NYC entitled white person to complain about removal of parking for bicyclist facilities).

Sac CAAP: council update

The City of Sacramento preliminary draft Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP) was on the agenda of the 2022-08-16 city council agenda, with a workshop on carbon neutrality. The council had asked staff for a status report, and to bring ideas for accelerating reaching carbon neutrality sooner than the original target date of 2045.

The staff presentation presented a few things that had happened before completion of the plan. Staff focused, as does the plan, on buildings and EVs. Ryan Moore of Public Works talked about transportation projects, but did not mention policy. Jennifer Venema presented several acceleration ideas, but they were vague. One was the build-out of the bicycle master plan, as though it was that, or everything else. The slides used by the staff presentation have not been made available to the public.

Almost everyone who spoke on the agenda items, on Zoom and in person (this was the first in-the-room council meeting), spoke in support of achieving neutrality sooner, and taking serious actions rather than the mild actions suggested by the plan. I am really proud of the citizens and organizations that took the time to formulate thoughtful statements and to wait for their turn.

Some of the council members spoke. Katie Valenzuela was the only one with a substatiative idea (see below), the others just offered platitudes. Darrell Steinberg unfortunately went off on a long rant in support of the transportation sales tax measures, including the lie that it had been amended. The side agreement between SACOG and SacTA has not been approved, and the language of the ballot measure has not changed at all – it is still bad news for the climate.

Katie Valenzuela’s slide

I made the following statement:


“Transportation is 57% of carbon emissions in Sacramento. Equitable transportation is what we should be talking about.

Transportation priorities, carried over from Mayors Commission on Climate Change:

  1. Active transportation
  2. Transit
  3. Electrification of remaining motor vehicles

The CAAP seems to invert that priority, and is strongly focused on EVs, which would retain the motor vehicle dominance of our transportation system.

Active transportation should be first and foremost in the CAAP.

Why is active transportation so important to transit? Because that is how people get to and from transit. Both are important to an effective response.

$510M for a full buildout of the bicycle master plan is a fraction of what is already being spent on motor vehicle capacity expansion. For example, the Fix 50 projects is estimated at $433M, but will probably come in much higher.

Deb Banks mentioned that the bicycle master plan needs an update. The pedestrian plan, however, dates from 2006, and is completely out of date. Yet the CAAP does not even mention updating those documents nor combining them into an active transportation plan.”


Some items I missed talking about (two minutes is a very short time):

Bike share is hardly mentioned in plan, and was not mentioned in the presentation. I think an effective bike share system is key to getting people out of cars, but we have a privately owned and operated system that could disappear at any time without notice (as it has before). Bike share should be effectively integrated with the transit system, but this idea is absent.

Cost to consumers (citizens) is also missing from the plan and the discussion. Conversion of fossil fueled private vehicles to electrified private vehicles is a the core action of the plan, with the unspoken and false assumption that electric cars are affordable for the vast majority of people. Think about it like this:

modecost
pedal bike$500, or less
electric bike$2000, or less
electric cargo bike$4000, or less
electric private vehicle$40,000, or more

What should the city be supporting? What should the city be subsidizing? It is clear that the bicycle is the right answer. The city seems to have the idea that the people of Sacramento are rich, and will all buy Teslas. How out of touch can you be?

The truly transformative and easily short term action that the city can take to protect that climate is to make walking and bicycling safe, city-wide. In the long run, that involves reconstructing streets, expensive and time-consuming. In the short run, though, there are many, many low cost actions that city could take that mostly have to do with policy and not projects. Such as:

  • leading pedestrian intervals on all signals
  • removal of pedestrian beg buttons
  • prohibiting right turn on red
  • paint and post temporary curb extensions on every intersection where a fatality or severe injury has occurred
  • acceptance by the city of responsibility for sidewalk maintenance (except for damage caused by trees on private property), in recognition that sidewalks are a core part of the transportation system along with streets
  • law enforcement focused on failure to yield to pedestrians
  • serious investigations of every crash with fatalities, with action to slow traffic, shorten crossing distances, etc. required in every instance; creation of a crash investigation team that includes nonprofit expertise and citizens, de-emphasizing law enforcement and traffic engineers
  • pricing parking everywhere in the city; this does not mean parking meters everywhere, it means that street parking requires a permit that reflects the cost building and maintaining parking on streets
  • re-energizing and empowering Vision Zero, which has languished
  • replacement of bikeway vertical delineators (soft-hit posts) with hard curbs
  • enforcement against leaving trash cans in bike lanes
  • a moratorium on roadway capacity expansion projects, through 2045, whether the city is a lead or partner agency; this would include freeways
  • lowering speed limit on all urban streets to 20 mph (20 is plenty) and collector/arterial streets to 30 mph; yes, streets need to be redesigned to physically enforce lower speeds, but in the meanwhile we can save lives with lower posted speeds

The bottom line here is that if the city makes walking and bicycling safe, throughout the city, much of our climate targets will be met. Please see my 2019 series “Walkable Sacramento” for more details and more ideas.

speed limiting NOW!

If you read the news at all, you will already know why motor vehicles needs to be speed limited. The carnage grows every day, and egregious speeders and drunk/high drivers slaughter innocent people on the streets, on the sidewalks, and inside buildings.

So, I’m going to ask that Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttiegeg and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Administrator Steven Cliff immediately start the process of rulemaking to require always-on speed limiting devices on all new motor vehicles, and retroactive activation on all vehicles that were built with that capability, and implementation for all motor vehicles within 10 years. I hope that Congress passes legislation mandating this before NHTSA finishes its rulemaking process, because we can’t really wait for that process.

So, Pete and Steven. Will you do what is necessary, right NOW, or will you kowtow to the car-dominance industry and let things go on, let the slaughter continue apace? Now is the time for y0u to show leadership.

Sacramento open streets for eating

With the removal of blockages to motor vehicle travel on Capitol Avenue, a few weeks ago, and R Street, recently, Sacramento no longer has any streets closed to motor vehicles for the purposes of encouraging outdoor dining. There are still a few locations with sidewalks diverted to the street for outdoor dining, and parking lanes dedicated to outdoor dining, but many fewer than there were.

Following onto the SacBee article and tweet this morning (https://twitter.com/sacbee_news/status/1554800490478796801), a number of other people have commented on the issue today, on Twitter. Unfortunately, there weren’t tags on the tweets, so it is hard to find those twitter threads.

The city says that the end of the closure (to cars) was the decision of the business owners. Did the city talk to them to find out what they needed? To negotiate with them? I doubt it.

The city, of course, says that they are working on a permit system for outdoor dining, but the discussion of the permit system that I’ve seen is that it will only be for sidewalk diversions and parking lane dining. The city does not envision ever closing a street (to cars) for dining again, ever, anywhere. Why wasn’t the permit system in place before these dining areas disappeared? I believe it is because the city slow walks (pun) everything that has to do with creating a more livable, less car dominated city. There are powerful forces, in Public Works in particular, but other places as well, that don’t believe in walking and bicycling, or public spaces, and will do everything they can to make sure those things don’t happen. The pandemic reversed this, temporarily, because there was such a strong demand from the public, but the city has now slid back into its anti-livability comfort zone.

The city (I think) went to the trouble and expense of installing bollard anchors along much of R Street, from 15th Street to 10th Street, and the cross streets, but seems unwilling to use them.

R Street now, car dominated
R St Sacramento street dining
R Street then, people dominated

When I went by today to get a current photo of the street, I noticed that Iron Horse Tavern has blocked the sidewalk on the south side of R Street, leaving no alternate route or ADA accommodation. I suspect that this is one of the businesses here that thinks all its customers arrive by car, and they don’t need to serve anyone else. Please make their wishes come true, if you are a walker or bicyclist, and avoid this business.

Iron Horse Tavern on R Street, blocking the sidewalk