How to fund transit in Sac county

This post is a follow-on to three previous posts, in particular:

and many other posts on this blog (category Measure B) and on Sacramento Transit Advocates and Riders (categories Measure B 2016 and Measure A 2020).

It is quite possible that Sacramento Transportation Authority (SacTA) will decide to float a new transportation sales tax measure in 2022 or 2024. The transit, walking and bicycling advocacy community, which worked hard but largely unsuccessfully to improve the 2020 Measure A, which never made it to the ballot, will have to decide what to do between now and then. I argue that efforts to improve the newest measure will not significantly improve it because: 1) the SacTA board is resistant to including policy and performance goals in the measure; 2) the list of projects is and probably will always be a wish list of the engineers in each of the government transportation agencies in the county, which will always be weighted towards cars-first and ribbon cutting projects; and 3) SacTA gave strong lip service to the idea of maintenance (fix-it-first) in the measure, but there was nothing to guarantee that the expenditures would actually reflect that. One has only to look at the condition of our surface streets, sidewalks and bike lanes, and bus stops and light rail vehicles, to know that has never been the priority.

I would like to suggest three major alternatives to a new transportation sales tax measure put forward by SacTRA:

  • a citizen-initiated measure that reflects the values of the residents and businesses of Sacramento County, and not the preferences of engineers
  • a transit-only measure (with first/last mile walking and bicycling improvements), either for the county, or the actual service area of the transit agencies where residents support transit
  • other sources of income rather than a regressive sales tax

Citizen-initiated Measure

A citizen-initiated funding measure only needs to pass by 50%+1, whereas agency-initiated measures need to pass by 2/3. The 2/3 level is hard though not impossible to achieve – several transportation and transit measures in California have achieved that level, but certainly 50% is easier. This 50% is not based on a specific state law, but on a court ruling about San Francisco’s tax measures which passed with more than 50%. It will probably be subject to further court cases as anti-tax organizations try to overturn the ruling, but for now, it stands. The 2016 Measure B had a yes vote of 64%+, but needed 2/3, and therefore failed. The polling done for the 2020 Measure A was also less than 2/3, which is why Sacramento County and SacTA declined to put it on the ballot.

I have no illusions about how difficult it would be to engage the community, write a ballot measure, and then promote it strongly enough to receive a 50% plus vote. The recent experience the community organizations that supported a measure for stronger rent stabilization and eviction protection in the City of Sacramento, that failed to pass, gives pause. The SacMoves coalition spent thousands of hours of individual and organization time, basically writing a good measure for SacTA to use, but very little of that effort was included in the measure proposed by SacTA. A successful citizen-initiated measure would require more than double the amount of work, and a broader coalition. Nevertheless, it is an option that I think should receive serious consideration.

I doubt that the structure of SacTA, which is board members that are elected in each of the jurisdictions, without formal citizen or organization representation on the board, combined with a Transportation Expenditure Plan that is and will alway be a wish list for roadway engineers, can ever lead to a good measure. We could of course wait to see what SacTA comes up with, or again try the largely unsuccessful attempt to improve the measure, or just oppose any measure from SacTA.

Transit-Only Measure

The percentage of 2020 Measure A allocated to transit was actually lower than in the 2016 Measure B, and lower than in the existing Measure A. Some of the difference in 2020 was due to the regional rail allocation being subtracted from the transit allocation, but there was more to it than just that. Sadly, SacRT accepted this reduction as ‘the best they could get’. To citizen advocates, though, it was unacceptable. Since the 2020 measure was not placed on the ballot, it was not necessary for advocates to formally oppose passage of the measure, but I believe most of them would have.

A transit-only measure would avoid this competition between maintenance, roadway capacity expansion, and transit (notice that walking and bicycling are not really in the competition at all), by allocating all funds to transit and related needs. The amount of course would not be the half-cent sales tax of the 2020 Measure A, but more likely a quarter-cent sales tax (or equivalent in other incomes sources, see the next section). Certainly the advocacy community would support first/last mile walking and bicycling improvements in the measure, though I’m not sure exactly how it would be defined or whether the percentage would be specified ahead of time.

A transit-only measure would more easily allow the SacRT to determine how much to allocate to capital (bus and light rail vehicles and rail, and related items such as bus stops and sidewalks) versus operations, and to change that allocation over time as needs changed. The three counties that are members of Caltrain passed 2020 Measure RR for a eighth-cent sales tax to fund operations, with 69% of the vote, and at least 2/3 in each county, precedence in California for transit-only measures.

For a transit-only measure, a decision would have to be made about the geographical area it covers. Sacramento County, only and exactly, or Sacramento County plus the YoloBus service area, or just the transit-using areas. It was clear that the strongest support for 2016 Measure B was in the transit-using parts of Sacramento County, and if these areas were the only ones, it would have passed easily. There has also been a lot of opposition to transit expenditures on the part of the county supervisors who say they represent the rural and semi-rural areas of the county (it is statistically impossible that three of the five supervisors represent rural, given that the population of the county is mostly urban and denser suburban). A lot of advocates then said, well, if they don’t want transit, then let’s exclude voters and their tax income in the future. Of course the projects defined in the measure, mostly capacity expansion, could not be funded off sales tax from only the rural and semi-rural areas, so most of these would never happen. And I think that is a good thing.

Other Sources

The sales tax rate in Sacramento County is 7.75%, and ranges up to 8.75% in the City of Sacramento and some other locations. I am not opposed to sales tax, but I think we are at or close to the point of diminishing returns on sales tax income versus impact on people and businesses. Sales taxes are regressive, in that lower income people pay a much higher percentage of their income for sales tax than do higher income people. It is not the most regressive of taxes, that award probably goes to flat rate parcel taxes where people with a lot of land and expensive buildings pay the same as anyone else. For more detail on possible funding sources, please see my earlier post: transportation funding ideas.

California under Prop 13 has an intentionally biased tax base, where property tax depends more on when you purchased than on the value of the property. I really hoped that 2020 Prop 15 would pass, undoing part of the tremendous damage that Prop 13 has done to California, but it did not. So while small and gradual increases in property tax income can occur, it is probably not enough to finance our transportation system. This saddens me, because I believe property tax would be the best, most equitable source of funding.

If property tax can serve only part of the need, and further sales tax increases are not my preference, what then? First, I think that both federal and state funding of transportation should move away from any and all roadway capacity expansion. Overall federal and state transportation funding should be greatly reduced so that it only funds needs that are more than county or regional level. And yes, federal and state taxes should be commensurately reduced, so that the money does not simply go elsewhere. State prohibitions on the type of taxes and fees that can be levied at the city and county level should be mostly or entirely removed, so that cities and counties can then recover the foregone state and federal taxes for whatever transportation uses they deem.

Local transportation needs would still exist, and should be locally funded. Yes, I want Sacramento County to provide most of the transportation funding for Sacramento County. It is necessary that local people pay for transportation, and see the benefit of what they pay for, so that they can make rational decisions about what they want and how to pay for it. Getting state and federal grants to meet local transportation needs is just a game that agencies play, hoping that they will somehow get more than they give. We know that states with strong economies, such as California, subsidize transportation in other places, and that regions with strong economies such as Los Angeles area, Bay Area, and maybe Sacramento, subsidize transportation in other regions. No reason for that to be happening, unless the need being addressed is regional or greater. If you don’t agree on this, I’d ask that you read Strong Towns Rational Response #1: Stop and Rational Response #1: What it means to STOP. And everything else by Strong Towns, for that matter.

We have spent trillions of dollars on a motor vehicle transportation system, with the biggest accomplishment being destruction of communities of color, impoverished economies and communities, pollution-caused health problems, climate change, and death, injury, and intimidation of walkers and bicyclists. It is time to stop. All future funding should go to maintenance, transit, intercity trains, walking, and bicycling. Those who want to bring ‘balance’ by making a small shift are asking that we continue the madness. We should not.

Examples of projects or maintenance that should come from the state or federal level? The Interstate highways that are actually dedicated to national defense and interstate commerce. In Sacramento region, that means Interstate 5 and Interstate 80. No, not the current freeways that have been bloated to serve local and regional commuters, but the highways. Two lanes in each direction would be sufficient to meet the legitimate needs of these highways. All additional lanes, if any, should be completely funded at the local level because they serve local needs. Long distance and regional rail should also be funded. In the case of Sacramento, that means the Amtrak Coast Starlight and California Zephyr, and the Capitol Corridor and San Joaquins regional rail. That’s pretty much it. There might be some argument for funding freight rail infrastructure and maintenance, not sure. No, I don’t think airports should be funded at the any level, they are a transportation mode that benefits primarily high income travelers and shipping corporations. If they want that infrastructure, they should pay for it.

So, how to fund transportation in the county?

First, charge for parking everywhere, even in residential areas. A residential parking permit should reflect the part cost of maintaining all streets. Quite possibly, people would reduce their use of the public street to store their personal vehicle, and might reduce their ownership of vehicles so that they don’t need to park on the street, and those would be good side effects, but would also limit the income from those permits. When there are fewer vehicles parked, there is less resistance to re-allocating space to sidewalks, sidewalk buffers, and bike lanes. Metered parking should be raised to ‘market rates’ which means what it would cost to park in a private garage or lot, AND achieves the Shoupian ideal of at least one open parking space on every block. Of course all parking revenue should go to transportation, not to other uses (such as paying off the Golden 1 Center). The Pasadena model of using some parking income to improve the street and surrounding areas is compatible.

Second, charge for entry into congested areas. In Sacramento County, that would primarily mean the central city. The purpose of this fee is not to reduce congestion, though the fees are often called congestion fees, but to obtain the income necessary to build and maintain our transportation network. The fee would be for each entry, so that people who live in the central city but don’t use their car much would not be paying a lot, while people who commute into the central city for their own convenience would be paying a lot.

These two sources alone might well not meet the need for transportation funding in the county, and I don’t have a ready solution to that. I don’t want development impact fees to go to transportation because I think they should be used to upgrade utilities and fund affordable housing. Same with title transfer taxes.

So, those are my thoughts of the moment. Comments and other or additional ideas are welcome.

SB1 Local Partnership Program applications

The California Transportation Commission (CTC) yesterday released the list of applications for the Local Partnership Program (LPP) which is one of many programs in SB 1, the transportation bill. The SACOG projects have been selected and are below (with pdf link).

Though these are just applications, and the process of selecting and awarding projects will take many months, it is instructive to take a look at what has been submitted by the transportation agencies in the region.

The list has zero transit projects. Though there are separate programs fo transit, nothings prohibits transit projects, but the agencies were not interested.

Four of the projects are Capital Southeast Connector related (Grant Line Road Operational Improvements Project, White Rock Road Four and Two Lane Improvements, White Rock Road Two Lane Improvements, and of course Capital SouthEast Connector Expressway), which total $40M out of the list total of $88M. This sprawl-inducing gift to greenfield developers has been criticized here and many other places, cannot comply with the air quality and VMT reduction goals of the regional sustainable communities strategy (if was grandfathered in), yet accounts for 45% of all applications.

Of the remaining projects, $27M, 31%, are mostly road widening projects. 24% of the projects have at least a minor component of bicyclist or pedestrian benefit, such as complete streets projects, and a few are primarily for active transportation.

roads in California and Sacramento County

In preparation for some exploration of funding sources for roads, it helps to see what the situation is with the jurisdictions and types of roads, for mileage and VMT.

Jurisdiction means the level of government responsible for the road. This is not always clear from simply looking at a road. If there is a federal or state highway sign, it is pretty clear, but there are roads that are part of the state highway system that are not signed as such.

The types of roads, here, means functional classification, which is a federal designation of Interstate, Principal Arterial – Other Freeways and Expressways, Principal Arterial – Other, Minor Arterial, Major Collector, Minor Collector, and Local. Again, it is not always easy to distinguish classification, but as a generality, freeways fall into the first two, major roads such as Folsom Blvd and Watt Ave fall into the third, busy wide streets are the next three, and residential streets are the last. Another useful classification is that the first six categories are roads, meant to move motor vehicle traffic, and the last is a street, meant to provide access to residences and small businesses. Unfortunately, we build far too many of the road variety and then put business on them so they no longer function well to move cars. See Strong Towns for a more detailed explanation of roads, streets, and stroads.

Continue reading “roads in California and Sacramento County”

Measure BB Sales Tax in Alameda County

In 2014, voters in Alameda county passed a sales tax, Measure BB, by 70%. This measure is seen as a model for progressive use of sales tax in a county, and the Alameda County Transportation Commission simultaneously achieved recognition as a progressive transportation agency. The measure continued an existing half cent sales tax and added another half cent, for a total of one cent. I think a lot can be learned of use in Sacramento county by looking at the measure and the agency.

Measure BB funds the 2014 Transportation Expenditure Plan, which has these goals:

  • Expand BART, bus and commuter rail for reliable, safe and fast services
  • Keep fares affordable for seniors, youth and people with disabilities
  • Provide traffic relief
  • Improve air quality and provide clean transportation
  • Create good jobs within Alameda County

The plan certainly includes some funds for roadways, but shifts the focus to away from traditional roadway expansion to multi-modal transportation, particularly relative to the earlier sales tax which was heavily motor-vehicle oriented. Of the $7.8B (yes, billion) to be invested over 30 years, the allocations are:

  • BART, bus, ferry and commuter rail $2.8B
  • Affordable transit for youth, seniors, and people with disabilities $1B
  • Traffic relief on streets and highways $3B
  • Clean transportation, community development, technology and innovation $1B

The plan allocates 48% of the total to transit, including expansion, operations, and fare subsidies. Of this, 18% of the total goes to operation of AC Transit (Alameda-Contra Costa Transit) which is the equivalent of SacRT. Without knowing the exact nature of the example projects in the document, it is hard to parse out how much of the 39% “traffic relief” category is maintenance and how much expansion, but it looks like about 2/3 maintenance and 1/3 expansion. The 8% clean transportation category includes a remarkable $651M for “Bicycle and Pedestrian Paths and Safety Projects and Educational Programs”.

The Alameda County Transportation Authority has an Independent Watchdog Committee (page 35 of the plan), whereas Sacramento county has nothing of the sort. The committee holds hearings, reviews audits, and issues reports. The Alameda CTC also works with the Alameda county BPAC (Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Council), whereas SacTA does not work with SacBAC (Sacramento joint city/county bicycle advisory council), and in fact there is no pedestrian advisory function at the county level at all.

There are a wealth of ideas in the plan, and it is instructive to read it. I’ll be going through it in more detail in the future.

SacRT issues and solutions

Another list of ideas for improving SacRT. This was developed as part of my work with 350Sac Transportation Committee, but again, the ideas are mine and not the committee’s.

SacRT issues

  • funding
    • SacRT is the most poorly funded transit system of its size in California; the limited amount provided by Sacramento Measure A (through the Sacramento Transportation Authority) is insufficient to operate a transit system
    • dependence on federal funds from most system enhancements and extensions means that the system has not kept up with either population growth or increased demand
  • leadership
    • the board, composed of only elected officials, provides poor oversight and leadership
    • management is weak, unwilling to explore innovative solutions and accepting of current limitations as permanent
  • light rail
    • has a poor reputation among many commuters
    • no evening service to Folsom
    • no service to American River College
    • high-floor rail cars are inaccessible to many people
  • bus network
    • buses are too infrequent to provide effective service, with no routes meeting the definition of high frequency and only four routes meeting the definition of medium frequency
    • routes deviate into neighborhoods in an attempt to maximize coverage, but the result is a loss of functionality and timeliness
  • land use
    • SacRT is ineffective in large part becuase land use decisions have resulted in an urban/suburban/exurban pattern that cannot effectively be served by a transit system
    • SacRT has little to no input into land use decisions
  • fare card system (ConnectCard)
    • the fare card system has been delayed for more than a year
    • there is no evidence that the fare card system will address equity issues such as low-income users without bank accounts and credit cards being able to purchase cards and passes
  • bike parking
    • the lack of secure bike parking at light rail stations and major bus stops reduces transit use and usability
    • SacRT has refused to provide on-demand bike lockers at stations, though Folsom has provided them at stations within the city

SacRT solutions

Continue reading “SacRT issues and solutions”

I don’t want a transportation bill

As the “deadline” approaches for passage of a transportation bill, and the balance in the highway trust fund is in free fall, everyone seems to be falling in line behind the idea that we must pass a bill. I disagree.

The federal transportation funding system strongly favors motor vehicles, with a small amount set aside for transit, and a pittance for walking and bicycling. Patching up funding for the existing system will only serve to prolong its life, and prolong the damage it does to our communities and our economy. I think a failure of the highway trust fund is in order. Before we can figure out what sort of transportation system we need, we have to stop funding the one we have. Yes, I agree that maintenance is important, but we already seriously underfund maintenance, and continuing to do so for a little while will be no worse a crisis than what we already have. I think the preference for passing a transportation bill, any bill, is akin to what a drug addict thinks – just one more hit and then I’ll be able to figure out how to get off this stuff.

What if we don’t pass a bill, or an extension, and federal funding stops? Well, then we have the opportunity to do the following:

  1. Institute a moratorium on all construction and widening on the federal aid highway system.
  2. Agree that our highway system is built out and that not a single lane mile will be added with federal funding, ever again.
  3. Develop criteria for determining the economic productivity of roads and highways. Since the system has never been challenged to do this before, it will take some time, bringing together expertise and data that has not been part of transportation decisions.
  4. Determine the size (in lanes) necessary for the Interstate and federal aid highways to carry traffic between economically productive places, and then fund maintenance of that minimal system from the federal level. The states, therefore, would have to fund maintenance of excess lanes, those that were built to accommodate commuting and do not serve to connect economically productive places. All roads and highways that are not part of the minimal system would be returned to the states who would then be fully responsible for maintenance. That means that many freeways would no longer be a federal responsibility.
  5. Develop criteria for determining the economic productivity of the freight and passenger rail network. We know somewhat more about this, but it will still take time.
  6. Designate a national rail network similar to the federal aid highways system that serves economically productive places and uses, and funds both construction and maintenance. Over time, right of way and tracks would be transitioned to public ownership, and both passenger and freight would rent space on that network, paying fees that fund all necessary maintenance, and expansion to meet national needs. This does not mean that rail could not or would not be subsidized, but that it would be done in a transparent manner that would allow us to adjust subsidies based on productivity and the national interest in a connected passenger network. (Note: Amtrak is subject to the same soviet-style thinking that plagues the rest of our transportation network, the difference being that they never received the huge subsidies that motor vehicles and airlines did.)

Would the temporary cessation of federal funding to public transit have a negative impact. You bet it would. There would be no new projects for several years, just when we need new projects to shift our transportation to more economically and ecologically (carbon) modes. Projects already underway might have to be modified, dropping some elements or shortening routes. I’m not oblivious to this impact, and it would impact me directly in a number of ways, including the local light rail expansion and improving capacity on the Capitol Corridor trains.

None of this would impose anything on the states. However, the states, long accustomed to  “free” money (our tax money) from the federal government, would start making different decisions once the gravy train stops.

I’ve written many times before about the disfunction in our transportation system, but my post today was triggered by a post from Kaid Benfield, Do Freeways Belong Inside Cities? on HuffPost Green.

The Active Transportation Program petition

The Safe Routes to School National Partnership, along with a number of coalition partners, has offered a petition to increase the amount of funding for California’s Active Transportation Program (ATP). Information on the petition is at Safe Routes to School California and California Walks. What follows is not intended to discourage you from signing the petition. Rather, I’m suggesting that it doesn’t go far enough.

The petition asks for an increase of $100 million per year in funding. With the existing funding of about $120M, this would be just less than double the current funding, a not insignificant increase.

However, the amount is a tiny fraction the roughly $28 billion spent yearly on transportation in California. The majority of this expenditure is through Caltrans, and the majority of that is to expand the highway and road network. Those expenditures work directly against the goal of walkable, livable communities. Yes, expansions often now include some sidewalks and some bicycle facilities, but the preponderance of the project is not on these afterthoughts, but on increasing lane miles by extending and widening highways and roadways. Of the money expended on the road transportation system, about half comes from cities, counties and regions, about one-quarter from the federal government, and about one-quarter from the state. But because the state controls the federal and state portion, and state standards determine or strongly influence how the rest is spent, things must change at the state level.

Marketing for the petition includes: “Nearly $800 million in shovel-ready walking, bicycling and Safe Routes to School projects and programs were left unfunded in the first ATP awards cycle.” I imagine now that many agencies have started to figure out how ATP works, there will be even more applications this cycle, with an even bigger gap between applications and available funding. So would the addition of $100 million really make much of a difference? We have a long term deficit in active transportation of trillions of dollars. $100 million is not that significant.

The graphic below shows the portion of the state transportation budget (in red) going to the ATP program (in green) and which would be added (blue) if the petition resulted in supportive legislation. You may need to squint.

budget

Continue reading “The Active Transportation Program petition”

SHSP Update

shsp-logoThis is one of the nerdier posts I’ve written in a while, and much of it probably won’t make sense to anyone who has not been involved in SHSP. Why is it important? Because all of the safety funds in California, some of the transportation budget, and much agency effort go to the priorities identified by SHSP. In the past, that has meant a focus on the safety of motor vehicles drivers, focus to issues such as distracted and drunk driving (which are important but not everything), and in a perversion of priorities, stings on pedestrians and bicyclist funded by OTS.

On November 14, 2015, the SHSP (Strategic Highway Safety Plan) Safety Summit was held on the CSU Sacramento campus, part of the SHSP Update process that seeks to revised the Strategic Highway Safety Plan for California. The summit was very well attended, nearly filling the ballroom. After some introductions from various agencies (Caltrans, Office of Traffic Safety, and California Highway Patrol are the main partners in the program, but several other agencies participate), there were six breakout sessions to provide input on different topics, and an opportunity to participate in two of the six.

I participated first in the Active Transportation (bicycling and walking) breakout, which was facilitated by Katherine Chen & Jill Cooper. Issues identified: we really don’t know why there has been an increase the last few years in bicyclist and pedestrian injury and fatality, whether due to increased mode share or some other reason; the CHP 555 form and SWITRS database do not offer all the information we need; there is almost no injury/fatality rate data available because agencies are not collecting counts; rather than transportation funds being allocated based on injury/fatality rates, bicycling and walking receives a tiny portion construction and safety funds. The session went well, with good discussion and a lot of good information gathered onto charts by Katherine.

I also attending the Infrastructure and Operations breakout session, which was facilitated by two individuals from Cambridge Systematics, the contractor being used for the update process. This session did not go well. The participants provided thoughtful input, but much of it was rejected by the facilitators, either not written onto charts, or crossed out because they didn’t agree with it. The group wanted to use rates rather than counts, education is needed to create a culture of safety, distracted driving is epidemic, automated enforcement of red lights and speed are critical to changing behavior, and we need to focus on intersections since that is where most problems occur. The facilitators wanted to hear none of it, and were disappointed that no one seemed interested in spending money on “improving safety” for motor vehicle drivers by building more highways.

We were promised at the summit that the breakout session notes would be tabulated and made available to participants “soon.” As of today, 11 weeks later, no information has shown up on the SHSP Update web page. I doubt that the information will show up before the process is complete. I would guess that the contractor and Caltrans didn’t like what they heard and decided to suppress the information.

Despite the lack of input from the SHSP Safety Summits (there was one northern and another in southern California), the SHSP Steering Committee has been pushing forward with updating the SHSP strategies. The SHSP Bicycling committee (formerly Improving Bicycle Safety) on which I serve, and the other committees, were given a very short deadline to provide a new short set of strategies (up to five). It seems as though we will be locked into these for several years. In the committee’s January meeting we made remarkable progress on coming up with strategies, coming to consensus on a number of issues that we’ve discussed for years and never quite come to common understanding or agreement. When we ask where the Safety Summit information was, we were told by Pamela Beer of Cambridge Systematics that she had all the information we needed, that the printed notes that we were given at the meeting but not beforehand where all we would get, and that we should not expect to see any outcomes from the summit before the strategies finalized. Somehow she had inserted herself into our committee meeting as a facilitator/controller, without the knowledge of anyone on the committee.

The strategies adopted by the Bicycling committee, pending some wordsmithing, are:

  1. Improve roadway and bikeway planning, design, and operations to enhance bicycling safety and mobility while supporting  bicycling to and from all destinations.
  2. Improve data collection regarding bicyclist trips, injuries and fatalities on California roadways and bicycle paths.
  3. Improve education and enforcement based on the protection of everyone’s right to travel by lawful means.
  4. Encourage more bicycle travel by improving public attitudes about bicycling safety and the need for safe and courteous behavior toward all roadway users.
  5. Develop safe, direct, and connected routes on which bicycling is a priority mode of transportation.

improving SacRT

The condition and future of Sacramento Regional Transit (SacRT), particularly the light rail system, has been much in the news recently:

Everyone these days seems to want a better transit system. The problem is that no one wants to pay for a better transit system. The business leaders who suddenly want a modern, appealing, well-maintained light rail are the same ones that have worked over the years to suppress efforts at increasing the tax base for operation of the system.

Continue reading “improving SacRT”

Foxx challenges mayors, but not funding

Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx challenged the nation’s mayors to reduce pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities and injuries on his Fast Lane blog and detail. The challenge has been repeated many places, including Streetsblog USA. Though I’m happy that the secretary is bringing attention to the issue of rising pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities (while motor vehicle driver fatalities are declining), I have to see this campaign as disingenuous. Of his seven challenge activities, not one of them mentions funding. Yet a significant contribution to pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities and injuries is that we continue to spend transportation dollars on motor vehicles and not on pedestrians and bicyclists. Though pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities are now 17.3% of the total, we spend only about 2% of our transportation funds on protecting pedestrians and bicyclists.

FARS-trends-chartFoxx says “Unfortunately, in the five years from 2009 to 2013, bicyclist deaths were up 15 percent and pedestrian deaths are up 16 percent. In 2013, more than 5,000 pedestrians and bicyclists were killed, and more than 100,000 were injured.” More significant is that pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities are have continued to be an increasing portion of total fatalities. In the chart at right, the blue trend line, of total fatalities is clearly down, and NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Commission)  and others have tooted this horn at every chance. What they rarely talk about, and in fact try to hide in their reports, is the other trend, shown by the red bars, that the percentage of fatalities for pedestrians and bicyclists has continually climbed. These are not two unrelated trends. We have spent tremendous amounts of transportation money, and imposed increasing requirements on car manufacturers, in order to reduce the fatality and injury rate of motor vehicle drivers. But this reduction has led to an increase in pedestrian and bicyclist rates. They are inversely correlated to a remarkable degree. This data in the chart is from the NHTSA Fatality Analysis and Reporting System (FARS).

If Foxx were serious in his commitment to pedestrian and bicyclist safety, he would do everything in his power (considerable but not complete) to shift transportation funding to the protection of pedestrians and bicyclists, and would be before Congress daily supporting this change (for the portions he cannot control).

So, here is Dan’s challenge to Secretary Foxx: Take pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities seriously by immediately shifting the federal portion of transportation funds to match the fatality rate of 17.3%.