Another day, another article about the need for the U.S. to get serious about infrastructure spending – and why it just makes good economic sense. One of the most salient points made in this article: investing in public infrastructure helps the private sector. Seems like common sense, but as the article notes, infrastructure spending is at about the same level it was in 1968 (taking into account inflation and depreciation).
The Downtown News thinks that failing to link the proposed downtown streetcar to Union Station would be an oversight akin to the Green Line passing just short of LAX. Despite the higher cost that would almost certainly be involved in bringing the streetcar to Union Station, the authors feel it’s worth the cost because it would tap into the ridership base already coming into Union Station and encourage more car-free trips by linking to the larger transit system. Personally, I agree with the editorial – if you’re going to spend the money on a streetcar, it pays to ensure it’s tightly integrated into our growing transit network.
Who doesn’t love a top 10 list? The Century City Chamber of Commerce has put one together in defense of putting the subway station at Constellation & Avenue of the Stars – in the heart of Century City. I found #9 an interesting reason: “Will reduce the need for shuttles to bring passengers from the outside fringe areas on Santa Monica Blvd., to the center of the business district.” The Santa Monica station is about a five minute walk from the more centrally located Constellation/Avenue of the Stars station – would businesses feel compelled to provide shuttles for employees if the station was located on Santa Monica? It’s something I hadn’t considered before.
This must-read article from The Economist takes a long hard look at at the current state of American’s transportation infrastructure and comes up with a gloomy picture of massive underinvestment — with no solution in sight. The article succinctly states, “America, despite its wealth and strength, often seems to be falling apart.” That sentence sums up the paradoxical fact that despite America’s status as world superpower, it trails other countries in almost every category – from commute times to train speeds. The reason? We’re simply not spending enough on transportation – public spending on transport infrastructure has fallen while the population continues to grow.
The Journal notes that Obama’s infrastructure plans — discussed in his State of the Union speech Tuesday — will be challenged by the fact money for highway projects is already scarce and neither Democrats or Republicans have shown any appetite for boosting funds by raising the federal gas tax. More details on where the money may come from are expected in the President’s next budget, to be released in February.
It looks like there will be more computer screens in cars in the future and that has raised questions about the impact of motorists glancing away from the road more often. In the old days, it was possible to reach for the air conditioning or radio knob. In some cars it will involve tapping a screen. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood recently visited Detroit to talk about districted driving — which results in about 5,000 deaths in the U.S. annually — but it’s not yet known whether the feds will crack down on infotainment devices in private vehicles.
Facing community opposition to bullet train routes along existing rail corridors or surface streets, the state agency planning the high-speed rail line is investigating an aerial structure that would carry the train as much as 75 feet above the 10 freeway. This is for the planned connection between L.A. and San Diego — a segment, it should be noted, that would be built and funded after the Anaheim to San Francisco leg. So it’s a ways away from happening.
In case you missed the news: two American government agencies say that 2010 was tied for the warmest year on record while the British say it was the second warmest. The news comes on the heel of cold snaps in the U.S. and Europe while the Arctic is experiencing much warmer than usual temperatures. Of course, many people believe global warming is the culprit; the weather may be crazy but the climate is trending warmer. By the way, taking transit is usually a good way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The White House has also released a “fact sheet” that adds a few (although not a lot) of details about how President Obama plans to achieve the goals listed in his State of the Union speech.
Here’s the section on infrastructure and transportation:
Here is the high-speed rail network that President Obama proposed in 2010. In the time since, Ohio and Wisconsin have lost federal funds due to lack of political support for projects in both states. Map by U.S. Department of Transportation.
Repairing roads, bridges and transit: The President’s Budget will outline a comprehensive, six-year plan to leverage our resources to repair crumbling roads, bridges, and transit. It will feature up-front investments that will both help generate hundreds of thousands of jobs now and lay a foundation for future economic growth that will benefit all Americans. It will also include transformational investments such as an infrastructure bank that will revolutionize infrastructure finance, leveraging government resources through attracting private capital to build projects of national and regional significance. The President is committed to making sure that this infrastructure program is fully paid for, and free of earmarks.
Increasing access to high-speed rail: The President is proposing a significant down payment on a national rail network so that, within 25 years, 80 percent of Americans have convenient access to the high-speed rail system, cutting travel time in half relative to driving a car. This new system of high-speed and intercity passenger rail will connect communities, reduce travel times and congestion, create skilled manufacturing jobs that can’t be outsourced, and spur new innovations by the next generation of American entrepreneurs.
The most interesting part is the nod to an “infrastructure bank,” which could help the 30/10 Initiative. Attentive readers know that the 30/10 plan seeks to use federal loans and other financing to build Measure R transit projects in the next 10 years instead of 30.
A bank could be created as part of the next multi-year federal transportation spending bill, which Congress may tackle this year. It’s already two years overdue and it will likely be a challenge, given the noise that both political parties are making about cutting federal spending.
In this relatively new feature for The Source, I express actual opinions while working for government. Members of the media: please take any of these ideas and run with them — we could use the coverage!
1. I think it’s good news to hear that Caltrans is beginning scoping work on how to improve the rail corridor between Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo, much of which is single track. The fact that it takes 2.5 hours to travel 95 miles by train from Union Station to Santa Barbara says a lot about — and not much good — about the state of our passenger rail system in California.
2. One of the most interesting points I’ve read in the ongoing debate about the effectiveness of President Obama’s first term was in the New York Time’s profile of new Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who was previously Denver’s mayor. Hickenlooper’s main point was that Obama should have focused first on infrastructure. Excerpt:
But he did go on to question one aspect of the Obama presidency — in order, tellingly, to make clear that he values consensus over a crusade. “Rather than going to health care first, I would have gone, I think, to transportation infrastructure,” Hickenlooper said, explaining that he noticed through his work with the U.S. Conference of Mayors that the issue had moved from a Democratic preoccupation to a more bipartisan one. “Here’s something everybody cares about. Maybe we focus on that to build bridges.” Was the double entendre deliberate?
“I think the Obama administration,” he added, “saw a higher need to make history.” Continue reading →
The 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway was built during the Great Depression — and even then was a big, complicated and messy task, albeit one intended to create jobs and promote tourism. None of the experts interviewed by NPR seemed to believe it was possible anymore to build such a big project and some believe the money would be better spent fixing existing infrastructure before creating new projects.
The city of Vancouver's plan for providing for more space for cycling on Hornby street in downtown. Credit: city of Vancouver.
The City Council in Vancouver, B.C., approved a six-month trial for a protected bike lane through downtown — that is a bike lane in which there is a physical barrier separating cyclists from vehicles. “Once this new lane is in place, there will be a continuous, connected network of paths running through the heart of the city—something 75 percent of residents said they wanted in a recent poll,” notes the blog.
Check out the city of Vancouver’s web page about its plans for cycling in the city. You may also want to make a mental note that the weather in Vancouver often — there’s no way to say this delicately — kind of bites. Yet, check out these stats from the city:
Cycling is the fastest growing method of travel in Vancouver.
There are currently more than 400 lane-kilometres of bike routes in the city. (A lane kilometre includes one-way and two-way measurements for bike paths and lanes.)
Approximately 60,000 trips are made on a bike every day in the City of Vancouver.
More than 3,500 cyclists commute to work downtown every morning, which is the equivalent to 65-75 full transit buses.
About four percent of commuting trips in Vancouver are made by bike, in some neighbourhoods, over 10 percent of commuting trips are made by bike (2006 Statistics Canada Census).
In some neighbourhoods such as Kitsilano and Grandview-Woodlands, more than 10 percent of work trips are made by bicycle (2006 Statistics Canada Census).
15.9 percent of residents in Vancouver cycle or walk to work (2006 Statistics Canada Census).
41.4 percent in the Downtown and West End cycle or walk to work (2006 Statistics Canada Census).
Almost half of all Vancouver residents commute less than five km to work and more than 80 percent commute less than 10 km – these relatively short distances are ideal for cycling.
60,000 City of Vancouver bike maps were printed and distributed in 2009.
The City has more than 300 traffic signals with cyclist push buttons.
The ORCA card is the Seattle area’s version of the TAP card. And, in fact, you can read this post and substitute TAP for ORCA because many of the issues raised by users up there are the same ones as down here. The big one is: Where can I buy one in person? The answer is a few transit centers and soon some ticket vending machines, as well as Safeway stores. Sound Transit pushes customers to buy and reload the cards online — but sometimes that means a delay in products actually being loaded onto cards.
Here is video of some remarks that President Barack Obama made on Monday following his meeting at the White House about improving transportation infrastructure.
As we posted yesterday, Los Angeles Mayor and Metro Director Antonio Villaraigosa attended the meeting to discuss the 30/10 Initiative, Metro’s plan to build a dozen Measure R transit projects in 10 years — not 30 — by using federal loans and other financing to be repaid by Measure R revenues. Among those projects are the Westside Subway Extension, the Eastside Gold Line phase 2 and the Crenshaw Line — to name just three.
One of the pitches that Villaraigosa is making is that 30/10 isn’t just a program for L.A. — it could potentially be used by any region that has transportation taxes to borrow against.
There is more info about the meeting, along with links to some recent reports at the White House blog. The White House is also using this new Treasury Department report to make the case for the need for more infrastructure investment; the report echoes many of Obama’s statements. Among the statistics is that the U.S. invests about two percent of its gross domestic product in infrastructure compared to nine percent in China or a five percent average across Europe.
The report also has this interesting graphic below on where America stands in terms of its satisfaction with public transportation and roads. I’m not really sure what to make of it, but it’s clear from his remarks and the report that Obama is trying to build a message on transportation across several fronts — we’re falling behind other countries, Americans need more options to help them save money and building infrastructure is a good way to create jobs.
We’ll see next year whether Congress agrees when they’re scheduled to finally begin drafting a new multi-year transportation spending bill.