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From Barb Thoman, TLC Executive Director
Even in the nation’s mid-sized cities transit is growing and new development is transforming downtowns into vibrant, pedestrian friendly urban centers. I was recently in Grand Rapids, Michigan and was amazed at the city’s transformation since I grew up there 30 years ago.
Grand Rapids has a population of 200,000 in a metropolitan region of nearly 800,000. Over the last two decades, dozens of the downtown’s historic buildings have been beautifully restored. A new modern transit center has opened providing a hub for a growing regional transit system called The Rapid. A property tax increase passed by voters earlier this year will provide new funding for transit expansion. The regional planning framework for the G.R metropolitan area (like the soon to be updated Twin Cities Development Framework) paints an appealing picture of that region’s future:
- To provide more livable compact communities within our metro region
- To frame our communities with open spaces, farmlands, and greenways
- To provide sufficient regional business and employment centers and
- To connect communities and centers with efficient multi-modal transportation
Amtrak is relocating its Grand Rapids station to provide direct service to The Rapid’s new bus facility. Michigan DOT provides financial support for Amtrak service and is a partner in projects to upgrade track between Grand Rapids and Chicago and Kalamazoo and Chicago. Amtrak trains on some rail segments in Michigan should reach speeds of 110 mph by the end of 2011.
Corporate leadership at major employers --Steelcase, Amway, and Meijer-- have contributed significantly to the civic and cultural infrastructure of Grand Rapids. The city’s new facilities include a public museum, art museum, botanical garden, public arena, and other facilities. A corporate philanthropist sponsors an annual art competition known as ArtPrize that draws nearly 2,000 artists and thousand of art enthusiasts to downtown. A number of the winning art projects have been permanently installed downtown making it an appealing and interesting place to walk.
Here are a few photos recently taken in downtown Grand Rapids.
Kalamazoo Transit Station
Restored Buildings, Downtown Grand Rapids
Grand Rapids Transit Station
From Dave Van Hattum, Policy & Advocacy Program Manager
A snapshot: People of color in the Twin Cities, on average, have less than half the median household income and nearly three times the rate of unemployment as whites. This information was presented as part of a June 28th Corridors of Opportunity meeting that focused on racial disparities in the Twin Cities metro. Audience members were then asked if they felt embarrassed by the facts presented. What an unusual and provocative way to address the audience. In my opinion, yes, Twin Citians should be embarrassed--and should be moved to action (not just dialogue) as many speakers suggested.
Corridors of Opportunity is a regional partnership working to promote sustainable, vibrant, and healthy communities along the region’s emerging transitway system. $21 million in funding is provided by a competitive three-year grant from the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) agency and from the Living Cities Collaborative, a consortium of philanthropic organizations. The initiative is being led by the Metropolitan Council in partnership with key city and county policymakers, foundations, and community, advocacy and business organizations. Corridor of Opportunities opens up great possibilities as well as profound responsibility for advancing equitable and sustainable regional development.
Thoughtful and challenging presentations were made by Nekima Levy-Pounds, a law professor at St. Thomas, john a. powell, the Executive Director of the Kirwan Institute for the study of Race and Ethnicity at the Ohio State University and Angela Glover-Blackwell the Chief Executive Officer of Policy Link an organization whose mission is to advance economic and social equity. Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin joined the presenters for a roundtable discussion.
I’ve read the headlines about the Twin Cities ignominious distinction for growing racial disparities, but I must acknowledge that this session was a wakeup call. I’m privileged to work promoting more public transit, and doing this work well requires paying attention to racial and economic disparities.
Prof. Levy-Pounds noted that one result of the current inequality “is a sense of isolation and a lack of access to mainstream society.” Ms. Glover-Blackwell defined equity as “just and fair inclusion into a society where all can prosper and succeed.” Mr. powell stressed how infrastructure has been used for decades to separate people and that recent metro development patterns have stalled much of the civil rights progress of previous decades.
In other words, economic opportunity is substantially impacted by transportation infrastructure. Ms. Glover-Blackwell’s correct contention that “equity is the superior regional economic growth model” needs to be fully vetted within transportation circles. Mapping the location of entry level job locations, and minority and low-income job seekers, provides a powerful illustration of the currently constrained opportunity for people of color and low-income (see.Transportation Performance Report, pg 21). For the most part, buses and trains don’t provide access to these jobs, so owning a car becomes a burdensome prerequisite. Low-income households in the Twin Cities currently spend more on transportation (i.e. non-appreciable car costs) than they do on housing (typically a wealth-building asset).
Responding to equity concerns was described by several presenters as a critical opportunity to invest in the growing non-white population of our state that will lead to great benefits for all Minnesotans. In the transportation sector, we have a similar opportunity to fully utilize existing transportation infrastructure by emphasizing redevelopment over greenfield development, and by increasing the investment in non-automobile travel options.
Transit for Livable Communities believes that building a robust public transit system will contribute to greater equity. More transit is a necessary, but incomplete, step toward a more equitable transportation system. Where we locate transit stops, whether we build new interchanges at the region’s edge or repair the roads we already have, and how communities retain existing residents and grow existing businesses when new development clusters around rail stops are also key equity concerns.
Corridors of Opportunity fund projects along seven transitways that are at various stages of construction or operation: Southwest LRT, Bottineau Transitway, Gateway Corridor, Cedar Avenue BRT, Central Corridor LRT, Hiawatha LRT, and Northstar Commuter Rail. Insuring equitable outcomes will, no doubt, take hard work for the full three years of the Corridor of Opportunities initiative and beyond. At this critical juncture, we should take a cue from the movie Jerry McGuire and “follow the money.”
Five key questions to pay close attention to:
- Will there be funding to insure these regional transitways get built in a timely fashion without draining resources from the bus system? There appears to be political will to find the money for a vastly overbuilt highway bridge at the far edge of the region and for a new Vikings stadium. Advancing regional equity demands setting more equitable funding priorities.
- Will our region adopt a strategy to incentivize future job growth in the downtowns and along these transitways? If jobs continue to migrate to locations poorly served by transit, often in the past with the help of public subsidies, the positive outcomes of the Corridor of Opportunities program will be greatly constrained.
- Will powerful institutions be motivated to take on regional equity as a key outcome? Mn/DOT controls transportation infrastructure spending in the metro that dwarfs that for the transitways. Mn/DOT should have a seat on the Corridor of Opportunities Policy Board and be held accountable, along with others, for its success. Having equity as a key outcome also requires that people of color and low-income individuals have a voice in transportation planning--and attendant development decisions--from the beginning.
- Can other regional and state discretionary spending be prioritized to achieve cross-silo benefits? HUD’s funding for the Corridors of Opportunity program results from a unique federal partnership of HUD, DOT and EPA. The new transitway corridors present the opportunity, but no assurance, of synergistic transportation, housing, environmental and economic development outcomes.
- Will individuals and businesses seize the opportunity to be part of an alternative model of development to that of freeways and new suburbs? While regional equity is inescapably impacted by major institutions, individual actions matter greatly. A significant component of the Corridor of Opportunities program is a community engagement strategy. Now is the time for all Twin City community members to engage their time and resources to insure its success. Community input is critical, so too is riding buses and trains “alongside the other” and supporting businesses along the transitways during construction.
Our collective answers to these and other questions will determine whether we as a metro region effectively respond to, or increase, our level of embarrassment.
From Andrea Kiepe, Transportation For America
After over a year of delays, the US House and Senate have finally put forward competing proposals to guide America’s transportation investments into the future. The federal transportation re-authorization bill establishes the framework for allocating billions of dollars and for local transportation projects including biking lanes and trails, sidewalks, roads, bridges, public transit, and rail.
Rep. John Mica, Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, released a proposal that would cut federal transportation funding by roughly one-third and lock in that reduced level of investment over the next six years. On the other hand, the Senate’s bi-partisan proposal, while still lacking many details, maintains current funding levels plus inflation for just two years.
The difference between these two proposals is enormous. The Mica proposal could directly result in the loss of over a half million jobs nationwide. It would also damage our transportation network, which the American Society of Civil Engineers says is deteriorating and long overdue for massive repairs.
The Mica bill is a clear example of lawmaking that is pennywise and pound-foolish. The proposal takes us in the wrong direction, jeopardizing more than just construction and transit jobs – it risks damaging America’s ability to recover and prosper.
For more information about the Mica bill and how it would impact federal transportation investment, see this short series of blogs from Transportation for America Staff.
From Bill Neuendorf, Policy & Advocacy Program Director
Renewed efforts are being made to reconsider the massive $690 million bridge and highway expansion near Stillwater. Launched in mid-July, the Sensible Stillwater Bridge Partnership, unveiled an updated alternative design by Stillwater designer Roger Tomten that would meet community goals at a much lower cost.
The cost savings of a sensibly-sized bridge are dramatic. The estimates for the alterative bridge are $236-283 million, nearly 60% less than the original price tag! These cost savings have caught the attention of the New York Times, CBS News, and local media. By using smarter technology and contextual design, a new bridge could be built and millions of transportation dollars could be invested throughout Minnesota to maintain our aging infrastructure.
The alternative design would be located south of the existing lift bridge and would redirect through-traffic from downtown Stillwater (the removal of downtown traffic has been deemed vital by Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki). In keeping with the original design, the alternative bridge would also provide access for bicyclists and pedestrians.
While this location has been considered in the past, the alternative bridge is designed to be more in scale with the surrounding city and existing state highways. For example, using the Context Sensitive Solution approach favored by MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel, the alternative design uses a 45 mph design speed to allow traffic to move swiftly and efficiently from rural Wisconsin to Stillwater and the east metro.
New technologies would be incorporated to allow a smaller scale bridge to safely handle higher traffic volumes anticipated in the future.
The sensible bridge would be three lanes wide (plus shoulders). The center lane would use MnDOT’s current traffic management technology to provide two-lanes of capacity in the peak direction. The center lane would serve westbound traffic during the weekday and Sunday mornings (when there is currently congestion) while serving eastbound traffic in the evenings.
Mn/DOT has used similar reversible lane strategies since 1992 on I-394 west of downtown Minneapolis. This same strategy is under consideration for Highway 77 to cost-effectively reduce congestion in the southeast metro.
Moreover, the alternative bridge would be located at least 50 feet above the water to allow river traffic to flow without interruption. This feature would also eliminate closure of the bridge due to spring flooding – something that has tied up traffic in recent years.
While the debate over the Stillwater Bridge has gone on for years, TLC joined this partnership in hopes of finding a cost-effective solution that allows traffic to flow while promoting land use strategies that support transit and reduce dependence on the automobile. Another freeway expansion project across the St. Croix River would encourage jobs and households to relocate into rural western Wisconsin, while weakening the viability of the Gateway Transit Corridor a few miles to the south.
For more information about the Sensible Stillwater Bridge Partnership, visit www.sensiblestillwaterbridge.org.
Transit takes a funding hit, but Metro Transit avoids service cuts or fare increases, for now.
From Dave Van Hattum, Policy and Advocacy Program Manager
Now that the state budget for 2012-2013 is finally passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Dayton, we can assess the impact on public transit. While the numbers are there for all to interpret, the final verdict is one of a short term glass half full and long term a glass half empty.
Glass half full
Sparing the existing Metro Transit system from service cuts or fare increases was effective transit defense. We stared down and managed to avoid a 25% cut in transit service and a 50 cent fare increase. In addition, the $20 million in state GO bonding for metro area transitways is a victory of sorts, since many questioned whether there would be any bonding bill this session.
We knew going into this session that the Republican-led legislature was not supportive of maintaining, let alone, expanding mass transit in Minnesota. Transit advocates appreciate the commitment of Governor Dayton, new Metropolitan Council Chair Sue Haigh, and legislative allies in frequently and forcefully making the case for transit.
While we all would have liked to see a better final outcome, transit advocates can look proudly at the following accomplishments:
- Packed House & Senate hearing rooms with more than 6 hours of powerful testimony
- More than 14,000 “keep transit whole” postcards delivered to legislators and the Governor
- A growing voice for transit from the business community – especially the Minneapolis Regional Chamber, the Saint Paul Area Chamber and the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) --and from Mayors and City Councils throughout the metro area.
- Diverse and compelling arguments for transit at the Governors roundtable and Transit for Livable Communities press conference,
- Standing room only crowds and powerful testimony at the July Met Council public meetings on possible transit service reductions and fare increases.
Glass half empty
No matter how you frame it, a $51.8 million cut in the general fund contribution to Metro Transit is a substantial loss. While the Met Council creatively identified a strategy to backfill this loss, the short-term solution represents a real hit to transit’s long-term bottom line. Forty-seven percent (47%) of the ‘backfill’ revenues come from a shift of transit capital funds to operating funds (both by CTIB and by Metro Transit). Another 14% of these gap revenues come from reducing funding to suburban transit providers who have strong reserve accounts. The rest of the keep-transit-whole revenues (39%) are one-time shifts (i.e. administrative and system efficiencies, using operational and other reserve funds) that we can’t count on in the future.
Given recent high demand for transit service and flat rates of car travel (i.e. vehicle miles traveled), we believe Minnesota’s transportation funding priorities should ensure the growth of transit options. In 2006, Minnesotans successfully passed a public referendum to dedicate motor vehicle sales tax (MVST) revenues to roads and transit. The state Constitution now requires that 40% to 100% of these revenues go to transit, with the remainder funding highways. For years, transit has been allocated the very least amount allowed. A relatively small shift in MVST (e.g. 50/50 between roads and transit rather than the current 60/40) would have negated the need for all the counter-productive transit financing shifts described above. And roads would still continue to have additional revenue to fund the “Better Roads Minnesota” program that appropriately prioritizes maintenance and preservation of roads. The Republican-led legislature, unfortunately, had no interest in exploring this solution.
While this year’s budget debate is over, the need to adequately maintain and fund a 21st century transportation network that includes transit, bicycles, pedestrians, and cars remains the focus of future public policy initiatives. TLC will be there to give voice to advocates of transit, bicycling & walking!
- Star Tribune: Northstar Commuter Service Won't Return Till Tuesday
- Transportation Nation: US Report: Young People Like Bike Lanes, Sidewalks and Transit, but Everyone Likes Highways and Parking
- MPR: Public Safety and Transportation Budget Bills Posted
- Fridley Patch: Fridley Tracks Nearly Fixed Where Freight Train Derailed
- Pedestrian Observations: Short-Term vs. Long-Term Transit Problems
- MPR: State Transportation Cuts Lessened Under Agreement (TLC mentioned!)
- TCDP: Agreement Between Governor Dayton and Legislature Cuts Transit by $54 Million
- MPR: Northstar Rail Service Still Down After Train Derailment
- MN Daily: Transit Cuts Are Avoided in Large
- MN Senate: Transportation Omnibus Bill (2011 First Special Session)
- Star Tribune: Budget Deal Would Avert Transit Fare Hikes, Cuts
- MPR: Transportation Bill to Make Improvement, But Falls Short of Need
- Transportation Nation: MN's Transpo Cuts Lessened, NYC Losing Millions in Revenue to Fare-Beating Kids, and Zipcar Has Big Impact on Baltimore
- Apple Valley Patch: Experts to Suggest Land-Use Ideas for Cedar Corridor in Apple Valley
- Huffington Post: Why Biking is More Patriotic than Flag Waving
- Cycle Twin Cities: Surveys! (BWTC mentioned!)
- Star Tribune: Vending Machine Peddles Spare Parts for Bikes
- San Francisco Gate: Biking on Busy Streets Linked to Heart Risks
- World Bulletin: The Health Benefits of Regular Walking
- Grist: The Bike Factor: Disability and the Ability to Ride a Bicycle
- Streetsblog Capitol Hill: What Bipartisanship Hath Wrought: Zilch for Bike-Ped in Senate Bill
- Finance & Commerce: Flat Tire Leads to Brainstorm and Bike Fixation
- Have Fun Biking: Bicycling News
- San Francisco Gate: S.F., Oakland in Top 10 Most Walkable U.S. Cities
- The City Fix: 1 Car = 10 Bicycles
- Grist: When Design Kills: The Criminalization of Walking
- The City Fix: Walking and Biking Key to Reversing U.S. Childhood Obesity Epidemic
- MN2020: Bikes Over Cars?!
- Pioneer Press: North St. Paul's 'Living Streets' Program Aims to Make Roads Safer, More Environmentally Friendly
- Star Tribune: County Wheelage Tax Might Pay for a New Bridge in Minneapolis
- Star Tribune: St. Croix Bridge Bill to Get Hearing
- NYTimes: Elected as Cost-Cutters, Freshmen Push Spending for Home Districts
- Star Tribune: In Downtown, New Kids on the Block
- Star Tribune: Has Tale of Twin Cities Become One? (BWTC mentioned!)
- MinnPost: Affordable Central Corridor Housing Discussion Wednesday
- Streetsblog Capitol Hill: Is the Livability Movement Doomed to Homogeneity? The CDC Says No.
- TCDP: Central Avenue Resurfacing Planned (BWTC mentioned!)
- The Hill : Civil Rights Group: Highway Bill Needs 'Equity'
from Bill Neuendorf, Policy and Advocacy Program Director
This afternoon, TLC participated in a press conference to announce a new partnership and a new proposal for a sensible and cost-effective alternative to the $690 million megabridge near Stillwater currently championed by the Governor and several legislators.
TLC has long opposed the mega-bridge because it encourages more vehicle-miles-traveled, is unfriendly to transit, and because it uses precious road and bridge repair dollars to expand the region's already oversized highway system.
Working with local stakeholders and local professionals, schematic designs and cost estimates have been prepared. The proposal unveiled today could cost less than 40% of the proposed mega-bridge, would achieve many (if not all) of the objectives of Stillwater businesses and city officials, and would be much less intrusive of the St. Croix River Valley. It would offer a similar traffic capacity as the megabridge and could be constructed in the same general timeframe.
With a projected $5 billion deficit, state government services shut down, and gas prices nearing $4.00, a more cost-effective solution must be found.
For additional info go to: www.sensiblestillwaterbridge.org or click this link.
From Owen Duckworth, TLC Organizer
TLC members were as active as ever during the spring 2011 legislative session. After a number of Transit Funding 101 sessions in late 2010 and early January 2011, members were ready to protect funding for public transit this legislative session. Members signed postcard petitions, did outreach at bus stops to get petition signatures, attended and testified at legislative hearings, and participated in our day at the Capitol. Now that we’re out of the legislative session, much of our grassroots work with members has calmed down, even as budget talks have heated up behind closed doors at the Capitol and the government is now shutdown. Still there are plenty of ways to stay involved and help fight to protect transit from cuts and help to build our movement.
How can members continue to help fight for transit during the summer months? First, we need legislators to keep hearing about how vital transit is and how unacceptable a budget solution with cuts to transit would be for the Twin Cities region, and for Minnesota as a whole. Making a quick call to your state senator and state representative’s office and let them know why you value transit. Encourage your friends and family to do the same, especially those living in districts with legislators less committed to funding transit. Public opinion will likely be a major factor in determining how the budget debate plays out, so letting legislators and Governor Dayton know how you feel about their respective plans to deal with the deficit is the best way to influence the ongoing discussions.
Additionally, TLC organizers and staff want to continue to build and expand relationships with our members and learn more about ways we can be better advocates for a balanced transportation system and compact, smart development. Sitting down for a conversation with an organizer at TLC is a good way to find out how to get more involved and helps us to learn more about how our members would like to see grassroots work take shape.
Finally, members should be on the lookout for a late summer/early fall “thank you” event once the state budget situation is resolved. Given that session has technically been over for a few weeks, but funding for transit still hangs in the balance, we’ve been holding off on any major gathering to celebrate our hard work, but we’re eager to bring together members and our coalition partners once we know the final results of all the work that we did before, during, and after the 2011 legislative session.