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Metro Transportation Advisory Board Makes Historic Vote for Equity

09/30/2014

 

By Dave Van Hattum, Advocacy Director

 

Editor’s Note: TLC’s Dave Van Hattum has served as one of two transit representatives on the Transportation Advisory Board since December 2011, and played a significant role in advocating for this greater emphasis on social equity. Thanks to Dave and to all who voted YES.

 

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Walking on Saint Paul's East Side. Credit: Transit for Livable Communities.

 

On September 17, the region’s Transportation Advisory Board (TAB) took a historic vote to include social equity considerations in its scoring of project funding applications. The new equity points, among points in a number of traditional transportation criteria (usage, age of facility, etc.), do two essential things. One, they give a slight preference to projects (roads, transit, and bicycle/pedestrian) benefitting people of color, people living in poverty, and especially people in racially concentrated areas of poverty. Second, they connect transportation and housing outcomes, by aligning points with efforts by cities and counties to increase the availability of affordable housing.

The TAB, in coordination with the Metropolitan Council, allocates approximately $150 million in flexible (across mode and geography) federal transportation funds every two years through what is called the Regional Solicitation. Because transportation needs in the region far exceed funding available from a variety of sources (see www.MoveMN.org for more info), the selection of projects is very competitive. The 33-member TAB, per federal rules, is made up of a majority of local elected officials (city and county government), as well as appointed citizen, agency, and modal (transit, bike/walk, freight) representatives.

Over the past two years, the Metropolitan Council has undertaken an extensive evaluation of the Regional Solicitation. Led by a consultant team and involving the TAB, the Met. Council, and the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) to the TAB, the evaluation was designed with two primary objectives:

  1.  better align funding decisions with regional policy
  2. simplify a complex and costly application process

TLC has long sought to direct a greater share of TAB funding to projects that provide greater access by transit, bicycling, and walking—particularly for those who can’t afford to, or choose not to, own a car. We have also advocated for road repair and retrofit projects rather than mostly building new and bigger facilities. Despite sustained advocacy and a new regional policy emphasis on social equity and sustainability as articulated by Thrive MSP, (the Met. Council’s long-range plan), changing transportation funding priorities was no easy task.

Shifting priorities to leverage improved social equity could be achieved through one of two key policy changes: One, spending an increased share of funds in areas of concentrated poverty or racially concentrated areas of poverty. Or two, keeping the same geographic distribution of funds (which has been closely attended by TAB members for decades), but shifting a greater share of total funding to transit and bike/walk options, which low-income residents and people of color disproportionately rely upon. TLC has long been a champion of both strategies. Ultimately, the historic TAB vote followed the first path. A vote next spring, when specific projects are selected, will determine the split between road, transit, and bicycle/pedestrian investments.

 

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Map: Racially Concentrated Areas of Poverty & Areas of Concentrated Poverty in the Twin Cities region. Credit: Metropolitan Council

 

Substantive change is never easy.  Shifting priorities at TAB required a lot of policy analysis. Trust me: project scoring is a highly detailed, technical endeavor that primarily has been led by engineers on the Technical Advisory Committee to the TAB Policy Board.  Achieving a shift in priority also required working from the inside to build a supportive coalition among TAB members, while  advocates externally  made the case to TAB members to vote for change.

Leadership for change can be attributed to many players: A strong group of reform advocates on TAB, who I helped convene and shared technical expertise with; new and seasoned elected officials appointed to TAB, who knew their “vote for equity” would be on the right side of history; and bold agency voices, who departed from a long history of seeing transportation almost exclusively as an engineering endeavor, to instead embrace that transportation is ultimately about serving people.

Every YES vote for the new equity criteria deserves credit for this victory. Fair housing advocates also played a key role in achieving a scoring system that rewards localities doing their fair share to provide affordable housing. Equity advocates (including our allies at ISAIAH and the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability) contacted TAB members and showed up to provide critical support for this vote. Metropolitan Council staff also contributed key data, shared experiences from other metropolitan regions, and educated TAB members about the equity proposal.

 

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Kenya McKnight speaking last year at a transportation funding rally in the State Capitol Rotunda. Credit: Transit for Livable Communities.

 

Finally, Kenya McKnight, District D Citizen Representative (and one of only two people of color on the TAB), eloquently, tactfully, and persistently spoke for increasing equitable access in her North Minneapolis community and across the metro region. Despite strong opposition to change, Kenya powerfully conveyed that social equity considerations were appropriate given past disinvestment in low-income communities, and would contribute to better access to opportunity for all residents in our growing, and increasingly diverse, metropolitan region.

Thanks to all!

The ultimate test of this policy change will be seen next spring when a new slate of projects is evaluated and selected for funding. Opponents (NO votes) fear this policy change will shortchange their communities. I believe, and TLC believes, that future allocation of federal transportation dollars should reflect geographical balance, but also tangibly contribute to reducing racial and economic disparities in our region. We will be among the proponents watching closely to ensure that new scoring for social equity considerations results in more equitable distribution of these federal funds.

 

TLC Supports Met. Council’s Proposed Shift to More Travel Options & Growth in Walkable Communities

 

By Barb Thoman, Executive Director

Post updated: 10/1/14.

 

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Photo Credit: Metro Transit.

 

The Metropolitan Council’s draft 2040 Transportation Policy Plan (draft TPP), wisely calls for greatly expanding transit, bicycling, and walking options across the region and focusing on more compact, pedestrian-friendly development patterns. The draft TPP, an update of the plan developed in 2009, is out for public comment through Wednesday, October 1, at 5 p.m. TLC urges our members to send comment letters or e-mails to the Met. Council, offering their support for this proposed shift (see our sample comment letter at the bottom of this post). The Council is hearing pretty significant push back from proponents of the spread out, auto-focused, and costly development patterns of the last 50 years.

Demand for travel in the region is undergoing historic change. Young people are driving less and the Baby Boomer generation is starting to retire, both leading to fewer driving trips during peak periods. Ridership on transit is growing even as households in the region make fewer daily trips. Rates of bicycling are up, evidenced from data in the Met. Council’s Travel Behavior Inventory and from TLC’s 2013 Bike/Walk Count Report. The Council’s proposed approach in the draft TPP responds to these trends.

At more than 300 pages, the draft TPP is a long document. Here, we boil it down into thoughts on major topics. If you don’t have a day (!) to read the full plan, we suggest focusing on pages 67-125, which includes Vision and Strategies. Here goes:

  • Land use – There is good language in this section (pages 126-148) that calls on cities and counties to prioritize walkable development, better connected streets, a mix of uses, development along transit, and more. This makes good economic and environmental sense and promotes equitable development and access for everyone. In coming years, cities in the metro will be required to update their comprehensive plans to be consistent with the TPPand other Met. Council plans. TLC believes that cities that want to access the funding streams available through the Met. Council (federal transportation, Livable Communities, and others) should be required to plan, zone, and invest in ways consistent with Met. Council plans. The region can no longer afford to subsidize expensive low-density development on farmland and open space at the edge of the region.

  • Bicycle and pedestrian system – For ten years TLC has been calling for the identification of a regional bike system (pages 261-273) and it’s included in this plan! We applaud the statement on page 272 that “any new state transportation funding package should include additional funding for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure…”This is a foundation of the Move MN platform. We would like to see more attention to pedestrian access with a focus on major transit corridors, concentrated areas of poverty, access to schools, and access for seniors.

  • Transit – The draft TPP acknowledges the transitway projects that can be completed with the current ¼-cent metro sales tax for transit (Southwest, Bottineau, Gateway, plus Orange Line bus rapid transit (BRT) on 35W). We have concerns about the region’s ability to also maintain existing transit infrastructure, including bus garages and already aging Blue Line rail stations. We also have concerns about counting on larger federal grant awards and expecting state motor-vehicle sales tax revenues for transit to remain steady, given the trend toward less driving.

    The increased revenue scenario is on par with what Seattle, Denver, and other peer cities are doing as they continue a rapid build-out of bus and rail across their regions. Additional revenue is essential for: bus system expansion (this requires more than the 1 percent per year proposed on page 234), construction of all arterial BRT lines, building a regional system of transitways in a timely fashion, and a better customer experience (via bus stop safety, comfort, access, and more information). We support the existing Transit Market Area approach to getting the most from regional transit investments by focusing those investments on areas with higher population and employment densities and demand for transit service. We were happy to see the transit chapter acknowledge the state legislative goal to increase the percentage of trips taken on transit—a goal TLC successfully worked on years ago. 

 

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Transit Market Areas. Source: Metropolitan Council (PDF).


  • Highway system– The draft TPP notes that the Twin Cities region has the eighth largest roadway system in the country and wisely proposes more attention to maintenance and preservation. We would spend even more on maintenance, plus increase the investment percentage for safety projects—including Complete Streets and treatments compliant with the Americans for Disabilities Act—on state, county, and local roads. In addition, we would carefully review the list of 50 proposed “spot capacity expansion” projects to ensure that these projects won’t just move congestion down the road. We support the proposal to add back the bus shoulder lane on I-94 between Minneapolis and Saint Paul (page 183).


Dave Van Hattum, TLC’s Advocacy Director, continues to call for all Met. Council and MnDOT plans—including this one—to have clear and measurable outcomes.

Don’t miss this opportunity to show your support for a new direction at the Council. Comments on the draft TPP are due Wednesday, October 1, at 5 p.m. Submit your comments by e-mail to public.info@metc.state.mn.us.

 

SAMPLE COMMENT LETTER:

 
Subject: Comment on draft Transportation Policy Plan
 
I'm emailing to express my support for the direction the Met. Council has taken in the draft Transportation Policy Plan. 
 
I was very happy to see the call for greatly expanding transit, bicycling, and walking options across the region, as well as a focus on more compact, pedestrian-friendly development patterns. This makes good economic and environmental sense. 
 
Please continue to work on clear and measurable outcomes, but most importantly: Please don't buckle to the proponents of the status quo who want to continue the inequitable and costly policies of the last 50 years. The shift you have proposed will do much more to ensure we have a thriving metro region going forward, with better quality of life and access to opportunity.
 
Thank you.
 
[Your Name]
[Your Address]

 

 

Rail~Volution Draws National Transit Supporters to the Twin Cities

09/29/2014

 

By Barb Thoman, Executive Director

 

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Each year, Rail~Volution brings together people from across the country who are passionate about building livable communities with transit.  After a 20-year wait, this national conference finally came to Minnesota! Early this week, nearly 1,500 attendees participated in dozens of workshop sessions on topics ranging from equitable transit-oriented development to creative placemaking and complete streets implementation. They also pedaled around on Nice Ride bikes, rode buses and trains, and marveled at the amount of development taking place in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Everyone we asked spoke very positively about the 2014 conference and said they were amazed at how much we have going on in this region.

“This is not a Republican or Democrat issue, this is an issue of American vitality. . . . We’re trying to push the envelope on transportation to grow America for a new generation.” (USDOT Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, speaking at Rail~Volution, on investing in multimodal transportation)


Transit for Livable Communities was involved in the conference this year in a number of ways: We served on the steering committee, lead a mobile workshop on bicycling, moderated a session on advocacy, and had a table in the exhibit hall. I even mustered the courage to present at the fun, fast-paced Pecha Kucha Slam on the challenges of bike/walk/and transit in our cold-weather climate.

 

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Our mobile workshop highlighted some of the investments from the Bike Walk Twin Cities program.  Sheldon Mains spoke about the work of Spokes Bike Walk Connect in the Seward neighborhood, helping neighborhood residents—including members of the local East African community— get a bike and learn to ride. Steve Saunders from the U of M spoke about two infrastructure projects—the new Dinkytown Greenway and the U of M Bike Center—as well as programs at the U of M to encourage the use of transit and bicycling. Haila Maze from the City of Minneapolis talked about redevelopment in Dinkytown. (Did you know that the Dinkytown CVS store has high sales and no off-street parking for cars?!)  

“Just because you have a bike lane, doesn’t mean you’re bike friendly.” (MnDOT's Liz Walton, speaking at Rail~Voltion, emphasizing the importance of a holistic approach: engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement, and evaluation/planning)

 

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In addition to more than 20 mobile workshops, the conference featured nearly a hundred informative sessions. Here are a few cool things discussed at the sessions I attended:

  • Los Angeles, with its 1.5-cent regional sales tax for transit/bike/walk, is embracing open streets in a big way.  LA Metro is awarding $4 million to cities in the LA region to put on open streets events over the next 12 months.  
  • Transit agency general managers from Los Angeles, Boston, and Portland (OR) were asked to talk about what keeps them up at night. Maintenance of aging transit infrastructure was high on their list—although one general manager joked that despite the stresses of the job, he falls asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow.
  • Transit phone apps are making access to transportation options easier. One session included the co-founder of an innovative new company from Minneapolis called OMG Transit. Their free app shows real-time bus, train, Nice Ride, HOURCAR, and car2go locations and arrival times.
  • The new sharing economy, including ride-sharing services such as Lyft and Uber are growing quickly and will impact auto ownership and travel, and possibly transit ridership. Millennials are big users of these services.


Thank you to the conference steering committee, the local host committee, the hundreds of volunteers who helped plan the conference, and Rail-Volution CEO Dan Bartholomay and his planning team (now based in Minneapolis)!

We can't wait to continue the conversation when Rail-Volution travels to Dallas in 2015.

 

 Photos courtesy of Barb Thoman and Kerry Thomas.

Envisioning the Future of Franklin Avenue

09/26/2014

 

By Jennifer Harmening Thiede, Communications & Member Engagement Manager

 

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Last month, Transit for Livable Communities connected with hundreds of community members at Open Streets Minneapolis on Franklin Avenue E. The conversations we had at the event, which stretched from Portland to 28th Avenue, were a highlight of our summer.

Anyone who lives, works, and/or travels on Franklin knows what a diverse corridor it is. There are so many incredible businesses, organizations, and residents along this street. But, Franklin is also home to challenging traffic congestion, inadequate sidewalks, limited transit amenities, and the most dangerous intersection for bicyclists in Minneapolis. (From 2009 to 2013, 21 bike crashes occurred at the Franklin and Minnehaha/Cedar intersection, and the corridor as a whole has earned a reputation as a “danger zone” for people on bikes.)

In this context, we decided to use Open Streets as an opportunity to ask people about their vision for a better Franklin Avenue. What would make this part of the city more livable and more vibrant? What would make it easier and safer for people of all ages and abilities to get around? The idea grew out of a conversation with our allies at Hope Community, and the responses we got were amazing. Check it out!

 

 

The community voices captured in this video echo, and bring life to, the key recommendation from last fall’s BWTC-funded report on Franklin Avenue: that “the City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County place the highest priority on improving multimodal safety within the corridor.” While we can still dig deeper into the specifics of a potential solution, the call for a more transit-, bike-, and pedestrian-friendly Franklin Avenue is clear. What can you do about it?

  • Share this video! Here is a direct link.
  • Sign the latest Move MN petition. A win for this campaign will bring more dedicated, sustainable funding for walking, bicycling, and transit to communities throughout Minnesota.
  • Support the Bikeways for Everyone campaign’s efforts to improve bike facilities on Franklin Avenue and elsewhere in Minneapolis.

Thank you to everyone who shared their vision with us at Franklin Avenue Open Streets! And thanks to TLC’s videographer, Allison Osberg, for helping us carry that vision forward.

 

 

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