Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Active Transportation is Transformational!

This weekend Parade magazine had an article about Columbia, Missouri and how investments in Active Transportation are transforming how people get around town.

Columbia is one of the four pilot cities receiving federal funds for investments in non motorized transportation. The 2010 Active Transportation Campaign which is spearheaded by the Rails to Trails conservancy is working to bring this same kind of funding to many more communities in the country.

We developed the latest CRCOG Pedestrian/Bicycle Plan to position our region to be eligible for this funding.


Read about Columbia and dream about a transformed Hartford region!



Sandy Fry
Principal Transportation Planner
Capitol Region Council of Governments

Friday, September 25, 2009

Bond Commission Approves Funding for West Haven Station

Some Democratic legislators were a little bit cranky about it, but the Bond Commission, meeting for the first time since April, approved $103 million for the West Haven Train Station.

The crankiness seems justified. The legislature approved the project based on a Department of Transportation estimate half this big. ConnDot's original estimate to build the station was $49 million, a somewhat later estimate came in at $60 million. The spokesperson from ConnDOT said the agency is reworking how they estimate projects and assured the legislators the agency would do better in the future.

A quick Web search on the evolution of the project's plans came up empty. The Congress for the New Urbanism hosted a community charette on the project last year. At that time, plans were already well on underway. Were any of its recommendations included? There is this plan for the station, but is this what they're building?

Monday, September 21, 2009

DC Update from Smart Growth America

September 21, 2009

Senate Passes the FY2010 Transportation and Housing Spending Bill
LEGISLATION MOVES TO CONFERENCE COMMITTEE

After almost a week of debate over amendments, the Senate has approved its $122 billion FY 2010 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill by a vote of 73 to 25. The House approved its version of the bill on July 23 by a vote of 256-168. The discretionary funding levels in the bill vary just slightly between the Senate and House versions, with the Senate spending $67.7 billion and the House providing $68.8 billion. The most significant difference is over spending on high-speed rail and funding for a National Infrastructure Bank. The Administration has made it clear that funding for high-speed rail is a priority issue for them. The White House has sought $1 billion a year for high-speed rail over the next five years. Smart Growth America is supporting the higher level of funding for high speed rail included in the Senate bill.

These bills also include $150 million for HUD's new sustainable communities effort, which will largely help fund planning grants to communities and regions. HUD will be releasing a process for the structure and application of those grants sometime after final passage of the appropriations bill.

During the week prior to passage, Senate Republicans offered a number of amendments to the bill in an attempt to strip all earmarked funding. The failed amendments included an amendment from John McCain (R-AZ) to block funding for HUD's brownfields economic development program and an amendment from Tom Coburn (R-OK) to remove a requirement that states spend 10 percent of their highway and transit cash on transportation enhancement projects, such as pedestrian and bike paths, scenic and historic highway programs, and environmental mitigation (See the vote for the Coburn amendment).

The Senate did pass an amendment offered by Senator Wicker (R-MS) that requires Amtrak to allow passengers to transport their guns in their checked luggage or lose their funding if they fail to comply within 6 months. This language was adopted by a vote of 68-30.

The Senate and House conferees are expected to meet in the next few weeks to work out the differences between the bills. The version approved by the House does not include the amendment related to firearms on Amtrak.

Senate Begins Work on FY 2010 Interior-Environment Spending Bill
LEGISLATION INCLUDES FUNDING FOR EPA SMART GROWTH OFFICE

On Thursday, the Senate began debate on the FY 2010 Interior and Environment appropriations bill before completing the Transportation-HUD bill. Debate on amendments will continue on Monday with more votes scheduled for Tuesday. The bill includes $32.1 billion in discretionary spending, which is a $4.5 billion increase over 2009 levels, but slightly less than the $32.3 billion in the House-passed bill and $225 million less than requested by the Administration.

It includes $5.146 million for the EPA smart growth office, as requested by the Administration, and close to Smart Growth America's request for $6 million. Funding for the Smart Growth office is not expected to be targeted by amendments, but debate will be monitored.

Congress Expected to Address Transportation Authorization with Extension
SAFETEA-LU SET TO EXPIRE SEPTEMBER 30

Legislation to reform and fully fund the aging national surface transportation system has been placed on the backburner for much of the summer. House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN), who once spoke strongly against any delay, is now pushing for a 3-month extension. Three Senate bills that were approved by committees before the August recess have been consolidated into one. The bill, which would extend the current transportation law by 18 months and transfer $20 billion into the Highway Trust Fund, is expected to be brought to the floor this week.

Decisions on an extension will have to play out before the current law expires on September 30, 2009. Although many lawmakers are calling for quick action on this issue, history is not on their side. SAFETEA-LU was signed into law two years and 12 extensions after its predecessor was scheduled to expire.

Senate Climate Legislation Expected in the Coming Weeks
PRESSURE ON SENATORS NEEDED TO ENSURE FUNDING FOR TRANSPORTATION

Senator Boxer is expected to release the Senate's version of comprehensive climate legislation at the end of September. The House passed their version of the climate bill in June, which only allocates up to 1% for green transportation. Action is needed to ensure that the Senate bill dedicates more funding to support planning and green transportation, as in CLEAN-TEA which allocates 10% of funding for these purposes.

TAKE ACTION: Call and email Senator Dodd and Senator Leiberman today and ask them to tell Senator Boxer that significant funding for green transportation is needed to create jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, which makes up about 1/3 of emissions in the U.S.

Visit the SGA Advocacy Center for more information and talking points.

Comments on Housing Finance Authority's Allocation Plan

September 17, 2009
Ms. Delbe Speth, Manager
Tax Credit Programs, Connecticut Housing Finance Authority
999 West Street
Rocky Hill, CT 06067

Dear Ms. Speth:

1000 FRIENDS of Connecticut is the state’s preeminent smart growth education and advocacy organization. Affordable housing is a lynchpin of smart growth, and we are pleased to submit the following comments regarding the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority’s draft Qualified Allocation Plan.

We commend CHFA’s staff, executive leadership and board for expressing a commitment to responsible growth in the policy discussion of the QAP. We suggest that the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority be proactive and adopt the definition and principles of smart growth in the policy guidance. Public Act 09-230 requires the definition and principles become an integral part of the next iteration of the state’s Comprehensive Plan of Conservation and Development and the QAP maintains consistency with that plan.

The definition of smart growth and smart growth principles are as follows:

(1) "Smart growth" means economic, social and environmental development that (A) promotes, through financial and other incentives, economic competitiveness in the state while preserving natural resources, and (B) utilizes a collaborative approach to planning, decision-making and evaluation between and among all levels of government and the communities and the constituents they serve; and

(2) "Principles of smart growth" means standards and objectives that support and encourage smart growth when used to guide actions and decisions, including, but not limited to, standards and criteria for (A)integrated planning or investment that coordinates tax, transportation, housing, environmental and economic development policies at the state, regional and local level, (B) the reduction of reliance on the property tax by municipalities by creating efficiencies and coordination of services on the regional level while reducing interlocal competition for grand list growth, (C) the redevelopment of existing infrastructure and resources, including, but not limited to brownfields and historic places, (D) transportation choices that provide alternatives to automobiles, including rail, public transit, bikeways and walking, while reducing energy consumption, (E) the development or preservation of housing affordable to households of varying income in locations proximate to transportation or employment centers or locations compatible with smart growth, (F) concentrated, mixed-use, mixed income development proximate to transit nodes and civic, employment or cultural centers, and (G) the conservation and protection of natural resources by (i) preserving open space, water resources, farmland, environmentally sensitive areas and historic properties, and (ii) furthering energy efficiency.

On close analysis of the eligible points an applicant might earn, a discrepancy appears between what is articulated as a policy goal and how points accumulate. 1000 FRIENDS of Connecticut suggests the following modifications to incent affordable housing creation that better comports with smart, sustainable, responsible growth.
There are three areas in which 1000 FRIENDS of Connecticut suggests changes: first, transportation costs are second only to housing costs generally and, for many households, transportation costs actually exceed housing costs. The cost of transportation as a percentage of household income is highest among the lowest-income households. Transportation costs of people with access to transit are 25percent lower than for people who have no choice but to drive. Housing built in the wrong locations means driving is not a convenient alternative, but an expensive necessity. As the world in which we live becomes increasingly more carbon-constrained, there will be new costs associated with living in nontransit-accessible areas in the form of vehicle miles travelled taxes or carbon off-sets, etc. Creating incentives for affordable housing near transit saves low-income households money now and will save even more in the future. We suggest that applications that are within ½ mile of fixed route transit (bus rapid transit and passenger/commuter rail) be awarded General Class I priority status.

A key concept behind smart or responsible growth is creating balance between housing and jobs, yet the draft allocation plan gives no special consideration to housing built within walkable distances to employment centers. We recommend that D.2. be edited to add housing units within ½ mile of a major employer.

There is logical inconsistency in the point allocation of the Responsible Growth section. A site located within a 5-minute walk of a downtown area with a bank and a full-service grocery store should be assigned significantly more points than units within one mile of a rural community center which is likely to mean a now-empty post office, a Congregational Church and a former Grange Hall converted into a town office building. We recommend that D.9. be eliminated and D.2. be assigned 4 points.

One final general concern is the point allocation gives preference for low per-unit costs. This skews toward applications in places where the land values, site preparation and site security costs are low, and where there are no neighbors to request community benefits, etc. Point allocations for infill, brownfield remediation, historic preservation, building reuse, and community participation should be higher to clearly off-set the perceived preference for greenfield development.

1000 FRIENDS of Connecticut thanks you for your good work to house our low-income friends and stabilize our communities. We also thank you for the opportunity to comment and hope that you will make these changes to reinforce smart, sustainable, responsible growth in Connecticut.

Sincerely,

The Board and Staff of 1000 FRIENDS of Connecticut


Heidi Green, President

Friday, September 18, 2009

CT's Request for High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Funding

New Haven-Hartford-Springfield (NHHS) Line - Double tracking 8/24/2009 1A Installation of 10.5 miles of new track between Meriden and Berlin on the NHHS Line - Includes signal and grade crossing work. Provides double track segment extension in critical section of NHHS line to increase line capacity for designated HSP corridor.
Project Total $58,725,000 Federal $$ Requested $41,105,500

New Haven-Hartford-Springfield (NHHS) Line - Double tracking 8/24/2009 1B Preliminary Engineering and the NEPA documentation for double tracking the entire NHHS corridor. In conjunction with 1A application listed above. Includes other associated ROW work (signal, interlocking, grade crossing, bridge repair).
Project Total $9,300,000 Federal $$ Requested $9,300,000

New Haven Line (NHL) Signal and Positive Train Control (PTC) systems 8/24/2009 1B Preliminary Engineering and the NEPA documentation for designing new signal system (inlcluding PTC) on the NHL (part of the NEC). Existing signal system requires replacement. New signal system will increase capacity and MAS on NHL.
Project Total $13,483,582 Federal $$ Requested $13,483,582

Shore Line East (SLE) Stations - North side platforms, pedestrian overpasses, parking improvements (includes new Westbrook station) 8/24/2009 1B Completes preliminary engineering and NEPA documentation for this project (CT has previously committed state funds for this project). Currently, there are single-sided station platforms on the south side. Double-sided station platforms will reduce congestion.
Project Total $300,000 Federal $$ Requested $300,000

Reestablish 4th Track (Track 3) between New Haven and Devon on New Haven Line (NHL) 8/24/2009 1B Completes preliminary engineering and NEPA documentation for this project (CT has previously committed state funds for this project). Reestablishes 4-track NHL main line section on critical NEC segment to increase capacity and reduce congestioon.

Project Total Approx $600,000 Federal $$ Requested $600,000


Total CT $82,408,582 Federal Share $64,789,082

Monday, September 14, 2009

New Urbanists Work to Change International Fire Code

The Congress for the New Urbanism has proposed changes to the International Fire Code to give local fire officials greater flexibility in street design.

The September 2009 issue of the New Urban News reports the proposed changes have been developed jointly by new urbanists and fire marshals. They'll be debated at the International Code Council's Annual Conference & Code Development Hearings in Baltimore, MD on October 24 to 26th. To find out more about the event and the suggested code.

Smart growth & local elections

"Smart growth is just a euphemism for controlled, centralized planning by the apparatchiks of the Democratic Party and the permanent government. It's an elitist, centralized planning model that decides who gets to build.'' Chris Keating quoted Republican Party Chair Chris Healy on smart growth in his blog.

Smart Growth means putting the right development in the right places. It's good development, plain and simple, circumspect and outcomes-oriented. It seeks to benefit our economy, our environment and our society.

Members of your town committees will be out in force the next few weeks looking for your vote for the Board of Selectmen, Town Council, Mayor, Zoning Board, etc. Take time to educate them on the theory and practice of smart growth.

Ask for their commitment to, if elected, adopt plans, implement policies and prioritize investments to support smart, sustainable development in our towns & regions.

You got to hand it to Healy, his rhetoric is plenty entertaining. But what we need, given the challenges we face, is sensible, sober, smart growth.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

1000 Friends Requests Copy of Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy

September 16th DECD has posted the plan.

Govenor Rell's press release announcing the plan.
___________________________________________
September 4, 2009

Honorable M. Jodi Rell, Governor
Connecticut Office of the Governor
210 Capitol Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106

Dear Governor Rell:

I am writing to request a copy, under the Freedom of Information Act, of the approximately 600-page document sent by the Department of Economic and Community Development to the Office of the Governor to meet the July 1, 2009 deadline for submission of the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy referenced in Public Act 07-239 page 13 (11)(d). I also request copies of any communication between the Governor’s Office and the Department of Economic and Community Development pertaining to and subsequent to the Department’s submission.

Please send copies to me electronically at hegreen at 1000friends-ct dot org. Alternatively, I am happy to retrieve them from your staff. Please feel free to contact me on my cell phone at 203/715-3185. Thank you very much.
Sincerely,

Heidi Green, President
1000 FRIENDS of Connecticut

____________________________________________________________________________________

September 4, 2009

Ms. Joan McDonald, Commissioner
Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development
505 Hudson Street
Hartford, CT 06106

Dear Commissioner McDonald:

I am writing to request a copy, under the Freedom of Information Act, of the approximately 600-page document sent by the Department of Economic and Community Development to the Office of the Governor to meet the July 1, 2009 deadline for submission of the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy referenced in Public Act 07-239 page 13 (11)(d). I also request copies of any communication between the Governor’s Office and the Department of Economic and Community Development pertaining to and subsequent to the Department’s submission.

Please send copies to me electronically at hegreen@1000friends-ct.org. Alternatively, I am happy to retrieve them from your staff. Please feel free to contact me on my cell phone at 203/715-3185. Thank you very much.

Sincerely,

Heidi Green, President
1000 FRIENDS of Connecticut


CT's missing economic development strategic plan
CTNews Junkie article on the plan.
Commerce Committee Co-chair, Senator Gary LeBeau comments on the status of the
Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy

Mayor Dan Malloy comments on the status of the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy

DECD General Counsel sent an email response to 1000 Friends' request saying, "DECD has not yet submitted anything, and therefore does not have a document responsive to your request. Simply put, we are late." The email was sent September 11th at 2:26 PM.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Wining Suburban Redesigns

Reburbia announces the winners of its competition to redesign the suburbs!

The competition called for design solutions that would address the problems that plague present-day suburbia by envisioning different scenarios for the future. Proposals tackled McMansions, big box stores, strip malls, parking lots and more with design fixes ranging from community agriculture and algae-based biofuels to transplanted tract developments and zeppelin-based transit.

The competition drew 400 entries from more than a dozen countries, and while it was quite a challenge to narrow them down to twenty finalists, culling that list into just 4 winning entries proved almost impossible. In the end, there could only be one grand prize winner – read on to see the triumphant design!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Budget Follow Up

Governor Rell announced the end of the biennial budget battle. In an end-of-day press conference, she said she wouldn't sign the budget but she won't kill it either. In five days, it goes into effect. But, first, she nickeled and dimed a bit, using her line item veto to cut $8 Million of the $37 Billion in programs and services that managed to escape the chain saw of those seeking to clear-cut state government.

Until the budget implementer is approved, we won't know the full extent of the cuts to smart growth programs. We do know transit funding, regional planning organizations, housing programs, and Main Street programs all are impacted. We also know the Departments of Environmental Protection, Economic and Community Development and Transportation experienced significant losses of staff who chose to take early retirement.

The budget that passed will not propel the state forward through the economic downturn. It remains to be seen just how much sand the cuts and the debt it contains will throw into the gears of our recovery.

For today, please take time to thank the members of the House and Senate who voted for the budget. They protected us from deeper cuts. And they had the courage to infuse a little bit of much-needed progressivity into our state tax system.

If your Senator or Representative voted against the budget, please share your disappointment with them. The vote tally is here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Driving and the Built Environment

The long awaited TRB report "Driving and the Built Environment: The Effects of Compact Development on Motorized Travel, Energy Use, and CO2 Emissions" was released today.

About the TRB Report


We’re excited that TRB took on the important work of examining the contribution that development patterns play in climate change and our energy usage, concluding that ‘policies that support more compact, mixed-use development and reinforce its ability to reduce VMT, energy use, and CO2 emissions should be encouraged.’ Since nearly a third of greenhouse gas emissions and 70 percent of our oil use are from the transportation sector, we’re not going to be able to reach our climate and energy goals without reductions in vehicle miles traveled.

The report confirms what the dozens of studies before it showed, as well: that making our communities more walkable, connected, and with better transportation choices can make a significant dent in greenhouse gas emissions, oil usage, and vehicle miles traveled. And the report finds, as real world communities have, that the other benefits of moving to more smart growth-oriented development are significant: ‘More compact, mixed-use development should reduce some infrastructure costs, increase the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of public transit, and expand housing choices where compact developments are undersupplied. Other benefits include less conversion of agricultural and other environmentally fragile areas and greater opportunities for physical activity by facilitating the use of nonmotorized modes of travel, such as walking and bicycling.’

The report rightly concludes that increasing density levels in our communities isn’t the only answer, but that to best reduce vehicle miles traveled rates, we need a comprehensive solution. Research by University of Utah professor Reid Ewing, who reviewed more than 50 vehicle miles traveled studies for his book Growing Cooler made the same conclusion: residential and employment densities were actually less important as a determinant of VMT levels than other factors such as accessibility to jobs and other destinations. Additionally, having a mix of uses in communities (like housing near shops, etc.) and a well-designed street network with sidewalks are just as important as density levels to VMT reduction.

The important number in the report is the estimate that coupling more compact development with better street connectivity, public transportation improvements, and other complementary measures, would result in a 25 percent reduction in vehicle miles traveled. That type of reduction would have a comparable level of reduction in greenhouse gas emissions per increment of new development.

The Center for Clean Air Policy has done research showing that even with the progress we’ve made on fuel efficiency standards and low carbon fuels, a major factor driving the increasing levels of GHG emissions from the transportation sector are the inefficient, sprawling development patterns of many American communities. For example, the number of miles Americans drive has grown three times faster than the U.S. population since 1980. CCAP estimates that even with the higher fuel efficiency standards passed by Congress last year and a low carbon fuel standard implemented nationwide, projected vehicle miles traveled increases would still leave us far above our climate targets for the transportation sector by 2030.

The TRB report makes a conservative projection about the impact that development patterns can make on vehicle miles traveled and climate change emissions, but underestimates the popularity and potential of strategies to help people drive less, while accomplishing more in their daily lives. The average American spends 100 hours in their car every year just commuting to work alone, and spends nearly 20 percent of their household budget on transportation costs. Fifty percent of Americans lack access to regular, quality public transportation.

The report is right that change is never easy, but Americans are clamoring for more convenient, walkable neighborhoods that offer the opportunity to spend less time in their cars. A 2004 Survey by Smart Growth America and the National Association of Realtors showed that 6 in 10 prospective homebuyers chose walkable neighborhoods with less time spent driving. Transit ridership reached its highest level last year since the 1950’s. And with an aging population and more households without children, these trends towards living in places closer to downtowns and near public transportation, are only projected to increase in the future.

Finally, the report underestimates the data and real-world examples showing clearly that significant reductions in vehicle miles traveled result from better designed, more walkable communities with real transportation choices. More than 200 studies have been conducted in recent years on the connection between development patterns and vehicle miles traveled, and there are examples around the country of communities that have seen reductions in VMT, greenhouse gas emissions, and oil usage due to better community design. Here’s just a sampling:



· Portland has a 20 percent lower vehicle miles traveled per capita, due to its investment in walkable, compact neighborhoods and public transportation choices. At the same time, the city saves thee equivalent of $2.6 billion annually in gasoline and time because of these measures, according to a CEOs for Cities report.



· In Georgia, the Atlantic Station redevelopment project in Atlanta has 30 percent lower driving rates compared to surrounding developments.



· A Seattle study found that households located in the most interconnected areas of the city generated less than half the VMT of households located in the least-connected areas of the region, holding true after adjusting for household size, income, and vehicle ownership.



· A study in the Bay Area of California by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission found that for people who both live and work within a half-mile of a rail or ferry stop, 42 percent commute by transit. For those who neither work nor live near these transit stations, only 4 percent commute by transit.



· The Center for Neighborhood Technology has an analysis of the CO2 levels per acre and household for 55 regions. Looking at the CO2 per household figures for each of the regions clearly shows the dramatic difference between center cities and out-lying suburbs, due to increasing amounts of auto travel: http://htaindex.cnt.org



Additional critiques of the study

The study’s more ‘moderate’ scenarios, which estimate reductions of only 5-12 percent less driving in more compact development, are out of touch with the reality of how much less people drive in areas that are smart growth oriented, versus business as usual development. The study itself estimates that the average reductions that are possible through smart growth development is a reduction of 25 percent, and Growing Cooler (based on a meta-analysis of dozens of VMT studies) found an average of 20-40 percent VMT reductions in smart growth versus typical sprawl developments.


**********************************
Kate Rube
Policy Director

Budget Passes

The House and Senate passed the biennial budget last night. A quick review offers some, though little comfort. Municipalities fared generally better than had been expected, so the property tax impact will be smaller than we'd feared. Still the budget does little to address the structural deficit so we can look forward to an even more difficult budgeting process in 2012.

The budget bill and the vote tally for both the House and Senate are online.

An analysis of the bill is also available.