Thursday, May 20, 2010

ABQ Bike Planning Open House: Some Great Ideas

Yesterday (May 19, 2010), I attended a meeting that discussed Albuquerques long-term plan for bikeways, trailways and other non-automotive infrastructure improvements (ABQ Bike Map [PDF]).

The Albuquerque Bikeways and Trails Master Plan Update is a series of meeting that will be occurring throughout the next year. They will be a series of discussions about the future of Albuquerque's bike and trail network.

The meeting yesterday took place at a library (Erna Ferguson Library for all you Burqueños). The format of the meeting was really good. Instead of some city officials just telling the citizens what they were going to do with our tax dollars, there were a series of interactive workshops. These workshops were staffed by the members of the consulting group hired by City of Albuquerque, Gannett Fleming West Inc. This consulting firm has teamed up with another firm, Alta Planning and Design. The people associated with this group, based in Portland OR, seemed to really understand how to create a comprehensive bike and trail network.

I remember one of the consultants from Alta discussing Albuquerque's potential to be a world class bike city. He listed these reasons:
1. Mild year-round weather
2. Lots of sunshine
3. A consistent grid-based street system (at least in the Northeast Heights)
4. Relatively flat terrain
5. The current existence of some great bike network elements

I have to say, the plan they have is pretty good and comprehensive. If they could fast-track many of these projects, I could see the mode share of bikes increasing by a large amount.

However, this will only occur if there are incentives not to drive instituted as well. Currently, Albuquerque, like the vast majority of American cities, is filled with developments surrounded by large free parking lots. As the great Donald Shoup once said, "There is no such thing as free parking." We all pay the costs of an automobile oriented built society. These costs include high bike and pedestrian fatality rates and long distances between places.

Having great bike infrastructure is essential, but in some ways, good planning and land use should be far more crucial long term goals.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Land Use AND Transportation: The Importance of Understanding the Connection

Sometimes, when people discuss transit and transportation, they discuss the issues of transportation as if they were separate from land use policy and zoning. The truth is, these two things are linked very closely.

For example, if you wanted to walk or bike to the store from your house, would you be more likely to use these modes if there were many multilane roads/highways to cross to get there? What if a bus stop you needed to access was located on the other side of an interstate? How likely would you be to use these modes?

Good luck getting across this by foot or by bike.

If we do not start to realize the link between land use and transportation, we are in for a rude awakening when gas prices begin to rise again. Luckily, the Obama administration recently announced that there would be a partnership developed between HUD and DOT to build "sustainable communities".

Though I doubt any fully sustainable communities will be created in the very near future, this partnership is a great first step towards developing walkable, bikable livable communities. Lower income housing should also be more closely developed in conjunction with transportation. A recent study, the Housing and Transportation Affordability Index, showed that affordability of housing goes way down in exurban areas when the cost of transportation is added in. Data for the Albuquerque metro region is here, and data for the Tucson metro region is here.

This link has been documented for years, but having this great new interactive data set will allow people to see the link between land use and transportation more closely.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Power to the People: Take Power from the States and Give It to the CITIES!

Today, I came across this great article from the site Next American City.

The article basically discusses the problem with federal money being distributed to state governments:
Indeed, the strength of state governments in making transportation decisions is one of the primary culprits for the highway-dependent state of the American landscape, in addition to the federal urban renewal policies and Interstate Highway legislation that are more typically singled out for blame. This fact comes to the serious detriment of metropolitan areas, which lack the fiscal ability and legal right to make full decisions about their transportation futures.

Why does this occur?
That’s because the politics of almost every state are dominated by rural and suburban constituents, or, in other words: car drivers. The urban transit users, pedestrians, and bike riders are typically at the back of the pack when it comes to representation.

The author of the article, Yonah Freemark, calls on Washington to "stem that state power". However, he offers no alternative way for distributing federal money. He seems to be in favor of the Feds having more power in distributing the money.
This issue is also covering in this blog.

I agree with Mr. Freemark: urban areas should have far more power. Money should not even be funneled in to the Feds in the first place; more tax money should be staying within localities. The amount of money each locality has would be based on the amount of economic activity occurring in each given metro area. In the case of money being distributed from a Federal level, it should work the same way: the more valuable the metro area to the economy, the more money it gets.

However, since I am talking about this issue purely from a transportation standpoint, I can see many problems with money being distributed in this manner. Since everything is so road and highway oriented, how could anyone guarantee all the money would not just be used for building new highways?

One solution could be the idea of Federal matching of funds: the more money localities would contribute to non-road projects, the more money would be provided by the Feds for transportation.

Overall though, the main point:
The Feds can not just keep throwing money at states for whatever transportation projects they want. State governments will continue to prioritize road and highway projects because that is the popular thing to do in many jurisdictions (especially the rural ones).

Let the majority be represented. Give urban areas far more political power.

Update (5/8): Here is another blog that discusses this very issue. It suggests giving the power to MPO's (Metropolitan Planning Agencies). All metro areas with a population above 50,000 are required to have MPO's, so it makes sense to distribute federal money through these organizations. In Albuquerque, the MPO is MRCOG, and in Tucson the MPO is PAG.

These groups do a lot of regional transportation planning, so it makes a lot of sense to give these agencies more money, and power.

Update 5/12: Here is great article about the history of road funding. It discusses how the acceleration of the car based transportation system led to money being taken from local control and given over to state and federal control. This [PDF] is the longer article that this previously linked article was summarizing.

We MUST focus on getting our transportation money back to the local authorities. State leaders generally do not understand the idea of "sustainable transit". Metro regions do and they need the money now, more than ever, to invest in sustainable transportation options.