APTA | Passenger Transport
October 25, 2010

In This Issue


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Connecting the Dots: Energy, Environment, Transportation, Housing, Sustainability; An Integrated Approach Holds the Key to Achieving Mobility Goals
BY SUSAN R. PAISNER, Senior Managing Editor

“We’re not just in the business of building rail systems.” With that, moderator Richard J. Simonetta, vice president and national director of high speed rail & special projects, URS Corporation, Columbus, OH, began an Annual Meeting session before a very full house.

The concept of how an increasingly integrated approach to planning will affect mobility goals in urban, suburban, and rural communities across America and shape upcoming legislation is, as Simonetta said, “a subject matter that embraces aspects of our transit industry that we don’t think of every day, but is so important.”

Emil Frankel, director of transportation policy for the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, DC, asked: “How can the power of the purse at the federal level be used to achieve this kind of comprehensive and integrated planning at the state and local levels?” He continued: “Transportation policy must go beyond capacity and mobility; societal goals must now become central to transportation issues, e.g., economic growth and climate change.”

Policy must be more performance-driven, he said, linked to clearly articulated goals, and more accountable for results. He urged that the “what” be articulated at the national level, leaving the “how” for state and local officials to determine. Frankel also said the emphasis should be on programs, not individual projects, with experts examining “how the various programs work together, along with the livability objectives of economic growth and safety.”

This approach requires “good planning—across modes, agencies, and jurisdictions,” Frankel said. “Do we, as a general matter, have this in this country? I would argue that, with the exception of some areas, we do not.”

After briefly discussing an array of federal partnerships (“We’re invigorating the ‘UD’ of HUD”), Kate Mattice, director of policy review and development for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), noted that “the administration is really committed to breaking down silos. Our theme is: when you build it right, you build it right the first time.”

She said, “We recognize that smart investments are the way to leverage local dollars.” She tied federal partnerships in with breaking down policy and statutory barriers: “It’s about coordinating program delivery—and sharing best practices.”

At the federal level, FTA specifically looks at targeted programs for livable communities, she noted, while at the local level, “we’re trying to make it easy for communities to leverage each other’s programs. Are there ways we can make communities think ‘neighborhood to neighborhood’ rather than a housing project here and a transportation project there?”

“We are trying,” Mattice said, “to help communities realize their vision.”

Mitch Warren, senior policy advisor to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, spoke about industry trends and issues, such as how members of the Millennial generation have fundamentally shifted where they live (to cities), and how traffic congestion will only get worse.

Echoing Mattice in terms of breaking down silos that prevent any connecting of the dots, he said: “It’s obvious that increased investment in transportation and transit-oriented development are essential to helping us meet these challenges in the future.”

Warren added: “We can ignore [these challenges] and stick our heads in the sand—or we can ensure that the next Congress is looking at energy, transportation, and housing issues. For our nation’s future, integrating these policies is what we need to do.”

Amy Scarton, counsel to the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, presented a series of rapid-fire questions: “What is livability? How can we define it in a way that allows transit providers and planners to better connect with Congress on this concept? If we are seeking to achieve it, what goals do we benchmark on ourselves to see that we reach it? If we put a definition to livability, does that allow us to be flexible?”

Scarton talked about draft authorization legislation from T&I Chairman James L. Oberstar (D-MN), including how the bill would more than double transit investment. “He wants to make it easier to get more money out the door so you can decide your livability agenda,” she said.

She also focused on whether the concept of livability has overcome partisanship. “Has the livability agenda accomplished a post-partisan stance?” she asked. If that stance has not yet been achieved, she said, there must be some “institutional, lasting reforms put in place now when we have an administration and Congress in favor of livability.”

James Corless, director of Transportation for America, Washington, DC, began with a PowerPoint presentation entitled “Livable Communities 101,” and he proceeded to present some basic elements of such communities. They should, he said, be “walkable, convenient, providing more choices, bottom up rather than top down, come in all shapes and sizes, involve the community and local businesses, and be inviting to a diverse demographic.”

Corless advised using 21st-century technology to illustrate plans. “Don’t do two-dimensional zoning maps,” he said. “If people can see it and how it shapes their future, this process can do so much to help shape their community.”

He quoted a survey from Building America’s Future showing that, “by a significant margin (56 percent), Americans say safer streets should be the primary objective of increased infrastructure investment. And 31 percent wanted more transportation options, with 16 percent of those responders making this a first choice.”

But more needs to be done. “Until we energize people much like Eisenhower did in the 1950s, we’re really going to have a hard time growing our federal transportation investment,” he said.

HDR Engineering Inc. sponsored this session.


Participants in the “Connecting the Dots” session include, from left, Emil Frankel, Kate Mattice, Mitch Warren, Amy Scarton, and James Corless.
Annual Meeting photos by Gary Perkins and Chantel Nasits

Ride for Life: Transit is Essential to Livability and Sustainability
Editor’s note:  In May 2010, APTA’s Legislative Committee adopted principles developed by the Intergovernmental Issues Subcommittee relating to livability and sustainability.  What follows are excerpts from those principles.

Public transportation provides mobility alternatives so that all members of a community may share access to key destinations and enjoy quality of life benefits. In 2009, people took more than 10.2 billion trips on public transportation, about 34 million trips each weekday.

Access and mobility—this is how transit connects the dots. It creates jobs and gets us to work every day. It contributes to the growth of a strong economy, as every $1 billion investment in public transportation supports 36,000 jobs and generates $4 billion in business activity. It carries us back and forth to school, shopping, community services and leisure activities. It connects key destinations and brings them into the larger community. In so doing, transit makes that larger community more livable and environmentally sustainable.

Therefore, our nation must:
* Place greater emphasis on transit in federal place-based policies and funding, especially as it concerns land-use decision-making that should aim to capitalize on existing transit systems;
* Allow existing transit services to be a priority for state of good repair funding; and
* Conserve and enhance existing transit infrastructure and invest, as appropriate, in expanding transit to improve connectivity and mobility among and between diverse communities.

The complete text of the livability and sustainability document is available online.

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