The 2014 Transportation Agenda
As 2014 gets under way, many of the country's largest cities are transitioning into new leadership. New mayors such as those of New York, Boston, Detroit, Cincinnati, Charlotte, Minneapolis, Seattle, Los Angeles, and Pittsburgh are coming in amidst renewed understanding of the role, power, and influence of metropolitan regions. In their own way, each new mayor seeks to position his or her city as a hotbed of innovation in economic development, customer service, administration, finance, operations, housing, education, neighborhood regeneration, infrastructure, and public safety. And while expectations for these cities have never been so high, the fiscal fragility of cities has never been so real. Portfolios of expenditures, liabilities, and subsidies have been exposed by insufficient revenues and poor performing investments on Wall Street and main street. As a result, these new mayors must be creative and practical in guiding their cities through their first terms.
One of the areas that these new mayors share a focus is transportation and regional connectivity. Where past administrations may have focused on highway spending, new interchanges, road widening, and bold rail projects, new leaders are going to be operating under a new reality that will have to do more with less. Efforts are going to be both tactical and visionary. When sewn together, they will lead to big structural changes. Pittsburgh is an excellent case-in-point. With a bond rating that is just coming out of junk status, the city has been building a brand of smarter spending within a number of constraints. It’s surely made its own mistakes but Pittsburgh’s transportation and regional connectivity agenda moving forward is clear, much of which could be applicable in other cities:
A 21st-Century city is a service-rich one that gives choice and redundancy to transportation options to offer a robust, interconnected system of mobility. The region boasts a number of existing services that interconnect people and goods but there is a host of other service providers and technologies that we can foster here.
- Partner with regional bus services such as Megabus, Boltbus, Chinatown, and Greyhound Express to better tie the region together;
- Work with airlines to expand services to secure new Southwest routes (such as a new New York La Guardia option), build renewed relationship with American Airlines (It just merged with US Air and will likely be evaluating routes to and from PIT), and pursue new partnerships with airlines such as Emirates and Etihad that are in massive expansion mode and could bring a Dubai or Abu Dhabi connection (the “energy connection”);
- Work with Amtrak to expand and improve services to DC, NYC, Philadelphia, and Chicago;
- Expand taxi services and make loading zones convertible to taxi stands in neighborhood centers. Examples of services that we can bring and grow in Pittsburgh are Uber, Instant Cab, and by legitimizing existing and potentially new jitney services;
- Find ways to permit ride-share by either growing our own service with CMU or inviting Lyft or Sidecar to partner;
- Expand car-share to be more inclusive of other services such as Zipcar (already in place), Car2Go (Point-to-point service provided by Daimler), and Sixt (provided by BMW); and
- Implement the planned bike-share program, focusing on “last mile” routes, significant point-to-point nodes, and commuter origins and destinations.
Pittsburgh and the region have an enormous legacy of infrastructure development that supports regional mobility. But we are also starting to realize the life-cycle costs of this system coupled with the unintended consequences of building car-scaled infrastructure and development rather than robust, livable places.
- Adopt a “fix-it-first” policy that gives maintenance and incremental upgrade priority to what are or easily could be walkable and bike-able streets;
- Expand bike lane and bike infrastructure network. For example, plug into and expand the Heritage River Trail network, install 5th Avenue and Bigelow Bike Boulevards, build a direct Oakland to Downtown connection, and ensure that every neighborhood core has at least one bike rack in an on-street parking space;
- Pursue a “no new lanes" policy for city's highways and interstates and redirect expansion funding to maintenance and mode alternative development;
- Do not try and "right-size” city but, rather, right size streets (by using, for instance, the Right-Sizing Streets resources from Project for Public Spaces);
- Find creative ways to make use of excess airport capacity (in addition to simply drilling the land for natural gas);
- Work with Tree and Grow Pittsburgh to organize a Great Streets Program to restore the urban landscapes that have been lost over the years along significant streets and boulevards; and
- Create a comprehensive maintenance plan for sidewalks, paving, landscape and bridges.
Pittsburgh boasts one of the highest percentages of employees who get to work via transit and is rapidly becoming a city where living without a car is possible. But there remain challenges and opportunities for expanding and improving transit service in the region that maximize existing resources and position transit as a viable option for getting around the region.
- Work with the Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAAC) to expand point-to-point service, increase service and reduce headways at peak times along commuter routes, reduce fares (we have the highest in nation and diminishing levels of service), permit online farecard charging, discontinue audio advertising and noise pollution to improve rider experience, leverage bus GPS to give universal real-time location information at key stations and on mobile devices, secure sustainable funding stream from federal, state, and local sources, revise goals and routing for 28x to provide 20 minute, non-stop Downtown-to-airport express, explore developing a Downtown circulator to reduce number of buses, explore Downtown hub for regional buses (such as under the Convention Center), implement technologies to reduce bus emissions, and work with drivers union and operators to find other low hanging fruit to improve services within existing resources;
- Study phasing out school bussing, work with PAAC to develop child-friendly routes and services, and work with public works and public schools to ensure safe, walkable/bikeable routes to school. Use freed-up bus spending resources to fund public school improvements; and
- Provide a Guaranteed Ride Home service at certain transit stops.
4. Development and Land Use
Development shapes transportation needs and transportation design influences development. The two must work hand-in-hand.
- Work with surrounding communities to focus growth in and around existing infrastructure and transit services;
- Balance jobs and housing within city and region;
- Map location-efficient housing and employment in order to work with PNC and other lenders to factor full cost of living (housing + transportation) into lending practices, and target divesture of city-owned and tax delinquent lands around transit-rich nodes;
- Create transit-oriented zoning overlay along existing and proposed transit lines (see forthcoming DesignPGH);
- Remove barriers for neighborhoods to offer full range of daily needs, services, and employment to reduce need to get in car and leave the neighborhood; and
- Make easier the development of accessory alley housing to double the amount of street-frontage that can readily accept residential development and maintain affordable housing options in prime neighborhoods. In commercial districts, encourage temporary closing of alleys for events, dining, and other types of programming.
5. Energy, Health and the Environment
The Pittsburgh region has the twin legacy of outsized air pollution loads and being a leader in health care. What is more, Pittsburgh is widely considered one of the most walkable cities in North America. As such, we have the opportunity to be a leader in leveraging all three to address multiple goals.
- Make Pittsburgh the international center for the study of environmental health and walkable cities by partnering with Highmark, UPMC, CDC, NIH, AARP, and others to funnel research, awareness, and development funds to the linking of urban form and human health. We should unveil this program at the 2014 Pro Walk/Pro Bike Conference in Pittsburgh;
- Set clear transportation-born pollution caps and air quality targets; and
- Set coal reduction measures to reduce barging loads on rivers and truck loads on highways with the ultimate goal of finding a way to get Pittsburgh off coal.
6. Design, Management, Programming and Administration
How our transportation system is developed and managed is central to its efficiency, sustainability, and ultimate success.
- Review policies and goals in MOVEPGH that is nearing completion and identify project and policy priorities;
- Review outcomes and tools from TRAFFIC 21 and determine what is scalable and makes sense in a pedestrian/bike first, car second world;
- Reform parking policies such that no parking minimums exist for any development, parking is decoupled from commercial and residential leases, developments are taxed yearly on number of parking spaces provided (and credited for removal), a portion of parking revenues in neighborhood centers are dedicated to the district that the parking is located in, the total number parking spaces permitted to be built downtown is capped, the residential parking permit program is more user friendly and resident friendly, on-street parking is dynamically priced to always have one or two spots open on every commercial block face, and surface lots are effectively screened and can be effectively programmed for uses other than parking;
- Set clear trip reduction goals and polices;
- Set clear, acceptable congestion levels;
- Work with state to get back more control of state and local roads within City limits by adopting NACTO Urban Street Design Guide to replace state and federal regulations (have the courage to do this even if it causes us to temporarily lose funding from state and federal sources) and locally calibrating these standards via the MOVEPGH Street Design Manual that is nearing completion;
- Pursue an infrastructure investment model that accounts for full cost-benefit over the life cycle of a structure and indexes the ability for infrastructure create livable, economic development (rather than destroy it);
- Work with public safety agencies to incrementally reduce service vehicle size and energy use at point of vehicle replacement;
- Increase the number of bike cops in each neighborhood;
- Continue to grow "open bridges” program that temporarily shuts down bridges from cars for festivals and other open streets programming;
- Program city or regional Open Streets event such as a Wilkinsburg to Downtown along Penn Avenue; and
- Explore additional potential funding sources such as the new 2014 State Transportation Bill's multi-modal funding program, finding opportunities with the Bloomberg Philanthropies, the legitimate inclusion of livable transportation funding as part of the Regional Asset District, installing intersection cameras with automatic fining, working with Allegheny County to opt in to additional vehicle registration fee made possible by the 2014 State Transportation Bill, working with regional communities and county to tax drivers by distance of commute (or explore ton-mile program) to reduce property and/or state gasoline taxes, finding ways that the City/State is subsidizing or encouraging youth drivers licenses and defund those subsidies, and by implementing a "Saudi Arabia to Pittsburgh" Program (to complement the Paris to Pittsburgh program) by working with the State to tax foreign crude and refining and to use those proceeds to fund and deploy local energy research and development options.
Many of these initiatives can be pursued and implemented in the first hundred days of office. They are sensible options that can yield enormous benefits. Other actions will take longer and involve the building of partnerships. Very few, aside from maintenance, are capital-intensive and rely on squeezing more out of what we have already built. The cities that can most effectively do so will be in a great position to ring in the new year, and their respective mayor's new administrations, with much success.
We look forward to another year helping the places we love adapt, grow and prosper. Happy New Years!