Transportation Policy: opinion

Browsing the innerwebs, our intrepid reporter found an article in the OC register that headlined: “Study finds young people driving less”.  Intrigued, the reporter read the article, and not satisfied with that, submitted the following informative about the study and its ramifications which we present part1 for your perusal.

Young People Are Driving Less – So what?
According to a study released this month by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund & Frontier Group called Transportation and the New Generation, young driving habits in this country are changing and transportation policies need to accommodate that change for present and future transportation plans.

Business as Usual? – Not so much.
Driven by powerful lobbyists representing oil, auto, and infrastructure industries, previous national and regional transportation plans called for much of the same “massive investments in new highway capacity on the assumption that driving will continue to increase at a rapid and steady pace” over the last 30 years.  However, the study notes 8 years (2001-2009) of  decreasing annual miles driven by 16 to 34 year olds thus reflecting a need to change the perspective of policy makers regarding transportation infrastructure decisions and funding practices.

The Threat to the Status Quo
Unfortunately in examining the report there is no mention of the actual or averaged population of 16 to 34 year olds. By omitting this number, the authors deprive us of accurate interpretation, so we are forced to conjecture the further implications and ramifications that were either missed by the authors, or not written about in the report.  While our research team tries to validate the actual population, we selected an extremely conservative range of numbers to illustrate the threat and impact to the status quo.

While deceasing annual miles driven sounds like a good thing (and it is), it is – in fact – a shot across to the bow to those that would prefer to continue “business as usual”.  Decreasing annual miles driven is a direct threat to the core of established interests because it removes a prime source of funding for those interests; and that is where the battle lies.

Consider the following hypothetical table:


From our hypothetical bar napkin analysis we offer a range of $360,000 to 2.8 million direct dollar loss from the 23% decrease in annual miles driven.  Please note that this is an imaginary illustration to drive home the point of the severity of working capital loss as a result of decreased miles driven.  Variables in our imaginary scenario are the actual gallons per mile (25), tax range per gallon of fuel, and the population range of drivers in the study.  The take home message is clear, transportation funding is taking a hit, and if current trends continue, even less money will be available for transportation infrastructure projects in the near and foreseeable future even as greater demands are placed on them.

Enter the Dragon
The reduction in tax revenue for funding transportation infrastructure means that the difference of projected revenue streams and actual realized revenue will have to come from “somewhere”.  The state will receive less from the feds, the county will receive less from the state, and cities will receive less from the county.
Where that “somewhere” is, is anyone’s guess.
According to the study: “From 2001 to 2009, young people (16-34 years old) who lived in households with incomes of over $70,000 per year increased their use of public transit by 100 percent, biking by 122 percent, and walking by 37 percent.”
Will the day come where people are equipped with federally mandated (but not paid for) gps locators and taxed according to distance traveled regardless (or in addition to) of the method employed?

A Glimmer of Hope

A recent review of the proposed final 2012-2035 Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) Executive Summary opens with the words: “Our Vision – Towards a Sustainable Future”.
Sustainable will (if it hasn’t already) become the “new” buzzword in local, regional, and national politics.  The opening continues with: “While mobility is a vital component of the quality of life that this region deserves, it is by no means the only component. SCAG has placed a greater emphasis than ever before on sustainability and integrated planning in the 2012–2035 Regional  Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy (RTP/SCS), whose vision encompasses three principles that collectively work as the key to our region’s future: mobility, economy, and sustainability.”   Wow, it’s almost official and in a good way!

With almost half of California’s population located in the area covered by the SCAG association (Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, Ventura and Imperial counties), it is encouraging to see an acknowledgement that growth must be moderated through intelligent planning with an eye towards reducing the negative impacts while promoting the positive.

What transportation method is most sustainable than a bike?
With raw materials used to make them at about 1/100th of a typical car (even less with bamboo), the ability to park 10-20 bikes in the space of 1 car’s parking spot in a bike corral, and with next to zero emissions (depending on rider and fuel ingested), there must be some mention of bikes in this report somewhere.

Indeed, clicking on “find” and entering “bike” in the search function reveals 2 hits in the report.

  1. Active Transportation $6.7 billion – Various Active Transportation Strategies
    Increase our bikeways from 4,315 miles to 10,122
    , bring significant amount of sidewalks into compliance with the
    Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), safety improvements, and various other strategies $6.7 billion
  2. Transportation Demand Management (TDM) $4.5 billion
    Other “first mile/last mile” strategies to allow travelers to easily connect to and from transit service at  their origin and destination. These strategies include the development of mobility hubs around major
    transit stations, the integration of bicycling and transit through folding-bikes-on-buses programs, triple  bike racks on buses, and dedicated racks on light and heavy rail vehicles.

This would be great if it applied only to the county of Orange, but it doesn’t – meaning that the OC has to compete for funding that may or may not exist in the future. While it is encouraging to see funding estimates for these two transportation methods, the first is comprised of 4 items of which two nebulously defined “safety improvements”, and “various other strategies” could suck funds away from the well defined bikeway increase and ADA compliance.  Parts of the second TDM strategy are already taking place here in the OC.  Metrolink has added the bike cars, OCTA has installed bike lockers, and some buses are proto-typing the triple rack designs as final standards are awaited from  Sacramento. Fullerton and the OCTA will be testing a bike share program starting with an initial 2 square mile area, while another was introduced in Los Angeles at the start of their 4th CicLAvia this past 15th by Mayor Villaraigosa who announced a $16 million bike sharing program for downtown L.A., Hollywood, Playa Del Rey, Westwood and Venice Beach. These bike share programs are part of the TDM strategy to resolve the first/ last mile commuter nightmare from transit endpoints to their destination.

OC developers take heed

As you seek to profit by removing the last remaining “undeveloped” or “renovating under served” areas of the county, the word sustainable must enter your lexicon and design plans.  Encourage alternate transportation use by locating near a train, bus line, or even better; a bikeway!  Instead of “iconic” empty structures whose function hides the landscape beyond, increase your ROI by  minimizing demands on municipal services by incorporating solar power and heat, site water reclamation, and the latest building technology and materials such as “percolating” asphalt to pave the parking lots of our decreasing autocentric (with the most disposable income) society.

And finally, please consider installing bike corrals and functional bike racks close to business entrances to attract the “new” demographic.  Your development will thrive and be in positive resonance with the zeitgeist of the current trends.  With reduced operating costs, (against probable increases over time from municipal services), your profit margins will widen as time marches on into the sustainable future.

To pull it all together, the study states: “The time has come for transportation policy to reflect the needs and desires of today’s Americans – not the worn-out conventional wisdom from days gone by.”

Personally I couldn’t agree more; I’m still waiting for my Jetson’s car with a bike-rack for my star scooter!

Don’t let the autocentric paradigm rob funding for a multi modal sustainable future!