Monday, March 28, 2011
Monday, March 21, 2011
LD 673, An Act To Expand Fiscally Responsible Transportation through Increased ZOOM Bus Service, is a bill that would establish new express commuter bus services to serve downtown areas along the Maine Turnpike corridor - an important step towards building more sustainable communities, reducing transportation costs for governments and households alike, and reducing Maine's reliance on oil.
We'll be arranging carpools - RSVP on Facebook if you'd like a ride from Portland or Lewiston. Come tell our lawmakers that Maine needs this bill to pass this year!
Friday, March 18, 2011
- Almere (The Netherlands): "North Americans try hard to do 'transit-oriented development,' (TOD) but the Dutch are doing it on a massive scale. Even more heretically, they do it with buses! All of Almere is transit-oriented, and the transit is all in the form of busways," writes transit planning consultant Jarrett Walker.
- Pittsburgh: "Faced with a long, slender five-acre parcel of land between Centre Avenue and the East Busway, the project needed to encourage tenants to come to the neighborhood without turning it into a suburbanized desert of parking," from a review of a new bus-oriented retail development in the Pittsburgh City Paper.
- Bogota, Colombia: "Analysis across time reflects slight average annual increases in property values correlated with the implementation of the [Transmileno Bus Rapid Transit] system."
Thursday, March 17, 2011
As reported in a story in today's Lewiston Sun-Journal, the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments is wrapping up a feasibility study for extending Amtrak service to the edge of Auburn - and potentially on through western Maine to Montreal. Here's a link to the public presentation the study team made the other night.
Establishing regular rail service between Auburn and Portland in 2020 could cost up to $234 million to start and could require an $8 million annual subsidy, according to a new study presented Wednesday night.That figure is expressed in 2020 dollars - which, adjusted for inflation, amount to roughly $180 million in startup costs and a $6.1 million annual operating budget in today's dollars (assuming an average annual inflation rate of 3%). Putting the costs in 2011 dollars makes for easier comparisons to other Amtrak projects, like the expansion to Brunswick (which cost about $35 million). But by expressing the costs in future terms, the study's authors are already acknowledging that the money (in 2011 dollars) doesn't exist to make this happen.
- Don't rely on Washington or Augusta - local funding will be crucial to bringing Amtrak to L/A, and these cities could afford it, if they only started spending less money on parking garages and highway interchanges. Lewiston, in particular, has gone on a parking building binge in the past decade, spending tens of millions of dollars in local tax dollars to subsidize car travel. Auburn's about to build an expensive white elephant parking garage of their own. And both cities are pursuing big-ticket roadway expansions.
The costs of all these automotive subsidies rival the costs of the proposed Amtrak expansion. Not only is this diverting money from transit improvements; it's also undermining the demand for transit down the road, by filling up downtown real estate with acres of car-storage units instead of with transit-oriented housing and workplaces.
- But you can't have new housing and workplaces unless you're able to bring more people into downtown L/A, so start cultivating transit-oriented development now with a low-cost intercity bus service between Portland, L/A, and Augusta. That will bring new workers, businesses, and households into L/A's affordable downtown districts, raise property values, encourage new investment, and create a stronger customer base for when the cities are finally ready to invest in rail.
Friday, March 11, 2011
Today's Portland Press Herald editorial page goes to bat twice in favor of transportation policy reform:
Portland is one of the rare urban centers where people can get around almost as well without a car as with one...But that doesn't mean that the city has it all worked out. There are gaps in the system, where sidewalks and bike lanes suddenly disappear, leaving pedestrians and cyclists dangerously exposed. There are also gaps in the behavior of people, both on the street and behind the wheel, who break the rules of the road, creating unnecessary danger...Everyone in the city has an interest in making this work. Walkers and cyclists reduce congestion, demand for parking and air pollution. Good facilities help people save money and promote healthy living.But as gas prices climb, more people will leave their cars at home, so it's important to fill these gaps now.
The resignation of longtime Maine Turnpike Authority Executive Director Paul Violette has led to some fast-paced scrambling by the agency's board of directors...In the end, public anger and calls for legislative action were not just about gift cards, but about what those expenditures represent, which is a political organization that has been allowed to exist outside the checks and balances of government.Violette used to refer to his organization as a business, which it resembled when it borrowed money on Wall Street to finance projects. But at the same time, the Maine Turnpike provides an essential public service and manages a resource, in the form of tolls collected from tourists and trucking companies, in which the entire state has an interest.Reshuffling the responsibilities of a board that meets one day a month for less than two hours at a time is not enough oversight for an organization that collects $99 million in toll revenue each year.The fact that its revenue does not come directly from the taxpayers does not make the Maine Turnpike a private business. If the board has been lax in its oversight of staff expenditures, the same can be said of past Legislatures, which have not adequately asserted their duty to raise questions about how the MTA is run and how it fits with other state priorities.Republican lawmakers have called for a top-to-bottom review of the MTA and raised fundamental questions about the management structure of the Maine Turnpike Authority and its recent inability to turn over any operating surplus to the state to defray other transportation costs.The MTA board's scrambling is understandable and probably overdue. But it is not a substitute for a serious legislative inquiry.
The Maine Alliance for Sustainable Transportation (of which I'm a part) is working on promising legislation that would address a number of these issues, by requiring the Turnpike Authority to provide a regional commuter bus system and to help fund basic road maintenance and repair throughout the rest of the state, before it takes on any of its more expensive widening projects.
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
At the beginning of this month, New Hampshire's C&J Trailways started offering direct service from Durham and Portsmouth to midtown Manhattan in a five-hour daily trip. The buses will be equipped with extra legroom, and travelers will shave 30 minutes off their trip by not having to transfer buses in downtown Boston, as was previously required for a bus trip to New York.
Monday, March 7, 2011
Maine's Republican party announced over the weekend that Paul Violette, the buck-stops-here Authority in charge of Maine's Turnpork highway spending, has cleaned out his desk and resigned:
Word is coming out of the State House today that Paul Violette will step down next week. Violette was grilled recently by the OPEGA committee about his seemingly indiscriminate distribution of over $150,000 in gift certificates, including over $100,000 in gift cards to luxury hotel chains. Violette claimed he had no record of who the gift cards went to, and claimed that the use of turnpike funds for luxury gifts was an acceptable practice.This is good news. Regime change is just what we needed to turn the Maine Turnpork Authority into something more respectable - an agency that takes responsibility for moving Maine's people and goods efficiently and cost-effectively, instead of lining its own pockets.
"Maine Republicans have been trying to get to the bottom of this kind of nonsense for years," said Maine GOP Chair Charlie Webster. "Now that we're in control of state government, we're finally seeing some results. We can't rebuild our economy without weeding out the cronyism and waste that has become pervasive throughout state government. Quite simply, we need to drain the swamp in Augusta.