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As you read this, congress is working to put together a $800 Billion+ Stimulus package to revive the nation’s economy.  As JM noted earlier this week, the stimulus is more of the same bureaucratic stupidity we’ve all grown accustomed to - tax incentives for vehicle purchases, at least $30 Billion for Highways, and a paltry $12 Billion for real transit.  Apparently some senators believe the transit allocation isn’t small enough and are trying to raid the transit allocations for increased highway spending.  Apparently our senators have a short memory - already forgetting the woes of this past summer when our gasoline powered economy began to crumble under $4+ gas prices.

Together with T4America, we urge our readers to contact their US senators and let them know that this is unacceptable.  Click here to find your Senator’s email address.   Follow this link or the link on our new sidebar ->

Via Greater Greater Washington:

According to the memo, they hope to cut $3.4 billion from public transit, but at the same time, are adding in more money for “additional transportation funding.” Presumably, if they’re cutting transit, that additional funding would go to roads. (It might be airports, I suppose, but I doubt it.)

They’re also cutting such items as Head Start, food stamps, child nutrition, firefighters, COPS hiring, NASA, and the CDC, while adding funding for defense operations and procurement.

The Senators reportedly in the room are Ben Nelson (D-NE), Mark Begich (D-AK), Tom Carper (D-DE), John Tester (D-MT), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Evan Bayh (D-IN), Jim Webb (D-VA), Mark Warner (D-VA), Michael Bennett (D-CO), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Mark Udall (D-CO), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Susan Collins (R-ME), Arlen Specter (R-PA), Mel Martinez (R-FL), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and George Voinovich (R-OH). We don’t know if all of them support these cuts or not (Carper is a big rail advocate, for example).

It gets worse.  Earlier today, the U.S. Senate voted to accept, by a vote of 73-24, an amendment offered by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) which states, “None of the amounts appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, swimming pool, stadium, community park, museum, theater, art center, and highway beautification project.”

Update: Via Bike Portland:

Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) introduced an amendment last night that would prohibit funding of “bicycle routes” and paths from the economic stimulus package that’s working its way through Capitol Hill right now.

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Last week, Transportation for America officially launched their plan to improve our nation’s infrastructure, reshape our economy, and wean Americans off foreign oil.  T4America is a grassroots network composed housing, environmental, public health, urban planning, transportation and other organizations.  Transit Miami will be actively working with T4America over the coming months to bring you the latest news from the congressional front lines.  Together with T4America, we can make a substantial change on national (and Local) transportation infrastructure policy.  We are committed to enacting sweeping changes in the upcoming 2009 Transportation Equity Act (TEA), a long-held bastion for highway lobbyists and insiders.

T4America’s 5 Step Plan:

BUILD TO COMPETE – We must catch and pass competitors in China and Europe, by modernizing and expanding our rail and transit networks to reduce oil dependence and connecting the metro regions that are the engines of the modern economy.

INVEST FOR A CLEAN, GREEN RECOVERY – Our nation’s clean-energy future will require cleaner vehicles and new fuels, but it also must include support for the cleanest forms of transportation – modern public transit, walking and biking – and for energy-efficient, sustainable development.

FIX WHAT’S BROKEN – Before building new roads, that will themselves have to be maintained, we must restore our crumbling highways, bridges and transit systems.

STOP WASTEFUL SPENDING – Re-evaluate projects currently in the pipeline to eliminate those with little economic return, that could deepen, rather than relieve, our oil dependence.

SAVE AMERICANS MONEY – Provide more travel and housing options that are affordable and efficient, while helping people to avoid high gas costs and traffic congestion. Save taxpayer dollars by asking the private developers who reap real estate rewards from new rail stations and transit lines to contribute toward that service.

Have you heard about this act that is about to get voted on in the Senate this Thursday or Friday? It seems like a good thing for those of us using alternative transportation. There’s a tax credit for plug-in “electric drive” vehicles, among other energy related rebates. My favorite is the bicycle commuter tax benefit that gives benefits for those who commute by bicycle.

For more information and to contact your Senator with a simple form, head over to the League of American Bicyclists’ Advocacy Center. You can also read the seven page PDF summary of the bill at the Senate’s website. If you want to see a small step to encourage more to commute by bicycle, then I suggest you contact your Senator now. I just did.

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This information comes direct to us from The Overhead Wire, whose author was kind enough to e-mail us regarding this critical situation. Here is what’s going on with our lawmakers:

The Federal Transit Administration(FTA) has issued a notice of proposed rule making (NPRM) for the New and Small Starts program that provides funding for major fixed guide way capital projects such as Light Rail, Heavy Rail, and Bus Rapid Transit. The proposed rules are alarming on a number of levels. Most notably in that they downgrade the importance of land use and economic development despite congressional direction to the contrary, and they propose to redefine the definition of fixed-guide way to include transit funding for highway lanes that use tolling schemes.

The fiscal year 2008 appropriations bill moving through congress is an opportunity to formally weigh in and stop or alter the proposed FTA rule. If finalized, the new rule making policy will hamper the ability to build new transit lines for the next 5 years!!!

Why is this important? Because some of FTA’S proposed rules would entrench policy issues advocated by folks from the libertarian Reason Foundation and the O’Toole/Cox cabal. The proposed rule ignores current transportation law regarding required project justification criteria and adds new Federal intervention into the local decision making process.

More issues With the new rules after the jump:

1. It would allow High Occupancy Toll lanes to qualify for New Starts funding -

This would diminish the ability of cities to get funding from an already crowded grant program. HOT Lanes qualify for funding from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and we all know there is a lot of funding there. Over 300 New Starts Projects(Light Rail, Heavy Rail, Commuter Rail, Bus Rapid Transit)were authorized by the SAFETEA LU transportation bill and the argument by the FTA as to why they have such an intensive scrutiny of proposals is because of the high demand for limited funding. Adding High Occupancy Toll freeway lanes to the list of eligible projects further strains the ability to fund new transit projects.

2. It would make the dreaded cost effectiveness INDEX the primary factor in deciding the fate of funding for New Starts projects -

This is the same measure that is killing the Tyson’s Corner Metro extension and has killed light rail plans in Columbus Ohio. Almost every city that is looking to build new transit projects is worried about this measure, and now its being made even stronger. This measure is the reason why Minneapolis‘ Central Corridor light rail project might not be able to tunnel under The University of Minn and the reason why locally backed expansion of light rail is now BRT in Houston.

3. The rule making pushes cheap not completely dedicated guide way bus projects -

The irony of the cost effectiveness index is that in reality, it fails to capture the full benefits and cost effectiveness of a project. The index evaluates the cost effectiveness of a light rail project versus corridor improvements such as bus rapid transit or improved local bus service. What this does is force cities to choose bus rapid transit projects over citizen -backed light rail projects that may have greater community benefits but also a higher initial price tag. Also, the measurements for the Very Small Starts program are set using the Southtown rapid bus project in Kansas City and not rail or fixed guide way BRT projects such as the Orange Line.

4. The importance of Land Use and Economic Development measures are reduced or ignored by the FTA -

Congress elevated land use and added economic development as project justification criteria in SAFETEA-LU. The US Department of Transportation (DOT), however, ignores this and has combined them into one measure with a combined weight of 20% in the overall rating process. The FTA states that it is too costly to implement the economic development measure but the cost and burden to grantees such as cities and transit agencies is not considered when local jurisdictions are required to adopt the FTA’s travel demand models which have many issues. The fact that they use those models to determine the Cost Effectiveness rating which decides who gets funding is a problem in itself as it can’t address all the benefits of fixed guide way transit. Furthermore, FTA argues that is too difficult to separate land use from economic development and that the increase in property values associated with proximity to transit is merely a result of improved time savings alone. I’m sure many zoning offices and developers would be surprised to have it categorized so simplistically.

5. Could lower ratings for cities who are trying to address future rather than current congestion issues -

The FTA would like to measure the New Starts program by the benefits to highway users but ignores the idea of induced demand which means when you build a new transit project, the space from cars that are taken off the road by transit is filled by new cars. The want for transit opponents to push money from the transit program into congestion pricing schemes and not so rapid bus projects would result in less useful transit projects in corridors that might have real future need.

Contact Your Congressman or Senators
-Ask them to stop the proposed rule and give the Department of Transportation a clear directive that the FTA Must:

1. Comparably wight all 6 project justification criteria(including: Environmental Benefits, Land Use, Economic Development, Mobility Improvements, etc) recognizing the importance of transit-supportive land use and economic development to fostering successful and sustainable projects rather than just the cost of the project.
2. Maintain the current definition of Fixed-Guide way transit
3. STOP RAIDING THE TRANSIT PROGRAM FOR ROAD PRICING SCHEMES

Republican Patrick McHenry, an ignoramus congressman from North Carolina is attempting to hamper efforts of other congressman who are writing a provision to encourage increase bicycle use. Apparently McHenry openly opposes the paltry $1 million proposition yet he openly favors wasting Billions more in Iraq, you know, “fighting the war on terror…”

The U.S. infrastructure is falling apart McHenry, quit wasting our money building a new one in Iraq…Bikes aren’t a solution, but, they are part of the puzzle…Here is an e-mail I received word for word from a loyal TM reader:

Last Saturday the House of Representatives passed Energy Independence legislation that amends a section of the IRS code to include “bicycles” in the definition of transportation covered by the qualified transportation fringe benefit.

Introduced earlier this year by Congressman Earl Blumenauer as H.R. 1498, the provision calls for a $20 monthly benefit for riding a bike to work.

However, according to Blumenauer, even this modest amount sparked some heated opposition — even ridicule — from other House lawmakers.

Patrick McHenry, a republican from North Carolina stood alongside the poster above and said bicycles were an “antiquated” solution to our energy crisis. He posted the video of his speech on his website with the title, “Congressman McHenry Slams Democrats’ Antiquated Energy Plan.”

Here are excerpts from his statement on the House floor:

“A major component of the Democrats’ energy legislation and the Democrats’ answer to our energy crisis is, hold on, wait one minute, wait one minute, it is promoting the use of the bicycle.

Oh, I cannot make this stuff up. Yes, the American people have heard this. Their answer to our fuel crisis, the crisis at the pumps, is: Ride a bike.

Democrats believe that using taxpayer funds in this bill to the tune of $1 million a year should be devoted to the principle of: “Save energy, ride a bike.”

Some might argue that depending on bicycles to solve our energy crisis is naive, perhaps ridiculous. Some might even say Congress should use this energy legislation to create new energy, bring new nuclear power plants on line, use clean coal technology, energy exploration, but no, no.

They want to tell the American people, stop driving, ride a bike. This is absolutely amazing.

Apparently, the Democrats believe that the miracle on two wheels that we know as a bicycle will end our dependence on foreign oil. I cannot make this stuff up. It is absolutely amazing.

Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the Democrats, promoting 19th century solutions to 21st century problems. If you don’t like it, ride a bike. If you don’t like the price at the pumps, ride a bike.

Stay tuned for the next big idea for the Democrats: Improving energy efficiency by the horse and buggy.”

Twice a week or so, I like to scan through the blogroll to see what is going on on the other transit/development blogs around the nation. Here are some articles worth reading:

Tropolism:
The Guggenheim is cracking, its 12 layers of paint are chipping off and a new computer simulated model is here to show us what the facade really looks like.CitySkip:
The new era of Reality TV? Voyeurism, of course. The new HBO Voyeur program can be found here
Streetsblog:
The effects of London’s Congestion pricing:
  • In 2006, around 70,000 fewer vehicles entered the same area each day.
  • Before charging began, some 334,000 vehicles entered the original zone each day.
  • An increase in cycling within the zone of 43 per cent.
  • Congestion Charge generated provisional net revenues of £123m in 2006/07, which will be spent on further improvements to transport across London, particularly bus services.
The Overhead Wire:
Transportation costs get personal as TOW finds that Quicken lacks inputs for non-vehicular dependent transit costs. TOW goes on to confront the absurd cost of car ownership (on average, 18% of Americans’ income) and our uncanny dependency on it…

Telstar Logistics:
The 787 Dreamliner was unveiled on July 8, 2007 on schedule…

Inhabitat:
“…the U.S. House of Representatives has unveiled a plan to become carbon Neutral by the end of its current term. Legislation has also been introduced to make the entire Capitol complex- all 23 buildings- carbon neutral by the end of 2020.”

2020? So much for setting the example…

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