Recapping the House Transportation Authorization Bill

This week the US House of Representatives did the once unthinkable and passed a six-year transportation bill. At best, the bill isn't as horrible as feared given the over 200 amendments filed to do things like eliminate transit and bike funding. In reality though, it's a missed opportunity on many levels and some of its small changes could have big impacts. On the flip side, in the same week local voters proved once more they want better transportation options and investments that prioritize people and communities.

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STiRRing things up in transportation … for the worse

My take on the House of Representatives transportation authorization bill: The Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act (STRR)  is not good for the environment, does not genuinely address safety and maintenance needs, is not good for social equity, does not adequately fund our transportation system and is not great for the economy. I’ll just say it …. I’d rather have yet another continuing resolution of the current bill than go down the STRR path for the next 6 years. America needs and deserves better. Congress needs to keep stirring until they get it right. 

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Bringing the Shared Economy Revolution to America's Medium Size Cities

Shared Mobility is revolutionizing transportation but it still is not clear that America’s medium-size cities will share in this revolution. Lower densities, smaller market size, and a lack of traffic may impede their adoption. Or perhaps we’ll see more experimentation as entrepreneurs work to adapt technologies to meet these different types of markets.        

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Talking Headways Podcast features Zimmerman on Transportation Transformation

Jeff asked Mariia to be a guest on his regular Streetsblog podcast "Talking Headways" to discuss the recently completed "Transportation Transformation" project which MZ Strategies, LLC undertook for a group of national funders at the Ford, Rockefeller and Surdna Foundation and TransitCenter. The project looks at key trends affecting transportation reform particularly at the local level, and offers a set of recommendations for philanthropy and advocates to further innovation and opportunities for transit to better serve community goals.

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Mapping America's Transportation Transformation

Throughout 2014, MZ Strategies conducted a national study to assess and map the key trends influencing transportation reform, particularly those occurring at the community level in which changing market factors played a key role. What we found is that in communities large and small, public leaders, community advocates, business leaders and entrepreneurs and philanthropy are working to transform how transportation serves their community. We've created a new webpage to share key documents from the Transportation Transformation project, including the recent Final Report providing key recommendations to funders and advocates seeking to reform transportation in their community.

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How Innovative MPOs are Changing the Face of Transportation Planning

Earlier today, Transportation for America launched The Innovative MPO -- a new report written by MZ Strategies, LLC that spotlights the variety of ways that metropolitan planning organizations are working to make transportation work better for the communities they serve.

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Transportation For America's Release of the Innovative MPO

MZ Strategies, LLC is excited to spread word about the upcoming webinar by Transportation for America (T4America) to celebrate the December 10th launch of their new report, "The Innovative MPO". T4America contracted with MZ Strategies to research and write the publication which features best practices and cutting edge planning by regions across the country.

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Urban Innovation Is All Around Us

It seems lately in my work that everywhere I turn, people are talking about how to be more innovative and celebrating the growing diversity of models we are seeing in the transportation world. This is an exciting time to be working on urban issues. Whether driven by changing demographics, new technologies, growing market demand and/or shrinking public resources especially at the federal level, innovation is happening and at a rapid pace.

Earlier this spring, MZ Strategies, LLC conducted a national survey to help map the field of transportation-reform advocacy and innovation. Results will be shared later this fall at Rail~Volution in Minneapolis (Sept 21-24), but a sneak peek shows the diversity of places that are looked to as innovation models.

Findings of spring 2014 MZ Strategies, LLC survey on innovation regions and communities. The word size indicates the frequency of mentions for each place. For example, the Bay Area was noted 35 times, Denver 19 times and Tampa mentioned once. ( Source: MZ Strategies, LLC May 2014 )

Findings of spring 2014 MZ Strategies, LLC survey on innovation regions and communities. The word size indicates the frequency of mentions for each place. For example, the Bay Area was noted 35 times, Denver 19 times and Tampa mentioned once. (Source: MZ Strategies, LLC May 2014)

When asked “In your opinion, what US regions or communities are emerging places for transportation innovation, and what types of innovation are they involved with?” Respondents offered over 400 different innovation cities and regions. Bike and care share programs, new transit investments especially in bus rapid transit, and innovative financing options such as pricing, public-private partnerships were most frequently noted innovations.

Mayors in cities as diverse as Buffalo, Indianapolis, Minneapolis and New York City are investing in bike infrastructure to improve quality of life especially for young workers who they hope to attract to their city. Ride-sharing and bike-sharing companies like Carma and Alta are investing in new technologies to make real-time information more available to customers. And community engagement itself is being transformed through social media, open planning tools, and better data that informs the needs and efficacy of outreach efforts.

Last week I joined a group of California funders and Bay Area advocates to discuss ways that regional innovation was being occurring to link transportation with climate change and social equity goals. The 6 Wins Coalition in the Bay Area is an amazing example of community-led advocacy and technical policy expertise coming together to push for bold new thinking in transportation planning and spending.

This week I joined private and non-profit sector new mobility providers and transportation policy wonks to discuss “Innovations in New Mobility.” Often referred to as “shared use mobility” we are seeing an explosion of new ways to get around our communities, be it Car2Go, Uber, SoBi, NiceRide and Capital Bikes, or good old fashioned carpooling. I enjoyed moderating a panel to discuss the equity impacts of these emerging mobility trends.

Among the big take-aways:

  • new mobility is being used as a compliment, not a substitute for how people get around

  • new mobility options are especially important for making non-work trips

  • biggest barriers for low-income users are either structural (there aren’t any bike share stations in their neighborhood) or cultural (marketing and education programs are not typically aimed at minority or low-income riders).

  • financial barriers also exist, but smart phones and debit and money cards have reduced past challenges faced by those without access to the internet or a bank account

New mobility options bring many questions that remain to be answered including a more complete picture of how rural communities, low-income households and seniors or people with disabilities are best served. Answering the biggest question: "How will cities and state departments of transportation adapt to new mobility?" may set the stage more broadly for how innovation, entrepreneurship and public policy come together in dynamic ways to rethink transportation. It’s great to see new partners coming onto the scene, including the Shared Use Mobility Center – the latest innovation by the Center for Neighborhood Technology – to support peer learning and collaboration.

Transportation Innovations: Using the Tools We Have, Getting the Tools We Want

Arlington's Colombia Pike brings together active and inclusive public spaces with new investments in better transportation service. Photo: M Zimmerman, 2013

Arlington's Colombia Pike brings together active and inclusive public spaces with new investments in better transportation service. Photo: M Zimmerman, 2013

Recently, I was asked to guest blog for Living Cities and spotlight recent reports by MZ Strategies to help local communities use existing federal transportation funds to support equitable development. My favorite projects are those where I can engage with clients to find tangible ways to align existing funding programs and policies with local or regional goals.  Through this work, I’ve encountered both exciting new strategies and the depressing realities that arise when trying to unlock the funding toolkit.

Too many metropolitan planning organizations still are not able to directly fund projects or support local innovation but instead rely upon the state which adds cost, complexity, time – and that is assuming it gets built. Too many equity issues are being put aside over concerns regarding short term costs – creating bigger costs in the long-term resulting from regional disparities or environmental justice legal concerns. And too many public agencies are afraid to innovate, especially with private sector partners. Politically, it is often easier to spread peanut butter than to make strategic regional investments. These are hard challenges to overcome, but not impossible ones!

The reality is that we live in challenging times, with complex problems requiring complex solutions. Funding these solutions is not simple. But, it is possible if the investment is worthy of support. How do we get there? In some of the regions, such as Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; and Kansas City, MO part of the answer lies in public leadership – both of elected officials and of professional planning staff – and part of it lies in the power of transparent and inclusive decision making. These regions have created, and are using, a robust set of metrics to prioritize investments and track performance.

With open data and a multitude of apps now allowing us to access the world in the palm of our hand, people have come to expect quick and easy access to information. We reward creativity. The public sector needs to be no different. For transportation projects, this means making available information and graphics that tell the story about winners, losers, costs and benefits. It also means we need to use all the tools at our disposal. This can take many shapes. In Seattle, a small portion of federal transportation funds are set aside to invest in local projects that help rural town centers and corridors. In Los Angeles, regional sales taxes are leveraging significant federal and private sector financing to accelerate the build out of their transit system. In Atlanta, the region has established Equity Target Areas using data on race, poverty and other indicators to prioritize transportation investments. In Dallas, tolling funds can help to supplement funding resources to both pay for transit and also to swap with federal funds to accelerate smaller-scale sustainable transportation projects.

As Congress considers the Obama Administration’s proposal for reauthorizing these transportation funding programs, and considers future funding levels and policy changes now is a good time to let your Senator or Congress person know what is working for you, and what needs to change to allow for more innovative projects and inclusive processes. At the same time, state legislatures around the country are wrapping up with many looking at how to fund transportation or what kinds of projects to prioritize. What if instead of business as usual, state legislators made their decisions based on return on investment, impact to economic competitiveness or alleviating regional disparities? Now is a good time for all of us to make our voices heard to get the tools we want, and make sure we’re using all the tools we have!

Springtime Happenings at MZ Strategies, LLC

It’s a busy time for the MZ Strategies team. We invite you to participate in a national survey on transportation reform, read the latest article from Founder and Principal, Mariia Zimmerman on the legacy of HUD's Sustainable Communities Initiative, and join us at some of the upcoming events around the country we'll be participating in to share our views on building thriving and inclusive communities. To learn more, check out our latest blog post!

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Celebrating the Women of Transportation

As we celebrate the growing number of female transportation and community building all-stars, let's also ensure we are equally committed to supporting the next generation of leaders -- male and female, and to ensuring greater ethnic and racial diversity among those who are leading our public agencies, private firms, and non-profit organizations that is more reflective of the growing diversity of American communities.

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It’s Budget Time Again in Washington

Transportation highlights from the FY2015 budget released today by the Obama Administration seek to put reauthorization of the federal surface transportation program on the political radar before we run out of money this summer. Will Congress kick the can until after the mid-term elections? The President's Budget Proposal provide fodder and ideas about ways to pay for it through tax reform that may motivate advocates and the Hill to act in the coming months, or at least elevate the national debate.

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Finding Planning Inspiration on a Cold Winter Night

Much of the country has been in a brutal cold weather vice these past couple of weeks with no signs of warmth breaking though soon. At times like this, I’m inclined to grab a good book, a cup of hot tea and find someplace warm to hunker down. Luckily there are some great reads out there to cure the winter blues. Read my take a few of the notable new releases by F. Kaid Benfield, ITDP, Smart Growth America and SSTI.

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Minnesota's Transit Climate Change – The value of communicating benefits and getting policies right

Money is not the only barrier to transit investment or to supporting development of new housing, job centers, schools or community facilities along transit-served corridors. New efforts in the Twin Cities illustrate two key ingredients required for a transit climate change: effectively communicating the benefits of transit, and removing administrative barriers to development. The beauty of these two are that they cost relatively little, and can be game changers for the short and long-term.


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