Transit takes a curve

Bonnie Hauser, speaking for “Smart Transit for Orange County” (http://smarttransitfororange.wordpress.com/) provides a transit update.

Just as the county is getting ready to start collecting its new half-cent transit tax, new questions are swirling about the plan and state and federal funding. It was predictable, and the politics are especially entertaining.

First state lawmakers signaled their disinterest in funding light rail projects, making state funding less likely than ever. (http://www.heraldsun.com/news/x941743957/Bell-sounds-out-GOP-leaders-on-transit). The Orange/Durham transit plan relies on the state to provide 25 percent of the funding.

It’s hard to tell for sure, but it appears possible that transit funds can be redirected to revamp our local transit system, whose hub-and-spoke design is not especially useful to riders who are not traveling to Duke or UNC. It’s a big change from the 2009 legislation that requires funds be used for regional transportation systems.

Triangle Transit Authority, which most stands to lose from a change in plans, isn’t buying it. At the March 14 Durham-Chapel Hill Work Group, TTA’s Patrick McDonough suggested that state funding problems will go away in a couple of election cycles. In the meantime, TTA will continue to apply half of Orange County’s transit funds to Light Rail Transit planning. That’s about $3.5 million out of $7 million a year. The latest estimate suggests it will cost $30 million just to plan light rail. At the same meeting, the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Chapel Hill transit planner David Bonk acknowledged that more funding delays are expected because the transportation plan doesn’t align to local land use plans.

To make matters worse, in walks John Pucher, a 40-year transportation veteran from Rutgers who’s on sabbatical at UNC. While Pucher, a Raleigh native, prefers to talk bikes and pedestrians, he had no trouble suggesting that TTA go back to the drawing board and develop a new plan for the Triangle.

According to Pucher, the plan is a misfit unlikely to get funding from the federal government. Projects from larger cities get a higher priority, and the feds are no longer favorable to LRT at all. Pucher does have a bias. In his current home state of New Jersey, the Camden LRT project bankrupted the state’s transit fund, leaving no funds for much-needed improvements to the dense NJ-NYC corridors. If Pucher is right, say good-bye to another 50 percent of the LRT funds.

Pucher’s greatest concern is that TTA’s plan is built around assumptions that are 20 years old. When the planning started, LRT was the buzz. Now, given the expense, lack of flexibility, risk and limited access, cities are abandoning LRT in favor of Bus Rapid Transit with a system of priority signaling and guideways that can be implemented at a fraction of the cost. According to Pucher, if we switch to BRT, a Triangle-wide transportation system can be put in place in three to five years.

“NO, NO, NO!” cry LRT advocates. “This is a political issue, not a modal choice.” A barrage of emails from Raleigh transportation manager Eric Lamb, environmental advocate Sig Hutchinson and others encouraged Pucher to limit his comments to cyclists and pedestrians — and ignore decades of personal and professional experience with LRT and other public transportation systems.

All Pucher wanted was a local symposium where experts could advance the discussion beyond the opinions of a couple of consultants. With a symposium, we can all become better informed on contemporary transit technology and economics — including more than 100 real BRT systems in operation today. He suggests that we avoid planning transportation systems based on developer or “image” interests, and that the TTA has not seriously looked at BRT. To Pucher, it’s not only about modal decisions. In his experience, an inclusive workshop is “precisely what is needed to get regional transit in the Triangle moving forward, and is crucial for generating support for funding and to get people to ride the system.” Given that funds aren’t coming any time soon, Pucher seems to be on the right track.

It’s discouraging that a topic as important as public transportation needs to rely on politics and censorship to stay on its ill-conceived path. Now that state and feds are unlikely to be forthcoming for our $1.4 billion LRT boondoggle, can local leaders find the courage needed to course correct?
— Bonnie Hauser

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
Previous Post
Next Post
Leave a comment

33 Comments

  1. Terri Buckner

     /  March 29, 2013

    How much time had Pucher spent with TTA or the other transportation planners before he reached these insights, Bonnie? What I’m trying to understand is whether, since he is a visitor, if he is commenting on our specific local plans with a full understanding of local challenges (from both the professionals perspectives as well as those provided by your group) or if he is speaking in pure generalities.

  2. Bonnie Hauser

     /  March 29, 2013

    Terri – we didn’t speak to him. I contacted him after he was quoted on WRAL suggesting that TTA should go back to the drawing board.

    His comments are based on 40 years of experience as a transportation planner. He’s originally from Raleigh and has family here so he visits often.

    He’s strongly encouraging us to move away from the “he said -she said” political arguments toward a serious discussion of facts and alternatives. He suggests starting with a conference where we invite transportation experts to discuss other rail and BRT projects. He believes BRT with more frequent service is a better option for the area -but he’d just like us to have better facts to decide for ourselves.

    Why not? state and federal funding isnt coming any time soon.

  3. Terri Buckner

     /  March 29, 2013

    I’m confused. If you didn’t speak to him, how is he encouraging you to do anything?

  4. Bonnie Hauser

     /  March 29, 2013

    After I contacted him (via email), John forwarded his emall correspondence with local transit leaders and LRT advocates – much of which is summarized here.

    .

  5. Terri Buckner

     /  March 29, 2013

    So in other words, he walked into a community that he had not lived in since high school and publicly dissed plans that local professionals had worked on for over 6 years. He has no understanding of North Carolina state regulations or budget processes, or the organization of NC DOT. He came here not to speak or work on transit but rather on bike and ped and made his comments before ever speaking to any of our local professionals. Context matters.

  6. Many

     /  March 30, 2013

    Terri,

    respectfully yes, context matters. Very much so.

    Speaking of context, TTA has co-opted national buzz phrases but cannot define them in the local context. Exactly what does “Transit Oriented Development” and “Transit Friendly Housing” mean in our context? Why does TTA feel the need to tear up a watershed for LRT when using the existing infrastructure is shorter, less costly and less damaging. Why does TTA reject the nationally well accepted BRT out of hand and in cases like this actively suppress it?

    Back in 1989, TTA started out as a good idea, but has evolved into group of transit insiders that reject ideas based on politics. TTA is an unelected group of people with no accountability to the tax payers. Over the 30+ years I have been here TTA has grown into an unwieldy navel gazing monster that upon inspection adds very little value for the taxes it consumes. TTA plans for LRT make no sense, but if you question them you are “anti-transit”, dismissed and suppressed. I don’t know about you, but that is not how I want my tax monies spent.

    The context brought in this case by Mr Pucher, is one of a respected authority on transit *and* in a national context that TTA credibility so desperately needs. I would think we would want to learn from others experiences, no? Exactly why is it again, you think his comments need to be vetted [read suppressed] by the local TTA “professionals”?

    I am surprised that the county tax payers have not yet begun to publicly question the new taxes that are paid to TTA, especially in light of the looming budget issues CHT has. I predict that the inquiry will begin when the Chapel Hill taxpayers realize there is yet another tax increase on top of the .5% CHT transit specific tax increase in the 2012-2013 budget year and on top of the new TTA sales tax. I think charging for park & ride is the tip of the proverbial iceberg of bad transit decisions forced by giving our tax money away to TTA.
    chapelhillpublic.novusagenda.com/AttachmentViewer.aspx?…
    http://www.townofchapelhill.org/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?…14169

    The students at UNC were also hoodwinked into voting for this misguided plan by the slick “your either with us or against us” publicity that TTA foisted on them. We shall see if they wake up and question the additional taxes they are paying on everyday purchases along with reduced services, tuition increases or both. I suspect, in short order they too will begin to question the TTA plan.

    It’s “Our Transit Future”……….as long as you agree with the TTA.

  7. Terri Buckner

     /  March 30, 2013

    Many,

    TTA is governed by all elected officials. Ed Harrison and Bernadette Pelissier are the locally elected officials that constitute their Board of Directors. So I’m not sure what you mean when you say “TTA is an unelected group of people with no accountability to the tax payers.”

    I have no objection to anyone questioning TTA plans, but I do think those questions need to be informed, not just by theory but also by local realities. I’m sure Mr. Pucher has a great deal of expertise to share, but no expertise is such that it can be taken and plopped down on any environment without adaptation.

    I spent a fair amount of time trying to educate myself about BRT during the 2020 process. To me, it isn’t very feasible for Chapel Hill or Carrboro, except in new development since it riequires a fixed lane. That one requirement makes it unrealistic for Fordham Blvd, south Columbia, and anywhere else in the downtown area. And since it doesn’t transport any more people than the current buses do, I’m not sure why anyone thinks it makes more sense for the major commuting lines between Chapel Hill and Durham.

    But since there is so much interest in it, I do think it would be a good idea for the TTA partners to conduct a workshop with local or national experts to educate the general public about what it would mean to use BRT vs LRT. I know they had workshops a couple of years ago, but I was unable to attend. Maybe those workshops addressed the comparison and someone who did attend can give us a short run down here.

  8. Many

     /  March 30, 2013

    Terri,

    Thank you for your comments. You say:

    “………And since it doesn’t transport any more people than the current buses do, I’m not sure why anyone thinks it makes more sense for the major commuting lines between Chapel Hill and Durham…..”

    You are aware that the TTA LRT plan has been shown *not* to reduce traffic or emissions, aren’t you? You are aware the LRT plan proposes to rip up the New Hope watershed to put a redundant path between UNC & Duke aren’t you? Using BRT between local systems would be a terrific start to a regional interconnection and be able to connect a lot more places for 1.4 Billion (which BTW is historically a gross under estimation of the total cost at this stage of the process). BRT requires a fixed lane for major routes, but adds the flexibility of using existing roads in more local situations. Why would BRT work so many other places and not here? Why is the TTA plan so special? I agree each area has its own challenges and TTA’s one size fits all plan has been far too prescriptive to work triangle wide. They are trying to solve too many issues at the same time in far too many jurisdictions to be effective.

    You say you have investigated BRT, but you must be looking at a different BRT than I am. BRT has shown again and again it can carry exactly the same ridership as quickly, as comfortably, at much reduced cost and with more flexibility. There is nothing not to like. That is *why* it has been so successful and is preferred by the Feds for transportation dollars. What Mr. Pucher has pointed to is the absurdity of last century’s LRT solution in the context of a better BRT system, but given the response I am certain he is very sorry he offered an educated opinion. Shoot the messenger seems like the TTA response to any criticisms, and then people wonder why some choose to remain anonymous on these message boards.

    I am sorry to disagree with you as far as Ed and Bernadette go, I do not consider their cozy relationship with the TTA representative nor an example of governance. Both have been following rather than leading. Reading TTA minutes it does not look like they have questioned the conventional wisdom at all. The minutes reveal they are more concerned with alignment to the TTA plan. I think they may pay the price when the voters wake up.

    Just putting the term “accountable” in the name does not qualify. TTA is an unelected group and it bypasses the normal planning processes, TTA collects taxes and has no accountability for those taxes Your statement “….but I was unable to attend” really resonates with me. The TTA meetings are held at inconvenient times in inconvenient locations, almost as if they were designed that way.

    As much as I hate to do it, I have to bring up the social issues too. The current LRT plan does nothing to help the people that need transit. It is a 1.4 billion dollar link between wealthy areas where Transit Oriented Development poses the question, “shall I take the train or the Lexus today”? It is dysfunctional development of the worst order.

    I agree with the workshop, but so far my experiences with TTA folks has been the sound of minds slamming shut. They are hell bent on this 1.4 billion dollar LRT between Duke & UNC hospitals and I do not understand why. Many holes have been poked in their rhetoric and their response has been attack, intimidate and suppress. What exactly are they so afraid of? Stonewalling sends a very bad signal that something fundamental is amiss.

    Now that both state and federal funding has dried up TTA wants to restudy the issue and comments I have heard say that their strategy is to “wait it out”, not change plans to adopt lessons learned and changed realities.

  9. Terri Buckner

     /  March 30, 2013

    Many,

    I have no opinion about LRT, so any comments I made about BRT were not a comparison, simply a statement of what I learned which was specifically focused on Obey Creek. One of the justifications for that development was that BRT could come directly down MLK, eliminating any concerns about traffic congestion. Since S. Columbia St will never be wide enough to add a dedicated lane without removing houses, that just isn’t feasible. And I just can’t imagine it on Franklin Street or Estes for the same reason.Nor is it feasible along Fordham Blvd due to wetlands. So where could it go other than the northern section of MLK or maybe Weaver Dairy?

    Ed and Bernadette are accountable to their voters. If the majority feel like you do, they will not be re-elected. Of all the things I’ve learned by being on the OWASA board, the hardest has been to accept that despite your best efforts, there will always be people who don’t like your decisions. Ed and Bernadette are both seasoned legislators. I’m sure they understand that many decisions are risky, and that they won’t ever make everyone happy.

    I hope as this discussion moves forward, all comments will be as civil and informed as those you have presented.

  10. Many

     /  March 30, 2013

    Terri

    Agreed on most points. however LRT would solve none of the points you make above. A system of one way streets through Chapel Hill could alleviate the concerns about road width for BRT and make crossing the street safer.

    Yes indeed, Weaver Dairy is a obviously ripe choice for BRT allowing access to 15-501 and I-40 in several locations while serving more households and facilities than LRT. The 15-501 bypass to the hospital and Old 86 also has possibilities from Carrboro through Calvander all the way to Durham Tech in Hillsborough, probably all for less money and again would serve a whole lot more people that choose and need transit to boot.

    I have made this point in the past, and I’ll make it again; whatever final transport modality is chosen, long range land use planning is what is needed so people have time to get used to the idea and plan, TTA has failed to even accomplish that fundamental groundwork, and that is one thing I would have expected Ed and Bernadette to insist on. I agree that Ed & Bernadette ultimately will be held accountable by the voters.

    I am not attempting to design anything on the fly here, only pointing out that; first, TTA is so slow to react that their plans are obsolete before they can get funded and second, TTA planners seem to have stopped learning and listening when they graduated. More importantly though, critical thinking is being suppressed through back channels and that is very disturbing.

    I strive to be civil. OTOH I acknowledge I can have a sharp keyboard and be bitingly dismissive of foolishness. My apologies for the latter, I am trying to do better 🙂 .

  11. Bonnie Hauser

     /  March 30, 2013

    If BRT were adopted, we could develop an integrated system that served 54 (east and west), MLK, 15-501 and elsewhere – and even provide rapid service to the airport. Since they are buses – not trains -the same vehicle that’s on a dedicated guideway – can use roads in tight spaces or areas in lower density (think s15-501 or w54). And of course there would be service to RTP and the airport. (think “flexible”). And this all can be had for a fraction of the cost of LRT – and if we start now, we can have results sooner too.

    Voters may be just starting to realize that their money is going to TTA’s LRT project – not CHT and local buses. Hopefully they’ll hold someone accountable – not just Ed and Berndatte- who’s dual roles further confuse their loyalties.

    Lets hope the discussion moves forward – because so far the system is working hard to censor any view other than TTA’s party line.

  12. Del Snow

     /  March 30, 2013

    Terri, I so appreciate your willingness to have an open mind and agree that “… it would be a good idea for the TTA partners to conduct a workshop with local or national experts to educate the general public about what it would mean to use BRT vs LRT.” After all, information is generally considered to be a good thing, and should never be seen as a threat. I have no doubt that all of our elected officials, both Town-wide and County-wide, respect objective information and would always defend open discourse.

    One piece of information, provided by the MPO itself, showed very little difference between travel times from Chapel Hill to various activity centers. The projections showed that in 2040, traveling from Chapel Hill to RTP, Hillsborough, or Durham, there is a difference of 3 to 6 minutes from existing commute times. That’s a pretty high level of investment for so small a return.

    I certainly appreciate your concerns about limited ability to retrofit roadways for dedicated BRT lanes. However, as a former New Yorker who enjoyed access to transit, my perspective is a bit different. As proposed, a huge amount of money will be going to planning for LRT despite the looming possibility of funding shortfalls from the State and Federal governments. In YOUR opinion, wouldn’t taking that money and purchasing hybrid buses be a better use? What if we had many more routes and much higher frequency? With a large number of routes, park and rides would not necessarily be as big of an issue as more residents will be able to access an increased number of transit stops near their homes. Routes that had extended hours would also reduce the need for cars – right now, a car is a necessity because the bus may no longer be running when you need to return home.

    I also have concerns about widening Fordham Blvd to deal with traffic. It is hard for me to understand the dichotomy between becoming a transit-oriented Town and increasing Blvd. lanes by 50% from four to six! If the room exists for those lanes, they should be dedicated to BRT.

    I respect your concern about the number of riders that could be transported by LRT vs. BRT. My view is that the proposed LRT line works for a limited part of our county. For the number of people that it will serve, LRT, by virtue of its cost, will deprive a greater number of people, THROUGHOUT THE COUNTY, to reasonable access to transit.

    Again, I applaud the suggestion for a workshop that could provide the latest information and extend clarity to all of these discussions, and I hope that it is heard.

  13. Terri Buckner

     /  March 30, 2013

    Del,

    You’ve been involved with planning long enough to know that all plans start with a concept based on some felt or documented need. I assume the LRT project began with the anticipated future need to transport large numbers of people back and forth between UNC and Duke (students, researchers, medical staff, and patients). But that’s just an assumption and it could be mistaken. As I said earlier, I have not paid much attention to the details.

    What I never hear in any of the discussions is whether the proposed project will address the goals that initiated the project or whether the criticisms are from people who came along after the initial planning and disagree with the goals. Or maybe the circumstances have changed significantly in the past 6 years. I don’t know but the arguments from citizens just don’t seem to align with the intent of the professional staff, and I don’t know why.

    What I do hear are a lot of people who have alternative solutions which results in a lot of confusion. What problem is TTA trying to solve? Is that the same problem citizens like you, Bonnie, and Many are addressing with your critiques and alternative solutions?

    The arguments I keep hearing are: 1) Orange Co residents shouldn’t be expected to pay for something that will benefit Durham residents, 2) LRT won’t help Orange Co residents other than those at UNC, and 3) BRT is better than LRT.

    The part that most frustrates me is that then the alternative solutions like BRT become part of the solution to other problems (like Obey Creek). It just spirals along and I’d bet that there are a lot of people who just end up tuning out all the confusion.

    Sorry for the rant. But this is just one of many issues in our community where the communication between citizens and elected officials/staff just doesn’t seem very productive. I don’t have a solution; just a lot of frustration.

  14. Bonnie Hauser

     /  March 31, 2013

    Here ya go!

    http://orangecountync.gov/planning/documents/Adopted_OrangeCountyBRIPlan.pdf

    If you opt to read the plan, I will assure you that since its been written, the commuter assumptions have been challenged by the BoCC and CHTC, and there’s widespread agreement that the plan will do little for congrestion or air quality. It does almost nothing for lower income residents who would benefit greatly from good public transportation.

    I can offer a solution – you’ve already heard several. But it seems that given the funds aren’t coming any time soon, its a great idea to vet the technology and economic assumptions with a symposium.

  15. Terri Buckner

     /  March 31, 2013

    Thanks for the link Bonnie. After reading this report, I am even more confused as to why some of you are opposing this plan. According to the plan, the first 5 years of revenue will be directed at enhancing existing CHT and OPT service (extended hours, weekend coverage, expanded service area).

    The LRT portion of the plan (which is not scheduled to be implemented for 6 years) is clearly based on an existing federal funding program, and there’s a very specific caveat offered that if the funding source dries up, a new plan will need to be developed. And even under a full funding model, there’s a stipulation for modification based on evolving understanding of local needs.

    For those who don’t have time/interest in reading the full report, the goals of the plan are to:

    • Improve overall mobility and transportation options in the region [note: first 5 years are focused on Orange Co (CHT, OPT, TTA) enhancements]
    • Provide geographic equity [note: expands current service to Orange Co rural areas]
    • Support improved capital facilities [note: sidewalks around bus stops, bus shelters, Hillsborough AMTRAK station]
    • Support transit supportive land use [note: the plan is not very specific on this goal]
    • Provide positive impact on air quality [note: to understand this, you need to read about the costs of traffic congestion]

    The strategies offered within the plan are:
    • Improve connectivity {note: CHT, OPT, TTA & eventually through LRT with BRT on MLK]
    • Increase frequency in peak hours
    • Improve weekend, night services (off peak)
    • Enhance existing service
    • Maintain existing services
    • Maintain level of local funding at no less than the August 1, 2009 spending level

    There are multiple solutions offered in this plan. If I was an elected official, I would be completed befuddled as to why there is such animated opposition. Is it just that one future section on LRT that you all oppose or the entire plan?

  16. Terri Buckner

     /  March 31, 2013

    Many,

    Based on what I understand from the TTA Alternatives report (http://www.ourtransitfuture.com/images/uploads/files/DO/D-O%20Vol%201%20Detailed%20Definition%20of%20Alternatives.pdf), it appears that LRT was chosen over BRT primarily due to what the reports states as the LRTs strength in enhancing economic development through transit-oriented development. After reading this, some of the staff decisions surrounding the 2020 focus areas are more understandable, especially after reading some of the reports on the costs of traffic congestion (economic and health costs).

    I go back to what I wrote to Del last. Much of the conflict between those who oppose the transit plan and those who are advocating for it seem to be more communication related than actually technical.

  17. Many

     /  March 31, 2013

    Terri,

    TTA begins talking about Orange County then tries to extrapolate the entire Triangle growth onto Orange when in fact far more of the projected growth is outside of Orange County. As well, since they started this adventure, projected increases in population have been adjusted downward quite a bit so the sky is not falling as one might conclude from the introduction.

    The rational for the Duke/UNC LRT and specific numbers for what it will improve, how many people will be served, why they are tearing up a green field vs. using existing right of ways etc. are never even mentioned. TTA fail to make any case for particular routes or destinations. They talk in terms of “bus hours” but I think if people were able to do the cost math on per person served or ridership on the LRT vs. Buses it would become painfully obvious why people who read the plan question the plan.

    For a 17.3‐mile LRT segment from the UNC) Hospitals to Alston Avenue/NCCU in East Durham 1.378 Billion dollars capital (2001 dollars). Projected Orange county costs ~478 Million (presumably capital, debt service and operating after federal and state matching funds).

    For an enhanced bus segment on MLK PLUS all of the other regional enhancements PLUS the Hillsborough Amtrack enhancement: 30* Million dollars capital (again, 2011 dollars). Projected Orange County costs ~157 Million (presumably capital, debt service and operating after federal and state matching funds).

    *Total costs are never broken out, but they say 22 Million for MLK enhancement and 8 Million for Hillsborough Amtrak, I expect capital is somewhat more than 30 Million, but still more than an order of magnitude less than the relatively short LRT route.

    So, in an admittedly large nutshell what I object to is:
    • Spending 3 times as much money for a less flexible solution that serves less people (mostly well off) and goes fewer (by several orders of magnitude) places based on old assumptions and insufficient data. This is especially since a new sliced bread is tested, available and supported by the very agency TTA is expecting to get 50% of it funds from (75% if you count federal transit dollars administered by the state)
    • Failure to involve local planning departments and boards, claims of “supporting land use” are misleading at best, and specious, cynical and patronizing in their effect.
    • Failure to rationalize the greenfield LRT route through the New Hope watershed vs. use of existing rights of way. (see above)
    • The lion’s share of the money going toward a regional transit plan that has tacit regional support at best, while the superior CHT system and transitively Chapel Hill taxpayers suffer.
    • The fact that Orange county bought into this plan and committed funds without the condition that the whole region buying in. My complaint for Bernadette and Ed.
    • The TTA misuse of the public trust by attempting to suppress dialog and new information.

  18. Many

     /  March 31, 2013

    Terri,

    Question for you:

    What is your understanding of the meaning of the term “transit oriented development”? How exactly does “transit oriented development” reduce traffic congestion? What have been the effects of transit implementations that serve the goal of “transit oriented development” in other places?

    If the definition of terms, their effects, projected population data and the use of glittering generalities to support LRT at any cost is a part of your assertion that the issue is mainly communication, then I agree.

  19. Terri Buckner

     /  March 31, 2013

    Many,

    The Orange County plan that Bonnie provided the link for states that the first 5 years of revenue will go to expansion of existing bus service (CHT, OPT & TTA). Are you opposing that portion of the plan or just the LRT sections?

    My understanding of TOD is residential and mixed use developed around transit stations. TOD is intended to promote ultra density, making it feasible for residents in those developments to live without private cars due to easy access to transit and locations that are walkable/bikeable.

    Would I live in such a development? Absolutely not. I like hearing birds and silence outside my windows. Do I know people who would want to live in such environments? Yes–we heard from many of them during 2020, especially the younger residents. Do I think it’s a goal we should be pursuing? Yes, I hope we all agree that sprawl isn’t sustainable. Do I believe that TOD will accomplish the intended goals here in Chapel Hill/Carrbro? On this one I’m unclear. To convert a relatively suburban community like ours to an ultra dense environment seems like a reasonable goal, but I have concerns about how alignment of transit and land use planning are going to operate in tandem.

  20. Bonnie Hauser

     /  March 31, 2013

    Terri

    Be careful of the guy behind the curtan (TTA). The statements are given without context (isnt that where we started?)

    I – like many others who understand the plan – object to LRT because its sucking the funding out of all our other transit priorities. Despite what the plan says, starting in year one, half of the $7 million raised will go to LRT studies. That means OUR TAX MONEY goes down the LRT hole starting in year one. TTA has already been told that they are not in the running for federal funds for STUDIES given other priorities – that’s in addition to the problems with land use plans. . Less than $1 million is going to local bus service.

    On the gee whiz number “34,000 bus hours” – that’s over 4 years and represents a 3-4% increase per year on the base of 200,000 hours. Not much. Barely enough to create Sunday service or keep the buses running when school’s on recess. Imagine if we focused our funds on bus and BRT service to create the convenient and integrated system that’s needed to increase ridership – beyond UNC.

    As Many points out, the plan artfully confuses Wake County growth projections to explain Orange and Durham’s growth – and uses rhetoric like TOD to justify a project where there is little opportunity for TOD or affordable housing (Durham is different BTW). You know the route – do you think they will replace Meadowmont, 54 East or the Friday Center? How much of the route goes past land that’s already tax exempt and owned by UNC?

    Now CHT is claiming that they can barely cover the costs of inflation – let alone new routes – but contrary to popular belief, they aren’t getting much from the new tax. And to top it all, changing the plan is nearly impossible without the support of Durham. As written, changes require the unanimous support of the BoCC, the MPO and TTA – and of course the MPO and TTA serve Durham too.

    On the alternatives analysis – I can’t quote specifics – but given that all the facts – including sprawled density – its hard to imagine a process that results in 70% of funds on a single, 4 mile corridor wont meet the transit needs of most. Why wasn’t broader system wasn’t proposed.

    For a primer
    http://smarttransitfororange.wordpress.com/transit-101

  21. Many

     /  March 31, 2013

    Terri,

    Yes I am opposed to LRT and in the context as proposed by the TTA. I have not seen enough details on the rest of the plan but I think with all the additional monies the rest of the plan could be expanded into a much better system for a lot less money and be in place much sooner. Despite being painted by TTA advocates and being anti-transit. I am not and never have been.

    Lets just dwell on the term “Transit Oriented Development” for a minute or two longer…… Begin with a neutral Wikipedia definition:

    “A transit-oriented development (TOD) is a mixed-use residential and commercial area designed to maximize access to public transport, and often incorporates features to encourage transit ridership.”

    Given that definition, would you consider Meadowmont and the apartments around the Friday center “Transit Oriented”? Would you consider UNC Hospital or NCCU or Duke “Transit Oriented”?

    My take:

    First; TOD will not reduce congestion without the “features that encourage transit ridership”. TOD can only reduce traffic if automobile use and parking is eliminated or severely reduced along the route. Development must be compact and walkable and all services must be reachable by transit because people will not have personal transportation. It’s a small wonder that given the choice, people choose automobiles. This also means developers will not build retail and housing without parking because they limit the market so severely. Developers won’t build housing with no or limited parking because given the choice, their customers need and prefer automobiles* and therefore parking. Ask them. http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2013/02/why-people-chose-cars-even-when-metro-would-be-faster/4566/

    So the “if you build it they will come” model is risky and provides very questionable benefits, unless the term Transit Oriented Development is being misused by the TTA? I have never seen TTA expand on their definition in the context of their LRT proposal so its like trying to divine meaning from Pythia’s vapors.

    * BTW I will be the first to admit that the auto preference is a market distortion, but none-the-less reflects a market reality that TTA is not capable of changing.

    Second; If you conclude as I did, that developers want *both* parking and transit TOD implementations has the impact of skyrocketing property values and pricing the middle class out of the equation. TOD developments in place now have had the effect of forcing the middle classes further out and increasing sprawl. My spouse and I were living in Boston when the red line expanded and priced everyone but the very wealthy out of the area. People were forced to the hinterlands (New Hampshire 🙂 ). If you want to see the increase in cars and traffic resulting from the “Transit Oriented Development”, I invite you to take a ride into Somerville or Cambridge on Rt 3 from the New Hampshire line some morning. The result is increased commutes for the average family with a net increase in traffic, TOD for the wealthy (if you lived here you’d be home by now) and the LRT or Lexus quandary I referred to earlier.
    http://www.policylink.org/site/c.lkIXLbMNJrE/b.5137373/k.E65E/Transit_Oriented_Development.htm

    My conclusion therefore is a far more efficient economic use of tax monies is building BRT and encoragnig “infilling” existing areas for density through land use decisions. This methodology will serve far more customers and facilities that need public transport (BCBS, New UNC, Wake Med and Duke facilities along 15-501 and existing apartment density are examples) at a much reduced cost, without ripping up a Jordan Lake watershed in the process.

    BTW: Despite the obviously delirious and bubbly enthusiasm for all things TTA, why do you think it is that this study does not promote the LRT solution? http://katana.hsrc.unc.edu/cms/downloads/TTA%20Final%20Report%20-%20PLAN%20823.pdf

    On the subject of sprawl, I believe it was you that made the point that building new facilities in outlying areas is extending those services to people that need them as opposed to sprawl. How is extending transit different?

  22. Del Snow

     /  March 31, 2013

    The choice is similar to providing “Cadillac” (I’m dating myself….) healthcare for a priveleged few while telling others to make do with less versus providing quality healthcare for a much much wider group.

    Additionally, I heard from someone who attended the Friends of Downtown Meeting last Thursday who said that Town Manager Roger Stancil spoke about the town budget. He said that the 1/2 cent transit sales tax just passed by Orange County voters would not help fund our local bus system but would go to fund studies preparing for Triangle Transit’s light rail plan.

  23. Terri Buckner

     /  March 31, 2013

    Del, I’ve heard a lot of things about Charterwood that are quite different than I’ve heard directly from you. Just saying….people tend to repeat what they already believed or what they want to believe.

    I’m checking on the veracity of that rumor. Back when I have an answer.

  24. Bonnie Hauser

     /  March 31, 2013

    Terri – No rumor – Del is exactly right (as ususal) – she left out the part about people saying they felt like they were not properly informed when they voted for the sales tax.

    There’s a portion of the vehicle fee (not a ballot item) that’s supposed to go to CHT – but that could be up in the air – since TTA has learned that they can’t levy their portion of the fee ($3 of the $10) unless Wake County is on board. So they are secretly lobbying the legislature to change the law.

    Many adds that now CHT wants TTA to pay for the park n rides. Wonder where that money is going to come from?

    No need to check the veracity – its all true- and quite a mess. Tax starts tomorrow.

  25. Many

     /  April 1, 2013

    Wow.

    What exactly is the reason NCLeg says need to levy the tax across three counties? (presumably Wake too, but I guess NC Leg could be referring to Chatham since their DoT division is mentioned all over the MPO web page?)

    Could it be that Wake is mentioned so many times in the plan and the “Regional Integration of Orange, Durham, and Wake Transit Plans” is a significant feature in said document?

    http://www.dchcmpo.org/dmdocuments/Adopted%20Orange%20County%20BRI%20Plan%20with%20Appendices.pdf

    Could it be passages like this on page 4 (emphasis mine):

    “In August 2009, Governor Beverly Perdue signed into law the Congestion Relief and Intermodal Transport Fund Act (HB 148), legislation that allows Orange, Durham and _Wake_ counties to generate new revenues for public transportation. These new revenues can include a one‐half cent sales tax, if approved by the public through a referendum, as well as an additional $10 in local and regional vehicle registration fees.”

    ?

    I am once again nonplussed. On one hand, I support transit and think that a good public transportation system is essential to the health of the MPO, on the other I am very opposed to this LRT plan and I think TTA should go back to the drawing board (which they likely will be forced to do anyway because the Feds & State won’t fund it) and with new ideas. Do I want the current TTA with its proven bias to be the ones to revisit the plan? Hard to decide how to word my letter to my legislators.

  26. Bonnie Hauser

     /  April 1, 2013

    TTA is a regional transit authority (think OWASA) who serves the three counties. They are not sanctioned to serve Chatham.

    They’ve already levied a $5 fee across the three counties.

    How’s this wording: “Thank you applying critical thinking to transporatation funding. Unfortunately we have not seen similar discernment locally. It’s one of those rare instances where I appreciate living in a Dillon Rule State”

  27. Many

     /  April 1, 2013

    What does “Dillon Rule” have to do with NCLeg? Dillon is a legal standard used by courts. Do you mean to say “Home Rule”? Because NC is *not* a Home Rule state.

  28. Many

     /  April 1, 2013

    BTW if you look at G.S. 160A-4; 153A-4 it appears that NC is not a Dillon Rule OR a Home Rule state 🙂 which means that we are truly adrift……

  29. Bonnie Hauser

     /  April 1, 2013

    My point was simple and tongue in cheek. The NC legislature limits the taxing authority of local governments – and thank goodness the state is closely guarding how transportation funds are used.

  30. Many

     /  April 1, 2013

    OK. Point taken. What is curious about NC’s law is that each grant of authority statute is sold separately. 🙂

    I wonder what this means for TTA’s backdoor petition? I wonder if one subdivision or the state can petition changing their taxation authority and tax the residents of another subdivision of the state by simple fiat?

    I think that might be a dangerous precedent…..

  31. Herald Sun article: Planning group weighing light-rail plan concerns

    http://ow.ly/Oc56I

    Twitter #DOLRT #CHTC #noC2C2A @NC54transit

  32. GoTriangle (formerly TTA) has released their final recommendations as part of the DEIS and despite repeated discussions by our community to address safety concerns of the C2A routing, we cannot seem to get our safety and noise concerns address, despite voicing these concerns over many years (video of Town of Chapel Hill Council meeting of May 16, 2011 – time index @ 2:43). As matter of fact, we have begun to collect and synthesize the conflicting information for our community, with over 90% being OPPOSED to the introduction of 3 (possibly 4) at-grade crossings within 1/2 mile along our front door. We have posted this information on our community website at http://transit.downingcreek.org .

    So while we are still trying to resolve these concerns, we have also begun an active campaign to STOP the current plan, as we believe that it is deeply flawed.
    http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/stop-durham-orange-light-rail-train.html

    Upon further research, one of the largest discrepancies (amongst many) is the impact of relieving traffic congestion. Many advocates claim that light rail reduces traffic congestion. However a closer look at the total national ridership statistics collected by APTA (1990 to 2014) reveals that total ridership over a 25 year period of massive investments in light rail development, the total ridership of local travel as represented by light rail and bus service has remained surprisingly flat at approximately 6 billion annual riders. Even with population growth, there is no evidence of increased ridership in these two modes of transportation. The evidence suggests that bus ridership has merely been shifted towards the more expensive light rail systems and has had no impact on reducing overall traffic congestion. Reference: Quarterly and Annual Totals by Mode – Collected by APTA

    The estimated $1.82 Billion (2015) project construction “assumes 50% Federal funding, 25% local and 25% state” according to GoTriangle. The 25% local funding is comprised of a 0.5% sales tax, $10 annual vehicle registration fee and 5% tax surcharge on car rentals.

    The problem is that the initial planning assumed the state would supply the remaining 25 percent, as it did last decade for a light-rail line in Charlotte. But the Republicans who now control the N.C. General Assembly have capped the state’s potential contribution, in a way that means it will cover no more than about 10 percent of the remaining cost.

    Assuming D-O LRT even gets the 10% from state funds, where is the other 15% funding gap coming from? Increase of $273 million in local taxes?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *