With less than a month remaining before the Nov. 6 election, the All For Transportationcampaign is trying to combat what it says is misinformation about the 1 percent sales tax referendum on the Hillsborough County ballot.
“With an existing backlog of $9 billion in transportation projects and an estimated 700,000 more people expected to move into Hillsborough County within the next 30 years, we can’t continue to ignore our transportation and transit problems,” said Tyler Hudson, All For Transportation chair.
“But a ‘Yes’ vote in November will be a decisive step toward reducing congestion, making our roads safer, and improving our overall quality of life.”
The group documented several misconceptions it has heard from voters.
Some think the All For Transportation plan is the same plan that was rejected in 2010. That referendum was similar in that it would have raised sales tax 1 percent, but its provisions were vastly different.
Moving Hillsborough Forward, the 2010 transit initiative, was mostly focused on transit enhancements. Of the money raised, 75 percent would have gone toward those projects and the plan lacked restrictions on how the money was spent.
This year’s transportation plan allocated 45 percent to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority with most of the rest going to cities and Hillsborough County to pay for roads and safety projects, among other non-transit needs.
That’s another misconception campaigners are hearing from residents worried the tax won’t ease congestion or pay for new lanes or roads.
The referendum would use about 20 percent of the $280 million raised each year to pay for all of the road widening and new road projects in the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization’s long-range plan that are currently backlogged and un-funded.
All For Transportation campaigners are also reminding voters that the county does not spend enough on transportation. There’s a $9 billion backlog in transportation projects and that number gets bigger every year as the county continues to fall short on keeping up with transportation needs.
The campaign is also pointing to a provision in the referendum that provides specific oversight responsibilities on how revenue is spent. The referendum — No. 2 on the Hillsborough ballot — requires an independent oversight committee with 13 members who ensure money is spent in accordance with the referendum by conducting annual audits.
The members cannot be elected officials or earn or otherwise receive direct or indirect compensation from any of the agencies allocating resources. That includes the three cities in Hillsborough County and the county as well as HART.
But opposition is out there. The Florida chapter of Americans For Prosperity launched an ad last week that blasts the referendum as an unnecessary tax hike.
However, other than AFP, there is no local organized opposition to the transportation initiative.
No Tax For Tracks, the committee registered with the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections that fought the 2010 referendum, has not raised funds. Meanwhile, All For Transportation has raised more than $2 million.
The future is urban—but it does not lie exclusively in mega-cities.
About a decade ago, for the first time in history, the number of people living in urban areas surpassed that of those living in rural ones. But “urban” does not mean New York or Beijing or Rome. About half the urban population still lives in fairly small cities of fewer than 500,000 people (at least in developing countries) that may resemble rural areas more than mega-cities. Europe, for instance, has just two mega-cities and many smaller cities.
There are already 29 mega-cities with populations of 10 million or more—including Delhi, Shanghai, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Lagos and Kinshasa—but they make up just 12% of the global urban population. By 2035, we’re expected to have 50 mega-cities, but they would only account for 16% of all urban dwellers.
What’s more, urbanization has not advanced at the same pace in all regions. Europe and Northern America urbanized early, and their populations are already mostly urban (74.5% and 82% respectively). So are those of Latin America and the Caribbean, 81% of whose inhabitants live in urban areas. In sharp contrast, Africa’s population is still mostly rural (57%) and Asia’s has just become 50% urban.
Asia’s urbanization levels are largely determined by those of the two population giants, China and India. Until 1990, they were among the least urbanized countries in the world, with only 25% of their respective populations living in cities. Since then, China’s economic transformation has been accompanied by very rapid urbanization: China is expected to be three-quarters urban by 2038, up from 60% today. India, by contrast, still lags far behind with just about a third of its population living in cities, a proportion expected to rise to 45% by 2038.
High urbanization levels are associated with higher GDP. As the experience of China shows, rapid economic growth tends to accelerate urbanization. When high shares of the population make their living from agriculture, the productivity of that sector tends to be low. By contrast, during economic development, the most dynamic sectors of the economy tend to cluster in urban centers—or even give rise to them.
In China, for instance, the economic liberalization that began in 1978 promoted the development of enterprises in rural villages, which led to an economic boom in rural areas. The growth of rural enterprises spurred the development of new towns and cities by making villages become increasingly urban. As a consequence, the number of cities in China grew from 193 in 1978 to 655 in 2008, with the majority of new cities being small or medium-sized. The emergence of so many new cities—many located near the rural areas from which they derived their dynamism—helped reduce the impact of rural-to-urban migration on the large cities of China.
The movement of people from rural to urban areas is only one of the ways in which urban populations grow. Additions to the urban population also happen because births exceed deaths in urban areas, or because new cities emerge or existing cities expand, often encompassing former rural settlements. In some of the least developed countries, urban populations increase mainly because urban couples have many children who survive to be adults.
Rural-to-urban migration has not in general been the major contributor to urban population growth in developing countries.
For instance, in Niger, where the population is mostly rural (84%), the number of urban dwellers is doubling every 17 years because fertility is still a high seven children per women. Similarly, in much of Africa, high fertility is fueling rapid urban population growth, implying that increasing urbanization in the region is often not indicative of economic dynamism.
Demographers estimate that in most developing countries since the 1960s, the excess of births over deaths has accounted for well over half of the population increase in urban areas. Therefore, rural-to-urban migration, though significant over certain periods, has not in general been the major contributor to urban population growth in developing countries. Furthermore, in highly urbanized countries the majority of internal migrants already originate in cities and simply move to other cities, therefore having no impact on the overall size of the urban population. That is the case in the United States, in most European countries, and in highly urbanized developing countries, such as Brazil.
Urbanization is mostly positive. Evidence from developing countries shows that, on average, people living in urban areas are better off than rural dwellers. Because urbanites have better access to health care, they have better health and live longer than rural dwellers; their educational attainment is higher because educational institutions are better and more easily accessible in urban than in rural areas; and they benefit from a more diversified labor market than that typical of rural areas. Nevertheless, cities in developing countries are not free from stresses: high levels of underemployment, the growth of slums, lack of adequate infrastructure, and costly services are problems that remain on the agenda of countless cities.
The expected expansion of cities in the developing world poses a number of challenges, including the necessity of generating decent jobs for their growing populations and providing them with adequate urban services in terms of housing, water and sanitation, transportation, electrification, nutrition, education, and health care. Furthermore, over the next few decades, cities will have to increase their resilience to the consequences of climate change, especially considering that many populous cities—such as Shanghai, Osaka, Mumbai, New York, Miami, Rio de Janeiro, Alexandria, and Durban—are located in coastal areas that are very likely to be affected by rising sea levels. Though a few of the coastal cities are beginning to take measures to increase their resilience to floods and storm surges, if the average global temperature increases beyond 2° celsius, large tracts of urban land will be submerged and people will have to move elsewhere.
Technology and economies of scale may facilitate addressing some of these challenges. But in most countries, proactive planning for ensuring the resilience of urban centers is still the exception rather than the rule. Innovative approaches will be necessary to ensure that urban centers may continue to offer the best chances of enjoying long and productive lives. These approaches will require educating and nudging people to practice resource conservation, especially with regard to energy and water use. Technology may provide some solutions but it is ultimately the adoption and consistent use of appropriate technologies by each of us that will make a difference.
(Note: All statistics cited in this piece are derived from World Urbanization Prospects: The 2018 Revision, produced by the Population Division of the United Nations.)
SARASOTA — A group of affected neighbors filed two lawsuits against Sarasota County on Friday that could put a massive Neal Communities subdivision east of I-75 and south of Clark Road on hold.
The Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners approved the Neal Village development, known as Grand Lakes, on July 11 in a series of 4-1 votes, as part of the county’s 2050 Village concept, an optional development framework that permits additional density. Neal is set to build 1,100 homes on 500 acres he purchased for $20 million last December.
This extra density is in exchange for public benefits that guide development in the rural areas east of I-75 into compact, mixed-use, pedestrian friendly villages by protecting large areas of open space, and ensuring that supporting infrastructure is paid for by the development.
Casting the dissenting votes, Commissioner Charles Hines asked, “Where is the walkability? Where is the compatibility? Where is the connectivity with the larger overall village?”
A large group of Serenoa, Serenoa Lakes and nearby large lot homeowners, along with Twin Lakes Park users, presented their objections during the public hearings leading up to the boards’ July decisions.
The citizens group argue that developer Pat Neal’s privately-initiated comprehensive plan amendment, which enabled the rezoning to proceed, violates the county’s long-range growth plan. They also say the rezoning itself violates several of the county’s zoning regulations.
The lawsuit asks that the State of Florida hold an administrative hearing to find that the Neal amendment is inconsistent with the other goals, objectives, and policies in the county’s comprehensive plan because eliminating the village mixed-use requirement promotes urban sprawl.
Eliminating the mixed-use requirement was previously considered by the county in 2014 during a public initiative known as 2050 Revisited. At that time, several large landowners and developers, including Neal, proposed eliminating the mixed-use center. County staff rejected the developers’ proposal because staff’s analysis determined that, without direct access to a commercial center, a core 2050 plan principle would be violated.
Nevertheless, when Neal proposed eliminating the mixed-use requirement as a privately processed amendment, the 2018 county staff reported that they had no objections and recommended approval.
“It is a shame when citizens have to dig into their own pockets just to make sure the planning officials follow their own rules, said David Anderson, spokesperson for the petitioners. It is very discouraging that the commissioners ignored the merits of our arguments and approved the Grand Lakes proposals, so, our only recourse available is very costly litigation.”
The second suit asks the Sarasota County Circuit Court to reverse the rezoning approval because the Grand Lakes application did not satisfy the protected open space and non-residential use requirements in the county’s village zoning regulations.
The petitioners’ attorney, Ralf Brookes, says the outcome could have major implications throughout the county for future 2050 village development.
The Manatee-Sarasota Sierra Club, a leading environmental group, and 1000 Friends of Florida, Inc., a leading smart growth advocate, are providing financial support and legal assistance in the Grand Lakes challenges.
Partnerships between traditional public transportation agencies and Uber and Lyft have boomed since 2016. Where are they going?
Ever planned to take the bus, but wound up calling an Uber? That’s what the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority did in 2016.That year, ridership across St. Petersburg, Florida’s fixed route bus lines plummeted by 11 percent—twice the drop PSTA experienced in the first year of the recession, and one of the deepest declines of any major U.S. system. Pinellas County constituents had recently rejected the concept of transit even more directly: PSTA’s one-cent “Greenlight Pinellas” sales tax proposal to spread bus service and build a light rail system bombed at the ballots in 2014.That forced the agency to eliminate some of its existing routes, and to rethink how it was doing business. So it called in the apps. To cover the areas it had left transit-bare, PSTA became the first agency in the country to subsidize Uber trips. Since its “Direct Connect” program launched in February 2016, PSTA has given $5 discounts on rides provided by Uber and a local taxi company (and as of more recently, Lyft) to and from 24 popular bus stops in its service area to as many as 1,000 riders per month. “This is the future,” PSTA CEO Brad Miller told reporters on the day of the launch of the program, which was widely hailed as an example of what an amicable partnership between mass-transit and ride-hailing would look like.
In many ways, the same factors that pushed Pinellas County to the world of ride-hailing have pushed the rest of these cities: a desire to provide higher-quality mobility in areas where transit options fall short or where there’s not enough parking. There’s also a degree of brand-consciousness at play, said Joseph Schwieterman, the director ofDePaul’s Chaddick Institute, who co-authored the report with Mallory Livingston, a DePaul graduate researcher. “Transit agencies can’t afford to become like the taxi industry and let the world pass them by,” Schwieterman said.
Working in tandem with Uber, Lyft, and other similar offerings is a way for transit agencies to insert themselves on the primary communication channel riders are already using—their smartphones—and could be a step towards reimagining the on- and off-board customer experience.The question of whether ride-hailing apps are pulling riders on or off public transit—complementing it, or cannibalizing it—has been a cloud over the transportation industry for years. Transit ridership is declining on systems across the country, particularly on buses, and especially in smaller and mid-sized cities. While Uber, Lyft, and others TNCs have frequently taken the blame, the more significant drivers in ridership declines are likely service cuts and lower gas prices. “The writing is on the wall for many lightly used bus routes,” Schwieterman said. “Everybody is scratching their heads about how to better deliver their product, given how fast-paced society is becoming.” Establishing a link to on-demand transportation could be one way to do it.But as the transportation analyst Bruce Schaller has recently written, surveys in several major U.S. cities show in aggregate that a majority of TNC users in those cities would have taken public transit, walked, biked, or forgone their trip if the ride-hailing apps hadn’t been available. These services are siphoning off some transit passengers who can afford it, in some areas.
On the other hand, Uber and Lyft also appear to be penetrating neighborhoods with poor transit coverage and low car ownership rates, places traditional taxi services would not go. And in some cases, when it’s late at night and transit options are scant, calling a car is a far more time- and cost-effective option.In most cities, rider demand for Uber and Lyft trips through these transit agency partnerships has not been overwhelming. That much-ballyhooed pilot program in Centennial, for example, was not extended due to insufficient demand. PSTA has seen consistent ridership increases with its Direct Connect program, growing 210 trips per month in March 2017 to 994 trips per month by August of that year, according to PSTA data provided to CityLab. That’s still not much: A mixed-traffic lane with frequent buses can move at least 1,000 people per hour.These TNC partnerships have hardly boosted transit demand. And plenty of transportation advocates fear they could be counterproductive, by unwittingly contributing to the perception that Uber and Lyft can meaningfully replace mass transit. “I’m sure we’ll get some criticism with this report for creating a risk that funding for transit will fall as these partnerships come to the table,” Schwieterman said. “It’s a fine line between maintaining the system and outsourcing parts of the system.”
There are other risks tied to partnering with TNCs. These companies are notoriously protective of ridership data, which is a limitation for transit agencies trying to judge the success of these subsidy and tie-in programs. When PSTA signed its original contract with Uber, for example, “there was nothing in it about data,” said Bonnie Epstein, a senior planner at PSTA. The agency did eventually get some ridership totals from Uber (as noted), but nothing about the origin or destination of the trips, for example.
Similarly, there’s nothing stopping Uber, Lyft, or any other private transportation company (including taxis) from raising minimum fares without notifying public agencies first. Uber has done this repeatedly in Pinellas County since the Direct Connect program launched in 2016. According to Epstein, some riders have complained that the $5 public subsidy is no longer as useful as the cost of the Uber becomes equal to (or greater than) the cost of a second bus ticket in addition to the one they’re already buying at their connecting station. This story will be updated with responses by Uber and Lyft to requests for comment.Partnerships between ride-hailing companies and transit agencies are still in a delicate courting stage, said Jon McBride, a business strategist with a focus on emerging transportation modes. As far as agreements go, “I expect public agencies to become more specific about their data sharing requests, ways to influence equitable access and compensation models,” he said.
Tucked into a corner of Southwest Florida about a half-hour from Fort Myers, Babcock Ranch is what developer Syd Kitson calls the most sustainable new community in America. It started when Kitson, a former NFL player, purchased the 91,000 acre ranch in 2006. He immediately struck a deal to sell 73,000 acres of the property to the state of Florida for a wildlife preserve. He then donated 440 acres to Florida Power & Light with the stipulation that it construct a solar power plant on the land. Today, that parcel is covered by 350,000 solar panels that feed electricity into the electrical grid.
Then Kitson went to work with local partners to design and build a new community on the remaining 17,000 acres. “We want to be the most sustainable new town in the United States,” Kitson tells CBS News. “We had the advantage of a green field, a blank sheet of paper. When you have a blank sheet of paper like this, you really can do it right from the beginning.”
The town gets most of its electricity from the nearby solar power plant during the day. Although the community has 10 small battery stations, Kitson says large-scale battery storage is still too expensive (Elon Musk would disagree), so at night or on cloudy days, the community draws power from the utility grid. “The people here pay the exact same amount that everybody else pays in the Florida Power and Light network,” he says. “Clearly, if you have a number of cloudy days in a row, it will impact the efficiency and the available electricity that comes from the solar field, but this is Florida, and if you don’t like the weather, just wait 10 minutes.” Last year, when Hurricane Irma swept across that part of the state, not one solar panel was damaged.
The first residents began moving in at the beginning of this year. 500 homes are expected to be completed by December. 19,500 dwelling units are planned over the next two decades. All of the structures in Babcock Ranch will feature the latest energy efficiency technology and offer 1 gigabit internet access. Alexa will handle all smart home functions. Outside, there are 50 miles of nature trails through the wildlife preserve next door. A farm-to-table organic gardening project is underway and a K-8 charter school is planned. Residents will be encouraged to leave their cars at home as they walk, bike, or take advantage of the electric autonomous shuttle bus fleet that will service the community.
“This community is a unique opportunity to really implement sustainable technology in a practical way,” Haris Alibašić, a professor at the University of West Florida, tells Good.com. “Cities around the world have started adopting 100% renewable energy targets, but it’s both intriguing and encouraging to see this happening from a developer.” He adds he would like to see more affordable housing included in the plans for the community. A three bedroom home in Babcock Ranch sells for $195,000 and a four bedroom town house lists for $795,000. “I think the ultimate key to long term sustainability is attracting people from diverse incomes and backgrounds,” he says.
Last January, Richard and Robin Kinley became the first family to move to Babcock Ranch. They chose a house near a lake, which has now been named Lake Kinley in their honor. “The air is nice and clean here and I think these types of communities are the future,” Robin says. “I felt very much like when I bought a Tesla back in 2013 and I said, this is definitely is going to make it,” Richard adds. “I felt the same way about Babcock Ranch.”
Their first neighbors were Donna and James Aveck, who moved in a few weeks later. “We love the innovation here,” Donna says. “We think it’s a very small planet and we want to do our part to conserve it.” Babcock Ranch has thought of every detail when it comes to sustainability. Jim says, “When I go to the gym, which is huge, and I get on the treadmill, the energy I generate by running actually feeds back into the electric grid.”
Communities that have already transitioned to 100% renewable energy include Aspen, Colorado; Burlington, Vermont; Greensburg, Kansas; Rockport, Missouri; and Kodiak Island, Alaska, according to the Sierra Club. But Babcock Ranch has designed sustainability into the entire fabric of the community from the beginning. Just as Tesla has driven change in the transportation industry, Babcock Ranch will encourage other cities and towns to make sustainability part of their community DNA.
Florida stands to lose more homes — and real estate value — to sea level rise damage than any other state in the nation this century, according to a new study.
By 2045, nearly 64,000 homes in Florida face flooding every other day. Half of those are in South Florida.
If you buy a house now, before your new mortgage is paid you might have to regularly do the rolled-up-pants, shoes-in-hand commute that has become an enduring image of sea rise.
These numbers, released in a report compiled by the Union of Concerned Scientists, used housing information from Zillow and a flood model from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that predicts 6 1/2 feet of sea rise by the end of the century.
Former studies of Zillow data showed Florida has hundreds of thousands of homes worth billions of dollars with the risk of being permanently drenched with six feet of sea rise.
This report, said one of its authors, Rachel Cleetus, talks about “a looming threat flying completely under the radar” — regular flooding.
“Well before homes go under water we’ll start to see chronic inundation that affects home value,” she said.
By the end of the century, Florida’s number of at-risk homes jump from 64,000 to a million. In 2100, the report said, about 1 in 10 homes in Florida will face flooding every other day. That puts the Sunshine State at the top of the list nationwide for homes at risk.
The report underlines the domino effect these repetitive floods could have on a community if nothing is done.
As these floods grow more frequent and more intense, they’ll start chipping away at the value of coastal homes, something initial research shows is happening in Miami-Dade and beyond. As these waterlogged homes lose value, their owners may decide that it’s easier to abandon them to foreclosure rather than pay a mortgage worth more than the house.
The authors of the report note that this kind of housing crisis would be more severe than any the U.S. has faced before. Unlike housing market crashes, where property values usually bounce back, these homes will be unusable (and unsellable) forever.
Federally backed mortgage buyer Freddie Mac wrote in a 2016 report that the resulting social and economic impacts of climate change are likely to be “greater in total than those experienced in the housing crisis and Great Recession.”
The dark possibility hinted at in these numbers also underlines the potential unsteady future of one of the main sources of revenue for the kinds of projects that save communities from the worst effects of flooding — a city’s tax base.
That’s especially visible in Miami Beach, one of South Florida’s most vulnerable communities. By 2030, Miami Beach homes paying $17 million in property taxes face regular flooding. By 2100, that jumps to more than $760 million.
Keeping a city dry as seas rise isn’t cheap, but some Miami communities are investing in solutions. Miami Beach raised stormwater fees to fund $500 million in street raising and pump installation projects. Miami’s “Forever Bond” was highlighted in the report as a positive story of a community taxing itself to pay for these projects.
The report made clear that the kind of action South Florida cities are taking right now is important. If other communities don’t start soon, it will be even harder for them to react to the threat in the future, said Joyce Coffee, president of Climate Resilient Consulting.
“If you don’t have these two things — a tax base and existing momentum — you’re on the losing side of history,” she said.
The report did suggest one solution that radically changes the number of homes at risk. If the world keeps fossil fuel emissions low, like the standards decided upon in the Paris Agreement, and ice melt is kept to a minimum, most sea rise damage could be averted. The authors said that would save 93 percent of Florida’s at-risk homes by the end of the century.
The report — and that 93 percent number — was compiled just before a new study from 80 Antarctic scientists showed that arctic ice melting has tripled in a decade. The work suggests the world has an even smaller window of time to act to stall the worst effects of climate change.
“We have to radically cut carbon emissions,” said Cleetus, author of the real estate risk study. “We have to prepare for the worst case scenario.”
Think of the pedestrian bridges of Venice, or the steep, tiled streets of the favelas in Rio de Janeiro. Or the winding back alleys of Hong Kong, and the intricate apartment buildings of Paris.
And then, think about a modern downtown. Charlotte, North Carolina, the planned business district of Konza Techno City in Kenya, Shanghai. They all look the same.
That, says architect and Practice for Architecture and Urbanism founder Vishaan Chakrabarti at TED 2018 in Vancouver, is a major problem. “There’s a creeping sameness besieging our planet,” he says. And this matters, he adds, because more and more people around the world–hundreds of thousands every day–are moving into urban areas every day. By 2050, around 70% of the world’s residents will live in cities.
This, he says, is a necessary development against climate change–dense dwellings well-served by mass transit are the most sustainable ways to live, and must be done well to continue to convince people away from sprawling suburban developments. But our homogenous cities are beginning to fail their residents. “Are they condemned to live in the same bland cities we built in the 20th century, or can we offer them something better?” Chakrabarti asks.
His answer is yes, but first, we have to understand how are our cities homogenized over the last century. Mass-production of materials like concrete, steel, asphalt, and drywall, he says, equipped architects with building features that “we deploy in mind-numbing quantities across the planet,” he says. Developers, armed with this materials, “want to build bigger and bigger” to house as many people as possible to recuperate the cost of building, and that has brought about “the dull thud of the same apartment building being built in every city across the world,” Chakrabarti says. Not only is this trend homogenizing design, but it’s homogenizing societies, and fostering the affordability crises gripping our cities.
Chakrabarti is all for housing as many people as possible, and creating safe and accessible environments for urban residents. His issue is with the lack of creativity and local sensitivity with which we have gone about providing for these things.
We need, he says, to go back to building “cities of difference.” And that starts with injecting into the global, the local. While in the past, designers, architects, and planners have leaned on mass production and homogeneity to do their jobs, Chakrabarti suggests they look to food as inspiration to free themselves from this way of thinking. “Look at the way that craft beer has taken on corporate beer,” he says. He then asks the audience how many of them still eat Wonder Bread. Very few do. “If you don’t want processed food, why do you want processed cities?” he asks.
Instead, Chakrabarti suggests that designers and architects build cities “that respond to local communities, climates, cultures, and construction methods.” Some are already doing so: Balkrishna Doshi, who won the Pritzker Prize this year for his work on affordable housing in India, creates beautiful, culturally specific dwellings that invoke a sense of place while effectively housing thousands.
And Chakrabarti’s team at PAU is developing a 21st-century urban center for Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Instead of leaning on generic buildings, Chakrabarti’s team is creating a catalog of colorful edifices–homes, shops, theaters–designed with local material, that work together in concert and create a diverse, culturally sensitive and unique city center.
“We’re searching for a new model for growing cities that could shape-shift in response to local needs and building materials,” Chakrabarti says.
By going back to designing urban areas with cultural sensitivity and difference in mind, “we can disincentive sprawl and protect nature, and build cities that are high-tech but respond to the cultural needs of its peoples,” he says.
Members of the National League of Cities are meeting in D.C. this week to make their case for more federal funding.
It’s no secret that America’s crumbling roads and bridges and chronically struggling transit systems need help: The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates it would take $2 trillion to bring the nation’s infrastructure into an “adequate” state of repair. That dire situation has been a recurring theme of President Donald Trump’s never-ending infrastructure week.But the proposal the White House finally released last month to address the problem has drawn criticism from city leaders for shifting the funding burden onto the backs of state and local governments. At the National League of Cities’ annual conference this week, mayors and city council members declared rebuilding infrastructure as their number-one priority in the year to come. And they’re determined to negotiate better terms on Trump’s infrastructure deal.“A good plan is not a good plan unless there’s money connected with it,” said NLC executive director Clarence Anthony at a press conference Monday morning. While the White House proposal, “Rebuilding Infrastructure in America,” is often billed as a “$1.5 Trillion Infrastructure Plan,” many critics have noted that this figure is misleading at best. Instead of direct federal funding, Trump’s proposal requires cities to prove they can shoulder up to 80 percent of the bills for federally funded infrastructure projects themselves. That sum would then be matched by a federally sourced 20 percent. In all, only about $200 billion of that $1.5 trillion would come from the feds.City leaders are now in D.C. to lobby lawmakers for a better deal. “We are asking our partners—because we do recognize you as partners—in the federal government to rebuild with us as we rebuild our cities,” said NLC vice-president Karen Freeman-Wilson, mayor of Gary, Indiana.On Monday, delegates met with DJ Gribbin, the special assistant to the president for infrastructure policy; on Wednesday, they’ll talk with House and Senate leaders, particularly key members of the infrastructure committees. And on Thursday, they’ll go straight to the White House to make their case. “At minimum, we’re asking for an equal partnership of 50 percent funding from the federal level to local governments,” said Anthony.“The 80-20 split is off the table,” added Los Angeles city council member Joe Buscaino. “An equal partner is an equal partner.”Mark Stodola, mayor of Little Rock, Arkansas, and the president of the NLC, outlined four critical infrastructure areas: water, transportation, broadband internet, and workforce development. “We’ve got to make sure we provide a sustainable investment,” said Stodola. “We’ve got to address not only the existing infrastructure backlog, but also long-term funding streams that are necessary to maintain this infrastructure.”The statistics are daunting: More than 6,000 bridges are structurally deficient, and 41 percent are over 40 years old; access to broadband internet, meanwhile, is lacking for 78 million people, due to connectivity issues or prohibitive cost. Cleveland city council member Matt Zone also emphasized the importance of climate resiliency in rebuilding: 2017 was already the most expensive year for natural disasters in history, due to extreme events like hurricanes Maria and Harvey, costing $306 billion in damages. “We’ve got to invest in durable infrastructure, not just infrastructure—infrastructure that doesn’t need to be continuously rebuilt when every storm happens,” Zone said.Instead, the White House is going in the opposite direction, proposing $275 billion in cuts to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a key player in post-storm emergency response, and $30 billion from HUD’s Community Development Block Grant Program, which funds affordable housing and allows cities to use discretionary funds for infrastructure resilience projects.And it’s not just that local budgets don’t feel like inflating their infrastructure contributions. A lot of them can’t: In 47 states, preemption measures curb cities’ ability to raise their own revenue to meet infrastructure needs; in 22 states, cities can’t use sales tax hikes to fund infrastructure.The NLC presser also touted some of the creative funding fixes cities have employed recently, such as L.A.’s Measure M, which raises transit funding via a sales tax increase (and which was recently cited approvingly by an unnamed Trump staffer). Other cities have turned to public-private partnerships: Virginia’s high occupancy toll lanes on the Beltway got a funding boost from a private firm; and New York and New Jersey are reconstructing the Goethals Bridge with the help of an Australian bank.Smaller communities—the ones that need a federal assist the most—have also raised cash by selling off public utilities like water systems, but studies show that residents often end up getting charged more for the same product. “Our ability to pay doesn’t change the need for that infrastructure,” said Gary’s Freeman-Wilson, “but it certainly determines our ability as local elected officials to deliver.”Bipartisan aspirations on immigration and health care reform have been dashed before, and leveling funding to 50/50 is an ambitious target. But at Monday’s press conference, Stodola expressed confidence that the NLC’s negotiations in the coming days will bring results.“It seems like Congress has got their feet in concrete, and they need to take them out,” said Little Rock Mayor Stodola. “So we’re going to break that rock. We’re going to knock them out of that concrete, and by golly we’re going to take it to them on the Hill.”About the Author
From President Trump’s Camp David retreat with cabinet officials and congressional leaders at the beginning of this year, word emerged that the president and his advisers are divided on the best policy for infrastructure. Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, presented a detailed plan to make $200 billion in federal investments in order to unleash $1 trillion of total infrastructure investment through public–private partnerships, a plan that has now been leaked to the media. The president himself, meanwhile, reportedly prefers a more straightforward national building program.
Any discussion of infrastructure spending needs to recognize the stark reality of the American cost disease. As explained in a December New York Times report on the New York subway, when the United States builds infrastructure, it often costs more than any similar industrialized country would consider spending. New York City brings the cost disease to its highest fever, but even cities that excel at cost containment by American standards would have their numbers thrown out on their ear in many other countries. Liberals sometimes wave away cost concerns by reemphasizing the need for any particular project, and conservatives sometimes blithely presume that any project is wasted money. But all parties involved must recognize and address the cost disease, which drastically reduces the amount of infrastructure Americans can get out of any particular budget figure. Building a tunnel six times more expensive than one in France means that you get one-sixth the tunnel that you should. As transit researcher Alon Levy has shown, the American cost disease is real, and the situation is dire.
While the entire basis of these cost overruns is still not known, it is clear that American labor costs significantly contribute to project-cost inflation. Prevailing-wage standards, set under the Davis-Bacon Act, are a frequent target of the ire of conservatives, who charge that the requirements empower unions to run up prices and drain the public purse. These prevailing wages certainly inflate costs, and repeal or reform of Davis-Bacon would help the taxpayer receive a fair value for his investment. However, competitor nations such as France and Spain cannot be said to possess weak unions or ungenerous labor laws, and those nations still manage to build infrastructure for a fraction of American per-mile costs. Davis-Bacon repeal is no silver bullet, and further reforms will be needed.
As Jarrett Walker explains in his book Human Transit, operation costs in industrialized countries are dominated by labor. Simply put, people are expensive in rich countries, and hiring workers requires paying significant wages and benefits. Thus, one of the most effective ways to exercise fiscal prudence is to ensure that human personnel are not wasted in their transit work. Unfortunately, wasting person-hours seems to be American transit’s most consistent accomplishment. Subway trains that should be able to be run by computer often must be managed by one or two drivers, and tunnel-digging machines that the French operate with fewer than ten people are managed by more than two dozen well-compensated Americans.
Capital costs, meanwhile, are also inflated by “buy American” procurement rules attached to federal infrastructure financing. When local governments take advantage of federal grants or loans to expand their infrastructure, they are required to buy at least 60 percent of rolling-stock components, such as rail cars and buses, from American manufacturers. (Current law requires that level to rise to 70 percent by 2020.) Manufactured goods, on the other hand, must be 100 percent American in materials and manufacture. While well-intentioned in their concern for American manufacturing, such policies can further inflate the cost of infrastructure. For example, according to the American Action Forum, Americans pay 34 percent more for their metro cars than the global average. Even with such policies in place, contracts often go to the most competitive global firms, which then set up separate manufacturing facilities in the United States. The profits are passed back to the foreign headquarters, while taxpayers pay the price for not being able to access the normal industry supply chains.
For the American taxpayer to receive assurance that his money is being spent wisely, any major infrastructure investments should be accompanied by actions to treat the cost disease. Already, the governors of New York and New Jersey are expressing indignation that the Trump administration has renounced an Obama-administration plan to fund half the ballooning cost of their new tunnel-building program. They would do well to turn that indignation toward their own transit authorities for wasting historic amounts of money. The 50 percent of the projected cost that the governors were already willing for their states to pay should be beyond sufficient to complete the entire project, and then the concerned states would not have to go through federal procurement channels at all.
Furthermore, when the national government picks up significant portions of the tab, it often incentivizes projects that should never have been undertaken at all. In 2010, self-described “recovering engineer” Charles Marohn pointed to a project in Staples, Minn., that cost $9.8 million to build an overpass above a railroad in order to connect two state roads and ease the congestion that came from waiting for train cars to pass. Staples has a population of 3,000. The federal government offered it $8.8 million for the project, and the state of Minnesota chipped in for the other $1 million. While the good people of Staples might enjoy their uncongested cross-town connection, Marohn wryly predicted that if they “were asked to simply pay 10 percent of the cost, . . . this project would not be happening.” Most federally supported projects are not so heavily subsidized, but a more customary 80 percent federal match was enough for the Louisiana city of Shreveport to attempt the decidedly retro project of bulldozing a working-class, mostly black neighborhood to build an urban highway connector through the city in the name of economic development.
The good news is that even as Washington continues to argue over the best way to make infrastructure investments, private actors are already emerging to offer innovative means of transportation. Whether with cars, trains, or the humble bicycle, new companies are stepping up to unleash American mobility, and each innovation holds the potential to reshape demand for other infrastructure components as people adjust their living and travel patterns.
Virginia’s McAlester’s Field Guide to American Houses conveys this recurring effect in a few pages as it details the development of American neighborhoods. Towns and cities were first built to be accessed most regularly on foot, meaning that homes, workplaces, and shops necessarily intermingled, all built on relatively narrow plots of land. The advent of horse-pulled streetcars stretched out development along a commuting pattern that opened up land for neighborhoods of residential rowhouses. The electric streetcar created spokes of development, populated by detached houses, emanating out from city centers. Because the neighborhoods still had to be navigated on foot after residents disembarked from the streetcar, though, homes in these early suburbs were built on relatively narrow lots. The automobile filled in the land between the streetcar spokes and eventually pushed out to fields opened up by freshly paved highways, allowing direct access to ranch houses and split-levels built on much wider lots.
We may now be approaching a similar point of transformative change through the explosion of private transportation services. The most well-known newcomers to the transportation scene are ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft. By enabling people to turn their personal cars into de facto taxis, the services upended the long-standing taxicab-medallion cartel system and tapped an explosive reserve of unmet consumer demand for point-to-point mobility. Uber and Lyft are also among the most active investors in what is widely projected to be the next phase of the automobile’s development: the autonomous vehicle.
Cars are far from the only mode of transportation undergoing significant innovations, however. In Florida, the “Brightline,” the first private passenger-rail project to be constructed in the United States in a century, is taking paying customers. The privately funded, financed, built, and operated line connects West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, with stations in Miami and Orlando set to follow over the next few years. And Texas Central recently passed its first major federal environmental review on its way to constructing the first true high-speed-rail system on the American continent. Texas Central will connect Houston and Dallas, the fourth- and fifth-largest metro areas in the country, and it will run without state subsidies.
Creativity is also bubbling up in the bicycle world, as many American urban centers have seen bikeshare programs emerge. The market appears to have decided that the time is ripe for such systems to make money. Companies such as Ofo, Mobike, and Limebike are surging into city centers and finding huge numbers of customers. Seattle, for instance, had just wound down its failed city-run bikeshare program when three dockless bikeshare companies filled the void, building the second-largest city bikeshare fleet in the country without spending a single public dime. In China, such dockless bicycle companies, which offer cheap and easy last-mile connections, have dried up the ridesharing services’ market in short-range trips and driven demand back into transit.
To commit enormous federal funds right now while the forms of American mobility are so rapidly shifting, then, would be to bet one’s stack of chips while one’s hand is still being dealt. Instead of rushing to build new roads and highways based on past habits, we should turn our focus to rescuing and reinforcing the investments we have already made. The “crumbling” bridges and roads that President Trump decries will not crumble any less because a new bypass is being built on the other side of town, and maintenance liabilities are already outstripping many communities’ capacity.
Instead of starting another highway-building program, the United States would do well to focus on maintenance, to devolve planning and funding decisions to localities, and to ensure that the playing field is level enough to accommodate whichever road the future of transportation goes down.
– Mr. Coppage is a visiting senior fellow at the R Street Institute, where he studies conservative urbanism and the built environment.
How, exactly, should policymakers respond to the rapid rise of new private mobility services such as ride-hailing, dockless shared bicycles, and microtransit? As I argued here several months ago, in order to answer that question city leaders will need accurate and detailed information about all urban trips—however the traveler chose to get from one place to another. And that information needs to come in part from the private mobility companies that are moving a growing share of people within our cities.
In 2017, these services had a tumultuous year. Apocalyptic images of discarded dockless bikes in China left American officials that are experimenting with this model for bikesharing scrambling to ensure their cities avoid the same fate. Meanwhile, Uber’s admission that it paid a $100,000 ransom to hackers who stole 57 million user accounts damaged that company’s credibility as a protector of passenger privacy. And a widely shared study from researchers at University of California-Davis refuted several optimistic hypotheses about ride-hailing’s societal benefits: It found that companies like Uber and Lyft are spurring urban congestion, siphoning public transit riders, and failing to entice many people to give up their cars. Not coincidentally, transit agencies like Washington, D.C.’s WMATA are now launching their own investigations to see if declining ridership can be traced to the emergence of ride-hailing.
Beyond these broad issues, there are a number of specific questions that can’t be answered without access to trip information from Uber, Lyft, Limebike, and the like. For example, without such data it’s hard for policymakers—or the general public—to decide if it’s a good idea to convert a parking meter to a ride-hailing drop-off point, or to ensure pedestrians aren’t obstructed by heaps of dockless bikeshare bikes on the sidewalk. Unfortunately, new mobility services have generally refused to let the public sector see inside their data vaults.
But the tide is turning, especially as the line between public and private forms of urban transportation blurs. American transit agencies are partnering with ride-hailing companies to offer late-night service, move people to bus or rail stations (“first mile/last mile” solutions), and manage paratransit for riders with limited mobility. Ride-hailing companies are in an awkward position if they refuse to share data with governments that subsidize them. “If I’m paying you to move a passenger, the data for that passenger isn’t yours,” I heard a Texas transit official say recently to a ride-hailing executive. “It’s mine.” The executive had no response.
When will policymakers finally be able to access the data they need to manage streets and sidewalks in the public interest, and how will they get it? The most likely solution is via a data exchange that anonymizes rider data and gives public experts (and perhaps academic and private ones too) the ability to answer policy questions.
This idea is starting to catch on. The World Bank’s OpenTraffic project, founded in 2016, initially developed ways to aggregate traffic information derived from commercial fleets. A handful of private companies like Grab and Easy Taxi pledged their support when OpenTraffic launched. This fall, the project become part of SharedStreets, a collaboration between the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), the World Resources Institute, and the OECD’s International Transport Forum to pilot new ways of collecting and sharing a variety of public and private transport data. Kevin Webb, the founder of SharedStreets, envisions a future where both cities and private companies can utilize SharedStreets to solve questions on topics like street safety, curb use, and congestion.
That’s a laudable goal, but Shared Streets will have to solve several challenges in order to become a go-to resource. For example, it’s hard to provide a complete picture of urban mobility unless the heavyweights like Uber, Lyft, Didi Chuxing, Ofo, and Mobike participate; so far none of them has signed on. There is also the question of how tech behemoths like Google and Apple—collectors of massive datasets about individuals’ movement—can be involved. Perhaps they can be sources of reliable revenue that SharedStreets will need in order to scale (at present the initiative is being incubated with philanthropic support).
Finally, there is the critical question of privacy. Although Uber’s hacking scandal has dinged ride-hailing’s credibility as a protector of passenger data, new mobility services do have a point when they push back against handing over rider information to the government. It’s reasonable to assume that at least some customers will balk at the prospect of public agencies accessing their personal ride histories. Webb says that SharedStreets will handle those concerns by collecting aggregated data that is rich enough to allow for deep analysis while still hiding information about individual rides. New mobility service companies could further protect their passengers by converting trip data into so-called “synthetic populations” of artificial data modeled after trips that people actually took.
However the new mobility service data arrives—almost certainly aggregated, and potentially artificially modeled—there will need to be a way to ensure it is accurate. After all, companies like Uber and Lyft have a vested interest in the questions policymakers pose about their impact on city streets. Data validation—especially for modeled data—is crucial for such an exchange to be trusted.
While much of CES is focused on the smart home, Bosch is looking beyond our abodes to the mega metropolises that house them.
Leveraging its IoT, AI, software and sensor smarts – the building blocks of smart cities – the Germany-based business is already working to cure many of the ills that plague large urban areas, including traffic, pollution, high energy consumption and crime.
In a CES Media Day presentation on Monday, Bosch Group management board member Dr. Stefan Hartung and Mike Mansuetti, president of Bosch North America, cited 14 current “Beacon” projects in metroplexes worldwide, where “The smart city of the future is already here,” Hartung said.
Among the pilots: A connected-parking program, being tested this year in 20 U.S. cities, in which specially-equipped cars automatically report available parking spaces to the Cloud as they pass, helping to reduce traffic, fuel consumption, pollution and time spent hunting for a spot.
The company is also outfitting 5,000 streetlights in San Leandro, Calif., to only illumine when needed, which is expected to save the municipality $8 million over 15 years.
On the product front, Bosch has developed a shoebox-sized micro-climate monitoring unit called Climo that urban managers can use for traffic control. A winner of a CES 2018 Innovation Award, the device is one-tenth the cost and one-hundredth the size of standard monitors, Mansuetti said.
The executives also touted a telematic eCall plug, which fits into a car’s cigarette lighter and can monitor and report the driver’s performance, and emit an emergency alert signal if needed. The device can help calm parents of young drivers and reward safe motorists with discounted insurance rates.
To help make smart cities a reality, Bosch has deployed 4,000 IoT engineers and is operating three AI research centers, in Germany, India and Silicon Valley. Why the urgency? According to Hartung, two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in mega cities by 2050, while Mansuetti pointed to the big business that smart city has become: 19 percent annual growth and a projected 800 million Euros in expenditures by 2020.