Posts filed under ‘Transportation’

Big changes ahead with Raleigh’s new development code

Raleigh’s city council may be adopting a new 300-page Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) tonight, which will set forth new guidelines for the development of the city’s urban cores. This is primarily the Crabtree Valley, Hillsborough Street, and Cameron Village areas. The idea is to encourage higher-density, walkable, mixed-use development while still preserving a neighborhood feel.

It is encouraging to see that new steps are being taking to ensure that our cities are developing in a more sustainable way. Encouraging more dense development, with shops, offices, and housing in close proximity, means that people will rely less and less on cars. In addition, this will help create a more vibrant public life– with more people out and about, walking and biking, shopping, eating, etc, there will be more activity in our urban areas.

One of the issues that such a plan raises, however, is the lack of public transportation included in the new code– a key piece for encouraging linkages between areas and reducing the use of cars. As the News & Observer reports, public transit investments rely on a half-sent sales tax increase that is supported by Wake County mayors, but opposed by county commissioners. As one councilman put it, “If it still ends up being more convenient to get in your car , it’s going to get more difficult to redevelop these areas.”

There is also the broader issue of access– who are these areas being developed for, and what will the impacts be on surrounding areas? The N&O begins by stating that these neighborhoods currently attract “young professionals.” Along with encouraging a mix of uses, will the plan also encourage a mix of people? Will there be opportunities for lower- and moderate-income people to access housing, business space, or even retail in these areas?

Even in the discussion of public transportation investments, the key is to make sure that the new transit hubs are connected to the outlying areas. As we have blogged before, low-income people are the primary users of public transit. If the urban cores of Raleigh will include opportunities for both recreation and employment, it is essential that public transit provide the connections to allow all citizens access.

It is commendable that the City of Raleigh is working to update its land-use and development codes to encourage more sustainability. However, it is equally important that city planning efforts and big investments like public transit infrastructure encourage the growth, development, and connectivity of all areas of the city.

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February 18, 2013 at 12:33 pm 1 comment

Bus fare increase in Fayetteville would burden low-income riders

The Fayetteville Area System of Transit is proposing an increases in their basic adult bus fare, from $1 to $1.25, and in the senior bus fare from 30 cents to 50 cents. In addition, transfers would no longer be free. While this may seem like a small increase, the Fayetteville Observer reports that for many people who rely on public transportation to get to work and to get around town, these increases would be unaffordable.

An article today profiles one Fayetteville resident who works as a server at a Shoney’s restaurant. She commutes almost daily by bus, making transfers along the way, paying $2 each way. The proposed changes would increase her fare by $1. The problem isn’t that people like her are unwilling to pay the extra fare to support the city’s public transit system; it’s that the extra fares would not help make the system more accessible. As the article points out, the buses don’t run on Sundays, which require people like the worker profiled in the Observer to take taxis to work, which are much more costly.

For households with less disposable income, affordable public transit options are very important.  As we blogged about last month, public transit is critical to low-income workers across the state. Among those who commuted by public transit in 2011, 67 percent had incomes below $25,000.  With higher housing costs in the central urban areas, low-income people must live further away from these urban cores to find affordable housing– which also means that they’re further away from jobs. Developing public transportation that meets the needs of those who actually use the system would help connect people to jobs and to other services regionally.

Investing in transportation is not just a good idea for helping low-income workers; it’s also a good investment for generating economic development in the state. The American Public Transportation Association reports that  every $1 billion invested in public transportation supports 36,000 jobs.

Public transit also allows families to save when they don’t need to rely on multiple vehicles, helps to alleviate traffic and pollution, is a key link for people with disabilities and seniors, and it helps to attract to businesses to areas.

All in all, public transportation is a good investment locally and regionally. As we continue on the path of economic recovery, investments in things like public transit can help those regions that continue to struggle and lag in economic growth. However, any expansions or increases should be balanced with the needs of those who actually use the system. Keeping the needs and challenges faced by underserved communities and regions at the forefront will help to made any investments by the state a success for all.

January 28, 2013 at 8:44 am

New NC economic development alliance established

We’re just two weeks away from the end of the year, and still there’s no news of a deal for the “fiscal cliff” or the farm bill. The news reports that the President and the House Speaker are moving closer to an agreement. The farm bill is still being discussed as a potential piece of the fiscal cliff deal. But on both fronts, but there is still nothing concrete to report.

In North Carolina news, however, there is a new group that has been formed to address statewide economic growth and development issues. The North Carolina Communities and Business Alliance (NCCBA) will focus on the challenges faced by cities and towns in the areas of balanced growth, transportation infrastructure, water & wastewater infrastructure, education, and tax fairness. The NCCBA is governed by a Board of Directors that includes former governors, former local elected officials, members of the General Assembly, and other leaders. Notably, Keith Crisco, the state’s commerce secretary, will serve on the Board.

The NCCBA’s first Board meeting was held earlier this month. The press release issued by the NCCBA emphasizes its focus on towns:

“We recognize that our communities are major economic engines for our state,” said Alliance founding member Louis Bissette Jr, former mayor of Asheville and former president of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. “If they are thriving, North Carolina’s economy is also strong and healthy.”

Its mission statement says that it will partner with the state to develop strategies that will allow both businesses and communities to grow and prosper. If it stays true to its mission and keeps the focus on both businesses and communities, the NCCBA could do much to improve the economic conditions of many parts of our state that continue to face significant challenges.

The NCCBA has stated that its initial focus will be to share and learn from various stakeholders. In this effort, it should make sure to meet with those organizations and businesses that serve the most distressed and underserved areas of the state. Without a focus on uplifting those areas that are most in need, the state’s overall economic recovery will continue to lag. There are many groups– non-profits, service providers, financial institutions, businesses– that work on the ground to create economic growth and opportunity at the local level. It’s important that any strategic effort to bring stakeholders together for the greater good of our cities, towns, and communities incorporate these voices.

December 18, 2012 at 10:49 am

Low-income North Carolinians need public transit

The Budget & Tax Center has released a new report today, which examines the impact of new transit investment on low-income populations. The report shows that, as the state invests more into public transit, it must make sure to reach low-income people, who are the most reliable users of public transit.

According to the report, 67 percent of workers in the state who commuted by public transit had incomes below $25,000 in 2011, and this share is increasing. Renters are also more likely to commute by public transit as well.  As the report states:

Expenses related to transportation and housing—such as the cost of a vehicle, insurance premiums, rent, and utilities—consume more than half of all household income, forcing many low- and moderate-income families to make tradeoffs  between these expenses and other expenses like food, child care, and health care. These expenses make affordable transportation options that much more important to households with less disposable income.

In addition, as housing becomes less affordable in the state’s urban area,  more lower-income families are forced to move further away from the urban cores. Job opportunities and public transit are both primarily located in the urban areas. This mismatch between affordable housing availability,  jobs, and transit makes using public transit more expensive and inaccessible for many lower-income people.

The report argues that new transit developments should both focus on where these workers live, and also incorporate investments in affordable housing near new transit stations. Without intentional and comprehensive planning, the new transit developments may not be able to reach their full capacity:

Research shows that new transit investments often lead to neighborhood change that thwarts the transit system’s ability to reach preferred levels of ridership. Neighborhoods near new transit stations tend to attract higher‐income and vehicle-owning residents who are less likely to use public transit compared to core transit users. Efforts to manage these externalities through comprehensive planning should be a leading priority among policymakers engaged in transit planning. Without early, coordinated planning, the spatial mismatch between transit, affordable housing, and jobs will likely continue to grow.

This is particularly important as we look at how the economic recovery has been uneven across the state. With growing income inequality, disparities in the unemployment rates among regions, and reduced economic mobility, some areas of the state will be left behind without conscientious planning that connects residents to economic opportunity.  Providing accessible and affordable public transit options will help to ease some of the barriers faced by low-income and rural/suburban populations in accessing jobs. In addition, transit-oriented affordable housing development will help to ensure that low-income residents are  not pushed out of their neighborhoods as a result of transit developments.

Investing in public transit is certainly an important goal for the state, particularly as the population continues to grow. Keeping in  mind accessibility for all North Carolinians–especially those who use and depend on public transit — will make these investments a success in the long-term.

December 13, 2012 at 12:12 pm 2 comments

Orange County voters approve the transit sales tax

One of the victories coming out of Tuesday’s election was the passage of a 1/2-cent sales tax in Orange County, which will pay for improved bus service and new light-rail connecting Chapel Hill and Durham. It will not apply to gas, food, medicine, health care, or housing costs. Investing in public transportation will reduce congestion, but also encourage more dense development and will be an economic development asset for the future.

This is a big step forward toward more transit-oriented development in the triangle region. As the region continues to grow rapidly, it is important that measures are taken now to accommodate the increase in traffic and vehicle emissions. As Progressive Pulse points out, “accessible and affordable transportation creates healthy, connected neighborhoods by improving access to employment, education, and social opportunities—a win for both residents and local businesses.”

Opponents of the measure raised some important issues, however. There is a concern about the accessibility of the new transit system, particularly for low-income and rural residents. According to preliminary plans, the 17.3-mile light-rail project will not connect to the rural arts of Orange and Durham Counties. It is unclear if the expanded bus service will like those areas to the new light-rail system. Either way, Orange County’s rural communities are not hopeful– all of the rural precincts voted against it.

Likewise, lower-income residents, who use public transit the most, should be ensured access to the new system. On the other hand, new transit can bring about significant changes to neighborhoods, like increased housing costs and other signs of gentrification. Cross-cutting policies for housing and transit are needed to make sure that lower-income areas of Orange and Durham Counties have proper access without pricing out their residents.

Despite these concerns, the vote to invest in the area’s infrastructure is a positive step toward more sustainable development in the Triangle.  But being engaged on civic issues should not begin and end at the voting booth. Now that the measure has been passed, it is up to those same voters to hold the decision-makers in each county accountable. Hopefully, this new investment in our state’s infrastructure will be a benefit to the residents of Orange and Durham Counties, and serve as a catalyst for more such investments across the state.

November 8, 2012 at 7:02 am


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