# Public Transit

Swing and sway the CRANDIC way: Past, present, and future

Austin Wu grew up in Cedar Rapids and is a graduate of the University of Iowa College of Public Health. In his spare time he has studied local history and urban design. Follow him on Twitter @theaustinwu.

A slide from a presentation Canadian urban planner Jennifer Keesmaat gave at the Academy of Urban Design for Living has stuck with me ever since I saw it on Twitter. It dates to the twilight of the Before Times (May 23, 2019) and reads:


Technology won’t save us (sorry AV’s).

Innovations are not required.

Solutions we seek for the future

can be found in principles of the past.

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How well did Iowa use transportation stimulus money?

Last week the non-profit organization Smart Growth America released a report on “how successful states have been in creating jobs with their flexible $26.6 billion of transportation funds from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA).” The report demonstrates that “the states that created the most jobs were the ones that invested [stimulus funds] in public transportation projects and projects that maintained and repaired existing roads and bridges. The states that spent their [stimulus] funds predominantly building new roads and bridges created fewer jobs.”

Table 2 of the full report (pdf file) ranks the states in terms of percentage of road spending allocated to “system preservation” (road and bridge repair) versus building new capacity. Here Iowa did well, spending 93 percent of the stimulus road money on repair work. Iowa ranked 12th in this category; seven states and Washington, DC spent 100 percent of their ARRA road funds on repair.

Iowa didn’t score as well (30th place) on Smart Growth America’s list of states by the percent of stimulus transportation funding spent on public transit or non-motorized projects. Just 3.5 percent of Iowa’s transportation stimulus money went to such projects. That’s not surprising; it has long been difficult to persuade Iowa policy-makers to invest more in passenger transit, even though we have an aging population, and many older Americans want alternatives to driving. A long-range transportation funding plan adopted in 2008 didn’t require a single extra dollar to be spent on public transit in Iowa. The Republican-controlled Iowa House has already voted to scrap funding that would help bring passenger rail service to Iowa City, and Governor Terry Branstad didn’t include passenger rail funding in his draft budget for the next two years.

After the jump I’ve posted excerpts from the full report, which explain why repair and transit projects create more jobs per dollar spent. A memo about the recent opinion poll findings references below can be downloaded here (pdf).

Smart Growth America’s latest study didn’t assess the rate at which states turned around their stimulus transportation funding to create jobs. A 2009 study by the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee showed that Iowa was the second-best state in terms of allocating stimulus road funds quickly. At the end of July 2009, 85.1 percent of the $358 million Iowa received for highway and bridge projects was under contract, and 74.9 percent was for projects already underway. Those percentages were more than double the national average.  

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Speak up for wiser investments in transportation

I learned from 1000 Friends Of Iowa that the Iowa Department of Transportation and the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization are seeking public input on two important issues.

The DOT is finalizing the Statewide Public Transportation Study and will make recommendations to the state legislature in December. Officials want to hear from Iowans about:

   * Baseline level of service for public transportation in Iowa

   * Gap analysis between baseline service and public transportation demands of Iowans.

   * Transportation services needed to close these gaps.

   * The additional cost of these services.

   * Addressing Iowa’s energy conservation goals.

   * The range of possible funding concepts to address service needs.

   * Draft findings of the study to date.

You can comment on any of these issues at public meetings in Centerville, Sioux City, Des Moines, Iowa City, Bettendorf, or Waterloo on September 15-17 (event details are after the jump). Alternatively, you can submit comments through an online survey at www.iRIDE21.com.

Anyone with an opinion on how to improve Iowa’s passenger transportation should let the DOT know. You do not have to be an expert or policy wonk. Remember, public transit is not just for big city residents. An express bus or vanpool that takes people from a smaller town to work in a nearby larger city saves passengers money while reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Last year the weekly Cityview profiled Winterset resident Ann Pashek, who saves thousands of dollars a year through the Des Moines Area Transit Authority’s Rideshare program.

Meanwhile, the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is hosting the last series of public input meetings on the Horizon Year 2035 Metropolitan Transportation Plan. They need to hear from central Iowa residents who are concerned about land use, air quality and global warming.

Although reducing vehicle miles driven is a critical element of any plan to address greenhouse gas emissions, the DMAMPO’s plan for the next 25 years involves 341 projects that, if completed, would increase vehicle miles traveled in our region by 33 percent (by the DMAMPO’s own calculations). 1000 Friends of Iowa adds:

The study also indicated that despite increases in [vehicle miles traveled], cleaner vehicles and fuels will result in continued reductions in vehicle pollutant emissions.  Gasoline was used in their project model.  However, when ethanol was used the increase in CO2 was 66% higher.  DNR Air Quality Division has studies which conclude that emissions with ethanol are substantially higher.   It seems this plan will not reduce VMTs or promote cleaner air.

The DMAMPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) is hosting the final series of public input meetings to receive input and comments on the HY 2035 MTP final draft. You must tell the DMAMPO that Central Iowans want to concentrate more transportation dollars on alternatives which will promote the responsible use of our states resources, land water and air. This is the most important series of meetings, please mark your calendars, plan to attend and make your opinion count!

The DMAMPO meetings are on September 15 and 16 at the North Side Library in Des Moines. Event details are in the 1000 Friends of Iowa action alert, which I’ve posted after the jump. That also includes talking points as well as contact information for those who prefer to submit written comments to the DMAMPO. Anyone can send a comment; you do not have to have attended a public meeting.

On a related note, today is the last day to submit a comment urging the DNR to protect water quality in Iowa’s cleanest lakes and streams. Please take a minute to send an e-mail to the right DNR officials.

So much policy that affects our lives is made below the radar. If I weren’t involved with 1000 Friends of Iowa, I would never have heard of these discussions about transportation priorities. If I weren’t involved with the Iowa Environmental Council and the Sierra Club’s Iowa Chapter, I would not have heard of the debate over water quality rules either. I encourage you to join some non-profit organizations that are active on matters important to you. You will become much more informed than if you rely solely on the mainstream media.

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Iowa DOT seeking input on passenger transportation funding

I received an action alert from 1000 Friends of Iowa about six important public meetings next week:

The Iowa DOT is presenting Iowans with a golden opportunity to encourage sustainable transportation and land-use before April ends. Whether you feel we need more bike-to-work lanes, passenger rail options, or goals to address climate change – this is your chance to be heard. Six meetings are being held across the state to seek the public’s input on transportation needs.  […] The Statewide Passenger Transportation Funding Study is seeking your input to identify gaps between current public transit, carpool/vanpool programs, intercity bus and rail services, and what you and your neighbors believe are transportation needs.  Using the information from these meetings and through other sources, plans will be made to address Iowa’s future transportation plans.

Event details for the meetings in Ames, Atlantic, Ottumwa, Mason City, Cedar Rapids and Cherokee are after the jump.

Please spread the word among Iowans who would like to see more investment in public transportation and alternatives to driving. You don’t have to be an expert to speak or submit written comments at one of these meetings. Just say a few words about where Iowa’s passenger transportation is lacking and why you’d like to see it improved.

Remember, public transit is not just for big city residents. An express bus or vanpool that takes people from a smaller town to work in a nearby larger city saves riders money while reducing oil usage and greenhouse gas emissions. Last year the weekly Cityview profiled Winterset resident Ann Pashek, who uses the Des Moines Area Transit Authority’s Rideshare program. Taking the van to and from Pashek job in Des Moines saves her thousands of dollars a year, and she can use the commute to “complete work or pay bills that would normally detract from valuable family time.”

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Open thread on good news and bad news in the stimulus bill

It didn’t take long for representatives and senators to reach a compromise on a $790 billion stimulus bill. Chris Bowers posted a good summary of the bill at Open Left. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s selling point is that the bill that came out of conference creates more jobs than the original Senate bill while spending less money than the original House bill.

I don’t believe the bill is large enough to do the job it’s supposed to do, especially since it still contains costly measures that won’t stimulate the economy much (such as fixing the alternative minimum tax, which hits high-income Americans).

I hope President Barack Obama will take a tougher line in future negotiations with Congress. He did too much pre-compromising with Republicans, to the detriment of the final bill. His original suggestion of an $800 billion price tag for the stimulus, seen by some as a “floor” that would increase when Congress got to work, became a “ceiling” above which any bill was viewed as too expensive.

He also included too many non-stimulative tax cuts in his original proposal to Congress. Predictably, Republicans demanded (and got) even more concessions, even though none of them voted for the bill in the House and only three voted for it in the Senate.

Bowers noticed one Q and A from Obama’s prime-time press conference the other night, which hints that the president learned a lesson about negotiating from this experience.

Bowers believes that “The deal isn’t perfect, but it is still probably the best piece of legislation to pass Congress in, oh, 15 or 16 years.”

David Sirota is also mostly pleased:

I’m not happy that the stimulus bill was made less stimulative by reactionary Republicans and embarrassingly incoherent Democrats. I’m also not happy that direct spending on infrastructure/social programs comprises a miniscule 4.6% of all the government funds spent to deal with this economic crisis. However, considering how far progressives have pushed the debate, I’d say the deal on the economic stimulus package is a huge victory.

Remember, only months ago, the incoming administration and the Congress were talking about passing a stimulus bill at around $350 billion. Remember, too, that Obama started out pushing a stimulus package chock full of odious tax cuts. Now, we’ve got a bill that’s $790 billion (including a sizable downpayment for major progressive priorities) and stripped of the worst tax cuts.

Your opinion of the stimulus may depend on which issues you care about most. Open Left user WI Dem noticed that the compromise bill included more funding for high-speed rail but less for urban public transit, which “has a far greater effect on CO2 [emissions] and on people’s daily lives.”

Via the twitter feed of Daily Iowan opinion writers, I found this piece by Climate Progress on “what’s green” in the stimulus compromise.

The Republican Party is already planning to run ads against 30 Democrats who will vote for the stimulus. It makes sense for the GOP to bet against the stimulus, because they won’t get credit if it succeeds, and their best hope for a comeback in the next election cycle is for Democrats to fail. The main risk for them is that if the stimulus package succeeds, the upcoming advertising campaign people could make more people remember that Republicans tried to stand in its way.

Speaking of Republican propaganda, contrary to what your wingnut friends may tell you, the stimulus bill does not earmark $30 million to save “Nancy Pelosi’s mouse.” It does include some funding for federal wetlands restoration, however.

UPDATE: TPM’s Elana Schor provides surprising proof that no politician is wrong 100 percent of the time. Apparently Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma got a $2 billion “clean coal” earmark out of the stimulus bill.

Greg Sargent explains how “Pelosi’s mouse” went from fabrication to talking point for right-wing television pundits.

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Borrow money for infrastructure, but fix what we have first

The highlight of Governor Chet Culver’s “condition of the state” address yesterday (video here and prepared text here) was a proposal to issue state bonds to borrow up to $700 million over the next few years:

Thousands of new jobs will be created, Culver said. Every $100 million spent on highway construction alone means more than 4,000 new jobs, he said.

“We’re cutting back on the day-to-day expenditures of state government,” Culver said in his Condition of the State speech this morning. “But, at the same time, we will be investing in bricks and mortar – to create jobs and keep our economy going.”

Culver said Iowa won’t need to raise taxes to pay for the plan. The state is in the position to issue bonds, which is essentially borrowing money. Existing gaming revenue would repay the bonds, he said.

Predictably, road industry lobbyists like the spending plans while expressing some doubts about the borrowing plans.

Republicans also don’t seem to like the bonding proposal, while statehouse Democrats think it’s a good idea. State Auditor David Vaudt, who may be a Republican candidate for governor in 2010, said he needed to study the details before expressing an opinion, but noted, “What we’ve got to remember is we’ve got to dedicate and set aside a piece of revenue stream to pay that principal and interest.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal made a great point:

Gronstal deflected Republican criticism by pointing out that [Senate Minority leader Paul] McKinley, in his opening day speech, talked about a business he once owned.

“He borrowed every nickel he could and leveraged himself as far as he could because he believed in his future. I believe in Iowa’s future. I believe it makes sense now to borrow money and move this state forward,” Gronstal said.

He added: “This is probably one of the best times in our history to go out and borrow money with a dedicated repayment stream. Do you own a home? Did it make sense for you to borrow money? Or did you just pay cash?”

Gronstal is absolutely right. Iowa has a triple-A bond rating, interest rates are fairly low, and creating jobs is essential to bringing the economy back. Two-thirds of our economy depends on consumer spending, and good jobs generate the money people then spend at businesses in their communities. Construction jobs tend to be good jobs too.

Des Moines Register columnist David Yepsen, who is usually a deficit hawk, also likes the infrastructure bonding idea:

The money will be borrowed over the next few years, supervised by an oversight board and repaid with gambling profits, so no tax increases will be necessary. (If we have to have all this gambling in Iowa, wouldn’t it be nice to see something tangible in return?)

It will be the modern-day equivalent of the Depression-era Works Progress Administration, which built infrastructure we still use today, such as dams, sewers, parks and shelters. Previous American generations left us wonderful systems of interstates, canals, railroads, river locks and dams. What are we leaving our kids? Potholes, bridge collapses and sewers that pollute river ways.

Iowans are a frugal people. Perhaps we are too frugal. According to state Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald’s office, Moody’s Investors Service says Iowa’s per-capita level of public debt ranked 48th in the country last year. Iowa has $98 of state public debt per person. The national average of state debt is $1,158. You could double Iowa’s $98 of per-capita state debt to $200, and we would then rank 46th.

Culver should have told us that. Clearly, most other states saddle their citizens with more debt than is proposed here. And many are more attractive places to live, too, as our children attest when they leave for the better jobs and brighter lights elsewhere.

It’s funny to watch all these Republican legislators, who borrow all sorts of money to buy, expand or repair homes, businesses and farms, now turn prune-faced when Culver suggests doing the exact same thing in state government.

The Des Moines Register explained how Culver’s plan would work:

* Borrow $700 million in 20-year tax-exempt state revenue bonds

* Secure the bonds with about $56 million a year in gaming tax revenues

* Create a Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Authority to issue the bonds. It will be overseen by a five-member board.

* The authority would be administered and staffed by the Iowa Finance Authority.

How money will be spent:






mass transit



water quality and wastewater treatment improvements

flood control improvements

energy infrastructure

disaster-relief infrastructure

public buildings

Projects will be judged on:

Whether they are ready to proceed

How quickly the project can be started and completed

Number of jobs to be created by the project

Contribution to sustainability

On the whole, I support the idea. My main concern is that infrastructure money be spent on fixing what we already have, not on building every new road on developers’ wish lists. In the past, our legislators and state officials have focused too much on funding new roads instead of a balanced transportation policy.

The housing slump is likely to continue for at least two more years, and there is no reason to spend large sums to build new highway interchanges and major new roads through undeveloped farmland now. We should spend the money to fix stretches of existing major roads and highways and crumbling bridges, as well as on modes of transit that allow alternatives to driving. These projects will improve the quality of life for large numbers of Iowans while also creating jobs.

As for airports, I would only support spending money on needed repairs and improvements to existing airports. This is not the time to start building a bunch of small regional airports that would benefit a handful of corporate executives.

Culver emphasized that he did not plan to raise taxes, but Gronstal indicated that raising the state gas tax is still on the table.

I would like to hear more lawmakers talk about closing various tax loopholes that mainly benefit wealthy Iowans. The Iowa Policy Project has documented this and various other flaws in our current tax policies.

If you’ve got the time and the inclination, the governor’s official website has a video Culver showed during his address, called “In Deep Water: The Flood of 2008.” Iowa Public Television has House Minority leader Kraig Paulsen’s response to Culver’s address.

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Will Blue Dog power decline in the next Congress? (updated)

Many a bad bill has passed the U.S. House of Representatives with the votes of Republicans and Democratic “Blue Dogs.” These representatives call themselves “moderates” or “centrists,” and you often find them voting with corporate interests, against the majority of the House Democratic caucus, when the chips are down.

This Washington Post article about the upcoming debate over an economic stimulus bill cites Representative Baron Hill of Indiana as “incoming co-chairman of the Blue Dog Coalition, a caucus of 51 fiscally conservative House Democrats.”

Hill wants the economic stimulus money to go toward road and bridge construction, whereas others would like to see more of the money spent on “green jobs” and infrastructure projects that are more environmentally friendly than building new roads. Progressives would like to spend the transportation money on fixing our existing roads and bridges while expanding public transit and rail.

Friends of the Earth has launched a campaign to “keep the economic stimulus clean”:

Transportation in the U.S. is responsible for 30 percent of our global warming pollution and 70 percent of our oil consumption. We cannot solve the energy and climate challenge without making our transportation system far cleaner and more efficient.

President-elect Obama and the congressional leadership are moving quickly to pass an economic stimulus package that creates green jobs with a new, clean energy infrastructure. Public transportation, smart growth and green transportation alternatives are a crucial part of this effort.

Unfortunately, the road-building lobby is attempting to hijack this bill and divert billions of dollars to the construction of new, unnecessary roads, highways and bridges that would deepen our nation’s dependence on oil and increase greenhouse gas emissions.

Click here for more details about the economic and environmental consequences of letting new road construction dominate the stimulus bill.

Getting back to the title of this diary, Matt Stoller read that Washington Post piece about debates over the stimulus and was intrigued to learn that Hill claims 51 members for the Blue Dog Coalition:

Last session, there were 49 Blue Dogs, and during the election season the caucus continually bragged about how they would add a substantial number of new members in 2009.  Still, their PAC didn’t give to very many Democratic candidates, two Blue Dogs lost reelection, and a bunch of their candidate prospects lost.  If it’s true that the Blue Dogs have only increased their number by 2, and I’m not sure it is, then they really are far weaker in the House than they were from 2006-2008.  There are 257 Democrats in the next Congress and 178 Republicans.  While the Blue Dogs are still a swing bloc, they only have 11 votes to give.  That’s not very many, considering that this number assumes all Republicans always vote with the Blue Dogs.  If Republicans split off from their caucus on certain votes, even small numbers of Republicans, then Blue Dog priorities are far less likely to matter overall.

Leonard Boswell (IA-03) is the only Iowa Democrat in the Blue Dog group. Once the new House convenes, it will be interesting to see how the Blue Dogs compare in number to the Progressive Caucus, which had 71 members in the last Congress, including Dave Loebsack (IA-02). My hunch is that the Progressive Caucus will add a lot more new members than the Blue Dogs.

After the new year I’ll try to find out how many members Bruce Braley (IA-01) was able to recruit to the Populist Caucus he is forming.

Whether or not Blue Dog power declines in the House, it may be on the rise in the Senate. Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana is setting up a Blue Dog caucus in the upper chamber. Although Senate Majority leader Harry Reid’s spokesman claims Reid is “upbeat” about Bayh’s plans, it’s likely that the Senate Blue Dogs will collude with Republicans to obstruct Barack Obama’s agenda.

Matthew Yglesias advanced a very plausible hypothesis about Bayh’s move:

With Republicans out of power, the GOP can’t really block progressive change in exchange for large sums of special interest money. That creates an important market niche for Democrats willing to do the work. It was a good racket for the House Blue Dogs in 2007-2008 and there’s no reason it couldn’t work for Senate analogues over the next couple of years.

Let’s hope the memory of the 1994 Republican landslide will induce conservative Democrats not to block most of Obama’s agenda. The Democrats who ran Congress in 1993 and 1994 wanted to show Bill Clinton who was boss, but the effect was to make Democrats look incompetent, depressing Democratic base turnout in 1994 and turning swing voters toward the Republicans.

On the other hand, I would not underestimate the Blue Dogs’ willingness to do what big money wants, whether or not it’s good for the Democratic Party.

Share any relevant thoughts in the comments.

UPDATE: Kagro X notes that the Progressive Caucus seems to be a more cohesive voting bloc than the Blue Dogs, which is surprising.

Meanwhile, Chris Bowers argues persuasively than the Blue Dogs have achieved little on their alleged signature issue of “fiscal responsibility”:

If the Blue Dogs only exist in order to promote “fiscal responsibility,” isn’t it pretty clear that, rather than getting their way, they have actually failed across the board over the last eight years? From the Bush tax cuts, to soaring deficits, to making exceptions for war, to making exceptions for bailouts, to making exceptions to stimulus packages, the Blue Dogs have completely and utterly failed at their stated primary policy area and done so at every available opportunity.

The only actual successes of the Blue Dogs appear to be the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] re-write and blank check funding for Iraq. It is notable that 38 of the 47 Blue Dogs voted in favor of both these measures, which jointly render a member a “Bush Dog” in Open Left’s terminology. Given that 70 House members voted in favor of both those measures, the Democratic defectors on those issues were clearly spearheaded by the Blue Dogs.

Mainly, I am impressed that Blue Dogs keep earning press that describes them as fiscally responsible and wildly powerful, when the record shows otherwise. When offered opportunities to actually clamp down on spending over the last two years, the Blue Dogs have balked at every turn, favoring blank check funding for Iraq, blank check funding for the bailout, and massive funding for the economic stimulus. That a group of House members can do all of this and still be described as both “fiscally responsible” and “powerful” is pretty impressive. Maybe what we progressives really need is to hire the Blue Dogs’ PR people.

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A Republican for Transportation Secretary and more reaction to Obama's cabinet picks

President-elect Barack Obama has apparently decided to appoint retiring Republican Congressman Ray LaHood of Illinois as Secretary of Transportation. LaHood was elected to the U.S. House in the 1994 landslide. He decided not to run for re-election this year because “It’s not any fun being in the minority.” (Are you listening, Tom Latham?)

An Illinois blogger writes that LaHood doesn’t have much of a record on transportation issues, although he has voted for more public transit funding and more passenger rail service on Amtrak.

At Grist, Ryan Avent sees three possibilities:

  1. Obama doesn’t intend the DOT secretary to do the heavy lifting on his transportation policies,

  2. Obama doesn’t really care about transportation, and

  3. It isn’t true.

But I agree with the reader who suggested a fourth possibility:

4) Obama knows this guy personally, finds him to be a trustworthy sort.  

I am going to hope for number 4 and that Obama will have LaHood implement the transportation priorities Obama and Biden believe in. Expanding passenger rail is one of the biggies.

Incidentally, LaHood was one of the leaders of the impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton. Let’s hope he won’t try to undermine Obama’s presidency as well.

Regarding Obama’s choice of Senator Ken Salazar for Secretary of Interior, some environmental groups are concerned. He’s far from the environmental champion they were hoping for in Congressman Raul Grijalva. Kate Sheppard has more on the environmental community’s mixed feelings on Salazar at Grist.

However, the Sierra Club praised Salazar, as well as Tom Vilsack, in this press release.

In this Daily Kos diary, Kula 2316 provides more reaction to Obama’s choice of Vilsack for Secretary of Agriculture.

Share any relevant thoughts in the comments.

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Public transit is not just for the east coast

In June, I wrote about a bill passed by the House of Representatives providing $1.7 billion in funding for public transportation.

Noneed4thneed alerted me to this post by Matthew Yglesias, who reports that Hillary Clinton has introduced a companion bill in the Senate. However, only the New York and New Jersey delegations have signed on so far. Some members of Congress are trying to secure earmarks to fund public transit projects in their home states. Yglesias correctly points out that

Organizing needed funding through earmarks, however, is not an especially sound way to proceed. Far better to pass a proper, widely applicable bill that uses the federal government’s ability to engage in deficit spending to help provide some transit stimulus. At a time when booming energy prices are the main factor driving an economic downturn, cutting back on alternative transportation services is extremely foolish and will only prolong economic problems.

With cheap oil a thing of the past, there should be a strong bipartisan consensus in favor of better public transit in every state. I hope Iowa’s senators will support Clinton’s bill on this subject.

On a related note, this past Saturday 1000 Friends of Iowa organized a “tour de sprawl” in northern Polk County as part of its annual meeting. The bus tour took us through several areas in the corridor being considered for a four-lane beltway in northeast Polk County.

It is incredible to realize that Congressman Leonard Boswell will be seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding for this road project. A very small number of people would benefit (primarily developers who are buying up farmland near the beltway’s path).

Meanwhile, valuable farmland could be lost and irreplaceable natural areas such as the Moeckley Prairie could be threatened.

The opportunity cost of spending hundreds of millions on a new road heading north from Altoona and then east to I-35 would be enormous. Traffic flows do not justify this project through sparsely-populated rural areas, especially when gasoline is expensive and many Americans are seeking alternatives to driving.

Imagine how many people in the Des Moines metro area would benefit from a significant federal investment in public transit and making roads safer and more accessible for pedestrians and bicyclists.

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Older Americans want alternatives to driving

A nationwide survey of Americans over age 50, commissioned by the AARP in July, found that

while many Americans ages 50+ are trying to move away from car transportation as a result of high gas prices, their attempt to go “green” is challenged by inadequate sidewalks and bike lanes, as well as insufficient public transportation options. […]

Almost one of every three people (29%) polled say they are now walking as a way to avoid high gas prices. But as those people set out to walk, almost 40% of the 50+ population say they do not have adequate sidewalks in their neighborhoods. Additionally, 44% say they do not have nearby public transportation that is accessible. Almost half (47%) of poll responders say they cannot cross the main roads safely – 4 in 10 pedestrian fatalities are over the age of 50.

The AARP is one of the organizations supporting “Complete Streets” legislation:

“Complete streets enable pedestrians, bicyclists and public transit riders to share the road safely with automobiles,” said Elinor Ginzler, AARP’s Senior Vice President for Livable Communities. “More cities and states are adopting policies requiring their transportation agencies to ensure that roads are routinely designed or redesigned for all modes of travel. And instituting these new standards makes it safer for residents of all ages,” she stated.

“Some cities like Sacramento, California and Kirkland, Washington are ahead of the curve,” said Ginzler. “They have extra-wide sidewalks, flowered medians and flashing lights embedded in crosswalks at busy intersections. Bike lanes and bus stops line even some of the town’s busiest streets. These amenities allow residents to be safer pedestrians and commuters and even help the flow of vehicle traffic.”

At the national level, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), led efforts in the U.S. Senate to develop safer, comprehensively designed streets. Harkin introduced the bipartisan Complete Streets Act of 2008 (S. 2686) this spring. Senate cosponsors include Senators Thomas Carper (D-DE) and Norm Coleman (R-MN). Representative Doris Matsui (D-CA) took a significant step for safer streets in May by introducing the Safe and Complete Streets Act of 2008 (H.R. 5951) in the U.S. House of Representatives. Representative Christopher Shays (R-CT) cosponsors the bipartisan bill. The bills would ensure that roads built and improved with federal funds safely serve everyone using the roadway — including pedestrians, people on bicycles or those catching the bus, as well as those with disabilities. This is the first time that comprehensive complete streets bills have been introduced in the House and Senate.

Even if there were no economic or environmental reasons to try to reduce gasoline consumption, Iowa’s aging population will increasingly need alternatives to driving in order to get around cities and towns.

So far only Iowa City and Johnson County have taken significant steps toward providing “complete streets” in Iowa.

More information on gas prices and complete streets can be found in this pdf file.

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Senator McCoy wants your input on public transit in Iowa

A friend forwarded to me the latest issue of Senator Matt McCoy’s electronic newsletter. It includes the following passage:

With the rapid rise in gas prices, it is clearer than ever that Iowans need more choices when it comes to transportation.  

Over the next several months, I’ll be working with a Mass Transit Study Committee to review ways mass transit might be used to improve public transportation among Iowa communities.  We’ll hear from policy experts and citizens who are concerned with improving transportation alternatives.  

I hope you’ll contact me with your ideas on how to address this difficult problem.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: To fight global warming, we also need to rethink transportation policy.

Whether or not you live in Senate district 31, I hope you will contact Senator McCoy if you have input for this committee.

Remember that public transit doesn’t have to be restricted to larger towns and cities. A small town can have express bus service or vanpools taking people to jobs, shops or other facilities in other communities. That can save users a lot of money while reducing gasoline consumption and congestion on roads used by commuters.

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Bipartisan caucus to push for new transportation policies

Representatives Ellen Tauscher (D, CA-10) and Tom Petri (R, WI-06), both members of the House Transportation Committee, are forming a “Metropolitan Mobility Caucus” to revamp federal transportation policy.

Here is the “Dear colleague” letter they are circulating among members of Congress:

Dear Colleague,

We invite you to join the Metropolitan Mobility Caucus.

Transportation congestion is a major economic and environmental problem in metropolitan areas. Although the top 100 metropolitan areas represent only 12% of the land in the United States, they contain 65% of our nation’s population. They account for more than 90% of traffic congestion, transit ridership, and population exposure to autorelated air pollution. Urban areas handle 95% of the nation’s trade, 96% of rail passengers, and 75% of seaport tonnage. Congestion has never been worse. In 2005, urban congestion cost $78.2 billion in wasted time and fuel, which equates to $707 annually per traveler.

We believe that federal transportation policy should take a fresh approach to solving the various metropolitan infrastructure problems. As we continue to examine the structure of the next highway bill, our caucus will advocate for stronger partnerships between federal, state, and local transportation officials; greater use of public transportation, including intercity passenger rail; regional mobility goals; and performance standards.

In the coming months, we plan to hold staff briefings to examine these and other issues. The first briefing will take place on Monday, July 21st at 4:30 PM in 2253 RHOB. Cohosted by the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations and the American Planning Association, this briefing will focus on the role of MPOs in the transportation planning process. If you would like to join the Metropolitan Mobility Caucus, please contact Paul Schmid (Tauscher) or Tyler Schwartz (Petri).


Ellen O. Tauscher

Tom E. Petri

I hope some of Iowa’s representatives in Congress will join this caucus. It’s a natural fit for Leonard Boswell and Bruce Braley, who serve on the House Transportation Committee, but others could get behind this initiative as well. The number of Iowans who do not drive or cannot afford a car will grow as our population ages and gasoline becomes more expensive.

We don’t think of Iowa as having major metropolitan areas, but most of our medium-sized and larger cities would benefit from better public transit options and intercity rail. Even small towns would benefit from express bus service or vanpools that could get people to jobs, shops, doctors or other facilities in larger cities nearby.

Bike-friendly and pedestrian-friendly roads provide alternatives to driving and improve the quality of life in cities and towns of all sizes.  

The Smart Growth America website has lots of information on how federal policies could improve our transportation system.

By the way, of all the presidential candidates, Bill Richardson had the best vision on transportation policy. It wasn’t just talk, either–as governor, Richardson spent political capital to make intercity rail between Albuquerque and Santa Fe a reality.

People often mention Richardson as a possible vice-president or secretary of state, but in my fantasy cabinet he would be secretary of transportation.

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U.S. House approves major new investment in public transportation

It’s a tiny sum of money compared to what we appropriate for building new roads, but I’ll take it:

Immediate Release:  June 26, 2008

Contact: John Krieger – (614) 214 9888

Phineas Baxandall – (617) 747-4351                                  

House addresses high gas prices by investing close to $2 billion in public transportation

Responding to record-high gas prices and the rising use of public transportation, the House of Representatives today passed HR 6052, the Saving Energy through Public Transportation Act, by a vote of 322 to 98 which authorizes 1.7 billion dollars to transit agencies across America to expand services and reduce fares.

This investment is part of a long-term solution that gives Americans affordable and convenient alternatives to driving and allows transit agencies to keep up with drastic increases in ridership brought on by high gas prices.

“We applaud this legislation for its rare combination of practicality and vision,” said US PIRG staff attorney John Krieger, “The House recognized today that we cannot kick our oil addiction without driving less, and we cannot drive less without better transportation alternatives.”

According to analysis released this week by US PIRG, American families are spending close to 100 dollars a week on gasoline.  That spending has increased almost 40 percent in the last five months, and   household spending on transportation is now the second highest expense for the average family –  more than food, clothing, even healthcare.

Americans have responded to higher gas costs by taking public transportation at record rates in areas where it is available, and American drivers traveled fewer miles last year for the first time in almost thirty years.  

Analysis by U.S. PIRG shows that public transportation created net oil savings of 3.4 billion gallons in 2006. That is enough to fuel almost 6 million cars for an entire year and saves consumers about $13.6 billion in gasoline at today’s prices.

“Rising gas prices are getting people out of their cars in record numbers,” said Krieger, “Investments like this give them a better and cheaper way to go.”

#  #   #

U.S. PIRG is the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups.  State PIRGs are non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organizations.

Here’s hoping the U.S. Senate approves this bill with a clear bipartisan majority as well.

We also need the leadership of the Iowa House and Senate, as well as Iowa Department of Transportation officials, to understand the need for greater investment in public transit options.

Unfortunately, the TIME-21 transportation plan adopted in Iowa this spring doesn’t require any additional funding to go toward public transit.

It’s possible that every one of the $4 billion likely to be raised through TIME-21 over the next two decades will be spent on roads. The legislature didn’t even impose a “fix-it first” requirement to make sure maintaining existing infrastructure would take priority over building new roads.

Like I’ve written before, it’s hard to drive less if no alternatives to driving are available.

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Action: Give us more transportation choices

I received this action alert today from Smart Growth America:

Dear [desmoinesdem],

Can you believe the impact rising gas prices are having across the country?

Here in D.C., people are abandoning their cars and taking the Metro in record numbers. But most Americans don’t have options like Metro for relief — they don’t have access to convienient public transportation or live in walkable, connected neighborhoods. For years, our leaders have underinvested in these solutions, and now we’re paying the price as fuel prices rise by the day.

We need to demand better transportation choices that can help us get where we need to go — while saving money, conserving oil, and fighting global warming. Urge your Congressional member to support more funding for transit, biking, and smart growth by clicking on the button below to send them a message.

Congressional members Earl Blumenauer and Ellen Tauscher are leading an effort to invest in transit and smart growth — please ask your Representative to join them!

Thanks for your support.

Steve Davis

Smart Growth America

Please feel free to forward this to any of your friends and colleagues who might be interested in taking action or receiving alerts like this one in the future. If you received this message from a friend, you can sign up for news and alerts here.

Keep track of SGA’s current advocacy work and get valuable resources to bolster your own efforts on our action page.

You can click here to

write and tell your representative to sign onto a letter from Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Ellen Tauscher urging Congress to increase funding for public transit, biking, public transportation, and walkable neighborhoods in federal climate legislation. Note: you can edit or personalize the text of the email below, which will help strengthen your message. Feel free to personalize it or add a story of your own from your legislator’s district.

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Two pieces worth reading on transportation policy

At Daily Kos, Devilstower offers five Good Ideas that are Bad Politics. They are:

A five year moratorium on new highway construction

End to single-purpose zoning

Bus Rapid Transit with Dedicated Lanes

Relaxing automotive safety laws

Fifty-five Mile an Hour Speed Limit

Click the link to read the case he makes for each of those. I agree with all of them except relaxing the safety rules. He makes some intriguing points, but I don’t think that change would produce the effect he’d like to see.

Yesterday, Daily Kos user bink wrote this diary: Amtrak Has Too Few Usable Train Cars Left. The gist is that demand for passenger rail is skyrocketing because of high gasoline prices, but Amtrak has a limited ability to lay on more trains because it has been starved of adequate funding for so long.

This should concern anyone who wants to see more passenger rail options available to Iowans.

By the way, Barack Obama wants to invest more in rail transportation, while John McCain has opposed funding for Amtrak for many years.

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"Driving Toward Disaster" and other links on transportation policy

Time for another post on transportation policy. Today I’ll go over reasons to give Americans more alternatives to driving, as well as ways individuals can reduce their own vehicle-miles traveled.

One way of looking at the issue is to assess the cost of not changing our transportation policy. James Howard Kunstler sounds the alarm in a Washington Post editorial published on Sunday. His piece, called “Driving Toward Disaster,” addresses

the desperate wish to keep our “Happy Motoring” utopia running by means other than oil and its byproducts. But the truth is that no combination of solar, wind and nuclear power, ethanol, biodiesel, tar sands and used French-fry oil will allow us to power Wal-Mart, Disney World and the interstate highway system — or even a fraction of these things — in the future. We have to make other arrangements.


And that’s the worst part of our quandary: the American public’s narrow focus on keeping all our cars running at any cost. Even the environmental community is hung up on this. The Rocky Mountain Institute has been pushing for the development of a “Hypercar” for years — inadvertently promoting the idea that we really don’t need to change.

Years ago, U.S. negotiators at a U.N. environmental conference told their interlocutors that the American lifestyle is “not up for negotiation.” This stance is, unfortunately, related to two pernicious beliefs that have become common in the United States in recent decades. The first is the idea that when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true. (Oprah Winfrey advanced this notion last year with her promotion of a pop book called “The Secret,” which said, in effect, that if you wish hard enough for something, it will come to you.) One of the basic differences between a child and an adult is the ability to know the difference between wishing for things and actually making them happen through earnest effort.


Fixing the U.S. passenger railroad system is probably the one project we could undertake right away that would have the greatest impact on the country’s oil consumption. The fact that we’re not talking about it — especially in the presidential campaign — shows how confused we are. The airline industry is disintegrating under the enormous pressure of fuel costs. Airlines cannot fire any more employees and have already offloaded their pension obligations and outsourced their repairs. At least five small airlines have filed for bankruptcy protection in the past two months. If we don’t get the passenger trains running again, Americans will be going nowhere five years from now.

Though many Americans may still be in denial about the need to improve other modes of travel, the message is becoming more mainstream every day.

A case in point is this long column by Rox Laird on the front page of the Sunday Des Moines Register’s opinion section: Mapping our future: Look to past for city life without cars. Laird made an excellent case for developing better alternatives to driving in the Des Moines metropolitan area. I recommend reading the whole column.

As a companion piece, the Des Moines Register’s editorial board published a call to change our transportation agenda:

The Des Moines MPO is beginning work on a plan that will set the transportation agenda for the next 30 years. The process – which begins with a public hearing this week (see accompanying box for details) – is an opportunity for local leaders to reconsider the traditional focus on accommodating automobiles and to focus more on better accommodating alternatives, such as buses, ride-sharing, vanpooling, bicycling and walking.

The reality is that in a Midwestern city like Des Moines, the automobile for at least the foreseeable future will remain the dominant mode of transportation. For better or worse, we have designed our cities around cars, and driving our own personal vehicle is the preferred means of transportation for most.

Still, it is time for transportation planning to include more opportunities for people to park the car and walk, cycle, roller-skate or catch a bus or a trolley for many short trips. That could be possible even with modest changes in the plans for residential and commercial districts. These small changes could have a significant impact on fuel consumption, greenhouse-gas emissions and personal fitness.

It will take time to rebuild our passenger rail system and improve public transit, walking and bicycling options within cities.

If you want to take immediate action to reduce the vehicle miles you travel by car, a fast and effective way is to start carpooling. This feature article from Cityview profiles Ann Pashek, who estimates that she saves about $4,500 on gas alone by using the Des Moines Area Regional Transit’s rideshare program to commute to her downtown Des Moines job from her home in Winterset. She also saves money on parking and vehicle maintenance.

My brother-in-law carpools to work most days in Washington, DC, and saves a lot of money as well. An added incentive in the Washington area is the high-occupancy vehicle lane on the beltway. Making one of the lanes on I-235 a high-occupancy vehicle lane would quickly increase the number of commuters carpooling to work.

Click on that feature article from Cityview to read about four other ways you can get around while dramatically reducing your gas usage.

On a related note, Markos put up a post this weekend about Walk Score, a site that evaluates your home’s location in terms of the ability to reach various kinds of amenities on foot. Markos noted that his home in the Bay Area scored an 88 (out of a possible 100), while George W. Bush’s Prairie Chapel ranch scored a zero.

My house in Windsor Heights (an inner-ring suburb of Des Moines) scored 48, although I noticed that the list of walkable amenities the site drew up did not include the Windsor Heights Hy-Vee under the grocery section. So your Walk Score might not be completely accurate. Still, it should give you an idea of how good your neighborhood is for pedestrians.

Another very useful web-based tool is the Housing + Transportation Affordability Index, developed by the Center for Neighborhood Technology and the Center for Transit Oriented Development.

The concept is simple:

Planners, lenders, and most consumers traditionally measure housing affordability as 30 percent or less of income. The Housing + Transportation Affordability Index, in contrast, takes into account not just the cost of housing, but also the intrinsic value of place, as quantified through transportation costs.

By clicking this link, you can check statistics for 52 different metro areas in the U.S. (unfortunately, no Iowa cities made the cut). It’s easy to see how certain parts of a big metropolitan area look more affordable if you are only considering housing costs, but are relatively more expensive once you factor in transportation costs as well.

But what if you don’t like walking, carpooling, bicycling or taking the bus, and you’re wealthy enough that you don’t feel the pinch when you fill up your tank?

Remember that a smart transportation policy, which reduces vehicle-miles traveled, is an essential part of any comprehensive strategy to combat global warming.

Smart Growth America has tons of information on this at their website, including a link to the report “Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change.”

The number of vehicle miles traveled per capita in the U.S. has increased at three times the rate of population growth in recent decades. Continued increases in vehicle miles traveled threaten to wipe out any reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions we could achieve by improving mileage or using cleaner fuels.

Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Tom Carper (D-DE) have introduced the Complete Streets Act of 2008 in the Senate. Norm Coleman (R-MN) is also a co-sponsor. Representative Doris Matsui (D-CA) has introduced a companion bill in the House called the Safe and Complete Streets Act of 2008. Please urge your representatives in Congress to co-sponsor this important legislation.

Final note: I read in March that George W. Bush’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2009 would cover a projected shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund by taking money away from public transportation projects.

I have to ask, is there any policy this president doesn’t get wrong?

We already devote way too little funding to public transit compared to road-building. Here’s hoping that rising gas prices will prompt the Democratic-controlled Congress to put more money, not less, into public transportation projects.

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Braley promoting passenger rail options for Iowans

Not long ago Amtrak released the results of a feasibility study on a passenger rail link between Iowa City, the Quad Cities, and Chicago. (Later this year the next phase of the study will examine extending passenger rail to Des Moines as well.)

A few days ago, Congressman Bruce Braley (IA-01) introduced the 2008 Amtrak Reauthorization Bill, which (according to a press release from Braley’s office)

includes language to create a new, $500 million per year “State Capital Grant Program.”  The program would award federal grants to states to pay for the construction of new passenger rail service between US cities.

Projects that could apply for funding under this program include proposed passenger rail service between Chicago and the Quad Cities, the Quad Cities and Des Moines via Iowa City, and Chicago and Dubuque.

The bill also includes a Braley-sponsored provision mandating a Federal Railroad Administration study into the viability of the widespread use of biolubricants in freight and passenger rail as an alternative to petroleum-based lubricants.  The University of Northern Iowa’s National Ag-Based Lubricant Center (NABL) is located in Iowa’s First District.

The full text of the press release is after the jump.

I appreciate Braley’s leadership on this issue and wonder why my own Congressman Leonard Boswell hasn’t made passenger rail service between Chicago and Des Moines more of a priority in his work on the House Transportation Committee. My family would love to be able to take a train to Chicago. It would be much easier for us than traveling by car or plane with two small children.

Expanding passenger rail will also help us reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, and will be more cost-effective as the price of oil continues to rise in the long term.

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People can't switch to public transit if there is no public transit

Marc Hansen’s latest column goes over the hidden benefits of rising gas prices. For instance, people may reduce driving speeds on the highway to improve mileage, which will save gas and save lives.

His piece also mentions that higher prices at the pump have increased the number of people using various forms of public transit in a lot of cities.

The New York Times published a similar article on Saturday: Gas Prices Send Surge of Riders to Mass Transit. That piece gives examples of growing demand for public transit all over the country, not only in cities with historically strong systems such as New York and Boston, but also in Denver, Minneapolis, Seattle, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Francisco, Houston, Nashville, Salt Lake City, and Charlotte, NC.

This isn’t rocket science. If the price of gas keeps going up, count on more people to be looking for alternatives to driving.

Trouble is, the Iowa legislature just adopted (and Governor Culver signed) the TIME-21 transportation plan, which does not require any of the increased transportation funding to be spent on public transit.

People can’t switch to the bus if there is no bus line running through their neighborhood and going somewhere they need to go, and they can’t take the train if there is no commuter rail in their metro area.

We’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars on rebuilding and expanding I-235 through Des Moines and the suburbs, yet we didn’t even put in a high-occupancy vehicle lane to encourage carpooling. (A high-occupancy vehicle lane can only be used by vehicles carrying at least two licensed drivers.)

Our elected and appointed officials need to be more forward-thinking when it comes to transportation and economic development generally.

It’s great that Amtrak is talking about adding passenger rail service to link Iowa City and the Quad Cities to Chicago, but we also need more alternatives to driving that Iowans can use on a daily basis.

For much more on what a smart transportation policy would look like, check out this page at the Smart Growth America website.

Action: Urge legislators to vote no on transportation bill

A Public Policy Update from

1000 Friends of Iowa arrived in my in-box this afternoon. It urges citizens to contact legislators to ask them to vote no on House File 2691 and Senate File 2420.

You can find your legislator through this site:


To call members of the House, dial (515) 281-3221; for members of the Senate, dial (515) 281-3371.

You can contact Governor Chet Culver’s office at (515) 281-5211, or use an e-mail form here:


The full text of the action alert is after the jump, but here are some highlights. The two main problems with these identical bills are:

  1. There is no fix-it-first policy to assure us that maintenance will come first, and in this legislation, the new money could be wasted on expensive new roads.

  2. Public transit does not receive additional, annual funding with the new money. Additional, reliable state funding for transit would help more Iowans avoid high gas prices, and would create more vibrant communities.

Stephanie Weisenbach, program coordinator for 1000 Friends of Iowa, explains why the lack of a “fix-it-first” policy is a problem:

House File 2691 and Senate File 2420 would put up to $126 million more a year into roads. This may look okay on the surface, but here’s the real scoop on this road policy:

The allocation of the funding doesn’t make maintenance the foundation of funding decisions. Sixty percent of it would go to the state for highways, twenty percent to counties, and twenty percent to cities. HERE’S HOW IT WOULD BE SPENT:

   * The Iowa DOT, which would receive a lion’s share of the funding, could waste the money on expensive highway projects for speculative development interests. The legislation lacks language to prioritize maintenance of highways and interstates.

   * Cities could spend their funding on whatever roads they choose- existing OR new – meaning some developers could put the pressure on to fulfill wish lists for new roads.

   * Counties would have to spend their funding primarily on maintenance. However, after learning about the maintenance needs of county roads, it’s obvious that the way this funding would be distributed won’t satisfy maintenance needs of many Iowa counties.

In light of record oil prices and projections that gasoline may cost $4 a gallon soon, you would think that Iowa legislators might see the value of investing more resources into alternative forms of transportation. Unfortunately, you would be wrong:

The Lost Opportunity for Transit:

Transit funding is shuffled to another source or revenue in this legislation, but not increased. In this maneuver of state revenue, the percentage of revenues that transit receives is moved to another pot of money than it’s current source. Its percentage of funding of this mix of revenues was 4 percent in the old system, and 4 percent in the new system due to this legislation. This is essentially the same amount, about 10 million depending on the fluctuation of fees that are paid. Lawmakers could have bumped up that percentage and provided a few million extra dollars of reliable money each year to urban and rural transit systems statewide. But they haven’t.

Iowa’s state funding for public transit seems particularly inadequate when you compare it to what our neighbors to the north provide, as I learned from this recent radio news story:

Legislature “Missing the Bus” On Transit Funding?

April 11, 2008

Des Moines, IA – With gas prices soaring ever higher, more Iowans are turning to public transit to get around. However, such transportation is not getting much attention at the statehouse as the legislative session winds down. With lawmakers making final decisions on dividing up the money, transit providers say they need a reliable, annual source of funding from the state.

John Rodecker with Key Line Transit in Dubuque says his agency only receives about $170,000 a year in state assistance.

“We have a budget of $2.4 million for FY 09. Needless to say, it’s a small drop in the bucket of our overall budget.”

The Twin Cities transit agency in neighboring Minnesota receives 63 percent of its operating budget from its state government. In contrast, Des Moines Area Regional Transit gets only six percent of its budget from the state of Iowa. Manager Brad Miller says that’s not enough.

“State assistance is predicted to go down next year from what it was this year, despite our rising operating costs.”

Miller and Rodecker agree that a stronger commitment to funding transit in Iowa will help conserve limited oil resources and create more vibrant communities.

Dick Layman/Craig Eicher, Public News Service – IA

The full text of the action alert from 1000 Friends of Iowa is after the jump. It contains much more background information on the subject.

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Improve transportation policy at the federal and state levels

I was pleased to read in the Des Moines Register that Governor Culver is behind a more balanced, flexible and farsighted federal transportation policy:

Iowa Gov. Chet Culver joined Democratic members of Congress and business leaders Wednesday to announce the launch of a long-term push to improve the nation’s roads, bridges, water systems and transit.

Culver, representing the nation’s 28 Democratic governors, and the members of Congress said states, the federal government and private business must work together to improve the infrastructure.

“We need a national game plan,” he said after a two-hour meeting behind closed doors. “I believe it’s time for a bold, new, 21st-century national infrastructure plan of action.”


In remarks to the group, Culver said any plan must take into account not just roads and bridges but also public transit, passenger and freight rail, information technology, grids, trails and waterways. States must have as much flexibility as possible, given their varying needs.

Culver is smart to call for a comprehensive game plan on transportation, rather than just securing road-building funds for our state.

Investing more in alternatives to driving is good for the environment and will be essential if we are serious about reducing our carbon-dioxide emissions.

As the U.S. population ages, having better rail and public transit options will also improve the quality of life for seniors who do not drive.

There will be economic benefits too, especially if we are headed for $4 and $5 a gallon gasoline.

I hope that the governor will show similar leadership on improving our transportation planning at the state level.

As I have written before, the Iowa Department of Transportation’s TIME-21 plan takes a narrow and short-sighted approach, calling for extra investment solely in road-building. We should take a “fix-it first” approach to the road funds, devoting a greater share of funding to repairing our existing roads and bridges. We also need to invest in alternatives to driving, because reducing the vehicle miles traveled per capita needs to be part of our state’s response to global warming.

UPDATE: Just saw this interesting diary by Daily Kos user futurebird:


key excerpt:

This graph shows how our government policies about parking, public roads, and tolls make driving a more attractive option for many people in US cities. This is why changing planning policy, eliminating parking lot requirements, increasing the gas tax so that fully covers the costs of highway construction and the other social and environmental costs of driving is so important for creating sustainable, inter-modal transportation systems in our cities.

Notice that, in an urban area, the total cost of both bus and rail systems is lower than the total costs of using a car. But when people make the choice to drive each day they tend to think about the out-of-pocket costs of driving (gas) rather than considering the indirect costs of car ownership, auto insurance and car maintenance. People are even less aware of the fact that the gas tax, at its current level, is not high enough to cover all of the costs of road maintenance. The environmental and social impacts of driving (such as the impact it has on public heath, and the cost of policing the roadways, recovering stolen cars, and dealing with accidents) are even harder to see.

Click the link if you want to see the graph.

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