Region’s Transportation Funding Disproportionality Favors Cars Over All Other Modes

Research continues to show that Americans are driving less, but are biking, walking and using transit more. This is true in Cincinnati to the extent that transit ridership has increased in recent years.

While originally attributed to the economic downturn at the beginning of the century, these trends have continued while the economy has rebounded – leading many to believe it is an indication of new market forces being driven by aging Baby Boomers and emerging Millennials. Perhaps predictably so, governments have been slow to change with the changing economic forces.

Despite a growing number of trips for biking, walking and transit, funding has not increased correspondingly. In fact, many communities have seen funding for these non-automotive forms of transportation decrease as governments have worked to cut spending at all levels. This, new research finds, is only exacerbating the problem of having underfunded these modes of transportation for many years.

“Conventional statistics tend to under report active travel because most travel surveys under-count shorter trips (those within a traffic analysis zone), off-peak trips, non-work trips, travel by children, and recreational travel,” stated Todd Litman, Executive Director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, in a summary of his report entitled Whose Roads? Evaluating Bicyclists’ and Pedestrians’ Right to Use of Public Roadways.

“More comprehensive surveys indicate that active travel is two to four times more common than conventional surveys indicate, so if statistics indicate that only 5% of trips are by active modes, the actual amount is probably 10-20%.”

Litman indicates that funding levels tend to be much lower than even the low 5% trip share estimates, and recommends changing those levels to reflect not only the current trip share levels, but those that could be achieved should investments be made.

Unequal Funding Allocations at Regional Level
At the local level, the same situation of unequal funding allocation exists. In the 2040 Regional Transportation Plan, developed by the OKI Regional Council of Governments, approximately 88% of the nearly $21.5 billion in funding is recommended to go toward roadway projects, just 11% to transit and a mere 0.1% to bicycle and pedestrian improvements.

While the level of investment in transit appears closely aligned with current ridership levels for commute-related trips, it is far below ideal levels for bicycle and pedestrian investments.

“Relatively aggressive pedestrian and cycling improvement programs only cost about 1-4% of the total per capita roadway expenditures, or just 4-10% of general taxes spent on local roadways,” Litman contests. “Since walking and cycling represent about 12% of total trips, and a much larger share of short urban trips, and since most North American communities have under-invested in walking and cycling facilities for the last half-century, much larger investments in walking and cycling facilities can be justified to meet user demands and for fairness sake.”

OKI leadership contends that the organization’s regional planning document does not accurately reflect the level of investment being made in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, noting that many of the “roadway projects” in their plan actually include bike and pedestrian elements.

To that end, some recent improvements have been made with regard to bicycle infrastructure. The City of Cincinnati has installed around 40 miles of new on-street bike lanes or paths over the past several years, and has plans to install a total of 290 miles by 2025. The City’s Bicycle Transportation Plan, however, has been plagued by a lack of funding and has been relegated to only moving forward when roadway resurfacing projects emerge.

Not everyone is convinced, however, that enough is being done in terms of the overall investment needed for bike and pedestrian improvements.

Implications for Regional Transit
Of the money being recommended for transit investments, not including operations, approximately 96% is targeted for the contentious Oasis Line – a commuter rail line connecting Cincinnati’s far eastern suburbs with downtown.

Furthermore, the vast majority of OKI’s recommended transit funding is aimed to pay for ongoing operations – not pay for system expansions or improvements.

This grim financial picture for transit gets even worse when considering contributions from state and local governments.

In Ohio, the City of Cincinnati is the only local jurisdiction that provides a dedicated stream of funding for the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA), which was also recently found to perform better than average given its low levels of investment from local, regional and state partners.

In Kentucky, meanwhile, communities struggle with state law that prohibits any dedicated source of transit funding – thus forcing the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK) to go before the state legislature every year seeking money, similar to how Amtrak must annually go before Congress.

Impact on Environmental Justice Populations
These dire funding and political situations have led to Greater Cincinnati taking the title of being the most populated region in North America without any rail transit; while even far less populated regions advance their own regional transit plans.

What makes the figures more troubling is that those most affected by the imbalanced funding appropriations are minority, low-income and disabled populations. While only 6% of the region takes transit, bikes or walks to work each day, that number escalates to 17% for African Americans, 11% for Hispanics and 10% for people with disabilities; while low-income commuters see that number spike to 21%. Quite simply, the lack of funding for non-automotive forms of transportation is most damaging to those who can least afford it.

The results of this inequality sparked a recent lawsuit by the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation and Midwest Environmental Advocates filed a complaint against the Wisconsin Department of Transportation over a $2 billion highway interchange project. In MICAH & Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin v. Gottleib, the ACLU states:

“WisDOT explicitly refused to consider transit expansion (or transit in any way) as part of this proposal. This will further widen the already large gap between transit-dependent communities of color and disproportionately white suburban commuters. The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation was one of the organizations that have complained about the government’s decision-making and reporting process, as well as how the project would exacerbate segregation and disparities in transportation access for low-income people to jobs.”

And while some of these mode shares may seem low, it has been noted by the U.S. National Household Travel Survey that commute trips are the lowest for walking and biking, while personal trips and trips less than one mile are significantly higher for both modes.

“In much of the region where we have large concentrations of EJ populations the sidewalk network is already quite developed, the roadway network is quite developed and available to bicyclists and the transit service is good,” countered Bob Koehler, Deputy Executive Director at OKI. “We do, as a community, need to do a better job at sharing the road and being aware of pedestrians to make these facilities better for all modes.”

Highway Building Frenzy
Even though young people are increasingly either delaying or choosing not to get a driver’s license at all, user fees collected from the gas tax continue to decline, total vehicle miles traveled (VMT) has been decreasing since 2007 and annualized VMT has been decreasing for nearly a decade, the nation and Cincinnati region continue to build new capacity.

Of the roughly $8.3 billion being recommended for roadway projects in OKI’s planning documents, approximately 73% of that is targeted for additional lanes, new facilities or new interchanges, while reconstruction and improvements to existing roadways account for the rest.

“Although VMT may be slightly declining in recent years in some parts of the country this may not be a long-term trend. Clearly the region has many needs,” explained Brian Cunningham, Director of Communications at OKI. “This plan addresses the significant existing safety and congestion needs. The plan is updated every four years and will provide an opportunity to revisit the assumptions.”

Litman argues that shifting some of the investment from roadways to bicycle and pedestrian projects due to their proven ability to reduce congestion and improve safety not only for bicyclists and pedestrians, but motorists as well. He also believes that such policy directives empower people by giving them the ability to choose between multiple transportation options for each of their trips.

“It is important to recognize the unique and important roles that active modes [biking and walking] play in an efficient and equitable transportation system, and the various benefits that can result when walking and cycling are improved, including indirect benefits to people who do not currently use those modes,” Litman concluded.

“Just as it would be inefficient to force travelers to walk or bike for trips most efficiently made by motorized modes, it is inefficient and unfair to force travelers to drive for trips most efficiently made by active modes, for example, if children must be chauffeured to local destinations because their communities lack sidewalks, or if people must drive to recreational trails due to inadequate sidewalks and paths near their homes.”

This information comes at a time when the region has been identified as failing to develop walkable urban places, and thus putting itself behind its national competitors.

PHOTOS: The Impressive Urbanity of Colombia’s Third Largest City

If Medellín is the clean, gem of Colombia, Cali is the working man’s town. Visibly grittier than Medellín, Cali sports an incredible amount of assets that match and sometimes outshine Medellín.

Surrounded by mountains on one side, Cali’s skyline is more impressive than that of Medellín, while also seeming more original. Everything in Medellín is new, it seems.

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While no rail transportation exists in the city, a large and extensive system of bus rapid transit allows traveling easy. In addition to their bus rapid transit system, Cali also has a system of bike lanes, although no bike share system.

They have impressive grand boulevards and arterials all throughout the city as well as grade-separated highways more impressive than those I saw in Medellín. In the downtown area, the city capped over a highway running along the river and made it a pedestrian and bus-only boulevard, following the river on the left and providing easy access to the center city and many historical buildings.

For a city with a reputation as being dangerous, it was incredibly efficient and had an impressive number of assets, including an incredible park system affording many breathtaking views of downtown Cali and the city sprawled out around it.

In the first official episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, we were joined by Natalia Gomez Rojas, a city planner from Bogotá, to discuss Colombia’s pursuit and implementation of bus rapid transit. The discussion also touched on a number of societal issues facing Colombia’s cities as they continue to develop and evolve in a post-drug cartel era. You can subscribe to The UrbanCincy Podcast on iTunes for free. You can also read more of our coverage regarding bus rapid transit here.

This two-part photo series on Colombia’s second and third largest cities was put together during a four-month assignment by Jacob Fessler, during which he was based out of the city of Barranquilla.

APA14: Transportation Set the Mood at This Year’s National Planning Conference in Atlanta

This year the American Planning Association (APA) National Conference was held in Atlanta from April 26 to 30 at the Georgia World Conference Center. For those who have never been, it is five days packed full of urban-focused sessions, workshops, tours, meetings, happy hours and an awards ceremony, with approximately 5,000 in conference attendees.

Cincinnati’s Department of Planning & Buildings received the prestigious Daniel Burnham Award for for Plan Cincinnati. Last year in Chicago, Cincinnati took home this same award for the execution of its Central Riverfront Plan. Plus, UrbanCincy was recognized by Planetizen immediately following the five-day event as being one of the “top influencers” at the conference. Needless to say, the mood was especially festive for the few dozen attendees from the Cincinnati region.

Attendees and experts are also able to submit ideas for presentations, and put on a session of their own. For presenters, it is a lot like show and tell. Professionals get to share lessons, valuable knowledge gained on the job or show off a successful or interesting planning project to the world.

This year’s conference program was particularly transportation-heavy, and with good reason.

Many presenters remarked on the increasing evidence that people are trading in their car for a transit pass, a bicycle or walking shoes. Teenagers, in particular, have less interest in acquiring driver’s licenses. The rate at which this is happening is significant enough that it has been covered by nearly every major news source in the United States, according to Greg Hughes from the Utah Transit Authority in a session about transit and competitiveness.

Bloomberg Business Week reported that from 2001 to 2009, 16- to 34-year-olds took 24%more bike trips and were 16% more likely to walk to their destinations. Meanwhile, from 2000 to 2010, the share of 14- to 34-year-olds without drivers’ licenses increased from 21% to 26%.

National Geographic reported in December that this trend was acknowledged in “dramatically altered projections” for transportation energy use over the next 25 years by U.S. government forecasters.

If anyone feels that Cincinnati is bucking the trend, we could take our temperature on the invisible hand.

Zipcar, Uber, Lyft and Cincy Bike Share have all moved past the market analysis phase and are providing, or will soon provide, private-automobile alternatives within the city. In addition, bus ridership in Cincinnati grew by 3.5% last year, significantly more than the 1% seen nationally, according to the American Public Transportation Association.

This same APTA report showed the highest U.S. transit ridership in 57 years. It seems that we could be entering into a new Golden Age of transit.

Atlanta had a few transportation projects of its own to showcase. One of the favorite activities for conference attendees was exploring the Atlanta BeltLine – a 25-year project that will transform old railway and industrial sites into 22 miles of multi-modal trail right in the heart of the city. It connects multiple parks and green spaces, and given that it is woven so seamlessly into the city fabric, is a viable transportation alternative to city streets.

Atlanta boasts the largest public transit system in the southern United States, and carries roughly 500,000 passengers on weekdays.

MARTA rail services were well-used by conference attendees, and some attendees even made a point to get hotels outside of downtown and utilize the subway to get to the conference venue and back. Although not yet operational, Atlanta is also in the process of finalizing its 2.7-mile streetcar project running from Centennial Olympic Park downtown to the historic Old Fourth Ward neighborhood to the east.

Atlanta’s pedestrian-oriented Midtown neighborhood became a favorite after-conference hangout, and the restaurant and pub scene in Little Five Points was both eclectic and funky. Next year’s conference will be held in Seattle.

Metro Has Begun Installing New 24-Hour Ticketing Kiosks Throughout City

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) has made a new push to expand ticket and stored-value cards by adding new locations and options for riders to make their purchases.

The first announcement was that Metro would begin selling passes at Cincinnati City Hall, starting April 1, inside the city’s Treasury Department in Room 202. The sales office is open Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 4:30pm, and will offer Zone 1 and 2 Metro 30-day rolling passes, $20 stored-value cards and Metro/TANK passes.

The new location marks the twelfth sales office for Metro including three others Downtown and locations in Walnut Hills, Tri-County, Western Hills, North College Hill, Over-the-Rhine, Roselawn, College Hill and Avondale.

The region’s largest transit agency also installed its first ticket vending machine. The new kiosk is located at Government Square and is available for use 24 hours a day. The machine only accepts cash and credit cards, and offers Metro 30-day rolling passes including Metro/TANK passes, and $10, $20 and $30 stored-value cards.

According to Metro officials, this is the first of more ticketing machines to come with the stations in the Uptown Transit District to be the next locations to get them. Future additions, officials say, will be chosen based on the amount of ridership at given transit hubs throughout the system.

The new sales options come after Metro introduced a new electronic fare payment system in 2011. The new modern options of payment and ticketing proved so popular that after just one year, Metro officials cited the updated technology as one of the primary drivers for its ridership growth.

While the new initiatives show progress for the 41-year-old transit agency, they also show just how far behind the times it is.

The best fare payment systems in the world are tap and go systems that allow riders to charge their cards with whatever value they would like, thus eliminating any confusion of needing specific cards for certain time periods or values. Such cards also allow for perfect interoperability between various modes of transport including bus, rail, ferry, bikeshare and taxi.

In other instances, like Seoul’s T-Money Card and London’s Oyster Card, the systems even allow for the tap and go payment systems to accept credit cards and bank cards enabled with the technology – totally eliminating any barrier for potential riders wary of signing up for a new card they may not use all that often.

Similar to the fare payment cards, the new ticketing machines are outdated on arrival. Transit agencies throughout the United States that have had ticketing machines for years, like Chicago and New York, are currently in the process of transitioning to touch screen kiosks that are more user-friendly.

Take a Look at CVG’s Abandoned Concourse C Through Ronny Salerno’s Lens

Ronny Salerno has established himself as one of the region’s best photo journalists. He covers the stories not often given light in the typical news cycle. The stories he publishes on his website, Queen City Discovery, aren’t often current events, but they are always topical.

One of his more recent features that garnered national attention uncovered the history of a ghost ship left stranded downstream from Cincinnati in a small tributary to the Ohio River. Salerno has become well-known for his thoughtful coverage of abandoned buildings and their stories they hold.

The most recent feature of his looks at the now abandoned Concourse C at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG). While Concourse C was once a symbol of CVG’s prominence and significance, it is now a visual reminder of how far the airline industry in general, and the airport in specific, have fallen over the past decade.

Regional air travel, which is what Concourse C catered to through its Comair service, is becoming more and more a thing of the past. Throughout Europe, China, Japan and Korea, where inter-city high speed rail is prevalent, regional air travel has already fallen by the wayside. In North America, inter-city bus travel has grown in popularity while Amtrak sets ridership records each year.

But still, no sign of comprehensive inter-city high speed rail seems to be anywhere in the near future for Canada and the United States. What will that mean for metropolitan regions with millions of people, like Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Cleveland, now being left off the map? Smaller regions, like Birmingham, already lack expansive air service and must rely on larger metropolitan regions nearby for service.

Many cities and regions are being left off the map and have fewer and fewer transportation options to get from one city to the next. Who knows what that will mean for these people and regions in the future, but for now please take a look back at the history and stories of CVG’s Concourse C.

The Concourse: Part 1 – Island in a Stream of Runways
The Concourse: Part 2 – Unaccompanied Minor
The Concourse: Part 3 – The Film (embedded above)

The fall of 1994 was a good time for regional airliner Comair, the company had just opened a second hub in its hometown at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Regional Airport (CVG). Dubbed “Concourse C,” the building was an island in a stream of runways, accessible to passengers only via shuttle busses and the flights they arrived on. The concourse was always a center of human activity amongst the tarmac – featuring shops, eateries and over 50 gates to destinations across the continental United States.

It was a place where people reunited, strangers shared drinks between travels and employees fought the daily grind.

Comair was purchased by Delta Airlines in 2000 and both airlines plunged into bankruptcy protection by 2005. After emerging from bankruptcy in 2007, Delta began to scale back Comair flights and eventually relocated all operations to another section of the airport in 2008. Concourse C was left abandoned. In 2012, Delta completely folded Comair.

Today, Concourse C still remains out in the middle of the runways: no passengers, few visitors and closed off to the general public. It’s eerily quiet state is a stark contrast to the sea of humanity that once flowed through it. On a recent exclusive tour of the facility, I was able to make this short film in addition to several photographs.