After years of failed efforts, New York City finally got the legal clearances to move ahead with congestion pricing. So where does that leave San Francisco?
“Its time is near,” said TransForm’s Edie Irons. Just as in New York, San Francisco’s traffic has grown increasingly intolerable in the past few years, she explained, and “in New York people actually came together around this solution.”
TransForm’s report on congestion pricing stresses that, if done right, it can also advance equity. “There have to be protections in place and it has to be thoughtfully structured to spend the revenue on affordability and access, especially for the most vulnerable people,” said Irons, adding that any plan has to “protect the most vulnerable people from undue harm because there are costs.”
Cities are trying to figure out how to make it work on streets. “There’s a critical mass forming where people are saying, ‘enough is enough,’” said Stuart Cohen, the founding director of TransForm, a California-based group that released a recent report on congestion pricing. “They’ve tried everything else and nothing’s working.”
“Social equity was the conversation stopper when it came to congestion pricing,” Mr. Cohen said. “In West Coast cities, equity is very high on the political agenda.”
But Mr. Cohen said gridlock also slows down the bus and transit services many poor people depend on. Congestion fees, he added, can be discounted or subsidized for impoverished drivers.
In a sign that maybe San Diego leaders are beginning to understand that the status quo isn’t going to solve the city’s congestion and transportation problems, the City Council approved new rules that eliminate parking requirements for new housing in areas close to public transit.
This is in keeping with data collected in the Bay Area by TransForm as part of its GreenTrip program. That project has found that across the housing sites it surveyed, about a third of the parking spaces go unused.
Clarissa Cabansagan, New Mobility Director for TransForm, spoke of her organization’s hopes for the initiative. “Our cities have been built around cars, and we have distributed transportation benefits based on race,” she said. “Now, we have the power to shape our communities. And justice looks like investments in long-neglected communities.”
“This partnership didn’t just happen overnight,” she said. “It has been a result of years of building trust and relationships in communities overburdened by inequitable planning decisions.”
“We’re proud to stand alongside Scraper Bike Team in this work,” she said, extolling the work the partnership with them has already achieved. Scraper Bikes helped in the outreach for bus rapid transit, participated before bike-share “hit the ground” in Oakland, worked on equity outreach for the bike-share system, and are “changing the game on how bike planning can and must prioritize the needs of black and brown communities,” she said.
“This idea is taking off; it’s being studied everywhere,” said Stuart Cohen, executive director of the Oakland nonprofit TransForm, which presses for transportation policies that reduce fuel emissions and help impoverished communities.
Cohen pointed to New York City, which imposed a $2.50 surcharge on taxis driving on the traffic-snarled roads south of 96th Street and a $2.75 surcharge on ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft. Seattle and Vancouver are seriously considering such ideas.
The question, he said, is whether cities can add these fees without unfairly burdening low-income motorists. Members of TransForm say it’s possible. Earlier this month, the group published a report that lays out strategies for fair and equitable congestion pricing. The method works if cities pair it with big improvements to mass transit and bike lanes and aim to reduce solo driving that pollutes the air in poor communities, they said. The report also recommends a tolling system with discounts for low-income people.
The donation is seen by some as a benefit for the company as well as for East Oakland. Not only could it help transform a forgotten area of the city, but it can also add shine to Lyft, which now operates a large Bay Area bike-rental program.
The $700,000 will be split among Oakland nonprofits, including TransForm, which focuses on transportation policy, and Scraper Bikes, whose founders build two-wheelers with big colorful wheels resembling the muscle cars that tool around East Oakland. Among the programs the money is expected to help fund are new parklets to beautify sidewalks, a bike-lending library, subsidized AC Transit passes, discount bike and scooter rentals — and the free car rides.
The changes would resemble what was done on Lincoln Avenue in the Willow Glen neighborhood of San Jose four years ago. One lane was removed each way, a center left-turn installed, bicycle lanes added and signals coordinated.
“Streets in Silicon Valley have been planned for moving as many cars as quickly as possible,” said Stuart Cohen, executive director of Oakland-based TransForm. “But we can see that is backfiring. When you plan for cars, you get cars, and we now have so many that traffic is horrendous and getting worse.”
In 2015, all fatal traffic crashes in Fremont occurred on major streets with speed limits of 40 miles per hour or greater, and 50 percent of the fatalities occurred on Fremont Boulevard alone.
[entire article is about our report]
A new report from San Francisco-based transportation advocates TransForm makes the case that congestion pricing can be be implemented not only without hurting low-income populations, but can actually improve equity. Released today, Pricing Roads, Advancing Equity surveys existing congestion pricing and other road-tolling programs to come up with a model that might work for Seattle and other cities.
“If we can match real benefits for vulnerable communities at the same time we’re able to make more efficient use of our road space, we think there’s a real win-win there,” said TransForm Executive Director Stuart Cohen.
Critics have long deemed congestion pricing a regressive policy that charges car-dependent people more to drive. A well-timed new report—Pricing Roads, Advancing Equity—out today by TransForm and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), explains how congestion pricing can be employed as a tool to right engrained injustices in the U.S.’s current transportation system.
“What used to sound radical now sounds like common sense—road pricing is urgently needed to address climate change, traffic, and inequity in the transportation system,” said the report’s co-author Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm. “We believe road pricing can be a transportation equity solution. It can speed buses and carpools while providing revenue to make mass transit more affordable.”
In cities such as Seattle, Los Angeles, New York and Portland, where congestion pricing is being discussed, local politicians instinctively question the new tolling policy as a tax on lower-income drivers. In fact, the majority of rush-hour commuters who drive into the central business district of major cities — especially in New York — are wealthier than their transit-bound neighbors. Transportation is inequitable in myriad ways both invisible and visible, thanks to the dominance of the automobile, the starving of public transit and the lack of affordable housing in our gentrifying city centers.
That’s why it’s crucial to design a truly progressive congestion pricing program, says TransForm.
“When implemented without a clear focus on social and racial equity, road pricing programs can burden low-income drivers with new costs and deepen existing inequities,” the group writes. “But when equity concerns and deep community engagement help shape road pricing programs and their reinvestment strategies, they can lead to more frequent and affordable public transit, safer pedestrian and bicycle routes, and improved health outcomes for vulnerable communities — all important components of an equitable transportation system.”
City bans auto-oriented uses such as fast-food and auto repair establishments
For most cities, emerging technology is squarely in the mobility realm, presenting new opportunities to develop shared frameworks and best practices—and incorporate the complex needs of low-income communities, says Clarrissa Cabansagan, the new mobility policy director at TransForm, a local trans-portation advocacy organization. But in many cases, the go-to planners’ goal of transforming drivers into cyclists or pedestrians ignores a reality exemplified in the Bay Area’s demographic shifts: As rising rents displace people and families from the transit-rich urban core and shifts them into areas built with auto dependency in mind, the gaps in transit alternatives pose a crucial concern.
“We assume that all folks have 9-to-5 jobs. We’re planning for peak levels of service. But what about the woman with kids and multiple jobs who has no other alternative to [using] her car?” Cabansagan says. “I want technology to highlight [those needs]. If we don’t highlight those trips as important, if we treat them as the CEO of Lyft getting from meeting to meeting, we lose that opportunity.”
...“The backlog of need isn’t just public investment; it’s public and private investment that contributed to the inequities we see today,” Cabansagan says.
An added draw for future residents is that three AC Transit bus lines have stops near the property, according to Edie Irons of Transform California, an organization that promotes transportation sustainability and which consulted on the project.
“There is a growing demand for homes in walkable, transit-rich places like this for the many people who don’t want to use a car for their daily needs,” Irons said. “This project meets that demand, and it’s specifically designed to attract those residents. Though not all residents will choose to be car-free, they will be able to walk, bike or take transit for more of their trips.”
“We needed to do something, and this compromise has winners, and the obvious losers are the ones with permits from before 2017,” Cohen said. “But by doing that, it is allowing Caltrans to keep the program going and allowing new cars into the system.”
“While there are still details in the bill to be worked out, such as affordability requirements, it looks like a tremendous improvement over SB 827. One of the biggest improvements is in the area of tenant protections; sites wouldn’t be eligible if they had been occupied by tenants within seven years preceding the date of the application. While this will reduce the number of eligible sites, it negates the potential for the loss of significant rental stock upon signing of the bill,” wrote Stuart Cohen of TransForm, an organization that did not support SB 827, in an email to Streetsblog. “The last thing we need is a new round of displacement.”
“The bill also now applies to job-rich areas even if they don’t have qualifying transit access,” continued Cohen. “In these areas, as well as near high-quality bus-corridors, there would be no density restrictions and minimum parking would be capped at 0.5 spaces per unit. Building heights would not change from existing codes. What this does is allow more units but without changing the character of communities.”