Public Transit: A green line

Quite a contrast between the Garden State and the Prairie State:

In New Jersey, Gov. Jon Corzine aims to strengthen both urbanism and public transit by proposing up to $75 million in tax credits in hopes of enticing companies to build or lease offices in certain cities, within a half-mile of transit stations, and tries to ram it through the legislative session’s final days (hat tip to The Overhead Wire blog's recent post.

In Illinois, where Chicago’s vaunted regional transit system threatens to implode without more stable funding sources, Gov. Rod Blagojevich – having killed a plan to raise the Regional Transportation Authority’s sales tax by 0.25 percent by threatening a veto – spent 2007 in a personal political feud with House Speaker Michael Madigan, and started 2008 by calling a Jan. 2 “special session” of the General Assembly to address transit funding.

Like previous special sessions (including the one he skipped to attend a Chicago Blackhawks hockey game), this one accomplished nothing substantive. The Chicago Transit Authority threatens yet one more “doomsday” of fare hikes and service cuts (currently scheduled to take effect Jan. 20).

Damaging blow to state pride aside, this matters because cities and regions with strong public transit systems will fare much better as the hydrocarbon economy begins collapsing. In Minnesota, economist Edward Lotterman explains why in the Jan. 2 edition of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (free registration required), by paying homage to Johan von Thunen, a German estate manager who, in 1826, coupled land and transportation costs (hat tip again to The Overhead Wire).

Von Thunen correlated land values with the difficulty or ease of transporting goods to market. In 21st Century Minnesota, Lotterman writes, that link is made in how people commute to work, meaning it’s thus no accident that property values along the Twin Cities’ Hiawatha light rail (streetcar) line are rising. And, he notes, property values are also rising along the Central Corridor streetcar line and the “Northstar” commuter rail line, both of which are still on the drawing board.

We should remind politicians and policy-makers about these facts; 2008 is a year in which they might actually listen.


Can we mint Corzine and bring him to other states?

Wisconsin could use a governor who understands how new urbanism and smart growth around transit lines is the state-of-the-art model for reducing our dependence on foreign oil and our chart-topping greenhouse gas emissions.

Virginia may be another state to watch here too. The governor appears committed to reforms that will produce livable urban streets instead of ginormous arterials.

Sounds like I should start subscribing to the Overhead Wire's RSS feed, huh?

Minting Corzine?

Just make sure he wears a seat belt.

Northern Virginia Streetcar

The Washington Post yesterday reported on a Northern Virginia streetcar network -- very encouraging and definitely a place to watch.

Illinois Transit Update

The last few weeks have been dramatic for Illinois politics as legislators and our governor duke it our on the transit battlefield.

Last week both the Illinois House and Senate (finally) narrowly agreed on a transit funding bill to head off the Jan. 20 fare hikes and service cuts, but the governor threw a curve-ball by using his amendatory veto power to alter the bill to give free transit to all seniors in Illinois. The move was totally unexpected, and forced the bill to return to the House and Senate for approval again. The legislature will hold yet another special session this Thursday to vote on the governors changes, and we're again left in suspense, considering the bill only passed by a couple votes the first time around.

Assuming the bill does pass, we can expect more drama in coming months. The bill included a provision allowing the City of Chicago to pass a real estate transfer tax that would be an essential piece of the funding package. So we'll be on to the City Council next. Aldermen are already complaining about the tax hike, and the local REALTORS have been lobbying against it.

Considering what a critical role transit plays in home value, I'm surprised real estate professionals would be opposed. See Transit, Density Sustain Communities in Difficult Housing Market in the CNU Salons and Public transit a valuable asset for more on transit and value.

Transit Operations Funding Bill Passes

The Illinois General Assembly yesterday passed the operations funding bill with the Governor's free transit for seniors. Massive service cuts and fare hikes have not only been averted, but the bill will provide long-term funding and much-needed reforms to the regional transit structure.

Our next big battle is capital funding.

Yellow over Red

After much gnashing of teeth and thumping of chests, the Illinois General Assembly on Jan. 17 did indeed approve the amendatory veto Gov. Blagojevich threw at the bill last week, when it originally cleared the House and Senate. (Our governor decided -- after the bill cleared the legislature and arrived on his desk -- that seniors should be given free rides).

But we should proceed with caution here. Lee is right to point out that this bill (now law) solves only the operational side of the Chicago Regional Transportation Authority's funding equation. And given the acrimony here in the Prairie State between the governor and legislature, God knows when a capital spending bill will get done.

The point to remember here that strong public transit is a critical partner to New Urbanism in being the "Convenient Remedy" to global warming, and that this is an election year. Please check your local, state, and federal candidates' platforms; educate them about New Urbanism and push them on transit funding.


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