Connecticut Uniquely Positioned for Congestion Pricing, but Legislators Must Seize the Opportunity

A study on electronic, variable-rate road pricing for Connecticut is underway, but will the state's elected leaders be receptive to congestion management? | Source

Connecticut has a unique opportunity to pursue variable-rate road pricing, but will the state’s elected leaders be receptive to this congestion management strategy? | Source

If last week’s hearing on tolls at Connecticut’s borders did anything, it strengthened the position that implementing tolls for the sole purpose of generating revenue is a bad idea. And if anything else grew out of the hysteria, it might be additional support for congestion pricing.

As the Connecticut Post pointed out this morning, Connecticut is one of only 15 jurisdictions in the nation that has been granted an exemption by the Federal Highway Administration from the general prohibition of tolls on Federal-aid roads. Connecticut’s exception falls under the Variable Pricing Pilot Program, which is “intended to demonstrate whether and to what extent roadway congestion may be reduced through application of congestion pricing strategies.”

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Distractions Driving Connecticut’s Toll Conversation

Tolls at the borders would raise revenue, but they would do little to address congestion on Connecticut's most congested corridors. | Source

Tolls at the borders would raise revenue, but they would do little for Connecticut’s most congested corridors. | Source

Modern, all-electronic tolling systems don't require old-fashioned toll booths. | Source

Modern, all-electronic tolling systems don’t require toll booths. | Source

There’s been a lot of talk about about bringing highway tolls back to Connecticut these last few days. The state outlawed tolls after seven people were killed in a fiery crash at a toll both on Interstate 95 in 1983. That tragedy has left Connecticut residents skeptical of tolls, and justifiably so. But  in recent days, a lot of the discourse surrounding tolls has been misinformed, which has led to some confusion. And that’s not good for lawmakers who are trying to deal with serious congestion problems on some of the worst roads in the nation, not to mention an underfunded 30-year transportation plan.

Tolls at the borders

A bill introduced by State Rep. Tony Guerrera, which would bring tolls to interstates at Connecticut’s borders, was the main topic of conversation at a Transportation Committee hearing Wednesday. Guerrera, the committee’s co-chair, “says the legislation is needed to pay for highway projects because the state’s gas tax isn’t raising enough money.”

The argument for placing tolls at the border is that out-of-state residents would shoulder some of the load — as much as 75 percent, Guerrera argued. Connecticut residents pay tolls when they drive to New York and Massachusetts, so let the folks clogging up Interstates 84 and 95 between the Boston and New York metro areas pay their fair share, right? It’s good political calculus — especially since Guerrera represents Newington, Rocky Hill and Wethersfield, which are smack dab in the middle of the state (and would be minimally impacted by tolls at the state’s edges).

The argument against border tolls hinges on the fact that they disproportionately impact residents (and the economies) of border towns like Danbury and Enfield.

Both arguments are perfectly sound. The problem is, it’s wrong argument to be having.

Rep. Guerrera is right: the state’s gas tax isn’t bringing in enough revenue to maintain the state’s transportation system. But reinstating tolls in order to raise revenue misses the point of tolling. The goal of bringing back highway tolls must be congestion management.

When you look at tolling from a congestion management perspective rather than a revenue perspective, it completely changes the map. Instead of locating tolls in a way that aims to minimize its impact on intrastate travel, they should be placed A) where there’s a great deal of congestion, and B) like the proposed Move New York plan, where there are alternatives to driving available.

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Roads and Rails, Buses and Bridges: Breaking Down Connecticut’s Transportation Vision by Project Type

Yesterday we wrote about what’s included in “Let’s Go CT,” Connecticut’s long-term statewide transportation plan. Both of the documents released yesterday — the “5-Year Transportation Ramp-Up Plan” and “Connecticut’s Bold Vision for a Transportation Future” — are nicely laid out and full of details about each project, but they lack user-friendly charts to help see where the money is going.

In order to provide a clearer picture of Connecticut’s spending priorities moving forward, we’ve broken down spending totals for the five-year ramp-up and for the following 25 years by project type.

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What’s in Connecticut’s 30-Year Transportation Vision?

letsgoCTcoverConnecticut Governor Dannel Malloy made an historic announcement today that will set the tone for the state’s transportation priorities for the next three decades. Speaking at the State Capitol in Hartford, the governor outlined a 30-year, multi-modal vision for Connecticut’s transportation system, which includes not only upgrades to aging highways and bridges, but also railway improvements, new bus rapid transit lines, and funding to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety.

The governor’s vision will extend well beyond his time in office. What he will oversee, however, is the five-year “ramp-up,” which invests an additional $2.8 billion above the State’s expected levels of transportation funding. That $2.8 billion is front-loaded with $1.7 billion for railway improvements, which can be accomplished “faster and cheaper than big-ticket interstate jobs.”

The full 30-year, $100 billion plan, introduced today as “Let’s Go CT,” is being billed as a “Bold Vision for a Transportation Future.” How bold? Here are some of the highlights:

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Another Look at Stamford’s Washington Boulevard

An elderly woman who was using a motorized wheelchair sustained serious injuries after she was struck by a driver late last week while crossing Washington Boulevard at Main Street in downtown Stamford.

Washington Boulevard is like many of Stamford’s downtown streets: a wide, multi-lane arterial that is out of place in a downtown area. There’s a well-marked crosswalk and a narrow landscaped median on this segment — a good start, but more should be done in a central business district such as this. Ideally that median would extend into the crosswalk and serve as a pedestrian safety island. Without one, you’ll need to get all the way across seven lanes in one phase of the pedestrian signal (which you might consider much of a challenge, but imagine doing it in a wheelchair).

We took some rough measurements of Washington Boulevard using Google Maps. It appears to be 80 feet wide curb-to-curb, with lane widths of about 11 feet. We uploaded these characteristics into Streetmix and came up with an alternative design that considers more than simply level of service for cars and trucks.

Here’s what Washington Boulevard looks like today:

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 12.04.36 PM

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 1.03.29 PM

And here’s what it could look like:

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Technology Can Help, but Transit and Walkability Are Keys to Reducing Automobile Dependence

A new report from USPIRG, The Innovative Transportation Index: Cities Where New Technologies and Tools Can Reduce Your Need to Own a Car, examines “technology-enabled transportation services” which, its authors suggest, “make it easier to conveniently get around without owning a car.” The report’s Executive Summary begins

“Rapid technological advances have enabled the creation of new transportation tools that make it possible for more Americans to live full and engaged lives without owning a car.”

There’s no doubt that car ownership isn’t required for living a “full and engaged” life. In fact, in some cities car ownership can be more of a hassle than a convenience. But are these tools, like Uber, Zipcar, bike share, and apps like NextBus really what makes a car-free lifestyle possible, or are there other factors at work?

To get a better understanding, we looked up the numbers on zero-car households for the top 20 (of 70) cities included in the Innovative Transportation Index (percentage of households that don’t own cars in parentheses):

pirg-tech-report

  1. Austin  (6.5)
  2. San Francisco  (31.4)
  3. Washington  (37.9)
  4. Boston  (36.9)
  5. Los Angeles  (13.6)
  6. New York  (56.5)
  7. Portland  (15.3)
  8. Denver  (11.7)
  9. Minneapolis  (19.7)
  10. San Diego  (7.4)
  11. Seattle  (16.6)
  12. Dallas  (10.1)
  13. Columbus  (10)
  14. Chicago  (27.9)
  15. Houston  (10.1)
  16. Miami  (26.7)
  17. Milwaukee  (19.9)
  18. Tampa (6.6*)
  19. Nashville  (8.5)
  20. Orlando  (4.9**)

The result is a mixed bag. While cities like New York, Washington and Boston, where more than a third of households are car-free, appear in the Innovative Transportation Index’s top 20, so do cities like Austin, Nashville and San Diego, where fewer than 10 percent of households do not own cars. It’s not clear that new transportation technology is having much of an impact in reducing car ownership.

Given that many of these new technologies are only a few years old, we thought we’d also look to see what direction these cities are headed in. Austin, Columbus and Dallas, for example, may not be leading the pack of cities with the most zero-car households , but could they be headed in that direction?

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Tri-State Welcomes Two New Board Members

NACTO Executive Director Linda Bailey (above) and NYLCV New York City Sustainability Program Director Ya-Ting Liu

TSTC welcomed two new members to the organization’s Board of Directors this week: Linda Bailey, Executive Director of the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) and Ya-Ting Liu, Director of the New York League of Conservation Voters’ (NYLCV) New […]

Walking in a Winter Wonderland? Only if Sidewalk Snow Clearance Ordinances are Obeyed — and Enforced

Pedestrians and transit riders in Bridgeport -- which has a sidewalk snow clearance ordinance -- were forced to walk and wait for buses in the street. | Photo: Ned Gerard/CT Post

Pedestrians and transit riders in Bridgeport — where property owners are responsible for clearing sidewalks of snow and ice — are forced to walk and wait for buses in the street. | Photo: Ned Gerard/CT Post

What happens when walkable communities — those places with complete streets, comprehensive sidewalk networks, and safe crossings — become covered in snow?

While it’s expected that municipalities will clear snow from roadways, it’s quite rare for them to clear snow from sidewalks. In Connecticut, there’s no state law which requires property owners to clear snow and ice from the sidewalks abutting their lots. There is, however, a state law which grants municipalities the ability to require property owners to keep sidewalks (and curb ramps) safe for pedestrians. Several Connecticut cities and towns — New Haven, EnfieldStamford, Fairfield, West Hartford and Milford, to name a few — have enacted such ordinances.

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Stamford Becomes the Third Connecticut City to Formally Embrace Complete Streets

Stamford's new Complete Streets ordinance should guide the City toward building more crossing islands like the one on the left, and fewer like the one on the right. | Photos: Joseph Cutrufo/TSTC

Stamford’s new Complete Streets ordinance should guide the City toward installing crossing islands more like the one at Washington Boulevard and North State Street (left), and less like the one on at Washington Boulevard and Tresser Boulevard (right). | Photos: Joseph Cutrufo/TSTC

Earlier this month, Stamford, Connecticut’s Board of Representatives unanimously approved a city-wide Complete Streets ordinance. The ordinance, which was sponsored by Land Use Committee co-chair David Kooris and drafted with support from Tri-State Transportation Campaign, “mandates that the Office of Operations review transportation projects and explore opportunities to make them more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly.”

Kooris introduced the bill in September, but support for a Complete Streets law had been growing in Stamford after three pedestrian deaths took place in a four-month period in 2014. The new ordinance rounds out Mayor David Martin’s Street Smart initiative, which took initial steps toward addressing safety issues on Stamford’s streets.

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Election 2014: It’s Not All Bad News

Governor Dan Malloy of Connecticut won a close race for reelection. | Image: ctnews.com

Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, a proponent of transit-oriented development and improved rail service, won a close race for reelection. | blog.ctnews.com

Now that the votes have been counted, it’s safe to say there’s plenty of bad news for sustainable transportation policy across the nation: Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, a known climate change denier, is poised to lead the Environment and Public Works Committee, Wisconsin Governor (and avid highway expander) Scott Walker won reelection, and Massachusetts failed to defeat a ballot measure which ends gas tax indexing.

But if you look hard enough, you’ll find there’s some good news too.

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