A low-cost method for better transportation: lessons from Latin America's Bus Rapid Transit boom

The Brookings Institution hosted a panel discussion yesterday on the prospect of bus rapid transit (BRT) in the United States and what lessons can be learned from BRT systems currently in place in Latin America.

Unlike a typical bus route, BRT systems generally have exclusive lanes for buses, make limited stops and sell tickets at kiosks rather than on the bus. These strategies keep BRT buses efficient and fast, even in congested traffic. BRT systems provide travelers with the choice of a lower cost, reliable and fast bus service as an alternate to driving by car.

Darío Hidalgo, Director of Research and Practice at EMBARQ, spoke about the organization’s new report on BRT systems in Latin America and Asia. He highlighted the many benefits of BRT, noting that the systems are cost-effective, fast and efficient, move people quickly and more safely and can also alleviate traffic congestion. The concept is also well-suited for big cities and smaller towns alike. In Colombia, capital city Bogotá has an extensive BRT system called the TransMilenio, but the smaller city Pereira, with a population of about 700,000, also makes use of the concept. BRT’s success is so widespread that many cities in Latin America either have BRT systems already or are planning them in the near future.

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New profiles provide a closer look at state transportation investments

A new report out today from Smart Growth America analyzes how all 50 states invested their flexible transportation funds from 2009’s American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The report examines what projects each state used its funds for, and whether those projects created as many jobs as possible.

Transportation projects create jobs in the short term but can also create the foundation for a stronger economy in the long term – particularly if those projects repair existing roadways or create public transportation options. As Newsweek’s David A. Graham explains:

It’s not enough just to inject money into infrastructure, because not all transportation funding is created equal—or at least, it doesn’t create jobs at an equal rate. As any infrastructure policy wonk can tell you, money spent on fixing up existing systems or building mass transit delivers more jobs, and faster, than building new highways.

Smart Growth America’s new report found that many states didn’t invest their funds this way and in doing so missed a significant opportunity to create more jobs. As a companion to that report, Smart Growth America has released state-specific recommendations for states looking for ways to improve their transportation investments.

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New report reveals smart transportation spending creates jobs, grows the economy

In his State of the Union address, President Obama called on Americans to “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world” to win the future. To rebuild America, he said, we will aim to put “more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges.”

A new report from Smart Growth America analyzes states’ investments in infrastructure to determine whether they made the best use of their spending based on job creation numbers. Recent Lessons from the Stimulus: Transportation Funding and Job Creation evaluates 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). Those results should guide governors and other leaders in revitalizing America’s transportation system, maximizing job creation from transportation dollars and rebuilding the economy.

According to data sent by the states to Congress, the states that created the most jobs were the ones that invested in public transportation projects and projects that maintained and repaired existing roads and bridges. The states that spent their funds predominantly building new roads and bridges created fewer jobs.

As Newsweek’s David A. Graham explains, investments in transportation create jobs in the short term and longer term economic prosperity too:

Injecting money into transportation projects, the thinking goes, is an especially potent jobs-creation tool because it not only puts construction workers and contractors to work quickly, it also lays the groundwork for future economic growth and development. Obama predicted the transportation money alone would put hundreds of thousands of workers on the job.

As “Recent Lessons from the Stimulus” explains, not all transportation projects reap these benefits equally:

[S]tates spent more than a third of the money on building new roads—rather than working on public transportation and fixing up existing roads and bridges. The result of the indiscriminate spending? States missed out on potentially thousands of new jobs—and bridges, roads, and overpasses around the country are still crumbling. Meanwhile, the states that did put dollars toward public transportation were richly rewarded: Each dollar used on transit was 75 percent more effective at putting people to work than a dollar used for highway work.

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New report: State transportation decisions could save money and reduce carbon emissions

Download the ReportA new report released today by Smart Growth America and the Natural Resources Defense Council found that transportation policies in every state could save money and reduce carbon emissions by making smarter decisions with state funds.

In “Getting Back on Track: Climate Change and State Transportation Policy,” SGA and NRDC found that current transportation policies in almost all 50 states either fail to curb carbon emission rates or, in some cases, actually increase emissions. This contradiction between state policies and broader efforts to reduce carbon emissions means not only that many states are missing opportunities to protect clean air; it means they are missing economic opportunities as well.

In a press conference this morning, former Maryland Governor Parris Glendening remarked:

Transportation makes up an enormous proportion of our national economy and our environmental impact: it must be front and center as we think about how to get the most out of our public investments. The states that rose to the top in this report, California, Maryland and New Jersey, are there because they are meeting the challenge to innovate.

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EPA’s 2010 smart growth awards go to innovative urban redevelopment and rural revitalization

Smart growth achievement awards 2010
Clockwise from top left: Smart growth projects in Baltimore, New York City, San Francisco and Maine.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s 2010 National Awards for Smart Growth Achievement were awarded yesterday to five projects from across the country deemed “exceptional approaches to development that respect the environment, foster economic vitality, and enhance quality of life.” The awards were given in five categories.

The Civic Places award went to San Francisco’s Mint Plaza, which turned a derelict alley into a public plaza that reclaims stormwater and provides a flexible gathering place for neighborhood residents. The Rural Smart Growth Award went to the Gateway 1 Corridor Action Plan in midcoast Maine, a collaboration of 20 townships in the state to preserve the environment and economy along the corridor. The Programs, Policies and Regulations award went to Portland, OR, which has used city ordinances to encourage sustainable land use for future population growth. The Smart Growth and Green Building Award went to Miller’s Place in Baltimore, MD, which rehabilitated an abandoned building on a brownfield site to create housing and office spaces for teachers and non-profits. And the award for Overall Excellence went to New York City’s [email protected] program, a multiagency coordination to bring smart growth ideas to all five boroughs.

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Hope for the Chesapeake Bay

A fishing boat on the Chesapeake Bay. Photo from WikiCommons. The Chesapeake Bay is the country’s biggest estuary — and one of its biggest failures. Despite over 20 years of clean-up efforts, we have barely made a dent in the extreme levels of pollution from which the Bay suffers. In today’s Baltimore Sun, an op-ed … Continued

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Small blue-collar Maryland hamlet innovates with stimulus help

The town of Edmonston in Prince George’s County, Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C., is a small hamlet of under 2000 residents, most of them blue-collar workers. Like many other cities in America, times are tough in Edmonston, which has high rates of unemployment and foreclosure. What makes life particularly hard for Edmonston is that it is bisected by the Anacostia River. Due to poor environmental practices, the Anacostia periodically floods the town, wreaking devastation on a place already struggling to get by.

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2007 Accomplishments

With the Urban Land Institute, we released Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change, which shows how meeting the demand for conveniently located housing with transportation choices will be key to addressing climate change.

The National Vacant Properties Campaign held its first national conference: Reclaiming Vacant Properties was an overwhelming success. Nearly 700 people rallied together in Pittsburgh to share wisdom and learn how to help their own communities hit hard by vacancy and abandonment.

Along with the Brookings Institution and other partners, we launched the Restoring Prosperity Initiative to bring hope and investment to our older industrial and weak market cities.

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