NYC Traffic Engineer Discusses Benefits Cities Accrue from Investments in Walkable, People-Friendly Communities

September 30th, 2016

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Associate

 Last week, Greater Ohio Policy Center attended a lecture given by Sam Schwartz at the Ohio State University. Schwartz is one of the world’s most famous traffic engineers and has recently published a book called Street Smart: The Rise of Cities and Fall of Cars. Known as the “Jane Jacobs of Traffic” and in Canada as the “Wayne Gretzky of Traffic Planning,” Schwartz works with communities to develop more walkable, people-friendly environments that reduce people’s reliance on cars. Like, Schwartz, GOPC advocates for policies that strengthen Ohio’s public transportation systems as well as multimodal systems, which include biking and walking, in order to strengthen neighborhoods and cities.

 Schwartz showed projection graphs from a few decades ago that predicted driving would increase over time. Data show that miles travelled on the road actually began to decline ten years ago. Interestingly, this wane actually began in 2004, thus ruling out the theory that it might have been the Great Recession that caused this decline and instead suggesting that people have become less interested in driving. Even though drivers have travelled fewer miles since 2004, federal budgets for highways and bridges have still risen because they were based on the original projections that driving would increase as well. Thus, an increasing amount of tax revenue has been spent on expanding roads and highways across the country, which Schwartz believes has done very little to improve transportation problems that persist today.

Sam Schwartz

For example, study after study concludes that highway expansion does not actually reduce congestion on the road in the long term. GOPC emphasizes this in much of its policy work and supports methods of highway system preservation rather than expansion, which is especially appropriate in a state that is not substantially adding new population. Schwartz indicates that the concept of induced demand comes into play when roads are widened, whereby people are then more likely to use the road when they know it has been expanded, thus perpetuating the problem that there are an excessive number of vehicles on the road. Instead, in environments where people can choose to bike, walk, or take transit, space opens up and congestion is ameliorated.

Culturally, it seems to Schwartz that young people today are looking to branch out to using multimodal options. He believes that part of this stems from people spending so much time as kids in the backseat of a car going from school, home, and soccer practice. Whereas freedom a few decades ago was seen as owning and using a car, these days he believes it means having a phone app where you have access to many different types of transportation, such as Uber and Lyft, or information on when and where the next bus will arrive. Moreover, much of Schwartz’s work emphasizes the health dangers posed to people who are not active. By building people-friendly environments where people can move around, communities will help reduce the risk factors for many non-communicable diseases caused from inactivity.

Interestingly, Schwartz believes that transit will only be properly funded once the well-to-do start to use it in that particular state or city. Once a community shows that users along the spectrum of socio-economic statuses are using the service, then the mode will likely receive more attention and will generate more resources.

Schwartz’s talk reinforced GOPC’s vision for Ohio—a modernized, well-funded transportation system that adequately supports transit rider, bicyclists, walkers, and drivers.

 

Glenn College Forum Highlights Improvements Necessary to Sustain Water, Transportation Infrastructure

September 26th, 2016

By Jason Warner, GOPC Manager of Government Affairs

This month, GOPC was pleased to join with our colleagues at the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) as a part of a panel discussion at the Glenn College Leadership Forum at The Ohio State University. The panel, Keeping Things Flowing: Water and Transportation Needs in the 21st Century, focused on the growing concern about infrastructure deterioration in the state and addressed ways in which local and state governments can identity and implement innovative strategies to take on these twin crises head-on.

Jon Honeck, Ph.D., Senior Policy Fellow with GOPC, presented on Ohio’s Water and Sewer infrastructure needs, with special focus on a growing issue that often is overlooked when considering this critical utility service, stormwater infrastructure. Most of Ohio’s water and sewer infrastructure was installed in the late 19th and early 20th Century, and especially in major metropolitan downtown areas, the systems have not been updated to meet the needs of growing populations and demands of the 21st Century. This is especially true of stormwater systems. With some studies suggesting that rain events are now producing more precipitation than they did even 20 to 30 years earlier, aging sewer systems that combine wastewater and stormwater are often overwhelmed, resulting in releases of raw sewage from aging systems into rivers and streams.

JH Glenn College3

Photo Credit: John Glenn College of Public Affairs

Estimates show that Ohio needs $14.1 billion for wastewater treatment upgrades alone between 2012 and 2032, in addition to another $12.1 billion for upgrades and replacing to the state’s drinking water systems over 20 years. That is a total of $26.2 billion in infrastructure needs in just 20 years, and that does not include costs to identify and replace lead pipes, which service an estimated 650,000 homes and businesses in the state.

Coming up with the necessary funding to upgrade this aging infrastructure is complicated by the elimination of federal grants for water and sewer systems in the 1980’s. The feds now provide revolving loans to local governments to assist in system repairs and upgrades, but local communities facing economic problems must repay the loans over time, which is an challenge many small communities in the state cannot afford.  

Among the potential solutions that could help to mitigate this future crisis that Honeck discussed during the forum include new financial tools which could provide either credit enhancements or loan guarantees for small communities that lack necessary funding resources, regionalization of water systems that encourages smaller communities to band together and pool limited resources to better afford work which needs to be done, public-private partnerships, and increased state funding in revolving loan funds and grant programs. 

Thea Walsh, the Director of Transportation Systems and Funding at MORPC, next provided an overview of Ohio’s transportation infrastructure and the needs it faces in order to maintain the state’s competitive edge.  Ohio’s interstate highway system is the 12th largest in the nation, and ranks 5th in overall traffic volume and 4th in truck traffic volume. Ohio boasts the 2nd largest inventory of bridges in the nation.  Beyond roadways, Ohio also ranks 4th nationally in freight rail mileage, hosting 35 freight railroads and 5,305 miles of rail.

Despite these impressive statistics, the American Society of Civil Engineers has graded Ohio’s 125,000 plus miles of roads a ‘D’, finding that 43% of Ohio’s roadways are in critical, poor, or fair condition. Of greater concern is a finding that 2,242 of the state’s 27,015 bridges (8% of total bridges), are structurally deficient. The overall cost to motorists in the state, the personal cost of driving on roads in need of repair, is $3.3 billion per year, which amounts to $413 per motorist.

Ohio receives a significant portion of its overall transportation funding from the Federal Highway Trust Fund, which constitutes 45.1% of the Ohio Department of Transportation Revenue (FY12-14), while 32.9% is generated from the state motor fuel tax. The Federal Highway Trust Fund is supported from the federal gas tax, currently 18.4 cents per gallon of gasoline. That rate has remained unchanged since 1993. The state motor fuel tax is 28 cents per gallon of gasoline, and has remained unchanged since 2005. Moreover, because of constitutional limitations, this fuel tax revenue may only be used for highway construction, which precludes its usage toward public transportation projects. GOPC is constantly seeking ways of funding and modernizing all modes of transportation, including transit, biking, and walking.

Because the Federal Highway Administration has estimated that $170 billion in capital investment is needed annually to improve only roadways nationwide, it will be necessary in the future to increase revenue in order to make the required improvements. This will likely include raising fuel taxes, but also involve alternative sources of revenue as automobiles are becoming more fuel efficient and more vehicles that run on alternative sources (hybrid, electric) are operating on roadways.

One alternative that was discussed is a pilot program underway in the state of Oregon where individuals have volunteered to have tracking devices installed in their vehicles to track the number of miles they are traveling, and then paying per-mile fees to help fund highway and road construction and improvement. Other alternatives include the construction of new tolled infrastructure, an alternative that has been discussed to fund improvements on the Brent Spence Bridge in Cincinnati (Ohio has approved the toll bridge, Kentucky has not) and public private partnerships.

It was clear from the discussion that difficult decisions will need to be made in the months and years ahead. Investment in the state’s critical infrastructure, including drinking water, stormwater, and transportation, is necessary for two reasons. First, it is of paramount importance to ensure public health and safety. Without improvement to the state’s water systems, Ohio runs the risk of seeing repeats of the public health crisis in Flint, Michigan caused by lead contamination in the city’s water system, or the tragic failing of critical infrastructure such as the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis several years ago. Secondly, these systems are of critical importance to our state’s economy. Ohio is at the center of the nation’s economic livelihood, located within a day’s drive of 50 percent of the country’s population, with tens of thousands of jobs tied to transportation, manufacturing, and logistics. Investment in quality water and transportation systems will ensure Ohio’s economic stability in the years ahead.

 

View the PowerPoint presentation here

 

Remaking Cities After Abandonment Lecture Emphasizes Role of Community Efforts

September 16th, 2016

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Associate

This past Wednesday, the Knowlton School of Architecture at the Ohio State University hosted a lecture by Margaret Dewar, a University of Michigan professor teaching at the Taubman College of Architecture. Dewar focuses her research on economic development, housing, and urban planning and she investigates the ways planners seek to ameliorate population and employment loss. During the lecture, Dewar outlined three main questions that she seeks to answer as part of her research:

  • What does a city become after abandonment?
  • What makes a difference in what a city becomes after abandonment?
  • What should a city become after abandonment?

The theme of Dewar’s research findings is that even in the cases of extraordinary shock marked by the collapse of government and a plunge in housing values, social groups and institutions make significant strides in community building. According to Dewar, this concept is important to understand given that prior research had only concluded that community efforts could produce smaller-scale change, such as inducing a decrease in crime.

Dewar lamented that during the mortgage foreclosure crisis in Detroit during the last decade, local leadership demonstrated little in the way of support for citizen resilience. Instead of imploring citizens to stay in their homes and rebuild their communities in the midst of a widespread crisis, the previous Detroit mayor tried to clear people out of their houses because city services were so insufficient. In Dewar’s view, these services should have been restructured so that people would have more incentive to remain and persevere in rebuilding their neighborhoods. For instance, citizens could have found creative ways to combine their garbage each week in order to have more efficient garbage collection services when cuts needed to be made.

Dewar highlighted the need for governments to prioritize community development corporations (CDCs) when seeking to rebuild neighborhoods that have suffered from recent abandonment. GOPC partners with CDC associations around Ohio and likewise recognizes the important work they contribute to community investment and redevelopment. Dewar also stressed the cost savings that cities can benefit through transitioning to green stormwater infrastructure. GOPC is constantly researching and discovering new ways for local governments to finance and modernize their sewer and water infrastructure.

DetroitSkyline wikicommons Cropped

Detroit, Michigan. Source: Wikicommons

 

Social Impact Bonds for Urban Redevelopment and Green Infrastructure Break New Ground

September 6th, 2016

By John Honeck, GOPC Senior Policy Fellow

Social impact bonds (SIBs) or “pay for success” models are debt arrangements established by a public agency or nonprofit organization in order to finance an innovative service or program with an uncertain rate of return.  Investors are paid back in full only if the project succeeds in meeting its goals.  In this way, public agencies are incentivized to take a more flexible approach to problem-solving.  Until recently, social impact bonds were mainly tried in social service and criminal justice fields to test approaches with significant risk.  For example, Cuyahoga County is using a SIB to test a new approach to reduce foster care placements of children with homeless parents.

Two recent deals show that the social impact bond approach can be used in infrastructure and urban redevelopment.  In Hamilton County, the Port Authority of Greater Cincinnati has been looking for ways to redevelop sites for manufacturing firms seeking to locate or expand within the county.  Although the county has many abandoned industrial sites, they are often contaminated and have outdated buildings and infrastructure.  The lack of suitable locations for manufacturing expansion puts the county at a significant disadvantage with respect to greenfield development. 

To help remedy the situation, in June, 2016, the Port Authority issued bonds with a principal amount of $7 million for the acquisition and remediation of contaminated sites in the county.[1]  The bonds were purchased by local businesses and high net worth individuals that have an interest in economic development but are willing to provide a source of long-term patient capital.  Investors hope to make a profit when the land is sold, but if the deal does not work out as planned they are only guaranteed a miniscule annual rate of return of 0.15 percent.  If the approach is successful, the Port Authority may seek an additional $13 million from other investors.  This financing strategy may provide an example for other older post-industrial cities in Ohio and the rest of the nation. 

In Washington, D.C., a ground-breaking deal showed the potential for social impact bonds for infrastructure.[2]  The DC Water and Sewer Authority announced in early September that it will seek between $20 – $30 million in financing from investors to support the installation of “green” infrastructure such as porous pavement or rain gardens to manage stormwater flowing into the Potomac River and Rock Creek watersheds.  DC Water hopes to avoid using expensive deep tunnels or other major infrastructure work that would otherwise be necessary to address a federal mandate to stop combined sewer overflows.  Like many other cities in the Eastern U.S., the older parts of Washington’s sewer system combine wastewater and storm water runoff into the same pipes, which overflow when it rains, discharging raw sewage into rivers and streams.  Investors will be repaid according the degree of stormwater control that the project achieves. 

Greater Ohio Policy Center is currently in the midst of a year-long study of innovative financing techniques for water and sewer infrastructure and brownfield redevelopment.  These two issues are critical needs for cities in Ohio and across the nation, as discussed in our earlier report.  Although social impact bonds cannot be expected to provide most of the financing needed to tackle these issues, it can promote innovative approaches to test the application of new programs.  In the long run, these arrangements can also help to build a network of stakeholder organizations that see themselves as partners in addressing a significant environmental or economic problem.  SIBs are not just about financing, they also help to focus public attention on an issue. 

 

 

[1] Press release, Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, “Port Authority Issues Impact Investment Debt To Fund Industrial Site Revitalization; Closes $7.0 Million In First Round,” June 16, 2016.  http://www.cincinnatiport.org/wp-content/uploads/Port-Authority-builds-patient-capital-portfolio-6.9.16.pdf

[2] Kyle Glazier, “D.C.’s Social Impact Bond Deal Will Fund Infrastructure,” The Bond Buyer, 9-2-16, http://www.bondbuyer.com/news/regionalnews/dcs-social-impact-bond-deal-will-fund-infrastructure-1112664-1.html.

Check out GOPC’s Partner Conferences this Fall!

September 2nd, 2016

GOPC’s partners are hosting exciting conferences this fall. These conferences will examine different facets of community revitalization and strategies for stabilizing and rebuilding our communities.  Additionally, GOPC and long-time partner, Ohio CDC Association will be co-hosting a webinar in October. Check out the descriptions below and click on the links to register!

The Dialogue in Detroit Conference will go from September 13 to 16, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan. This Conference will bring together professionals, decision-makers and academics from America’s Legacy Cities, where long-term population loss and economic restructuring present difficult challenges for the future of astounding historic resources and significant cultural heritage.  This Conference is sponsored by the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, and Wayne State University. This conference is a follow up to one at which GOPC keynoted in Cleveland in 2015.

Detroit dialogue

 

From September 28-30, 2016, The Center for Community Progress will be hosting the Reclaiming Vacant Properties (RVP) Conference in Baltimore, Maryland. Themed “In Service of People and Place,” the seventh RVP will take a deep look at how work to reclaim vacant properties can improve the wellbeing of residents and the places they call home.  Former GOPC Executive Director, Lavea Brachman will be speaking on the Creating State Policy Change to Support Blight-Fighting Innovation panel and GOPC will be leading a small group workshop on small and medium sized legacy cities.

CCP

 

The Ohio CDC Association will be hosting the Passion for Progress Conference October 13-14, 2016. Taking place in Athens, Ohio, this annual conference will showcase the revitalization occurring throughout the region. GOPC will be attending and learning the latest and greatest in the community development field.

CDC Association

 

Finally, GOPC and Ohio CDC Association will co-host a Webinar on October 27, 2016 from 10:00-11:30am. This webinar will explore the findings of a recent report by Greater Ohio Policy Center that examined how smaller legacy cities, from Akron to Zanesville, fared over the last 15 years. GOPC will share best practices that smaller legacy cities throughout the Midwest and Northeast used to jumpstart revitalization and that community development and public sector leaders can put into practice in their own communities. 

Join us on October 27th here!