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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis May 18, 2012
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The Importance of Public Transportation

Editor's Note: From coast to coast, concerned citizens weigh in on the importance of public transportation.

Keeping Florida competitive means appealing to youth

This editorial originally appeared May 5, 2012, in The Sun-Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, FL.

Sun-Sentinel Senior Editorial Writer

My son doesn’t have his driver’s license, which should concern the state of Florida.

It’s not because he’s my kid. Of course I’m biased. I think my son’s great, but that’s not the point. What should matter is he’s part of a growing number of young adults who seem to be shying away from the rush to get behind the wheel of a car. It seems that young people are driving less, and that has big ramifications for the Sunshine State.

From 2001 to 2009, the average annual number of vehicle miles traveled by people between the ages 16 and 34 decreased from 10,300 miles to 7,900 miles per capita, a drop of 23 percent, according to a study by the Frontier Group.

The trend isn’t exactly a momentarily blip, or necessarily a boon to those who may think that our streets and highways would be better off without young motorists. We’re looking at a new pocketbook issue here, one that could one day spur government officials in Tallahassee to rank quality of life issues right up there with tax breaks to make Florida a better place for business growth and jobs.

Higher gas prices, tougher driving licensing laws, new technologies and a shift in values are all cited as reasons young adults are driving less. They’re walking more frequently and relying more on public transit, the Transportation and the New Generation study found. They’re more concerned about preserving the environment, and they prefer living in places where they can easily walk, bike or take public transportation.

It’s that last point that should serve as a wake-up call to a car-crazed state that simply couldn’t function without the automobile. Florida, like many American communities, has developed a set of road building policies that assume driving will continue to increase at a rapid pace. What young adults seem to be saying is many of those policies are simply out of touch with a new reality.

“Driving is really important to a lot of the kids in the culture, but it isn’t the central focus like it was 25 years ago,” the study quoted an administrator at a Washington, D.C.-based drivers education program. It seems spending time on extracurricular activities, social media, even studying has greater priority.

Imagine a new generation that would rather hop a bus, bike or walk to nearby destinations as part of a new demand for a better quality of life. The problem facing Florida is that if government officials don’t move fast enough to address what will become a new wave of competition for economic and human development, they may see the state’s best talent vote with their feet and leave Florida for more desirable communities, and jobs. In fact, some believe this trend has already begun.

“Young adults have begun leaving their parents’ homes to move into vibrant, compact and walkable communities full of economic, social and recreational activities,” according to the Brookings Institution, which estimates 77 percent of young people between 18 and 35 plan to live in urban centers.

Mason C. Jackson, president and CEO of Workforce One, was ahead of the trend. Years ago, he noticed several studies that indicated young adults – and ultimately employers—would gravitate toward communities that were affordable, vibrant, socially diverse and “green,” as in environmentally friendly. He often wondered how well the Sunshine State would fare in such a trend.

“Unlike the good ol’ days, the reality is that work now moves around the world at the click of a mouse, which means increasingly talent is choosing where they want to live and good employers with good jobs will follow the talent,” Jackson wrote in a 2009 Sun-Sentinel column. “Our task is both to invest in our talent base and to have the quality of life which attracts and keeps that talent and therefore the kind of employers we would like to see here.”

The challenge facing our state government is to think beyond tolls and tax breaks. Quality of life for a new generation had better become job 1, if we hope to be competitive in attracting, and keeping, young talent in Florida.

EDITORIAL: Senate gets it right
Choice is clear on new transportation spending bill

This editorial originally appeared May 9, 2012, in The Register-Guard, Eugene, OR.

Much is at stake for Oregonians as U.S. House and Senate negotiators begin working this week on a compromise between starkly different versions of transportation spending bills.

Negotiators, which fortuitously include Reps. Peter DeFazio and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, should wholly embrace the two-year reauthorization bill approved by the Senate in March with broad bipartisan support. It would provide $109 billion to states and communities for mass transit, bridges and roads, including many projects that have been delayed for years.

The Senate bill would give states more flexibility in how they spend federal transportation funds, increase the pace of highway construction by streamlining environmental reviews, impose an array of sorely needed new safety regulations and boost funding for a federal loan guarantee program to encourage private investment in major infrastructure projects.

More significantly for Oregon, the Senate version includes a one-year extension of the county timber payments program, providing some federal funding to counties where the federal government has shut down most logging for environmental reasons. Even though the amount of payments is disappointingly small—$104 million compared to the $250 million allocated in 2008—the money is desperately needed by counties, some of which are teetering on the brink of insolvency while others, such as Lane County, face draconian and imminent cuts in public safety and other core services.

The Senate version also includes $700 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and other conservation programs that provide jobs and help boost the economies of struggling rural communities throughout the state.

The Senate bill is not perfect—its biggest flaw is its two-year duration, which lawmakers resorted to after they were unable to agree on how to provide long-term funding in the face of declining gasoline tax revenues. But it is far superior to the House version.

House Republicans failed to secure the votes necessary to pass their own comprehensive transportation bill. That’s fortunate, because the sole redeeming feature of their proposed five-year, $260 billion measure was its duration. The legislation was loaded with noxious provisions that, among other things, would have eliminated guaranteed public financing for mass transit and relied instead on volatile revenue from oil and gas drilling.

Instead, the House approved a short-term extension of highway funding that allowed its members to begin negotiations with the Senate. But House Republicans dragged along several of the worst features from the failed long-term bill, including a mandate for federal approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, restrictions on the public’s ability to challenge transportation projects on environmental grounds, and removal of the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate toxic coal ash.

The choice for conference committee negotiators is clear: Accepting the Senate transportation is the right thing to do.

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