Sandy Recovery Highlights Resilience Lessons

Graffiti in New York following the devastation cased by Hurricane Sandy. (photo: Ayasha Guerin/inhabitat.com)

Graffiti in New York following the devastation cased by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. (photo: Ayasha Guerin / inhabitat.com)

The Chen residence in the Midland Beach neighborhood of Staten Island is occupied once again. During the 2012 superstorm known as Hurricane Sandy, the Chen home was inundated with 10 feet of flood water, as were other residences in the Midland and New Dorp Beach areas. As of March 2015, the Chen family is back in a restored home thanks to New York’s Build It Back program and the partnership with IBTS (Institute for Building Technology and Safety), an National League of Cities Corporate Partner.

The completed Chen house. (photo: james Brooks)

The completed Chen house. (photo: james Brooks)

The Chen home and others like it have new siding, enhanced insulation and better fire resiliency measures. The property is also raised twelve feet above the ground. The critical measure is that the property is well above both the Base Flood Elevation (BFE) and the Design Flood Elevation (DFE). This means that even if the property is on a flood plain, flood insurance is not required.

The City of New York, working through its Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Mayor’s Office of Housing Recovery Operations, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), established the Build It Back program to coordinate, streamline and evaluate the recovery effort. IBTS is one of the largest contractors serving the city in the areas of architectural and structural assessments, rehabilitation or reconstruction design, contract management and reporting, and final inspections for single family homes.

Visiting the hardest hit neighborhoods on Staten Island and in the Gerritsen Beach area of Brooklyn is an experience both similar and different from visiting neighborhoods in New Orleans hit by Hurricane Katrina 10 years ago. The topography is familiar, and it’s the first sign that these beach bungalows are susceptible to a rising tide. Although the beach dunes rise up from the shoreline, once the waters crest the dunes and flow across Staten Island’s Father Capodanno Boulevard, the landscape drops away another 10-20 feet. Flooding in this area continued nearly a mile inland to Hylan Boulevard.

Build It Back is a massive project. Through March 2015, nearly 26,000 registrants have applied for the program. From Queens, where Breezy Point is located, there are 11,374 registrants. Staten Island has 5,782 registrants, and Brooklyn has 7,968. Eligible homes can have both exterior and interior storm damage repaired. Where appropriate, homes and utility lines are elevated above flood levels as well.

To date, the IBTS team has received contracts to carry out 483 housing elevations. Of these, 253 have received home owner reviews, 198 have received elevation designs for approval, 139 have had construction documents turned over to the city Department of Buildings, and 106 have received permit approvals.

Mr. & Mrs. Slaven with the contractors. (photo: Jim Brooks)

Mr. & Mrs. Slaven with IBTS contractors. In the background sits the Slaven house on cribbing. (photo: James Brooks)

The drama in the story is not in the numbers, but in the first-hand accounts told by residents such as Mr. Francis and Mrs. Lauren Slaven of Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn. Today, their house sits atop 12-foot timber cribbing waiting to be permanently set on its new foundation. A gregarious and talkative woman, Mrs. Slaven is vivid in her recounting of swimming to safety in the face of Sandy. She even managed to save her dog, but lost a pet bird in the ordeal. They will return to their renovated home shortly.

The results of the recovery work thus far have helped drive some innovations both in the management of CDBG Disaster Recovery funds and in the design specifications for home elevations. For example, with support from HUD, IBTS developed a unit price contractor procurement model for CDBG-DR housing rehabilitation and/or reconstruction. IBTS is applying these lessons to the balance of their Build It Back work, bringing a considerable level of savings to New York City storm recovery efforts and also to new work awarded by the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery (GOSR) on Long Island.

Brooks, J.A. 2010About the Author: James Brooks is NLC’s Director for City Solutions. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement. Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.

The Sharing Economy and the Future of Cities – What’s Next?

This post was co-authored with Lauren Hirshon. Brooks Rainwater and Lauren Hirshon recently published the National League of Cities report “Cities, the Sharing Economy and What’s Next.”

Sharing Economy 5

The sharing economy is impacting cities. Around the world, innovative sharing economy technologies and business models are redefining how city dwellers access resources and consume goods. City leaders welcome innovation in their cities – but as regulatory challenges continue to arise, many would like a better understanding of how best to approach the growing sharing economy.

Sharing Economy cover minThe National League of Cities report Cities, the Sharing Economy and What’s Next provides an analysis of what is currently happening within the sharing economy in American cities. In order to explore the multifaceted nature of this space, the report focuses on five key themes: innovation, economic development, equity, safety and implementation.

The sharing economy is impacting the delivery of goods and services across a wide range of industries. Jeremiah Owyang’s Collaborative Economy Honeycomb demonstrates how this space has grown to include 12 distinct areas from space and transportation to logistics, learning and more.

Uber, Lyft, SideCar and other Transportation Network Companies (TNC’s) have dramatically disrupted travel patterns in cities. For many, hailing a cab or calling for a ride has been replaced with the act of opening a mobile application, requesting a ride, and tracking a little car graphic as it makes its way across a map to your location.

On the homesharing front, Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO and other companies are shaking up travel – specifically, the manner in which people make use of resources like apartments, homes, spare bedrooms or even castles.

Meanwhile, other platforms and concepts like TaskRabbit (a mobile marketplace to hire people to do jobs and tasks), SnapGoods (a site for lending and borrowing high-end household items), and Feastly (a marketplace for dining experiences) are taking off as well.

Why Sharing

Also described as collaborative consumption, the collaborative economy, or the peer-to-peer economy, the sharing economy is growing and changing the way people use and consume resources and services. But it is also disrupting local regulatory environments. With this major shift occurring in urban hubs, all eyes are on cities for global leadership.

True to their reputation as laboratories for experimentation, many cities are testing different approaches and developing unique, locally-driven solutions to new challenges. While there is no status quo – and the relative novelty of the issue still precludes long-term, tested best practices – city leaders are springing into action to consider how these platforms and services will impact major issues in cities.

Cities, the Sharing Economy and What’s Next deals most specifically with two facets of the sharing economy: transportation and space, or the areas generally referred to as ridesharing and homesharing. In our report we highlighted themes, insights and lessons learned that emerged from conversations with current and former city leaders from around the country who are developing new strategies and tactics to regulate this evolving sharing space.

While there are still many unanswered questions, we’re certainly working towards clarity on the important topics to consider in this research. Depending on community priorities, neighborhood compositions, available housing stock, tourism demands, existing transportation networks, major events and other issues, the cities we interviewed chose to take different approaches. Thus, a wide spectrum of solutions has emerged.

For example, when considering ridesharing safety issues, some cities like Dallas have opted to develop a new set of insurance requirements. The city of Dallas created a novel three-phase approach to ensure that TNCs had insurance coverage 24/7. Other cities have decided to revisit their policies for taxicab companies.

Sharing Economy 3

Regarding the manner in which these services impact equity and access, some cities have created funds to support wheel-chair accessible transportation. Others have included clauses in ordinances explicitly stating that services cannot be denied to certain passengers. Many are looking for ways to capture new data to track areas like pick-up and drop-off locations.

Sharing Economy 4

Across the interviews we conducted for our report, many city leaders expressed wanting access to more data from sharing economy companies. Unlike most traditional service providers, the business model of sharing economy companies is predicated on data and the ability to match end user customers to vehicles or available housing. The availability of this data – for cities to better understand equity and access issues, as well as for the purposes of developing enhanced transit systems – is a theme that warrants further exploration.

Cities are also taking a varied approach to addressing the new economic reality created by sharing economy businesses. In a number of cities such as Austin, Texas, Washington, D.C., Madison, Wisc., Portland, Ore., Chicago and San Francisco, homesharing companies have begun to include local hotel taxes in their rate structures – either voluntarily or as part of local regulations on homesharing.

Some cities have not yet reached agreement on these issues, and the onus is on hosts to pay appropriate taxes on their revenues. In Washington, D.C., the recent TNC legislation included a provision requiring TNCs to pay taxes equaling 1 percent of all revenues from trips originating from within the city; annual revenue totals are estimated to be in the millions. In Seattle, TNCs must pay a fee of 10 cents for each ride that originates in the city. Other cities, such as Dallas, decided not to touch the issue of revenue capture when drafting legislation.

Our report provides additional details on each of these issues, the strategies city officials are developing, and their reasoning behind their approach. While our report doesn’t provide all the answers, it is meant to be a primer for what is currently happening in this arena – and we hope it offers some sense of comfort that city leaders are not alone in grappling with substantial new regulatory challenges.

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We also hope our findings inspire city officials to ask the tough questions. The sharing economy is disruptive, and it’s moving quickly. It’s changing how we get around, where we stay, how we manage tasks, what we buy – and sometimes the changes occurring can be overwhelming for city officials.

However, the presentation of these new challenges offers city leaders the unique opportunity to not only think about present concerns but also to look to the future. City leaders should consider the new opportunities these platforms and services are creating to transform approaches and operating models so that cities can become even more agile, responsive and innovative themselves.

The sharing economy will only continue to grow and evolve as cities serve as laboratories for these ever-changing technologies and business models. There is great promise in the rapid ascent of sharing economy services in our nation’s cities. The best thing that city policymakers can do is keep an open mind about how the new economy might be beneficial with the right regulatory framework in place – because sharing is here to stay.

About the Authors:

Brooks Rainwater bio photoBrooks Rainwater is the Director of the Center for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities. Follow Brooks on Twitter at @BrooksRainwater.

 

Lauren Hirshon 104x120

Lauren Hirshon is the Director of Consulting at the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute of Government, and a public sector strategist, coach and innovator. Follow Lauren on Twitter at @LaurenHirshon.

Cities Can Still Help Children and Families Get Health Insurance

“It doesn’t matter why people don’t have insurance; what matters is that we help them get it.”
-Valerie McDonald Roberts, City of Pittsburgh

<> on July 20, 2010 in New York, New York. (Getty Images)

Although the 2015 deadline to enroll in health insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s Healthcare Marketplace has passed, there are still ways for children and families to get covered. Depending on household size and income, children and families may qualify for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and enrollment for both programs is available 365 days a year.

Medicaid and CHIP provide free or low-cost benefits to eligible families, including:

  • Coverage for inpatient and outpatient hospital services
  • Screenings and preventative services
  • Prescription drugs
  • Immunizations
  • Mental health services

For the last two years, NLC has been working with local leaders to connect families to these important public health insurance programs through our Cities Expanding Health Access for Children and Families (CEHACF) initiative. Cities have a vested interest in expanding coverage for children and families. When families have health insurance, the burden on hospital emergency rooms is reduced, families avoid the sky-high medical debt that often results in a financial crisis and children are healthier, which means parents take less time off of work to care for sick kids.

The eight cities participating in CEHACF are implementing a variety of effective strategies to get eligible children and families in their communities enrolled in Medicaid or CHIP. These include working with community organizations to coordinate citywide outreach events, conducting targeted outreach, e.g., school-based outreach and training city staff to provide one-on-one enrollment assistance. These cities are working to improve access to coverage for their residents because they know that having health coverage improves the quality of life for families and provides a level of economic and emotional security that families not only need, but deserve.

As Valerie McDonald Roberts, Chief Urban Affairs Officer for Mayor Bill Peduto in Pittsburgh noted in her recent op-ed, “When you find yourself telling your children that they can’t break an arm or a finger not only because it will hurt or take a long time to heal, but also because you can’t afford to take them to the hospital, you feel vulnerable.” With Medicaid and CHIP, no family needs to feel vulnerable.

The bottom line, as McDonald Roberts aptly puts it, is that “when you visit the doctor, the people at the front desk don’t care who issued your insurance card. They just want to see that you have one.”

What is your city doing to promote Medicaid and CHIP enrollment? Let us know by contacting Dawn Schluckebier at schluckebier@nlc.org.

Dawn Schluckebeir_headshot
About the Author:
Dawn Schluckebier is a Senior Associate for Family Economic Success in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Dawn on Twitter at @TheSchluck.

Open Data Is Finally Making A Dent In Cities

This post originally appeared on Fast Company’s Co.Exist blog.

Chicago-StOpen data can help you find your lost dog, make your commute more efficient, and make government more transparent – if cities will let it. (Getty Images)

What is the best way to get from 12th Street to Main, and should I take the subway, a bike, or rideshare? How many lobbyists are there in my city and more importantly, what are they doing? And, by the way, where did my dog go?

All of these questions and more can now be answered in cities as a result of open data. Beyond just its functional use for an increasingly app-dependent society, data collection and analysis is powering and redefining how we think about ourselves and how we interact with others, in almost every part of life. From who we date, to who we share our commute with to work, a whole new world is being created through access to useful, usable information.

As with a range of leading issues, cities are at the vanguard of this shifting environment. Through increased measurement, analysis, and engagement, open data will further solidify the centrality of cities.

In Chicago, the voice of the mayor counts for a lot. And Mayor Emmanuel has been at the forefront in supporting and encouraging open data in the city, resulting in a strong open government community. The city has more than 600 datasets online, and has seen millions of page views on its data portal. The public benefits have accrued widely with civic initiatives like Chicagolobbyists.org, as well as with a myriad of other open data led endeavors.

Transparency is one of the great promises of open data. Petitioning the government is a fundamental tenet of democracy and many government relations’ professionals perform this task brilliantly. At the same time that transparency is good for the city, it’s good for citizens and democracy. Through the advent of Chicagolobbyists.org, anyone can now see how many lobbyists are in the city, how much they are spending, who they are talking to, and when it is happening.

Throughout the country, we are seeing data driven sites and apps like this that engage citizens, enhance services, and provide a rich understanding of government operations In Austin, a grassroots movement has formed with advocacy organization Open Austin. Through hackathons and other opportunities, citizens are getting involved, services are improving, and businesses are being built.

Data can even find your dog, reducing the number of stray animals being sheltered, with Stray Mapper. The site has a simple map-based web portal where you can type in whether you are missing a dog or cat, when you lost them, and where. That information is then plugged into the data being collected by the city on stray animals. This project, developed by a Code for America brigade team, helps the city improve its rate of returning pets to owners.

It’s not only animals that get lost or at least can’t find the best way home. I’ve found myself in that situation too. Thanks to Ridescout, incubated in Washington, D.C., at 1776, I have been able to easily find the best way home. Through the use of open data available from both cities and the Department of Transportation, Ridescout created an app that is an intuitive mobility tool. By showing me all of the available options from transit to ridesharing to my own two feet, it frequently helps me get from place to place in the city. It looks like it wasn’t just me that found this app to be handy; Daimler recently acquired Ridescout as the auto giant continues its own expansion into the data driven mobility space.

We are a data driven society, from the private sector where consumer data drives the bottom line to the public sector where more and more outputs are being quantified and analyzed. New businesses are being created and existing firms are growing as companies use open data to build products that improve the lives of people living in and visiting cities. In whatever city you are in, data is a tool to make lives easier, create more robust two-way communications between the governing and governed, and increase and improve commerce.

In the National League of Cities’ newly released report, City Open Data Policies: Learning by Doing, we sought to find out what cities are currently doing with open data and what they could be doing far into the future. Working together with our partners at American University’s Department of Public Administration and Policy, this publication is a resource for cities developing open data policies.

By opening data, cities are developing an unprecedented portal into the operations and functioning of government for the use of and to the benefit of community members, the private sector, and open government advocates. Enhanced data analysis and increased open data availability also allows us to envision a future where city services are radically transformed, leading toward a seamlessness of operations from city government to resident delivery. This forward momentum further reinforces that data has become the infrastructural backbone in the century of the city.

Brooks Rainwater bio photoAbout the author:Brooks Rainwater is the Director of the Center for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities. Follow Brooks on Twitter at @BrooksRainwater.

Top 3 Ways to Foster Civic Innovation

This is a guest post by Gayatri Mohan of PublicStuff.

Innovation is all around us, and it’s more than just a buzzword. Cities of all sizes are tapping into multiple channels and local resources; they’re creating effective strategies for innovation in governance.

In a recent article by Jonathan Reichental, CIO of Palo Alto, he explains the importance and potential of civic innovation and urges city leaders to prioritize innovation at all levels of government. “Civic innovation” sounds broad and daunting, but there are three steps governments can take to successfully make it a central part of their strategy.

Build Out the Right Channels to Listen

Virgina Veteran Homelessness Infographic

Click on this infographic to view it in a larger format.

Government agencies can establish systems to better listen to their constituents. With an abundance of online civic engagement platforms, forums and mobile apps, this is now easier than ever. The City of Philadelphia uses its Philly311 mobile app, website and call center to better serve and connect with its diverse population of 1.5 million. Citizens have reported issues related to graffiti, residential maintenance, trash, potholes, vacant lots and vacant homes. Gathering this data and understanding the community’s most acute problems helps the city prepare in advance and allocate resources accordingly.

“It’s so exciting to find yet another channel to provide our residents with a more open and accessible government,” said Rosetta Carrington Lue, Customer Service Officer and Philly311 Director.

The City of Tallahassee, Fla. uses a similar mobile-first platform, DigiTally, to enable citizen participation in improving their community. By empowering citizens to be the eyes and ears of their neighborhoods, the community has seen tangible results, from everyday issues being resolved quickly to citizens requesting new bus stops and traffic signs.

But listening is only the first step. How can government leaders further engage the people they serve and truly include them in the business of governance? How does government-citizen interaction become a seamless dialogue around community concerns, ideas and tangible solutions?

Respond Directly to Public Demand

Philadelphia continues to build additional tools into its existing platform to keep it current and relevant for citizens. The Election Day tool, developed by Chief Data Officer Tim Wisnewski, was purely driven by public demand for more information on polling locations, candidates, ballot questions, voter ID rules, and polling hours. Various agencies within the City, like the Office of City Commissioner, GIS Services Group in the Office of Innovation and Technology, and the Philly311 team, came together to build and release the widget in time for elections.

Get Your Community On Board

City of Tallahassee's first interactive press conference
City officials and press gather at the city of Tallahassee’s first interactive press conference. (photo credit: City of Tallahassee)

Building channels to listen and respond to citizen demands is key, but leaders have to make sure their systems are adopted by city staff as well as citizens. In a recent survey, we found that a lack of staff and community adoption were significant roadblocks to adopting new tools in local government. Cities trying to implement new technology programs in their communities have a lot to learn from the city of Tallahassee, Fla.

The city has seen nearly 8,000 app downloads, more than 400 staff users and almost 6,000 completed service requests since DigiTally’s launch. To promote awareness and adoption upon launch, the city hosted public events like its first interactive press conference outside City Hall to conduct mock request submissions. The city also hosted lunch and learn sessions at the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce, and made an announcement through their local television talk show to educate local businesses, citizens and civic organizations.

In his article, Jonathan Reichental points out correctly that “communities are demanding more efficient governments… [and] have high expectations for the way cities function.” Nurturing a culture of innovation, and strengthening communication and citizen relations are key steps towards meeting those expectations.

Gayatri Mohan bio photo 175x175About the Author: Gayatri Mohan is Marketing Team Lead at PublicStuff, a civic software company based in New York. She can be reached at gayatri@publicstuff.com.

 

Inequality, Instagram and Incubators: This Month in Economic Development

Our monthly roundup of the latest news in economic development filtered through a city-focused lens. Reading something interesting? Share it with @robbins617.

San-Diego-InstaCould Instagram walk-around tours help cities attract visitors and showcase local landmarks? (Photo Credit: David Maloney)

Shining a new light on income inequality.
The issue of inequity is getting prime-time coverage from the White House, think tanks and mayoral state of the city addresses. A root of the problem, as a  new CityLab analysis suggests, is that the “rising tide raises all boats” approach needs to be swapped out for one that focuses on expanding advancement opportunities for low-wage earners. City leaders are taking note. Portland Mayor Charlie Hales is proposing to raise the minimum wage to $15 for city workers and contractors. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced a “shared prosperity agenda” that includes affordable housing measures and universal after-school and summer programs. Huron, South Dakota is increasing city spending on English classes for new residents as a local workforce development initiative. Cincinnati just created a new city department for economic inclusion.

Forget all your troubles, forget all your cares. Things will be great when you’re developing downtown.
Cities are continuing to invest in revitalizing their downtown districts to attract retailers, visitors and residents. In places like Monroe, La., Derby, Conn., Modesto, Calif. and Osage, Iowa, city officials are making plans to enhance their downtowns with projects including expanding parking access, updating building facades and developing pedestrian walkways. Bismarck, N.D., will soon have a new downtown apartment and retail complex designed to attract young professionals. Last year, NLC’s City Fiscal Conditions study found that 62 percent of cities increased spending on capital projects and infrastructure. That number may continue to grow this year.

Old debate, new players. Are major sporting events a good development strategy?
It’s an age-old question. Is hosting a major sporting event a good economic development strategy? This debate has been playing out in Glendale, Ariz. and Boston, Mass. in recent weeks. Leading up to the Super Bowl, Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers tried unsuccessfully to get reimbursed the $2.1 million his city spent on security during game week. Meanwhile the city of Boston won the U.S. bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, but not everyone is wicked excited about Bostonians handing out the gold medals. A new nonprofit, No Boston Olympics, formed to protest the bid and says it plans to push for a ballot initiative or state legislation that could prevent the Games from coming to Boston. No Boston Olympics argues the city could be left in debt or forced to use taxpayer dollars to support the Games.

Coworking spaces are popping up in new cities.
Affordable, shared workspaces for entrepreneurs (a topic we’ve talked about here also) are launching in new places. DeskHub in Scottsdale, Ariz., recently opened its doors to the community and is the largest coworking space in the Phoenix metro area. Artists, crafters and makers in the nation’s capital can now rent space at the Brewmasters Studio in downtown D.C. to let their creative juices flow in the company of fellow artists. Plans are also officially underway to build an innovation district in Chattanooga.

The Great GASB.
The Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) proposed a new set of rules requiring state and local governments to disclose details about tax abatements. Over 300 organizations weighed in during the recent comment period, with a decision expected from GASB this summer. While greater transparency and accountability in the use of incentives gets a big thumbs up, concerns abound regarding the administrative burden the rules would impose, and the lack of context in which abatements would be disclosed.  Stay tuned…

Idea of the month: Downtown Instagram walking tours.
Speaking of downtowns, a local photographer in Bluefield, W.V., developed an Instagram walk-around tour of his city, attracting shutterbugs from the area to snap photos of downtown buildings and landmarks. This could be a unique new approach for attracting visitors and showcasing a city’s unique architecture, parks or art.

What we’re reading.
Governing’s new series on gentrification. On a related note, can Starbucks predict where gentrification will happen next? Also, policy ideas from the Kauffman Foundation for how federal, state and local government should support immigrant entrepreneurs.

For a laugh.  
It’s state of the city season. Are you ready? Cupertino’s Mayor Rod Sinks just raised expectations to new heights by jumping out of an airplane with his council colleagues as part of his speech.

Check back here on our blog Friday, Feb. 6, for NLC’s take on what the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics’ numbers mean for local government workforces.

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About the author: Emily Robbins is the Senior Associate, Finance and Economic Development at NLC. Follow Emily on Twitter: @robbins617.

Smile for the (Red Light) Camera!

This is a guest post by Elizabeth Madison.

red light camera 2 fullsizeDo you think red light enforcement cameras reduce traffic accidents? Or do they exist simply to provide revenue? In either case, their successful implementation depends on the ability of local law enforcement to accurately and reliably measure changes in traffic accidents that occur where the cameras are used. (Getty Images)

Cities and states across the country are engaged in an ongoing debate regarding the use of photo red light cameras at traffic intersections. At the root of this conversation is the fundamental question: Do photo red light cameras promote public safety or are they primarily a source of local revenue?

Solid evidence exists to prove the safety benefits of photo-enforcement. The New York City Department of Transportation, for example, reported a 56% decrease in serious injuries, a 44% decrease in pedestrian injuries, and a 16% decrease in all injuries at New York City intersections with photo red light cameras. NYCDOT also reports that these intersections have experienced a 40-60% decrease in red-light violations. In these instances, red light cameras change driver behavior and reduce the chance of an accident at those intersections.

Denver also has reported improved safety statistics since the implementation of photo red light cameras. City officials reported a 27% decrease in accidents at intersections since installing the technology in 2008. These statistics influenced the outcome of an effort in the state legislature to ban photo-enforcement systems. A bill demanding their removal on the grounds that they do not improve safety and are used only to make a profit (the city made nearly $34 million from photo red light and radar cameras in the last five years alone) was not enacted.

Where Does Your State Stand?

As of January 2015, 21 states and the District of Columbia had passed laws permitting the use of photo red light cameras at traffic lights. Alternatively, 10 states had passed laws prohibiting their use, leaving 19 states with no specific policy regarding their use. The breakdown is as follows:

States allowing photo red light cameras: Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Washington D.C., Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington.
States prohibiting photo red light cameras: Arkansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, South Carolina, West Virginia, Wisconsin.
States with no specific policy regarding photo red light cameras: Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Wyoming.

Not every city has voted in favor of using photo red light cameras. Los Angeles, for instance, removed all 32 of the city’s photo red light cameras in 2011. The removal of the cameras was the result of an angry citizenry tired of paying high fines for traffic infractions as well as a fiscally tight local government. Dennis Zine, former Los Angeles City Councilman, explained that the program was costing the city more money to monitor and operate than they were making in infraction fines. Additionally, he claimed the photo red light cameras were “more about revenue than public safety.”

New Jersey instituted a five year pilot program in 2009 to determine the effectiveness of photo red light cameras in increasing public safety. As of December 2014 the pilot program had ended, and there are no plans to continue the program or install cameras anywhere in the state. Multiple system flaws were reported during the pilot program, including inaccurate yellow-light timing, unsuccessful notification methods, and a law suit the result of which reimbursed hundreds of thousands of motorists who were wrongly ticketed.

The penalties associated with a red light violation, when identified by a photo red light system, vary between states. The average price of a red light traffic violation is $50-$100. Both New York and Colorado have ticket fines in this range, with tickets in New York priced at $50 and Colorado at $75. California on the other hand issues a $490 fine, as well as 1 point on the offender’s driving record, for a red light violation.

The level of difference between state fines begs the question, where is the line between fines that are appropriate and fines that are excessive? This distinction may influence perceptions of the purpose of photo red light cameras. For example, perceptions that Los Angeles installed photo red light cameras in order to boost city revenue rather than improve public safety may be in response to the high fines issued in California.

Based on current research, the bottom line for many localities is that use of photo red light cameras does in fact decrease traffic accidents. While these systems may generate revenue for cities, the amount of revenue is specifically dependent on a variety of factors including the level of the fine issued to motorists. There is little current evidence that supports the claim that photo red light cameras are used solely to increase revenue.

For cities considering implementing a photo-enforcement program or for those who wish to demonstrate its effectiveness, local law enforcement must be able to accurately and reliably measure the changes in traffic accidents. Cities need public safety assessments and cost-benefit analysis in order to make an informed decision regarding the use of photo red cameras.

Elizabeth Madison bio photo thumbAbout the Author: Elizabeth Madison is a earning her Master’s Degree in Urban and Environmental Planning at the University of Virginia. She is assisting the NLC Center for City Solutions and Applied Research with the expansion of its City Solutions Database.

Meet the Freshman: Rep. Tom MacArthur

This is the second in a series of closer looks at new members of Congress coming from city government office.

Tom MacArthur bio photo

Congressman Tom MacArthur

Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.-03) comes to his House seat from his previous post as Mayor of Randolph Township in southern New Jersey. After retiring from a career in the insurance industry, MacArthur began his service in local government in 2011, when he was elected to the Randolph Township Council. During his time on the council, MacArthur served as deputy mayor and then mayor of Randolph, before departing Randolph to run for Congress in nearby Toms River, N.J.

Rep. MacArthur’s local perspective has been colored by his community’s experience during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, which devastated portions of the New Jersey shore and damaged homes, stores, and boardwalks along the coast. He has been assigned to the Water, Power, and Oceans Subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee, a nod to his coastal constituency. Rep. MacArthur will also serve on the House Armed Services Committee.

“Serving as a local elected official was a challenging and fulfilling experience, and I’m thankful for the lessons in governing that came from that time,” Rep. MacArthur told NLC. “I saw first-hand how state and federal actions affect local people and communities… hard working taxpayers deserve a responsive, efficient and bipartisan government at all levels. I plan on bringing that approach and working with members of both parties to make sure our constituents can pursue happiness with more freedom and less hassle from government.”

Rep. MacArthur is likely to continue his local focus in Congress: Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in his district could be under threat during the next round of base closures. During the campaign, Rep. MacArthur included concerns about affordable flood insurance in his platform, and he will likely continue to focus on the concerns of coastal residents, particularly as they pertain to natural disasters.

Panettieri photoAbout the author: Angelina Panettieri is the Senior Associate for Grassroots Advocacy at the National League of Cities. She helps empower city leaders to engage directly with Congress on the issues most important to them.

Tying Business Incentives to an Economic Development Strategy

This is a guest post written by Ellen Harpel. Post originally appeared on the Smart Incentives blog.

Construction-in-SingaporeEconomic development initiatives like this construction project in Singapore are more successful when investment incentives align with the values articulated by the overall development strategy. (Getty Images)

Incentives are not just about winning a deal or completing a transaction with an investor. Smart incentive use is always connected to a larger economic development strategy.

Economic strategy

Any project for which incentives are offered needs to be evaluated in the context of community economic goals and strategies. Many communities have an economic development strategy, though perhaps of varying quality, and making sure that an incentivized project aligns with the broad statements and values within that strategy is an important first step. Unfortunately, a surprising number of communities either do not have strategies in place or do not align their incentive programs to those strategies. Community discussions on incentive use focus on the deal, not the reason for the deal. My work around the country has revealed that the public, elected officials and even economic development board members do not see how incentives are connected to the broader economic development mission, seeing them entirely as necessary evils to enable business recruitment.

Program goals

Policymakers are increasingly ensuring that individual incentive programs have clear goals, although we have seen that guiding legislation can be frustratingly unclear, making both implementation and evaluation difficult. Clearly defining the purpose of an incentive program helps ensure it will be used as intended. Otherwise, it runs the risk of being offered to all comers regardless of their capacity to connect to community goals. Communities also often have specific objectives related to supporting target industries or developing individual sectors of the economy. Economic developers may be urged to support small businesses or firms meeting certain demographic criteria. Economic development organizations often work with regional or national organizations and may need to align efforts with their broader strategies. Sustainable development may be a priority. These are all additional strategic factors that should be considered when assessing the basic project benefits that an incentives investment might generate. Good economic development organizations know their communities well and should be able to relatively easily assess whether a proposed investment aligns with community values on these factors, singly or in combination.

Ellen Harpel bio photoAbout the Author: Ellen Harpel is President of Business Development Advisors (BDA) and Founder of Smart Incentives. She has over 17 years of experience in the economic development field, working with leaders at the local, state and national levels to increase business investment and job growth in their communities. Contact Ellen at eharpel@businessdevelopmentadvisors.com or ellen@smartincentives.org. You can also follow her on Twitter at @SmartIncentives.

Five Ways Cities Can Promote Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs

Providing meals for children through federal Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs is a win-win opportunity for cities. Cities benefit by bringing more federal funds into their neighborhoods, and can improve the health and well-being of low-income children by increasing their access to healthy meals and their participation in fun and safe activities during out-of-school time hours. It is important for mayors and other city leaders to build strong partnerships with stakeholders, such as statewide anti-hunger groups, schools, food banks and other community organizations, to implement meal programs in ways that maximize quality and participation. These stakeholders can serve as important outreach partners that help city leaders connect with their residents to make sure they are aware of the resources available to them. Here are five ways that city leaders can promote afterschool and summer meal programs in their communities. 1. Use the bully pulpit to raise awareness of child hunger and promote out-of-school time meal programs. Local elected officials can write op-eds for local newspapers, emphasize the need for afterschool and summer meal programs in public speeches or at events, and promote afterschool and summer meal programs on the city’s website and through newsletters and social media. Nashville2. Publicize out-of-school time meals through a targeted marketing strategy. An important component of any marketing strategy for out-of-school time meals is a kick-off event. These events can raise awareness about meal programs in a way that brings key stakeholders and families together. Mayors can use kick-off events to frame afterschool and summer meals as a top priority for the city before a large audience of community leaders. Cities can also take advantage of existing national resources such as the National Hunger Hotline (1-866-3HUNGRY) to make meal program site locations and operating hours easily accessible to families. In addition, cities can advertise information about meal sites on utility bills, via robo-calls, or through the city’s 311 information line or the United Way’s 211 information line. Philadelphia3. Sponsor Afterschool or Summer Meal Programs. City agencies such as parks and recreation or departments of housing are well-suited to be sponsors of afterschool and summer meal programs and to host meal sites at local facilities, e.g., recreation centers. Staff from a mayor’s office can also coordinate a working group or task force that focuses on the issue of child hunger and identifies strategies to reduce it, including initiatives to increase participation in out-of-school time meal programs. City staff relationships with key community partners, as well as knowledge of where young people congregate after school and during the summer, are integral to the success of these programs. Houston4. Partner with community organizations that serve afterschool and summer meals. Local nonprofits and other afterschool providers often act as sponsors to provide afterschool and summer meals as well as activities for young people before and/or after meals. Cities can leverage funding for meal programs in partnership with community-based organizations. YEF quotes Boxes-015. Incorporate child nutrition goals into a broader citywide agenda. City leaders can work with staff responsible for broader citywide initiatives such as Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties or other initiatives that focus on children and youth to expand the reach and scope of child nutrition programming. To learn more, check out our new issue brief on afterschool and summer meals. FontanaJamie Nash bio photo About the Author: Jamie Nash is Senior Associate of Benefit Outreach in the National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. To learn more about how local government leaders can support out-of-school time meal programs, contact Jamie at nash@nlc.org.