Racing to Be First: How Autonomous Vehicles Will Affect Our Communities

A new National League of Cities report addresses the most pressing questions that local officials might have concerning self-driving vehicles.

Autonomous vehicles are already on our city streets — and for the foreseeable future, a variety of vehicles will operate on our roads with varying levels of automation. (Getty Images)

The full version of this post can be found on Route Fifty

The race towards fully autonomous vehicles has shifted into overdrive. In the past year, major partnerships and acquisitions between tech firms and traditional automakers have signaled the race is heating up for the future of transportation — and the stakes are high.

Traditional automakers like GM, Ford, Daimler and Fiat are taking the competition posed by Google’s Waymo and Elon Musk’s Tesla seriously — partnering with car-sharing platforms like Uber and Lyft as well as acquiring their own autonomous capabilities in firms like Cruise Automation. Nearly every major auto manufacturer has set a target for full autonomous production by 2021 or before, while autonomous vehicles are already on the streets of Pittsburgh and Tempe, Arizona. If major investments by the sector’s most prominent firms are anything to go by, producers are betting that the future of mobility, especially urban mobility, will be in autonomous fleets of shared vehicles collecting reams of data as they drive through our city streets.

Read the full version on Route Fifty.

About the authors:

Nicole DuPuis is the principal associate for urban innovation in NLC’s Center for City Solutions and Applied Research. Follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicolemdupuis.

Elias Stahl is the urban innovation intern in NLC’s Center for City Solutions and Applied Research.

How the President’s Budget Proposal Could Stop the Transit Revolution in Its Tracks

Included in the administration’s first budget proposal is a $499 billion cut to one of the federal government’s most successful transportation funding programs: TIGER Grants.

TIGER Grants fund innovative transportation projects such as this light rail system in Seattle. (Getty Images)

This April recess, NLC is encouraging city leaders to engage with their members of Congress while they are at home in their districts for two weeks. Don’t let Congress leave America’s cities behind — join us this week and next as we #FightTheCuts proposed in the administration’s budget.

This post was co-authored by Michael Wallace and Sam Warlick. It is part of a series on the 2018 federal budget.

While on the campaign trail, President Donald Trump often spoke like a true champion of American infrastructure. “Our airports, bridges, water tunnels, power grids, rail systems — our nation’s entire infrastructure is crumbling,” he wrote in 2015, “and we aren’t doing anything to fix it.”

His first three months as president have told a different story. Included in the administration’s first budget proposal is a $499 billion cut to one of the federal government’s most successful programs: TIGER Grants.

Created in 2009, TIGER Grants fund innovative transportation projects like light rail, regional buses, bicycle networks and new freight systems. The process is competitive, transparent and application-based, meaning that the grant winners must demonstrate outstanding economic and community benefits.

Over the past eight years, TIGER grants have supplied $5.1 billion in new funding to some of America’s most innovative urban and rural transportation projects. They include:

  • The QLINE Streetcar in Detroit, which will link the city’s resurgent downtown to some of its most economically-challenged neighborhoods
  • The Texas Rural Transit Asset Replacement project, which upgraded facilities and buses serving low-income, elderly and disabled riders across the state
  • Montana’s Poplar Airport Regional Access Project, which improved bike/pedestrian access and economic development opportunities in rural and tribal communities
  • The nationally-renowned Atlanta Beltline Trail, a green pedestrian and bicycle corridor redeveloped on an abandoned rail corridor

Under the White House’s “skinny budget,” the TIGER Grant program would be crippled. It would cut off the flow of federal investment in innovative transportation infrastructure — a key investment that has helped drive our nation’s economic recovery.

The ball is now in Congress’s court. With two weeks left to present a full budget for adoption, the House of Representatives can keep their promise to reinvest in infrastructure and create prosperity for all communities.

On behalf of city leaders, we strongly encourage Congress to stand with cities across the country and stop cuts to successful, valuable federal programs — including TIGER grants.

About the authors:

mike_wallace_125x150Michael Wallace is the Program Director of Federal Advocacy at the National League of Cities. Follow him on Twitter @MikeWallaceII.

 

Sam Warlick is a Senior Communications Associate at the National League of Cities.

Your City Can Receive Funding From the Volkswagen Settlement

Cities can use funds from the Volkswagen Clean Air Act settlement to invest in new vehicles, improve energy efficiency, provide public energy infrastructure and more.

Funds from the VW settlement can cover up to 100 percent of the cost to upgrade, repower or replace diesel-powered government vehicles with either newer, cleaner-burning models or vehicles that run on alternative energy. (Getty Images)

The settlement of the Volkswagen (VW) Clean Air Act violation case has created a unique opportunity for cities across the country to take advantage of more than $2 billion available for investment in new, cleaner vehicles and improve energy infrastructure in their communities.

In punishment for VW’s violation of the Clean Air Act by cheating on the emissions tests of more than 500,000 vehicles, VW will pay out $14.7 billion to alleviate the environmental damage created by their actions. $2.7 billion of this settlement will go into an Environmental Mitigation Trust that will be given directly to states to fund projects that reduce Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) emissions at the local level.

The funds will be given out proportionally based on the number of violating vehicles bought and used in the state, ranging between $381.28 million for California and $7.5 million for Wyoming, with states like Florida, Oklahoma and Washington receiving $152.38 million, $19.09 million and 103.96 million respectively. Cities are well positioned to take advantage of this money – and taking the initiative now ensures that local governments can put these funds to use in their communities.

The Environmental Mitigation Trust will be managed by a trustee, who will be confirmed in the coming weeks. To access the funds, each beneficiary must submit a certification form, signed by the governor, which designates a state agency to manage fund allocation no later than 60 days after the trustee’s confirmation. The designated agency will then have 150 days to create and submit mitigation plans detailing how the funds will be used, who the recipients will be, and how it will oversee the distribution. This document from the National Association of State Energy officials provides a complete breakdown of the Environmental Mitigation Trust’s timeline.

Cities can use the funds in a variety of ways to improve energy efficiency and provide public energy infrastructure, and many of the projects can be fully funded through this trust. Specifically,

  • the trust funds can cover up to 100 percent of the cost to upgrade, repower or replace diesel-powered government vehicles with either newer, cleaner-burning models or vehicles that run on alternative energy;
  • the trust funds can cover up to 75 percent of the cost to replace or repower non-government vehicles;
  • the trust funds may be used to buy, install, operate and maintain new Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) supply equipment such as LV1, LV2 and DC fast-charging stations in public areas, work places and multi-unit dwellings; and
  • other uses for the funds are allowed under the Diesel Emission Reduction Act (DERA) Clean Diesel Grant program, including truck stop electrification plans and idle reduction equipment. More information on eligible programs can be found on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s DERA website.

Cities can get involved in this program in several ways to secure available funding for use in their communities. For example, cities should prepare by identifying local projects that seek to reduce NOx emissions in their communities in collaboration with state agencies, local EPA offices, Clean Cities coalitions, and other community stakeholders. Cities should also identify which agencies will be charged with creating the mitigation plan in their state, and what the process and timeline will be for accepting public comments. Much of this information can be found online through state websites or governor’s offices. Once the beneficiaries have been chosen by the trustee, cities can submit their project proposals to the designated agencies to have their projects added to the state’s mitigation plan.

More information and details on the settlement and its associated time tables and deadlines, along with additional tools designed to help cities effectively submit their proposals, can be found in this document released by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

About the author: Will Downie is a federal advocacy intern at the National League of Cities. He is a senior at George Washington University studying political science and international affairs with a concentration in economics.

Refugee Executive Order Faces Legal Challenges

Judges in New York and Boston, among other cities, have prevented parts of the executive order on refugees from going into effect temporarily, citing possible violations of the U.S. Constitution’s Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses.

(Wikimedia Commons)

Protestors have gathered at airports across the country, such as the Metropolitan Airport in Detroit (above), to protest President Trump’s executive order barring refugees and other visitors from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. (Wikimedia Commons)

President Donald Trump’s refugee executive order has resulted in confusion and lawsuits which will continue to be resolved in the upcoming months. On Monday night, acting Attorney General Sally Yates directed Justice Department attorneys not to defend the executive order in court. President Trump quickly fired her. Dana Boente was promptly sworn in, and has instructed DOJ lawyers to “defend the lawful orders of our president.”

Cities preparing to receive Syrian refugees and others are having to change plans. Additionally, cities have been affected by protests, airports have been overrun, and 16 attorneys general have spoken out against the executive order.

While not all aspects of the executive order are entirely clear, it includes the following:

  1. People from the following countries may not enter the United States for the next 90 days: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen
  2. Syrian refugees are banned from the United States indefinitely
  3. No refugees will be allowed into the United States for the next 120 days
  4. Only 50,000 (versus 110,000 last year) refugees will be allowed in the United States in 2017
  5. Refugees with religious-based persecution claims will be prioritized where they are of a minority religion in their country of origin

Judges in New York, Boston, Virginia, and Seattle have issued temporary injunctions against various aspects of this executive order, citing a variety of legal grounds.

A wide swath of people will be affected by this executive order, including refugees, legal residents, and visa holders who may have different rights and legal claims based on their status. Adding to the complexity, the Immigration and Nationality Act appears contradictory. It gives the president of the United States broad power to ban classes of people for periods of time “as he shall deem necessary” – yet it also states that “no person shall receive any preference or priority or be discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of the person’s race, sex, nationality, place of birth, or place of residence.”

Numerous legal theories have been relied on and are being discussed as grounds for challenging this executive order.

Judges in New York and Boston prevented parts of the executive order from going into effect temporarily, citing possible violations of the U.S. Constitution’s Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses. Due process generally requires that a person is afforded an opportunity to be heard (for example, at a hearing before an impartial decision-maker) before they are deprived of a right. Equal protection requires that the government not treat people differently on the basis of race, ancestry, or religion.

David Cole, Legal Director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), sees this executive order as essentially a Muslim-only ban on immigration which violates the Constitution’s Establishment Clause. While it doesn’t explicitly ban anyone on the basis of religion, the fact that it applies to seven Muslim-majority countries and creates, practically speaking, preferences for Christians, is enough to make it unconstitutional, Cole argues.

lisa_soronen_new_125x150About the author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

Meet Your City Transportation Advocate

“My ask of the new administration is that we start putting money directly in the hands of cities – that’s where the outcomes would be the greatest.” – NLC’s Matt Colvin

mattcolv

Matt Colvin is the principal associate for transportation advocacy. (Brian Egan/NLC)

With a new administration and a new Congress, the National League of Cities’ Federal Advocacy team will be busy elevating the voices of cities throughout 2017 and beyond. As part of our 2017 initiative we’re introducing our Federal Advocacy team members and sharing with you what’s on their minds for 2017. Every week leading up to the Congressional City Conference we will feature a “Meet Your City Advocate” spotlight. To kick the series off, I sat down with our transportation and infrastructure lobbyist, Matt Colvin, principal associate for transportation advocacy.

Name: Matt Colvin

Area of expertise: Transportation and Infrastructure

Federal Advocacy Committee: Transportation and Infrastructure Services

Hometown: Los Angeles

Follow on Twitter: @MatthewAColvin

Hey Matt, thanks again for sitting down with me today. To get started, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where you’ve been? What you’ve done? And most importantly, why you are passionate about cities?

Sure! I’m originally from Los Angeles, but lived with family in Barrington, Illinois after high school — it’s a suburb northwest of Chicago. I started community college out that way and then transferred to the University of San Diego where I earned a B.A. in political science and environmental studies. After moving around a bit, I wound up working on Capitol Hill for Senator Menendez and later for Congressman Sires — both represent New Jersey. I went on to serve as a federal policy manager for the Safe Routes to School National Partnership prior to joining NLC.

Why cities? Well, with the exception of the small Jamaican fishing village that I lived in while serving in the Peace Corps, I’ve lived most of my life in large cities. On top of that, serving for members of Congress — both former mayors — representing New Jersey, a state with 7 of the 10 most densely populated cities in the country, ingrained in me an interest and deep respect for city leaders and the work that they do.

So, why transportation policy?

I’ve always been a rail and cars type of guy. I even once took a train from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles.

Oh wow!

But to be honest, I didn’t see myself going down this path when I moved to D.C. The interest in transportation and infrastructure has always been there, but I saw myself headed down a career path in environmental advocacy.

I started doing energy, environment, and transportation policy work for Senator Menendez, who chairs the Senate subcommittee with jurisdiction over transit. Working on the passage of the MAP-21 transportation bill for him in 2012 really sparked my interest in the issue area. Later, when an opportunity came up to staff Congressman Sires on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I jumped on it.

Transportation lets you get at the cross section of energy and the environment. These policies that you work on get mobilized in a way that not many other areas do not in the current political climate. The best part is that this line of work leads to both economically and physically healthier and stronger communities.

As a side note, the transportation policy community is refreshingly non-partisan. It very much feels like an area of broad consensus in an increasingly partisan world. We all want better infrastructure in our communities. Of course there is still disagreement about how and when things get done, but it’s nice to see that we all want things to get done.

What do you see in store for transportation policy and cities in 2017 with a new administration and Congress?

I think it’s still a bit of an unknown. The Trump Administration is talking about a trillion-dollar infrastructure program that will use tax credits to spur public private partnerships. I think it’s early to tell exactly what  his final proposal will look like, but I think it’s exciting that we just came off of a campaign in which both parties passionately discussed transportation and infrastructure.

The American Society of Civil Engineers report card gave America a D+ across all areas of infrastructure. Our infrastructure used to be the envy of the world, but we’re at a place now where bridges collapse and congestion is costing our families thousands of dollars every year and we still don’t see more federal funding to bring our infrastructure truly into the 21st century.

Congress and the administration are talking about doing something here, and we need this investment. Elaine Chao, the nominee for Secretary of Transportation, has discussed this need in her confirmation hearing. She also indicated that whatever comes down the pipeline in the next few years will likely be a mix of funding and financing tools, so I think cities should see that as a sign of hope. I also see this as a positive message that cities can bring to the Capitol Hill when they come to advocate; we should look into public private partnerships as part of the solution, but we still need that revenue.

My ask of the administration is that we start putting money directly in the hands of cities, that’s where the outcomes would be the greatest.

Outside of Washington, the intersection of transportation and technology is only going to advance in 2017. We’re going to have more and more questions and answers as to how these new technologies interact with our existing infrastructure. Whether it’s autonomous vehicles or ridesharing, it’s all pretty exciting.

Finally, a fun question, what is your spirit city? With which city do you identify the most?

San Diego. I mean for the weather alone. I think San Diego has some of the most incredible public spaces — from all of the beaches to Balboa park. But seriously, that 75-degree weather year round is pretty great.

Join us at CCC and meet Matt Colvin as well as the rest of your City Advocates. Visit the CCC website to register now!

brian-headshot About the author: Brian Egan is the Public Affairs Associate for NLC. Follow him on Twitter @BeegleME 

McAllen Targets Pedestrian and Cyclist Safety with Run, Ride & Share Campaign

The city of McAllen’s awareness campaign is a story of local partnerships in action.

(Getty Images)

The Run, Ride & Share campaign aims to significantly reduce pedestrian and cyclist fatalities through community-wide education. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Veronica Whitacre.

After four tragic deaths across South Texas, leaders from the city of McAllen, Texas, partnered with community activists and concerned citizens to address safety on city streets and highways. Created in 2014, our Run, Ride & Share awareness campaign brought together runners, cyclists and motorists to establish a unified regional effort to educate the community on the importance of sharing the road in the Rio Grande Valley. The campaign has now branched out and partnered up with other surrounding cities such as Pharr, Edinburg, Weslaco and Mission.

The success of the campaign is a direct result of the partnerships built throughout the movement. As part of the campaign, we initiated Operation Clean Sweep to get local cities working together to clean the shoulders of the roads and highways for bike safety. This operation had the added benefit of bringing together city workers to communicate as a region. The broader campaign also educates youth in our local schools through their physical education classes, and Run, Ride & Share committee members host bike rodeos as well as bike safety and bike education classes for children at special events as well as the McAllen Boys and Girls Club. The city of McAllen and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley have also worked together to implement dedicated bike lanes.

Other byproducts of the Run, Ride & Share campaign that have resulted from partnerships are emergency call boxes on our hiking and bike trails, promotional materials such as lighted arm bands and bumper stickers, and educational brochures. The campaign also leads an annual event hosted in cities worldwide called the “Ride of Silence,” which brings together residents, local shops, cycling teams and city staff to honor those who have been killed or injured while bicycling and inform motorists, police and city officials that cyclists have a legal right to use public roadways.

The campaign has received attention in local newspapers and on social media, and awareness of the campaign has increased to such an extent that, once a copyright has been approved for the Run, Ride & Share logo, the Texas Department of Public Safety has offered to guide and assist the project as well as design and print additional educational materials.

As a driver, cyclist, runner and pedestrian, I believe there’s always more to do to make our streets safe – and everyone has to do their part. We believe city-wide educational campaigns like this can significantly reduce pedestrian and cyclist fatalities, and we will continue to build relationships with other cities to get the Run, Ride & Share campaign implemented in as many communities as possible. Please join us.

About the author: Veronica Whitacre is a City Commissioner for the City of McAllen, Texas. McAllen is the first city to achieve All-Star Status in first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Cities, Towns, and Counties initiative.

A Crash Course in Urban Development

The Urban Land Institute has recently developed a day-long training geared specifically towards elected officials to help them better understand the nuts and bolts of municipal real estate projects and how they’re financed.

How can city leaders know if they are getting the wool pulled over their eyes or if they are negotiating a mutually beneficial deal that will leverage private dollars towards a community renaissance? (Getty Images)

How can city leaders know if they are getting the wool pulled over their eyes or if they are negotiating a mutually beneficial deal that will leverage private dollars towards a community renaissance? (Getty Images)

Community activists sometimes decry market-based urban development projects (and their managers) using words like monstrosity, Satan, and scumbucket. But any public official will tell you that it is impossible for a city to accomplish its development or redevelopment goals without private sector investment in the community.

To that end, the nonprofit Urban Land Institute (ULI), an NLC partner, has recently developed a day-long training geared specifically towards elected officials to help them better understand the nuts and bolts of municipal real estate projects. The training is called UrbanPlan, and it will be offered next month at the 2016 NLC City Summit in Pittsburgh.

UrbanPlan is a realistic, engaging, and demanding curriculum in which elected officials learn about the fundamental forces that affect development in the United States. Participating officials will experience the challenges, private and public sector roles, trade-offs, and fundamental economics of complex urban development projects.

The workshop was originally designed for university-level economics courses, and is now taught at colleges and high schools across the country. In 2015, ULI redesigned the curriculum specifically for city officials. The Rose Center for Public Leadership in Land Use (an NLC program in partnership with ULI) acted as an adviser in the curriculum overhaul. The revamped workshop is offered in a single day as one of NLC University’s pre-conference seminars in Pittsburgh.

Participants in the seminar will develop proposals for a hypothetical urban neighborhood. Each attendee will take on a real-life role, such as site planner, financial analyst, or marketing director.

During the process, team members will learn firsthand the intricacies of urban renewal projects – and because profit is often a primary goal, the seminar will also include some down-to-earth lessons in financial reality. Accordingly, the proposed developments created in the seminar will need to address diverse issues such as affordable housing, transit needs, open-space beautification, historical preservation, and the district’s retail requirements. Once a project plan is hammered out, the teams will construct a preliminary model of their design – using Legos – and then go before a “city council” of volunteer land-use professionals to pitch their project. After a detailed analysis, participants will tweak their product for a final presentation.

ULI, NLC University, and the Rose Center recently held a pilot session of this seminar. Two of the participants described their experience:

“Land use decisions are among the most difficult that elected officials face. The Urban Plan Workshop illustrates that a development project can be a financial success for the developer and locality as well as meet the community’s goals for sustainability, inclusion and aesthetics. The Urban Plan Workshop is fast paced and hands-on, and elected officials will gain and retain insight into their role in finding the balance between the needs of the developer, locality and community.”

– Sandy Spang, councilmember, Toledo, Ohio

“Elected officials often hold biases, even if unintentional. But today, achieving great projects requires creativity and compromise. UrbanPlan lets you participate in that process. As someone that both serves on an elected body and has gone through the UrbanPlan workshop, I would encourage my peers to do the same.”

—Michael Wojcik, councilmember, Rochester, Minnesota

We are pleased to offer a special discounted registration rate to CitiesSpeak readers for the upcoming UrbanPlan seminar in Pittsburgh. Register here using the discount code NLCUL13 and save $100 off the registration price.

About the author: Jess Zimbabwe is Executive Director of the Rose Center for Public Leadership in Land Use, a program of the National League of Cities, in partnership with the Urban Land Institute. She’s an architect, city planner and politics junkie. Follow Jess on twitter at @jzimbabwe and @theRoseCenter.