Sound Stimulus: How Congress Can Find and Fund the Roads that Reduce Our Oil Addiction and Improve Our Quality of Life

With input from the incoming Obama Administration, Congress is now building a stimulus bill that will likely result in the largest investment in U.S. infrastructure since the creation of the interstate highway system.

For this hundred billion or more in spending to leave our country strategically stronger, not weaker, this moment must be used to chart a new direction for the nation’s transportation systems. The stimulus package must fund major investments in public transportation and high-speed rail, one of the causes the T4 America Campaign is leading with CNU’s full support. The bill must fix structurally deficient bridges, rather than target “functionally deficient” highways for expansion-minded rebuilding.

But perhaps most of all, the stimulus must distinguish between the right kind and wrong kind of pavement — those investments that make communities more livable and sustainable versus those that weaken our strategic position and make families frighteningly vulnerable to volatile energy prices.

Recognizing that networks of highly connected walkable streets are at the heart of great urbanism and of emerging standards for green neighborhood development, CNU sent a key proposal to House Transportation Committee Chair James Oberstar the Friday before Christmas, before the door closed on forwarding items for consideration as part of the stimulus bill.

Developed in consultation with transportation engineers Rick Chellman and Brian Bochner, CNU’s Connected Networks Proposal gives Congress and the Obama Administration a simple and direct means for identifying and funding walkable, high-value networks. In contrast to most federal funding programs, which target sections of individual state highways and other major roads in isolation, CNU’s proposal would apply a new “network” designation to entire areas meeting specific connectivity standards. All streets within qualifying network areas, including the local roads that are generally overlooked by the Feds, could receive federal funding to maintain or improve connectivity through projects that address street conditions, traffic distribution, circulation, or multi-modal movement. Cities and towns have lots and lots of these projects ready to go and ready to create green-collar construction jobs.


Image: A Civic Vision forTurnpike Air Rights, Boston, MA, by Goody Clancy and Associates.

The eligibility criteria are straightforward, the same connectivity standards we at CNU helped develop for LEED for Neighborhood Development, as part of its innovative partnership with the U.S. Green Building Council and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Portions of cities and towns with intersection densities of 150 per square mile would qualify, as would projects that improve connectivity in a non-networked area so that it meets the 150-intersection-per-mile threshold upon completion.

The measure could be called the green street network proposal because without well-connected networks of walkable urban streets served by transit, there simply can be neither energy-efficient green development nor reliable relief from energy price instability. (See how the combination of walkable street networks and mixed-use city and suburban neighborhoods results in driving levels and driving-related carbon emissions that can be half or less of regional averages.) Or it could be called the livable (and valuable) street networks initiative because connected streets are the necessary framework for enduring neighborhoods where shops, schools and other places that serve our daily needs can be found within convenient walking or biking distance. In a time of turmoil in the real estate markets, there are abundant signs that these walkable locations are retaining more value and are positioned to take advantage of coming demographic changes.

If you want to make sure the stimulus bill funds the pavement that supports green neighborhoods — not just the highways and driving-only locations that worsen our oil addiction — ask your Congressperson to support CNU's Connected Street Network proposal. Find the full proposal in the attachment below.


Image: Site map of Mixson, North Charleston, SC, developed by I'On Group, rendering by Peter Musty.

AttachmentSize
CNUNetworksProposal.pdf1.05 MB
CNUNetworksProposal2.pdf1.46 MB

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CNU Congressional Memo Offers Guidance on Housing, Finance

In addition to the connected street networks proposal, CNU also offered Congress suggestions for using the stimulus bill to further the goal of creating stronger, more sustainable communities that meet the housing needs of households from all income ranges.

Read the full memo, or start with these highlights.

1. Low Income Housing Tax Credits. Of the federal government's various housing programs, this program has shown the most long-term success in creating new low-income affordable housing. CNU recommends that this program be bolstered with an additional $9 billion in funding for 2009...

2. HOPE VI. This valuable program has completely transformed the face of
American public housing, sparking new economic life in many inner-city neighborhoods -- perhaps none more so than Chicago's Kenwood neighborhood, where Barack Obama chose to live. Earlier this year, the House passed a Hope VI reauthorization bill that addresses many concerns that stakeholders had raised about the earlier iteration of HOPE VI and funds the program at $800 million annually from 2008 to 2015. CNU recommends that... that the first-year funding be increased to $1.6 billion to address a backlog of projects accumulated during several years of underfunding...

In addition, CNU recommends that HUD begin to examine ways to apply the HOPE VI model -- using relatively small, competitive grants to focus local and
regional governments' on planning for and building walkable, sustainable,
accessible, and affordable neighborhoods -- to redevelopment opportunities
beyond public housing sites... including poor-quality privately-owned affordable housing, industrial brownfields, and derelict shopping centers and office campuses....

3. Section 8. The housing crisis has resulted in thousands of foreclosures and evictions all across America. The housing program of last resort for an increasing number of families is the Section 8 Rental Voucher Program. This program should be temporarily bolstered in order to keep more American families in quality housing in this time of need...

4. HOME & CDBG. These two block-grant programs provide much of the funding for innovative local programs that address housing and community needs. Now more than ever, municipalities need the resources to effectively address local problems. Whether it's repairing foreclosed or abandoned houses, housing the newly homeless, or seizing new opportunities to shape tomorrow's communities through innovative planning efforts, municipal governments stand on the front lines of our housing crisis....CNU recommends a temporary, two-year increase in these programs' budgets.

5. Mixed-use development financing. The role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in American housing finance has changed dramatically, and their policies should also change to address new needs. Fannie and Freddie's regulations set the national standard for lending to both homebuyers and residential developers. Yet their valuation models limit housing market innovation, notably a key restriction that limits their lending to, or in, mixed-use developments. Both Fannie and Freddie have guidelines that advise against loans in buildings where commercial uses occupy more than 25% of the building. This has the effect of discouraging high-intensity mixed-use development. CNU recommends that Congress direct the two GSEs to remove these and any other lending requirements which might have a deleterious impact on mixed-use and infill development in America's cities. CNU further recommends that the GSEs undertake a comprehensive review of how their policies can promote smart growth patterns that will ensure durable economic stability for the GSEs and communities alike.

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