Monday, November 15, 2010

Food for Thought

COMPASS staff are conducting a holiday food drive to support the Idaho Foodbank. As part of that food drive, we’ve been looking at statistics related to hunger in Idaho.

One common statistic is how many people must choose between medicine/medical care and food. In Idaho, 34% of people who receive food from the Idaho Foodbank say they must make this choice. That is a troubling statistic.

However, an equally troubling, but much less commonly quoted statistic is the number of people who must choose between food and transportation. In Idaho, 37% of people who receive food from the Idaho Foodbank say they must make this choice; that percentage jumps to 49% when asked specifically about buying gas for a car.

Let me say that again:

Thirty-seven percent of food recipients say they must choose between purchasing food and paying for transportation.

That is transportation that could potentially get someone to a job, to a doctor to receive medical care, to a place of worship, or anyplace else they need to go. Lack of access to transportation can be devastating – economically, socially, and physically.

As part of the transportation industry, what can we do about this?

We live in a very auto-dependent state – sprawling communities with limited bus service. Without a personal vehicle, it is nearly impossible to get to work, the grocery store, or the doctor. Can we fix that?

“Community Choices,” the growth scenario that is the basis for Communities in Motion, the regional long-range transportation plan for the Treasure Valley, encourages more compact growth, with jobs, shopping, etc. close to housing. This would allow people to walk or bike to their destinations instead of needing to rely on a vehicle. The plan also calls for significantly increased transit – a much more affordable way to get around town than a private automobile.

We talk about these things as smart planning, good land use, and wise use of our resources. However, until I read the statistic above, I hadn’t thought about them in terms of poverty and meeting basic human needs.

Is it possible to be so successful in planning our transportation future that eventually no one has to choose between food and transportation?

Now there is something to chew on.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Happy 10th Anniversary Idaho Smart Growth

This week, Idaho Smart Growth is celebrating 10 years of “bringing Idahoans together to keep our communities vibrant and our lands healthy.” Congratulations!

COMPASS and Idaho Smart Growth have worked closely on transportation and land use issues over the years – particularly in the areas of planning a robust transportation system with a variety of transportation choices, supporting the land use to coincide with such a system, and working to find ways to fund our transportation infrastructure. They have been a valuable ally and partner. We’re proud to be a sponsor of their 10th anniversary celebration and to be participating in anniversary events.

I encourage you to learn more about Idaho Smart Growth and their many initiatives (including transportation) and help them celebrate by attending one of the events they have scheduled for this week:

  • Local Motion: Everybody Moves!

Thursday, November 4, 2010 (First Thursday), 5:00 pm – 9:00 pm

The Empire Building on 10th and Idaho, Boise, ID. Free.

  • Discover Smart Growth!

Friday, November 5, 2010, 9:00 am – 7;00 pm

The Discovery Center of Idaho, 131 W Myrtle Street, Boise. Free.

  • Idaho Smart Growth 10th Anniversary Gala Celebration and Grow Smart Awards

Saturday, November 6, 2010, 5:30 pm - 9:30 pm.

The Boise Depot, 2603 W. Eastover Terrace, Boise. Tickets required.

Visit the Idaho Smart Growth web site to learn more.

Monday, November 1, 2010

No Grant Funding…Now What?

On August 26, I wrote about several federal grant applications that we submitted for transportation and sustainability projects in the Treasure Valley. In my post, I stated that the chance of receiving even one of these grants was slim.

Unfortunately, I was right. The federal Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development have released the lists of grant recipients. None of our projects received funding, although two Idaho projects did: one in Moscow and one in Hailey.

So, where does this leave us? While we are disappointed to not receive funding to help move these projects forward, it does not mean we are at a standstill. We will apply again next year, and build upon the partnerships we’ve formed and the lessons we’ve learned to develop even stronger applications. We will also request “debrief” sessions with both federal agencies to gain insight into what we can do differently next time to be more competitive.

In addition, we will continue to seek other funding to improve livability and transportation infrastructure in the valley, and we will move forward with the planning projects. However, the work on those projects will be less robust than it would have been with the grant money.

For example, the proposed “regional plan for sustainable development” will be rolled into the next update of our regional long-range transportation plan, Communities in Motion. While the focus of the plan is transportation, other factors, such as housing, land use, and energy, will be incorporated, as all of these issues are interrelated. We will build on the valuable partnerships developed during the grant application process to ensure we are planning cohesively.

The State Street/Highway 44 project will also move forward. We have time budgeted to devote to this important corridor and will work closely with the Ada County Highway District, Valley Regional Transit, the City of Boise, and others to expand transportation choices and encourage transit-supportive land uses along the corridor.

We will work on small, “bite-sized” pieces of the high-capacity corridor alternatives analysis to better prepare us for the full-blown analysis in the future. At the same time, we will continue to seek funding for that full analysis.

However, the argument for funding an alternatives analysis is tricky. While the need for high-capacity transit between Caldwell and Boise is well documented, it can be difficult to make a valid argument for funding for the analysis when there is no source of funding to operate a high-capacity system. It is a “chicken and egg” conundrum – which comes first the plan or the money?

Along those lines, we’ll also continue to advocate for local funding options for transportation for the Treasure Valley. Without a local source of funding, we are at the mercy of the decisions of others, as we were with these grant applications. To be able to take control of our own destiny, we need to be able to pay our own way.

Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho

COMPASS is the designated Metropolitan Planning Organization responsible for transportation planning in Ada and Canyon Counties. The COMPASS Board comprises 39 members representing the cities, counties, highway districts, educational institutions, state agencies, and other entities within the two counties. COMPASS plays an important role in making decisions about future long-range transportation needs in the Treasure Valley, taking into consideration environmental and economic factors that affect the quality of life.