The Pan Am Games closed yesterday in Toronto, with the Parapan Games to start next weekend. One of the region’s travel demand management (TDM) strategies during the Games was the implementation of more High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes to ease congestion. The HOV lanes were part of a TDM strategy that included providing free transit to Pan Am events for ticketholders; encouraging local residents to work at home, carpool, and work flex hours; and providing extra TTC and GO services.

185km of new HOV lanes on Highway 401, Highway 404, the DVP, Lake Shore Boulevard, the Gardiner Expressway and the QEW were added to the existing 50km. Existing HOV lanes only required two people per car–this was increased to three people per car from June 29-July 27. Vehicles transporting athletes, media, and officials, emergency vehicles, taxis, transit vehicles, airport limos, electric vehicles, and motorcycles (within the City of Toronto) were also allowed to use the HOV lanes.

GO Transit, the regional transit provider, reported that some commuters have saved as much as 21 minutes off of their commute times. I’m sure we’ll see more data coming out of MetroLinx, GO, and TTC soon, but despite Rob Ford’s skepticism, the temporary HOV lanes did appear to show some success in easing congestion in the region. About 133 tickets per day were issued for those using the HOV lanes with fewer than three people per car during the Games.

Residents in Metro Vancouver have voted against a proposed 0.5% tax to fund transportation improvements in the region.

61.7% of residents voted no and 38.4% yes to a proposed $7.4 billion regional transportation plan that was supported by the Mayor’s Council on Regional Transportation and most of the region’s mayors, police and fire chiefs. The vote was as close as could be in the City of Vancouver, one of 22 municipalities in the region: 50.8% no versus 49.2% yes. Belcarra, Bowen Island, and Electoral Area A (which includes UBC) were the only municipalities in the region with a majority of residents voting yes.

While opponents called the results “a victory for taxpayers”, Mayor Gregor Robertson warned that transit service could be cut and TransLink CEO Doug Allen said there could be years of delays before any new transit projects could be realized. Some speculate that the results indicate the public’s loss of faith in TransLink as an organization, rather than in transit. As a regional authority, TransLink has a precarious existence: it was created by the province yet is unable to operate or make major decisions on infrastructure or operations independently, as most transit and transportation funding comes from the province. The province is unwilling to give up control of transportation investments, and unable to make decisions affecting municipalities or regions (see my previous post discussing TransLink governance). Sound familiar, Metrolinx?

Andy Yan and Mark Heeney of BTAworks (the research and development division of Bing Thom Architects in Vancouver) looked at the percent of workers who were reliant on transit, median household income, type of housing as a percentage of city housing stock, residential tax rates, percentages of renters and owners, education levels, and the number of registered cars per 1,000 residents to see which ones influenced the “No” votes. They used the 2011 National Household Survey from Statistics Canada and Elections BC data on the transit plebiscite. Education levels showed the strongest correlation with a “No” vote, with high residential ownership and high property taxes showing moderate correlations. Medium household income, density, percentage of population renting, number of registered cars per 1000 people, and voter turnout were not important variables.

Voting on the transit plebiscite took place between March and May. The ballots were counted during June, and the results released July 2nd.

The municipalities of Niagara Falls, St. Catharines and Welland moved a step closer to a regional transit system this week when St. Catherines City Council voted to endorse a plan to combine services in the three cities.

Since 2011 Niagara Region, the upper-tier government which includes the three lower-tier municipal governments, has granted funds to Niagara Falls Transit, St. Catharines Transit and Welland Transit in a pilot project to allow the three bus systems to work together. In September 2014, Niagara Region voted to extend the pilot until spring 2017.

A memorandum of understanding and business model would be the next steps if the other two cities endorse the plan. A regional system could possibly serve other smaller centres like Grimsby, Niagara-on-the-Lake and Port Colborne, if a cost-sharing model could be developed–for example, towns could designate a percentage of their transportation budgets towards regional transit if they don’t already have their own services. Transit providers in the three systems say they already have a good working relationship, meeting on a regular basis and discussing future changes with a joint committee. The larger municipalities already have arrangements to provide services to the smaller centres of Port Colborne, Thorold and Fort Erie.

The pilot project has been successful, with many residents voicing their support of intermunicipal bus service to local councillors. Niagara Region’s motion to extend the pilot by 20 months passed by a vote of 26-1. The Region’s role in a future intermunicipal transit service is still unclear, because it must have the support of a triple majority–a majority of those on council, a majority of local councils (seven of 12) that represent a majority of eligible voters, which seems unlikely. Advocates of a regional system include the Niagara Poverty Reduction Network, who say that a single-fare system across municipalities is critical for low-income communities. The long-term goal of system and fare integration seems to be the extension of LRT service to Niagara Region.

Other regions in Canada are also moving towards regional transit services–Edmonton and St. Albert are considering joining their services in order to speed up a proposed LRT extension to St. Albert. There are currently eight transit systems operating independently in Alberta’s Capital Region. Toronto is slowly moving towards a regional system with the introduction of Presto cards across the region allowing fare integration between the eight existing systems, the provincial priority of 15-minute all-day service on the region’s GO train system, and service improvements leading to a 10-minute frequent transit network in Toronto.

In just over a month, Toronto will be hosting the Pan Am Games (July 6-26) and Para-Pan Games (August 6-15). International events like this require extraordinary efforts to get athletes, media, and spectators to their events on time. When Vancouver hosted the 2010 Olympics, planning started years before the event, and planners learned from experts who had hosted Olympic Games in their own regions.

The Pan Am Games won’t draw the millions that the Olympics did: about 250,000 spectators and 6,100 athletes are expected, compared to 500,000 spectators and 2,700 athletes at the Olympics. But Torontonians have experienced travel delays for years from construction of the athletic facilities in Milton, Hamilton, Mississauga, Ajax, and other municipalities in the region.

The transportation demand management measures introduced for the Pan Am Games were just announced today, less than a month before the Games begin. They include:

  • Encouraging people to work at home, carpool, and work flex hours
  • Installing more HOV lanes on Highway 401, Highway 404, the DVP, Lake Shore Boulevard, the Gardiner Expressway and the QEW, which will require drivers to have three persons or more per car to use from June 29 to July 27. From July 28 to August 18 this will decrease to two or more persons per car
  • Providing extra TTC and GO services will also include services starting at 6am on Sundays. Ticketholders will be able to take transit for free on the day of their events

Because of the venues are spread across the region, the Games transit network includes Brampton Transit (Züm), Burlington Transit, Durham Region Transit (DRT), GO Transit (rail and bus), Hamilton Street Railway (HSR), Milton Transit, MiWay (Mississauga Transit), Oakville Transit, Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), St. Catharines Transit, Welland Transit, and York Region Transit (YRT)/Viva.

You can find out about the Pan Am venues on the Pan Am Games website, www.toronto2015.org. This screenshot shows the transportation options for the baseball venue in Ajax.

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Transportation options for the Presidents’ Choice Ajax Ballpark

Skeptical that transit can handle the extra bodies, Toronto residents? You should be. Just yesterday, a power surge forced the entire subway system shut down for 95 minutes, stranding 100,000 commuters during morning rush hour. The TTC normally deploys shuttle buses when the subway fails, but couldn’t supply enough vehicles to replace all four lines. With no backup plan in place, the massive communications failure that took out all the subway trains but left buses and streetcars running left both residents and politicians shaking their heads. Toronto’s transportation system is so poorly funded and organized that even Mayor John Tory, who campaigned on a public transit plan for the city, could merely apologize to commuters for the inconvenience. Taxi companies rushed to send cars to subway stations to serve stranded commuters and Uber’s surge pricing caused its rates to quadruple in some parts of the city. The same day, starting at 9:25am, three Toronto Star reporters raced from Broadview Avenue to the airport to see who would make it first: Tess Kalinowski drove, Steven Spencer Davis took transit (TTC) and Lauren Pelley took the newly opened Union-Pearson Express. Kalinowski got to the airport in half the time of Pelley (40 minutes versus 80 minutes). What does this say about our alternative transportation options for travel during the Games?

When I lived in Vancouver during the Olympic Games, many of my friends and acquaintances left the city altogether during the event, renting out their apartments for exorbitant fees. The absence of thousands of regular working folks, the agreement many companies and institutions made to adjust to flex hours during the two-week event, and residents’ fear of being caught in traffic, took tens of thousands of cars off the roads. Downtown and at venues like Richmond’s speed skating oval, public transit had been carefully coordinated with walking and bike sharing options–tens of thousands of people walked the 20 minutes from the Skytrain to the Oval. In addition to planning and funding these alternative options, TransLink had been advertising these options for almost a year before the Games started. Transit ridership increased by 50% during the Games and remained higher than average for months afterward. Maybe it’s just my own experience, but in Toronto I started seeing ads for carpooling, flex hours and working at home just a few weeks ago, and today was the first that I heard about increased transit during the Games.

Incidentally, carpooling, flex hours, and working at home are TDM measures that are integral to decreasing peak-hour demand (and levelling out the peaks) in any metropolitan region, not just when we’re hosting an international sporting event.

 

The_Population_BombIn this week’s New York Times Retro Report, Clyde Haberman explored the unrealized population explosion predicted by biologist Paul Ehrlich. Ehrlich’s 1968 book The Population Bomb forecasted that hundreds of millions would starve to death in the 1970s, that 65 million of them would be Americans, that crowded India was essentially doomed, that odds were that England would not exist in the year 2000. Like Rachel Carson (Silent Spring), Ehrlich’s compelling writing drew attention to pressing environmental issues of the 1960s in a way that had never been done before. Both books sold in the millions.

Drawing parallels between the human population and the natural world, suggesting that we were far outstripping the planet’s ability to support life, even led Ehrlich to promote Zero Population Growth. The rapidly growing group of young adults vowed to have no children, or at most two to replace themselves, in order to help stop population growth. In India, the government had already begun to promote family planning and they seized on the opportunity to forcibly sterilize millions of people–sometimes even withholding aid or food supplies until people complied. In the US, President Nixon advocated population control and spoke of the dystopian future in store in America.

Undoubtedly, people around the world became more aware of the impact of population on the environment because of Ehrlich’s book and frequent speaking engagements–much like Carson, whose bestselling book led to a nationwide ban on DDT and inspired a movement that led to the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency. But improvements in farming contributing to higher yields, a worldwide decrease in the birth rate except for a few hot spots, and improved health standards in the developed world have mitigated the doomsday effect Ehrlich envisioned. So it turns out that “in the year 2525” man may still be alive…sorry Zager & Evans.

How much fun would it be to do a Retro Report on a planning prophecy? Right now I can think of Vancouver’s postwar highway proposals. Those of you who are familiar with Gordon Price’s PriceTags might know this story–if not, check out the link to his newsletter here which includes a video clip on the Chinatown residents’ protests against the proposed highways. In short, the prediction was that unless a whole network of highways was put in place, nobody would be able to get in or out of Vancouver’s downtown. Teachers out there, a Retro Report might be a great assignment for a planning class!

You’ve spent several few hours of your time attending public meetings hosted by your municipality on the development of a new plan. You had to rearrange your child care and leave work early to attend. Wouldn’t you love to know how your comments on the proposed plan were used?

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A page from the 2013-2014 Implementation Update

You may have heard about the City of Vancouver’s Greenest City 2020 Action Plan. Launched in 2010, the Action Plan planning process included a public engagement campaign that allowed residents to crowdsource ideas in an online forum. The Plan has ten goal areas, each with a specific 2020 target. The question asked in the forum was “How can we achieve reach our 2020 targets?” Guided by City staff, who moderated the forum, answered questions, and clarified levels of responsibility in implementation, participants suggested ways in which to meet the targets. Ideas were then reviewed and consolidated by staff, and participants were then able to vote on the ideas. As the status of an idea changed (under consideration, planned, started, completed, or declined), every person who voted on, commented on, or submitted the idea was notified by email. Since 2011, the City has published its progress on meeting the targets. The Greenest City 2020 Action Plan won the 2012 Sustainable communities Award from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

Five years after participating in the online forum, I still receive Greenest City Newsletters. They contain information about events in the city (e.g. Bike to Work Week, the BC Commuter Challenge, the proposed Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline) and ways that residents can help meet the goals, such as using a rain barrel for collecting water to be used for lawns and plans. At the bottom of each section, they site the relevant Greenest City goal: Green Transportation, Climate Leadership, Clean Water. And each newsletter has dozens of links to City initiatives and programs.

Just last week I received an update that the City was already meeting its Greenest City 2020 goal for transportation mode share: 50% of all trips in the City are now made by walking, cycling, or public transit. This is a major increase from 40% in 2008. There are almost 100,000 bike trips per day in the City. Vancouver has done a lot to mainstream cycling, including designated cycling routes with signals at bike height and installing protected bike lanes on the Burrard Bridge, Hornby Street, and Union. Many of these changes have been introduced through pilot projects, which were carefully evaluated before becoming permanent.

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A screen shot of the May 2015 newsletter

In the past few years I have visited many universities in Canada, the US and Europe, and I often get to speak to local planners and scholars in urban planning. Every one of them has been amazed at the Greenest City newsletters. Not only was the planning process itself innovative, but the way in which the City has kept in touch with participants on how the plan is being implemented is very unusual. Many municipal planning websites are difficult to navigate–it can take some sleuthing to find the official plan, by-law, or meeting information that you need. All of the information for the Greenest City is in one place, so it’s easy to see the progress that’s been made, like the establishment of the Greenest City Fund to implement the ideas in the Plan, strategies on climate change, a new program on recycling food scraps, and improvements to walking and cycling routes. The newsletters make it easy to understand all of the policies, programs, and initiatives that directly relate to the plan, and they’re written in non-specialist language and designed with compelling graphics.

Obviously, Vancouver is a large city and its planning department has more resources than a small or mid-sized planning department might have. However, partnerships with universities and colleges might make it easier to reach out to residents and keep them up to date on planning initiatives, particularly on the social media front. City councillors might also be willing partners in communicating progress on implementation, since many of them send regular newsletters to their constituents. Most cities haven’t caught up to online participation methods, and don’t have well-organized websites or regular email updates for their residents. Practicing planners regularly check out plans, policies, and programs in other municipalities to inspire their own work, so providing clear online information and regular updates might inspire policy transfer and innovation in other places.

gardinerexpressway.jpeg.size.xxlarge.letterboxToday, Toronto City Councillors received a staff report that could have major implications on a longstanding issue: what to do about the Gardiner Expressway. Built during the heyday of highway infrastructure, the Gardiner has become an expensive and dangerous piece for the City to maintain, costing millions each year. Chunks of the concrete have fallen onto roadways below the expressway in recent years, and the Gardiner has become emblematic of North America’s lagging postwar faith in technological solutions to urban problems.

Removing the Gardiner Expressway completely has never been on the agenda, at least not in realistic terms, even though cities around the world are struggling through similar decisions. The City is at the end of an extensive environmental assessment process that looked at options for repairing, replacing, or maintaining the section of the Gardiner that runs from Jarvis to the Don Valley Parkway. This 1.7km stretch of the expressway handles only 3% of peak hour trips to downtown. During the morning rush, about 5000 trucks and 500 cars use this stretch every hour. The EA process has spanned six years and consulted over 3,500 stakeholders, but did a thorough job of investigating each option using cost estimates over a 100-year life cycle. The transportation projections used in the evaluation of the options included the assumption that transit alternatives to the expressway will be in place by 2031, including the waterfront LRT, the downtown relief line, and improvements to GO Transit; this would negatively impact demand for the expressway.

The three options currently being discussed are:

  • Remove and replace. An eight-lane boulevard from Jarvis to the DVP would replace the Gardiner This is the cheapest option but you can imagine how long and disruptive the construction would be–it’s estimated at six years but this is Toronto, so figure on a decade–and there would be detours for at least four years. It’s estimated that 75% of driving trips would not change. The cost is estimated at $326 million in capital costs and $135 million in operations and maintenance over the 100-year life cycle ($461 million). This was the City’s preferred option back in 2013–and it’s still the cheapest.
  • Maintain. The City spends millions on maintaining the Gardiner each year because it’s near the end of its lifespan–and because like many cities, maintaining existing infrastructure isn’t exactly a sexy budget expenditure. The cost would be $342 million in capital costs and $522 million in operations and maintenance over the 100-year cycle ($864 million).
  • Replace with a hybrid. This would involve building a new connection to the DVP. Construction is estimated at six years–but would likely be much longer and involve traffic rerouting as well. An estimated 90% of driving trips would not change. The cost is estimated at $414 million in capital and $505 million in operations and maintenance over the 100-year life cycle ($919 million).

City staff is now conducting what is likely the final round of public consultation on the options (never say never) and will present a final report to Council on June 21st. If the selected option is approved by the Province, construction could begin in 2018.

Update: Chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat came out in favour of the Remove and Replace option on May 22nd, although Mayor John Tory favours Maintain.

 

If Quebec Transport Minister Robert Poëti and Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre have their way, Montreal’s fragmented public transit system is in for a major overhaul. Their proposal is similar to governance models seen in other metropolitan regions, but will it work in Greater Montreal?

Like many regions in the world, Montreal has a fragmented governance system made up of a regional authority and municipal governments. Municipal transit agencies or transportation departments run their own systems and oversee their own funding while the Agence métropolitaine de transport (AMT) is responsible for parking lots, commuter trains, reserved lanes and metropolitan terminuses. The AMT is under the governance of the Québec government, and the region’s municipalities provide 40% of AMT’s budget. Every region outside Montreal, Laval, and Longeuil currently has its own Conseil intermunicipal de transport (CIT), the new plan calls for them to be merged into one authority along with the AMT. Montreal, Laval, and Longueil will retain their Sociétés de transport.

Responding to demands from elected officials in the Montreal region, the Quebec government’s new governance proposal is based on a new provincial-municipal partnership involving the member municipalities of Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal. The plan is to assign public transit planning to a regional transport authority (ART) with six members appointed by the CMM and seven by the Québec government, including an independent chair. A metropolitan transit system (RTM), headed by a board of elected officials designated by the CMM will run the commuter trains, suburban buses, reserved lanes, parking lots and terminuses.

With the adoption of the metropolitan land use and development plan (PMAD), CMM officials have decided that public transit and land use are now part and parcel of the same package.  –Denis Coderre, Montreal Mayor and president of the Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal

Coderre maintains that with the adoption of the PMAD, which the CMM laboured over for more than a decade and approved in 2012, the governance partnership will “facilitate the creation of a unified vision of Greater Montreal.” A regional approach to transportation and land use planning is rare, not just in Canada but around the world, as I learned in my meta-analysis of 11 international city-regions.

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However, some mayors are concerned that an AMT with greater planning discretion will reduce their autonomy and lengthen the process of approval for critical transportation decisions. Some of the municipalities use private companies to deliver public transit, so service changes can happen within days or weeks. In Montreal, this type of decision must be studied and ratified by board members, so changes can take months. Raphaël Fischler, Director of the McGill School of Urban Planning, goes even further in his criticism of the plan, saying that local mayors “have a poor track record of decision making on urban and regional transportation planning in the region.” He cites a critical reason that those in the planning profession have heard before: elected officials tend to prioritize long-term local concerns over long-term regional concerns.

These are not new concerns: it’s well known that Vancouver has also struggled with regional transportation governance and is currently going through a referendum on the issue. Until 2007, TransLink’s board was made up of elected officials from the Metro Vancouver municipalities, with a few provincial representatives. The board held public meetings and its decision-making was generally considered to be transparent, if not harmonious. Transport Minister Kevin Falcon ordered a change, retaining a Mayors’ Council (with all 21 mayors in the region, the Chief of the Tsawwassen First Nation, and a representative from Electoral Area A) but weakening the ability of the Council to make regional decisions. A governance review in 2013 revealed major issues with accountability. In response, the Province of BC introduced governance changes last year returning regional decision-making to local mayors: the Mayors’ Council shares responsibility with the board of directors (with nine members appointed by the Mayors’ Council and two by the province). The 2014 governance changes eliminated the Regional Commissioner of Transportation and the ability of the provincial government to set the regional transportation vision. Metro Vancouver provides input on long-term strategies and planning, and the province on long-term economic, environmental, and transportation objectives. The referendum that Metro Vancouver residents are currently voting on concerns the long-term transportation strategy prepared by the Mayors’ Council.

If Vancouver’s experience is an illustrative example, it’s likely that the Montreal region will stumble a little if this new governance model is introduced. Planning operates in a fragmented governance framework that has always made longer term, regional initiatives difficult to develop and implement. Governance expert Andrew Sancton has written that regional governance initiatives are often seen as eroding the power of local councils. It will take municipal planning departments and elected officials a while to adjust to thinking in these terms, to thinking as one as they develop a regional vision that will guide their decisions. And as Sancton noted, restructuring is only part of the answer to successful governance within a region: partnerships with the private and non-profit sectors are critical to improving quality of life. Montreal’s struggle with regional transportation governance is one shared by most metropolitan regions in the world.

The results of a two-year partnership, My Health My Community, give us a lot of insight into Metro Vancouver’s active transportation trends: 43% of residents say their primary transportation mode is walking, cycling, or public transit.

Transportation agencies and municipal transit providers do a lot of their own research, but most of this is not open data and is summarized in publicly available reports. In the absence of Census data or a national transportation survey, transportation researchers often have to collect their own data. The My Health My Community study surveyed over 28,000 residents in Metro Vancouver on their primary mode of transportation, health outcomes, lifestyle behaviours and neighbourhood characteristics.

Key findings from the study include:

  • Active transportation users have lower body mass index, walk more each day, and are twice as likely to meet the requirement for 30 minutes or more of daily recommended walking
  • Car users with longer commute times have a lower sense of community belonging
  • Transit use is highest among lower income, visible minorities and recent immigrants–it is 69% lower among parents with dependent children and 70% lower among households with incomes of over $100,000 annually

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 4.23.42 PMAnother interesting result is shown on this map which depicts areas with higher than average active transportation (the darkest purple) in relation to existing and proposed transit infrastructure–and there is a second map showing the same for car users.

My Health My Community is a partnership between Vancouver Coastal Health, the Fraser Health, and the e-Health Strategy Office at the University of British Columbia.  The survey was conducted in 2013-2014 and the results are just beginning to be released. Dr. Jat Sandhu of Vancouver Coastal Health will be presenting the research tomorrow, April 30th at the SFU Segal School of Business, from 7:30-9:00.

Last week’s federal budget announcement has raised the hackles of transportation analysts over the potential for Canadian cities to implement badly needed public transit in its most populous areas. With the creation of a new fund for public transit of $250 million in 2017, the fund would increase to $500 million in 2018 and $1 billion by 2019. This is the first time a federal government has proposed a permanent transit fund–but make no mistake, this budget was designed to counter voter fears in an election year. It has no basis in reality.

While mayor John Tory said he was confident the City of Toronto would get its fair share of the federal funds, TTC Chair Josh Colle said it’s too early to make assumptions because cities across the country would compete against each other to fund projects. Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa said the funding still isn’t enough to meet the needs of Ontario cities, or rapidly changing areas like the Ring of Fire mineral deposit, which needs a road or rail connection to develop further. Toronto Star commentator John Barber went even further, calling the proposed funding “a sop to the gullible” since $250 million would only build as much as one subway station in a single city. Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson and Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi agreed that the federal funding proposal is “too little too late”: years of federal backsliding means that cities have been struggling with aging infrastructure for decades, and the fund doesn’t make a dent in the backlog of proposals for improvements. In Winnipeg, mayor Brian Bowman would hope to use the funding to extend the city’s bus rapid transit system.

There’s no question that our cities face major challenges in dealing with congestion and air quality problems, and for too long the solution has been one-off funding solutions. The tide of transportation choice appears to be turning–even in American suburbs, Millennial transportation choices skew towards public transit. Since Millennials are the largest living generation in the US, transit is beginning to be viewed as an economic development tool to attract young people, in addition to contributing to lower traffic congestion. Many countries have seen a decrease in driving among Millennials, and some have seen an overall decrease in vehicle miles travelled as part of a broad cultural shift as people rethink the way they live and work. Canadian cities badly need a permanent federal fund for transit–but it needs to be in the order of magnitude of billions, not millions. It should also guarantee that small and mid-sized municipalities can get transit that meet their needs, including bus rapid transit, local bus, and bike paths.