Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Seattle to not continue forward with bike share

The city had already decided to junk its current system, called Pronto ("Seattle's launch of bike share and four interesting elements"), but they were planning to replace it with a system comparable to that just launched in Baltimore by Bewegen.  Instead they will be reprogramming the money to other bicycle and pedestrian projects ("Seattle’s Mayor Murray kills city-run bike-share program," Seattle Times).

This event is a good illustration of my point that "The problem when you define every outcome as a success, you don't learn, and therefore failure is more likely: bike share in Seattle and Los Angeles as examples" (also see ""Bike share and sustainable bike share systems: sometimes other programs can have more effect for less cost").

In reading some of the stories about the declining state of the NHS in the UK, they refer to the practice of "always being positive as "manifestation" ("Ministers can't silence NHS concerns because people can see it unravelling," Guardian).

From the article:
Believe hard enough, and you can get what you want. Or at any rate that’s the theory behind the fashionable cult of manifestation, as championed by Oprah; focus on your heart’s desire, tell yourself you’re going to get it, and it’s amazing what positive thinking can achieve. Only now this form of secular prayer seems to be catching on in Downing Street too.

This week Simon Stevens, head of NHS England, became the latest civil servant accused of failing to believe. He is said to be regarded by some within No 10 as “unenthusiastic”, insufficiently on board perhaps with thrilling efforts to solve the NHS crisis by claiming there isn’t one. Think positive, man! Best foot forward! Like Ivan Rogers, the departing ambassador to the EU said to be too gloomy about Brexit, apparently Stevens just needs to jolly well buck his ideas up.
Manifestation is not in my nature.

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Monday, January 09, 2017

Fawning coverage of DC school "reform" doesn't push better practice forward

DC's Schools Chancellor, Kaya Henderson, left her position at the end of September.  The Post, in articles and an editorial hailed her great accomplishments, although they are arguable, and never came close to fulfilling the measurable promises first made by Michelle Rhee to her foundation overlords -- Guy Brandenburg's series of articles evaluating Rhee's promises found a pass rate of 1.5 on 62 items ("Did Michelle Rhee Actually Close Those Achievement Gaps").

The Washington City Paper has a particularly blistering article, "Left Behind: How Kaya Henderson Failed At-Risk DCPS Students," assessing the Henderson era, as Kaya Henderson missed most of her goals on improving educational outcomes for children from low-income households.
... A 40/40 school is among the 40 lowest performing schools in the District. When she announced her plan, Henderson said her second-highest priority—“invest in struggling schools”—was to increase proficiency rates in those schools by 40 percentage points by the end of the current school year. Initially, DCPS defined “proficiency” according to the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System (DC-CAS), designed to test mastery of English, math, and science according to local “content standards,” but it abandoned that metric after the 2013-2014 school year.

Schools designated as 40/40 schools have certain traits in common: They mostly reside in parts of the city plagued by high crime, high unemployment, high rates of disease and mortality, and high numbers of single-mother households. More than half are elementary schools, which experts agree is the educational stage that is most critical to any future prospects for success in academics—or life. ...

As Kaya Henderson departs DCPS, the schools are nowhere close to the goal she set, with marginal or inconsistent gains in some schools, stagnation in some, and losses in others, according to a City Paper review of DCPS performance data. DCPS, after four years, still lists 10 of the 40/40 elementary schools as “priority” schools, meaning they still need “intense support to address low performance of all students” and require “special quality monitoring and professional development.” Six are labeled “focus” schools, meaning they need “targeted support to address large achievement gaps,” according to the DCPS website. Just five are considered to be either “rising” or “developing.”

Which is not surprising, given that investment in 40/40 schools has ranged from non-existent to inequitable to compromised, according to DCPS funding data, proficiency scores, budget experts, and education watchdogs.
Meanwhile, the charter schools continue to grow their enrollment, and probably only the existence of Pre-K education for 3 to 5 year olds helps to keep DCPS enrollment figures up ("Report: Charter Enrollment Outpacing Traditional Public School System," Washington City Paper; "DC Public Schools See Seventh Consecutive Year of Increased Enrollment," Georgetown Hoya).

The resignation of Kaya Henderson offered the city and its media an opportunity to take stock, to compare DC's "reform" efforts to other cities, to gauge the impact of the charter schools on the traditional school system, to look in-depth at specific initiatives, and even to compare DC to other best practice K-12 efforts in the area (Arlington County, Montgomery County).

Outside of the City Paper article and some e-list discussion, such a review did not occur, even to how the Mayor inadequately followed the law on selecting a chancellor that was passed as part of shifting authority of the school system over to the Mayor from an elected school board ("Antwan Wilson confirmed as chancellor of DC Public Schools," Post).

Review: Lots of Pain, Minimal Gain. Perhaps the biggest problem in "reforming" K-12 education has to do with asking and answering the wrong questions ("Missing the most fundamental point about urban educational reform).

And ideology in terms of an anti-government or neoliberalism agenda that promotes charter schools, private schools and vouchers, or home schooling ("Mitt Romney: Trump has made a smart choice for education secretary," Washington Post) over what anti-government types are now calling, pejoratively,"government schools"

Although we must concede that school systems become bureaucratic and lose focus on what matters. Teacher's unions often end up focusing on maximizing pay. And too often personnel decisions can be particularly arbitrary--I know plenty of good teachers who got screwed by vindictive principals or other school administrators.

A failure to focus on the need for different types of resources.  But comparably to how I argue that the problem with a disinvested property is lack of investment and the solution to disinvestment is not demolition but investment, the problems around teaching low income children aren't solved by forcing students to spend lots of time studying for and taking tests or to fire the teachers, but are solved by providing additional, focused and the "right" resources necessary to address economic and other gaps that make it much harder for children from such households to succeed.

I used to get furious in how Michelle Rhee was allowed to shift the argument from resources to teacher blaming, when just about any successful charter school is successful because they have more resources in terms of special programs, more instruction time, etc. For example, the Harlem Children's Zone model ("The Harlem Project," New York Times).

But rather than argue for more targeted resources and innovative programs for children and schools in need along the lines discussed in various past blog entries ("Powerful story of how Bristol Virginia elementary school deals with extremely impoverished students," "Creating cultures of excellence in schooling," "International Baccalaureate program at an impoverished high school in Seattle as a way to improve academic outcomes," "Back to school as a reason to consider schools issues comprehensively"), the focus in DC was on tests and demonizing "bad teaching" (and failing to acknowledge that "bad teachers" were produced by the system, and that therefore, the system has some responsibility for dealing with that, rather than tossing people out.

Community Schools model as an alternative. A model for delivering an actual program for the "40/40" schools is the Community Schools concept, which is not new and pre-dates programs like the Harlem Children's Zone. It's about bringing to impoverished schools a wide variety of additional types of resources. 

Austin, Texas is one place where the Community Schools model has been shown to be particularly successful ("Years Into Austin’s Community Schools Experiment, National Policy Catches Up," Texas Observer).

The initiative came at the instigation of the advocacy group, Austin Voices for Education and Youth.

According to the report, Community Schools: Transforming Struggling Schools into Thriving Schools, two previously failing schools, Webb Middle School and Reagan High School are succeeding.
From 2010 to 2015, Webb went from the lowest-performing middle school in Austin ISD, based on its test scores, to one of its best. Its enrollment has grown 55 percent, and fewer students are leaving the school mid-year. Reagan’s enrollment has more than doubled and its graduation rate has improved from 48 percent to 85 percent.
The Observer says the report:
lauds Webb and Reagan’s discipline policies built on restorative justice, early college partnerships, daycare programs and mobile clinics for student mothers, new mental health and trauma support programs, on-campus English classes for parents, and new band, orchestra and dance troupes.
It's not that DCPS hasn't implemented bits and pieces of these kinds of programs here and there across the system.  But they haven't developed and implemented a comprehensive program.

And the Webb and Reagan schools are demographically comparable to the many school buildings that DCPS closed in Wards 7 and 8 ("Rethinking community planning around maintaining neighborhood civic assets and anchors").

What has prevented development of comparable stories of success in DC is a complete failure to develop, fund, and implement a real plan for improvement--asking and answering the right questions instead of the wrong ones.

And it's not apparent that anything will change with the new regime.

==============
Public Education Reform Amendment Act of 2007 (the mayoral takeover legislation).

Sec. 105. Chancellor; appointment; duties.

(a) The DCPS shall be administered by a Chancellor, who shall be appointed pursuant

to section 2(a) of the Confirmation Act of 1978, effective March 3, 1979 (D.C. Law 2-142; D.C. Official Code § 1-523.01(a)), and in accordance with subsection (b) of this section. The Chancellor shall:

(1) Be the chief executive officer of DCPS;
(2) Be qualified by experience and training for the position; and
(3) Serve at the pleasure of the Mayor.

(b)(1) Prior to the selection of a nominee for Chancellor, the Mayor shall:

(A) Establish a review panel of teachers, including representatives of the Washington Teachers Union, parents, and students ("panel") to aid the Mayor in his or her selection of Chancellor;

(B) Provide the resumes and other pertinent information pertaining to the individuals under consideration, if any, to the panel; and

(C) Convene a meeting of the panel to hear the opinions and recommendations of the panel.

(2) The Mayor shall consider the opinions and recommendations of the panel in making his or her nomination and shall give great weight to any recommendation of the Washington Teachers Union.

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A great example of the market at work: making a business in restoring blighted properties/curing nuisances (Philadelphia)

Many times I have written about how the State of Ohio has a strong receivership statute which allows nonprofits to take over properties that are "notorious" nuisances, "cure" the nuisance, and get awarded ownership of the property, which they subsequently sell.

The Cleveland Restoration Society has acted under that statute to fix properties and preserve their historic character, and then to sell them to property owners committed to maintaining the property ("Housing receivership to cure nuisance properties").

Pennsylvania has a similar law, called Act 135 ("Pennsylvania passes receivership law").  In Philadelphia, two people have created a business of curing nuisances and fixing properties on behalf of nonprofits ("These guys are Philadelphia's professional Blightbusters," Philadelphia Inquirer).

From the article
Operating under the more-corporate-sounding Scioli Turco Inc., they have mastered the ins and outs of an obscure state law called Act 135 that enables nonprofits to take control of blighted properties, fix them up, and sell them ("Philly nonprofit finds way to reverse blighted properties," Philadelphia City Paper). The owner gets the proceeds, minus the cost of repairs and Scioli Turco’s expenses.

It sounds almost too easy, yet Scioli Turco’s successes with Act 135 promise an alternative to the usual, slow-moving approach to attacking Philadelphia’s blight problem.

Scioli Turco is the brainchild of two Bella Vista activists, Joel Palmer, a retired pharmaceutical salesman, and Jeffrey Goldman, a database analyst. Frustrated by a long-vacant VFW post in their neighborhood, they asked the courts in 2011 to appoint them as the building’s conservators under the Act 135 rules.

Using their own money and loans, they put in $100,000 to stabilize the building. After selling it for almost three times that amount, Palmer said, they realized “the process was scalable” and decided to form a nonprofit to pursue other eyesores. ...

Since then, Scioli Turco has rescued 50 problem properties, not just in Bella Vista, but around the city.
Seems like a pretty creative and proactive method for revitalizing neighborhoods and addressing persistent problems.

-- Implementation and Best Practices Manual, Pennsylvania’s Abandoned and Blighted Property Conservatorship Act, Regional Housing Legal Services
-- Using Conservatorship to Reclaim Properties: Case Studies

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Saturday, January 07, 2017

Great concept, but I don't love the videos: Orlando's "Discover Your Urban" promotion campaign

A very early blog post of mine (late in December I passed 10,000 entries, although some are reprints, and others mostly just a photo, but even so it represents a body of work of many millions of words) from February 2005 is "Town-City branding or 'We are all destination managers now'," where I make the point that those of us in commercial district revitalization, urban revitalization, tourism development, cultural planning, economic development, etc., are "brand managers" for our communities.

Later I extended this idea in a couple commercial district revitalization framework plans I did for two small communities, Brunswick, Georgia and Cambridge, Maryland, where I wrote:
Just as the study team believes that “we are all destination managers now,” elected and appointed officials in particular and in association with other community stakeholders serve as a community’s “brand managers”—whether or not they choose to think of their roles in this manner.

That means that decision-making on land use and zoning, business issues, infrastructure development (roads, sewers, water, utilities, transit), technology (broadband Internet, etc.) and quality of place factors (arts, culture, historic preservation and heritage, education, public schools and libraries, etc.) must be consistent and focused on making the right decisions, the decisions that collectively achieve and support the realization of the community’s desired vision and positioning.
Richmond Virginia probably has one of the best branding frameworks in the country. Years ago I came across a "design identity system book" for Richmond, produced by the art and design program at Virginia Commonwealth University.  See "Can The Old South Rebrand Itself? Richmond Tries, With A Dynamic New Logo," Fast Company, and "Sticking it to Richmond: the origin and future of the RVA sticker," RVANews, although recognize that a "logo" is only one element of a brand.

-- RVA Creates

And if you work with campaigns, or sign onto campaigns, it's not unusual for an identity system to be in place, with constraints on how you can use logos and other identification elements.

Were DC to develop the concept of brand management for the city, such a document would have to be produced. (This isn't the Richmond branding guide I found--which is buried somewhere in my files or piles of stuff that need to be filed--but it's comparable.)

I came across the "Discover Your Urban" campaign from the Downtown Orlando organization and while I think the execution in videos is too wacky for my tastes--featuring players from the town's hockey team, I guess because "snow-related sports" would be the last thing that comes to your mind when thinking about Orlando, Florida--the tagline is super strong as are the print-based materials.

According to Jen Hiatt, the chief designer and Graphics Supervisor for the City of Orlando's Office of Communications when the campaign was originally developed:
This work was done in conjunction with the Downtown Development Board marketing team during my tenure at the City, most notably Kelly Allen, the Downtown Orlando Marketing Coordinator. While I developed the creative concepts and design for the campaign, I cannot take credit for all the hard work invested by others on the concept, tagline, content, advertising/marketing plans, photography and award-winning videography.
What I find very interesting is how as Graphics Supervisor, Ms. Hiatt acted as a "brand manager" for the city within the position and the Office of Communications & Neighborhood Relations. According to Ms. Hiatt's resume:
Daily responsibilities included developing overarching vision for the City’s brand and marketing initiatives; designing marketing collateral for the City’s initiatives, programs and events while coordinating with City departments, including the Office of the Mayor, on marketing initiatives and brand development. Also assists with digital branding, including website conception and design.
I find that conceptualization of the "job" as graphics supervisor very interesting.

For all the talk of cities and reformulating how they approach information technology, innovation, and data (e.g., in Boston "Walsh appoints Haverhill native as city's first chief data officer," Boston Globe; "Chief Innovation Officers in State and Local Government," Government Technology), cities need to be reconceptualizing how they think about, implement, and execute their communications program, using the design method and process--managing the city's brand and "brand promise," but through the lens of authenticity, not merely "selling." (Note that no brand manager would ever say that they are focused merely on selling.)



-- Orlando, Free Time, video
-- While Staying Downtown, video

What strikes me about the RVA logotype is how versatile it is in so many different applications.  I am not particularly enamored with the DC Cool campaign, see "I don't get DC's visitor marketing ad campaign at all, for the same reason I don't like the Downtown Orlando videos, because neither the DC ads nor the Orlando ones accurately captures either city's identity and authenticity--and note I came across the Orlando ad on tv, during a rebroadcast of the Citrus Bowl Parade.

It might be just that I am a fuddy-duddy, having written a couple years ago ("Area Tourism Development") about the Pure Michigan campaign and Visit Fairfax video, which I think does a good job of capturing the variety of elements that characterize Fairfax County, although it's not quite so punchy as a 30-second ad.

Many states have strong marketing and tourism development programs.  Ones that stick out besides Pure Michigan ("State: Pure Michigan campaign prompted 4.6 million trips in 2015," Crain's Detroit Business) are Utah's Life Elevated ("Utah chooses slogan: 'Life elevated'," Adweek) and the Love New York state marketing program ("'I Love New York' Campaign, 30 Years Old, Gets Web Push," New York Times).
.


Still, these campaigns remind me the importance of reiterating a couple of my thoughts about graphic design, the design process, and urban planning, that:

(1) I have argued that cities need a "Graphic Design" element in their master plans

-- Design as city branding: transit edition
-- City (and university) branding: brand deposits; brand withdrawals; brand destruction
-- Georgetown: A subtle but important difference between branding and identity-positioning--- Identity ≠ branding or Authenticity is the basis of identity
-- The taxi livery debacle as a lead in to a broader discussion of the importance of "design" to DC's "brand promise
-- Illustration of government and design thinking: Boston's City Hall to Go truck
-- (DC) Neighborhoods and commercial districts as brands

(2) the design method may be superior to the "rational planning methodology" for planning but also for thinking about how to deliver public services

-- Social Marketing the Arlington (and Tower Hamlets and Baltimore" way
-- All the talk of e-government, digital government, and open source government is really about employing the design method
-- Best practice bicycle planning for suburban settings using the "action planning" method
-- A DC [Government agency] example of branded communications

I have come across a couple of planning firms that use the design method and process in their approach to planning projects, including Arnett Muldrow.

(3) I haven't gotten around to writing about the opportunity for universities in creating "graphic design studios" comparable to the community planning and architecture design studios that typically exist, such as the Nashville Civic Design Center or the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative program by Kent State University, to work with community programs on communications and design matters.

-- Graphic design, advocacy, and social marketing

One example of a program that does that kind of work is Artists for Humanity in Boston, and depending on the term, some of the design studios at MICA in Baltimore.

-- Boston Hubway Bike share program expands presence in Roxbury neighborhood: insights into transportation equity
-- Engaged civic planning efforts

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Friday, January 06, 2017

Biggest transportation stories of 2016

It's hard for me to stay on top of this, both locally and nationally.  Locally, it is so depressing that a transit system has to decline so precipitously before the political will can be mustered to fix things--although it's not clear yet that the will has been mustered for the DC area and its heavy rail transit system, WMATA/Metrorail.

Dr. Gridlock at the Washington Post ("2016’s top 10 transportation stories: good and bad, plus a lot of ugly") says these are the top 10 stories of the year.

1. Bad Metro.
2. Good Metro.
3. Opening of the DC Streetcar.
4. Sudden snow the afternoon of January 20th, paralyzing the evening commute.
5. Transportation project scoring systems introduced in Virginia and Maryland. (Gov. Hogan in Maryland is not supportive.)
6. I-66 widening/tolls.
7. Virginia's "Atlantic Gateway" project, which will invest in rail and highway expansion in the I-95/DC to Richmond corridor ("What to expect from Virginia's Atlantic Gateway projects").
8. Nuclear Security Summit didn't contribute to gridlock.
9. Beach Drive closing.

Here's my list, separated into local and national. At some point the order becomes arbitrary. What did I miss?

Local

1.  The continued service failures of WMATA. Dr. Gridlock's second most important story is WMATA's improvements.  I'm not there yet, seeing such.

A DC board member's call to not connect the Silver Line extension to the system because "Virginia won't approve a sales tax for WMATA" is grandstanding of the highest order and not helpful.  Then again, DC Councilman and chair of the board Jack Evans' call for the Federal Government to take WMATA over is equally unhelpful--imagine Mitch McConnell in charge of the "local" transit system--hmm, sounds like England, where the national government calls most of the shots.

I don't think there is the political will, not to mention vision and leadership, to pull off the necessary improvements.  Although they are piping music into Gallery Place ("Love the Christmas tunes at Gallery Place? Music may soon come to other Metro stops," Post).

And the agency sure needs a personnel overall in terms of operations and maintenance ("Nearly half of Metro track inspectors disciplined over falsified reports," WTOP Radio).

2.  Virginia's plan to extend HOT lanes to I-395 and I-66 and to toll the road within the Beltway at all times.  HOT lanes promote single occupancy vehicle trips and that isn't good from a sustainable mobility standpoint.  But tolling within the Beltway is interesting (not unlike Toronto's call to toll its two freeways, "How John Tory went from calling tolls 'highway robbery' to crusading for them," Toronto Star).  Whether or not there will be transit and bicycle and pedestrian improvements in association with the project, only time will tell.  (The HOT lane extension and other improvements on I-95 are part of the "Atlantic Gateway" initiative.)

3.  Signing the Purple Line agreement/picking the concessionaire to build and run it, and the Court Case which says that construction should be delayed pending a new EIA ("Transit Agencies Say Metro's Woes Won't Impact Purple Line," Bethesda Magazine).  I argue that the Purple Line will help improve the reliability of the Metrorail system, by allow east-west transfers between subway lines, rather than requiring a trip to the center city ("More on Redundancy, engineered resilience, and subway systems: Metrorail failures will increase without adding capacity in the core").

4. WMATA's cutback on service hours.  This was pushed by GM Paul Weidefeld, to increase the amount of time for maintenance--but peer systems in major systems have about the same time as the current schedule.  In response, WMATA offered a weak expansion of late night bus service ("Metro has a bare-bones plan for late-night buses, but will the board go along"  and "Metrorail is a mess. Can we at least have reliable buses?," Washington Post. The Post says we must take the hit ("Cutting Metro's late-night hours is a hardship we must endure").

5.  The DC streetcar finally opened, although the line is too short to have much transportation impact, but it sure is having impact on real estate development, and on that basis, has already paid for itself ("Update/revision of H Street transit oriented real estate development table"). The failures in opening it have made it much harder to make arguments in favor of expansions to rail transit. I'm sure it is in the minds of people when it comes to the Purple Line.

6.  DC agrees to seek funds to repair the Memorial Bridge in conjunction with the National Park Service ("Park Service makes deadline to apply for Memorial Bridge funds," Post). The DC area is a cross cut of separate jurisdictions.  Because technically, DC extends to the edge of the bank on the "Virginia" side of the Potomac River, Virginia has no financial obligation to fund bridges that cross the Potomac and connect to the city.

This is further complicated by the fact that some of those bridges are under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, like the Memorial Bridge.  Because the Bridge mostly serves commuters, NPS shouldn't be financially responsible for it.  But that's an argument for another day.

7.  Beach Drive closings/WMATA closings indicate the failure to adopt cross-jurisdictional "corridor management" approaches ("Transportation infrastructure interruptions as a missed opportunity for improving transportation demand management programming" and "Transportation network service interruptions part 3: corridor/commute shed management for Northwest DC and Montgomery County, Maryland").

8.  Car2Go service privileges between DC and Arlington.  Car2Go one-way carsharing was introduced into DC a few years ago, and to Arlington a couple years ago.  But users couldn't travel between jurisdictions on a one-way trip.  Now we can.

Now if National Airport would allow Car2Go vehicles to park there.  They've opened a lot for "For Hire" vehicles including Uber, why not carsharing?

9.  A plan to rebuild the Nice Bridge.  Like the DC-Virginia bridge issue, similarly, Maryland controls the Potomac River where the state borders Virginia.  That means that the Nice Bridge on US 301 is Maryland's responsibility ("Hogan plans $765 million replacement of Nice Bridge in Southern Maryland," Baltimore Sun), not Virginia's. Ouch.

I don't think 2015's rollback of Maryland's toll prices was judicious given long term demands for replacement and improvement ("Governor Hogan Rolls Back Tolls Statewide – Saving Marylanders $54 million a year," State of Maryland press release).

Collab-18-Anacostia10.  East side Anacostia Trail network is completed, linking trail networks in DC and Prince George's and Montgomery County,  Late November's opening of a long segment of the trail between Benning Road and Maryland enables trips from DC to Greenbelt and various points in Montgomery County, providing a viable commuting route to and from the city for many ("New segment of Anacostia Riverwalk Trail expands the region's trail network," Post), linking 60 miles of trails.

Although there are issues in terms of facilities integration and trail width, the basic wayfinding signage system is great.  And it makes it so much easier to explore the east side of the city by bike.

11.  Virginia Beach votes against extending light rail to their city; the state ceases planning and funding activities for the project ("Virginia Beach light rail referendum vote fails in a landslide," Norfolk Virginian-Pilot; "State stops funding for Virginia Beach light rail project," WAVY-TV).  One of the problems with rail projects taking so long and having so many review and other requirements is that it creates many opportunities for scuttling the project.  That's especially the case in communities with limited experience with transit.

Although as we have seen with opposition to the Purple Line light rail and streetcars in Arlington County, Virginia and DC itself, such opposition is not limited to places with limited experience with transit (shockingly).

National

1. The Election.  It empowers the Republicans who now fully control both houses of Congress and the Presidency.  It's important to distinguish between Congress and "the President."  Congress makes the laws.  Not Trump.

Congressional Republicans aren't big on mobility options other than the automobile, aren't into increasing the federal gasoline excise tax, don't want to fund transit, really don't want to fund biking and walking, etc.  At least the major proponent of rail privatization, John Mica, didn't get reelected.  But that's small consolation.  The Republican campaign agenda was not friendly to transit or cities ("Transport Politic's definitive piece on the Republican and Democratic Party platform positions on infrastructure").

2.  President-elect Trump talks about infrastructure.  To my way of thinking, what he proposes is a wacky concept, putting the onus on the private sector to lead the process, giving them huge tax breaks for providing financing, and ultimately, ownership of the asset, which completely redefines the concept of "public goods" ("Trump's big infrastructure plan? It's a trap," Post). From the article:
First, Trump’s plan is not really an infrastructure plan. It’s a tax-cut plan for utility-industry and construction-sector investors, and a massive corporate welfare plan for contractors. The Trump plan doesn’t directly fund new roads, bridges, water systems or airports, as did Hillary Clinton’s 2016 infrastructure proposal. Instead, Trump’s plan provides tax breaks to private-sector investors who back profitable construction projects. These projects (such as electrical grid modernization or energy pipeline expansion) might already be planned or even underway. There’s no requirement that the tax breaks be used for incremental or otherwise expanded construction efforts; they could all go just to fatten the pockets of investors in previously planned projects.

Moreover, as others have noted, desperately needed infrastructure projects that are not attractive to private investors — municipal water-system overhauls, repairs of existing roads, replacement of bridges that do not charge tolls — get no help from Trump’s plan. And contractors? Well, they get a “10 percent pretax profit margin,” according to the plan. Combined with Trump’s sweeping business tax break, this would represent a stunning $85 billion after-tax profit for contractors — underwritten by the taxpayers.
But because the Republican Congress isn't big on funding investments in much of anything, I can't see this program ending up equal to the hype, especially because such projects take so long to come to fruition, even if Trump were to be re-elected, most of the projects would not be realized until after his second term of office.


Twitter photo.

3. Gasoline shortages in the South and East.  A pipeline break cut supply to many markets. Something similar happened last year, as a result of a refinery fire.

These experiences demonstrate the dependence of the transportation system on automobiles and gasoline, as did Superstorm Sandy, which led to delays in resupplying gas stations.

From the Montgomery Advertiser story, "Alabama pipeline leak: What we know so far about the spill, gas shortages and more:
The gasoline he was smelling came from Colonial Pipeline's Line 1, an underground pipeline three feet in diameter that normally pushes 1.3 million barrels of gasoline per day from refineries in Houston to distribution centers across the Southeast and along the eastern seaboard.

That 36-inch line, built in 1963, has been estimated to supply the east coast of the United States with up to 40 percent of its gasoline supply. Colonial Pipeline initiated a shutdown of Line 1 within 20 minutes of receiving the report about a potential leak.

That section of pipeline remains closed. Eight days later, official estimates climbed to 336,000 gallons of lost gasoline. More than 700 people were working around the clock to dig up the pipe, plug the leak, clean up the old mining property south of Birmingham and restore supply.
Sustainable mobility is a far more resilient foundation for transportation.

4.  Gas prices remain "low."  The glut of oil on world markets keeps prices comparatively low, stoking car sales, especially of bigger cars, and puts a brake on significant increases in transit ridership.  It also makes electric cars, at least in markets without high gasoline excise taxes, less competitive with gasoline fueled cars.  Nonetheless, many analysts believe that electric cars will overtake the industry ("Oil groups 'threatened' by electric cars" and "Diesel faces global crash as electric cars shine," Financial Times).

Still this has fueled high auto sales, mostly of SUVs and light trucks, but analysts believe the industry has hit its high point ("Americans bought more cars than ever last year: in 2017 things could get bumpy," Post).

This doesn't quite rate a separate item, but consumers waste billions of dollars per year buying premium grade gasoline to fuel cars with engines not built for higher octane ("U.S. Drivers Waste $2.1 Billion Annually on Premium Gasoline" American Automobile Association ).

Even so, rather than agree to gas tax increases, for a time New Jersey Governor Chris Christie let the gas tax funding system shut down ("As roads crumble, Christie treats his job like a sporting diversion," Newark Star-Ledger).

And he got the elimination of the state estate tax in return.

5.  Driverless technologies.  They might not have worked out so well for Joshua Brown ("Tesla driver dies in first fatal crash while using autopilot mode," Guardian"), but this topic is all the rage.  Too many threads and articles to count.  My own take is it will take decades to re/build the road network to integrate the necessary "intelligent transportation systems" required for cars to operate on their own.

It could work sooner on limited access freeways.  And that's where it's likely to be pushed forward, especially with trucks--not just because of the labor cost of truck drivers, but because of the difficulties in finding qualified drivers to begin with ("Self-driving truck makes first trip — a 120-mile beer run," USA Today; "Robots could replace 1.7 million American truckers in the next decade," Los Angeles Times; "Daimler's Freightliner Tests Self-Driving Truck in Nevada," Bloomberg).

But instead all the punditry is focused on the impact of the driverless car "on cities" and presumes huge benefits.  I think it will result in some benefits. Although an article I read recently says that it will cost billions of dollars to set up streets to be able to accommodate driverless technology, money local and state governments don't have.

But the reality is that promoting single occupant vehicle trips isn't necessary a benefit to the capacity of the road network, even if it will result in a significant reduction in crashes. Driverless cars can can induce more trips, not fewer, even if it reduces the amount of land and building space devoted to car storage, a/k/a parking.  Finally, some attention is being paid to this reality ("Self-Driving Cars: A Coming Congestion Disaster?," Human Transit).

From a transit standpoint, driverless buses and shuttles could enable what I call tertiary or intra-neighborhood transit between home and commercial districts, transit stations, grocery stores, schools, etc., because it would reduce the labor cost of providing such a service.  Labor costs are usually what doom such programs.

6.  Ride Hailing.  Remember when Uber said drivers could make thousands of dollars per week, prevaricating about the reality that most people who drive taxis do it because they can't find other better paying work, so it's always a race to the bottom?  I've gotten a couple marketing letters from the firm, stating I could make $140/day driving on the weekend.  That's before gasoline and other expenses.

Anyway, Lyft is having a hard time raising money.  Uber continues to experiment with other forms of delivery (which won't likely have much upside except in a couple markets) and driverless technologies so they won't have to worry about pesky drivers.  There were some high profile regulatory matters.  A vote earlier in the year by residents in Austin, Texas requiring that ride hailing driver get fingerprint checks led Uber to drop out of that market.

Transit agencies have also been working with ride hailing companies on services at the outskirts of service areas, although this is merely a form of shared taxi service ("Intra-neighborhood tertiary transit service revisited").

Meanwhile there has been good writing out there about the anti-government, anti-public good nature of Uber and its business model, such as the article series in Naked Capitalism.

-- Can Uber Ever Deliver? Part One – Understanding Uber’s Bleak Operating Economics
-- Can Uber Ever Deliver? Part Two: Understanding Uber’s Uncompetitive Costs
-- Can Uber Ever Deliver? Part Three: Understanding False Claims About Uber's Innovation and Competitive Advantages
-- Can Uber Ever Deliver? Part Four: Understanding That Unregulated Monopoly Was Always Uber’s Central Objective
-- Part Five: answering reader questions

From the second article:
85% of Taxi Costs Are the Direct Costs of Vehicles, Fuel and Drivers

There are four major components of urban car service costs: driver compensation (take home pay plus the benefit costs they must cover), fuel and fees directly related to passenger service (credit card fees, airport access fees, tolls, cell phone charges), vehicle ownership and maintenance, and corporate overhead and profit (including dispatching and branding/marketing).
7.  Transit expansions in other cities like Seattle and Los Angeles to high in demand places results in significant increases in use.  Interesting about LA is that the weekend ridership increases are greater than during the week.

I think that's because the area is so decentralized, it's hard to capture significant numbers of work trips except over long periods of time as people make job choice and residential location decisions with an eye on transit connectivity.

Amazingly, according to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune ("Why weekend ridership is up on Gold, Expo line trains"), 25% or more trips to Rams football games are on transit.  They say it's because of the high cost of parking.  From the article:
Why do these lines show bigger increases on weekends than weekdays? Riders tell Metro they like saving money on parking.

Parking at the Sept. 18 Los Angeles Rams game at the Los Angeles Coliseum was as high as $200, according to some bloggers and fans. The Expo Line — with stops at USC and Exposition Park — carried 21,000 of the 80,000 who jammed the Coliseum for the Ram’s first win, Metro reported.

“I know some friends from West Los Angeles who are music aficionados and go to the Music Center downtown but hate to pay $35 to park your car,” said Bart Reed, executive director of The Transit Coalition, a nonprofit, pro-mass transit group based in the San Fernando Valley.

While exiting the symphony for the nearest train station may be a breeze, hopping an Expo train with 20,000 riders exiting the Coliseum meant long lines and required plenty of patience. It took about 90 minutes to clear the last passenger, and that was with three-car trains every six minutes, Hillmer said.
If that's not evidence of the "value" of high parking costs in increasing transit use, I don't know what is.  Too bad the new football stadium in Inglewood won't be opening with transit access.

The Seattle Times ran a really cool article on "transit tourism," exploring the various neighborhoods with Link Light Rail stations.  It's a model for what other locales should be doing--and transit agencies should be doing this themselves, not merely expecting media outlets to do it.

Image from "Chevy Bolt EV's battery is as big as a Tesla's," HybridCars.

8.  Chevrolet releases the Bolt electric car.  For all the talk of Tesla, they are more a stock play than a significant manufacturer of automobiles.  Chevrolet re-engineered and re-imagined a new electric car, the Bolt, from the ground up.

It's in production today, by a company that has decades of experience building cars in volume ("GM's electric Chevy Bolt looks to take on Tesla," Financial Times).

 But as pointed out above, comparatively low gasoline costs make electric cars less of an economically rational decision. That being said, electric cars are more reliable and require fewer trips to the mechanic.

What's particularly interesting about the Bolt, is that it is the first electric car by a traditional manufacturer that has been designed from the ground up as an electric car, rather than a car model that had been designed out of the paradigm of the internal combustion engine ("How GM Beat Tesla to the First True Mass-Market Electric Car," Wired Magazine).

9.  Driving while black. Many of the police killings of civilians have involved African-Americans being stopped for infractions that might have been ignored had they been white. See "Philando Castile killing: Officer charged with manslaughter," CNN; "Photo contradicts key claim made by Tulsa police in unarmed black man's fatal shooting," Denver Post.


Image from DownTrend.

Related would be various Black Lives Matter protests conducted in a manner which halts traffic on roadways ("Black Lives Matter protesters block highway in Minneapolis," ABC-TV; "'Black Lives Matter' protesters block I-64 in downtown St. Louis," FoxTV2, and "Why highways have become the center of civil rights protest," Washington Post).

(Note with regard to the latter, during my student protest days in college, I used to say we shouldn't bother taking over the Administration building, which is more about visibility, but taking over the parking garage across the street, where their cars were parked, and the university's two computing centers.)

10.  Automakers investing in technology firms, opening offices in the Silicon Valley, etc.  Tons of stories about this, including the traditional European firms too.  Not just Ford ("Ford Motor Company as a transportation company, not just a 'car' company").

WTVF-TV photo, Nashville.

11. School bus crashes.  A vehicle-centric school transportation system puts children at risk.  This past year there were particularly devastating crashes with deaths in Baltimore and Chattanooga, and a scary crash in Metropolitan Nashville that didn't kill anyone, but injured 23.

-- past entry on Walk to School Day

12.  Many transit votes succeeded (Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco) while others failed (Detroit, Virginia Beach, etc.).  Generally they pass, at about a two-thirds rate.  But it's really hard in places with limited modern-day experience with transit.

13.  Trains.  Amtrak ridership up ("Amtrak says rail ridership hit record numbers in last fiscal year," Richmond Times-Dispatch) but train crashes like in Hoboken, New Jersey get a lot of publicity also demonstrating commuter train crashes often happen in an environment of systematic underfunding ("Experts Blame Chris Christie For Underfunding NJ TRANSIT," CBS/NYC"and "NJ Transit Funding Under Scrutiny," Wall Street Journal) and the need to speed up implementation of positive train control and better hiring practices and risk management ("What's key to preventing train crashes," Yahoo).

Still, wrt those crashes, "More than 70 people killed in US commuter train crashes since 2000," (WPIX-TV11) while in the same period about 550,000 people died in motor vehicle accidents.

In DC, at the end of the year the first double stack freight train traveled through the Virginia Tunnel, enabling double stack container trains in this part of the Mid-Atlantic. I have since noticed double stack containers on the freight trains on the Metropolitan Branch CSX line. But generally, freight railroads are having a tough time, with the decline in trade with China, the oil glut, and a decline in the use of coal for power generation.


14. Relatedly, HSR is dead in the Northeast Corridor. In the last week of the year, the Federal Railroad Administration announced its support of improvements all along the Northeast Corridor ("Feds Back Ambitious Plan To Speed Up Northeast Rail Service," WBUR/NPR).

-- Northeast Corridor Future website, Federal Railroad Administration

 There has been coverage of this in newspapers from Boston to DC, focusing on regionally-specific provisions. For example, in Connecticut some cities don't like a proposed "straightening of the line" in one area, which would go through their community unlike the current alignment ("Shoreline Officials Want To Hit The Brakes On Federal Railroad Proposal," Hartford Courant.  From the article:
Mayor David Martin said Thursday he likes the plan to expand capacity at Stamford's busy train station. But he's against building new track routes to Greenwich and to Westport that might eat into his city's neighborhoods or commercial base.

"This plan looks more like fantasy than fact, and we're going to fight it," U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal told reporters.

The Federal Railroad Administration's proposal to overhaul sections of Amtrak's Northeast Corridor route in Connecticut has already hit heavy resistance in southeastern Connecticut, where the agency wants a new 30-mile inland segment to bypass the curving, twisting tracks between Old Saybrook and Kenyon, R.I.

Martin is the first Fairfield County leader to raise concerns about how it would affect the southwestern region, but Blumenthal predicted that opposition will keep growing.
15.  Bike share. The first death of a bike share user in Chicago ("Family of Divvy rider killed in crash sues truck driver, company," Chicago Tribune).  Bike sharing systems continue to open, although not necessarily to great success ("L.A.'s new bike-share program isn't as popular as in other cities," Los Angeles Times) and other systems are going through changes ("Seattle's failing Pronto bike share program to end in March," Seattle Post-Intelligencer).

-- "The problem when you define every outcome as a succoess, you don't learn, and therefore failure is more likely: bike share in Seattle and Los Angeles as examples,"
-- "Bike share and sustainable bike share systems: sometimes other programs can have more effect for less cost"

16.  Shots fired: not! at JFK Airport.  False reports of shootings can be as chaotic as real ones ("False Reports of Gunfire at J.F.K. Airport Offer a Real Case Study in Security," New York Times). 

Since airports are are increasing target for shootings and bombings (Brussells, today in Ft. Lauderdale) it's important to be able to distinguish truth from fiction.

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Supermarkets (and cinemas) and "captive leases"

A captive lease is when a retailer closes a store but continues to pay the rent on the abandoned space to prevent it from being re-leased to a competitor.  Typically this happens most with grocery stores and cinemas.

My personal experience with this was in the H Street NE neighborhood in DC, where Safeway closed two smaller stores (and other smaller stores in other neighborhoods) when they opened up the large multi-neighborhood serving big store at Hechinger Mall in the early 1980s.

By the time I moved to the neighborhood in the late 1980s, people had changed their shopping patterns, further reducing customer traffic for the H Street commercial district.  One of the store spaces remained empty by then, while the other had been leased to People's Drug (and after that, a Murry's Food Store).  See "Ensuring that lease restrictions don't encumber a commercial property's future."

It's come up more recently with supermarket closures in Suburban Chicago and now Cleveland.

In the latter, Giant Eagle Supermarkets just announced the closure of two stores and a gas station, and the Mayor of Cleveland, Frank Jackson, isn't happy based on this letter ("Mayor Jackson responds to Giant-Eagle closures," WKYC/NBC).  From the letter:
The closure of these stores would require a customer to travel another several miles on the east or west side to one of your stores by car.We also learned that over 120 jobs are at risk. We have been provided no information on whether these employees have been offered positions at other stores and we have received many calls today from concerned employees who also just learned that they will be without a job in thirty to sixty days. The closing of pharmacies on January 14, 2017 means that customers have just ten (10) days to transfer prescriptions, placing a hardship on many of our seniors and those with disabilities for whom this process can be very difficult.

We are also concerned that if these stores remain closed that the remaining term of the lease will prevent other grocery stores from leasing at these locations, to limit competition which was done when Giant Eagle moved from Lorain Avenue to the newer West 117th store. These vacant stores are a negative influence on our community and can affect other leases for nearby retail.
What he needs to do is get the City Council to pass legislation making so-called "captive leases" illegal. DC passed such legislation in 2014 ("D.C. Council bill aims to save Palisades grocery store," Washington Business Journal).

From the Crain's Chicago Business story, "Why some former Dominick's stores are still empty":
Vacant grocery stores inconvenience residents, slash sales tax revenue and can diminish a neighborhood's reputation as a viable retail center. They also can devastate nearby retailers, along with the owners of shopping centers lacking an anchor tenant to draw in the masses.

“It's a stigma on the neighborhood that a grocer is leaving and not being replaced immediately,” says retail broker Dan Tausk, a principal at Oak Brook-based Mid-America Real Estate Group, who represents the Trader Joe's chain in Chicago. “It's devastating in all aspects.” ...

Although the 19 vacant Dominick's buildings have different owners, Albertsons has long-term control over many of the spaces through its leases. In some cases, it has exercised options to extend the leases on empty spaces, according to real estate sources.

By keeping control of those spaces, Albertsons can sublease them to nongrocery retailers that don't compete with Jewel stores, or consider opening its own stores.

“In most cases, the landlords would rather have control of the space,” Witherell says. “In reality, most of the spaces are controlled by (Albertsons).”

In the most unusual scenario, Itasca-based Tony's Finer Foods has been unable to open a store in a Schaumburg building it owns. Tony's announced plans last year to take over a former Dominick's on Roselle Road, shortly before buying the building for almost $6.9 million in July, according to Cook County property records.
Chicago Tribune photo.  Also see "'Dark' former Dominick's stores frustrate suburbs."

In the year since that story was written, local governments in suburban Chicago are working together to try to get the lease owner, Albertsons, to release restrictions.  Interestingly, the stores had been owned by Safeway, when Safeway wasn't owned by Albertsons.

Now that it is, the company is not interested in the buildings being leased supermarkets, because Albertsons still owns Jewel Supermarkets, the market leader in Chicago.  From "Suburban leaders ask Albertsons to work with them to fill vacant stores," Chicago Daily Herald:
Leaders from nearly a dozen suburbs gathered Thursday in Naperville to express their concerns with leases on former Dominick's locations that have been sitting vacant for nearly three years.

The mayors and village presidents of Bartlett, Buffalo Grove, Glen Ellyn, Fox Lake, Naperville, Oswego, Palatine, Palos Heights, Romeoville, Schaumburg and Woodridge gathered for a news conference in which they called upon Albertsons, the parent company of Jewel-Osco, to do more to fill the spaces.

"The damaging effects of keeping these spaces vacant is very difficult for a lot of these communities," Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico said. "We need to do a better job working together and putting the community first, and right now the communities are not being put first. We're asking for their help. We need to see some participation." ...

However, leases on 15 vacant Dominick's continue to be paid for by Albertsons. On Thursday, municipal officials said they want the practice of extending those leases to cease.

"When you're leasing a space that doesn't have a tenant and you're renewing that lease for five years purposely so you can control whatever goes in there, that's where we're having an issue," Bartlett Village President Kevin Wallace said.

Romeoville Mayor John Noak said there is interest in the vacant spaces and willingness from suburban leaders to work with Albertsons to get them filled, but the company is not cooperating.
These suburbs should develop and pass model legislation making captive leases illegal. Chicago did this about 10 years ago.

Cinemas.  I mention cinemas in passing because as companies moved from small locations of one to three screens to large screens, they would put similar lease restrictions on the buildings.  That's why so many cinema buildings have been converted to other uses like pharmacies--CVS is particularly fond of such buildings, although they are not the only company.

01242008-54A Rite Aid in Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle is in the old Broadway Theater building, and Rite Aid maintains the theater marquee.

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Thursday, January 05, 2017

Macy's store closings include two important downtown locations in Portland and Minneapolis

Today Macy's announced their list of definite store closings, following up an announcement last fall that in 2017 they will be closing 100 stores, in response to declining sales.  Thus far they have listed only 68 of the projected total of 100 stores (note that not all are full line department stores, some are specialty operations).

They've been closing stores for awhile now, as more commerce migrates online, and as shopping malls become less attractive places to shop ("Macy's woes could doom a third of America's malls," Chicago Tribune). Macy's has an interesting method for considering which stores to close, including the impact on e-commerce sales and other channels ("Here's how Macy's decides which stores to close," New York Business Journal). From the article:
... Macy's then looks at which stores are underperforming and tries to model out the cash flows going forward, including the sales it would lose from closing the store as well as merchandise that was previously purchased but will inevitably be returned, regardless of whether it's online or at another nearby store, she said.

Hoguet also noted that when a retail location closes, Macy's sees a corresponding drop in sales on macys.com and bloomingdales.com. She speculated that part of the dip in online sales could come from consumers not having a convenient way to return merchandise that doesn't fit or that they don't like.

"We then model out the cash flows going forward and compare that with the cash flows associated with closing – any proceeds if we own the store, working capital, et cetera – a nd look at the two together and decide if the value to operate is greater or less than the value to close, and we proceed," Hoguet said.
The Macy's store in Downtown Portland is representative of the very large multi-line department stores dating to the late 1800s and early 1900s typical of any major city.  Oregonian photo.

The list includes sites in Downtown Portland ("Macy's closing downtown Portland store: 'A bit of," Portland Oregonian) and Downtown Minneapolis ("Macy's sells downtown Minneapolis store, will close it in March," Minneapolis Star-Tribune), although the Portland closure was announced last November.

Both stores had been the flagship locations of regional chains (Maier & Frank and Dayton's respectively) that eventually were amalgamated into Macy's.  Such large stores are fundamental anchors in multi-faceted commercial districts such as a Downtown ("The Uncertain Fate of the Downtown Department Store, Next City; "Despite subsidies, downtown department stores still disappearing," Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel).

I argue that department stores can still be a "killer app" for Downtown retail districts, but they need a lot of support and most department store chains--and there aren't that many anymore, given the consolidation within the industry over the past 15 years especially--aren't particularly interested in managing and promoting grand experiential oriented stores, unlike the big department stores in say London, Paris, or New York City ("For Macy's, a Makeover on 34th Street," New York Times), even if large center city stores are part of the company's portfolio.

In a book from the late 1980s, Living City by Roberta Gratz, she describes how a regional department store chain in Pennsylvania, Bon Ton, had a practice of buying small independent stores, usually with just a couple branches, an original town store, and at least one "suburban" store that developed in the post-war period, and had a systematic process for de-emphasizing and later closing the center city store.  By contrast even today, the Reading-based Boscov's chain still focuses its resources on center city (albeit smaller cities) locations.

DAVID BREWSTER – STAR TRIBUNE. Laura Schara, fashion director looked over a lineup of clothes on models on Macy's 12th floor in preparation for the Glamorama fashion blow-out at the Downtown Minneapolis Macy's. Events like these are experiences typically not offered at suburban mall stores, except at Class A+ malls.  

The closure by Macy's of downtown locations continues a multi-decade trend, but it is interesting that these stores are closing in a period where all the industry pundits say special stores and a focus on creating experiences will matter much more going forward (I still remember as a child going to the downtown Hudson's Department Store in Detroit to see Santa) along with the increased attraction of living in center cities.

-- The Evolution of Experience Retailing, Oracle
-- Shifting from consumption to experience, EY
-- Experiential Retail is the Retail Sector's Safest Bet These Days, Ten-X

New York City is one place where new high-value brand department stores are being opened ("A Department-Store Comeback in New York City," Wall Street Journal.  The Manhattan Macy's store has a dedicated branch of the city's tourism information center.

It may well be that such stores will be the province only of the largest cities,  like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, with cities like Portland, Pittsburgh, and Minneapolis being too small to support large stores with active promotional and programming calendars.

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Sunday, January 01, 2017

Best wishes for 2017

Washington Monument

People costumed as Chiquita banana and a chicken on New Year's Day, 13th and U Streets NW
People costumed as Chiquita banana and a chicken on New Year's Day, 13th and U Streets NW

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Takoma Langley Crossroads Transit Center: a critical evaluation

With the opening of the new Takoma Langley Crossroads Transit Center (TLCTC), it's worth evaluating the initial result, with the aim of improving the station and the area going forward, and providing guidance to other transit stations being developed elsewhere in the region.

-- "Metro plans fall opening of long-delayed transit center in Langley Park" and "‘At last!’ Riders, local leaders applaud transit center opening in Langley Park," Washington Post
-- "Langley Park's new transit center opened on Thursday!," Greater Greater Washington

Current conditions.  The Takoma Crossroads/Langley Park area is split between Montgomery and Prince George's Counties, includes area within the incorporated City of Takoma Park, and is centered on the intersection of New Hampshire Avenue (north-south) and University Boulevard (east-west), both major arterials, each with daily traffic greater than 30,000 vehicles.

It is a dense area, with a lot of bus service, is lower income with a high proportion of Hispanics and other immigrants, but with 70% of the population on the Prince George's side.

The area is the focus of various revitalization efforts, including joint planning activities by the counties, the activities of the Takoma/Langley Crossroads Development Authority, the City of Takoma Park's New Hampshire Avenue Initiative, and stabilization activities on the PG County side, with Langley Park included in the Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative,

While many of the properties are not fully kept up and "may not show well," the reality is that as a business district the area is thriving--there are few vacancies, and the retail is a mix of independent stores and chains, appealing to low income and/or ethnic consumers, ranging from Aldi the discount supermarket to independent supermarkets, furniture stores, and chains like Walgreens, Rite Aid, and Starbucks, services, and some good ethnic restaurants.

-- Takoma/Langley Business Directory

(A couple miles north is White Oak, where the Food and Drug Administration is now based, and development activities aim to develop the area into a science research area. Washington Adventist Hospital will be moving to White Oak too, a few miles from their current location in Takoma Park.)

Purple Line light rail.  Of course, the biggest revitalization initiative for the district is the creation of the Purple Line light rail line, which will run along University Boulevard in this area, although the program has faced cancellation ("Battle for Purple Line heats up as Hogan prepares to become Maryland governor," Washington Post) and other delays.

Some fear that the light rail project will spur gentrification and displacement ("Purple Line Stokes Gentrification Fears, Transportation Nation/WNYC Radio; "In Purple Line rail project, a tale of two counties," Washington Post) in the Takoma Langley Crossroads area.

Past blog entries:

-- To build the Purple Line, perhaps Montgomery and Prince George's Counties will have to create a "Transportation Renewal District" and Development Authority
-- Purple line planning in suburban Maryland as an opportunity to integrate place and people focused initiatives into delivery of new transit systems
-- Quick follow up to the Purple Line piece about creating a Transportation Renewal District and selling bonds to fund equitable development
-- Inner ring suburban community improvement

TLCTC,  at the northwest corner of the intersection of New Hampshire Avenue and University Boulevard,. is designed to complement an eventual light rail station at the same intersection.
Purple Line routing and station map
Washington Post graphic.

From the right side, looking eastbound on University Boulevard, at New Hampshire Avenue.  Photo: WNYC.

The Takoma Langley Crossroads Transit Center.  This new transit center is the largest non-Metrorail station bus/transfer point in the Washington area.

Four transit agencies--Metrobus, Montgomery County RideOn, one TheBus route from Prince George's County, and the University of Maryland Shuttle--serve 12,000 riders daily from the routes serving this location.

-- Takoma Langley Crossroads Transit Center, WMATA webpage
-- Station brochure
-- Station bus route map

Takoma Langley Crossroads Transit Station

Service building. The station includes a small service building open from 7 am to 7 pm with a very small waiting room, easy to access restrooms, a transit information rack, and a service window. The station has one or more attendants on-site when the building is open.

Service building, Takoma Langley Crossroads Transit Center

Station route map, Takoma Langley Crossroads Transit Station

Bus station area.  It's an open air station, with two metal roof sections as a canopy, with some shade panels.  One roof section is partly open to the sky ("skylight").  The station makes heavy use of stainless steel and glass, with a mix of traditional and red colored concrete. The bus bay area is comparable to the "bus yards" at Metrorail stations, but with updated facilities.

There are 12 bus bays with 7 currently active, each with signs denoting the bus lines stopping there, and some dynamic information display.  Each bay includes a few seats, with dividers to discourage laying down, with clear glass back panels, and lighting.  There's probably somewhat more protection from the elements compared to on-street shelters.

Takoma Langley Crossroads Transit Center

Bus stop bench and lighting, Takoma Langley Crossroads Transit Center

One bay is on the outer perimeter of the station (pictured at left), so that southbound buses on New Hampshire Avenue can stay on the street, rather than turning into and out of the station complex.

The glass walls at the station stops are imprinted with the Metro logo--ironically, as original plans for WMATA to run the station fell through, and it's now under the management of the Maryland Transit Administration.  (Interestingly, it's the "train"logo, the block "M" that is used, not the logo for "Metrobus.")

Map signage.  A new bus map and information sign (comparable to bus map signs produced for Metrorail Stations and bus shelters) is posted at various locations outside of the building, but not within it.  The information is presented in both English and Spanish.

Bicycle accommodations.  There are bike racks, and it is expected that eventually the station will include a bicycle sharing station--although this is more difficult because the station is adjacent to but not in the City of Takoma Park and Montgomery County, which are active proponents of the Capital Bikeshare program.  While Takoma Park is adding bike share to the area next year, because the TLCTC is in Prince George's County, the station isn't part of that expansion.

Review.  In "Multiple missed opportunities in the creation of the Silver Spring Transit Center," I suggested that the station should have been conceived as a significant civic asset at at least four scales.  The new Takoma Langley Crossroads Transit Center needs to be considered similarly:
  1. as a transit portal significant within the DC regional transit network;
  2. as a node in the network of significant transit stations in Maryland (including subway, railroad, bus, and airports)
  3. as a prominent element of the public realm framework of the two counties and their portfolio of civic assets; and 
  4. as a contributor to the economic revitalization program in Takoma Crossroads/Langley Park.
Public Realm as an Interconnected system, Slide from presentation, Leadership and the Role of Parks and Recreation in the New Economy, David Barth
Public Realm as an Interconnected system, Slide from presentation, Leadership and the Role of Parks and Recreation in the New Economy, David Barth

The WMATA Regional Bus Study (2003) has criteria for the provision of amenities at bus stops and stations depending on ridership volume, but a complete framework was not developed as part of the study, and it needs some updating in light of developments since then (bike stations, bike sharing, digital screen presentation, advertising opportunities, car sharing access, etc.)

The South Florida East Coast Corridor Station Design Guidelines manual offers criteria for how to approach the design of stations generally, based on a typology of station types:
Transit station planning and design is comprised of six (6) principles delineating the parameters of a successful station. The methods include, integration into the contextual fabric, accessibility via multiple modes, functional simplicity, security, comprehensive systems sustainability, articulation of form and identity, and ... the incorporation of arts in transit. (p. 19)
Concerning station typologies, the TLCTC should be compared to similar facilities in the metropolitan area.  The closest examples are the bus stations that are part of Metrorail stations, such as at Takoma or East Falls Church, along with a couple bus-specific facilities, such as the Shirlington Bus Station in Arlington County and the Reston Town Center Transit Center, in Fairfax County.

On that basis, the TLCTC is more comparable to a Metrorail station facility, not because there is a subway station, but because the station is prominently located at a major intersection and will be next to a future light rail station, rather than the Shirlington or Reston stations, which not only aren't located next to a rail station, but aren't prominently and centrally located within their districts, but instead are located on the outskirts of their respective districts.

Here's what's missing/could be improved/should be considered:

Integration into the contextual fabric

1.  Limited community serving functions.  In an area with limited civic facilities, the station could have been leveraged to provide additional civic functions, such as a small library or community center, although that would have required a different design and additional financing from non-transit sources.

Pretty much that opportunity is lost, except as the area redevelops.  Clearly a program for creating a more robust network of civic assets is in order ("The layering effect: how the building blocks of an integrated public realm set the stage for community building and Silver Spring, Maryland as an example,"Public buildings as vehicles for community improvement (continued)" and this piece from the Guardian, "Work begins on Drumbrae's new library, day care centre, and youth cafe").
Community seating area, Via Centro Plaza transit station signage
Sitting plaza, Centro Plaza bus station, San Antonio.  PerkinsEastman photo.

Transit information rack, Takoma Langley Crossroads Transit Station2.  Very limited information presented about the district beyond the transit center.  Other than a simple diagram in the station brochure, there is no substantive information provided about the surrounding commercial district or the economic revitalization programs underway there, or other community information.

Likely this results because those initiatives are based mostly in Montgomery County while the station complex is in Prince George's County.

City of Takoma business directory map sign, Takoma Langley CrossroadsFor example, the City of Takoma Park produces map signage for their commercial districts, including Takoma/Langley, and one of these signs is posted across the street from the TLCTC, but in Montgomery County.

This signage information system could be incorporated into the Transit Center, and into the Prince George's County side of the district more generally so that all four sides of the intersection have equal treatment informationally.

A similar map directory product would be station maps as produced for Metrorail stations or how MTA has similar maps for some of its light rail stations in Baltimore, such as for Lexington Market.  The MTA map tends to show more commercial destinations than do WMATA map products.

The Takoma/Langley Crossroads Development Authority produces a printed directory brochure for the commercial district.  It could be placed in the information rack at the very least.

Information about planning initiatives in the area, including the activities of the TLCDA should be on display in the station.

A digital community directory/bulletin board information system could be developed and placed at the TLCTC also.

3.  Comfort.  Consideration should be made for adding heating elements and misters to the bus bays for added comfort when it is cold or hot.

Accessibility via multiple modes

4.  Bus accommodation.  The station is focused on bus access and it does a fine job on that dimension.

Long term, it would be interesting if Maryland long distance commuter bus routes could serve the area and station, in association with service to White Oak.  Similarly, if there is inter-city/long distance bus transit service in the area (like Greyhound) it could have used the station, but it hasn't been set up to accommodate ticket sales and the waiting area is too small.


New Hampshire Avenue northbound, a few hundred feet south of University Boulevard. Washington Post image.

5.  Pedestrian access to the station/how will the station be integrated with the future light rail station?  By focusing the bus routes to the station and away from the traffic engorged arterials, likely pedestrian safety is enhanced over previous conditions.

Because the intersection experiences traffic volumes approaching 70,000 vehicles/day, an underground connection rather than one at-grade is likely to be safer as it relates to integration with the future light rail station.

At the Washington Heights Station in New York City, a long underground corridor links the station at 191st Street and St. Nicholas Avenue to Broadway.

But this idea could be extended to all four sides of the intersection.  Normally, I wouldn't favor below ground connections (Main Street: When a Highway Runs Through It, Oregon DOT).

But the at-grade environment at the intersection is so dominated by motor vehicles that very little can be done to improve the quality and safety of the pedestrian experience, even with the addition of wider and more attractive sidewalks, plantings, and other amenities.

This pedestrian tunnel at the University of North Carolina Greensboro goes under railroad tracks, connecting a student housing complex to the campus.  "WMA takes first place in international design awards for UNC-Greensboro pedestrian underpass.

Why not extend the idea of an underground connection between the light rail station and the bus station to each corner of the intersection?

This would be difficult because typically transportation authorities (in this case the Maryland State Highway Administration) don't like to authorize such appurtenances in the public right of way, even below ground.

But there are examples of this in other areas, but also within the region, such as connections for the Friendship Heights Metrorail Station which go under Wisconsin Avenue on the Maryland side of the station, and how within DC the Georgia Avenue-Petworth and Columbia Heights Metrorail Stations have connections between entrances on each side of Georgia Avenue and 14th Street NW respectively.

This underground concourse connects the Essen train station to the city's pedestrianized shopping district which is across the street.  It incorporates public art, a changing display of different colored lights, behind glass blocks.  Photo: EVAG-OA.

Other relevant examples of creating atypical pedestrian mobility networks and infrastructure include the underground passageway systems in Chicago and Toronto ("Hong Kong needs to create a formal and planned pedestrian mobility system," "Toronto's PATH wanderers need direction," Toronto Star) and the above-ground skyway systems in St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota.

6.  Bicycle accommodations are lacking.  As mentioned, there are bike racks but no other bicycle facilities.

The station doesn't include an air pump or bicycle repair stand (again, the City of Takoma Park has been installing such equipment in public locations). And as mentioned, there isn't a bike share station.

Plus, the bus map for the station doesn't show any information about bike lanes and there is no bike map posted anywhere on site.  By contrast, the outdoor bicycle station at The Blairs apartment complex in Silver Spring includes an area bicycle map (bike sharing stations do include a map of the local area).

Additionally, for the Silver Spring Transportation Management District, there is a bicycle map product (although it has long been in need of an update).

A similar map should be developed for the Takoma Langley Crossroads district, delivered as brochures and posters.

-- Silver Spring Bikeways Map, Montgomery County DOT

7.  There should have been a "bike hub."  Beyond basic bicycle accommodations, a stellar bicycle promotion and repair facility could have been incorporated into the TLCTC.   A model would be the Los Angeles MTA's Bike Hub program, which has just been launched.

The first is at the El Monte Regional Bus Station, which is the largest local transit bus station outside of the East Coast and Chicago ("Los Angeles County Metro/MTA gets biking" and "A parking garage for bicycles just opened at El Monte Bus Station," San Gabriel Valley Tribune).

A bike hub could be the location for the delivery of programs like a bike co-operative, youth programs, "create a commuter" programs, and cycle loan schemes to assist people in trying out cycling for transportation ("Bike share and sustainable bike share systems: sometimes other programs can have more effect for less cost" and "Boston Hubway Bike share program expands presence in Roxbury neighborhood: insights into transportation equity").

BIcycle station with repair stand and air pump, The Blairs apartment complex, Silver Spring, Maryland
Bicycle station with repair stand, air pump, and area bike map, The Blairs apartment complex, Silver Spring, Maryland

Bike ride from DTLA to El Monte Bus Station and Back
Bike hub signage at the El Monte Bus Station.

Image of the Purple Line promotional installation at the Silver Spring Library from the East MoCo blog.

8.  No information is presented about the Purple Line project, and the TLCTC will be integrated into the light rail station at this intersection.

By contrast, the Fenton Street stop for the Purple Line adjacent to the Silver Spring Library has been adorned with an installation of posters explaining and promoting the project.

9.  No car sharing accommodations.  It would have been nice to work with the adjacent shopping center to incorporate a car sharing "station" open to multiple vendors.

(Note that as a district, like how I suggested for Mount Rainier, "When the one over neighborhood is in the county next door, and housing prices have been in the tank: Mount Rainer, Maryland," the Takoma Langley Crossroads district should reach out to Car2Go to get them to add this area to their service area.)

Functional simplicity

This category concerns what the Florida manual calls "clarity and ease of use." From the guide:
Crucial design components should be organized logically so the average user is able to accomplish basic tasks from reaching the station area, to identifying their transit needs, purchasing the ticket, and boarding []. The reverse situation is also applicable, where a transit [alights], is guided to other transit interchanges, the destination, or parking areas where his/her car is parked. This incorporates the use of good design, and appropriate information systems available in prevalent languages of the region (English, Spanish, etc.)
10.  There doesn't appear to be a gateway sign or sign of significance marking the station.  (I realize I didn't walk all around the perimeter of the site, so maybe I missed it.)  If so that's a serious omission.  The roof structure does define the facility, but it's indirect.

The El Monte bus station in Los Angeles is a good counter example, both for signage and public art and other elements ("El Monte Bus Station gets dedicated entrance for Rio Hondo Bike Path," San Gabriel Valley Tribune).
elmonte12
Rendering, El Monte Bus Station.  (The station has been completed.)

Farecard machines
11.  There aren't any farecard machines!!!!!

All of the Baltimore and Washington area local transit systems use the same transit media card (SmarTrip and CharmCard are inter-operable) to pay fares, although buses also take cash.  It's very cumbersome and slow  to add money to the card via bus fare collection machines.

Sadly, this is a frequent omission in the area--there aren't farecard machines in the bus areas at BWI or Dulles Airports either.  (There probably is at the BWI light rail station within the airport and of course there are fare card machines at the Metrorail station serving National Airport.)

Transit centers like the new Takoma Langley Crossroads Transit Center should include the provision of farecard machines as a basic amenity.  The machines can probably be upgraded and made smaller as they no longer need to dispense paper tickets.

12. No transit information center.  While Arlington County was first in the area to create transit information centers which they call "Commuter Stores," Fairfax and Montgomery Counties have an equivalent.  Prince George's County does not.

So while there are transit information centers at the Silver Spring Transit Center, Shirlington Bus Station, and the Reston Town Center Transit Station, the Takoma Langley Crossroads Transit Center lacks such a facility, which is unfortunate, especially as the station is "the largest non-Metrorail station bus/transfer point in the Washington area.."  (Note that these centers also sell fare media, so not having farecard machines is less of a problem at those locations.  I don't know if money can be added to fare cards at those transit stores.)

13.  The current transit information rack is inadequate.  The rack only includes information on bus service and the station.  Information on other modes is not available.  Nor is any transportation demand management information provided.  No bicycle maps are available within the station.

By contrast the Arlington Commuter Store and the Montgomery County TRIPS store provide biking information, as well as transit information for other modes (subway, train, commuter bus, bicycling) and transportation demand management information.

14.  Antiquated real-time information displays.  It is unfortunate that there are so many different actors delivering transit services in the metropolitan area, because each uses different information systems.

WMATA has real time electronic scrolling data signs at various bus stops and that kind of information system is also in place at the TLCTC as shown in the photo above of the bus bay on New Hampshire Avenue.  But these aren't multimedia screens.

The advantage of such signs is that they can be seen from a great distance, but they aren't very attractive and don't communicate very much information.

Bus bay transit information sign, Silver Spring Transit StationWhile WMATA's bus system displays uses the older technology, there is one significant exception--the bus stop displays at the Silver Spring Transit Center, which opened in 2015.

The digital screens at the SSTC displaying transit information at each bus bay were developed by Redmon Group.

But more transit systems are upgrading to digital screen displays of various sorts and it is a mistake to not avail ourselves of the opportunity to do so at the region's newest bus station.

Another best mobility information digital screen presentation product is the TransitScreen application, used in various places across the country and in the area at residential and commercial properties, and in some government buildings such as the Silver Spring Civic Center.
TransitScreen mobility information display, Silver Spring Civic Center
TransitScreen mobility information display, Silver Spring Civic Center

In fact, WMATA is implementing a similar system to TransitScreen but also incorporating advertising at Metrorail stations, in association with the Outfront Media Group (this is subject of a forthcoming entry).  (Previously I mentioned the failure to include advertising in the system at the SSTC, "Multiple missed opportunities in the creation of the Silver Spring Transit Center.")

In any case, there is no excuse for the newest bus and transit stations to not employ the latest in digital screen presentation technologies (the bus stop displays in the Metroway bus rapid transit stations in Arlington County are multimedia digital screens also).  Why doesn't the Takoma Langley Crossroads Transit Center employ more modern and design forward real time information presentation systems?

15.  No posting of individual route schedules at bus bays.  This is a basic need for transit stops as identified in the WMATA Regional Bus Study and the Transit Waiting Environments publication produced for the Cleveland RTA.  It is possible that this information will be posted eventually.  Presently, some of the routes serving the station have printed schedules available in the service building.

Security

It's a step forward to have on-site attendants, which is a cost not normally borne by transit agencies outside of train stations.  The site has security cameras, looks as if it will continue to be well maintained, and the shelter benches have been designed to reduce loitering.  The big issue will be an ongoing commitment to maintenance.

Comprehensive systems sustainability

16.  It doesn't appear as if a solar electricity generation system was installed as part of the station canopy structure.

Form, identity, and public art

17.  Inadequate leveraging of the station to build and extend area identity.  Arguably, while the station canopy is distinctively different from the surrounding strip shopping center architecture, that is a pathetically low bar on which to judge the aesthetic qualities of architecture.

I have written a fair amount about the failure of many transportation agencies to take seriously their responsibilities for the aesthetic qualities of the infrastructure they build or fund ("DC's bad urban design as it relates to new transportation infrastructure").  One such example is the horrid "sculpture" on the New York Avenue Bridge ("I think this is hideous: metal sculpture on the New York Avenue bridge").

Another is with lost opportunities, such as at the Rhode Island Metrorail Station, which presents many opportunities for architectural lighting of the station canopy, road underpass, and the associated pedestrian bridge ("Transportation Infrastructure and Civic Architecture #3: Rhode Island Avenue Pedestrian Bridge to the Metrorail station").

High Trestle Trail art bridge, Madrid, Iowa
High Trestle Trail art bridge, Madrid, Iowa

Like the Rhode Island Metro Station, the Takoma Langley Crossroads Transit Station presents special opportunities for architectural lighting of the canopy (and public art displays) that would define the station, the intersection and the district in special ways that strengthen community identity and foster economic revitalization goals.
ARTIC-2150
The train station in Anaheim, California uses LED lighting to distinctively light the station at night.  Imagine the effect of a similar treatment at the TLCTC and the University Boulevard and New Hampshire Avenue intersection.

Closer to home, the roof structure for the ice skating rink at the Silver Spring Veterans Plaza has an architectural lighting treatment, although it was done before the LED era.
Silver_Spring_Ice_Skating_Rink

It is best to incorporate such features during the initial design and construction process. Fortunately, it is possible to add such features going forward, which should happen--but it is harder, takes a lot of time, and requires additional financing, which is harder to identify and obligate after a station has been opened, and everyone moves on to the next project.

In writings including "Transit, stations, and placemaking: stations as entrypoints into neighborhoods," I recommend that transportation agencies employ a "Chief Design Architect" and task an urban design/landscape architecture division responsible for bringing higher quality attention to the aesthetic elements of transportation projects.  Also see "Transportation bridges as an element of civic architecture, urban design and placemaking

It's not always that agencies are constructing projects with poor aesthetic qualities.  Sometimes it's the failure to think big and do something distinctive and special.  Plus, they can only go so far.

Transportation agencies are focused on achieving mobility objectives and after a certain point, to get better aesthetic outcomes, local communities, not the transportation department or transit agency, may have to pay for the extra costs associated with aesthetic improvements.

Still, a greater focus on achieving high quality aesthetic outcomes simultaneously with transportation mobility improvements can make a big difference and contribute positively to neighborhood branding and identity, further contributing to the return on investment from urban revitalization and other economic development initiatives.

Map panel, Alexandria wayfinding sigage system, northwest corner of Washington Boulevard and King StreetNew intra-district block by block wayfinding and cultural history signage in Alexandria, Virginia. The four-sided signage has two directional panels, one for each direction, a panel showing an image, usually historically, and a panel on a particular element of cultural history.

I argue that such an approach yields much higher ROI and much greater velocity in terms of improvement, like what the NoMA Metrorail station has achieved ("(In many places) Public improvement districts ought to be created as part of transit station development process: the east side of NoMA station as an example" and "Transportation infrastructure as a key element of civic architecture/economic revitalization #1: the NoMA Metrorail Station").

It is so clear that thus far this opportunity hasn't been captured for the Takoma Langley Crossroads district to better use the new station as a way to jump start revitalization.

So much more could have been done to integrate distinctive and artistic features as an element of the station's design as a key node within the transit network, especially as it is the case that at this time the station is the most highly utilized bus-only transit station in the metropolitan area.

A better example of what could have been achieved is Via Transit's Centro Plaza bus station in San Antonio, which has a similar (but better) design, and instead of remaining so plain, incorporates a gateway pylon sculpture that is both art and identifier, featuring distinctive architectural lighting that serves as a beacon for the transit station.

The sculpture was created by San Antonio artist Bill FitzGibbons, who has done similarly fabulous public art work elsewhere.
Bill FitzGibbons, _Centro_Chroma_Tower_image_5mb-960x640

The Centro Plaza station, designed by PerkinsEastman, also has distinctive and large signage on the roof structure.  By contrast, the Takoma Langley Crossroads Transit Center doesn't have comparable signage, let alone signage lighted at night.
Via Centro Plaza transit station signage

Via Centro Plaza transit station signage

Also see the Blair Kamin piece, "The power and beauty of gateways: They beckon, intimidate," Chicago Tribune.
Humboldt Park Paseo Boricua Gateway
Humboldt Park Paseo Boricua Gateway, Chicago.


18.  At Fenway Park in Boston, TransitScreen has been combined with an advertising program and transit information is delivered on a huge digital screen at a parking garage serving the baseball stadium ("A big billboard outside Fenway Park will tell you when your train is coming," Boston Globe).
TransitScreen information displayed at Fenway Park, Boston

While such a screen isn't the right treatment for the TLCTC, transit information should be delivered to multiple locations across the Takoma Langley Crossroads using the same platform and system, comparable to the display in the Silver Spring Civic Center.

19.  Take the opportunity to develop an integrated pedestrian wayfinding system for the Takoma Langley Crossroads district, between now and the opening of the Purple Line light rail station.  The lack of a comprehensive wayfinding system is discussed in point #2 above, and it was suggested that the City of Takoma Park system could be used and expanded for the entire district.

At the same time, consideration should be made for point #5, creating an underpass system for the four sides of the intersection.  Wayfinding isn't just about information design, signage and brochures, it can and in this case should involve physical elements and urban design.

Business directory poster sign in a bus shelter in the Mount Pleasant commercial district in Washington, DC.

The wayfinding system should also promote business development and improvement activities for the businesses in the district.


Besides the Takoma Park example, the new City of Alexandria block-by-block wayfinding and cultural history signage is a model for intra-block signage that would supplement directory signage and brochures.

20.  Incorporate community and transportation history information in signage and presentation opportunities, including the bus bay panels within the TLCTC as well as other bus shelters in the Takoma Langley Crossroads district more generally.  (The Anacostia Trails Heritage Area wayfinding and cultural history signage system is another model that can be referenced.)
In the Meadow public art, by Phung Huynh, El Monte bus station
In the Meadow, public art by Phung Huynh, El Monte bus station

Public art treatment of bus shelter glass panels, Tallahassee, Florida.

21.  Public art.  Besides the creation of gateway public art and signage as design elements and markers for such stations, public art can be incorporated into other elements stations, including glass panels at bus bays and shelters.

Large artworks could also have been hung from the canopy.

Time Piece: Iconic sculpture by Donald Lipski frames the entrance to the new El Monte Bus Station
Time Piece: Iconic sculpture by Donald Lipski frames the entrance to the new El Monte Bus Station

22.  Create an integrated public realm framework for the Takoma Langley Crossroads community, with the transit station being one of the nodes.  This is more of a key element of a revitalization action plan.  I know the improvement plans for the area already exist, but I don't think building a network of civic assets to support community building, identity, and economic improvement was a main organizing concept within the planning process (cf. "Go big or go home: Prince George's County needs to think big and consider better revitalization examples for New Carrollton").

General recommendations/meta lessons

1.  Create a master transit station planning manual/guide for the region.

As mentioned in the context of bus rapid transit planning ("Route 7 BRT proposal communicates the reality that the DC area doesn't adequately conduct transportation planning at the metropolitan-scale") rather than there being cross-jurisdictional master transportation planning in the Washington Metropolitan Area, it is more the case that planning occurs at the scale of an individual project, mostly by cities or counties (with the exception of large rail projects), and therefore a lot of duplication and one-off efforts obtain, not to mention that transit in the area ends up looking very different depending on the jurisdiction you're in, with the exception of Metrorail system.

Transportation history signage, Queen Street Transit Station, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

There should be a common facility design manual for transit stations, including recommendations for bus stations.  The intent shouldn't necessarily be to make all the stations "look the same" but to ensure that opportunities aren't missed to make the station as great as possible.

A manual could be done by the Metropolitan Washington Transportation Planning Board, perhaps with the participation of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, so that a broader regional approach could be developed. (A model would be how the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, which covers parts of both NJ and PA, created the Smart Transportation Guidebook for use by both jurisdictions.)

2. Create an overarching cross-jurisdictional design review process for transit stations and certain types of transportation architecture to ensure projects reap all the potential present within the project.

The idea would be how in DC, the National Capital Planning Commission and the Commission on Fine Arts, both federal agencies, have design review responsibilities for certain types of federal and local projects. To ensure the highest quality outcomes, I now believe that transportation projects need an additional level of review beyond what is normally provided, because results are often found wanting, and because the projects typically last for two to three generations before they are rehabilitated--so what you see is what you get for many decades.

Stamped metal treatment on a bus shelter in San Antonio. San Antonio Express-News photo.

Via Transit has an urban designer and it shows ("VIA urban planner wants to build a better San Antonio," San Antonio Express-News).  From the article:
“How can we build a better city?” Christine Viña is thinking out loud during an interview at “the Grand,” as VIA staffers refer to the transit service’s West Side executive offices in a renovated 1907 train station.

It’s the question that Viña wrestles with every day, both as an architect and urban planner for VIA Metropolitan Transit and as 2016 president of the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

A vocal advocate for downtown living, sustainable architecture and historic preservation, Viña says, “We have to educate people about the transportation advantages of living in the inner city. I’d like to get away from the idea of preservation as an elitist opportunity.” ...

As an architect and urban planner, I manage VIA’s joint development and public art programs, so I’m fortunate to be able to work as a liaison to creative architects, landscape architects, planners, artists and developers who we contract with to design and build our capital projects. Through good design, we increase the value of the role our facilities play in contributing to the built environment.
Clearly, planning with regard to Union Station and other rail improvements in the area, the DC Streetcar, as well as the finished products of the Silver Spring Transit Center and the Takoma Langley Crossroads Transit Center, and the various BRT planning efforts indicate a serious failure to coordinate across transit agencies, which results in an incomplete realization of opportunities.

-- Guide to station planning and design, Network Rail, UK
--Transit Street Design Guide, National Association of City Transportation Officials
-- "Open Transit Design: Why Stations Designed for Non-Transit Users Are Most Successful," Planetizen

Creating an overarching design and review process at the metropolitan scale within the MPO would help to fill gaps in fully realizing the benefits of transit stations and other elements of transportation infrastructure to ensure that multiple benefits are realized from each and every project.

Panel on George Washington Parkway, Alexandria wayfinding system, southeast corner of Washington Blvd. and King StreetThis panel of a wayfinding signage unit at Washington Boulevard and King Street in Alexandria discusses the George Washington Parkway transportation system.

3. Provide for more creative funding mechanisms to support transportation access improvements in concert with urban revitalization initiatives.

Create a bi-county "transportation renewal district" or "public improvement district" for Takoma Langley Crossroads, to fund various revitalization activities, including transportation access improvements.

The PID model cited above about NoMA is comparable in concept to a district that would serve only the Takoma Langley District, while the Transportation Renewal District is a concept proposed for the entire Purple Line catchment area.

But creation of such financing mechanisms should have been put into place already, when the station was being planned and designed, and operative before the station even opened.

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