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.

Friday, September 23, 2016

6Ps and cultural planning and the failure to create a network of African American historic sites across the DMV

(6Ps = prior planning prevents p*** poor performance)

Image from "The Smithsonian's NMAAHC Takes Shape on the National Mall," Architect Magazine.


This piece is in response to the Washington Business Journal story, "What the new African-American Museum means for its small peers," and the opening of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture ("Historic bell will ring for 'justice' at opening of new African American History Museum," USA Today).

When I was working with some people in Cambridge, Maryland, in response to a point about better harvesting of African American cultural history as part of cultural heritage tourism, I said that African-American history would be better marketed if the area's tourism departments created a multi-state African-American heritage site network.

The model would be how a multi-state "Civil War Trail" has been created by joint efforts by the states of Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

In advance of the opening of the new Museum, it's a shame that the area's tourism authorities didn't come together and create a comparable heritage interpretation system, as a way to co-market their museums and sites and complement the national museum.

-- African American Heritage and Ethnography, National Park Service, Park Ethnography Program

The many hundreds if not thousands of sites in such a trail network could include those mentioned in the WBJ article including the Alexandria Black History Museum, Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, the Carter G. Woodson House in Shaw, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial near the National Mall, the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum and the Howard Theatre, in the U Street Historic District, and Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum.

... as well as many other sites and facilities throughout the multi-state region including examples of segregated schools, Howard University, the Reginald F. Lewis African American Museum in Baltimore, the Harriet Tubman Museum and Educational Center in Dorchester County, Maryland and the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Scenic Byway, as well as the sites on the DC African American Heritage Trail and the Richmond Slave Trail in Virginia.

That way, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture contributes more broadly to heritage interpretation and the number of people visiting these sites, rather than diverting people from those sites to the Museum.

Ad published in the Express, by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, congratulating the NMAAHC on its opening, and calling attention to a work in its collection, a portrait of Marion Anderson by Beauford Delaney.
20160924_085900.jpg

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Transportation network service interruptions part 3: corridor/commute shed management for Northwest DC and Montgomery County, Maryland

The original piece covered what to do concerning "Beach Drive" and "I-270" both north-south commuter routes connecting Northwest DC and Montgomery County, Maryland.

I started writing a third section in the piece, on the Metrorail Red Line in association with the various SafeTrack maintenance service interruptions--for example, will be closed for 23 days between Fort Totten and NoMA Stations--but I excised the section because I didn't feels as confident about recommendations for the western leg of the Red Line.

But for the most part, as a suite of recommendations, because the commuter shed of Beach Drive, I-270, and the Metrorail Red Line overlap and intersect, we can probably come up with one suite of broad recommendations, where some pertain more to certain elements of the transportation system than others.

Tom Quinn countered with some other recommendations than those in the original post, and pointed out some key omissions.  Additions are italicized.

Note that in the section on I-270 in the previous entry, I neglected to mention the Corridor Cities Transitway project, a proposed enhanced transit service for Upper Montgomery County.  But it wasn't particularly relevant as the proposed service will be an intra-county service, while the entry focused on dealing with "through" traffic between DC and Montgomery and Frederick Counties.

Here is a revised/combined list, relevant to Beach Drive and Red Line Metrorail closures.

1.  The city could institute HOV-2 on 16th Street NW, Connecticut Avenue NW (and maybe Georgia Avenue) as an interim measure.

DC has not yet instituted HOV-2 on any surface street arterials.  In the metropolitan area, perhaps the only jurisdiction that has is Alexandria.  DC could work with the State Highway Administration and Montgomery County for parallel actions on Maryland arterials.

2.  Create temporary bus only lanes on 16th Street, Connecticut Avenue, and Georgia Avenue. (and other streets as determined).  Such lanes are being developed for 16th Street anyway.  This would be facilitated by the addition of rush hour parking restrictions so that a dedicated bus lane could be provided.

3.  Develop more nuanced commuter bus services to DC, Bethesda, and Silver Spring, as needed.  Consider developing these routes more permanently.  For various reasons adding commuter bus may be justifiable regardless of the existence of Metrorail and regional Metrobus service.

Note the gaps in coverage in the Maryland MTA Commuter Bus program as it relates to Bethesda and Silver Spring specifically.
Maryland MTA Commuter Bus Map

4.  Create better cross-jurisdictional connections by extending regional Metrobus lines that currently stop at the DC-Montgomery County border, such as extending the 30s bus line to Bethesda from its end point at Western Avenue.

Consider extending the 70s/S lines from Silver Spring Station up Colesville Avenue, Georgia Avenue, and 16th Street.

Consider creating a through bus service on Connecticut Avenue serving both DC and Montgomery County.

The 30s line buses stop in Friendship Heights (in the older days there used to be more regional service up and down Rockville Pike/Wisconsin Avenue) a couple miles short of Bethesda, a major destination.  By contrast, the "DC bus routes for 16th St. and Georgia Ave. do not stop at Eastern Avenue but are continued to the Silver Spring Transit Center.

I've written about some of this before, especially between Bethesda and Friendship Heights.

Just as Metrorail desires to cut back on night time transit service should be used to facilitate the development of an integrated overnight transit network, the various transportation infrastructure interruptions should be used to tweak, improve, and extend the "regional" Metrobus network where gaps are particularly evident.

Note that Metrorail has limited slack bus capacity which constrains the ability to exercise such service changes and increases in the short term.

5.  Further develop ride-matching/car pooling programs and support, for both individuals and van pool programs like vRide.

6.  Support where useful "microtransit" services like Bridg.  Microtransit services can be an essential addition to suburban bus hubs, as discussed in Part 2 of this series, with the Airport Corridor Transportation Association in suburban Allegheny County, Pennsylvania being a particular good model.

7.  Support long distance bicycle commuting through focused initiatives, especially with e-bikes. The Urban Cycle Loan program of the London Cycling Campaign in a number of London communities is a model for trying out biking.

This needs to be paired with greater general promotion of longer distance bike commuting.  With e-bikes, a 10 mile bike commute is realizable when most people would not consider riding such distances every day without an e-assist.

There is a decent trail network between Northwest DC and Montgomery County, but it has room for improvement.

8. Expand MARC passenger rail service on the Brunswick Line, in both directions throughout the day. The MARC Brunswick Line provides service to stations in Montgomery County, including major destinations in Gaithersburg, Rockville, and Silver Spring.

But the service is designed to move people only from north to south in the morning and south to north in the evening, making "reverse commuting" impossible.

By contrast the MARC Penn Line supports travel in both directions from early in the morning til late at night, while the Camden Line provides a limited set of bi-directional service during morning and evening rush periods.
Gaithersburg MARC Station
MARC Station in Gaithersburg.  Flickr Photo by John G. Harvey.

Note that MARC has limited slack railroad passenger car capacity which constrains the ability to exercise such service changes and increases in the short term.  But organizing Metrorail closures in a manner that can be accommodated by MARC and CSX through changes and expansion in service should be explored.  SEPTA proved it is possible to "borrow" cars from NJ Transit.  That could be an option here.

9.  Market rail passenger service integrated with Metrorail comparable to the London Overground program (past blog entry, "One big idea: Getting MARC and Metrorail to integrate fares, stations, and marketing systems, using London Overground as an example").

10.  Add an in-city railroad station on the Brunswick Line at Fort Totten as a way to provide redundancy and more connections to the subway network outside of Union Station--as well as serving the Red Line, as does Union Station, Fort Totten is a transfer station for the Green and Yellow Lines, which would provide alternative routings thereby reducing some demand on Union Station as a transfer point, as well as redundancy to the network if Union Station were not operative for any reason.

11.  Make sure long term that Montgomery County BRT planning considers extension of service across the DC-Maryland border as appropriate.  Bethesda to Friendship Heights, New Hampshire Avenue to Fort Totten, etc.

12.  MARC service to Bethesda and Northwest DC?.  The MARC Brunswick Line runs on the Metropolitan Branch, and its routing follows the western leg of the Red Line between White Flint and Shady Grove, and the eastern leg of the Red Line towards Silver Spring and between there and Union Station.

An option would be to create a MARC branch that would split after the Metropolitan Branch Station and could run south along I-270 to Bethesda (and ideally eventually, underground through DC to Union Station and could maybe even provide my underground RER line to Northern Virginia, see below).

It might be that present services to Rockville and eventually to White Flint on the MARC line would be enough, using the current configuration, augmented by bi-directional service would be enough, because people can transfer from the railroad to the Red Line from those locations and continue to Bethesda or Downtown DC.

But Bethesda is a major destination in the metropolitan transportation network as is West Northwest DC and this might be a way to provide additional railroad passenger service and build a more robust high capacity transit network.

13.  It's been suggested that the western leg of the Metrorail should be extended to Gaithersburg and Germantown.  See the ACT webpage, "A Transit Vision for the I-270 Corridor."  That would obviate a large part of the need for MARC service to Bethesda and further into Northwest DC.

=====From the blog entry, "New State Rail Planning Initiative in DC"

Potential for an RER/Crossrail type railroad line to Arlington County and westward including a new Downtown rail station for DC.  RER is a suburban commuter railroad system in Greater Paris. Inside the city, the lines are almost completely underground.  Similarly, London's Crossrail will add new rail service to the city via underground tunnels and stations in Central London.

A few years ago, Dan Malouff, a transportation planner and writer/webmaster of the BeyondDC website, suggested in an offhand written comment the need to create another major railroad station in the core of the region (within the Beltway) to ease capacity demands on Union Station.


Alexandria Union Station with Metrorail in the back to the left.  Wikipedia photo by Choster.

Alexandria and Crystal City are the two train stations in Northern Virginia serving closer in destinations, focused on serving South Arlington and Alexandria (Alexandria is also an Amtrak stop).

The need for a station and service as hypothesized would be in North Arlington and points west (Tysons Corner), but there isn't existing railroad right of way on the surface which would facilitate the creation of such service.  (Perhaps the Washington & Old Dominion Trail could be returned to rail service in the modern era, but the railroad shut down long before the rise of Northern Virginia as a business and residential powerhouse)

Using the RER and Crossrail as a model, a way to provide new railroad passenger service in a northwesterly direction would be to create an underground railroad line from DC Union Station northwest into Arlington County, which could be extended further into Fairfax County and beyond.

At the same time, at least two additional stations should be constructed between Union Station and Arlington Station, one in DC and one in Rosslyn.

Exterior lit, with train, Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center stationNew Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center (ARTIC).  A train station in the West End of DC and in Arlington could be built on the lower floors/in the sub-basement levels of an otherwise mixed use building, with office and other uses above. Photo by Allan Schaben, Los Angeles Times.

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Too much of a good thing: the need to focus special attention instead of spreading it out and DC's Art all Night


Art all Night/Nuit Blanche is an overnight arts event held in various cities, pioneered in Nantes, France in the mid-1980s.

Usually held in a city's central district, it melds museums, galleries, arts organizations, and events/programming, mostly with free admission.

Over the past few years, DC has adopted the event, which this year is on Saturday September 24th, from 7 pm to 3 am on Sunday September 25th.

That's 8 hours.

But it's being held in 7 different neighborhoods:
  • Congress Heights
  • Dupont Circle
  • H Street
  • North Capitol
  • Shaw
  • Tenleytown
  • Van Ness
IMO, the way DC is doing this is too diffuse and spread out, making it difficult to go to more than one district, and maybe people don't even want to go to more than one.

And all the people who won't go to a particular district because they've gone to another one.

But think of all the planning and other efforts--social, community, and organizational capital--that is required to successfully organize and present a slate of events in each of the participating districts.

Organizing is wasted if it doesn't reach an audience.

Toronto as a counter example.  Saturday October 1st is Nuit Blanche Toronto.  Most of the events are located in two concentrated sections, either within about a 3 square mile area downtown, or along Bloor Street East. The subway system will even offer all-night service on a section of their system to support the event.

-- map

Toronto Nuit Blanche events map, 2016, screen shot

It's too much of a good thing.  For example, years ago I suggested to a group that rather than have a weekly flea and arts and crafts market, do it once/month.  That way it is special and can be marketed that way, rather than it being regular and rote and easy to blow off any one week because "I can always go next week."

Similarly, Takoma Park is selective with how they schedule their Grant Street Market, which operates 3 days/year, in the Spring and Fall, rather than to offer a weekly event that becomes underpowered because of frequency and overexposure.

Nuit Blanche Winnipeg, 2013.

Alternatively, focus and concentrate.  IMO it's way better to make Art all Night a rotating event, maybe most but not every month (e.g., no to December, probably November, and January for sure) monthly, like various "First Friday", "Second Thursday," "Third Saturday," Monthly Arts Walk type activities held in various arts and entertainment districts across the globe.

Ths would allow each neighborhood group to organize its Nuit Blanche event over a longer period of time, but also increases the likelihood of more media attention in advance of the event, as well as getting a much greater audience than they would when competing against six other places for the same audience.

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Yet another example of failures in metropolitan transportation planning: no transportation demand management requirements for casinos in Maryland

Washington Post photo.

The MGM National Harbor Casino will be opening soon in Prince George's County.

According to the Washington Post ("MGM National Harbor could more than double traffic in southern Prince George's"):
Vehicle traffic to National Harbor could more than double when MGM National Harbor opens later this year, according to projections, exacerbating a growing congestion problem in southern Prince George’s County where new development has added thousands of commuters in recent years.

If projections hold true and up to 20,000 daily visitors frequent the gaming resort, there could be backups in the local and regional road network with heavier volumes on Interstate 95 around the Woodrow Wilson Bridge on the Maryland-Virginia border. ...

As many as 90,000 vehicles enter National Harbor during an average week, according to the developer, and that number could rise to 180,000 when the $1.4 billion gaming resort opens in December, Digby said. Traffic during the weeks following the opening is likely to be especially heavy, officials say. ...

Besides daily commuters, National Harbor, which has become a top entertainment hub, already attracts thousands of visitors every week, and special events there have created miles-long backups. Residents and community leaders fear that the additional casino traffic could overwhelm the road system.
The article also reports that some "bare minimum" road improvements to the tune of $10 million, will be delivered as the project opens.

The Massachusetts counter-example

Traffic study requirements in Springfield.  By comparison, the casino projects in Massachusetts had to submit transportation studies as part of their initial bid, and the winners at each site are required to develop and execute a wide ranging transportation demand management plan.

-- Traffic Impact and Access Study MGM Springfield, City of Springfield

Monies for transit improvements in addition to road improvements in Boston.  For the casino in Everett on Boston Harbor and across the water from Boston, the Wynn Resorts firm has to invest a minimum of $36 million in improvements to Sullivan Square and Rutherford Avenue, which will be the major entryway across the Mystic River to the casino ("The lowdown on Sullivan Square," Commonwealth Magazine).

This was required because it is expected that 60% of traffic to and from the casino will go through Sullivan Square. Interestingly, the plan also has a penalty per car when the plan's traffic levels are exceeded. From the article:
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission is requiring the Las Vegas developer to spend $10.9 million on projects addressing the immediate traffic impact of the casino and to set aside $25 million for long-term improvements. The company also has to pay a fee of $20,000 for every car coming to the casino via Sullivan Square that exceeds agreed-upon levels, with a maximum penalty of $2 million a year.
Boston Globe coverage discusses the commitments to transit improvements.  According to "State transportation officials drop objections to Wynn casino", the casino developers have:
agreed to contribute nearly $7.5 million over 15 years to Orange Line subsidies, to increase the frequency of the trains.
As well as ("Wynn Resorts offer to bolster Orange Line"):
... shuttle buses to pick people up at the Malden Center and Wellington stations and rely on existing MBTA buses to connect with the Sullivan Square station.

There’s also the possibility of a pedestrian bridge over the Mystic [River] linked to the new Assembly Square T stop: Wynn has agreed to spend up to $250,000 to help study the bridge’s feasibility.

The footbridge could be built over the Amelia Earhart dam, alongside a railroad bridge that crosses the Mystic, or as a standalone structure.

Wynn is also proposing to help pay for changes to improve the flow of MBTA buses at the Sullivan Square T stop, but it’s the plan to help pay for operating costs that makes Wynn’s plan so unusual.

Wynn’s operating subsidies would be aimed at mitigating the clog caused by extra passengers on Orange Line trains once the casino opens, and at providing more general late-night service during the week.
Most developers will only do what is required of them by law and regulation.  It's interesting that MGM will do a transportation demand management plan when it is required, and won't when it isn't. It's pretty common for developers to not commit to best practice as a matter of course, not building best practice into their SOP/standard operating project when they build projects, because the SOP is merely to respond to what's required, and only in extraordinary circumstances might they go beyond the bare minimum of what is required.

States should require TDM in their casino licensing RFP response and award process.  The lack of transportation demand management requirements for the National Harbor development has been an ongoing problem ("Transportation demand management requirements for large developments and the MGM National Harbor Casino as an example of why this is absolutely necessary;" "Eight years and one casino later, a bus line from Alexandria to National Harbor," Post). For example, it means that transit service to and from the site is inadequate, and the site developer has little interest in making extranormal investments for transit.

MPOs ought to be on the lookout for casinos.  Although it is incredible that this most basic requirement isn't in the Prince George's County planning and building regulation framework.  Metropolitan transportation planning organizations, in the DC area the Transportation Policy Board, and in Greater Baltimore the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, should have recommended to the state and local jurisdictions that TDM requirements be included in the casino licensing and development process.

Note on the Baltimore City Horseshoe Casino. While I don't think that extranormal transportation planning was required for this casino, it is located near I-95 and a light rail stop, and because it is in the city, it's served by regular MTA bus lines.  But the information on transportation options for the casino on its website is nonexistent.

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Culture planning at the metropolitan scale should include funding for "local" documentary film making

Yesterday's Post mentions the IndieGoGo crowdfunding initiative to help fund a locally-produced documentary on a Washington-area music legend, "Late D.C. guitar legend Danny Gatton is the subject of an upcoming documentary."

It made me realize this is yet another area to consider under the "media, communications, and broadcasting" element that I have been thinking about in terms of yet another element that should be included in a more wide-ranging framework for culture master planning processes (e.g., see "Should community culture plans include elements on higher education?").

I have been thinking about the "media" element because in today's entertainment-dominated media world, for profit television and radio do very little "public affairs programming."  It's been left to public television and radio, such as WAMU-FM, the area NPR affiliate, which like many NPR and PBS stations, does a lot of local news and other programming.

By contrast to our NPR affiliate, DC and Northern Virginia are somewhat underserved by "public television" because we have two stations, plus the Maryland Public Television network is a third, and none of the stations do much in the way of truly local programming.

WETA doesn't do as much as they could, because they are nationally-focused, but they have done good programs on recent history, such as "Washington in the 60's" (70s; 80s) on the social history of the area by decade, and shown various documentaries on Marion Barry and others.

WHUT doesn't because of their HBCU related mission.  I mentioned this in a recent blog post on civic knowledge and voting in a section on "newspapers and media."

MPT does programs related to Maryland, such as the "State Circle" state politics program, "Maryland Outdoors and Farming," and "Chesapeake Collectibles," a locally-oriented version of "Antiques Roadshow."

WETA also presents short programs on area neighborhoods, but the programs vary considerably in their quality (at least IMO). I didn't mention the latest one, even though it had some bright spots, like with Eastern Market and Archibald's Walk alley, because overall I wasn't impressed.

There is also the Megahertz public television stations in Northern Virginia, but they are pretty grassroots, and more oriented to rebroadcast of foreign television news and entertainment programming and are nationally distributed.

Communities ought to consider developing funding programs to support the production of documentaries on local topics.  Otherwise, stories aren't cataloged and preserved, and knowledge is lost.

Aerial of the mall maybe dating to the 1980s.

Tonight, PBS SoCal is premiering a documentary ("HENRY T. SEGERSTROM: IMAGINING THE FUTURE" )on Henry Segerstrom.  His family farmed in Orange County, and with the rise of suburban development ("sprawl") he shifted the lands to real estate development, including South Coast Plaza shopping center, which is supposed to be the most successful retail shopping malls in the nation, with annual sales approaching $2 billion(!).

Mr. Segerstrom, in part because of his interest, but also because of how it helped Orange County and his projects, was a major funder of arts programs in Orange County, including the creation of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts (pictured right), a multi-building facility in Costa Mesa.

How many people in Orange County know that story?
A photo taken of the groundbreaking ceremony for South Coast Plaza.

Besides programs on the area's music history, and fortunately some have already been produced ("Salad Days | A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC (1980-90);" "Punk the Capital"), the DC area could benefit from focused creation of objective documentaries on a wide variety of topics, including the history of local land use development, featuring people like Til Hazel and the Lerner family, the Smith family in Crystal City, the Carrs and other members of the Growth Machine, like Bud Doggett (a parking magnate) active in the DC real estate market.  Douglas Jemal.  Meanwhile, like Henry Segerstrom, the earlier generation has already died off.

Having a general funding stream for such programs makes it easier to produce them.  While there are various national funding programs for documentary film development, I don't think there are many such funds for locally-focused documentaries.  They are needed.

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Transportation network interruptions as an opportunity: Part 2

I was rushed writing yesterday's piece ("Transportation infrastructure interruptions as a missed opportunity for improving transportation demand management programming"), because I had a bunch of meetings, and so the piece as published wasn't as complete as I'd have liked.

I intended to augment the piece and republish it with today's date, but instead there are two follow up pieces.  This one is more about some general planning points I failed to include.  Tom Quinn's comments on the previous piece provides additional and specific solutions for Montgomery County-DC transportation network interruptions, which will be addressed in the third piece on specifics.

Corridor management as a strategy.  The biggest omission was the failure to talk in general terms about the concept of "corridor management and planning," which is a big emphasis of the Federal Highway Administration.  There's a lot of good work, published reports, etc., on the concept.

From the FHWA report, Integrated Corridor Management: Implementation Guide and Lessons Learned:
Integrated Corridor Management is the operational coordination of multiple transportation networks and cross network connections comprising a corridor and the institutional coordination of those agencies and entities responsible for corridor mobility. It will transform the manner in which transportation networks are managed within a corridor, enabling agencies to see the overall impact of multimodal transportation network management decisions and to optimize the movement of people and goods within the corridor instead of just on individual networks.
The crisis generated by the rolling Metrorail closures is an opportunity for jurisdictions to apply corridor management approaches to more sections of the metropolitan area.

Virginia DOT (VDOT) has already adopted this approach to freeways as can be seen with the addition of HOT lanes as a capacity expansion and roadway management strategy for I-95/I-395 ("Virginia to extend I-95/395 HOT lanes north to D.C. line," Washington Post) and new plans and programs for I-66 ("Virginia launches its latest HOT lanes project "on I-66," Post), which they have branded the Transform 66 program with separate initiatives for "Outside the Beltway" and "Inside the Beltway."

The previous entry mentioned Virginia's desire to extend HOT lanes to Maryland in part to deal with future needed upgrades to the American Legion Memorial Bridge.  We can criticize this proposal, but the integrated approach it represents is worthy of consideration.

I can't claim to be an expert on roadway planning in Maryland, and the State has announced an initiative for I-270, but I think it's fair to say that there isn't the same level of an integrated approach on the Maryland side.  I-270 and I-495 as freeways need to be managed as an integrated system, but the I-270 and I-495 corridors need to be managed as part of the the broader transportation network, and corridor management planning needs to be based on transportation demand management principles and the incorporation of transit as part of the toolbox of solutions.

Roadway expansion often comes at the expense of investments in sustainable mobility.  Like the tension in Northern Virginia between support of automobility versus sustainable mobility exemplified by Arlington's original opposition to HOT lanes ("Officials to consider road widening, HOT lanes through Arlington," Post) because rightly, such infrastructure promotes more single occupancy vehicle (SOV) trips, which are not prioritized in the County's Transportation Plan, this kind of transportation system management strategy has its downsides.

But since automobility isn't going away anytime soon, ignoring these issues doesn't help anyone either.

Ideally, a corridor management strategy focuses not just on expansion of capacity and management of the movement of motor vehicle traffic, it also focuses on transportation demand management and the complementary deployment of transit and other sustainable mobility initiatives as a capacity management program.

That's what needs to happen with I-270.
Interstate_270
I-270, Wikipedia photo.

Inter-county traffic versus intra-county mobility priorities shape the agenda for County BRT.  I think part of the issue with I-270 in terms of transit, at least for Montgomery County, is that because the road is a limited access freeway and under control of the State Highway Administration, it's not on their radar in terms of management because it doesn't have the same kind of impact on the county as do traffic-engorged arterials.

Note that as part of the FHWA development of corridor management planning approaches, I-270 was a test case, with a published report.
Rockville Pike, looking north, which Montgomery planners want to transform into a network of urban villages.
Rockville Pike is one of the corridors where Montgomery County proposes a robust BRT service. Washington Post photo by Bill O'Leary.

While the arterials that make up the bulk of a Maryland county's transportation network are mostly under state control also, because they are surface roads abutted by commercial and residential buildings, they have a much different impact on quality of life and the mobility system within the county, and that's why the County's BRT program is focused on improving transit and reducing automobile trips on these roads and not the freeways.

At the same time, it's not likely that in ordinary circumstances the SHA will be at the forefront of developing sustainable mobility approaches to I-270 improvements, so Montgomery County DOT needs to step in, and Frederick County needs to be in the mix as well.

Freeway-based bus service vs. arterial BRT.  In the US, it's generally understood that freeway-focused bus rapid transit services haven't worked out very well in terms of ridership.
MTA-Slides_0712
El Monte busway, Los Angeles County, the nation's first busway (but opened to HOV use three years later and to HOT use in 2013) opened in 1973. LA MTA photo.

In large part that's because freeway interchanges typically aren't population centers and make bad locations for gathering and concentrating bus riders.

Other places such as Curitiba, Brazil, Ottawa, Ontario, and various cities in Australia have created dedicated busway networks comparable to freeways, and those systems operate quite successfully.

But as nodes in a regional transit network, complemented by local service, perhaps in some areas, freeway-based bus transit services may deserve reconsideration.

Imagine the impact of freeway-based bus services if there were separated busways within freeway corridors, but in a manner separate from HOV and without fear of encroachment from motor vehicle traffic.

This slide from a TRB conference presentation "Integrating BRT & Freeway Operations: Experience & Lessons from Canada, New Zealand & Australia," showing the rendering for a separated busway in Brisbane, Australia illustrates the point.
Rendering, Brisbane, separated busway as part of freeway corridor.

The problem is that "highway agencies" tend to focus on freeways as infrastructure for cars and trucks, not transit, and don't conceive of freeways as one element, foundational to be sure, of a multi-modal transportation system providing service at multiple scales, and that the freeway element should be capable of and designed to serve transit, not just cars and trucks.

Minneapolis is working to put BRT service on I-35, calling the service the Orange Line.  It already has an operating station at the 46th Street Bridge.
46th Street Bridge BRT Station, Minneapolis

46th Street Bridge BRT station, I-35, Minneapolis
First photo, Metro Transit, Minneapolis.  Second photo, "Metro Transit needs business community supporters to step up," Minneapolis Star Tribune.

In terms of traditional long distance commuter bus service, it's worth considering whether or not we've captured all the opportunities for such service within freeway sheds.  That being said, Maryland has an extensive commuter bus program, as do farther out counties in Northern Virginia.  Commuter Connections produces maps of Park and Ride locations too.

My sense is because of MARC and Metrorail service in the I-270 corridor, at least in its Frederick and Montgomery County sections, there might be fewer MTA Commuter Bus lines than there is the potential.  Each commuter bus run is equal to 50 separate car trips.

Maybe there is more demand than we think, especially for west county destinations like Bethesda which aren't served now from the west.  Similarly, Silver Spring isn't a destination for western commuter bus routes, although it is a destination for routes emanating from Howard County.

Adding microtransit to the service mix for "last mile" service.  Primary transit services, like subway, railroad and commuter bus, are great for long distance travel and high capacity but in few instances take people to their final destination.

To facilitate efficient delivery of the passenger to their final destination, commuter bus stations on a freeway need to be complemented with local transit services.  Traditionally this is done with regular bus line service.

But I don't think that's enough.  Microtransit options including shared taxi services such as in "exurban" Montreal or vans and small buses such as done by Bridg or Chariot would be a good addition to the service mix, adding more support for what I call tertiary or intra-district transit needs.

These types of "flexible transit services" have been around for awhile (Operational Experiences with Flexible Transit Services, Transit Cooperative Research Program, 2004), but now rebranded "microtransit" since they've been enhanced with more flexible routing and scheduling capabilities enabled by IT and telecommunications (Shared Mobility: Definitions, Industry Developments, and Early Understanding, Berkeley Transportation Sustainability Research Center' New Mobility Discussion Paper, Metrolinx, Toronto).

Suburban intra-district transit service.  The
Airport Corridor Transportation Association in the Robinson District of Allegheny County, outside Pittsburgh provides one example of how to do intra-district transit in suburban settings.

They are in the region's "airport district" but a lot of workers come from the City.

ACTA has created demand-response transit services, service hubs, and other programs to make it easier for people to get to and from work without driving.

(These are the kinds of districts where I think microtransit services should be targeted, although the services tend to be focused on denser urban markets already served by transit.)

Besides the RideACT microtransit service, they have also created a transit hub at a major shopping district, at a transit stop with both regional and local bus service ("Transit Super Stop planned for Robinson," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).

From the article:
The Airport Corridor Transportation Association will hold a grand opening Tuesday of what it is calling the region's first Super Stop, a hub that will serve bus passengers, pedestrians and bicyclists, at the corridor's busiest bus stop in front of IKEA in Robinson.

The stop is the transfer point for RideACTA, the free on-demand service that enables riders of Port Authority's 28X Airport Flyer to connect to workplaces within a 1.5-mile radius. Two other authority bus routes also serve the stop. Lynn Manion, ACTA executive director, estimated that 400 riders use the stop on a typical day.

The stop will have two shelters with seating and standing room, and the back walls will have a plastic film with images of IKEA furnishings so that when riders sit on the benches, it will appear as though they are in a living room. The stop will have bike racks, picnic tables, benches, trash receptacles and a bike work station where cyclists can make simple repairs.
ACTA has also published some good work on suburban district transit planning:

-- Rethinking the Suburban Bus Stop, ACTA
-- Moving Around Within A Suburban Commercial Area, ACTA (the concepts pertain to intra-district mobility more generally)

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Who knew? You can buy high quality bike repair stations and air pumps from Home Depot (online)

For an email thread, I was looking up a URL for an image/link to high quality bicycle air pumps suitable for long term placement in the public space without getting destroyed.  Counter to how many unsuitable bike air pumps have been placed in the public space by business improvement districts and the like, and the pumps fail after a few months.

(To me it's not an example of failure as a lesson for good, when the failure is predictable from even before deployment.)

While looking I see that Home Depot sells Dero repair stands and air pumps in their online store.  If that's not a sign of innovation diffusion (a la Everett Rogers), I don't know what is.  Although the air pump is listed in the automotive section.

Home Depot also sells bike racks.  Bike racks and the repair stand are listed under the category "Playsets and Recreation."

Dero Air Kit 3, via Home Depot, $617.21 and free shipping


the repair stand without an air pump is $756.49
Today's Service Station, Dero brochure

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Transportation infrastructure interruptions as a missed opportunity for improving transportation demand management programming

Exogenous shocks to a system are great opportunities for the adoption and routinization of new behaviors.

With advanced notice and the development of structured responses, major road closures have often ended up shifting travel behavior, and proving hypotheses about induced demand as an explanation for how increasing the number of road lanes increases use rather than reduces congestion.

Note that the local jurisdictions, including DC, have engaged in many measures to facilitate mobility in the face of Metrorail line closures for the SafeTrack repair initiative.

But these changes have been more incremental than structural.

Closure of Beach Drive for reconstruction.  Yesterday's Post reported ("D.C. officials' advice to Beach Drive users: Find an alternate plan") on a press conference where local officials told motorists to seek alternative commuting options because Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park, a major commuting artery serving Northwest Washington and Montgomery County as well as Virginians, will be out of service for some time as the road gets reconstructed.

Beach Drive approaching Calvert Street.  (The road here is in much better condition than areas where the road will be closed for reconstruction.)  Photo from WTOP radio.

Obviously, people will have to seek alternatives because the road will be closed.

WHY NOT PROVIDE SOME ALTERNATIVES IN A FOCUSED WAY RATHER THAN EXPECT PEOPLE TO DO IT ON THEIR OWN, WITH LIMITED ASSISTANCE?

That's what government is "supposed to do."  Especially if it is concerned with managing transportation demand and supply under constrained situations.

For example, for years I've argued that DC should treat certain commuting roads as HOV-2 during rush periods.  That would significantly increase road capacity, by reducing the number of cars through doubling up.

1.  WRT the closure of Beach Drive, the city could institute HOV-2 on 16th Street NW (and maybe Georgia Avenue) as an interim measure.  DC has not yet instituted HOV-2 on any surface street arterials.  In the metropolitan area, perhaps the only jurisdiction that has is Alexandria.  DC could work with the State Highway Administration and Montgomery County for parallel actions on Maryland arterials.

2.  Create temporary bus only lanes on 16th Street and Georgia Avenue.  (Which are in the process of being developed anyway.)

3.  And specially developed commuter bus services from Montgomery County to DC.  Consider developing these routes more permanently.  For various reasons adding commuter bus may be justifiable regardless of the existence of Metrorail and regional Metrobus service.

4.  With great ride-matching/car pooling support, for both individuals and van pool programs like vRide.

5.  Even support for what are called "microtransit" services like Bridg, although I'd aim for larger carriage of riders via commuter buses.

6.  Support long distance bicycle commuting through focused initiatives, especially with e-bikes. The Urban Cycle Loan program of the London Cycling Campaign in a number of London communities is a model for trying out biking.  This needs to be paired with greater general promotion of longer distance bike commuting.  With e-bikes, a 10 mile bike commute is realizable when most people would not consider riding such distances every day without an e-assist.

I-270.  Similarly, yesterday's Post also reported on I-270 ("New coalition wants a better ride for I-270 commuters") following up on how in the spring the State of Maryland announced an RFP for "technological solutions" for increasing capacity of I-270, a major commuter artery between Washington and Maryland and Virginia ("Maryland to ask companies for $100 million tech solution to ease I-270 gridlock," Post).

Traffic merging from the Capital Beltway (I-495) onto I-70.  Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press.

My response when I first heard about the $100 million offer was quizzical (I didn't write about it because I was up for an MDOT job).

The easiest solutions are the hardest.  And I don't think a whole lot of technology is required.

If you could get 25% of the traffic to switch to car pooling or transit, there would be a massive increase in road capacity.  Free parking induces driving, so charge for parking.

1.  Figure out how to impose and collect a daily parking tax on office parking lots and structures in Montgomery County, especially for "free parking."  From the paper "THE EFFECT OF FREE PARKING ON COMMUTER MODE CHOICE: EVIDENCE FROM TRAVEL DIARY DATA":
The mode choice model predicts that with free parking, 62 percent of commuters will drive alone, 16 percent will commute in carpools and 22 percent will ride transit; with a daily parking charge of $6, 46 percent will drive alone, 4 percent will ride in carpools and 50 percent will ride transit. The mode choice model predicts that a daily parking charge of $6 in the Portland CBD would result in 21 fewer cars driven for every 100 commuters.
2.  Expand MARC passenger rail service on the Brunswick Line, in both directions throughout the day.

3.  Market rail passenger service integrated with Metrorail comparable to the London Overground program (past blog entry, "One big idea: Getting MARC and Metrorail to integrate fares, stations, and marketing systems, using London Overground as an example").

3.  Add an in-city station at Fort Totten as a way to provide extra-connection to the subway network outside of Union Station--Fort Totten is a transfer station for the Green and Yellow Lines, which would also provide redundancy to the network if Union Station were not operative for any reason.

4.  HOV-2 on major roads within I-270's "car shed".

5.  Develop more commuter bus solutions for the I-270 corridor.

6.  With great ride-matching/car pooling support, for both individuals and van pool programs like vRide.

7.  Make implementing the element of the Montgomery County bus rapid transit program targeting the I-270 corridor the top priority in the launch of the program (use the State's $100 million toward this).  See "Poll: 71% of MoCo residents support bus rapid transit," Bethesda Magazine.

Map of the proposed MoCo BRT program by Peter Dovak for Greater Greater Washington (blog post).

Unfortunately, that system isn't designed to focus on the I-270 Corridor as much as it is Wisconsin Avenue/Rockville Pike/MD-355.  While I understand that freeway-focused BRT tends to be less successful, it might be in concert with other transportation system improvements, such a BRT program could be successful for I-270.

8. Support long distance bicycle commuting through focused initiatives, especially with e-bikes.

9.  Instead of calling for another freeway crossing between Maryland and Virginia (and maybe one is needed), begin planning for the extension of the Purple Line west to Tysons/Fairfax County in association with future necessary reconstruction of the American Legion Memorial Bridge.
Purple Line Map  DC Metro
Purple Line full concept, from the Sierra Club Metro DC Sprawl campaign.

American Legion Memorial Bridge, WAMU/NPR photo.

10.  Only with the commitment to planning for Purple Line extension west should the State of Maryland consider the pursuit of HOT lanes on I-270, which does improve congestion, but generates more SOV trips, not fewer.  Still, connecting such lanes to similar infrastructure in Virginia, especially the HOT lanes on I-495, makes sense.


=========

HOV 2 (from previous writings)

Intra-city HOV requirements.  Alexandria has HOV-2 requirements on Washington Blvd. and Rte. 1, two surface street arterials, during rush hours.  In response, it was suggested by Patrick Hare in an op-ed in the Washington Post in the early 1990s that DC consider similar measures.

HOV 2 Lane in Alexandria
Washington Boulevard, Alexandria.

This should be done within DC on certain roads during rush hour periods as well, to reduce the number of single occupancy vehicle trips.

Streets such as Rhode Island Avenue, New York Avenue, Constitution Avenue, Independence Avenue, etc., come to mind.
Traffic lined up on Rhode Island Avenue NE, east of 4th Street
Traffic lined up on Rhode Island Avenue NE, east of 4th Street, during the evening rush hour.

Van pooling

In response to the energy crisis, the Federal Government supported the creation of van pools as a way to facilitate long distance commuting for federal workers.

A company was created, called Van Pool Services Inc,, to support it.  After separating from Chrysler, eventually the company was acquired by Enterprise Car Rental ("Enterprise Holdings acquires vRide vanpooling business," press release).

Today, cloud computing and wireless communications systems make providing this kind of service a bit cheaper and easier, including making it easier to "recruit" riders, called "ride matching," just as these technologies have enabled car sharing systems like Zipcar and Car2Go.

It won't change the world but it is an important element of transportation demand management.  With the rise of improvements in mobile telecommunications and software technologies, probably van pooling has more opportunities for expansion that has been realized, and could be explored in more places as a more prominent TDM measure.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

More on condominiums as a real estate type

I forgot to mention the great read, Condominium, by John MacDonald.  Published in 1977, I read it in the early 1980s.

It's a rendition of the Florida real estate boom at the time, the machinations of developers and other interests, and in this case, the potential for a hurricane to wipe out beachfront property.

The particular building that is at the heart of the story faces economic problems as it ages, assessments need to increase, some people can't afford it, and the potential decline in the face of new buildings being constructed nearby.  From one of the comments at Good Reads:
Condominium is not a novelization of actual events. It does however paint a realistic enough picture of the sorts of things that can go wrong to contribute to as massive a disaster as described in the final pages of this novel. MacDonald doesn't point the finger at just one person making mistakes or cutting corners as the cause. Instead he builds suspense on the knowledge that little mistakes and efforts to cut corners in the interest of saving money add up.

In the middle of all of this are the families, mostly retirees on fixed incomes, who have maxed out their budgets to buy a retire[ment] home. With Ian on the board of our local HOA, I sympathized with the HOAs in this novel who struggled to undo the mess the developers left them with on their limited budgets.
It was made into a tv miniseries, but I've never seen it.  The plot of the tv program differs a bit from the book.

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The long term potentially negative aspects of condominium buildings as a dominant housing form in cities

Yesterday, the Washington Post published an article, "Condominiums in crisis: Financial troubles put many communities at risk," discussing how older condominium buildings and complexes are running into problems as they age. From the article:
For five summers, a tarp has covered the swimming pool at Grand Bel II, a condominium community in Silver Spring that has no money for lifeguards, chemicals or insurance. The Vistas at Washingtonian Woods in Gaithersburg faces $600,000 in repairs but has just $400,000 in cash reserves.

At Saxony Square in Alexandria, an unemployed man nine months behind on his mortgage negotiates with lenders to keep his two-bedroom condo. His neighbors struggle to pay their monthly fees; since 2010, Saxony’s board of directors has filed more than 80 court actions to try to collect such assessments.

Even as posh condos rise in trendy neighborhoods around the nation’s capital, many older complexes are mired in a recession that never ended. A cycle of aging infrastructure, limited resources and foreclosure is putting these communities in a deep financial hole, threatening what traditionally has been an affordable path to homeownership for the working class.
Maintenance costs increase and the financial problems of owners lead to foreclosures or failures to pay the "condo fees," which makes it that much harder to maintain buildings.  Plus, FHA won't make mortgage loans to complexes with a a fair mount of vacancy or fee delinquency making it that much harder to attract new residents.

The crumbling walkway on the second floor at Hermitage Woods. The elevator in the aging five-story complex hasn't worked for at least six months. Parts of the wraparound balcony are cordoned off because of structural weakness. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)


Implications of adding owner-occupied housing to mixed use districts.  In testimony to the Zoning Commission in 2006 and 2007, I made the point that one of the problems posed by adding owner-occupied housing to mixed use "commercial" districts is that it was essential to get the design right, to have it be of permanent positive urban design qualities--get it right the first time--because unlike how commercial buildings are "reskinned" every 30 years or so and get a design update, residents are not likely to agree to special assessments for design improvements to the facade unless they can be assured that the payments will come back in increased property values.

And I didn't discuss at length the difficulties of getting large numbers of resident households to participate in managing the building or to agree to change.

Toronto's Tower Renewal program as a model response.  A few years ago, writing about addressing the issue of abandoned multiunit properties in Anacostia ("Deeper thinking/programming on weak residential housing markets is required: DC example, Anacostia"), I mentioned the Tower Renewal program in Toronto as a model approach for working with multiunit properties, to help keep such properties viable.  Note also that HUD has a similar program for buildings constructed as part of the HUD housing affordability program.

-- Tower Renewal Implementation Book, City of Toronto
-- Tower Renewal initiative webpage, City of Toronto

This piece from APT Bulletin: Journal of Preservation Technology, is particularly good, "Reassessing the Recent Past: Tower Neighborhood Renewal in Toronto."

Page from the Tower Renewal Implementation Book, City of Toronto, on the goals of the program

Conclusion.  Just like with the problems of declining infrastructure and the need for a public response, increasingly local governments are going to be called upon to step in and address problems in multiunit residential communities, as a stabilization measure.

But it's even harder than apartment buildings, because in a condominium there can be hundreds and hundreds of individual owners, as opposed to a small investor group likely to own an apartment building.

I suggested in a piece on the Watergate in 2011, that revitalization strategies for multiunit buildings were not only an issue in low income buildings ("Tower Renewal: The Watergate and Southwest DC, and Toronto") but of "aging" buildings, although I didn't state this so succinctly ("Toronto hopes to revitalize its many postwar highrises," Toronto Globe & Mail).
Crankshaft comic by Batiuk & Ayers, 11/27/2011, aging

Then I wrote:
I'm not sure if the problem with the complex is its location, age and the physical decline of the facility, the relatively old age of the condominium owners, the high cost of the units and a decline in their appeal to younger audiences, the failure of the hotel, further reducing activity within the complex, the anti-human urban design of the Kennedy Center, the need for a larger number of residents and office workers to generate the support necessary for successful retail, and even with the supermarket, could an independent succeed where a chain store cannot, because of higher corporate overhead and other fixed costs. ...

But then I was thinking that the issues are not unlike those that planning director Rollin Stanley sees as an issue in Montgomery County--that traditional subdivisions with large houses, populated by a lot of people around the same age in the 1960s and 1970s, have a difficult time regenerating as resident households age out and younger families aren't necessarily interested in taking their place in houses and living patterns that they may consider dated.

Clearly the Watergate complex is a candidate for "renewal" and a release from its basic urban renewal format--a complex of buildings inwardly focused in an area of minimal street activity.

Much of the time we don't think of "rich areas" as needing public planning assistance, but the issue isn't wealth or poverty as much as it is urban design and the transportation network, whether or not it is age-resilient
Many jurisdictions have programs to address distressed neighborhoods.  The Neighborhood Stabilization Program in Prince George's County is an example of such a response.  And Baltimore's Healthy Neighborhoods program is a way to recruit new residents to single family housing, as a way to rebuild and reinvest in emerging neighborhoods.

The buildings discussed in the Post article aren't distressed in the same way as those kinds of neighborhoods, they are middle income properties, but they are in decline, and without proactive intervention, their situations are likely to get worse.

Building decline will in turn push decline outward into the broader neighborhood/district/ sector.

If a local government isn't proactive, the situation is likely to get worse, not better, and will cost even more money to fix later on. Public involvement is justified as a form of community and neighborhood stabilization.

The Post article quotes people saying that eminent domain and condemnation actions by local government may be necessary to address this growing problem.
Some experts say better oversight and tighter restrictions are not enough, predicting that some complexes could deteriorate to the point where government agencies will have to intervene.

“Without significant changes, you’re going to have cities and states condemning and taking over these properties,” said Natalie Stewart, president of a California-based condominium consulting firm.

Christopher Anderson, chief of the community development division for Montgomery County’s Department of Housing and Community Affairs, said such a scenario was “not outside the realm of possibility” but added that the resources available to local government are limited.

“We cannot as a county responsibly lend money to condo associations to fix problems,” he said.
The Tower Renewal model is an approach that more communities may wish to adopt and adapt in order to come up with a strategy and process for being proactive in addressing the weak submarket problem for middle-income and aging condominium buildings and complexes.

"The market" is too diffuse to do this in a rigorous and quick manner.

And note, in 40 years we may have to have similar programs for the condominiums built in the last ten years and right now.  Today's new building is a declining building in 40 years.

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Saturday, September 17, 2016

An illustration from Boston of the Jane Jacobs point that successful cities have "the need for aged buildings"

Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs is a foundational text for understanding from the ground up those qualities that support urban social and economic life.

The point about "the need for aged buildings" isn't that Jacobs was a historic preservationist, although that was one of her interests.

It has to do with the fact that "aged buildings" -- remember she was writing in the days before it was common to keep refinancing buildings, back then they paid them off -- were paid off and with fewer bells and whistles and "old" so they were much cheaper to rent by comparison to new buildings.

As she wrote:
If a city area has only new buildings, the enterprises that can exist there are automatically limited to those that can support the high costs of new construction. ... enterprises that support the cost of new construction must be capable of paying relatively high overhead ... To support such high overheads, the enterprises must be either (a.) high profit or (b) well-subsidized.   ...

Perhaps more significant, hundreds of ordinary enterprises, necessary to the safety and public life of streets and neighborhoods, and appreciated for their convenience and personal quality, can make out successfully in old buildings, but are inexorably slain by the hgh overhead of new construction.

As for really new ideas of any kind--no matter how ultiately profitable or otherwise successful some of them might prove to be--there is no leeway for such chancy trial, erroa and experimentation in the high-overhead economy of new construction. Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings.  New ideas must use old buildings.

Again, she was writing in a time when venture capital didn't exist in the same way or with astounding amounts of money as today, so there are plenty of examples of new ventures going into new/expensive buildings. (p. 187-188)
There is an article in the Boston Globe, "Sustaining startups in a no-frills building (manual elevator included," about Kendall Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  The business district is a hotbed of biotechnology and information technology firms and plenty of startups and other firms attracted to proximity to MIT and Harvard, and the other companies already there.

This has pushed rents very high, which can be sustainable in the face of lots of venture capital sloshing around seeking extranormal home runs.


The Kingston Building (right) is attracting firms being pushed out of Kendall Square by high rents.  Photo: Suzanne Kreiter, Boston Globe.

But even so there are "aged buildings" still around, with rents one-half of the $60+ in the newer buildings, providing access to the "agglomeration economies" of the district for those start ups and firms that are not venture funded.

From the Globe:
In Kendall, you can rent a swell office for $60 and up per square foot; on Kingston Street, when startups began migrating across the Charles, some found space for less than $15 per square foot, though today’s prices are closer to $30.

Buildings like the Kingston Building “really sustain the startup scene,” says Matt Bellows, chief executive of Yesware, a Boston company that creates software for salespeople. “It’s got a great location, nice open space, windows on three sides, and it’s cheap.” After spending two years in the building, Bellows says, “we only moved out when we got over 50 people, and the lines for the two tiny bathrooms became too long.”
Although while the building's owner is happy with the way things are, as land values rise and the building and site's "intensification value" continues to rise concomitantly, the building could be lost in favor of a new and larger building, with much higher rents, and a loss of support for early stage business development.

Interestingly, while economists like Edward Glaeser deride historic preservation protections as a hindrance to economic development and growth, the reality is that in strong markets, the buildings preserved as a result of preservation protections enable economic development, at its earliest stages when it is seemingly invisible and overshadowed by bigger businesses that seem more successful in large part because they are at later stages in their growth cycle.

Rather than being a hindrance, historic preservation protections -- the Kingston Building is not protected by the way -- support the maintenance of a more diverse business economy by ensuring access to low cost and well located office space, which start ups need especially at their earliest stages when higher cost space is too expensive and funds for investment in the business are at a premium.

However, this is complicated by today's real estate practices, which tend to keep buildings encumbered with mortgages, therefore rents are higher than when Jane Jacobs was writing.

Furthermore, I do recognize that in the highest demand real estate markets, all buildings end up being highly valued, and rent differentials between old and new buildings end up narrowing significantly.

The problem with Glaeser's thinking about preservation is that he is considering only the nation's strongest property markets (Boston, San Francisco, New York, Washington), and preservation does reduce the capacity for land use intensification, which is his focus (Preserving History or Hindering Growth? The Heterogeneous Effects of Historic Districts on Local Housing Markets in New York City, NBER).

In most of the other markets, preservation provides all the benefits that Jane Jacobs wrote about for businesses, as well as for residents seeking ways to stabilize otherwise declining communities (e.g., "This building is not empty, it's full of opportunities," Laredo News).

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Friday, September 16, 2016

Update on the DC Streetcar program on the verge of launching Sunday service

2016.08.19 H Street NE Washington DC USA 07460Flickr photo by Ted Eytan.

In December 2015, a couple months before the DC Streetcar launched, I wrote a series of posts about the streetcar, making a few points:

(1) the poor launch of the program shouldn't be held against the mode;

(2) streetcars need to be judged in terms of what they are supposed to do, which is to provide "intra-city" and "intra-district" transit, not longer distance service;

(3) that you can't properly judge the program until there is more trackage--right now the line is only a couple miles line and poorly integrated with Union Station; and

(4) judged in terms of economic development impact, the DC Streetcar is a wild success, as in my conservative opinion more than $750 million in new development has been sparked or significantly accelerated by the streetcar, and H Street NE is the only corridor in the city without Metrorail service where development at this scale is occurring, especially as you go east on the corridor--what spurred post #4 was the announcement of a project on the 1700 block of Benning Road/H Street, east of Hechinger Mall.

-- "DC streetcars move to simulated service: passenger service expected within a couple months: DC streetcars part 1"
-- "DC and streetcars #2: STREETCARS ARE ABOUT TRANSIT, just in a different way from how most people are accustomed to thinking about it"
-- "DC and streetcars #3: More discussion (from almost two years ago)"
-- "DC and streetcars #4: from the standpoint of stoking real estate development, the line is incredibly successful and it isn't even in service yet, and now that development is extending eastward past 15th Street"

Tomorrow is the H Street Festival, now the city's largest neighborhood street festival, and on Sunday, the DC Streetcar launches 7 day/week service as originally the service was provided six days/week, because not all of the vehicles in the fleet were ready for revenue service.

The need to incorporate other improvements into transit projects simultaneously.  I intend to write another piece in the series on "Transportation Infrastructure as Civic Architecture" (post #3 on Rhode Island Avenue Metro Station) about plans for extension of the streetcar system east on Benning Road to Minnesota Avenue, and how failures in urban design planning illustrate that DDOT and most transportation agencies fail to acknowledge transportation infrastructure as an element of civic architecture.

This is wasteful because adding enhanced capacities and aesthetic elements within transportation corridors have extranormal return on investment when it comes to economic development, and I will get to that, after I read the new NACTO publication, Transit Street Design Guide, published by Island Press.

A counter-example I will use is Kansas City's successful streetcar launch and how they integrated "Smart City" elements within the street's new infrastructure as part of the project ("Kansas City just installed free public Wi-Fi and dozens of 'smart' streetlights," The Verge).

Photo of the Smart City Kiosk and the KC Streetcar by Eric Bowers.

Launch of Sunday service.  But the launch of Sunday service (I had hoped to get the city to consider adding heritage streetcars to the fleet to accomplish this, see "An idea for Sunday streetcar service in DC: heritage streetcars"), reminds me of two things.

A lot of money is being spent marketing the streetcar: does this make sense?  First, I've been meaning to write about how I think it's somewhat of a waste of money to be spending a lot of money on promoting the streetcar since it provides such limited service, although I suppose the money spent can be positioned as promoting the H Street commercial district.

You could argue it's good to promote "the mode" so that people support its extension, but many people will see this as frivolous, since the line only provides intra-district transit on H Street, and people will have a hard time conceiving it as part of a bigger network.
Ad in the Express promoting the DC Streetcar
Ad in the Express promoting the DC Streetcar.  Ive also seen the ads posted on bike share kiosks.

That being said, DC needs to have a systematic program for funding the ongoing development and promotion of the city's sub-districts (like Capitol Hill, Georgetown, Dupont Circle, etc.) and it doesn't, and in any case the money shouldn't be coming from transportation funds ("New Jingle Very Enthusiastic About Streetcar, Will Costs Thousands of Dollars to Run," Washington City Paper)..

Updating the master list of H Street area development projects spurred by the streetcar program.  Second, the original list of the various projects spurred by the Streetcar program failed to include some projects on Florida Avenue.  Projects there definitely would not be happening without a streetcar.

These projects are small by comparison, but still significant and push the development value over $800 million. (And note that in the 2003 piece I wrote for H Street Main Street about the need to develop a "housing development policy" did discuss some of the opportunities present on Florida Avenue.)

I am not counting little projects on H Street (buildings at 1300 and 1301, a project on Linden Court) which may have occurred regardless as a form of infill and intensification, although in my opinion while these projects would have occurred some day, they are in process now because of the streetcar, so it would be fair to include them.

New real estate development along the H Street corridor associated with the streetcar
Building name Address # of units Value
Stationhouse 701 2nd Street NE375 $165MM*
Senate Square 200 block north 476 $210MM*
Capital City Realty 301 H Street NE 25 $9MM*
Telesis315 H Street NE 25-40 $12MM*
360 Apartments 360 H Street NE 270 $120MM*
Ava 300 block I Street NE 140 $60MM*
Douglas Development 501 H Street 25$11MM*
H Street Condominiums 601-645 H Street NE 307 $135MM*
Apollo 600 H Street 430 $189MM
Rock Creek Realty 600 block north 32 $15MM*
H Street Connection 800 block south 368 $162MM*
Wall Development 1115 H Street NE 16 $6MM*
The Maryland 1350 Maryland Avenue NE84 $40MM*
TBD 1401 H Street NE34$15MM*
Atlas Flats 1600 Maryland Avenue NE 257 $36MM
Valor Development 1603 Benning Road NE 300 $100MM*
1701 H Street NE 1700 Benning Road NE 180 $60MM
Ditto Residential 1326 Florida Avenue NE 45 $13.5MM
Corey Condominiums 1350 Florida Avenue NE 43 $13MM
Havana Condominiums 1124 Florida Avenue NE 52 $15.6MM

* = the value of the project is an estimate, and the cost does not necessarily include the cost of land.

Note also that the original estimate for Atlas Flats failed to include the value of development rights on an abutting undeveloped parcel.  The property later sold for $95 million ("Kettler JV Scoops Up Flats at Atlas, Lot for $95M," Globe Street).

Rendering, The Corey Condominiums.

The total of the projects listed in December was $769 million.  The three Florida Avenue projects add $42 million to the total, taking it over $800 million.  (I used a slightly smaller average valuation for the Florida Avenue projects, which is a judgment call.)

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