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.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Mount Pleasant DC music walking tour tomorrow, Sunday October 23rd, 1:30 pm

From email, just rec'd it, apologies for the late posting:

Meet up with local historians Mara Cherkasky and Natalie Avery to learn about the musical history of Mt. Pleasant. The walking tour will begin at 14th and Irving St. NW (in front of the CVS) and end at the library.

-- Facebook page for the event
-- Learn about more DC Public Library Know Your Neighborhood programs happening this Fall.
-- Learn about more DC Punk Archive programs and events

Natalie Avery is a local activist who has always impressed me. She's been involved in many Mount Pleasant neighborhood organizing activities for a couple decades.

... at one Mount Pleasant neighborhood outdoor music event I attended a number of years ago, Ian MacKaye was the sound technician. How cool is that?

He did a presentation a few years ago that I unfortunately missed, on the importance of community social halls as a necessary element in supporting the development of the punk music genre in DC

Also see this past blog entry which discusses live music as an element of cultural planning.

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Seattle Times special feature on Sound Transit/Puget Sound transit tax referendum

One of 2016's major transportation stories is how the short extension of the Link light rail line in Seattle to Capitol Hill and the University of Washington has resulted in a doubling of light rail ridership there, from around 30,000 daily riders, to more than 60,000 daily riders.

It's proof that with the right conditions of density and in-demand destinations, transit service can be very effective.

This fall, Sound Transit has a big tax referendum, called Sound Transit 3 (ST3) on the ballot to continue the expansion of the transit system, primarily beyond Seattle.

The Seattle Times, not known for its support of tax referenda, has a nice graphically-oriented feature on the referendum, with a map of the system and the proposed extensions, information on cost and revenue sources, a listing of pros and cons (not particularly deep) and related articles.

-- ST3: What you'd pay, what you'd get, Seattle Times

The feature is a good model for how government agencies of all types--not just transit agencies--might want to up their game in terms of communicating about tax proposals, benefits, costs, etc.

Although Sound Transit has produced a very good website related to the referendum on their own.

-- Sound Transit 3 referendum webpage

Although were it produced by a government agency, rather than a newspaper, I'd also include live links to more information for each of the sections.  Which is what the ST3 website does do.

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Friday, October 21, 2016

Update/revision of H Street transit oriented real estate development table

Streetcar on H StreetFlickr photo of the H Street streetcar by BeyondDC.

Originally in "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" and updated last month in "Update on the DC Streetcar program on the verge of launching Sunday service," I compiled a rough list of large residential real estate developments which in my estimation are the result of the investment in the H Street Streetcar program, a program that is widely derided across the city.

The original compilation was sparked by the report of a development on the 1700 block of Benning Road/H Street NE ("Developer hopes to extend 'attraction' of H Street NE to the east with 180-unit project," Washington Business Journal), well outside of the walkshed of Union Station, but at site that will be served by the new streetcar, 1.5 miles from the station.

But the original list is somewhat confusing in that it lists "all" H Street projects, even though I don't count the value of developments west of 6th Street as part of the total value of projects influenced by the streetcar. So there needs to be two lists.  And I didn't include a totals column within the table.

Below I have split out the original table into two.

Washington DC - Benning Rd. and Bladensburg Rd. NE - September 3, 2014  (8)Flickr photo of the H Street streetcar on the 1600 block of Benning Road NE by Kevin Mueller.

First is the list of properties developed because of their proximity to Union Station.

This list is due for an update because of the Pullman Place condominiums being constructed on the 900 block of 2nd Street NE, but also because of the announcement of a 112 unit apartment building to be constructed on three parcels at 315 H Street NE by MRP Realty and Kruger Real Estate, on property that they acquired from Telesis Corporation, which had planned a smaller project.

Note that the value estimate is understated some become it doesn't separate out the value of ground floor retail space as part of the development.  Nor does it ascribe a value to the economic activities of businesses located within that space.

New multiunit residential real estate development along the H Street corridor spurred by proximity to Union Station
Building name Address # of units Value
Stationhouse 701 2nd Street NE375 $165MM*
Senate Square 200 block north 476 $210MM*
Pullman Place DC 909 2nd Street NE 42 $14MM*
Capital City Realty 301 H Street NE 25 $9MM*
MRP/Kruger 315 H Street NE 112 $37MM*
360 Apartments 360 H Street NE 270 $120MM*
Ava 300 block I Street NE 140 $60MM*
Douglas Development 501 H Street 25$11MM*

Second is the list of properties east of 6th Street NE which can be attributed primarily to the streetcar.

New multiunit residential real estate development on the H Street-Benning Road corridor spurred by the development of the streetcar program
Building name Address # of units Value
Anthology Apartments 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.  Figures may be rounded.

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 of the Anthology Apartments project showing a sleek streetcar in front of the building.

The Anthology Apartments development just sold ("Jair Lynch cashes out on H Street NE after landing an institutional buyer," Washington Business Journal).  The price was $160 million, which is $25 million higher than my estimate, which hopefully indicates these estimates are reasonably accurate, but probably under the market.

Similarly, I had accorded the value of the previous Telesis project, at 42 units much smaller than the replacement project as $12 million, yet the property alone sold to the MRP group for $9.5 million.

Transit oriented development as a result of the NoMA Metrorail station.  Note that in terms of valuing "transit oriented development" in the H Street neighborhood, a third table could be constructed, of properties developed or planned on the east side of the railyard, as a result of proximity to the NoMA Metrorail station.  IMO, the dividing line for such developments is K Street NE.  Properties south of K Street are in the H Street zone, and properties north of K Street are in the NoMA Metrorail station zone.

As an example, see "Trammell Crow subsidiary releases plans for massive NoMa project," and "Toll Brothers' D.C. march continues with the approval of Union Place," Washington Business Journal.

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

If apartment buildings are "forced" to join Business Improvement Districts, there must be a way for residents to be represented on BID boards independent of property owners

I have written about this issue from time to time concerning the NoMA BID in DC ("NoMA revisited: business planning to develop community," 2011) as well as the Capitol Riverfront BID ("Integrating citizen residents into "business" improvement districts: Capital Riverfront district as an opportunity and example of the need for change," 2014).

Apparently, DC's laws concerning the creation of business improvement districts tend to be specific to each district.  Currently, the NoMA, Capitol Riverfront, and Mount Vernon Triangle BIDs can include apartment buildings as qualifying for assessment, while this is not the case for the Downtown DC BID.

When I raised this issue with the then planning director for the NoMA BID years ago, she seemed shocked at my assertion that residents might have different interests than the property owners renting to them, and that resident interests may not be adequately represented.

The Washington Business Journal reports ("Live, work, play — and pay: Downtown D.C. BID eyes levy for condos, apartments") that Central Business District Councilmember Jack Evans has introduced legislation that would make apartment buildings assessment payers, condominium buildings--owner occupied, not managed for renters--would have the option to join if they want to.

From the article:
Under the proposed legislation, introduced by Councilman Jack Evans, D-Ward 2, condominium boards could choose to join the BID but would not be required to. Condo associations would be charged $120 per unit per year. Some seem inclined to join and others will wait to make the decision, Bradley said. Forty percent of the BID's residential units are condos.

Apartment buildings, on the other hand, will be treated as commercial properties and automatically assessed by the BID. The BID has met with 80 percent of the owners of downtown apartment buildings and many have indicated that they support this, Bradley said.

Condo boards, obviously, would assess residents for the added costs. Apartment building owners could cover the cost themselves or factor them into resident fees.

“Our intention is to be as helpful as we can in promoting downtown living, residential living, and that will be something we’ll give special attention to,” Bradley said. “So they’re getting a service and a benefit from this.”
-- B21-0905: Downtown DC Business Improvement District Amendment Act of 2016, Proposed, DC City Council

According to the Downtown DC BID's annual report:
As of April 2016, Downtown is home to 35 market-rate residential properties – 15 apartment buildings (3,584 units) and 20 condominium buildings (2,428 units).
The Avalon at Gallery Place apartment building located in the Chinatown section of Downtown has 203 units.

The issue of including residential properties in assessment districts.  I don't have a problem with the creation of "community service districts" with residential members.

And the reality is that residents within the district are benefiting from the extra services provided by the BID, and it is reasonably for them to pay in towards those costs, just as commercial property owners do.

My only issue is ensuring that resident tenants have representation on the board independent of the property owner. And that resident owners, if part of condominiums, have representation as well.

While the law that authorizes the creation of BIDs lists residents as eligible for board membership, the law does not specify how each class of property shall be represented.  It is up to the BID and how it structures its laws of incorporation and bylaws on whether or not to include resident owners or resident tenants as board members.

Note that the Mount Vernon Triangle Community Improvement District does have some residents on its board, while the NoMA and Capitol Riverfront BIDs do not.  But the resident members come from condominium properties.  Resident tenants on not represented on the MVTCID board.

Baltimore's Community Benefits Districts.  The Charles Village and Midtown "Community Benefits Districts" in Baltimore have had residential members--and single family houses at that--since their creation in the 1990s, although in the Charles Village district there has been a minority number of residents militantly opposed from the beginning.  Board membership is a mix, including residents, community organizations, commercial property owners, institutions, and representatives appointed by the Mayor and City Council.

-- "Benefits district" articles collection, Baltimore Sun

San Francisco.  San Francisco created Community Benefits Districts more than 10 years ago. While many are organized as business improvement districts exclusively representing commercial property owners, the legislation authorizes a variety of types of members, depending on the choices of the organizing groups.

More recently the city has created a new type of district called a "Green Benefit District" where residents can pay a supplemental assessment to support and maintain, parks, sidewalks, and public = and open space in their neighborhood.  Interestingly, the first GBD, for the Dogpatch and Northwest Potrero Hill neighborhood, has three types of board members, "property owners," "tenants," and "green space advocates."

Conclusion:  Representation of residents is the issue, not whether or not residential buildings should be including in business/community improvement services districts.  As it is, I think independent residents should have membership on BID boards anyway, because by default, BIDs are the planners and managers of place and space that ultimately is publicly owned or of the public interest.

This is doubly the case for those BIDs that are "mixed use districts" incorporating residential properties, be they owner occupied or renter occupied.

Condominiums are owner occupied and BIDs with condominium properties as members endeavor to include representatives from that property category.

To ensure that residential tenants are represented on BID boards, BIDs should aim to have some board members be representatives from the apartment tenant category.  This is somewhat counter to the property orientation of representation that dominates BID boards now, but corrects a current defect in democracy as it relates to BID board leadership as it is generally structured.

Hearing.  The public hearing for the legislation is scheduled for Wednesday, November 16, 2016, 11:00 a.m., Room 120 - John A. Wilson Building/City Hall. "Those who wish to testify should contact Sarina Loy, Committee Assistant at (202) 724-8058 or, and provide your name, organizational affiliation (if any), and title with the organization by 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, November 15, 2016. Witnesses should bring 15 copies of their written testimony to the hearing."

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Today Open House/Hearing on WMATA service changes

In "Plans for Metrorail contraction in the face of London Night Tube expansion" I mentioned today's hearing on service changes, which includes very gross-grained suggestions of how WMATA could offer overnight transit service.

Because a deficit is projected for next year, separately WMATA is considering a variety of changes including bus and subway service cuts, fare increases, and other measures for the FY2018 budget ("Can WMATA's death spiral be staunched").

Proposed changes to Metrorail operating ours, Docket B16-03

They are seeking input through a variety of methods, and have set a deadline of 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday October 25th to respond. Public feedback will be provided to Metro's Board of Directors in December 2016 as part of the final decision process.

-- Email written comments to

-- Provide feedback to staff in person at various Metrorail stations. Click for a list of dates, stations and times

-- Attend an open house on Thursday, October 20, 2016 (anytime between noon and 9:00 p.m.) and public hearing anytime between 12:30 and 10:00 p.m.) at Metro Headquarters, 600 5th St NW, Washington DC

The "death spiral" entry mentions that Maryland especially but the State of Virginia too may not be fully on-board in providing more funding to WMATA, seeing such funding as disproportionately benefiting DC at their expense, which may or may not be true.

In the comments on that piece, charlie pointed out that in calling WMATA as being in a death spiral, I failed to distinguish between the system falling apart, versus its dialing back to a commuter-focused service, as opposed to a transit service supporting a sustainable land use and transportation planning paradigm and lifestyle more generally.

(Note that Metrorail was created as a commuter focused service, that it helped promote urban revitalization in DC outside of Downtown was more of side benefit that had been acknowledged in the planning process--after all, that's why the routing for the Green Line was changed within DC--but wasn't a top priority for WMATA.)

On Monday, the Baltimore Sun ran a great editorial on the perilous state of transit funding in Maryland, both for Greater Baltimore and in the context of WMATA's current debacle and the need for more funds to get out its various crises, and how Gov. Hogan has been quoted as saying "why put in good money after bad" (paraprhase).

Inexplicable, the editorial is not available online in most any form (other than if you subscribe to pressreader), but I managed to make a jpg and have posted it below.

Baltimore Sun editorial, 10/17/2016, "Starving Maryland Transit"

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Creating a two-tier (part time vs. full time) salary structure for elected officials

Monday's Washington Post has an article, "Arlington County board chair floats trial balloon on pay raise for lawmakers," where the Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey suggests a significant salary raise for that county's elected officials, because the job, at least for her, is more than full time. From the article:
Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey (D) said she wants to discuss raising — and possibly doubling — pay for elected board members, because the job requires “more than full time” hours.

Garvey said in an interview that she would support “something on the order” of matching board pay more closely to the median family income in the county, which is $110,900. Board members are currently paid $51,480, and the chairman receives $56,629 per year; the board last raised its own pay in 2012.

“This is more than a full-time job, with more than one event practically every night, board meetings that go late into the night and weekend appearances,” said Garvey, who manages real estate part time and has become known on the board for questioning major capital spending.
In Arlington, two board members work full time on their jobs as elected officials, while the three other members have other jobs.

Arlington County's legislative branch officials make significantly less money for their work compared to most of their peers across the metropolitan area. According to the article:
Washington, which acts as both a city and state, pays full-time council members $134,852 per year; the council chair makes $190,000. Fairfax County, the biggest local government by population, pays its board chair $100,000 and board members $95,000. Montgomery County pays council members $128,519 and the council president about $141,000.

The city of Alexandria, with about 150,000 residents, pays its part-time council members $27,500 and its mayor $30,500.
In DC, technically Councilmember positions are part-time, even though they are paid very well, and some Councilmembers have outside income.  Outside income can be a significant problem, because it creates the potential for conflict over whose interests are being represented when voting--even if the Councilmember chooses not to vote on particular matters involving outside interests.

In the past, I have suggested reducing DC Councilmember salaries, because they are allowed to have outside employment, but instead of forcing members to either have other jobs or to work full time, why not offer a choice, with a significant difference in salaries, by creating a two tier salary structure, for "full-time" and "part-time" elected officials.

Elected officials choosing to continue with outside work should be paid the lower salary.  And unlike DC, the "part-time" salary should be set at a rate significantly lower than the amount, $134,852, that it is today.

Recommendation 1:  Create a two-tiered salary structure for DC's legislative branch.  Arlington should consider a similar action.

Recommendation 2:  For DC, set the part-time salary significantly lower than the current amount of $134,852.

Recommendation 3:  For both DC and Arlington, require elected officials to make a choice between taking a full time or part time salary, where those members choosing to take outside jobs are paid the lower salary.

State legislatures.   could be extended to State Legislatures as well.  Both Virginia and Maryland have part-time legislatures, which means they have "part-time" salaries too.  This means that they have other jobs, which is intended to keep them grounded in their communities.

At about $18,000/year, Virginia representatives make significantly less than Maryland representatives, who make about $43,500/year.

On the other hand, only certain kinds of jobs and levels of household wealth lend themselves to this kind of household income structure, likely meaning a significantly less diverse group of people serving as legislators, because many people won't choose to run, because they may not be able to work a second job, may prefer to work full time as a legislator, etc.

You could create a two tiered salary structure for such legislatures too, where people choosing to work full time as legislators could be paid more in salary than those with outside income.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Maybe the Purple Line light rail project in Suburban Maryland is a lot bigger deal than is recognized (It's our Crossrail)

-- "To build the Purple Line, perhaps Montgomery and Prince George's Counties will have to create a "Transportation Renewal District" and Development Authority," 2015
-- "Purple line planning in suburban Maryland as an opportunity to integrate place and people focused initiatives into delivery of new transit systems," 2014
-- "Quick follow up to the Purple Line piece about creating a Transportation Renewal District and selling bonds to fund equitable development," 2014
-- "Inner ring suburban community improvement," 2014

Granted the Purple Line light rail line that is being built in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties in Suburban Maryland isn't the full circumferential line proposed in a Washington City Paper cover story dating to December 1987.
Purple Line Map  DC Metro
For maximum benefit, the Purple Line needs to be extended westward from Bethesda to Fairfax County on the north and on the south westward from New Carrollton to National Harbor and Alexandria.  Currently, no such planning is underway.

Even though it is a much smaller project than two major suburban transit expansion projects in London and Paris:
  • Crossrail: a passenger rail program, much of it underground in new tunnels, with 73 miles of new track and 40 new stations, connecting a multitude of subway and rail lines across London and its suburbs, scheduled to be completed in 2019.  (Proposals for Crossrail 2 and Crossrail 3 are being floated also);
  • Grand Paris Express: this program will add four new subway lines and extend four others, providing suburb-to-suburb connections that don't current exist as well as better connections to the center city focused Metro and RER network of subway and commuter railroad service, simultaneously addng capacity to ease congestion on existing lines.  The project will add 125 miles of track and 72 stations.  It will open in stages, with completion expected in 2030.
By comparison the "initial" Purple Line will be just over 16 miles long with 17 new stations and four connections at existing Metrorail stations.  Construction will start later this year and the system is projected to open in 2022.

-- "Mapping the Purple Line," Washington Post

The line will connect the east (Bethesda) and west (Silver Spring) legs of the Red Line to the northern leg of the Green/Yellow Lines (College Park), and the eastern terminus of the Orange Line (New Carrollton), along with connections to each of MARC commuter rail's three lines: Brunswick (at Silver Spring); Camden (at College Park); and the Penn Line (at New Carrollton).
Purple Line routing and station map
Washington Post graphic.

It's not Crossrail or Grand Paris Express, but it's still a big deal--even though it won't be underground, is in mixed traffic, and will be slower.

It's a project that isn't given enough credit for its pathbreaking elements and opportunity to give a positive jump start to Metrorail given its current difficulties and will expand and connect the metropolitan transit network in significant ways.

It could even set the stage for some expansion of the MARC railroad passenger service ("One big idea: Getting MARC and Metrorail to integrate fares, stations, and marketing systems, using London Overground as an example").

anti-transit headline, "What's the Point of the Purple Line," Washington Examiner, 7/24/2011While I am always sorry to lose a newspaper, the Washington Examiner free daily constantly took positions against transit expansion--car companies are much bigger local advertisers than transit systems.

Instead the line has been controversial for many reasons, too many to recount here.

With the extensions mentioned above, while light rail, the Purple Line could have comparable impacts to the Crossrail and Grand Paris Express projects, and the London Overground ("In the loop: How one railway line helped change the way Londoners commute," Economist).

Hopefully, as the Purple Line comes closer to reality it can spur proposals and planning for extension, comparable to how the Crossrail program is spawning similar proposals in other areas of Greater London.

-- Crossrail 2 | Supporting growth in the South east, Transport for London
-- "TfL takeover of London rail could be 'Crossrail 3' – Lord Adonis," Rail Technology Magazine

Similarly, RATP is improving the existing Paris transit system simultaneous with the Grand Paris Express program of expansion.

-- Métro 2030, our new Paris Metro, RATP

Adding intra-suburban service, even light rail, will boost Metrorail reliability.  Elsewhere ("Redundancy, engineered resilience, and subway systems: Metrorail failures will increase without adding capacity in the core") I wrote that the Purple Line can have a significantly positive impact on Metrorail system reliability, for some of the same reasons that Crossrail and GPE will provide similar benefits, by providing suburb-to-suburb connections and additional options to transfer between lines without having to travel to the center city.

Images from East MoCo blog of the promotional Purple Line informational signage posted at the Silver Spring Library, which will be one of the stations for the line.

You could argue that by adding riders to the current system, it could add stress because of the failure to add capacity to the core.

However, by providing a missing east-west connection between the subway lines outside of Downtown DC, likely the Purple Line will "add capacity" by providing four new transfer points between subway lines, facilitating transfer between lines without requiring riders to go all the way to Downtown DC to do so, as is required today.

As a light rail system, it isn't compatible with Metrorail, so the lines won't "interline" the way that the Orange, Blue, and Silver Lines and the Green and Yellow Lines share tracks.

And as light rail, it has less capacity, able to move about 15,000 riders/hour, versus 25,000+ on subway lines.  (Interlining reduces maximum capacity.  Only the Red Line, which doesn't interline, can exceed 30,000 riders/hour per track.)

This is a beneficial feature because interlining reduces the capacity of any one line and often leads to service problems replicating like a virus across lines.

By comparison, adding the Silver Line to the Metrorail system appears to have been "the straw that broke the camel's back" in terms of leading to multiple, regular, and cascading failures across the system.

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Can WMATA's death spiral be staunched?

GGW reports ("WMATA is up against a budget deficit. Today, it floated ideas for some very big, very difficult changes") on WMATA initial discussion of how to deal with a projected $275 million budget shortfall for FY2018 which will be on the agenda of Thursday's Finance and Administration Committee meeting.
WMATA farecard, The Future Is Riding On Metro
Is it the case that the Washington area's sustainable mobility future is no longer constructed with Metrorail and Metrobus as the foundation?

Options include fare increases of as much as 35%, shutting as many as 20 stations during non-commuting periods, eliminating poorly performing bus routes, personnel reductions, more appropriations from the local jurisdictions, and using FTA funds, among others.
Concept map for closing Metrorail stations outside of commuting periods
Concept map for closing Metrorail stations outside of commuting periods.

Lately, Metrorail operations resemble the train wreck that is the Trump presidential campaign.

Both seemingly have daily reports of new failures each more incredible than the day before.

I wrote over the weekend about WMATA's desire for permanent cutbacks in Metrorail's hours of operation and the contrast with London's roll out of 24-hour weekend service ("Plans for Metrorail contraction in the face of London Underground's service expansion"), and mentioned both FTA's report about failures in execution by Metrorail in their maintenance repair program and the decline in trust in WMATA's capacity to operate the system and how they communicate to riders.

That followed two pieces last week about Metrorail's falling ridership ("Why Metrorail ridership is down" and "Re: why Metrorail ridership is declining").  The latter piece reported on a study of the effects of a two-day work stoppage with the London Underground, which found that as a result of the forced change, 5% of riders changed their commuting routine.

Then, on Monday Metrorail had to go to single tracking on the Blue, Orange, and Silver Lines on Monday because of defects in fasteners used to tie down tracks meant that one track had to be taken out of service--during rush hour.

And now the proposals to deal with next year's projected deficit call for making much of the system unusable outside of commuting hours and even more expensive--when Metrorail is the second most expensive "subway" system in the US (after BART in the San Francisco Bay, but that system, even more than Metrorail, functions like a commuter railroad).

In the GGW comments, many people write about how they chose to live in the DC area because of the once functioning transit system and how it enabled mobility without having to be dependent on automobility.

Those days are behind us, unless you are fortunate enough to live in the core, where transit service and other sustainable mobility choices (walking, biking, car share) are supported by density and tight connections between residential areas and employment centers.

This is especially poignant because I argue that DC's success as a place to live and locate business is dependent on the city's transit network and is a primary source of the city's competitive advantage vis a vis other locations in the metropolitan area.

Metrorail's failures create an economic development crisis for DC, one that it is difficult to dig out from, especially because the States of Virginia and Maryland aren't inclined to go out of their way "to help DC." (For example, it can be argued that plans to toll I-66 are in part designed to encourage businesses to relocate from DC to Northern Virginia, and Maryland's current mobility agenda isn't particularly inclined in favor of transit.)

Can a crisis be an opportunity for improvement?  Frankly, while I agree with Rahm Emanuel that opportunities present in crisis shouldn't be wasted, the reality is that exigency and crises are terrible times to bring about positive change.  Much of the time, elected officials especially, when faced with bad choices, make worse choices.  Rather than rise to the occasion, they stoop towards it and often stumble.

Reconstructing the region's consensus about the value of transit and sustainable mobility.  I still argue as I did in 2009 ("St. Louis regional transit planning process as a model for what needs to be done in the DC Metropolitan region") and 2014 ("WMATA 40th anniversary in 2016 as an opportunity for assessment") that it is necessary to update and reconstruct the metropolitan-regional consensus about what transit and sustainable mobility are supposed to look like, today and in the future, and somehow to communicate that today's constant and repetitive failures don't have to be routine and expected outcomes.

But despite the honesty in the assessment of Metrorail's problems in the documents prepared for tomorrow's meeting:
After 15 years of consistent growth, total rail ridership peaked in 2009. It held relatively strong in the aftermath of the recession (2010-2012), and then declined in 2013-2015 due to combination of external factors (federal spending pullback, telework, alternative modes, transit benefit instability, lower gasoline prices) and internal factors (weekend trackwork, relatively high rail fares, service quality). Ridership then declined further in FY2016 as a result of poor service quality and high profile disruptions and safety incidents, as riders turned to increasingly available alternatives. Ridership so far in FY2017 is down even further, primarily as a result of closures and service interruptions due to the SafeTrack initiative.

The variability in bus ridership has been different. Bus declined more during and immediately after the recession but had fully recovered by FY2014, with strong ridership on the major Priority Corridor Network routes (especially mid-city and along Columbia Pike, etc.) and relatively weak ridership on lower frequency routes. Ridership was flat in FY2015 but then dropped in FY2016. Some of the decline appears to be a 'spillover' from the rail reliability challenges, as many riders use Metrobus to access rail. Declines in ridership on other local bus providers (e.g., Fairfax Connector, Montgomery County
Ride-On, etc.) are also occurring, indicating broader, region-wide challenges.
I am not confident that the capacity to bring this about is present within WMATA or the region's elected officials and stakeholders ("Getting WMATA out of crisis: a continuation of a multi-year problem that keeps getting worse, not better" and "What it will take to get WMATA out of crisis continued and 2016's 40th anniversary of WMATA as an opportunity to rebuild," 2015).

NYC's transit system was once in similar straits.  Today's decline is reversible.  The NYC subway system came back after being pushed to a similar level of failure in the 1970s, but the NYC region has more capacity for leadership than is typical of the DMV.

Although the polycentric nature of the system here doesn't help ("Redundancy, engineered resilience, and subway systems: Metrorail failures will increase without adding capacity in the core") but the Purple Line, ironically, seems as if it can strengthen the core subway system by providing east-west connections that don't exist currently and reducing the need to travel to the core to transfer between lines.

Can WMATA be fixed?  It needs world class leaders.  Right now, the only way I can see change maybe happening is having WMATA hire multiple people from the world's best transit systems: London Underground; Paris Metro; HVV in Hamburg; Tokyo; etc., and rebuilding the organization from top to bottom.

While normally NYC Transit would be a good place to hire from, and we should, the situation is so dire that maybe "foreigners" are the only way to bring about a reset (although note, London Underground's reset came about by hiring from NYC Transit).

A better structure.  It'd help to create an HVV-like set up here, with a strong transit planning regime separate from the transit agency.

A transit withholding tax for funding.  And a transit withholding employment tax like in France (versement transport), Tri-Met and the Lane Transit District in Oregon, and in New York State.

Also paid by the Federal Government.  With an agreement by the Federal Government to pay this tax on the part of federal employees

Service is too bad to justify raising fares. Finally, as long as service and reliability is so bad, the system has no business raising fares, at least for Metrorail.

Will Virginia and Maryland invest more in Metrorail when they see DC benefiting disproportionately?  Whether or not Virginia and Maryland will join in with DC and increase "subsidy-appropriations" to the system so that it can get through its current crisis and budget gap is an open question.

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Monday, October 10, 2016

Community Development Week in DC

The Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development has declared this week to be "Community Development Week" in DC.

The concept of the community development corporation grew out of work done by the Ford Foundation in the 1960s.  There are great CDCs and lousy ones.

Urban renewal, Adams-Morgan Heritage Trail Sign
The difference comes down to support and opportunities, but a big problem generally is that CDCs mostly focus on creating better housing for the impoverished--and while this is a worthy, necessary goal, in and of itself it doesn't improve broken micro-economies.

To fix local micro-economies a broader focus on microenterprise development, and neighborhood and commercial district revitalization is required.

Some CDCs, such as Bethel New Life CDC in Chicago or the Famikos Foundation in Cleveland, the portfolio investments of the Abyssinian Development Corporation in Harlem, those of the Community Preservation and Development Corporation in DC, or the various efforts involving Mihalio Temali in Minneapolis-St. Paul are particularly impressive.  (Temali is the author of an excellent textbook, Community Economic Development Handbook.)

That being said, CDCs have a tough environment to work within, a lot of barriers, etc., as this paper from the late 1990s by Professor Randy Stoecker (now at University of Wisconsin) illustrates "The Community Development Corporation Model of Urban Redevelopment: A Political Economy Critique and an Alternative."

When I read it the first time, it explained a lot.

My thinking is that there is a difference between the traditional big project real estate development approach and "community economic development."

I'd forgotten that I had been involved in trying to create such an approach in the Ivy City neighborhood (draft document), but it didn't proceed for various reasons--that's one of the examples of my line about community organizing and community development, that "you are only as strong as your weakest link."

I have a bunch of pieces on the topic as it relates to DC.

DHCD sign, Florida Avenue NWIn fact, you could argue I am "blowback" from CDCs because I finally became a "community activist" trying to figure out why after spending more than $100 million (including lease payments) via the H Street Community Development Corporation and related efforts (two senior housing developments, restructured housing, a strip shopping center, Hechinger Mall), the H Street NE commercial district remained "under-improved."

This piece from three years ago, "The community development approach and the revitalization of DC's H Street corridor: congruent or oppositional approaches?," was a response to a self-congratulatory op-ed ("The seeds of the H Street ‘miracle’") by the director of the DC branch of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, about how today's success of the H Street neighborhood, written about in newspapers like London's Financial Times and the New York Times, and called by Forbes Magazine one of the hippest neighborhoods in the U.S., is because of the long time involvement of the H Street Community Development Corporation in post-riot (1968) efforts to fix the declining neighborhood.

Just as some CDCs are better than others, it is also the case that some LISC offices--the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, a kind of capacity building and technical assistance operation for CDCs created by the Ford Corporation--are better than others.  DC has failed in both categories.

Needless to say, I disagree/d, "vociferously."

But I have been writing about this for a long time, for example in 2005, I wrote a blog entry about how a few years after the Washington Post ran a detailed series of failures on the part of some of DC's community development corporations, the DC Building Industry Association gave some of these same organizations awards.  ("Falling up -- Accountability and DC Community Development Corporations").

Plus this "follow up" piece from 2011, also in response to a Post series, "(Some) Community Development Corporations still screwing up."

This piece originally from 2006, "The five periods of urban revitalization since WWII," is reasonably authoritative but due for an update because of
Commercial district revitalization is still tough ("Ground up commercial revitalization and the Skyland Town Center project") and I think it needs to shift to better focus on creating viable retail ("Why it's hard to holiday shop in DC's neighborhood retail districts" and "The long term shake out of local retailers and independent commercial districts").

406 H StreetAfter 30 or more years of being vacant, this building has been renovated and a third floor added.

The struggle in historic preservation now isn't promoting stabilization in the face of shrinking cities and lost population and businesses, but how to respond to opportunities for urban growth and the need for more housing to accommodate demand ("Historic preservation continued").

Meanwhile cities are still having time casting off the yoke of public funding of sports facilities ("An arena subsidy project I'd probably favor: Sacramento") and the urban renewal tradition of big projects ("Urban planning and the difference between "economic development" and "building a local economy"").

There is limited  movement to improving options for funding local government ("The real lesson from Flint, Michigan is about municipal finance").

And there is still resistance to adopting sustainable mobility strategies in the face of the primacy of the oil and automobile manufacturing industries (Quote of the day: "it isn't the place of the government to push people out of their cars and into alternative transportation").

Maybe the biggest problem is that even in the best circumstances, revitalization is a multi-decade process ("360 Apartment building + Giant Supermarket vs. a BP gas station, which would you choose?").  People aren't patient.  And it's hard to be patient in the face of neglect.
*  From "Economic restructuring success and failure: Detroit compared to Bilbao, Liverpool, and Pittsburgh":

The six components of a successful broad ranging revitalization program.  In writing about the various [revitalization] efforts [in European cities especially], I drew the conclusion that successful revitalization programs, especially in those cities that were working to overturn serious disadvantages, were comprised of these elements:
  • A commitment to the development and production of a broad, comprehensive, visionary, and detailed revitalization plan/s (Bilbao, Hamburg, Liverpool);
  • the creation of innovative and successful implementation organizations, with representatives from the public sector and private firms, to carry out the program.  Typically, the organizations have some distance from the local government so that the plan and program aren't subject to the vicissitudes of changing political administrations, parties and representatives (Bilbao, Hamburg, Liverpool, Helsinki);
  • strong accountability mechanisms that ensure that the critical distance provided by semi-independent implementation organizations isn't taken advantage of in terms of deleterious actions (for example Dublin's Temple Bar Cultural Trust was amazingly successful but over time became somewhat disconnected from local government and spent money somewhat injudiciously, even though they generated their own revenues--this came to a head during the economic downturn and the organization was widely criticized; in response the City Council decided to fold the TBCT and incorporate it into the city government structure, which may have negative ramifications for continued program effectiveness as its revenues get siphoned off and political priorities of elected officials shift elsewhere);
  • funding to realize the plan, usually a combination of local, regional, state, and national sources, and in Europe, "structural adjustment" and other programmatic funding from the European Regional Development Fund and related programs is also available (Hamburg, as a city-state, has extra-normal access to funds beyond what may normally be available to the average city);
  • integrated branding and marketing programs to support the realization of the plan (Hamburg, Vienna, Liverpool, Bilbao, Dublin);

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London Underground walking times station map

I mentioned this map before ("Showing walk times on transit maps")  London Underground produced a station map listing the walk times between stations, because people unfamiliar with the system don't necessarily realize that rather than transfer between lines to get to a final destination, sometimes rather than transferring it's faster to walk.  (This is the case in the DC Metrorail system between Gallery Place and Metro Center in particular.)

But I bring it up again because I was introduced to a great online tool which converts pdfs to jpgs, created by Investintech. Investintech also produces a desktop program which can extract individual pdf pages from large files and convert them to jpgs too, as part of a long list of other useful online conversion tools.

Here is the pdf version of the London Underground walking map, with the jpg format shown below, as converted by the Investintech software tool.

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Sunday, October 09, 2016

Plans for Metrorail contraction in the face of London Night Tube expansion

Discussion of WMATA's proposals to cut back on Metrorail's operating hours is interesting because of how world class transit systems like the London Underground subway are expanding weekend overnight service at the same time ("Night Tube service a 'great success' after opening weekend attracts more than 100,000 passengers"  and "The Night Tube brings fun and economic gain," London Evening Standard; and "What impact has the Night Tube had on Stratford," Newham Recorder).

Or how in the face of special events like Major League Baseball playoffs, WMATA is not planning to extend service to accommodate ballgame attendees ("Without late Metro, Nats' first World Series could get embarrassing," Washington Post) while the TTC and GO commuter rail in Toronto extended overnight service to accommodate the city Nuit Blanche program ("Extended GO, TTC hours and road closures in effect for Nuit Blanche," CTV News) and the South Shore commuter rail in Chicago is adding late night service for Cubs playoff games ("South Shore adds train for Cubs' night playoff games," AP). ... SF Giants playoff games don't need special services, at least within San Francisco, because the MUNI system already provides overnight service.

Mayor Siddiq Khan riding the first Night Tube train, holding a copy of the London Evening Standard.

This past Friday, Night Tube service was extended to a third line ("Jubilee line Night Tube service starts this Friday," London Evening Standard) and plans are to extend service to additional lines later this fall and next year.

Interestingly, WMATA is not treating the service reduction proposals as a formal "docketed" process.  Maybe because it doesn't involve fares, they can get away with avoiding the process they use normally, which involves multiple public hearings.

They are seeking input through a variety of methods, and have set a deadline of 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday October 25th to respond. Public feedback will be provided to Metro's Board of Directors in December 2016 as part of the final decision process.

-- Email written comments to
-- Provide feedback to staff in person at various Metrorail stations. Click for a list of dates, stations and times
-- Attend an open house on Thursday, October 20, 2016 (anytime between noon and 9:00 p.m.) and public hearing (anytime between 12:30 and 10:00 p.m.) at Metro Headquarters, 600 5th St NW, Washington DC

One of the plans for the Washington Subway, 1965An early graphic showing options for the Metrorail system.

DC Council is likely to pass a resolution opposing cutbacks in late night service on weekends ("Political Pressure Builds On Metro To Bring Back Late-Night Service," WAMU/NPR) because of the impact on night life and worker mobility needs ("This hurts': DC restaurants brace for work on Metro," Washington Post).

Reductions in weekend service, late night and on Sundays. I don't think I like any of WMATA's service hour reduction proposals.

The proposals, cutting back late night service on Friday and Saturday, and severely cutting back on Sunday hours, both early and late, support all the various criticisms in the past--criticisms that previously I rejected--that WMATA's primary interest is providing service to commuters Monday through Friday, rather than providing the foundational transit services that support adoption of a sustainable mobility platform and lifestyle.

Yes, commuter service was why Metrorail was created, but because of there being so many Metrorail stations in the core of Washington, the city has been able to develop a different, more monocentric, service profile despite the original intentions.


Previous late hours Metrorail service profile

Mon-Thu: 5:00 a.m. - midnight
Fri: 5:00 a.m. - 3:00 a.m.
Sat: 7:00 a.m. - 3:00 a.m.
Sun: 7:00 a.m. - midnight

WMATA has put forward four different options for reductions in service:

Proposal # 1
Mon-Thu: 5:00 a.m. - midnight
Fri: 5:00 a.m. - midnight
Sat: 7:00 a.m. - midnight
Sun: 7:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.

Proposal # 2
Mon-Thu: 5:00 a.m. - 11:30 p.m.
Fri: 5:00 a.m. - midnight
Sat: 7:00 a.m. - midnight
Sun: 7:00 a.m. - 11:30 p.m.

Proposal # 3
Mon-Thu: 5:00 a.m. - 11:30 p.m.
Fri: 5:00 a.m. - 1:00 a.m.
Sat: 7:00 a.m. - 1:00 a.m.
Sun: 8:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.

Proposal # 4
Mon-Thu: 5:00 a.m. - midnight
Fri: 5:00 a.m. - 3:00 a.m.
Sat: 9:00 a.m. - 3:00 a.m.
Sun: Noon - 11:00 p.m.

Map of proposed overnight bus service expansion. WMATA.

Moving towards an overnight transit network. Seemingly, in response to criticism here ("Night and weekend transit/subway service: Metrorail edition," "London 24 hour weekend Underground service launches tonight" and "Slight revisiting of the issue of overnight transit service: San Francisco") and elsewhere, WMATA is also proposing improvements to overnight bus service, providing an overview of some options, but as of yet they have not formulated a specific program.

The concept, while a good start, does not rise to the level of Night Owl overnight transit programs in cities like San Francisco and Toronto.

Commenters in discussion threads on posts at GGW have made particularly good suggestions for improvements over those depicted in the map above.

SF Bay overnight transit service map

Noteworthy GGW comments:

-- Justin suggests extending the 30s bus to Bethesda at all times and to Rockville when the Red Line is closed;
-- John 2 states that Connecticut Avenue needs a late night bus service separate from Wisconsin Avenue (on this blog, commenter Tom Quinn has made the same point)
-- kk suggests that a separate overnight Metrorail service with limited frequency could be developed that would provide rail service without seriously impinging on the ability to provide maintenance
-- MHKarns points out the need to integrate service from suburban transit providers in this plan (comparable to the Late Night Service Map for the SF Bay area)
-- previous GGW comments have been appended to the blog entry Night and weekend transit/subway service: Metrorail edition"

Lack of trust.  There are three strains of thought concerning the proposals.  One is that WMATA needs more maintenance time and rather than let the system decline further, we need to buck up and accept the service cutbacks.

The other is that WMATA is not being honest, and that the cutbacks don't make sense because other comparable systems seem to manage providing late night service and providing maintenance.

Concerns about truthfulness also arise because of how FTA says that WMATA is not managing maintenance very well, wasting time and resources, and accomplishing a lot less than they could ("In scathing report, FTA blasts Metro track maintenance program," Post).

Finally, the other concern is that "temporary" needs for increased time for maintenance are being used to push through permanent reductions in service.

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Saturday, October 08, 2016

Immediate success of new streetcars in Kansas City and Cincinnati

Photo: Tammy Ljungblad, Kansas City Star.

The streetcar in Kansas City, launched , is has more than daily riders and they are ordering more streetcar vehicles, although the long lead time means that they won't arrive for many years ("Kansas City streetcars are so crowded that system needs more vehicles," Kansas City Star). From the article:
As Kansas City’s downtown streetcar system approaches its one millionth ride, the cars are so crowded that the Streetcar Authority wants to buy two more vehicles and possibly expand the route north to Berkley Riverfront Park.

The authority voted Thursday to develop a financing plan to add two more streetcars to the four-vehicle fleet. Because each car is custom-made and the procurement process takes so long, they likely won’t arrive until 2019.

“It’s a good problem to have,” Streetcar Authority member Russ Johnson said Thursday, noting that the downtown streetcar starter route, from the River Market to Union Station, had been expected to average about 2,700 rides per day.

Instead, since it opened May 6, it has averaged about 6,600 rides per day — with Saturday ridership often exceeding 10,000 rides.

Johnson said this was not poor planning on the streetcar designers’ part, and 2,700 was a realistic expectation given the experience in other cities. But Kansas City has had some of the highest ridership, per mile, of any system in the country, with people flocking to ride the free streetcar to downtown venues and festivals throughout the summer.

“Route matters,” Johnson said. “There is something special going on in Kansas City.”
In Cincinnati, where the streetcar launched in mid-September, and aided by large events such as Oktoberfest celebrations--almost 10,000 riders each day Friday through Sunday, and a NFL game ("Steetcar to provide extra service for Bengals-Dolphins game Thursday night," WCPO-TV), the new streetcar service is averaging more than 7,000 riders daily ("High streetcar ridership causing delays, tension between city and transit authority, WCPO-TV). The initial projections were for 3,000 riders per day. From the first article:
The Town Center Garage at 1251 Central Parkway is offering $10 parking on game days. The first 100 Bengals ticket holders to park for Thursday’s game will get free parking and up to four all-day streetcar passes.

More than 18,000 people rode the streetcar last weekend, far exceeding expectations, according to data from Metro spokeswoman Brandy Jones.

There were 5,109 riders Friday with a budgeted average weekday ridership of 3,000; 7,933 Saturday with a budgeted average of 1,500, and 4,964 Sunday when the ridership estimate was 990.

Crowds in and around the city were due to the MidPoint Music Festival and the Bengals' season home opener at Paul Brown Stadium.
In relatively small cities without a heavy rail system, those are good numbers.

Unlike the media wrt DC's streetcar project, which admittedly had serious planning failures and construction delays, in Cincinnati the media has challenged falsehoods made by opponents ("Top 10 misrepresentation of the Cincinnati streetcar project," Citybeat).  With some exceptions, local media were more about piling on the failures rather than objective analysis.

The Cincinnati Enquirer, has published a number of excellent articles on the streetcar, including a detailed analysis of impact on property values thus far, "Will the streetcar lift property values?," which is equivocal, but I argue that calculating such impacts within a couple months of the transit line's opening is far too soon. In any case, the article is a model of thorough journalism. From the article:

The analysis shows:
Sixty properties today are worth more than twice what they were in 2008. At least 76 more properties exist today than in 2008, the result of new construction or redevelopment. 
The market value of 57 percent of properties along the line is less today than in 2008. More than a quarter of the real estate parcels that have a lower value today after owners sought reduced assessments – to pay less in property tax. 
The biggest wins are:

Bringing the School for Creative and Performing Arts to Elm, 12th, Central and Race streets. It's worth $35.4 million. 
The Westfalen Lofts and Westfalen II developments in Over-the-Rhine. Multiple vacant and crumbling buildings along 14th and Race streets have been repurposed into 42 residences and 4,000 square feet of commercial space. It's worth at least $9.1 million.
The Banks. The north building, which sits along the streetcar line on Second Street, is worth $33.6 million. 
Eric Avner, vice president of the Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation, which is helping pay for the project, said, "If anything, in spite of the uncertainty and the arguments, you have seen real estate investment increase. That's pretty unbelievable."
Cincinnati Streetcar
Flickr photo by Travis Estell.

The construction and delivery process was led by John Deatrick, a former Cincinnati transportation official who left that city to become Chief Engineer for DC's Department of Transportation but returned to Cincinnati *City to streetcar czar: Thanks, but you're done Dec. 31," CE). Had he stayed in DC, perhaps the implementation of the streetcar here would have gone much more smoothly.

-- Cincinnati Enquirer's ongoing coverage of their streetcar

Conclusion.  From a branding and repositioning standpoint, streetcars and other fixed rail transit programs are important ways to redefine the value of center cities as a place to live and locate business in the face of the postwar sprawl-suburban land use and transportation development paradigm.

These projects are an important sign of reinvestment and refocusing development on center cities.

Furthermore, despite how some argue that streetcars aren't about transit but economic development (past entries "DC and streetcars #2: STREETCARS ARE ABOUT TRANSIT, just in a different way from how most people are accustomed to thinking about it" and "The argument that streetcars are "good enough" but "imperfect transit" is flawed"), the Kansas City and Cincinnati streetcar projects prove the best answer is that streetcars do both.

(Now I would also discuss this in terms of creating what I am calling the sustainable mobility platform in cities, which is a combination of having the right urban design which supports walking + biking + transit + bike share + car share + delivery complemented by in-community retail, employment centers and attractions.)

The same is true of Tucson's streetcar ("Tucson seeks to replicate streetcar success in future growth" Arizona Public Media) and Dallas ("Streetcars are an engine behind Uptown Dallas success," Trains Magazine; "Once-skeptical Dallas city manager has a desire for streetcars," Dallas Morning News), Portland, and Seattle among others.

The Dallas and Tucson stories are particularly interesting because the initiative behind creating the services was ground up, led by citizen activists, rather than a more typical program laid out by planning departments and government.

-- The Purpose, Function, and Performance of Streetcar Transit in the Modern U.S. City: A Multiple-Case-Study Investigation, Mineta Transportation Institute

And the examples in Cincinnati, Dallas, Kansas City, Portland, and Seattle demonstrate that while all the systems tend to experience at least some difficulties in implementation, the problems with the implementation in DC are more the exception than the rule.

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