high Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

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.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

(UK) Traffic in Villages Toolkit

Ben Hamilton-Baillie’s most celebrated work was in the town of Poynton, Cheshire. Traffic lights were removed and a ‘double roundel’ introduced, which meant cars had to negotiate with pedestrians and cyclists.

The Guardian obituary on Ben Hamilton-Baillie, a leading UK advocate for shared spaces approaches to streets especially in smaller rural communities, mentions that he produced the Traffic in Villages Toolkit, applying the various principles.

I haven't yet read it, but a quick glance at the companion Traffic in Villages Checklist, to be used in evaluating characteristics of places alongside mobility questions, indicates that it's applicable far beyond the rural setting for which it was developed.

Two not dissimilar publications from Oregon, Main Street: When a Highway Runs Through It, and Washington State, School Walk and Bike Routes: A Guide for Planning and Improving Walk and Bike to School Options for Students, are equally useful in a variety of settings.

Note that while I was once enamored of the "shared spaces" (woonerf) concept I am less so today.  Not conceptually, and not in terms of the urban design elements that are espoused, but because in places where automobiles are still accorded the top of the pyramid in terms of privileged access, mixing in more vulnerable users can be dangerous.

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One big lesson from the failure of the Gwinnett County MARTA Referendum

Justin Hart, an opponent of Gwinnett's MARTA contract, holds a 'Vote No' sign as cars drive past the polling precinct at the Collins Hill library branch Tuesday. (Gwinnett Daily Post Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)

It seems as if the no votes have it, about 55% no and 45% yes.  Not terrible for the pro-transit forces but a defeat just the same.

When you have funding referenda in "off-elections," that is, outside of the more typical primary and general election cycle associated with elections for state and federal offices, the electorate tends to be more conservative and is more likely to vote against tax increases.

-- "Gwinnett MARTA referendum has failed," Atlanta Journal-Constitution

So (1) getting the election cycle right and (2) having enough time to build support are the two key factors, especially in regions where the automobility paradigm is so dominant.

Cars drive past a 'Vote Yes' sign put up by pro-MARTA group Go Gwinnett on West Pike Street in Lawrenceville on Tuesday. (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans). "Gwinnett back at square one after MARTA rejected in key vote," Gwinnett Daily Post.

For whatever reason the decision was made to not have the election last fall in the general election cycle.

Rather than have a special election, they should have waited two years for the next general election cycle.

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Learning the right and wrong lessons from best practice: Hong Kong is Transit Oriented Development on steroids

Transit oriented development is a term from the last couple decades for linking denser development with high frequency transit, most usually rail (although sometimes it includes bus rapid transit). 

Ironically, it's the resuscitation of an approach that originated more than a century ago, about linking transit to development, and having higher density development immediately around stations and terminals. Mega-cities like New York or Paris or London or Tokyo couldn't operate if they were dependent on automobile transportation.  High capacity transit moves thousands of people efficiently and quickly.

The concepts are captured in a long out of print publication by DC's Office of Planning, which updates these principles for today:

-- Trans-Formation: Recreating Transit-Oriented Neighborhood Centers in DC: Design Handbook
-- Center for Transit Oriented Development
-- Ten Principles for Successful Development Around Transit, Urban Land Institute

GE Streetcar ad, September 1925NotionsCapital points us to the Guardian article, "How public transport actually turns a profit in Hong Kong," about how the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) in Hong Kong is super profitable because they capture land value from transit adjacency in development and generate ongoing revenue from this development."

Half the revenue in the system is from property development, ownership, and management.

Historically, transit lines were created by land developers to make new residential development popular and successful.

In Washington, DC, for example, not only was a streetcar line built on Connecticut Avenue to Chevy Chase, Maryland, the streetcar franchise operators were required to build the street too. 

The streetcar line on H Street NE where I used to live was built because developers weren't able to sell lots without it.

Railroads had massive residential recruitment promotional programs.

The Van Swerigen Brothers who built Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights outside of Cleveland actually bought a railroad to get the right of way they needed to provide high speed transit service to their new developments ("Train Dreams," Belt Magazine).

The London Underground had great promotions in association with new lines, especially the "Metroland"of Suburban London.

In the US, transit became publicly owned because it was no longer profitable.

In large part this was because relatively deconcentrated and small scale development was tough for transit to serve efficiently and economically.

Especially when combined in a massive increase in auto ownership + regulatory oversight which was focused on keeping fares low.

In Asian cities, many transit systems are privately owned today because they are profitable. 

Or they are run by public agencies, like MTR, but are managed to be revenue positive.

What's different about Hong Kong, many communities in Japan especially Tokyo ("Why Tokyo's Privately Owned Rail Systems Work So Well," CityLab), Seoul, and Singapore among others, is that these communities are massively dense in both building mass and housing. And most housing is multiunit.

Hong Kong.

So not only does MTR make a lot of money from development, lots of people live or work in Hong Kong and near transit stations, and so the ridership levels are huge as well--at levels far beyond what happens in most North American cities except for Mexico City and New York City.

Surprisingly, mass transit ridership in HK is about what it is in NYC, but they also have higher usage of buses, a still extant double deck tram system, and a great deal of walking, facilitated by a public system of walkway connections ("City of stairs: the interconnecting walkways of Hong Kong," Guardian) and public escalators.

Counter examples.  The development at DC's Fort Totten Metrorail station in mostly a maximum of four stories, and maybe has 1,500 residents.  Although there are taller buildings at other sites, such as Petworth which has one building about 8 stories high, and multiple taller buildings around the Columbia Heights and NoMA Metrorail stations.  But DC's height limit puts a severe limit on the ability to build around transit.

Fort Totten - Clark AvantineFort Totten.  (Although development a block or two away is more dense, about double in size.)

When I was writing the piece yesterday on Atlanta, I was shocked at the low ridership--only two stations of 38 in the MARTA system has more than 9,000 daily riders.

By contrast the Union Square development discussed in the Guardian article is 33 acres with 12 million s.f. of development and buildings as tall as 118 stories.

The built area includes 5,866 residential units, 2,230 hotel rooms, and 2,490 serviced apartments, alongside a shopping mall, Elements, of almost 1 million s.f.

Civic Square in West Kowloon. The shopping mall, apartments and two five-star hotels were all developed or are now owned and managed by the MTR. Photograph: Photogenic/Alamy.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Today there is a transit referendum in Gwinnett County (Greater Atlanta)

When the compact was developed for the MARTA heavy rail transit system in Greater Atlanta, most suburban counties, including Gwinnett, opted out.  So the rail and bus system mostly serves Fulton and DeKalb Counties, except that in 2014 Clayton County voted to join.

While Clayton County didn't have much of a transit system or service before joining MARTA, Gwinnett Couny has developed its own transit system in the interim, although there is no rail service and limited connections to other counties.

At the time of the vote in 1971, it was pretty typical for suburbs to be against regional transit out of fear of the other, especially center cities and what were perceived as predominately African-American populations.

Frankly, this is still a problem, such as in Suburban Detroit, where elected officials in Macomb and Oakland Counties haven't favored taxes for regional transit ("Hackel on regional transit efforts: Macomb voters "don't want this thing'," Michigan Public Radio)..

Chris Hahn, who confronted an intruder in his home near the Cromwell rail stop. Photograph: JM Giordano for the Guardian.

And even in Anne Arundel County outside of Baltimore, some residents are still agitating for closure of light rail stations which they see associated with crime derived from Baltimore ("Addicts, crooks, thieves’: the campaign to kill Baltimore's light rail," Guardian).

To their credit, local and state officials haven't been supportive. From the article:
The Hahns had moved to the working/middle-class suburb seeking a quiet, safe environment away from the crime and strife of Baltimore, 10 miles away. But, like many in the neighbourhood, they say the city’s woes have seeped into the area via public transport. Specifically, they believe criminals are coming into the suburbs by light rail.

Data does not bear that out, but that hasn’t stopped some residents from campaigning for the service, which started 25 years ago, to be reduced. The Hahns have just returned from a protest demanding the closure of a light rail stop around the corner from their home – a stop activists have linked to an increase in crime in the area.
(When I worked in Baltimore County, that's when I first heard the term "Loot Rail," where it was said that people from Baltimore would take the light rail to Lutherville to steal from the big box stores near by.)

Transit funding in Georgia has been problematic.  The state has a disproportionate role, and state-initiated votes in the past were put forward on too accelerated of a time frame to be able to succeed ("Failure of the transit-roads sales tax measure in Metro Atlanta") as was the case in 2012

Now, counties have the ability to set votes on a longer time frame.  And over the last two directors of the MARTA system, elected officials have become more comfortable with transit, recognized that transit is important in attracting business ("Atlanta hopes transit expansion could be edge in Amazon HQ2 hunt," Atlanta Journal-Constitution)) and have had their fears assuaged that the "monies will be wasted."

GoGwinnett is a pro-transit advocacy initiative.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has been running a series of articles on the Gwinnett vote for the past few months.  The depth of coverage reiterates the value of local media.

-- Gwinnett MARTA referendum coverage, AJC
-- Pro and con coverage, Gwinnett Forum

By late tonight, we'll know what happens.


From "Here’s a voice against Gwinnett ever joining up with MARTA," Gwinnett Forum:
The first vote I ever cast was against MARTA. And the last rapid transit vote I cast in 1990 was against MARTA. And the next vote I cast will go against MARTA.

Friends ask, “Why would we want to be like DeKalb and Fulton?” I say we already are, but what they’re really saying is, “We don’t want to be like Atlanta.” How do I know? Well, the second letter in MARTA stands for “Atlanta.” And the last time I looked at a map of Gwinnett, nowhere did I find a city called by that name.

Gwinnett has long resisted any merger, association, or jurisdiction with the big city to our south. Why are we starting now? Our commissioners know MARTA won’t solve our traffic problems. Has it solved DeKalb’s? Or Fulton’s? The answer is no.

Consider this: Gwinnett County has a population of nearly a million strong. Why aren’t we dictating to Atlanta what we want instead of it dictating to us what it thinks we need?

Given the virulence of the automobility lobby, oil and car manufacturing interests and the Sprawl Lobby, it's probably more amazing than we realize when transit referenda do pass.

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Revisiting "Should surface transit be free?" given DC's announcement the Circulator bus service will be free

D.C. Circulator busAt the Mayor's State of the City address, she announced ("Bowser proposes commercial tax increase to pay for affordable housing," Washington Post) that the DC Circulator bus service will now be free.  From the article:
She announced that the city would permanently eliminate the $1 fare on the popular D.C. Circulator bus system, after experimenting with free rides in February and March. “For working people, it adds up,” Bowser said, noting that she has been stopped in the store checkout line and at dinners by people who gushed about the free bus rides. The free rides cost the city about $250,000 a month, officials said.
Last December, Luxembourg announced it will make transit free ("Luxembourg to become first country to make all public transport free").  That blog entry discusses various free transit initiatives, such as:

Talinn, Estonia has had free transit for a number of years.  A handful of cities--Calgary, Pittsburgh, and Salt Lake City--still have free transit zones in their Downtowns as a congestion reduction measure. A number of resort communities also provide no cost transit service as a congestion management tool.

Baltimore has a free Circulator service as well, which is designed to provide intra-city transit especially in the core and highly visited zones, to complement the inter-city regionally oriented service profile of the bus system serving the city and abutting counties ("Charm City Circulator's new operator has not trained all drivers, faces persistent bus shortage," Baltimore Sun).

It's paid for by a tax on parking, but that hasn't generated enough revenue and so they've had to make up funding with other sources.

Recently, workers in Downtown Columbus have been given access to free bus passes as a congestion measure.

Here and there are various particular free bus services, including Circulators of various sorts. Salt Lake City has a free bus line to the State Capitol (Route 500 - State Capitol Free Fare Zone, which extends outside of the city's free fare zone.

Photo: Jesse Acosta, WBUR-FM/NPR, "MBTA Begins Early-Morning Bus Service Pilot Program."

Boston City Councillors suggest one route be converted to free fare. Just last week, two Boston councilmembers proposed that a specific bus route be turned into a free service ("Two Boston city councilors want to make the Route 28 Bus free," Boston Globe). From the article:
Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu, one of the outspoken advocates in the charge against the price hike, says it’s time for the “next step:” a public discussion on how to ultimately make one of the busiest bus routes in the city, free of charge.

The Route 28 Bus, making stops between Mattapan and Ruggles Station, carries around 12,000 riders on weekdays. The majority of passengers are low-income residents without cars and almost half don’t have a driver’s license, Wu told her fellow councilors this week. ...

“This would be a measure that would also ensure people have no barriers to access that economic opportunity corridor,” Wu said during a meeting Wednesday, where she and Councilor Kim Janey filed their request for a hearing on the proposal. “This is the route I think we need to have the conversation about.”
While what Mayor Bowswer has done or what Boston councillors are proposing are nice things to do, I don't necessarily think it's the right thing to do.

As rich as it is, DC still has more things it would like to do than it has money a/k/a limited financial resources and constraints. Therefore, it makes sense to direct those resources in ways that have the greatest return and impact.

Most of the Circulator bus routes in the city are what I call political bus service. From a usage standpoint, they don't experience particularly high ridership. But most neighborhoods want the service because the cost of the fare (until the speech) is half that of regular Metrobus service.

The bus lines that have the highest ridership are in the core, and like the Baltimore routes are designed to provide intra-city coverage that the trunkline Metrobus lines don't really do. But most of those riders can afford to pay for the service.

One of the downsides of congestion-management focused free transit service is that the beneficiaries tend to be the well off, because they are the ones working white collar jobs in the core (although there are also service jobs too).

I wrote about some of these issues a little over two years ago, "Is making surface transit free the best transit investment DC can make?." The rest of this post is drawn from that, but revised.

How the city provides bus service. Basically, DC has four types of bus service.

(1) high frequency service on major arterials, like the bus service on 16th Street NW (S bus) or H Street-Benning Road (X bus), serving major activity centers and transit stations, and usually not extending beyond DC's borders, with the exception of the 70s bus line, which terminates in Silver Spring;

(2) neighborhood-to-neighborhood bus service between various activity centers and transit stations (like the 62 bus between Takoma and Petworth Stations or the H8 bus which goes from Mount Pleasant to the Columbia Heights Metrorail Station then to the Brookland Metrorail Station and then to the Rhode Island Metrorail Station);

(3) the Circulator service downtown and in some neighborhoods; and

(4) private shuttle services between subway stations and campuses, mostly for the universities like Georgetown and Howard, the Washington Hospital Center, although many federal government agencies run shuttle services too.

Orbit MapMap, Tempe Orbit intra-neighborhood bus service.  

To better serve the differing needs of communities, based on transit station proximity, density, and need, I have argued that the city needs to redefine how it provides transit, including the provision of intra-neighborhood service in certain neighborhoods.

I've written about this too in the context of my various "transportation wish lists," ("Transportation Wish List: 2015 edition, part one, the original list" and "Part two, new ideas").

The fact is that outside of the service in Downtown and that serving the National Mall during tourist season, for the most part Circulator bus routes duplicate service provided by existing Metrobus routes.

Freebee shuttle (tertiary transit), Coral Gables, Florida, Miami-Dade CountyRendering, intra-neighborhood Freebee Shuttle, Coral Gables, Florida.

While I no longer think that DC's transit planning priority should be making surface transit free, the decision by Mayor Bowser should spur us to think about what outcomes do we want from the city transit network and its surface component. and how and what kinds of investments should DC be making concerning improvements in surface transit service.

Free transit is expensive. As an intellectual exercise, I think it's worth considering free transit. But as an op-ed in Planetizen shows ("Why Is Fare-Free Transit The Exception Rather Than The Rule?") it works in places where overall there isn't that much demand for transit, and in small, constrained places, such as in resort towns. In larger cities, where transit is heavily used, the cost is considerable and difficult for local government budgets to absorb.

Whereas most communities do not have free transit service for primary and secondary routes, some cities like Tempe and Scottsdale in Arizona or the Town of Friendship Heights in Maryland have free intra-neighborhood services that move people from neighborhoods to activity centers and transit stations, but these services complement the broader transit network.

San Francisco considered it (but they have refused to release the final report), but found the increase in the amount of equipment required was beyond the budget. See "Free ride? Fat chance: Muni fares will stay," San Francisco Chronicle.

Note that the free weekly in the Vancouver, BC region, had a nice series on free transit. See "No Fares! Series," Tyee.

Are there better investments we could make in bus transit over making Circulator buses free?

In the metropolitan area, DC generally has the highest ridership buses (although one of those lines originates in Silver Spring, Maryland) with multiple lines having daily ridership between 13,000 and 22,000 riders.  But just because we have many high ridership lines it doesn't mean the system is perfect.

The original piece lists seven points.  But from the standpoint of providing free transit specifically, there are only two points that really matter.  Making these changes rather than making the DC Circulator bus routes free would have a lot more and more focused impact.

1.  Discounting transit for low income residents.  Rather than providing free transit to a lot of people who have the means to pay for it we should be prioritizing subsidizing transit service for people of limited means.

I am embarrassed to say that in my various "Transportation Wish Lists" I never listed this as a priority. 

(Although, it should be funded as a social service measure rather than a cost to the transit system, and separately and as an addition to monies for the transit system currently appropriated by the jurisdictions.)

While WMATA provides discounted fares for seniors, but not on a means-tested basis, and both DC and Montgomery County provide free or reduced price transit passes for schoolchildren, the DC area does not have a systematic program reducing the cost of transit for the impoverished.

The subsidized fare program offered by SF MUNI is called the Lifeline Pass, and it's half the cost of a regular monthly pass (their regular fare monthly pass is still very very cheap compared to peer systems), and people must be income qualified to be able to get the pass.

King County Metro in Seattle has a similar program. Hubway, Boston's bike share program has a similar framework for their low income access program.

More and more cities are creating such programs including Calgary, Denver ("Denver Approves Low-Income Discount for Transit Riders," NextCity), Halifax, Nova Scotia, Minneapolis ("Metro Transit will offer $1 fare for low-income riders," St. Paul Pioneer Press), Portland, Oregon ("Low Income Fares Begin," Portland Observer)), Lincoln, Nebraska and Los Angeles County, etc.

New York City Council pushed Mayor De Blasio to create a similar system, although it won't include single rides, only week and monthly passes.

Edmonton pay as you go and capping for low income riders.  However, Edmonton has proposed that could create the equivalent of a "pay as you go" capping feature for low income riders, which is the method I'd recommend implementing.

For low income riders who can't afford to buy a monthly pass in advance, the "rate capper" will work over the course of an entire month, and once a rider pays in fares the equivalent of the cost of a monthly pass, the discounted price of the pass -- and "free" travel for the rest of the month kicks in ("New smart cards for Edmonton Transit boast a 'social justice' edge," Edmonton Journal).
From the article:
People with steady jobs and good paycheques are the most likely to buy a monthly pass. They have cash on hand at the beginning of the month.

Those who might need their last nickel just to keep the lights on are the most likely to pay cash for every trip. It means they pay $3.25 per ride, more money for the same service.

That’s one reason Ken Koropeski is excited about Smart Fare.

With a card and an online account, the system can track how many times a person uses transit during a 30-day period, said Koropeski, director of special projects for Edmonton Transit. No one would have to commit to a monthly pass on Day 1. Instead, the system could automatically track use and once the rider hits that monthly maximum, all other rides are free.

“When you have capping, it has inherent benefits for people with low income,” said Koropeski.
Rather than spending $3 million making the Circulator free better that we spend $3 million on low income transit passes.

2.  Create intra-neighborhood transit (bus) services so that people can get to and from local services, commercial districts, schools, libraries, and to and from transit stations without having to drive. This includes delivery services of "freight" such as groceries.

In various writings, I call this "tertiary" service/tertiary transit network (based on the Arlington County framework in their transportation plan, which defines a primary and secondary transit network).  And it's not like we don't have a form of this now, at least within the city. Most neighborhoods have access to some bus service, although many people may not use it because it is circuitous or because they feel that the bus service is beneath them.

Orbit EarthThere are many models for what I consider intra-district transit service: including various tourist oriented transit services in places like Savannah or Laguna Beach; the Tempe In Motion bus services in Tempe, Arizona, which serves residents; the Baltimore Circulator which complements metropolitan bus service to Downtown by MTA with intra-district bus service; the FRED service of electric mini-shuttles in Downtown San Diego, Santa Monica, Anaheim, and various communities on Long Island and in and around Miami.

While I no longer recommend making all surface transit free, I do see the value in making tertiary network transit services free. That would take people to and from major transit stations, commercial districts, supermarkets, etc., and home, but wouldn't be free for outside of the neighborhood travel. See "Intra-neighborhood (tertiary) transit revisited because of new San Diego service," for a more complete discussion.

Other items from "Is making surface transit free the best transit investment DC can make?
  • Double deck buses as a repositioning device
  • Creating a system of priority bus lanes
  • Add Night Owl bus service on subway routes during the periods when the system is closed
  • Line extensions/creations.  One example would be the extension of the 30s line from its terminus at Friendship Heights on the DC/Maryland border northward to at least Friendship Heights.  Another would be service on Connecticut Avenue and Rhode Island Avenue that is more comparable to the trunkline services on major arterials such as 14th or 16th Streets, H Street, or Georgia Avenue.  Both of these services should extend some distance into Maryland
  • Other improvements.  An extensive list of other improvements, such as to bus stop waiting environments, is discussed in the entry "Making bus service sexy and more equitable."

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Saturday, March 16, 2019

Annual Spring Lecture: Robert Sampson “Urban Neighborhoods and American Life” | Metropolitan Policy Center, American University

From the H-Urban listserv

2019 MPC Annual Spring Lecture: Robert Sampson
“Urban Neighborhoods and American Life”
Wednesday, April 3rd, 2019 | 4:00pm – 6:00pm

-- RSVP here

School of International Service Founders Room
American University
4400 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20016

Professor Sampson's most recent book, published by the University of Chicago Press, is Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect.

The Metropolitan Policy Center is pleased to announce its fifth Annual Spring Lecture. We are excited that Robert J. Sampson of Harvard University will deliver our keynote lecture. His talk is entitled “Urban Neighborhoods and American Life."

Presently, Robert J. Sampson is the Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University, founding director of the Boston Area Research Initiative, and Affiliated Research Professor at the American Bar Foundation.

He served as Chair of the Department of Sociology and taught at the University of Chicago before moving to Harvard. He also taught at the University of Illinois and was a Senior Research Fellow at the American Bar Foundation. A reception will follow the lecture.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Revisiting stories: military spending, the Gunbelt, and Montgomery County vs. Fairfax County

The Brookings Institution is presenting "Defense Spending in the 50 States" on Tuesday, March 19, 2019 10:00 — 11:30 a.m.

I have some pieces about how concerns in Montgomery County about lagging vis a vis Fairfax County comes down to the difference in the level of military spending in the two jurisdictions.

-- "Montgomery County's real economic development problem: it's not part of the military economy," 2011
-- "Montgomery County's real jobs problem is that it is an adjunct, not a full-fledged, member of the military-industrial complex," 2012

According to the Department of Defense webpage Defense Spending by State - Fiscal Year 2017, Fairfax has about 6x the level of military spending compared to Montgomery. (But Montgomery County does have significant federal spending on health and sciences through the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, other HHS units, and the National Institute for Science and Technology.)

The webpage has breakdowns for all the states and is a great illustration of how military spending is more about providing monies to activities in various Congressional districts, rather than a focus on war readiness.

When I wrote the pieces about Montgomery versus Fairfax, I came across work by Ann Markusen that I didn't know about--these days Professor Markusen is more focused on the economic benefits of arts-related uses--The Rise of the Gunbelt: The Military Remapping of Industrial America.

The basic point of the book is that the Sunbelt's (and Boston's) success was driven mostly by military spending. This is the summary of the book:
Since World War II, America's economic landscape has undergone a profound transformation. The effects of this change can be seen in the decline of the traditional industrial heartland and the emergence of new high tech industrial complexes in California, Texas, Boston, and Florida. The Rise of the Gunbelt demonstrates that this economic restructuring is a direct result of the rise of the military industrial complex (MIC) and a wholly new industry based on defense spending and Pentagon contacts. Chronicling the dramatic growth of this vast complex, the authors analyze the roles played by the shift from land and sea warfare to aerial combat in World War II, the Cold War, the birth of aerospace and the consequent radical transformation of the airplane industry, and labor and major defense corporations such as Boeing, Lockheed, and McDonnell Douglas. Exploring the reasons for the shifts in defense spending--including the role of lobbyists and the Department of Defense in awarding contracts--and the effects on regional and national economic development, this comprehensive study reveals the complexities of the MIC.

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A high-impact transit agenda: building alternative models of best practice

Recently I read a piece in the Bicycle Dutch blog about the first bicycle plan for the City of Delft in 1979.  It was the first bike plan in the Netherlands post the re-commitment to bicycling that focused on building active ridership by focusing on the creation of a connected system, not so much on separated cycle infrastructure, but the creation of a network.

Map from the Delft Cycle Plan showing the proposed cycle network. Left: the three levels explained. (From the archive of André Pettinga)

From the entry:
Delft was the third city in The Netherlands to experiment with modern cycling infrastructure, aided by the national government. After the experiments in Tilburg and The Hague in the 1970s, where they built one very good (but also very expensive) cycle route, that had mixed results but didn’t lead to more cycling overall, Delft took a different and innovative approach. Delft wanted to improve the city’s existing cycle network, which had a lot of missing links. ...

“We were determined to get a good network of cycle routes, not necessarily all on protected cycle paths, because we knew we couldn’t afford that.” André tells me, “And we already had good experiences with traffic calming of roads and streets.” It may be good to realise that there was no ‘zero’ situation in Delft. The presumption was, there were parts of a network, but with many missing links. The network of the plan already existed for about 75% (this includes traffic calmed streets and cycling infrastructure on distributer roads). The modal share for cycling before the plan was already 38%. ...

The response of the survey, 72%, was very high and helped the city to identify the most important physical, financial and mental barriers to cycling in the city.
Networks are key.  Missing links have disproportionate negative effect on use.


I am on an email list where one of the current discussions is the dropping of a light rail program for Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina as discussed most recently in CityLab ("Why Duke Killed the Durham-Orange Light Rail Project") and earlier in the month in the Raleigh News & Observer ("Light rail: Duke hasn’t been the only roadblock to the project").

A couple years ago I wrote a piece about (bus) transit in Raleigh-Durham, because the way the transit agencies work together is a more informal version of the German style transport association, which is something that the DC area should have. E.g., in R-D they have one customer call center for all the transit agencies, run by Triangle Transit (GoTriangle) whereas in the DC area, each transit agency does their own thing. It's a model for how metropolitan areas with multiple agencies should be collaborating.

-- "Will buses ever be cool? Boston versus the Raleigh-Durham's GoTransit Model," 2017

The Tide (HRT), Norfolk, VA: Siemens S70 Car 403 waiting for the dispatcher's instructions at York Street/Freemason station on the second day of operation, August 20, 2011.Norfolk.

What's the right rail transit mode and paradigm for a community?

But even then I was a bit surprised at the proposal for light rail in the R-D area with a metropolitan population of 1.21 million.

Sure sure I favor rail transit, because of the nature of trips in the region and because of what we should rightly call massive failure of LR in places like Charlotte (fewer than 28,000 daily riders after a recent extension) or Norfolk (fewer than 7,000 daily riders although the line doesn't go to major activity centers in the area) in terms of ridership -- although sure the failure is partly due to truncated lines and the fact that these lines are single lines, not part of a network -- I've started to question willy nilly support for LR projects.

Even Dallas--93 miles of track, 64 stations, about 100,000 daily riders--considering, doesn't have all that much ridership considering the number of stations and investment.  The Dallas Metropolitan area has a population of 6.8 million.

By contrast, the Minneapolis light rail system has 37 stations on two lines (one is in the process of being extended which will add 16 stations) totaling 23 miles of track and about 75,000 daily riders, complemented by a small commuter rail line, BRT, and local transit services.  (Separately St. Paul is adding streetcar to the mix).  The area population is 3.6 million

Doesn't it make more sense to invest monies for transit in those places where there can be significant impact?

So I've been thinking, besides straight up BRT--bus rapid transit, what kind of innovative, transformational transit services ought to be the focus of smaller communities, rather than more traditional LR systems.

Here are four primary ideas.  Relatedly, I am starting to believe that it'd be better to focus on these improvements to the transit network now, rather than longer term plans to build longer distance high speed rail (HSR) lines, which seem to generate tremendous opposition.

1. City-wide streetcar networks.  Professor Patrick Condon proposed that Vancouver should focus on streetcars as opposed to longer trip focused LR systems ("Why a Streetcar Is Something to Be Desired" and "Am I the Last Voice against SkyTrain to UBC? It will drive unaffordable condos in Vancouver. Which drives me nuts," The Tyee).

Note that I discuss this issue in terms of inter-city transit and intra-district rail transit ("DC and streetcars #2: STREETCARS ARE ABOUT TRANSIT, just in a different way from how most people are accustomed to thinking about it," 2015).

Subway extension in Vancouver
How much track a $7 billion (Canadian) subway extension to UBC will net

Or the creation of a streetcar network for the same amount of money, serving more people?
A tram network could be built to serve Vancouver for $7 billion (Canadian)

While I do think in Vancouver it isn't either/or but and/and, couldn't cities like Kansas City or Cincinnati or Oklahoma City, which have recently introduced a streetcar line, try to develop a deeper in-city streetcar transit network, as opposed to Light Rail? Or Nashville, St. Petersburg, Tampa, Arlington, Texas ("Arlington needs public transit. Here's how to do that," Fort Worth Star-Telegram), San Antonio, etc., as opposed to seeking to build light rail systems?

Although, note that this was proposed for DC too, but successive administrations haven't committed to it.

Wouldn't it be awesome as a demonstration to the rest of the country if we had a city in the US that functioned this way (comparable or smaller to how Zurich and Melbourne have streetcars as a key element of their transit system)? (Philadelphia has some lines but not a preponderance. Toronto doesn't seem to have the same breadth of streetcars as do Zurich and Melbourne.)

DSC00279The Melbourne tramway network has 160 miles of double track, 493 trams which are a mix of modern and "vintage" vehicles, 24 routes, and 1,763 tram stops.


Zurich has about 45 miles of double track and 60 miles of single track on 16 routes and 313 vehicles--a mix of old and new.

Both cities have other forms of rail and bus transit, and are leaders in the creation of special transit fare pass products designed to encourage choosing transit first and primarily for trips.

Like Zurich and Melbourne, in Vancouver you do probably need both heavier rail and streetcars. In Cincinnati you don't, or at least it's too hard to make it work even in the intermediate term given the reality of how the region has reorganized around the car over the past 70 years. In R-D and KC you do have interesting issues because of the polycentric nature (or at least duality) of those places.

2. Double decker bus lines. I've argued that we should use double deck buses as a way to rebrand and reposition transit. They are a lot more fun than the vehicles used in BRT systems. And they are visually striking. Far more than BRT vehicles ("Making bus service sexy and more equitable," 2012)

A mass of buses on Regent Street at Oxford Circus, Westminster, LondonA mass of buses on Regent Street at Oxford Circus, Westminster, London

Most transit systems in the UK use double deck buses, although not exclusively.  I argue that at the very least we need to test them ("The need for a double decker bus vs. streetcar comparison study," 2014).

A few North American jurisdictions, but primarily Ottawa City, Ontario, use double deck buses.

3. Better leveraging of existing passenger rail systems to provide service within cities.  Most railroad passenger systems were developed to bring people from suburban and exurban areas to cities.  Depending on how long ago they were developed, lines usually have a limited number of city stations, other than the primary hub.

Cities like Chicago ("Instead of extending the Red Line, some see promise in the Metra Electric," Chicago Reporter), New York, Boston ("More trains mean equity for Fairmount Line," Boston Globe, Baltimore, and DC have opportunities for in-city transit stations on these lines.

The models for how to do it include the German S-Bahn system, which is a "suburban" rail program designed to integrate with and extend city subway and related transit systems, the London Overground ("One big idea: Getting MARC and Metrorail to integrate fares, stations, and marketing systems, using London Overground as an example," 2015), or the RER system in Greater Paris.

This necessitates creating better connections between often disconnected "terminals" or improvements within existing stations to facilitate rail line connections, like at Millennium Station in Chicago, which will allow increased service from Indiana's South Shore Line.

For example, between Penn and Grand Central Stations in Manhattan or between North and South Stations in Boston.  A model for how to do this is the Center City Commuter Connection in Philadelphia, which connected three different train stations, allowing for train lines from different systems to be integrated.

There are many opportunities to make these kinds of improvements, which would have an extranormally positive effect on ridership and effectiveness.

4.  (Re)creating regional rail/intra-state rail networks. Last week, the Wall Street Journal ran a long piece about "the waste" of $2 billion on improved rail systems between Chicago and St.Louis, because the speed improvement of an end to end trip is seemingly minimal ("High-Speed Rail in the U.S. Remains Elusive: Illinois Shows Why"). But Rail Passengers Association ran a good op-ed in their blog making the point that focusing on the Chicago to St. Louis trip missed the point in terms of the significant improvements experienced on sub-line trips, say Chicago to Bloomington.

In 2017,  I went to the annual meeting of the Virginia Association of Rail Patrons and there was an interesting presentation by Rafael Guroian who pointed out the missed links in having a true intra-state regional rail network in Virginia, how college students are a significant proportion of rail ridership, etc., and how these links could be created. But the state's rail plan doesn't prioritize addressing such gaps.

While this is a map produced by VARP from "Statement on Future Rail Passenger Service in the Virginias (Draft)," it's similar, and the red lines show missing links in an intra-state rail network.

I have been only to a couple places in Europe, but wrt rail it's super interesting about how virtually all the writing about UK rail is that it is a disaster post-Beecham cuts (1960s) and privatization.

But for all the writing about how disastrous UK rail is, as a system it is probably a minimum 10X better than what we have in the US in terms of the ability to get to many places from many places on a frequent basis.

It helps that it's easier to do rail in the UK (or Germany or France) because relatively speaking the country is small and therefore so the distances between major cities are short which works in favor for rail transit.

Maybe rather than HSR, we should be focusing on rebuilding these kinds of networks at the regional scale.

Other elements to focus on include:

-- BRT, but as integrated networks, rather than a bunch of competing systems (e.g., in the DC area, WMATA, Montgomery County, and Fairfax County are all doing their own thing)

-- a focus on creating high quality transit stations and conceiving them as a network and investing in transit stops and stations more generally as they are the marketing touchpoints for transit and communicate whether or not a community values transit to begin with

-- bundling local transit access with rail tickets (Metrolink does this probably the best in the US, the QR code on the ticket works as an equivalent of the TAP card, but MARC does this too, with local transit in Greater Baltimore, and WMATA and Montgomery County bus, PATH uses the NYC Subway card, in North Carolina, Amtrak riders can use local transit for no extra charge, etc.)

-- having common transit fare media systems across a state. E.g., the Presto system in Ontario is supposed to be usable in all but one of the provinces major transit agencies. The CharlieCard in Mass. is used by many of the state's transit agencies. The DC area SmarTrip card also works in Baltimore and vice versa as Baltimore's CharmCard is merely a branded version of the SmarTrip card.

And importantly, especially in cross-state areas like DC-MD-VA and NJ-NY, create German style transport associations

-- "The answer is: Create a single multi-state/regional multi-modal transit planning, management, and operations authority association," 2017
-- "Verkehrsverbund: The evolution and spread of fully integrated regional public transport in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland,"Ralph Buehler, John Pucher & Oliver Dümmler, International Journal of Sustainable Transportation (2018)
-- Transport Alliances - – Promoting Cooperation and. Integration to offer a more attractive and efficient Public Transport, VDV, trade association for German transport associations

But take them to the next generation by integrating for profit mobility providers as well:

-- "Another example of the need to reconfigure transpo planning and operations at the metropolitan scale: Boston is seizing dockless bike share bikes, which compete with their dock-based system," 2018

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Master planning and scenario planning in the face of economic problems in higher education

I have a couple pieces:

-- "Revisiting stories: community culture master plans should include an element on higher education institutions," 2017
-- "Should community culture master plans include elements on higher education arts programs?," 2016

about cultural master planning and including an element on higher education institutions within a community that are providing arts and design education.

Separately, this piece discusses the need for special review processes when cultural institutions seek to sell or close facilities:

-- "When BTMFBA isn't enough: keeping civic assets public through cy pres review," 2016

Localities need to be engaged in case "bad things happen."  Proactively.

This is tricky because technically localities have little say in these processes, because oversight is housed at the state and national scale (through accreditation processes). 

And financial institutions providing working capital to the schools have a disproportionate say in merger and continuation decisions ("Mount Ida President Defends Himself," Inside Higher Education).

Colleges and universities tend to be important economic development engines in local economies, although the fact that most don't pay taxes create financial problems for localities too ("Boston Institutions Fall Short — Again — On City-Requested Payments," WBUR-FM/NPR)).

A past mayor in Providence proposed a head tax on students as a way to make up for revenue shortfalls that result ("Mayor of Providence, Rhode Island calls for tax on students at Brown," New York Daily News).

That's an issue in New England, Vermont and Massachusetts especially, where a number of small liberal arts colleges have been closing ("Green Mountain College tried numerous strategies but is still closing," Inside Higher Education).

But the problems are hardly limited to New England such as the closure of a music college in St. Paul, Minnesota ("Emotions run high as McNally Smith College of Music graduates final class," Minneapolis Star Tribune).

And with the failure of a national chain of for profit colleges which abruptly closed in the last couple of weeks ("Argosy University closing leaves students in limbo: 'We're sinking," Chicago Sun-Times).

In Massachusetts, the Governor has proposed legislation providing more oversight and involvement for private colleges facing closure ("Baker wants increased state oversight of private colleges," Boston Globe).

-- "Survival of the Smartest: Vermont's Colleges Must Adapt as Pool of Potential Students Declines," Seven Days)

Having read some of the coverage last year, concerning the closure of Mount Ida College and others, it turns out to be very complicated.

Last minute hitches can end up dooming an institution.

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Thursday, March 14, 2019

The most important change that could result from the soliciting business charges against DC Councilmember Evans: Ending Councilmember "jobs" being considered part-time

book cover, Corrupt Cities: A Practical Guide to Cure and Prevention by Robert Klitgaard, H. Lindsey ParrisThe media are full of stories about how DC Councilman Jack Evans solicited consulting jobs using his DC Council email account ("D.C. Council privately meets with member Jack Evans amid federal probe," Washington Post).  There are calls for censure, him being stripped of his chairmanship of the Finance Committee and membership on other Council committees, etc.

Yes, what Councilman Evans did was wrong, corrupt, a misuse of his office, etc.

But it's but a baby step from the reality that DC Councilmember "jobs" are considered "part-time" and many of the Councilmembers have "outside work" which can significantly increase their income:

-- "Jack Evans 2015 pitch to Manatt," Washington Post, 2019
-- Fewer D.C. Council members report outside income," Washington Post, 2014
-- "Jim Graham fails in bid to challenge ethics ruling," Washington Post, 2013
-- "David Catania's Double Dipping," The FightBack, 2010
-- "Anita Bonds to quit job with D.C. contractor Fort Myer Construction," Washington Business Journal, 2013

Many DC Councilmembers in the past and present have work affiliations with companies that do work for DC, etc., or lobbying positions for law firms and lobbying organizations, etc.

It's unseemly and borders on corruption at the very least.

Past blog entries:

-- "The system of corruption: when you don't understand "systems", of corruption or anything else, you don't understand outcomes," 2010
-- "The highly paid DC City Council and governance and voting systems," 2011
-- "First order change vs. second order change and DC politics," 2010
-- "Umm, it's the system," 2011
-- "The Growth Machine and public graft," 2010
-- "More on DC ethics and corruption: intrinsic vs. extrinsic behavior," 2011
-- "Local corruption, I want to believe* vs. reality," 2011



I've written various posts suggesting various reforms in how DC is governed and structured. This post has the master list of items:

-- "Incremental piecemeal fixes to DC politics and governance mostly don't help," 2013

WRT Councilmembers, I say either cut their salary in half so that it is really a part time job, or make the job officially full-time, to eliminate these kinds of conflicts of interest.

I'd rather eliminate the conflicts of interest.

DC Councilmembers currently make $133,144 per year ("Who earns the biggest D.C. paychecks? Check out our 2017 searchable database;," Washington Business Journal).  I'd do fine with that were it my income,

BUT ...

I'd rather we bump of the salary by say $25,000 and term the job "full time" and bar all outside work.

Note that the Mayor, Attorney General, and the Chairman of the City Council positions are all considered full-time positions and bar outside entanglements ("Pay Raise Proposed For D.C. Mayor, Council Chairman And Attorney General," WAMU/NPR)

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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Pedestrian fatalities and street redesign

There has been a lot of coverage on the release of reports by Smart Growth America (Dangerous By Design 2019) and the Governors Highway Safety Institute, (Pedestrian Deaths in U.S. Approach Highest Number in Nearly 30 years," New York Times) about the rise in pedestrian fatalities in the US, after a period of decline associated with a decline in average vehicle miles traveled and the Financial Crash of 2008.

The SGA report found that Florida is one of the worst states in the US in terms of pedestrian deaths, something I wrote about concerning St. Petersburg in 2014, "Educating the pedestrian vs. re-engineering road pavements to reduce accidents in pedestrian priority areas."

Gulf Boulevard in St. Petersburg Beach is a road with many hotels and visitors to the city walk along the road and between there and other destinations in the city.

Why are people downgraded on neighborhood streets?  Years ago, I was crossing from one side of my street to the other and I waited for a car to pass, and I realized that the mobility paradigm is backwards in that pedestrians are expected to defer to cars, when certainly in the neighborhood street context, cars should be expected to defer to pedestrians.

Why not design streets in terms of the land use context?  The transportation planning system develops all roads, to allow cars to be driven at high speeds, regardless of land use context.

That means that neighborhood streets can support motor vehicle traffic operating as fast as if they are on a highway.

Instead we need to "dumb down" roads to make them better fit their context--freeways should allow for high speeds, neighborhoods streets and community serving arterials shouldn't enable high speeds.

While it needs some serious updating and extension of the concepts presented, the Smart Transportation Guidebook does a good job in laying out a framework for reconsidering "street design values" (roadway, roadside, desired motor vehicle speed) in terms of land use context.

Every community has "Boulevards of Death."  The Guardian article, "'Boulevards of death': why pedestrian road fatalities are surging in the US," points out something I've been thinking about and meaning to write about concerning this:
Queens Boulevard has been known locally as the “Boulevard of Death”, the site of more than 130 pedestrian deaths since 1990. Such accidents sharply decreased after the city invested $4m to redesign the street, however, creating bicycle and bus lanes.
For all the talk of Vision Zero, which aims to:
achieve a highway system with no fatalities or serious injuries involving road traffic.
and I've put forward various frameworks for implementing it here:

-- "A reminder about how the entitlement of automobility is embedded into law and democratizes death by accident," 2014
-- "A "Vision Zero" agenda for DC," 2014
-- "DC and Vision Zero Revisited," 2015
-- "Updating Vision Zero approaches," 2016
-- "First global benchmark for road safety in cities published by International Transport Forum," 2018

we aren't doing a lot of wholesale road redesigns to reshape the mobility paradigm away from automobile primacy, although most communities have examples here and there of some changes, although they tend to be somewhat incomplete.

For example, DC has designated some streets as "neighborhood slow zones" but without changing the speed limit. And many streets have sidewalk bulbouts.

Medellín.  While this isn't a US example, and was done to promote economic and social revitalization, as much as it was to improve the social environment of the community, the way that Medellín has reconstructed roads in association with the implementation of aerial trams/gondolas is an incredible illustration of how to redesign roads to reduce car speeds and put pedestrians (the most vulnerable users) first.  These photos are from the "Northeastern Urban Integration Project."
Medellin, Northeastern Urban Integration project, converted typical arterial into a multi-modal, pedestrian focused street

Medellin, Northeastern Urban Integration Project associated with MetroCable cable car project

Why not implement high profile best practice examples in more places?  I think more states need high profile best practice examples of street redesign which can be used to drive innovative practice across the state. For example, I've suggested that could be done with Rockville Pike in Montgomery County.

Today, Rockville Pike is a long way from what it could be.

Rockville Pike, looking north, which Montgomery planners want to transform into a network of urban villages.
Washington Post photo.

A revisioned Rockville Pike, Montgomery County, Maryland

Or a major arterial in DC.  And neighborhood streets.

Although, while it hasn't gotten any notice, in the reconstruction of Virginia Avenue SE in association with the rebuilding of the CSX railroad tunnel, enhanced sidewalks include a "within the sidewalk right of way bike path + sidewalk" comparable to treatments in Europe, have been constructed for almost 7 blocks, from 2nd Street to 9th Street.
Cycletrack and sidewalk, Virginia Avenue SE, Capitol Hill, Washington DC

Asphalt block.  For years, I've argued that one way to tame speed would be to use asphalt block on neighborhood streets, and in areas around parks, schools, commercial districts, transit stations, etc.

Monument Avenue in Richmond is a prominent example of this.  The blocks provide visual, aural, and physical cues to drive more slowly.
Monument Avenue, Richmond

Here and there in DC there are stretches of extant asphalt block in neighborhoods, mostly Capitol Hill, such as this section of First Street SE, while Georgetown still has a couple blocks done in cobblestones -- which look cool but aren't comfortable to walk or bike on.

Asphalt block pavement on First Street SE, Capitol Hill, Washington, DC
Asphalt block pavement on First Street SE, Capitol Hill, Washington, DC

P Street NW, Georgetown

Some examples of major street and streetscape design.  Recently, I've come across some corridor redesign efforts of the Figueroa Corridor, in Los Angeles ("Victory in Round 3 for Los Angeles’ MyFigueroa Streetscape Project," Architect's Newspaper), Geary Street in San Francisco, ("Geary Rapid Project kicks off with aim of overhauling busy San Francisco roadway," San Francisco Chronicle), and Bell Street in Seattle.

According to AN's 2014 article:
After four years of stops and starts, MyFigueroa, the $20 million proposal to transform Los Angeles’ Figueroa Corridor from a regional throughway to a bike– and pedestrian-friendly destination, appears to be moving ahead. Overseen by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) with design assistance from Melendrez, Troller Mayer Associates, and Gehl Architects, MyFigueroa will add separated cycle tracks or buffered bike lanes, bike racks, and improved transit shelters, lighting, and landscaping to 4.5 miles of streets between LA Live and Exposition Park.
Although StreetsblogLA reports after a change in mayors and project managers, the results didn't live up to what was promised ("Muted Applause as Long Awaited MyFigueroa Officially Opens").
Rendering, Figueroa Street Corridor streetscape project, Los Angeles

Like in Medellín, the improvements in LA and SF are/were made in association with transit investments, although in LA the project was paid for in large part by a special funding source, Proposition 1C, which funds infrastructure in association with affordable housing (that funding source seems a bit of a stretch for me, but ...).

These projects are comparable to what I've suggested should be done in association with the Purple Line light rail project in Suburban Maryland and creating "sustainable mobility corridors" in association with the transit stations that are created.

-- Purple Line #5: Creating a Silver Spring "Sustainable Mobility District"
- Part 1: Setting the stage
- Part 2: Program items 1- 9
- Part 3: Program items 10-18
- Part 4: Conclusion
- Map for the Silver Spring Sustainable Mobility District

The Bell Street redesign is much more radical than I am advocating, as it is the implementation of a heavy duty shared street concept.

I tend to be leery of such because in the US, cars dominate, and I don't think we're ready for sharing.  Rather I'd like to see more emphasis on prioritizing pedestrians.

-- Bell Street Park, Seattle, Case Study, NACTO

Here, I'm merely suggesting using asphalt block instead of traditional continuous asphalt pavement on neighborhood streets.

But I do think it's something that DDOT should consider in the context of their neighborhood transportation planning, which they call the "Livability Program."

One is going on in my greater neighborhood right now, and while I submitted dozens of ideas, I didn't submit this one, at least not yet.

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Sunday, March 10, 2019

UK local governments selling off public assets in face of austerity-driven budget cuts

I have mentioned from time to time how local governments in the UK have been devastated by cuts to their budgets by the national government, justified by austerity, or the non-Keynesian approach to macroeconomic fiscal policy focused on reducing government expenditures and deficits rather than expanding the economy in the face of economic downturns.

Arguably, a justification for austerity derives from neoliberalism and its ideological position that government action and spending is always inferior to the market.

From the Guardian article "Neoliberalism's 'trade not aid' approach to development ignored past lessons: Neoliberal development policy was radical and abstract, but its uncompromising approach proved dangerous in the real world":
Neoliberalism is often used today as shorthand for any idea that is pro-market and anti-government intervention, but it is actually more specific than this. Above all, it is the harnessing of such policies to support the interests of big business, transnational corporations and finance. It seeks not so much a free market, therefore, as a market free for powerful interests.
Similarly, the flip side of this is a focus on outsourcing government functions to the private sector and private financing, both of which have been shown to be more expensive and often less successful than if these functions were handled by government.

-- "Failure of outsourcing in Great Britain," 2018
-- "How part-privatising the UK probation system backfired," Financial Times

UK austerity is also in the news, with claims that cuts in budgets for policing have contributed to a rise in crime more generally ("UK Police Are Stretched by Austerity," New York Times) and more recently, knife crime ("K Knife Crime Rises. Are Budget Cuts to Blame?," NYT).

UK local governments have experienced cuts in budgets up to 60% and that combined with the double whammy of also being financially responsible for elder care, this has driven many governments to bankruptcy, but also selling off property.

The problem is exacerbated by restrictions on local taxation, especially taxation of residential property, which is undertaxed.

The Guardian reports ("Great British sell-off: how desperate councils sold £9.1bn of public assets") on a study of this phenomenon conducted by the Bureau for Investigative Journalism and HuffPost UK.

The article discusses putting up various civic assets up for sale such as the Stretford Public Hall in Trafford and the Moseley Road Baths in Birmingham.

Both these buildings ended up being taken over by community nonprofit initiatives, with support from the nonprofit Locality and their Save Our Space campaign. From the article:
“Part of the problem is a lot of councils don’t have policies in place to think about alternatives to selling off properties to the private sector,” says Tony Armstrong, Locality’s CEO. “Councils are under a huge amount of pressure, and we definitely sympathise with them, but when they look at plugging these budget holes in the short term, once they’ve done that, they can’t do it again - and these places are lost forever.”

In a period of austerity, non-profit making services are “just seen as a drain”, Armstrong says.

“It probably sounds like jargon, but we talk about this concept of ‘social infrastructure’. It’s common sense really, but what brings communities together is the common experiences that we share, and a big part of that is the tangible, physical places where we get together.”
Also see these past Guardian articles:

-- "These squares are our squares: be angry about the privatisation of public space," 2017
-- "Britain's cash-strapped councils and the great Civic Centre sell-off," 2017
-- "Councils forced to sell off parks, buildings and art to fund basic services," 2018
-- "In the frame: two radically different plans for civic art collections," 2019

This is an issue for local government in the US, not so much with public buildings and park space, although it does happen, but with services and infrastructure, such as Chicago's disastrous long term lease deals for its public parking structures and parking meters. The city was driven to make a fast deal because they needed money to plug a $2 billion budget deficit.

-- "Financial engineering for municipalities," 2011
-- "A lesson to cities that they need to be very careful when leasing assets to public private "partnerships"," 2012
-- "Chicago's ongoing debacles: parking and governance," 2013

This also comes up with outsourcing and similar kinds of deals concerning speed cameras, parking meter revenue collection, etc.

At the federal level, outsourcing is a big deal, and hyper problematic, from the management of "camps" to house undocumented immigrants ("Are US immigrant child detention centers "concentration camps"?," Quartz) to privatized prisons (Private Prisons in the United States, The Sentencing Project)

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