Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

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

Monday, July 16, 2018

DC is a market leader in Mobility as a Service (MaaS)

Over the past few months, writing various pieces concerning various elements of sustainable mobility and what I am now calling the Sustainable Mobility Platform, I came to realize that while it has transpired incrementally, and while neither the industry nor the city planners may realize it, DC is a market leader in smart mobility/mobility as a service/transportation as a service.

And so far, it has nothing to do with "autonomous vehicles."  E.g., "How Driverless Cars Are Going to Change Cities," Wall Street Journal

Changes in urban mobility infrastructure will come with driverless cars
Changes in urban mobility infrastructure will come with driverless cars. Wall Street Journal graphic by Peter and Martha Hoey.

123.11_McClelland_DC_Map.jpg

A lot of it comes from leveraging the urban form of the city--the grid of blocks and streets bisected by radial arterials.

This is the benefit of the L'Enfant Plan, laid out during the era of the "Walking City"--which bequeathed to the city an urban design that fosters the use of sustainable modes--first walking, then transit, then biking, the short distances between residential areas and employment centers, overlaid by a heavy rail and bus-based transit system.

-- "Transportation and Urban Form: Stages in the Spatial Evolution of the American Metropolis," Peter Muller

While the metropolitan area has access to many MaaS services, DC is premier because of how the services are layered and intertwined by users within the city and as a result it comprises a deeper and broader service platform within the city, enhanced by the city's urban form.

DC is the MaaS superstar, not the Washington Metropolitan area.

However, Bethesda and Silver Spring in Montgomery County, the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor and Crystal City in Arlington County, and probably a couple districts in Alexandria possess similar characteristics or have the potential, although not to the same degree of breadth and depth.

In presentations on bike planning, I make three related points:

1. Mobility is a system. And just like we built a system to support driving, we need a similar kind of deep system to support biking, if we want high usage, like in European cities like Copenhagen.

Bicycle Traffic as a system, diagram, German National Bicycle Plan, 2002-2012
Bicycle Traffic as a system, diagram, German National Bicycle Plan, 2002-2012


2. While the US land use and transportation system preferences automobility, it took 60+ years to build the system that supports it.

Automobility as a system (slide)
From my presentation "Best practice suburban bicycle planning".

Spread on ideal highway construction, Fortune Magazine, August 1936
Fortune Magazine, August 1936, article on how to create a highway system.

3.  As an example of the length of time required to create successful new mobility environments, the sustainable mobility environment present in today's Portland, Oregon has taken 50 years to construct.
When people look to Portland, Oregon as a sustainable mobility leader and lament that their own community isn't comparable, they fail to recognize that the sustainable mobility platform in Portland present today has been constructed out of both incremental and visionary decision making that has built and reinforced the platform, starting in late 1960s ("A summary of my impressions of Portland Oregon," 2005) with the first decision, to demolish the freeway along the waterfront.

This is not the image of what people think when they think about Portland today.  But it was accurate until the very early 1970s.
Portland's waterfront used to be scarred with freeways

The move to mobility as a service is mostly a big city phenomenon, and even so, most big cities aren't well positioned to prioritize and preference sustainable mobility/MaaS.

When it comes to smart mobility/MaaS, DC is and in fact has been a leader, at least in North America, even if the system is being developed more incrementally and less purposively.

(I'd say that Seattle is co-equal to DC, except that DC is ahead when it comes to having a heavy rail system. Arguably, Seattle has a better bus system.  Its stored value transit card is a bit more versatile and they have water-based transit services too.  Community Transit, serving Snohomish County with service to Seattle, uses some double deck buses.  And their area MPO is more innovative.)

The components of DC's Shared Mobility Platform/MaaS environment

The map, really a diagram, of the WMATA Metrorail system.

1. Multi-modal transit system (Metrorail, 1976).  DC had train service, streetcars dating to the 1860s (and ending in 1962), buses.

The Metrobus system was created out of local transit lines that went bankrupt, a few years before the then under construction Metrorail subway system began operating in 1976.

The Metrorail system now has 6 lines and 102 stations serving DC, Maryland and Virginia.

42 stations serve DC and 31 stations in the core of the city form a kind of "monocentric system" for DC proper, comparable to the MUNI system vis a vis BART in San Francisco, within the polycentric transit system that is Metrorail.

That sub-network is bounded by Foggy Bottom on the Southwest, RFK on the Southeast, Navy Yard and L'Enfant Plaza on the South, Van Ness on the Northwest and Brookland on the Northeast.

It's no surprise that not only is that section of the city the most prosperous, much of it includes the original L'Enfant City, for DC it is quite populous, and has the shortest distances between residential and activity centers.

Area jurisdictions also have their own bus systems.  Montgomery County's RideOn system is considered a national best practice for suburban systems.  Maryland took over commuter railroad services in the 1980s from Conrail and in the 1990s, Virginia launched the Virginia Railway Express.  Both systems focus on bringing commuters into Washington, but at least with Baltimore, there is some reverse commuting.

The railroad services were Monday-Friday services, although in December 2013 MARC added weekend service to the Penn Line.

WMATA metrorail fare card machinesWMATA is unusual in that it charges fares by mode.  A trip with both subway and bus legs is two fares, with a slight discount.  (Although bus to bus transfers, even between systems, are free.)

Two stations extended the blue line further into Maryland and opened in early 2004 while an infill station on the Red Line was built in DC's NoMa district and opened later that year.

Separately, Maryland is building a light rail system in Montgomery and Prince George's County that will intersect with Metrorail and MARC and open in 2022.

An extension to the Silver Line with 6 stations including service to Dulles Airport will open in 2020.  An infill station is being developed for the Potomac Yard section of Alexandria and will open in 2022.

DC taxi at the Wharf, Water Street SW2. Taxis. In various forms, taxis have served DC for more than 150 years.

For a long time DC used a flat rate zone fare system preferencing short trips in the core.  Under the zone system, taxis could carry separate parties and charge each a separate fare.

In 2008, they switched to a distance based system and could no longer take multiple fares in a single trip ("D.C. Cabs Told to Switch From Zone Fares to Meters," Washington Post).  With the change, taxis were also required to accept credit card payments.

Unlike many cities, DC does not charge "medallion fees" to own/operate a taxi so the barriers to entry were few, although taxi licensing is not unlimited and there are periods when the city does not issue new licenses. In 2012, DC City Council passed a law requiring that all taxis display a red-based color scheme, similar to the DC Circulator bus.
capital transit weekly pass featuring Glen Echo Amusement Park

The DC streetcar system sold weekly transit passes.  The story is that on weekends, parents would give them to their children for them to use.

3.  Discounted transit passes.  Compared to other metropolitan areas, monthly subway passes are quite expensive in the DC area. But bus passes are a bit cheaper than 10 fares, and include reciprocal use of local transit services.  MARC train passes are a good deal and include free bus transit in Montgomery County and DC and free local transit in Baltimore.

DC supports a Youth Transit Pass that covers Metrorail.  Metrorail also offers a discount pass for seniors.

SmarTrip card, WMATA4. Stored Value Transit Fare Card (1999).  SmarTrip card was introduced by WMATA in 1999, first for subway, then bus (2002) and parking (2004).

Over time, most area transit agencies (not railroads) have moved to the system.  The Baltimore area adopted a branded version called CharmCard in 2010.

Money is added to the card at machines, online, or at certain stores set up with the proper equipment.

It hasn't been integrated with non-transit modes, although in Montreal, the STM transit agency has integrated bike share access and car share access into their fare card system.

In London, the Oyster Card can be used on local and commuter railroads and on ferry services.  Seattle's card can be used on ferry, water taxis, and railroads.  In SF Bay, on ferries and trains too.  There, the fare card system is run by the local transportation planning organization, not a transit agency.

Recently it has been reported that DC and Baltimore area transit agencies are looking at bailing on the SmarTrip system because of problems dealing with WMATA ("Greater Washington Partnership issue brief on mobility (transit) fare systems," 2018).

Untitled5.  Two-Way Car Share (2004).   Around 2004, the Flexcar and Zipcar car sharing services entered the DC market, starting out in Arlington County.

Members reserve cars in advance and access cars through smart cards and wireless telecommunications connections.

Payment is made through a credit card connected to the account. Users pay sales tax of 10% on each trip.

Two-way car sharing requires that you keep/pay for a car for the entire trip without relinquishing control of the car and it must be returned to the same place where you picked it up.

Zipcar created a preferred vendor relationship with WMATA putting cars at Metrorail stations.  (Enterprise later bought that privilege.)  Cars are available from a variety of locations throughout the city (and elsewhere in the metropolitan area), some on the street, some on private property.  The Zipcar fleet has a variety of vehicles including pickup trucks and vans, to accommodate a range of trip needs and types.

Public participation processes were required for the authorization of the use of public spaces for this "private" service ("The high cost of free parking and car sharing in DC," 2005).

Flexcar and Zipcar merged in 2007.  Zipcar was acquired by Avis Car Rental in 2013.  Other companies, Enterprise and GM-owned Maven, have since entered the DC market, but Zipcar remains predominant.

For some people, two way car share substitutes for traditional car rental.  Over time, special rates for all day, multiple day, and overnight use have been added, as well as customer benefits in association with participating retailers.


6.  DC Circulator Bus (2005)/Metrobus limited stop bus services (2007).  For decades, Metrobus has provided high frequency service for almost 24 hours on a number of DC routes on key arterials such as 16th Street, H Street/Benning Road, and Wisconsin Avenue, although these routes aren't called out as a high frequency network the way that Portland or Minneapolis brands such routes. The high frequency routes each serve 13,000 to 25,000 riders per day.

Separately, DC started its own bus service in the core of the city, with the idea that the routes would encourage people to not use cars to get around in the most congested part of the city (it's like a "fareless square" but with a charge).

The concept is that the headways would be so frequent a posted schedule wasn't needed.

The DC Circulator service started out with Van Hool buses, which were "cooler" than the clunkier buses used by WMATA, done up in a more forward design scheme.  The fare is $1, now half the cost of a Metrobus fare.  And now the Circulator uses the same buses as Metrobus, but with the Circulator livery.

Over time, bus routes have been added to the Circulator system in farther reaches of the city, and routes outside the core tend to be less efficient in terms of usage and cost.

Route 79 Express bus, Georgia Avenue, Silver SpringIn 2007, Metrobus introduced the first limited stop "faster" bus service on Georgia Avenue, the Route 79, called "MetroExtra."  The buses are blue, as opposed to the red buses that denote they serve all stops.  Subsequently, similar routes have been introduced to other lines.

7. Transit information displays and apps (2009/2010).   Metrobus introduced NextBus real time bus information via phone in 2009.  

While still not implemented in a systematic way, in 2010, DDOT introduced a pilot digital transit information screen, similar to a setup previously deployed by Arlington County.  Since then, others including the independent firm TransitScreen has developed and deployed similar products, in DC and elsewhere.

DDOT Multimodal Display

This is an area with a great deal of opportunity for growth.  Screens with this information can be displayed in office building lobbies, at bus stops, in restaurants, etc.  Geographically-set apps can display the screen on computer screens and smart phones.
Real time transit information via TransitScreen and the Orange Barrel Media digital billboard outside Capital One Arena
Real time transit information via TransitScreen and the Orange Barrel Media digital billboard outside Capital One Arena, on 7th Street NW in the Gallery Place neighborhood.  August 2017.

3 people riding Capital Bikeshare bikes on M Street NW, after shopping8.  Dock-based Bike Share (2010).  While an earlier pilot (2008) had been done with Clear Channel, the bus shelter contract did not require a rollout of bike share across the city and it was a 10 station system, hardly widespread.

Instead of renegotiating, DC partnered with Arlington County and launched a different system in September 2010, called Capital Bikeshare, based on solar-powered equipment developed in Montreal.

Originally, members needed a key fob to access the system.

(One of the problems with the Clear Channel system is that it used hardwired electricity connections, which made the system more costly and much slower to deploy.)

Membership includes unlimited rides for no additional charge provide that the trip is less than 30 minutes.  Longer trips trigger additional fees.

An undiscounted membership is $95/year and monthly and shorter term periods are also available.  Later the additional fee structure was changed to reduce the cost for annual members, and a single trip option for $2 was added.  The bulk of operating revenues come from fees charged to short term users.

Over time, the system has expanded to Alexandria and Montgomery County, and soon Prince George's County.

Car2Go vehicles bunched up on Hawaii Avenue NE9.  One-Way Car Share (2011).  Car2Go, using small cars, introduced one-way car share to DC.  Rather than in half hour increments with a one-hour minimum, cars are charged by the minute. Users are also charged sales tax on each trip.

Over time, a per trip fee was added and in 2015 the system switched from a card-based access system to smartphone-based systems. Payment is made by credit card connected to the account.

Paying a hefty access fee per car to the city means that the cars can be parked in most legal spaces, even resident priority areas and at meters without having to pay for no extra charge.  In 2014, Car2Go service was extended to Arlington.  In 2016, cars could be driven from one city to the other and left in either zone.  2017, Mercedes vehicles were added to the fleet.

Car2Go paste up poster ads, New Hampshire Avenue NWThe advantage of the smartcars is that they are super easy to park in an environment of constrained parking supply.

To be competitive with one-way car share, Zipcar added "free parking" on DC streets to its service in 2014 ("Car Share Users Guaranteed Free Parking on D.C. Streets," NBC4).  Zipcar introduced a clunky form of one way car sharing in 2016, but dropped it earlier this year ("Zipcar drops one-way rentals in DC region," WTOP radio). Unlike Car2Go, Zipcar still uses card-based access systems.

Car2Go home zones only cover DC and Arlington County, so cars can only be used one-way when driving in those areas.

10.  Ride Hailing (2011). To me, ride hailing is no different than a taxi.  That being said, app-based ride hailing services utilizing a mix of professional and nonprofessional drivers, using personally-owned vehicles, were pioneered by Uber and Lyft.  Uber argued that somehow because they used a phone-based app system that it wasn't a taxi and shouldn't be regulated.  In many communities they won that argument.  Dispatching and payment is handled through e-commerce solutions.

Ward 4 DC Microtransit serviceDC Government supports a taxi-based microtransit service in some portions of the outer city.

11.  Microtransit services (2015/2016).  Microtransit is the term now being used to refer to small-scale, sometimes on-demand jitney or "shared taxi" services.

STM in Montreal, and other communities in Quebec have offered shared taxi services for decades, in certain parts of its territory, usually at the edges, where traditional fixed route transit service isn't cost effective or doesn't meet the needs of its riders. Other communities in Quebec also

Most other transit systems in North America do not provide similar services.  A number of for profit services were launched, focusing not on distant areas, but in core areas, but most (Split, Bridj) have failed.

Elsewhere, Ford continues to own one service called Chariot, and UberPool, LyftShuttle and the Via service remains operative in cities like New York and Washington DC.  Payment is app based.

This Via screenshot claims that Via users reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Probably not.  In DC, they are likely to be shifting trips from other more efficient modes like walking, biking, and transit.

My sense ("Where's the revolution?: Bridj microtransit service shuts down (a/k/a "Mobility as a Service")," 2017) and not only mine ("Microtransit: What I Think We Know," Human Transit) is that core-focused microtransit services will fail as people will have to pay a premium price for short trips, and this isn't economically viable, nor is it justifiable for such trips to be subsidized by transit agencies.

However, contracted out "shared taxi" services comparable to those of STM, serving transit systems and riders on the edges of service areas likely have upside but will require subsidy ("Beyond the Bus: 'Microtransit' Helps Cities Expand Transportation," Governing Magazine). In 2016, working with taxi companies, the city launched a microtransit service operative in some wards called the Neighborhood Ride Service. This service is more comparable to services in Montreal and is focused on parts of the city outside of the core.

In 2018, Via introduced a new membership program including four rides/day and access to dockless bike share for $159/month.

12.  DC Streetcar (2016).  The streetcar isn't particularly noteworthy yet, but it adds another mode to the city's transit mix. So far, the line is truncated, 2.2 miles long, serving H Street NE with a connection to Union Station.  The line is supposed to be extended east and west to Georgetown and perhaps Rosslyn, which would make it much more useful.
DC Streetcar vehicle proposed paint scheme
Presently, it's free to ride and advocates could use that as a way to press for the creation of a "fareless square" type of operation in the city ("Is making surface transit free the best transit investment DC can make?," 2015).

Unlike Kansas City ("Kansas City Tries to Go from Smart Strip to Smart City, Digital Trends), the streetcar hasn't been used to "drive" "smart city" improvements in that transit corridor or across the city.

I argue that such services need to be thought of as "intra-district" services ("Making the case for intra-city versus inter-city transportation planning," 2011).  Instead, streetcars are often compared to longer route services and found wanting.

13. Metrorail stops using paper farecards, shifting to exclusive SmarTrip usage (2016). The system stopped issuing and accepting paper farecards, although cash can still be used on buses, but is discouraged in favor of the SmarTrip card. This doesn't speed up Metrorail but does reduce the cost of processing payments, and strengthens the use of the stored value transit fare card as a primary MaaS payment device.

Red painted bus lane on Georgia Avenue NW, DC14. Dedicated bus lanes (transitways) painted red (2016).  Exclusive bus lanes painted red were introduced to a section of Georgia Avenue ("Georgia Avenue boasts bright red bus lanes," Washington Post).

Into the 1970s, the area had a number of dedicated busways, but over time they were removed.  Earlier in the decade an exclusive bus lane was installed on 7th Street NW but it isn't painted red and there is minimal enforcement.  More dedicated transitways are in planning.

Making bus service faster through transitways increases throughput and is the equivalent of adding new bus trips to the service. The red paint makes this noteworthy and worth listing as a MaaS element as would other bus prioritization initiatives such as traffic signal preferencing (in place for the DC Streetcar, but not buses).

15.  Dockless bike share including e-bikes (2017).  Dockless bike share was introduced on a pilot basis last fall. Multiple firms, some from China, are involved in the business.

dude makes LimeBike look coolThe original trial period which was to end in April, has been extended. The advantage of dockless is like one-way car share, it is point-to-point and you can leave the bike "anywhere," including right at the endpoint of your trip.

Riders join the system through an app, which is used to pay for individual trips through a credit card link.

Interestingly, these services mostly charge per ride, $1, but $2 for the e-bike from Jump, so that regular riding would cost significantly more--ten times more or higher--than traditional dock-based bike share and at least 3 times higher than the cost of buying a bike. Likely such systems only appeal to occasional users.

They are only cheaper to use when compared to a transit ride, which is $2-$4 on a single trip basis.

Given that dock-based systems were developed for bike share in response to vandalism and theft experienced with early versions of what we would now call dockless bike share, not surprisingly many of the bikes have been vandalized ("Theft and destruction of dockless bikes a growing problem," Washington Post).  And many bikes are improperly parked.

To compete with Jump, which was recently acquired by Uber, LimeBike added e-bikes in 2018.  Note that e-bikes are overkill in the core of the city, but make sense in the outer city ("(Still) tired of mis-understanding of the potential for e-bikes," 2015).

A Lime dockless electric scooter on 6th Street NW, Washington, DC16.  Dockless e-scooters (2018).  Bird, a company focused exclusively on dockless scooters, introduced e-scooters last year in Santa Monica, and after raising venture capital to fuel expansion ("Dockless scooters as an example of a lot of money sloshing around in venture capital," 2018), they and LimeBike, which added e-scooters to their program, launched e-scooters in DC in late Spring.

There is a flat fee of $1 plus a per minute use charge.  (Spin is also getting into the e-scooter market.)

E-scooters may have some advantages over bikes because they are faster and people believe they are trendy when they ride them ("The invasion of the scooter bros: A new tribe," Washington Post).

17. Transit card only bus service (2018).  Route 79, the first Metro Extra limited stop bus route, has just shifted to a card-only usage profile, no longer taking cash fares ("Metro's cash-free bus pilot aims to speed up trips, but some riders worried," WTOP-radio).  This is to speed up boarding.  (DC buses still do front-door boarding exclusively).

Surely this is a pilot with the hopes of being able to do this across the system.  But in order to do so, WMATA needs to make it a lot easier for people to put cash money on the cards ("What's remarkable about this storefront?," 2018).  I've thought for years they should put Metrofare machines in public places but that would create a security and collections cost problem.


The difference between the Sustainable Mobility Platform and Mobility as a Service.  In my SMP framework, I list elements like Barnes Dance intersections and cycle tracks.

But Mobility as a Service is about trips, usually costing money.  It's a sub-set of the SMP, not co-equal to it.

In this listing I did include items like transit information screens and transitways because they have a significant impact on the utility of certain services, or provide the kind of information that people need to make sense of their options.

Arguably, I could have included some other items.  What have I missed?

The MaaS underlying infrastructure: streets and traffic signals + computing and telecommunications.  One thing we don't think about is that almost none of this can work without roads, rights of way, and signaling systems. Those are controlled by local and state transportation departments.  In DC, they are mostly controlled by the DC Department of Transportation, although here and there certain roads and signals are controlled by federal agencies such as the National Park Service.

They are the enabling/foundational infrastructure, coupled with high quality computing applications, telecommunications systems and cloud-based hardware systems, accessed by smartphones and other computing/telecommunications devices.

What's missing or problematic

Do we need a master app integrating all services?  I don't think the lack of integrated apps pulling all the services together is a deal killer.  If it were just public agencies, it might be possible to create a master app, like the Oyster card.  But those are geographically bounded systems.

The for profit providers operate in multiple markets and it is less valuable for them to participate in regionally-specific fare systems.  It's problematic for the user too, who wants to be able to use these modes in other places--e.g., I've used Car2Go in San Diego and Seattle and Zipcar in San Francisco and Seattle.  Most Uber users use it when they travel, etc.

Nevertheless, area transit agencies must commit to using an integrated payment system.  That being said, there should be one unified fare card system for metropolitan area transit agencies, and ideally it should be managed and supported by the metropolitan transportation planning organization.  By shifting responsibility from WMATA to the Transportation Policy Board/Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, perhaps the current problems and enmity between actors can be assuaged.

The fare card system (recognizing its moving towards being exclusively contactless or including contactless options) should work diligently to include commuter railroad services. If London, Seattle, and San Francisco can do it so can other places, including DC.

-- "One big idea: Getting MARC and Metrorail to integrate fares, stations, and marketing systems, using London Overground as an example," 2015

Don't confuse tourist water transportation services with transit.  The DC area has a developing water taxi system, but it's for tourists and shouldn't be represented as transit.  That being said, it's worth integrating the service into the SmarTrip system as one element in moving towards adding water-based transportation services to the transit mix.

Do you need a subscription covering all or a basket of services?  Anyone out there wanting to pay almost $600/month to Whim?  Whim, which started in Helsinki, is doing pilots in the West Midlands, UK, Antwerp, and Amsterdam.

To me, the point of mobility as a service is to pay less than you would if you owned a car, which is $7,000 to $9,000/year.  Whim doesn't seem to provide much in the way of savings.  I don't think the trade off of simplicity--using one app, is worth the loss of savings.

Washington Post graphic.

Gondola as a modeThe Georgetown Business Improvement District aims to create a gondola system to connect Georgetown to the Rosslyn Metrorail Station, thereby "capturing" that station and making it serve DC more directly despite being in Virginia, across the Potomac River, and accessible currently only by the traffic engorged Key Bridge ("The case for the Georgetown-Rosslyn gondola").

Interestingly, the gondola service is more important for night-time and weekend transportation, not for day-time commuter use, although that would be served by the mode as well.

That would extend the transit network/MaaS/SMP.

==========
Writing all this, I still haven't read the various Los Angeles DOT reports on MaaS.  That city aims to be a leader in the field.

-- Strategic Implementation Plan: A Plan to realize the visions outlined in the Urban Mobility for a Digital Age and Blueprint for Autonomous Urbanism document, Los Angeles DOT
-- Urban Mobility in a Digital Age, Los Angeles DOT
-- Blueprint for Autonomous Urbanism, National Association of City Transportation Officials

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Friday, July 13, 2018

I finally figured out why mobility services are buying other mobility services: they're acquiring customers already familiar with smart mobility

For some time, I have been somewhat skeptical of the talk that autonomous vehicles are going to change everything--well, they may, but it will be a couple decades happening--or that people will willingly shift from buying cars to "subscribing to a program like Whip which will cover the bulk of their mobility needs across different modes by paying a monthly subscription.

The reason I am skeptical about autonomous vehicles and the talk of it and mobility as a service "revolutionizing" the industry, at least in the short and intermediate terms, is that the move to mobility as a service is only really happening in big cities, and even so, most big cities aren't well positioned to prioritize and preference sustainable mobility/MaaS.

Screen image, Iphone application for ZipcarCar sharing as an indicator of demand for smart mobility services.  Note for a long time I've argued that car sharing is a good analogue for mobility as a service.  It's a growing business, but still niche.  From the 2015 Auto Rental News article "Carsharing: State of the Market and Growth Potential":
Compared to car rental, total fleet size and revenues for carsharing remain relatively small. The “Fall 2014 Carsharing Outlook,” produced by the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, reports 19,115 carsharing cars in the U.S., shared by about 996,000 members. Total annual revenue for carsharing in the U.S. is about $400 million, compared to the $24 billion in revenue for the traditional car rental market.

Those carshare numbers have roughly doubled in five or six years, demonstrating steady growth but not an explosion. Yet technology, new transportation models, shifting demographics and changing attitudes on mobility present new opportunities. Is carsharing poised to take advantage?
That's not a huge market.  But makes a great deal of difference in city centers.  But given that most people live in the suburbs, it's a small segment of the market.

DC as a smart mobility leader.  DC is and in fact has been a leader, at least in North America, when it comes to smart mobility/MaaS, even if the system is being developed more incrementally and less purposively.

As an early adopter of such services (transit, car sharing--not ride hailing and I don't need to use bike share because I am a hard core cyclist) I believe I have a decent sense for how the sustainable mobility platform is being constructed.

-- "Further updates to the Sustainability Mobility Platform Framework"
-- "DC's framework for Mobility as a Service" (to come)

Direct marketing as an education in product development and delivery. My first job in DC was for a consumer group, but on the publishing side, not advocacy.  The organization published a newsletter and books, which provided the bulk of the organization's revenue.  Over time, I ended up with a pretty good education in direct marketing, which turns out to be a good basis for understanding most types of marketing, especially e-commerce.

Customer acquisition is expensive.  With newsletter publishing, you did "direct mail" to acquire customers and it could be 2-4 years before the revenue from each new "member" began to pay off the original cost of "acquiring the customer."

Acquiring a customer, and keeping them as an active customer, is an expensive process.

In terms of customer profitability, there is the famous 80/20 rule, that 80% of a company's revenue comes from 20% of its customers--it's best customers.

Or in banking, the more lines of business a customer has (checking account, savings account, mortgage, brokerage, etc.) the more profitable the customer is to the bank, etc.

"Market development," selling a new type of product and building a customer base for it, is expensive, takes a long time, and sometimes may not ever be successful.  There are lots of good ideas, but sometimes even good ideas are hard to develop into a profitable business (despite what Silicon Valley venture capitalists lead us to believe).

Hello Fresh meal kit delivery boxMeal kit industry.  In the meal kit industry it was discovered that the cost of acquiring a customer was particularly high, but some firms were better (Blue Apron) than others (Hello Fresh) at keeping customers buying for longer, although most have finally figured out that the business doesn't make a lot of economic sense, so they are shifting to having meal kits sold at the supermarket.

Safeway bought Plated, Kroger bought Home Chef ("How Kroger bought Home Chef," Cincinnati Business Courier), etc.

It's expensive to get customers for products people already are familiar with, like newsletters and magazines, or food.

It's even more expensive to get customers for products that people aren't familiar with.  People understand buying and owning a car.  They don't understand car share, or subscribing to a "shared taxi" service like Via.

For awhile Enterprise Car Share ran some tv ads that I thought were pretty good, explaining car share, but they stopped doing so a long time ago.  The ads aren't even available on youtube anymore.  Zipcar has youtube ads, but I'm not sure I ever saw them on tv.


Vertical integration in the Smart Mobility Biz.  This repositioning of the meal kit industry is comparable to what seems to be happening in the "Mobility as a Service" industry.  Horizontal integration is buying or merging similar firms.  For example, recently, BMW and Mercedes merged their carsharing operations. Or Kroger bought Harris-Teeter.

Vertical integration is extending your business into other elements of the value chain and industry, like Kroger buying Home Chef or the online bulk grocery sales outfit Vitacost.

A few months back, Uber, the ridehailing firm, bought Jump, a dockless e-bike sharing operation. Last week, Lyft, a ride hailing firm, bought Motivate, an operator of bike sharing systems. This week, Uber set up a strategic relationship with LimeBike to cross-sell dockless e-scooter services.

Smart mobility firms are doing "vertical integration" in order to cross-sell different mobility services to customers already familiar with and experienced in buying smart mobility services, be it transit, ride hailing, bike share, or car share.

And already, established companies like Ford, GM, Mercedes, BMW are operating in various MaaS sectors such as car sharing or microtransit.  In The SF Bay area, Ford is the title sponsor for the dock-based bike sharing program ("Ford Motor Company as a transportation company not a "car" company: bike share and small scale transit"), etc.

Operating across multiple lines of business = a transportation company.  Although they're likely to tell us they are doing this because they are "transportation companies" a la the discussion by marketing professor Ted Levitt, which I referenced in "Ford Motor Company as a transportation company not a "car" company: bike share and small scale transit" (2016)

From "Marketing Myopia" reprinted in the Harvard Business Review, "What Business Are You In?: Classic Advice from Theodore Levitt," 2006:
Every major industry was once a growth industry. But some that are now riding a wave of growth enthusiasm are very much in the shadow of decline. Others that are thought of as seasoned growth industries have actually stopped growing. In every case, the reason growth is threatened, slowed, or stopped is not because the market is saturated. It is because there has been a failure of management….

The railroads did not stop growing because the need for passenger and freight transportation declined. That grew. The railroads are in trouble today not because that need was filled by others (cars, trucks, airplanes, and even telephones) but because it was not filled by the railroads themselves. They let others take customers away from them because they assumed themselves to be in the railroad business rather than in the transportation business. The reason they defined their industry incorrectly was that they were railroad oriented instead of transportation oriented; they were product oriented instead of customer oriented….
What's going on in the MaaS field with acquisitions

1.  I think there is a recognition that there are only so many "customers" familiar with and willing to use "smart mobility services."

2.  Rather than spend tons more money in market development, they think they can make more money now by selling more services to people who are already familiar with these types of services.

In marketing terms, it's a form of both (1) cross-selling -- just like the banks selling home insurance to a mortgage holder and a mortgage to a checking account holder, and (2) line extension -- French's mustard never made ketchup but they realized they could do so successfully by leveraging the French's brand, Heinz did the same with mayonnaise.

3.  And so they are buying firms in related lines of business.

That being said, owning Zipcar hasn't made Avis a more successful car rental company. Will people who like feeling they are driven by a chauffeur (Uber) want to sit on and ride an e-bike?

4.  The next step is to first figure out how to  cross-sell services--ride hailing to bike share users, or e-scooter use to bike share, or bike share to microtransit users, etc.--to an already knowledgeable customer base and then if they can make money doing so.

5.  And then they might start focusing again on making the pie larger through market development.

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Thursday, July 12, 2018

A well designed train station is a well designed train station: it's not about "luxury"

Interior, Grand Central Station.  Alexsandr Stickpin Photography. ("Grand Transit: MTA and Grand Central Terminal," Art History Today).

MobilityLab Express has an article, "Grand Central was designed for luxury travel. That’s why commuters love it," attributing the success of Grand Central Station in New York City to the fact that it was designed for long distance trains during the heyday of railroad passenger travel.

I don't agree.

It is a pretty station.  But virtually all big city railroad stations constructed before 1935 were similarly grand, even if the level of grandeur was scaled to the size of the city.  Grand Central Station was built to be both functional and aesthetically attractive.

But so was the Santa Fe railroad station in San Diego or Union Station in Denver, etc.  (Or for that matter, the Ferry Terminal Building in San Francisco.)
Union Station ~ San Deigo CA ~ Historic Building

In the postwar period and in the context of an automobile-centric transportation, the importance of design and aesthetics was stripped out of railroad station planning, whereas most train stations in the US are built to be functional.

NJ Transit platform at Penn Station.  Wikipedia photo.

Penn Station, while originally built with a beautiful façade, was built for both local--presumably not "luxury"--and intermediate distance travel primarily between Washington, Philadelphia, New York City and Boston, and according to some architectural historians was poorly designed as it relates to passenger throughput.

And anyone who uses the station knows how cramped the platforms are, which were created as part of the original station and retained after the above-grade building was demolished in the early 1960s.

I think more than "building a station to serve luxury markets," the issue is the design of the station as a way to maximize the quality of the trip and the experience, specifically:

-- quality of accommodations for passenger throughput generally (entry and exit, connections to other transit services)
-- quality of accommodations for passenger throughput specifically to/from and on platforms
-- centrality of its location (for example the recently in the news Michigan Central Station was deliberately constructed in a location outside of the center thinking it could attract patronage regardless)
-- its place as an anchor of the area transit system and the mixed use district in which it is placed
-- amenities, especially retail and food service
-- architectural design and aesthetics.

In my two trips to Europe, I have been in train stations in Hamburg, Essen, and Dortmund in Germany and in the UK, St. Pancras, Kings Cross, Euston, and London Bridge in London; Lime Street, the Liverpool airport station (some distance from the airport), and the Liverpool Central commuter rail station.

Hamburg especially impressed me.  It's one of the busiest stations in Europe with 650,000 people moving through the station, with connecting service from multiple underground lines, the main inter-city bus terminal nearby (with an underground connection across the street); superior placement and separation of tourist bus services from traditional local transit service; and it anchors both the city's pedestrian shopping district and the Spitallerstrasse transit mall.

The way local transportation intertwines but is separated to foster throughput with the Hamburg train station as the anchor to all the services is far superior to any train station I've experienced in the US, especially Union Station in Washington, where taxicabs, tourist buses, ride hailing pick up and drop off, and individual passenger pick up and drop off are all massed together--poorly--in front of the station.

But even smaller stations in Essen and Dortmund were similarly situated--adjacent to the main pedestrian shopping district, with inter-city bus and local transit services, and tourist bus services, all well integrated but separated as needed for optimum service provision.

Similarly, my more recent trip to the UK super impressed me in terms of the way the train stations were so massive, beautiful, full of amenities, and successful (even if there were wayfinding and other issues) and itinerant service problems on the Thameslink/Southern Rail and Northern Rail services.

Euston is an "old station" undergoing renovation so it was cramped--especially in the face of recent massive train service breakdowns. But it still has great underground and bus connections, and compared to just about any train station in the US, bike accommodations.

By contrast, each of the other stations I visited in London, all renovated more "recently," was amazing, and mixed longer distance service with commuter trains.

St. Pancras is also home to the Eurostar trains connecting London to the European continent, with decidedly luxury options, but that didn't make the station necessarily more beautiful or successful. (Although yes it is stunning inside and out.)
St Pancras International Station London

Similarly, in Liverpool, Lime Street station has longer distance and commuter trains, a "low level" (local underground) station, is adjacent to the main city local transit station at Queens Square, and anchors the adjacent pedestrian district.

The "airport" station is not at the airport but links to it, and has local and long distance train connections, plus local bus transit, and intercity bus transit.  It also provides for a dose of redundancy in that the station can be used for long distance trains while Lime Street station is closed for renovation, which was the case when I was leaving Liverpool.

Many of the Liverpool area local train stations have combined ticket office-retail stores run by Merseytravel and the "automatic" coffee dispenser at the Airport station ticket office (the coffee shop was closed by the time I got there) made excellent coffee!

(Note that I also visited the Victoria Coach bus station in London and the Liverpool One inter-city bus station in Liverpool.  The Victoria station is beautiful art deco outside and terrible inside.  I learned that the problem inside is multiple landowners and the inability of Transport for London to take control of the design, planning, and operation for the service.  The Liverpool One station is outdoors, but has good information and wayfinding systems, excellent platform shelters, and a ticket and information office run by the local transit authority.)

"Old" books on train stations.  I hate to admit that it wasn't until I saw a book by John Droege, Passenger Terminals and Trains, at an antique mall, that I realized it would be helpful to bone up on the historical literature on railroad station design and architecture.

The Droege book dates to 1916 but has been reprinted.  Carroll Meeks' The Railroad Station: An Architectural History dates to the 1950s.

The past blog entry "Transit, stations, and placemaking: stations as entrypoints into neighborhoods" (2013), discusses how, especially in the urban context, transportation infrastructure's aesthetic elements have often been ignored and this can have deleterious impact on quality of life.

After I wrote that piece, because the Wall Street Journal mentioned a 100 year old article on "railroad beautiful" I tracked down some early planning writings from the early 1900s on the aesthetic qualities and design elements of railroad systems, concerning both station grounds and the right of way and yard facilities.  The Boston and Albany Railroad was a leader in adopting such an approach.

See "A Railroad Beautiful" and "The Treatment of City Squares--III; The Square Before the Railroad Station," House and Garden (2), 1902 and "Railroad Gardening," Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture. (These resources have been scanned for online access by the Hathi Trust.)

Transit station reviews.  I have written reviews of the Silver Spring Transit Center and the Takoma Langley Crossroads Transit Center, as well as submitted comments on the redesign and expansion of Union Station.

-- "Updating my review of the Silver Spring Transit Center: a few things I missed in 2015," 2018
-- "Takoma Langley Crossroads Transit Center: a critical evaluation," 2016
-- "DC Union Station EIS FRA -- Comments due November 9th," 2016

Clearly station designs today have a lot to learn from the station designers of yesteryear.  As do I.

Note that the Network Rail train station design manual is superior.

-- Guide to Station Planning and Design, Network Rail

But the US Federal Railroad Administration publication is good on the underlying principles, but provides limited direction in terms of specifics, and it doesn't give examples of supra-best practices, which would raise the expectations of planners and riders both.

-- Station Area Planning for High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail, Federal Railroad Administration, US DOT

Similarly the SEPTA guide for their light rail/trolley stations is a useful resource, but for a much different scale of transit service

-- Modern Trolley Station Design Guide, SEPTA

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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Greater Washington Partnership issue brief on mobility (transit) fare systems

WRT my pieces on the sustainable mobility platform ("Further updates to the Sustainable Mobility Platform Framework"), the need to create an integrated regional "transport association" to plan and operate transit in an integrated and coordinated manner ("The answer is: Create a single multi-state/regional multi-modal transit planning, management, and operations authorityassociation") and the need to integrate railroad transportation into the transit media fare card system ("One big idea: Getting MARC and Metrorail to integrate fares, stations, and marketing systems, using London Overground as an example")

I had no idea that the Baltimore transit agency and area local transit agencies are looking at separating from the WMATA SmarTrip system.

That would be terrible.

But I shouldn't be surprised, given how discoordinated the region is.

The Greater Washington Partnership has produced a paper, UNLOCKING THE PROMISE OF INTEGRATED MOBILITY IN THE CAPITAL REGION, calling for transit trip planning and fare integration and the inclusion of other modes beyond transit, including private services--something which public agencies have a hard time with ("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").

From the paper:
These principles were developed through extensive analysis, direct engagement with stakeholders and decision-makers, and with input from our nationally recognized Mobility Steering Committee.

The Greater Washington Partnership’s Integrated Mobility Principles
  1. Put the user experience at the center of ticketing and trip planning investments
  2. Build capacity for interoperability and new functionality in planning and ticketing systems for public and private mobility services
  3. Ensure that new ticketing systems equitably empower all consumers
  4. Leverage new ticketing systems to learn, experiment, and transform the travel experience
Near-Term Actions
  1. Establish strategic goals and plans for a single platform for all trip planning and ticketing in the Capital Region
  2. Incorporate fare capping into public transportation payment systems
  3. Pursue regional and national funding opportunities that move toward seamless ticketing across all mobility options in the Capital Region
  4. Avoid transportation agency procurements that preclude opportunities to innovate and integrate with other public or private mobility providers across the region
  5. Convene leaders of regional public transportation agencies regularly so they can share what they have learned
Outside of all the various transit services, I don't think that full integration of payment systems beyond transit is essential as I wrote a couple months ago, "Integrating payment systems in the Sustainable Mobility Platform."

Montreal integrated mobility using the STM Opus Card.

However, in Montreal, the stored value transit card can be used for certain bike share and car share applications.  In Ontario, all but one transit agency uses the system developed in Greater Toronto and paid for by the province.  So the same card can be used across the province.

It would be nice, but people manage to deal with having separate apps for different components (car sharing, ride hailing, bike share, scooter share).

More importantly, the amount of one off programming necessary to create such a platform and keep it updated and maintained is considerable and probably not supportable even at the multi-state scale.

What's really needed is for the GWP to advocate for the creation of a German style integrated transport association. Integrating fare media is but one element of such a program.

-- "Route 7 BRT proposal communicates the reality that the DC area doesn't adequately conduct transportation planning at the metropolitan-scale," 2016
-- "The answer is: Create a single multi-state/regional multi-modal transit planning, management, and operations authorityassociation," 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, the association of German transport companies

Note that VDV coordinates a common software and IT system for interoperability of fare payment systems called the Smart Ticketing Alliance, which operates across Germany.

Even the Raleigh-Durham GoTransit model of collaboration across transit agencies would be a step forward compared to the DC area, which doesn't even have a single integrated transit information call center.

WMATA bus study.  Separately, WMATA is wondering about the future of its bus operations ("With ridership falling, Metro will spend $2.2 million to study bus business model," Washington Post), which I will be writing about, and this is the flip side of the same question, which is how to get more people to use transit and how to make the system more successful.

-- "Making bus service sexy and more equitable," 2012
-- "Will buses ever be cool? Boston versus the Raleigh-Durham's GoTransit Model," 2017

Integrating fare systems is only one element.  And if WMATA isn't leading this effort well enough, it should be taken over by the MPO.  E.g., in Greater San Francisco, the MPO--Metropolitan Transportation Commission, not BART, the regional commuter heavy rail system, runs the transit media integration system.

When gas is cheap, transit is hard.  Even with integrated fare media systems and a German style transport association planning and coordinating and integrating transit operations, recognize that as long as the region is set up to prioritize automobility, and gas and parking is comparatively cheap, it's incredibly difficult for transit "to compete" with the car.

Only with hyper levels of concentration and limited road capacity, such as in New York City, does transit become the preferred choice.

In DC's core, with a street grid that prioritizes the movement of pedestrians, bikes, and transit over the car, limited parking, and a concentration of housing, employment, and activity centers, sustainable mobility works great too and is already working well, despite the failures in transit planning and coordination.

Although it could work even better, were the various elements of policy and practice integrated and coordinated.

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Monday, July 09, 2018

Smaller town revitalization planning: No, Thomas Friedman is not a sage

Lancaster City wayfinding sign for pedestriansAccording to a recent column ("Where American Politics Can Still Work: From the Bottom Up"), author and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman believes he has discovered the secret to small town revitalization, what he calls the creation of "complex adaptive coalitions." From the article:
Our country is actually a checkerboard of cities and communities — some that are forming what I call “complex adaptive coalitions” and are thriving from the bottom up, and others that can’t build such adaptive coalitions and are rapidly deteriorating. You can find both on the coasts and both in the interior — and you can find both in just one little corner of south-central Pennsylvania.

I was invited in April to give a paid book talk here in Lancaster, and I was so blown away by the societal innovation the town’s leaders had employed to rebuild their once-struggling city and county that I decided to return with my reporter’s notebook and interview them.

My original host was the Hourglass, a foundation founded by community leaders in Lancaster County in 1997, when the city of Lancaster was a crime-ridden ghost town at night where people were afraid to venture and when the county’s dominant industrial employer, Armstrong World Industries, was withering.

Some of the leading citizens decided that “time was running out” — hence “Hourglass” — and that no cavalry was coming to save them — not from the state’s capital or the nation’s capital. They realized that the only way they could replace Armstrong and re-energize the downtown was not with another dominant company, but by throwing partisan politics out the window and forming a complex adaptive coalition in which business leaders, educators, philanthropists, social innovators and the local government would work together to unleash entrepreneurship and forge whatever compromises were necessary to fix the city.
This idea has long been known, just not by Thomas Friedman.  Friedman is known for not doing deep research--writing in the moment ("The Bright Side," New Yorker Magazine), and this is an example of him not being particularly familiar with more than 100 years of academic writing on political and economic elites in both smaller and larger communities and nations.

Nor fiction writing describing smaller communities by the likes of Sherwood Anderson (Winesburg, Ohio, 1928), John O'Hara (numerous stories and books referencing "Pottsville" Pennsylvania and other communities, 1950s-1960s), John Steinbeck (The Winter of Our Discontent, 1961), the story of small town banker George Bailey of "Bedford Falls" told in the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946), and even the science fiction book Distraction (1998) by Bruce Sterling which has an extended discussion of Boston's patriarchs and their commitment to community investment.

Not to mention 2010 reporting on Lancaster by the New York Times, "College and Hospital Team Up to Revitalize Industrial Site."

Locally embedded webs of power.  "The Establishment" (more recently "The Man" a la the tv show "In Living Color") is hardly a new phenomenon.  Such groupings can be closed or open, innovative or hidebound.  But this group exists it's in every community.

It's a coalition, it's complex, and it's adaptive.

And yes, some, like in Lancaster, are more successful than community leader groupings in other communities.

Sociologists have developed "Growth Machine Theory" to describe this process, while political scientists have their own theory, that of the "Urban Regime."  (At the larger scale you have C. Wright Mills and The Power Elite or "the military-industrial complex.")

Newspapers sometimes shed light on this phenomenon.  In DC, the local organization coordinating growth is the Federal City Council ("THE DISTRICT'S POWER BEHIND THE SCENES: Washington Post-connected business group wields influence over city's legislative agenda" and "The DC Lobby," The Common Denominator).

Richmond.  On August 14th, 2005, the Richmond Times-Dispatch ran a series of articles--10 in all--on that city's growth coalition, detailing the inter-connections between power brokers, business, community institutions, government, and community organizations.

One of the articles discusses how the consolidation of local banking into larger organizations based elsewhere has had a deleterious effect on community and civic investments.

(The articles, but not the graphic, can be retrieved from the typical library articles database, such as Access World News. I'll try to dig up copies of the web of community power diagram they published, and post it in a separate entry.)

cf. this more recent Richmond Growth Machine proposal to build a new Richmond Coliseum ("The push to restore Richmond's coliseum," Washington Post).

I've made my peace with growth coalitions.  They are needed.  But I do think they need to be open to more viewpoints and the top-down organization is often problematic.

Urban Regime/Growth Machine Theories. I don't think these theories are competing so much as different sides of the same coin. "Growth Machine" theory is best for explaining the motivation and focus of "the land-based elite," and "urban regime" theory explains in detail how the land-based elite operates and functions.  The original journal article on the Growth Machine is summarized thusly:
A city and, more generally, any locality, is conceived as the areal expression of the interests of some land-based elite. Such an elite is seen to profit through the increasing intensification of the land use of the area in which its members hold a common interest. An elite competes with other land-based elites in an effort to have growth-inducing resources invested within its own area as opposed to that of another. Governmental authority, at the local and nonlocal levels, is utilized to assist in achieving this growth at the expense of competing localities. Conditions of community life are largely a consequence of the social, economic, and political forces embodied in this growth machine.
In the paper, "Now What? The continuing evolution of Urban Regime analysis," political scientist Clarence Stone writes:
An urban regime can be preliminarily defined as the informal arrangements through which a locality is governed (Regime Politics: Governing Atlanta 1946- 1988). Because governance is about sustained efforts, it is important to think in agenda terms rather than about stand-alone issues. By agenda I mean the set of challenges which policy makers accord priority. A concern with agendas takes us away from focusing on short-term controversies and instead directs attention to continuing efforts and the level of weight they carry in the political life of a community. Rather than treating issues as if they are disconnected, a governance perspective calls for considering how any given issue fits into a flow of decisions and actions. This approach enlarges the scope of what is being analyzed, looking at the forest not a particular tree here or there. [emphasis added, in this paragraph and below] ...

By looking closely at the policy role of business leaders and how their position in the civic structure of a community enabled that role, he [Floyd Hunter] identified connections between Atlanta's governing coalition and the resources it brought to bear, and on to the scheme of cooperation that made this informal system work. In his own way, Hunter had identified the key elements in an urban regimegoverning coalition, agenda, resources, and mode of cooperation. These elements could be brought into the next debate about analyzing local politics, a debate about structural determinism.
Growth Machine theory is particularly good on various elements of the land use intensification agenda, from Downtown revitalization to sports stadiums and arenas, conference centers, and in particular, the role of local media--fully dependent of the success of the local region for its own success, being dependent on advertising revenues generated primarily from sales to local businesses--in cementing this agenda.

When political scientists use Urban Regime theory to explain anything other than land use and attracting business and investment, in my opinion the arguments fall flat.

G. William Domhoff's  piece "Who Rules America: Rival Theories of Urban Power," discusses the Growth Machine (sociology), Urban Regime (political science), and other competing theories and the theoretically unsuccessful attempt by the "Yale School" to discredit the concepts of Floyd Hunter, upon which Urban Regime theory is based.

Main Street commercial district revitalization.  While the Main Street approach to commercial district revitalization dates to the late 1970s, it is based on how Corning, New York, partly at the behest of the local Houghton Family (founders of Corning Inc.), hired a "downtown manager" based on the idea that shopping malls had managers.

The approach is somewhat different from typical top-down growth coalitions because, while it doesn't call it "community organizing," it's set up to include residents and other stakeholders in addition to property and business owners.  It's more a middle approach than top-down, engaging political and economic elites alongside the local community.

Back when Neal Peirce used to write a weekly column on state and local issues, one of his pieces was about "Main Street" commercial district revitalization work, and the fact that it can take upward of 20 years to see results, and the process never really ends ("Main Street Niches in a Mass Market World," 2004).

In any case, commercial district revitalization comes about through complex, adaptive coalitions.

State and local reporting, think tanks, etc.  Plus there is Governing Magazine, on state and local issues, which dates to the late 1980s, and features articles in every issue on "complex adaptive coalitions" and their various efforts in communities across the country, not to mention the work of scads of foundations and think tanks, from the Center for Community Progress and Brookings Institution's Center for Metropolitan Studies to the Orton Family Foundation, which works with much smaller communities.

a_good_place_to_liveSmall town revitalization.  I was aiming to write about the issue of smaller town revitalization last week, because the Washington Post featured the contrasting examples of Bristol, Tennessee -- successful -- and Bristol, Virginia -- failing -- in a story on the front page, "Two cities share a name, water and a library. But one is in big trouble."  Then a couple days later I read the Friedman piece.

Friedman discovered Lancaster, Pennsylvania--which has a community involved college, Franklin & Marshall, some industry that still thrives even as major firms no longer exist or moved, a strong agricultural system that is locally-embedded in part because of the business practices of the Amish, distinctive history and historic building stock, and a highly accessible location--served by highways about a two hour drive from Baltimore, DC, and Philadelphia, plus rail from too.

I have written about smaller communities like Greensboro ("Better leveraging higher education institutions in cities and counties: Greensboro; Spokane; Mesa; Phoenix; Montgomery County, Maryland; Washington, DC") or Spokane ("President of Washington State University dies: fostered development of the "University District" adjacent to Downtown Spokane") and their comparative success in revitalization.

And some of the points I made in this piece on Pittsburgh ("Urban economic development strategies: do you invest in people or places? ... yes") are equally relevant, in particular the value of innovation, local foundations committed to community investment, and engaged citizens and civic organizations.

Typically, smaller communities that are successful are marked by at least five elements beyond the six elements that I have identified as being key to larger city efforts (appended at the end of this entry).  Note that those six elements presuppose the existence of a community-focused decently functioning "growth coalition."

1. Positive access and locational factors.  This means that they are reasonably well located vis-à-vis metropolitan centers, within striking distance a goodly portion of US population, and have superior roadway (Interstate freeway) connections at a minimum.  Airports help.

Besides being easy to reach, highways and airports support logistics and distribution functions.

2. The presence of one or more colleges and universities.  Except for the smallest schools, such institutions tend to be stable employment and economic development engines.  It is especially useful if the colleges have decent business and engineering programs.

Colleges tend to grow, and help to anchor community business development, extend the range of a community's cultural activities, and contribute to human capital within the city and business community, and often the local school system in ways that a typical community of this size doesn't normally experience (cf. "More Prince George's County: College Park's militant refusal to become a college town makes it impossible for the city(and maybe the County) to become a great place").

3.  Possess some still functioning businesses and industry sectors, including manufacturing, which remain successful even in the face of globalization and industrial consolidation.

Some cities, like Greensboro and Chattanooga, even manage to grow these sectors.

4.  Long time community foundations (created out of early periods of wealth), with leadership firmly committed to community investment.  While it's a larger city example, foundations in Pittsburgh managed by the now deceased Richard Scaife--who funded very conservative political organizations on a national scale--continued to invest in the city, funding high profile historic preservation and adaptive reuse efforts that helped to redefine a post-industrial city.  In Baltimore, the Abell (original owners of the Baltimore Sun), Weinberg (real estate), and Casey Foundations invest similarly.  In Pittsburgh, the Heinz Foundations have also been leaders.  In Greensboro, it's the Bryan Foundation ("Ex-city manager Kitchen to join local foundation," Greensboro News & Record). Etc.

5.  They don't have other local competitors or if they do, they predominate regardless.  What hurts Bristol, Virginia is that it is next to another city, Bristol, Tennessee, and there isn't enough economic activity to support two thriving communities.  The same goes for Tacoma vis a vis Seattle, or Petersburg, Virginia--an economic basket case like Bristol, and Colonial Heights--which has the bulk of the county's retail businesses all generating sales tax revenue for that city at the expense of others.   Ann Arbor over Ypsilanti Michigan.

And Lancaster dominates York and Reading, each within 30 miles of the city.  Fortunately for Reading, they have a regional corporation still based there, Boscov's Department Store, which funds community investments, and a locally owned newspaper... Etc.

Bonus

6.  Locally engaged/owned newspaper and media.  Communities like Pittsburgh, Spokane, Reading, Pennsylvania, and Lancaster still have locally-controlled and community-embedded newspapers, even if the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has taken a right turn of late.

But even chain newspapers in smaller communities like Greensboro or Richmond tend to be locally focused and engaged, and part of the local "establishment".

Seven points to success from the Pittsburgh blog entry

My line about this is that places like Pittsburgh have what I call "a desperate willingness to experiment" because they have no other choice. But Pittsburgh, in terms of revitalization opportunity, has at least seven advantages that many other communities no longer possess.

1.  It has a number of quality universities that continue to attract talent, and at least two of the universities have strong engineering education programs which

2.  help develop new technologies and generate spin off businesses which build the region's economy and provide higher paying jobs.

3.  it doesn't hurt that the University of Pittsburgh Hospital System is world class, especially in organ transplantation. This anchors medical care as a key "local" industry.

4.  Pittsburgh still has a handful of large national and global companies based there, a mix of manufacturing-research based companies like PPG and the U.S. headquarters for Bayer AG, software companies, and service industries (such as Mellon Bank). This means that there are still job and idea-producing industries there, even though these businesses are subject to the same concentration and downsizing trends affecting such companies.

5.  Pittsburgh has a couple of incredibly strong foundations still present locally, focused on funding organizations and initiatives that improve the city both socially and economically.

The real mover and shaker in the Pittsburgh foundation world are the Heinz Endowments, which fund in significant ways community organizations and initiatives, but hyper-focused on results. In other words, rather than continuing to fund the same old organizations generating middling results, they measure and fund accordingly, while at the same time provide support for capacity building so that organizations are focused on building the capacity for improvement

From the Heinz website:
Our mission is to help Southwestern Pennsylvania thrive as a whole community--economically, ecologically, educationally, and culturally--while advancing the state of knowledge and practice in the fields in which we work.
6.  it helps and maybe this comes from the innovation history and legacy that the region exhibits, that organizations there are problem and self-help focused.

The Sprout Fund's Seed Award, which funds small citizen-initiated projects, is more innovative than just about any foundation-based program that I can think of in the DC region. It's about fostering initiative and self-help, rather than looking to the government to solve your problems.

Other similarly focused organizations include the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, one of the nation's most effective local historic preservation organizations, and two impressive technical assistance organizations, the Community Design Center of Pittsburgh and the Community Technical Assistance Center.

Despite the many universities based in DC, plus the local affiliate of the Local Initiatives Support Center, I would aver that we have no such comparable organizations in DC. Most cities in need of revitalization lack such organizations, and it makes revitalization that much more difficult.

Ahh, and the "community development corporations" there are far more intriguing than in most cities. The South Side Local Development Corporation has led the revitalization effort on East Carson Street, one of the first Urban Main Street programs, and one of the most successful. The Penn Ave Arts Initiative is the joint effort of two neighborhood groups, and its one of the more successful arts development initiatives I've seen, working in a very difficult area with limited opportunities. The Lawrenceville Corporation's 16:62 Design Zone is another best practice revitalization initiative. And the Northside Leadership Conference has a number of interesting local development initiatives, and in part receives funding from the local hospital complex. Plus, Neighbors in the Strip continues to plug along (with inadequate support from the city) on their public market creation initiative. A 6,000 s.f. market opens this summer (their proposal is to take over part of the old B&O food auction warehouse for a full-fledged market).

7.  The arts organizations there have some heft. The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust has focused on re-establishing arts uses downtown and maintaining and extending the arts infrastructure there. The Carnegie Institutions set a standard of excellence as well. Etc.
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So I guess the point is that you need to have people-focused institutions that are place-committed. Capital can move anytime. But locally focused and locally committed institutions won't move. And if these institutions can develop a focus on improvement that is based on best practice, innovation, and quality then they become the levers and fulcrums of a new kind of industry.

If they don't, revitalization efforts are muddled and don't ever amount to very much.

The six elements of world-class urban revitalization efforts  (From "Economic restructuring success and failure: Detroit compared to Bilbao, Liverpool, and Pittsburgh")

In writing about the various efforts, 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);
  • flexibility and a willingness to take advantage of serendipitous events and opportunities and integrate new projects into the overall planning and implementation framework (examples include Bilbao's "acquisition" of a branch of the Guggenheim Museum and the creation of a light rail system to complement its new subway system, Liverpool City Council's agreement with a developer to create the Liverpool One mixed use retail, office, and residential development in parallel to the regeneration plan and the hosting of the Capital of Culture program in 2008, and how multifaceted arts centers were developed in otherwise vacated properties rented out cheaply by their owners in Dublin, Helsinki, and Marseille).
Another resource on smaller town revitalization is Resilient Downtowns: A New Approach to Revitalizing Small- and Medium-City Downtowns by Michael Burayidi.

The examples he writes about--small cities like Muncie, Indiana or Holland, Michigan--describe the successful efforts of growth coalitions in those communities, although he does not use that type of analytical lens.

He does miss the value of colleges and universities as an element of successful community economic development.

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