Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

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

Saturday, October 20, 2018

New York Times online video about the decline of the NYC Subway system



Nigel, our e-correspondent from NZ, calls our attention to this video, which is a good little primer in advance of tomorrow's piece on "60 Minutes." Basically it makes these points:

- underfunding
- New York State taking MTA monies away for use on nontransit purposes
- and ripping off the MTA by charging it when it issues bonds, to the tune of $325 million
- and other financial engineering moves
- not investing in maintenance
- it doesn't exactly say they need newer equipment
- except signaling systems, which would allow faster trains closer together
+ the effects of Superstorm Sandy
+ along with an increase in ridership
= system breakdown

They did miss one big problem, a story brought to light by the now defunct Village Voice, a systematic reduction in train speeds, instituted after a crash, which makes it impossible for trains to make up time when needed, and slows down the system generally, which isn't so great when ridership increases.

-- "The trains are slower because they slowed the trains down"

The Voice made a great point in another article, "Maybe We Didn't Need the Second Avenue Subway," that an equivalent investment in signals instead of building the short section of "Second Avenue Subway" would have had a lot more impact on throughput and service improvement.

It's great that the Times did the video, and also that they put it on youtube and allow others to embed it--most newspapers seem to restrict the ability for their video content to be reposed.  I wish that a media outlet would do something similar here concerning transit generally and WMATA specifically.

I saw Jarrett Walker, the transit consultant and author of the blog and book Human Transit, speak a couple weeks ago. In contrasting the success of bus transit in Seattle, he ascribed it to municipal leadership.

But it's not just municipal leadership there, it's citizen commitment too, in terms of passing tax increases for transit. And that's Seattle specifically, not King County generally.

Seattle has taxed itself to increase transit service, even when King County failed to pass similar taxes. And it allowed Seattle to separate itself from previous political decisions by King County elected officials, who heretofore had dictated that increases in service in Seattle had to be matched by increases elsewhere in the county, irrespective of demand.

The NYT video does discuss how Rudy Giuliani cut the city's contribution to MTA significantly. Mayor Bloomberg cared about the subways but was more interested in expansion. Mayor De Blasio is pretty much not interested in sustainable mobility issues outside of the ferries, the only mode that the city directly controls.

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On a totally unrelated note Alon Levy in Pedestrian Observations ("Rapid Transit on the LIRR") discusses how to make the Long Island RR function as "rapid transit" within the city, in response to a report released by City Comptroller Scott Springer, Expanding access in one swipe: opening commuter lines to Metrocards.

The thing is, once you ride a system where trains and subway are truly integrated, like London, Paris (I presume), Hamburg, Berlin, etc., you completely understand how this can be done. In London and Hamburg it's quite seamless. That being said, for it to happen in London, the local transit authority had to be given the right to take over the operation of various intra-city train lines, which it did, and rebranded them as London Overground, along with the institution of a whole lot of other changes, including fare readers (not fare gates) ("One big idea: Getting MARC and Metrorail to integrate fares, stations, and marketing systems, using London Overground as an example," 2015). It works brilliantly.

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Friday, October 19, 2018

Columbia Journalism Review special issue on news reporting on the mid-term elections

The Columbia Journalism Review has published a special issue, STATES OF THE UNION: COVERAGE OF THE MIDTERMS, on media coverage of the midterm elections, partly under the pale of media failing to predict the 2016 Presidential Election results.

One of the articles that's particularly interesting is, "Dark money versus a dwindling local news landscape," with a Montana dateline, making the point that local newspapers lack the financial resources to do in-depth reporting on campaigns, candidates, and elected officials in terms of their being funded by national forces.

One way to counteract this is for newspapers across a state to band together and jointly fund and support investigations. It's easier to do this if all the newspapers have the same affiliation, but it has happened here and there with newspapers from different groups.

Of course, when newspapers are owned by hedge funds, they aren't that motivated to do in-depth reporting generally, but especially on "dark money" and the "forces of capital" and weight in the electoral process.

The McClatchy Newspaper chains owns a lot of newspapers in North Carolina, and there across the newspapers, they've been running a series called "The Influencers," linking the major issues to the major movers and shakers in the state.  (Although yes "movers and shakers" is often a synonym for "The Growth Machine" and their agenda is not always so benign.)

The Miami Herald, also a McClatchy Newspaper, has been running a similar series focused on Florida, although the firm doesn't have other papers in Florida.  If McClatchy is successful in acquiring Tribune Newspapers, then they'll be able to add the Orlando Sentinel and Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel to this network.  (And to start a similar network in Virginia, with the Tribune's newly acquired Norfolk Virginian-Pilot.)

While back in the day, Gannett Newspapers were criticized for "McPaper" journalism (the company owns USA Today), many of their newspapers do important coverage of local issues.

USA Today, sometimes in conjunction with local Gannett publications, has been publishing a lot of great investigations, such as on trucking issues at the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach in California, testing corruption in school systems in Atlanta and Washington (scooping the Washington Post), on the prevalence of child deaths as failures of maternal health care, on Western water access issues, etc.

For all the talk of the acquisition of newspapers by Berkshire Hathaway, in particular of the Media General firm which was based in Richmond, Virginia, they haven't done much in the way of in-depth enterprise reporting across newspapers in a region or state.

Since the acquisition, BH has offloaded management of the papers to Lee Newspapers, another chain.  According to the CJR article, Lee owns three papers in Montana, has subjected the newspapers to layoffs, downsized to almost nothing the state news bureau serving all the papers, and closed the alternative weekly in Billings, Montana, soon after acquiring it. 

(In Baltimore, the Tribune Newspapers eventually shuttered the City Paper, although not immediately after acquisition.)

And what about the recent expose by the New York Times of the real genesis of President Trump's wealth, and how the way his father distributed money to him from an early age made him a millionaire at the age of eight? What a magisterial job!

-- "11 Takeaways From The Times's Investigation Into Trump's Wealth"
-- "4 Ways Fred Trump Made Donald Trump and His Siblings Rich"

Under the ownership of Amazon's Jeff Bezos, the Washington Post has pulled back on local coverage and investigations, shifting to national issues and leveraging the global reach of the paper's website.

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This is important because traditionally, civic engagement has been associated with newspaper readership and studies find a decrease in engagement with the decline and closure of newspapers.

Community media, that is weekly newspapers such as DC's Current Newspapers, or papers serving various neighborhoods in Brooklyn or Queens, or other communities throughout metropolitan areas, are in severe decline too, in large part because the chaining up and consolidation of local business (retail, banks, supermarkets, car dealerships) leads to the elimination of "local" advertising as a significant revenue source.*

Television "news" generally is not very in-depth and doesn't substitute.  Neither do blogs and social media, although on occasion, such vehicles can have significant effect.

* An opportunity for a daily newspaper in Brooklyn?  Even though the Village Voice just shut down, spurred by reading The Atlantic article, "Who’s Left Covering Brooklyn With the Big Newspapers in Retreat?," I was wondering if somehow the weekly newspapers in Brooklyn could join up and produce a daily, or at least Monday-Friday newspaper in a tabloid format.

Brooklyn is one "sub-city" market that's large enough to do it.  Combo of a regular newspaper and alternative weekly. Both Queens and Brooklyn have extensive community newspaper networks.

But it's hard to build up the economic base to launch and maintain such a venture.  But it would be cool.

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Sunday's CBS-TV show, "60 Minutes" will be on the New York City Subway system


-- "Inside the century-old parts of the New York City subway"
New York City's vast subway system is an iconic piece of American infrastructure that moves nearly six million riders a day. But lately, it has become plagued by overcrowding, breakdowns and delays. After a series of incidents in the summer of 2017, Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency and brought on board Andy Byford, an internationally recognized transit turnaround specialist. How big a problem is Byford facing? What is his plan for getting the subway back on track? Bill Whitaker reports from under the streets of New York for 60 Minutes on Sunday, Oct. 21 at 7:30 p.m. ET and 7 p.m. PT on CBS.

New York's century-old subway relies on antiquated equipment, including a signaling system that dates back to the early 20th century. Whitaker gets a rare, behind the scenes look at the aging equipment in action.

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Todd Bol, founder of the "Little Free Library" "movement," dies

Little Free Libraries are those bookstands in front of houses and sometimes businesses and other places, where people leave printed matter for others.

I thought they'd end up defaulting to a "mean" of schlock fiction (not that I don't read some of it), but that's not the case, at least in the DC area. 

Collectively, LFLs have a wide range, including nonfiction, academic, and children's books, sometimes periodicals, CDs, and/or DVDs.

My best score, most recently, was Capital Losses.

Some like in Takoma Park, Maryland, are used as "community information points," where information on community events or elections will be put inside as well.

And the concept has sparked related ones.  There's a LFL in Arlington County near the Thomas Jefferson Middle School and Community Center that distributes garden seeds, but apparently there are others (e.g., Little Free Seed Library | Equal Ground Community Gardens).

One, called Little Free Pantry, provides foodstuffs for people in need (although CityLab is dismissive, "The Little Free Pantry Can't Fight Hunger").

Another person has set up the equivalent with tennis rackets and balls, at community tennis courts ("'Little Free Sports Library' brings West Seattle families together," KING5-TV).

Map sign, bulletin board and Little Free Library at the Rhode Island Avenue pedestrian bridge trailhead, Metropolitan Branch TrailWhile I am not as good at putting books in as I am at taking them, I do focus my giving including periodicals on the Little Free Library on the Metropolitan Branch Trail (left), feeling as a transportational cyclist that should be the one I support.

They are a great example of community giving, maybe not so much community building, because they are more of a one-to-one rather than a group activity.

In any case, they are a great contribution to community life.

Todd Bol, the creator of the concept, just died.

From "After terminal cancer diagnosis, Little Free Library founder feels like 'most successful person I know'," Minneapolis Star-Tribune:
Bol spoke for hours this month in his Hudson home about the power of the dollhouse-sized libraries and the people, whom his nonprofit dubs “stewards,” who care for them. “If I may be so bold, I’m the most successful person I know,” Bol said, with a sideways smile, “because I stimulate 54 million books to be read and neighbors to talk to each other. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the very definition of success. ...

But more and more, Bol sees the libraries as hubs, nudges, fulcrums. Books to get people reading — but also talking, listening, transforming. Little Free Library now works with law enforcement, turning police cruisers into bookmobiles. It launched Action Book Club last year, which encourages members to read books on timely topics, then do service projects together. The organization is also talking tutoring these days, because why not?

“Wouldn’t it be cool if every Little Free Library could connect you with tutoring?” Bol said, his eyes wide behind horn-rimmed glasses. “There are so many different ways of using Little Free Libraries as a spark within the community.”

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Thursday, October 18, 2018

Retail failure, leveraged buyouts/private equity, and "fraudulent conveyance"

There's lots of coverage in the media about business failure of retailers like Toys R Us ("Who Killed Toys 'R' Us? Hint: It Wasn't Only Amazon," Wall Street Journal), the Bon Ton Department Store chain, and now the bankruptcy of Sears as a product of private equity control of these businesses.

That's true.

Private equity loads onto the business tons of debt, usually alongside big and costly management fees to the owners, and high "salaries" for the people at the top of the corporation.

Often the real estate is separated from the operating business.  And they care zero about the effects on workers or communities.

From the standpoint of setting up a business for success, what these steps do is set up the business for failure, because only in the best of business conditions--growth, growth, growth--does the business have enough cash flow to operate the business. Even if operations are successful, the debt load makes it difficult to set aside any money for investment in capital improvements.

Recession; a shift of even a small amount of sales to e-commerce competitors, the need to invest in e-commerce and IT; etc. is enough to drive the company into failure, even if a number of the store locations remain profitable.

But this isn't new.

My best friend in college used to say that I read the business section of newspapers like most guys read the sports section.  So I remember the various failure of other retail chains over private equity type circumstances.

The Wieboldt's store in Lakeview ( Lincoln Ave and School street) the first two floors are commercial and the other floors have been remodeled into beautiful condos, "The Tower Lofts" -1601 w school st. Xsport's address and entry is at 3240 N Ashland AveThe Wieboldt's store in Lakeview ( Lincoln Ave and School Street). Today, the first two floors are commercial and the other floors have been remodeled into condos, "The Tower Lofts

The first that I can remember is the failure of the department store chain in Chicago, Wieboldts.

The company started in a neighborhood, expanded to other neighborhoods and outlying towns and eventually opened a downtown store.

They failed after a leveraged buyout.  A lawsuit with the argument of "fradulent conveyance" was mounted--fraudulent conveyance meant that the buyout set up the company on a path to failure that was foreordained.

-- WIEBOLDT STORES, INC., individually and on behalf of its Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors, Plaintiff, v. Jerome M. SCHOTTENSTEIN, et al., Defendants (1988)

From the suit:
Wieboldt's complaint against the defendants concerns the events and transactions surrounding a leveraged buyout ("LBO") of Wieboldt by WSI Acquisition Corporation ("WSI"). WSI, a corporation formed solely for the purpose of acquiring Wieboldt, borrowed funds from third-party lenders and delivered the proceeds to the shareholders in return for their shares. Wieboldt thereafter pledged certain of its assets to the LBO lenders to secure repayment of the loan.

The LBO reduced the assets available to Wieboldt's creditors. Wieboldt contends that, after the buyout was complete, Wieboldt's debt had increased by millions of dollars, and the proceeds made available by the LBO lenders were paid out to Wieboldt's then existing shareholders and did not accrue to the benefit of the corporation. Wieboldt's alleged insolvency after the LBO left Wieboldt with insufficient unencumbered assets to sustain its business and ensure payment to its unsecured creditors. Wieboldt therefore commenced this action on behalf of itself and its unsecured creditors, seeking to avoid the transactions constituting the LBO on the grounds that they are fraudulent under federal and state fraudulent conveyance laws.
Mervyn'sSimilarly, the West Coast-based Mervyns chain had been owned by what is now called Target.

When they were sold in 2004 to private equity buyers, Sun Capital, the real estate assets were separated from the operating stores, and come a recession, the company failed, lasting for not quite five years under private equity ownership.

Real estate operators acquisition of department store companies.  But there were other examples too, of retail companies bought for their real estate assets, including the Taubman shopping mall company buying the DC based Woodward & Lothrop Company (1984) and Philadelphia's Wanamakers Department Stores (1986), and eventually selling the locations and shuttering the companies.

Canadian real estate developer Robert Campeau ended up starting the consolidation of many retail department store companies into the national Macy's chain, buying Allied Stores (1986) and Federated Stores (1988).  Those companies became bankrupt and Macy's ended up merging with them(1994), eventually repositioning what had been regional chains into one brand, Macy's, with a national footprint.

In short, when non-retailers buy retail companies, especially for financialization opportunities and/or to harvest the value of real estate, it usually doesn't bode well for the retailer nor for the employees.

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Be careful when you create "temporary park uses" on sites slated for development, because people will end up advocating against development

Photo from the ParkView DC blog.

In 2009, DC demolished the Bruce-Monroe Elementary School, with plans to redevelop the site, at the key intersection of Georgia Avenue and Irving Street, into some sort of mixed use project, mostly housing.

To revitalize in a post-streetcar world, the Georgia Avenue corridor needs more population to enliven the otherwise disinvested retail buildings that line the Avenue.

 While parks are a fine use, they aren't categorically the "highest and best use" everywhere and in every situation, including at key intersections along corridors.

In the interim the then City Councilmember got the city to make over the site into a "temporary" park.

At the time, I was skeptical, because like with how trails advocates tend to be against attempts to revert what were once rails back to transit, such as in Chevy Chase, Maryland vis a vis the Purple Line Light Rail project, years later when the development is ready to move forward, people will instead advocate for the continuation of the park use.

That's been happening with the Bruce-Monroe site for quite awhile.  I wrote about it in 2015, "Predictable outcome: people want to make a temporary park permanent as a foil to development," but it's come up again.

The lessons are obvious.  And it makes you realize why developers leave sites boarded up for long periods, because it's ultimately easier and less problematic than if you offer temporary uses.

This is an email from the Columbia_Heights e-list:

Friends, Allies, and Neighbors,

If you are opposed to the deeply flawed and illegal giveaway of public land and the destructive over-development planned for Bruce Monroe Community Park, please consider the following:

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We ask you to make your voice heard. Tell the DC Council that you oppose the destruction of Bruce Monroe Community Park. Tell them that it’s not okay to violate DC zoning laws and give away public land to enrich developers at the expense of our community. Please take 3 minutes before 10/18/18 to email DC Council to save our community. Use this link to send them an email:

DC Council has scheduled a
hearing on 10/22/18. We need you to tell the DC Council that you remain in opposition to the development and that you want them to postpone any decision to extend the Bruce Monroe Disposition agreement until the Court of Appeals makes a decision. The irrevocably-flawed development plan is currently under review by the Court of Appeals because the development plan violates the city’s own zoning rules. We support affordable housing, but with smart development that fulfills the needs of the community.

Where things stand:

Two years ago, neighbors like you fought the plan by testifying in front of the City Council and the Zoning Commission. Despite this large-scale opposition, the Council and the Zoning Commission voted to move the plan forward. Since that time a group of neighbors petitioned the DC Court of Appeals to Review the Zoning Commission order to develop the Bruce Monroe site according to the plans outlined in Zoning Order ZC16-11. They filed a pro se brief in February 2018 by making the following main points:
  • The Zoning Commission’s decision was fatally flawed–it completely disregards the input from community groups and neighbors, and violated the City’s own policy.
  • The proposed buildings are way too big for this community, and the Zoning Commission’s order is inconsistent with the law. 
  • The impacts of the development were never studied, as required by Urban Planning best practices and the law. The development team and city officials declined to consider the impacts on public safety, infrastructure, and other city services and utilities. These failures are a disservice to our community AND to the Public Housing residents whom the project claims to benefit. 
  • The Zoning Commission claims that the benefits of the project outweigh the impacts- but how can that be, when they never even studied those impacts!

The developer’s and other’s responses to these indisputable arguments fall well short of explaining away the Zoning Commissions failures. Instead they fall back on their old tired arguments: that the neighbors who want to have a reasonably-sized development that preserves irreplaceable and much needed green space in the city are against affordable housing. As you know, this is a false argument. We support truly affordable housing that fulfills all the needs of all of the members of our community which includes our neighbors and friends at Park Morton. We believe that a smart development plan that actually adheres to the City’s own rules AND takes input from the community– rather than blindly agreeing to developers– is the way to proceed. The DC Council needs to know that letting developers push through their own profit-driven ideas against the wishes of the community is not okay!

Our case is strong, and it is our hope that the City Council knows this too. The issue of the Bruce Monroe site will come before them again in a few weeks as they have to make a decision on whether to extend the Bruce Monroe Disposition agreement. Please use this link to make your voice heard!

Thank you for your help.
The neighbors of Bruce Monroe Community Park
Thank you,
David Bobeck
700 Block Irving
Friends of Bruce Monroe Park

Our Appeals Court Brief Opposing the Destruction of Bruce Monroe Park
Our Reply Brief to the Developers and the Zoning Commission
Our Joint Appendix (all the documents referred to in the briefs)

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Talk and Book Signing: Walkable City Rules by Jeff Speck | Friday, November 2, 2018

Friday, November 2, 2018
12:30 PM - 1:30 PM

National Building Museum
401 F Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20001



From the Museum website:
Join urban and architectural designer Jeff Speck, popular author and TED Talk speaker, for an illustrated tour through recent projects featured in his new book Walkable City Rules, 101 Steps to Making Better Places. Speck hopes the book will be a resource that inspires cities and citizens to usher in an era of street life in America. Following the talk, Speck signs copies of the book, available for purchase in the Museum Shop.

The book is published by Island Press.

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City of San Francisco gives targeted business development grants to bookstores

-- "Eleven SF bookstores get cash assistance from city," Mission Local


I bought the books One Less Car and The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America at City Lights Bookstore.  One Less Car was recommended by a blog reader.


From the article:
Nearly a dozen local bookstores received a special gift from the city on Tuesday morning — $103,000 in total grant money to help them through a time when books can be delivered to one’s door at the click of a mouse.

And that’s exactly why the funding is so important, says Joaquin Torres, the director of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development. “There’s nothing online that can recreate the experience of walking into a bookstore — the art you see on the walls, the performances that take place, the cultural conversations,” he said.

The city, in partnership with the nonprofit Working Solutions and the Small Business Development Center, awarded 11 bookstores grant money ...

The money is part of the Bookstore SF Program, a pet project of the late Mayor Ed Lee, aimed at funding bookstore “revitalizations” that emphasize their roles as social hubs rather than simply places to purchase reading material.

In addition to the funding, the bookstores will receive city services including technical assistance on marketing, human resource consulting, and help negotiating long-term leases.

According to OEWD, there are 57 independent bookstores in San Francisco that together generate more than $9.8 million in sales, create and retain more than 100 jobs, host more than 40 free community events each month, and have been in business for an average of 21 years.
A couple months back I mentioned a similar program in Beijing ("Cultural plans should have an element on culture-related retail"). And note after that I discovered that in the tourism and business marketing materials for the City of San Juan Capistrano, California, they position the nice "Friends of the Library" bookstore in the city's branch library as the city's bookstore, as they wouldn't otherwise have them.

I do think that there should be more targeted business development programs, like this one, focusing on business categories that are desired, rather than having programs being less targeted.

And for culture-based retail as discussed previously.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Brief comment on e-scooters: "personal mobility" versus "mass mobility" versus "mass transit"

Adult e-scooter users carrying children in the vicinity of the National Mall

charlie in a comment on another thread asked:
I'd be curious on your response to Alon Levy's point as well that transit rich cities can afford to do bikeshare scooter as a last mile, but it isn't a substitute for transit.
My response (edited and expanded and also infused with some articles shared by NotionsCapital):

I haven't read Alon Levy's post.

In these kinds of discussions often people mistake personal mobility vehicles, and by personal I mean a vehicle that can only move one person, or maybe 2-4 people at a time -- cars, scooters, bikes-- for "transit," when what they really mean is individual transportation versus moving large numbers of people at once, to wit, "mass transit" which moves large numbers of people at the same time on the same vehicles, e.g. bus, light rail, streetcar, train, etc.

WRT Alon's point, it depends on the trip.

As we were discussing recently, with increased density and higher income residents more amenities become present over shorter distances, reaching a kind of critical mass capability of negating the need to travel farther, maybe negating the need to use mass transit. Instead you can substitute by walking, biking, scootering, or delivery.

This likely is influencing the decline of Metrorail ridership in Metrorail's theoretically best markets of DC and along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor in Arlington County.

When bike share was first introduced in Montreal they found it substituted for transit in something like 15% or more trips. There, where the subway vehicles are small, unairconditioned and the system is running close to capacity shifting that number of people helps to add capacity back to transit...

Mass mobility versus mass transit.  Definitionally, there's a difference between the term "mass mobility" versus "mass transit." And we should think about this. I don't think I've used this term before.

I haven't coined it but there aren't many examples of its usage if you do a Google search, but there are some, and interesting ones at that.

What I mean is moving a lot of people at the same time but not by car and not by transit--specifically walking or biking, what are sometimes called "nonmotorized transportation."

Think lots of people walking in New York City or London or Paris or Tokyo, Chinese cities, etc.
World's busiest pedestrian crossing - Large panorama of the Shibuya Crossing
World's busiest pedestrian crossing - Large panorama of the Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo.

Or in Amsterdam or Copenhagen the large number of bicyclists, where in an average day they have have mode splits up to 40% of people traveling by bike for a wide variety of short, medium, and longer distance trips.
Bike counter, bicyclists, buses, in Copenhagen, Let's Bike it! poster, Copenhagen

That's definitely mass mobility. But it's not transit. And there it does substitute for "local transit."

Are e-scooters capable of being "mass mobility"?

Photo from "Unfortunately, the Electric Scooters Are Fantastic: But can they succeed despite their essential dorkiness?," The Atlantic Magazine

In DC, theoretically, I can see personal mobility -- walking, scooters, biking, e-biking -- having the potential of accomplishing 30% or more of certain kinds of trips, but not for longer distance trips normally undertaken on transit.

A majority of trips in the US are three miles or less.  Remember that in the US, 51% of trips are 3 miles or less, and another 13% are 3-5 miles. A significant number of those trips can be accomplished by personal mobility modes that are also sustainable (walking, biking, scooter, one-way car share). In short, it's complicated. Yes, I agree with Alon's point generally.  Scooters complement but don't substitute for transit.

But last mile/first mile as an element of transit trips is probably not the primary segment of users for e-scooters.

This is the case for bike share too.  It appears that the primary users of transit in DC are nonresidents, using transit to get to and from work.  Either their station is pretty close to their final destination and walking suffices, or they are not knowledgeable about complementary bike and scooter share options, and unlikely to use them.  This is different from how bike share is used in Europe.

Thinking about intra-district versus inter-district trips versus intra-district versus inter-district transit Instead, in the US context, scooters are (1) more likely to be used in "walking and transit cities" ("Transportation and Urban Form: Stages in the Spatial Evolution of the American Metropolis," Peter Muller>)  rather than in suburban and spread out cities.

(2) These are likely what we would call "intra-district" trips and relevant concepts are my old mobility shed concept and intra-district mobility, which I had applied to thinking about  transit modes, but not so much for walking/biking/scooters/e-bikes for intra-district trips starting and ending within the district.

-- "Further updates to the Sustainable Mobility Platform Framework," 2018
-- "Updating the mobilityshed | mobility shed concept," 2008
-- "Mobility hubs and next generation transportation planning," 2008
-- "Modern streetcars are transportation projects,not merely economic development augurs: but intra-district not inter-city services," 2017 which is built on this post, ""Making the case for intra-city versus inter-city transportation planning," which dates to 2011

Not "Talking About Revolution."Just as I don't believe Autonomous Vehicles will save the world either because even if it gets used more, and remember 50% of the time ride hailing vehicles are in use they are empty, it's still using a car to move people around in a congested place with constraints on road space, I don't think scooters will do much except on the margins.

-- "Bird unveils custom electric scooters and delivery," TechCrunch
-- "Bird Will Soon Start Delivering Electric Scooters To Users' Doorsteps," The Drive
-- "Long Beach Scooter Reviews: I crashed so you don't have to," Long Beach Press-Telegram

E-scooters are evolutionary not revolutionary, because they substitute or complement a narrow range of trips.

Unless DC is an outlier. It's not like you see dozens of people on scooters at one time in what I am now calling an example of "mass mobility." I've seen maybe 5-6 scooters in use at one time. And that's then, 6 people... and in the great scheme of things, that has little impact, although tremendous impact for the users.


Photo from a Vespa rally in Urbino. Photo: Urbino Project.

Two-wheeled sitting scooters as mass mobility: in Italy.  Now that we have standing e-scooters, I guess we can call the Vespa type scooters "sitting scooters."  They are more a substitute for cars, especially in Mediterranean climates.

According to the Daily Telegraph article, "Ban on Vespas in Italian city has scooters riders in revolt," there are 180,000 "sitting scooters" in Genoa, out of 600,000 people.

Apparently the gasoline powered Vespa type scooters are significant sources of air pollution (like lawn mower engines).
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I guess we're going to have to change the term "bicycle and pedestrian planning" to "bicycle, pedestrian, and scooter planning."

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Unintelligent transportation systems/treating cyclist movement as an afterthought

Sign announcing the temporary closing of the 14th Street Bridge bicycle/pedestrian sidepath

"Intelligent transportation systems"
aim to provide innovative services relating to different modes of transport and traffic management and enable users to be better informed and make safer, more coordinated, and 'smarter' use of transport networks.
I didn't think about this much til maybe 8-10 years ago, when I was riding south down Adelphi Road coming from the University of Maryland.  Midway on the road between University Boulevard and East-West Highway is a high school, and they were letting out around this time.

One of the intersections was closed, I don't remember why, an accident or something.  No one told the people at the high school, so buses and cars went north only to get stuck.  There were no or few police personnel out there aimed at diverting traffic to the parallel roads, to keep it moving rather than bottlenecked.  It became a quagmire--unless you were on a bike and able to divert.

It made me realize the difficultly of communicating this kind of information in real time but increasingly there are ways to do it through NFC (near field communication) and the creation of real-time network connections between vehicles, where this info can be communicated, just like an "emergency broadcast signal" on phones.

"Please Drive Safely" digital road sign, BrooklandStill, there are other ways.  Of course, the big digital signs that announce "Road Work Ahead," etc.

I was pissed off when I got up to the Bridge only to find this sign saying it was closed, and for this particular period, there wasn't an immediate workaround, instead you had to double back to Memorial Bridge to cross between DC and Virginia.

Because of the added time, and my schedule, instead, I skipped the trip.

I find that advanced communication concerning outages on bikeways tends to be an afterthought.

For example, with this particular matter, they could have posted signs at various points on the bike route starting around Constitution Avenue so that cyclists would be able to divert without having to go up to the bridge and then doubling back.

This is a problem too on the Metropolitan Branch Trail, where a building is being constructed.  Every so often they close the route when certain crane movements occur.  The closures are "brief" -- 5 to 10 minutes -- but you get stuck, they don't know how long it will take, etc.

Just like with the 14th Street Bridge matter, if there were signs posted at diversion points on either side of the interruption, people would be able to divert with no real inconvenience.

Frustrating.

====
I don't subscribe to the real-time DC Alert system but I am on the DDOT press list, and I don't remember seeing any notice of the 14th Street Bridge pathway being closed.

It was mentioned in DCist, which I don't read because the commenters are so puerile, and a different site with which I am unfamiliar, called DC Commute Times, "14th Street Bridge Entrance Closed to Cyclists Starting Sept. 24."

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The final days of Urban Essentials...

Urban Essentials is a contemporary furniture store at Rhode Island Avenue and 14th Street NW that is sadly going out of business.  I found the juxtaposition of the phrases "Final Days" and "Urban Essentials" to be interesting independent of the store's closing. 
Final Days: Urban Essentials going out of business sale

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Small and big, a SmartCar and a very old Cadillac on 9th Street NE

An illustration of the change in car sizes over the decades.  (Ironically, at first I was so focused on the Cadillac that I didn't even notice the juxtaposition.)

Small and big, a SmartCar and a very old Cadillac on 9th Street NE

Old streetcar track peeking out of the pavement at 8th St. and Florida Avenue NE, from the 90 streetcar line

Old streetcar track peeking out of the pavement at 8th St. and Florida Avenue NE, from the 90 streetcar line

I noticed this yesterday when I was cycling over to the H Street Festival.

Streetcars stopped running in DC in 1962.

PCC 1512 (Silver Sightseer) on January 27 1962, Courtesy the Joe Testagrose collection via Dave's Railpix. Probably on U Street NW. Note the direction sign says "Navy Yard."

The 90s line ran from the edge of Adams-Morgan (end stop at the Calvert Street Bridge) to the Navy Yard in Southeast DC, which was a major employment center -- and manufacturing facility.    (Calvert Street, 18th Street, U Street, Florida Avenue, 8th Street NE and 8th Street SE.)

Today's Metrobuses in DC with numbers like 90 or 42 or 30 represent that they are continuations of the old streetcars that previously ran those routes.

For many years, the streetcar tracks were still embedded in the street with no special treatment but in the 1970s, a bicyclist sued the city because of an accident involving embedded tracks.  The tracks were kept on O and P Streets NW in Georgetown as a significant architectural feature of the area's historic district.  Otherwise they were either removed or paved over (this is true in many places of streets originally paved in asphalt block too).

H Street Festival as an opportunity for reflection on how to approach urban revitalization

Yesterday was the H Street Festival.
H Street Festival

While it is nowhere true that "everything I learned about urban revitalization I learned on H Street NE," that was where I started my involvement in a deep and focused way.

H Street was a corridor picked by the city for substantive improvement under the first real post-Marion Barry government, under Anthony Williams.

Before suburban out-migration, it was the city's #2 shopping district after Downtown, featuring one of the nation's first Sears Department Stores, the first Hechinger Store (a model for Home Depot), and block after block of shops and small local department stores.

Arguably, one of the first Kay Jeweler stores was located on H St. One of the first People's Drug (as an 800+ store chain, it was sold to CVS).  Herbert Haft, one of the nation's earliest "discount retailers" had his first post-military job as a druggist on H Street.  It had one of the nation's largest Chevrolet dealerships (Ourisman), etc.

But with suburban out-migration the corridor was declining even before the 1968 riots after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the riots destroyed the corridor.  Various urban renewal efforts aimed at improving the corridor, but those pretty much failed, as they didn't aim to leverage the historicity and architecture of the community.  Instead they focused on the value of land based on its location--near the US Capitol, Downtown, and Union Station.

It happened that simultaneous with the decision by the city to make H Street one of its focus areas was the time I decided to "get involved" because otherwise I didn't think the neighborhood would improve.

I was one of the founders of the Main Street commercial district revitalization program, which leveraged city planning efforts including the H Street Revival land use plan (2002-2003) and the H Street Streetscape and Transportation Study (2003-2004).

And that started me on the path leading to where I am today in terms of how I focus on and think about urban revitalization, sustainable mobility planning, commercial district revitalization, historic preservation, urban design, placemaking, and various elements of cultural planning.

When you learn about a specific place in great detail but you have the capability of generating meta-understanding and meta-theory, you can apply what you learn in one place to others.  In my experience, most practitioners aren't very good at generating meta-theory (which must be why as a skill it doesn't seem to be valued very highly).

Here's some of what I learned then:

-- ""Missing the real point: city (re)development isn't about "gentrification" as much as it is about urbanism and urban design," 2011
-- "It's true that the winners in history revise it: misleading people about the process of change, H Street revitalization edition," 2011
-- "H Street yet again," 2011
-- "The community development approach and the revitalization of DC's H Street corridor: congruent or oppositional approaches?," 2013

Sometimes I joke that my involvement in urban planning to begin with is a form of "blowback" vis-a-vis the H St. Community Development Corporation--where I tried to figure out why H Street NE languished, and what should have been done differently.

Basically, like what drove Jane Jacobs to write Death and Life of the Great American City, it was a repudiation of the urban renewal approach.

H Street Festival, Ben's Chili Bowl with roof top deckThe H Street Festival, held yesterday, is a good example of the transformation. 

It's now a major city event, drawing more than 100,000 people to the corridor for music, carousing, walking, seeing the wares at various booths, and interacting with nonprofit and city government exhibitors.

My line about when we started is that "we didn't have a consensus on what the corridor should look like at the end, but we all agreed that we weren't satisfied with what it was in the present.  In any case, whatever our expectations were are far exceeded."

Construction at the New York Avenue Metro StationAlthough note that a major reason for the change wasn't "the H Streetcar" or some of the other investments, but the addition of an infill subway station, the NoMA Metrorail Station, in the northern part of the neighborhood.

The addition of that station changed the willingness of people with choices to live north of H Street, and the changing economic demographics that unleashed helped to drive the change.

Witnessing that impact is what has"driven" me more towards transportation planning as I see it, when done right, as having the fastest and greatest return on public investment in terms of driving neighborhood and commercial district revitalization.

There were a bunch of things I saw yesterday.  Many impressed me greatly.  One saddened me terribly.

H Street dry cleaners now closedIn terms of being sad, I noticed that the dry cleaners at the corner of 11th and H Streets NE had closed, and the building is up for lease.

The owner of the building and the dry cleaners was an "innovator" in terms of his impact on corridor improvement because he invested in fixing the building, in taking down the plywood off the previously boarded up and empty second floor, fixing the facade, painting it, and renting it out as office space..

As a corner building it has the potential for extranormal impact because it is highly visible--and the improvement communicated that it was a new day on HS Street, that it was possible to move forward instead of continuing to languish.

Like the argument made in Rolf Goetze's Building Neighborhood Confidence, his effort made the point that H Street was worth investing in with your own money.

I used to write a monthly column about H Street for the now defunct Voice of the Hill community newspaper, and the last piece I wrote was about how these kinds of investments--and there were three other comparably important building improvements undertaken around the same time by individuals without government grants or similar supports--were key elements in repositioning how people thought about the opportunities for the corridor.

I just came across c. 2011 panorama photos of each block of H Street by Edward Scott, a neighborhood resident and film documentarian.  This shows what the 1100 block looked like in 2011.  The Dry Cleaners building is the first building on the left.
1100 Block, H Street NE, Washington, DC

The stuccoed oriel bay building (Casbah) on H Street NESpeaking of the importance of historic preservation congruent improvements to buildings and what they communicate, it's the exact opposite story for the building on the far right of this photograph.

Rather than spend the money to fix the beautiful projecting two-story oriel bay feature of the corner facade, they covered it in stucco, hiding the architectural details and its beauty.

That kind of "investment" was typical of the corridor before its resurgence, and exhibits how the wrong kinds of "improvements" hinder success rather than buoy it.

Between 1968 and 2002, "improvements" in buildings on the corridor were more like this--covering up or even demolishing architecturally significant details--not enhancing them.

And that extends to the zero aesthetic qualities of the buildings put up as part of the post-riot urban renewal program for the corridor.

H Street FestivalNot that many of the new buildings are that great.  Sadly, this terribly cheap building was put up by the guy who manages real estate development for WMATA, but as a separate project.

It doesn't bode well for aesthetic elements of mixed use development at Metrorail sites.

We won't even get into arguments about the streetcar.  I just came across this article in CityLab ("D.C.'s Streetcar Is Doing Fine, But No One Believes It") which says it is a success transit-wise.

While I don't agree, but that's because it needs to be extended further eastward as well as westward to Downtown, Georgetown, and Rosslyn, there's no question it's touched off far more intense development that has more than paid off--another example of the value of investments in transit having the potential for "fast" and high returns.

-- "DC streetcars move to simulated service: passenger service expected within a couple months: DC streetcars part 1," 2015
-- "DC and streetcars #2: STREETCARS ARE ABOUT TRANSIT, just in a different way from how most people are accustomed to thinking about it," 2015
-- "DC and streetcars #3: More discussion (from almost two years ago)," 2015
-- "DC and streetcars #4: from the standpoint of stoking real estate development, the line is incredibly successful and it isn't even in service yet, and now that development is extending eastward past 15th Street," 2015
-- "Update on the DC Streetcar program on the verge of launching Sunday service," 2016
-- "Update/revision of H Street transit oriented real estate development table," 2016

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Saturday, October 13, 2018

A glaring illustration of the need for comprehensive health and wellness planning in DC: Providence Hospital

My first job in DC was working for a nutrition advocacy group, which clued me into nutrition and health and public health approaches to problems -- population health, epidemiology, health communications, social marketing, wellness, prevention, chronic diseases, etc.

When I first started blogging in earnest in February 2005, there were five major hospital related issues in DC and the surrounding area:

  • the closing of DC General Hospital
  • ongoing financial and accreditation issues at Howard University Hospital
  • ongoing financial, outcomes, and management issues at Prince George's County Hospital
  • ongoing financial, outcomes and management issues at Greater Southwest Hospital
  • growth but the need for universities to manage their risk associated with hospital ownership and operation, which led George Washington University and Georgetown University to bring in partners to run their hospitals.
(Later and successfully, Howard did the same as GWU and Georgetown, and their for profit manager-partner is doing a good job.  See "Howard University Hospital names new CEO," Washington Business Journal).

And wrt DC General, Greater Southwest, Howard, and Prince George's Hospital, regardless of being in DC or Maryland, I saw the issues as linked and all deriving from the same general issue of providing care, often un- or under-compensated, to impoverished populations.

-- "Prince George's County's problems as but one more example of the impact of outmigration," 2005
-- "More shenanigans in DC health planning," 2006
-- "Muddled thinking by Steven Pearlstein (Post business columnist," 2006
-- "An indication that there is little respect for planning: Maryland healthcare edition," 2011
-- "When the problem is defects in the structure of "the market", financial incentives won't do much good: Maryland's health enterprise zones," 2013 (this piece laid part of the groundwork for the 2018 series on UMC)
-- etc.

In this vein, in the Spring I wrote a series about DC's United Medical Center and how plans to build a new hospital could be leveraged for the delivery of transformative programs and outcomes:

-- "Ordinary versus Extraordinary Planning around the rebuilding of the United Medical Center in Southeast Washington DC | Part One: Rearticulating the system of health and wellness care East of the River
-- "Part Two: Creating a graduate health and biotechnology research initiative on the St. Elizabeths campus"
-- "Part three: the potential for donations around an expanded program"

Creating a healthcare planning framework.  But the reality is that there isn't comprehensive planning for health care generally and DC leadership typically isn't capable of initiating processes that can generate transformational projects.

In the 2011 entry I wrote:
Clearly, we need at least five different types of health care institutions based on scale/type of service:

a. Big anchor hospitals/teaching hospitals/high level trauma care;

b. Hospitals that aren't necessarily high level trauma care but have various specialty care foci (such as heart health or cancer);

c. Long term or specialty care centers like the Hospital for Sick Children or the National Rehabilitation Hospital or long term nursing care;

d. Acute care centers that aren't full blown emergency rooms/high level trauma centers;

e. community clinics.

Ideally, regional and state health and wellness care plans would address each of these areas comprehensively, and facilities (for profit and nonprofit) would get the licenses to provide the care that is necessary.

That's not how it works though. There isn't a comprehensive plan--there is in some places, but not apparently in DC or Maryland.

Hospitals pursue licensing on their own, although the "certificate of need" process helps to manage the growth process.
(Note that this framework inadequately addresses aging care needs like nursing homes.)

Imminent closure of Providence Hospital.  This comes up because the DC City Council is concerned about plans to close Providence Hospital and is in the process of passing legislation aimed at keeping the hospital open ("D.C. Council bill would require Providence hospital to get approval before closing," Washington Business Journal).  From the article:
The temporary measure would amend 1996 legislation to say that the State Health Planning and Development Agency, which handles D.C.’s Certificate of Need process to approve facility openings and expansions, would also have the authority to approve or disapprove these types of closures. ...

The city's Health Department received official notification Sept. 14 from St. Louis-based Ascension Health, the Catholic nonprofit owner of Providence hospital, of its intention to end acute care and emergency room services by the end of this year, according to D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt, who testified at the hearing Wednesday.
The hospital has been shutting programs and putting out alternatives for the last couple years, such as for conversion to a health campus less focused on the use of in-patient services ("'Health Village' Proposal Sparks Discussion in D.C.," Hospital and Health Networks).

Changing the health care planning process to address closures.  FWIW, the proposed revision of the hospital planning process is a good thing, and should be made permanent because it creates a process that engages the city and health planners (if we have any) and creates the opportunity for extra-normal intervention when warranted.

But for this to work, you need a systematic and comprehensive plan and needs assessment. Likely, DC "has enough" hospitals, even if the overall lack of a "system" for health and wellness care has many gaps.

What to do? I can't claim to know what should be the outcome for Providence Hospital.  And note that while they want to cease "hospital services" they still have plans to deliver health care services at that site ("Here’s the latest on Providence hospital’s upcoming closure in D.C.," in line with the previously announced "Health Village" concept.

Changes in the way hospitals do business and deliver care.  Healthcare is shifting from in-hospital care and focus on patient beds to non-in-patient care, reduction in the number of beds, a shift to very specialized services, private rooms, etc.

As an industry, there is a lot of consolidation, including more and more combining of smaller health care systems into larger entities.

(Fortunately, I haven't spent much time in hospitals in the last 30 years, but last year I spent a fair amount of time at Holy Cross Hospital and later a nursing home in DC and was amazed at how the delivery and treatment of in-patients has changed, especially in a relatively new facility like Holy Cross.)

Competition.  DC proper has a lot of hospitals including seven general hospitals: Georgetown (Medstar), GWU (Universal Health Services, a for profit company) , Washington Hospital Center (Medstar), Howard University, United Medical Center, Providence Hospital (Ascension), Sibley Hospital (Johns Hopkins System); and multiple specialty hospitals such as the Children's Hospital.

In the area outside of DC there are plenty of other hospitals, the large Inova System in Virginia, the Dimensions system in Prince George's County, Holy Cross in Montgomery County, Washington Adventist in Montgomery County which is moving from Takoma Park to White Oak, etc.

Providence is also pretty close to a major competitor, Washington Hospital Center, which has the Washington Hospital, National Rehabilitation Hospital, and Children's Hospital on its campus + the VA Hospital.

Locational factors.  Like Washington Adventist Hospital, which found its out-of-the-way location in Takoma Park to be a hindrance to wider usage as well as being less well placed vis a vis a larger market for health care services, Providence Hospital is in an out of way location and unable to grow.

Need for significant investment.  The Providence Hospital facilities are old and in need of significant investment to be able to compete with other hospitals for higher income patients.  And, like with the proposal for UMC, hospitals generally are getting smaller in terms of in-patient care and the number of beds, shifting to private rooms, etc.

Georgetown is getting a big investment of close to $600 million ("MedStar Georgetown Construction to Begin January 2018," Georgetown Hoya). A new PG Hospital is being built with 205 beds at $543 million (WBJ).  Sibley has been expanded to the tune of $280 million in new investments (WBJ).  DC is planning on building a new UMC.  Washington Adventist is building a new hospital in White Oak, which is about 7.6 miles away.

Maybe it's a bad fit for Ascension but not for other nonprofit hospital groups?  In the context of "health care chains" either for profit or nonprofit, in terms of making investment decisions, Providence is owned by Ascension Health Systems, which is mostly based in the Midwest, with only two properties--Providence in DC and St. Agnes in Baltimore--in the region.

Perhaps another religious-infused nonprofit health care firm would take it off their hands, e.g., Holy Cross Hospitals in Montgomery County are owned by Trinity Healthcare, or Bon Secours Mercy Health, which has facilities in Maryland and Virginia.  But they'd have to see upside in doing so.

The lost opportunity of creating an affiliated medical school at Catholic University.  A long time ago either or both Providence and Washington Hospital Center should have reached out to CUA about creating a Medical School, which could have linked with either or both hospitals.  Now though, CUA is experiencing a range of financial and management troubles and isn't in a position to grow.

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Friday, October 12, 2018

Bicycling Magazine's list of the Top 50 Bicycling Cities in the US

-- "The Best Bike Cities in America"

The criteria:
Our ranking system is out of 100 points divided into four categories, each weighted based on their importance. Safety tops the list and is ranked out of 40 points. Eight to 80 friendliness (how accessible the city is to riders of all ages) came next out of 30 points. Then energy—a measure of the political climate in regards to bikes—out of 20 points. Finally, culture—the shops, routes, and attributes that make each city a great place to ride—was ranked out of 10 points. For a more detailed look on how we ranked each city, see "How we ranked America's best bike cities."
I like the article's discussion of each community.  There are ideas and such to pick up from most any other place.  Although there is no question that there is a lot of "subjectivity" to the the analysis.  From the article:
One takeaway we can’t stop thinking about is that there is no perfect American city for cycling. Our networks are still fragmented. Some cities have nothing besides paint-on-pavement lanes. Many socioeconomically disadvantaged communities lack any bike infrastructure at all. And we don’t have any one organization that collects comprehensive data on cycling injuries. America has a lot of work to do. But a few cities are leading the way, and seeing the work they're putting in makes us hopeful that other areas will soon follow suit.

Seattle is #1. ("Why Seattle is the best bike city in America.")  The article calls attention to engaged political leaders (not just one or two people as is typical in many cities), a rigorous process for identifying unsafe intersections and road conditions, that more than one-third of the population regularly bikes--but not for bike commuting, protected bike lanes, a high proportion of women riding (we have that in DC too), committed planners, bike businesses based there, and the community and culture of cyclists.

Although the article lauds dockless bike share and I bet in reality it's not highly used.

Political culture and Vancouver, BCHub Cycling, the bicycling advocacy group for Greater Vancouver BC has a nice set of webpages on the positions of various candidates for office in the cities and towns around Vancouver.

-- "Vote to Bike"
-- #VoteToBike

Not everyone participates ("Many high-profile Vancouver mayoral hopefuls take a pass on HUB Cycling's Vote Bike survey of local candidates ," Straight). But as the webpage says:
Every candidate for public office should have a transportation platform.
BONUS: THE TWO MOST IMPORTANT THINGS THAT COULD BE DONE TO INCREASE CYCLING FOR TRANSPORTATION THAT NO ONE (IN THE US) IS DOING. Bicycling Magazine and other outlets need to push better practice forward in other ways.

1.  Have a program that is either free or very low cost where people can borrow a bike, helmet, and lock for a few weeks to try it out ("Bike share and sustainable bike share systems: sometimes other programs can have more effect for less cost").

Like the various programs in the UK, called "Cycle to Loan schemes" such as in Hounslow borough in London.  The London Cyclist Campaign is a lead organizer of such programs, Urban Cycle Loan, which were written about in CityLab, "How Cycling Is Becoming More Equitable in London."

This way people don't have to spend hundreds of dollars to try out biking without being sure they will stick with it.

2.  Create a city-wide and metropolitan-wide system of protected bike parking that is easy to use*.  The Parkiteer system in Victoria State/Melbourne, Australia is the model ("Bike to Work Day as an opportunity to assess the state of bicycle planning: Part 2, building a network of bike facilities at the regional scale").

Centered on Melbourne, the Parkiteer bike parking is a network of 90+ secure bicycle parking cages at railroad and transit stations.  While many European, Asian, and South American cities provide similar types of bike cages, Parkiteer is different in that each cage is a node in a common network, rather than each a free standing facility with different membership and entry access systems.

Bayswater Station, Melbourne, Parkiteer Bicycle Parking Cage
Bayswater Station, Melbourne, Parkiteer Bicycle Parking Cage

I am suggesting the creation of a networked secure bike parking system covering the DC and Baltimore metropolitan areas, one that isn't transit agency/jurisdiction specific, but functional without respect to agency or jurisdiction (like how you can use the SmarTrip/CharmCard across transit agencies, even though technically, the card program is run by WMATA), including:
  • key activity centers, not just transit stations.  

  • use city and county parking structures as opportunities for providing high quality protected bike parking.  For example, With the opening of the Purple Line, parking authorities in Montgomery and Prince George's should commit to participating;

  • provide such facilities in dense neighborhoods like Columbia Heights DC, where apartment buildings constructed before 1950 typically don't have parking garages

  • not just bike cages like the Parkiteer program, but work to employ a wide variety of high quality secure bicycle parking options designed according to the location's conditions, opportunities, and potential for the most cost-effective installation.


  • The way the Parkiteer program works is that "members" pay a one-time $50 fee for a key fob which allows them to open the access control device.  They can use any of the Parkiteer sites across the network.  There is no daily use fee for parking.  

    Ideally, a wide variety of high quality parking options would be employed, not just the "cages" used in the Parkiteer program
    .Biceberg underground bicycle parking
    The Biceberg underground bicycle parking system works with an above-ground kiosk.


    Interior bicycle racks, Logan Square station, blue line subway, Chicago
    At the Logan Square CTA station in Chicago, protected bike parking is available within the station, behind the fare gates, in interstitial space.

    Note that the Biceberg has the capacity of 23, 46, 69, or 92 bikes, depending on the underground configuration (each unit of 23 equals the cubic feet of one parking space), while the bike cages used in the Parkiteer program have a capacity of 30.  Plus, it seems that the Parkiteer program's cages are pretty expensive.

    In any case there are a variety of spaces (indoors, garages, underground options, etc.) that should be utilized for such a program.

    =======
    * There are some exceptions with bike parking, but they don't operate on the scale or approach of  ParkiteerSanta Ana, California has a few bike shelters in its Downtown that are accessed by paying members.  Indianapolis had a similar system called Indiana Bike Port but the program has been discontinued.

    In the SF Bay area and in Los Angeles County the transit agencies have a number of bike hubs, although membership is facility specific.

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    Monday, October 08, 2018

    Revisiting stories: Night-time safety: rethinking lighting in the context of a walking community and Detroit's reduction in pedestrian deaths from lighting upgrades

    I wrote about this in 2014 ("Night-time safety: rethinking lighting in the context of a walking community" and "Lighting as an element of urban design and community identity: Cleveland chandelier + Chicago lighting design framework plan design competition").

    The basic idea is that in the context of an 18- or 24-hour city, you need to plan specifically and in a structured fashion for the night-time daypart, and that means planning for lighting. The Eindhoven Netherlands lighting master plan takes this further, by defining six categories of light:

    • urban lighting (streets, public areas)
    • buildings and objects
    • art (indoor and outdoor)
    • events and festivals
    • information
    • advertising.
    Since then, I also came across a lighting master plan from the City of Bath in the UK.  Bath is noteworthy for being the pilot system of modern integrated urban wayfinding systems.

    -- Bath City Centre Lighting Strategy

    LED conversion to save money.  Otherwise, the focus of most local governments is streetlight upgrading to LED to save money by using less electricity ("Webinar on street lighting: LEDs, networks: Thursday March 9th").

    This has got many residents up in arms because of recommendations by a committee of the American Medical Association about the Kelvin frequency of LEDs and the fact that manufactured LED lighting tends to be at higher frequencies ("When the lights go on in DC, will they be too bright?," WTOP; "Takoma Park looks to new LED lights to save money, energy," Washington Post).

    Smart City initiatives/Streetlights as networks.  Some but not all local governments are also looking at conversion projects as a way to reposition streetlights as networks, and incorporate other elements.  For example, DC would like to use new streetlight systems as a way to deliver wi-fi and incorporate Shot Spotter and other public safety technologies.

    -- "Smart street lighting is driving smart city projects," SmartCities World

    Streetlights as electric car charging devices.  London ("Want an electric car charge point on the street outside your house? There's a £2.5m pot, but the catch is you have to apply though your council," This is Money) and Los Angeles are two of the cities looking at this.

    Streetlight conversion as an element of public safety.  Streetsblog USA calls our attention to Detroit ("Detroit Streetlight Effort Dramatically Reduces Ped Deaths") where likely the streetlight conversion was driven by saving money, but is positioned primarily as a public safety initiative. The city claims a 95% decrease in annual pedestrian deaths -- from 24 to 1 -- because of the change.

    Communicating benefits: public safety versus saving money as the primary message for streetlight upgrades.  One of the most important books I read on marketing and message was called Strategic Marketing for Not-For-Profit Organizations.  Its primary point is that all organizations have three publics: input which give you resources; throughput which does the work of the organization (staff); and output to whom the organization's actions are directed.  And that you should differentiate your marketing depending on which public you're addressing.

    Too often government agencies don't differentiate in messaging across the publics or test what type of messaging resonates best.  Saving money is a great benefit, but might not be the most important message.

    ... just as the presentations around the report Building Public Will make the point that the best message for clean rivers isn't environmental stewardship but more focused on public health and the fact that most drinking water comes from rivers.

    The lesson is to figure out the best message that resonates with the public, not based on how you think the public should be acting and behaving ("take care of the environment" vs. clean drinking water or "historic preservation is a good thing to do" vs. it.makes your house worth more, etc.)

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