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, August 18, 2014

Policing: escalation versus de-escalation

Guns do kill people/when your primary tool is a gun, people get killed.  For years I've been "surprised" when people express outrage when a mental illness distress call is made to the police, and the incident ends with the person being killed by the police.

Police officers tend to have a limited tool set, a gun being the primary tool.

The increased militarization of police departments, with SWAT teams used to execute warrants for low-level crimes, armored vehicles, etc., reiterates that too often, the primary tools that police officers have--at least in the US--are violent.

Broken windows theory.  There has been controversy lately over "broken windows" theoretical approaches to policing because of the stop and frisk case in NYC as well as the recent death of a person arrested for illegally selling cigarettes, who died in custody ("NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio walks thin blue line in chokehold aftermath," Christian Science Monitor).

WRT "broken windows theory," there are two elements.  One is the general idea of order maintenance and management in communities ("Broken Windows," Atlantic Monthly, 1982).

In my personal experience, living in places that had been reasonably tough (if you call living a few blocks from a major crack distribution area "tough") the broken windows theory--that if you don't maintain order by for example, fixing broken windows, removing abandoned cars, picking up litter, eradicating graffiti, etc., that order tends to further decline, including vacant properties being taken over by criminal elements, etc.

The other aspect is as a policing technique.  What William Bratton originally figured out is that criminals who commit big crimes tend to commit small crimes too, so if you arrest people for crimes that do matter but are little, such as turnstile jumping on the subway, you catch "big criminals" in the process.   The same goes for going after guns and gun crimes.

Unfortunately, too many police departments think that it means arresting or ticketing any offense, no matter how small, such as taking up two seats on the subway when there is plenty of room but is still against the law, as opposed to when the trains are full.

Note that George Kelling, one of the original co-authors of this work, argues that the theory is better termed "problem-oriented policing" and focusing limited personnel on interdicting problems and crimes in specific, directed ways, rather than merely reacting or "being passive."  (Literature review, "Community Oriented and Problem Policing," US Department of Justice)

As crime drops do police officers have less to do?   One of the problems, in cities like New York City, is that as crime drops, police departments need to keep their statistics and action up, so they have more time to focus on minor crimes, but which can backfire, such as with the deaths of people taken into custody.

Ferguson, Missouri.  Sunday's Richmond Times-Dispatch has an editorial, "Today’s top opinion: Law enforcement — the Brown slaying," about the recent tragedy of the shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old, the resulting protests and the police department's response, which has escalated problems.

From the article:
it will require proof of extraordinary circumstances indeed to find the killing justified. Police are supposed to act professionally and with restraint even when ordinary citizens do not. They receive training in how to de-escalate confrontations. Shooting Brown did not, to put it mildly, achieve that end.
I guess I disagree. Police departments don't spend enough time training police officers in de-escalation.

It happens that I was reading an old National Georgraphic (June 2009) and it reported on research in the UK about "embedding" police officers in crowd situations, especially soccer games, to reduce the likelihoood of violence.

From the article:
Actually, "crowd control" is the wrong phrase. ...  Rather than focus on cowing a crowd, officers look at its members.  If a person acts criminally, the cops step in.  They also encourage organizers to monitor their events.  "We are nervous every time." ... But the approach is promising. 
Clifford Stott ... studies soccer riots.  His conclusion?  If officers are embedded in a crowd they aren't seen as a threat and can quietly nab hooligans.
This FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin article, "Crowd Management: Adopting a New Paradigm," covers the same work (image above from this article).

Granted it won't work when the police department is so different and disconnected from the demographics of the community it is policing, when various elements (like Bay area anarchists) are focused on fomenting violence, and when the police department adopts militaristic techniques ("Ferguson and the Shocking Nature of US Police Militarization," US News).

Conclusion.  There needs to be an upgrade of requirements on police departments in terms of training, especially in de-escalation, for both crowds and individual acts, and de-militarization (see the book Rise of the Warrior Cop, Wall Street Journal article by the author).

States are in the position to be able to regulate the operation of police departments.  However, the herocization of police officers, demonization of the poor, and the power of police unions in political campaign financing at the state and local level will make this difficult.

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Saving the South Capitol Bridge as an exclusive pedestrian and bicycle bridge

Image of the South Capitol Street Bridge by Brendan Reals from Fine Art America.

Last week I suggested ("The Anacostia River and considering the bridges as a unit and as a premier element of public art and civic architecture") that the city should plan the Anacostia River bridges as an ensemble.

 At this week's design advisory meetings for the 11th Street Bridge Park project, in a side conversation, one of the committee members suggested that when a new South Capitol Street Bridge is constructed, that the current Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge could be retained as a walking and biking bridge.

In order for that to happen, the idea needs to be integrated into the bridge planning and reconstruction process now.

Walkway over the Hudson
Grand opening, Walkway over the Hudson.  Flickr photo by Andy Milford.

One example of this kind of project happening elsewhere is the Walkway Over The Hudson.  From the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park website:
The Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge was built in the late 19th century to link New York and New England to an extensive, nationwide railway network. For decades, it was a major rail corridor for both freight and passengers. 
After a fire in 1974, the bridge was abandoned and sat for decades as an orphaned relic. This brand new park was made possible due to the unwavering commitment of the community, who, through a non-profit organization called Walkway Over the Hudson, forged a public private partnership involving the State of New York, the federal government, neighboring municipalities, private corporations and other not for profit groups. 
In 2010 the bridge was lighted and it happens that just this week, a new element to the bridge park, an elevator, opened.  See "Walkway Over the Hudson elevator makes grand debut" from the Poughkeepsie Journal.  According to the article, more than 700,000 use the bridge each year.

While claims of it being the longest pedestrian bridge in the world are not credible, another example of the repurposing of a bridge exclusively for pedestrian (and bicycle) traffic, is the Walnut Street Bridge, which crosses the Tennessee River in Chattanooga.

Given that the river crossing conditions on South Capitol Street for pedestrians and bicyclists are so sub-par, this concept of retaining the current bridge for walking and biking would be a significant enhancement to the city's public realm and walking and biking infrastructure.

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Morgan State University should move their architecture and planning school to Downtown/Station North Arts District

The Station North Arts and Entertainment District in Baltimore has been very successful at revitalizing the commercial district there around arts uses.  They are fortunate to be anchored by Penn Station, and the University of Baltimore and the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), although technically those organizations are outside of the district.

That being said, and with those great anchors, it has taken many years to see the impact of year-by-improvements to the district, which is now very evident, with various culture uses inhabiting buildings on Charles Street and North Avenue, expanding university housing, new housing developments, artist housing, and the creation of the Baltimore Design School high school.

MICA has been expanding outside of its traditional campus area onto North Avenue, which is helping to bring back large buildings that have been vacant for long periods, even multiple decades.

One of the interesting projects is the restoration of the Parkway Theater, which will also become the new home for the Maryland Film Festival, MICA's film and video studies program, and in a very interesting development, Johns Hopkins University is going to move its film and video academic program to the facility as well--which is about three miles from its main campus ("Parkway partners," JHU Magazine).

For quite some time, I've been thinking that MICA needs to offer a combined arts and urban planning degree (they do have a program in West Baltimore, focused on urban design) because many of their students in community arts extension programs do projects that are very much like planning projects and engagements.  And they have done very interesting work.

While the University of Maryland's planning department in College Park was originally part of the Baltimore campus, it merged within and moved to the College Park architecture school many years ago.

And a consent agreement concerning the support of historically black colleges in the State of Maryland means that other universities in Baltimore cannot create planning degree programs, because that would compete with Morgan State University, a historically black university located in northeast Baltimore in a more suburban like environment.

At those Brige Park meetings I was talking with Roger Lewis (he writes a column on urbanism for the Washington Post and is an emeritus professor who taught architecture at UMD for many years) and it occurred to me that Morgan State could make their planning and architecture programs much more relevant by putting them in the core of the city, instead of being located at the outskirts.

How about bringing the Morgan State School of Architecture and Planning to Downtown Baltimore?

I think they should relocate their School of Architecture and Planning to the Station North District.  Downtown the school could collaborate with MICA and University of Baltimore and the various development and revitalization initiatives in the core of the city.

However, it's not likely possible since they just constructed a new building a couple years ago.  What bad timing.
Land use context for Morgan State's Center for the Built Environment.

It's too bad that the planning process for "a new building" didn't consider more broadly the role of the school in the community and beyond and the possibility of relocation to increase the relevance and prominence of the program.

Before and after photos of "The Warehouse" Downtown academic departments building, Syracuse University, from Wikipedia.

A few years ago, Syracuse University moved its Communication, Advertising, Interiors, Industrial, and Fashion Design departments to Downtown Syracuse into a renovated building called "The Warehouse." (MICA moved its senior studios program to a renovated building on North Avenue a couple years ago).

The architecture school at the University of Texas San Antonio moved to downtown in 2004.  And, many universities locate their "urban design and architecture" studios and technical assistance programs in inner city locations, for example the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative of Kent State University, which is actively engaged throughout the city.

Conclusion.  I guess this is an example of a good idea running smack into missed opportunities.

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Integrating citizen residents into "business" improvement districts: Capital Riverfront district as an opportunity and example of the need for change

Business improvement districts are commercial district management and marketing organizations that are sanctioned by local jurisdictions as managers of public space and other activities within a defined geography. They were created to provide extranormal services that increasingly were beyond the capacity of a city to provide and typically were organized in the main business district of a city, although many cities have multiple BIDs.

They are funded by an add-on assessment to commercial property taxes.  As a result, leadership and agenda of the organizations tends to be dominated by property owners, although there are usually slots for retail business tenants as board members.  By default, the organizations become the day-to-day managers and long range planners for the public space within their defined districts.

An issue is that BIDs are two different functions in one, a financing mechanism and a community manager.  It's possible to split the functions, or to organize them differently, but for the most part that kind of nuance eludes elected and appointed officials.

There are some variants of the format, where resident interests are engaged both as taxpayer funders of the organization (this can be controversial, e.g., there is a vocal group of opponents to the Charles Village Community Benefits District, which includes both residents and businesses as tax paying members, that hasn't stopped resisting since the organization was created in the 1990s) and as board members, but this is rare.

San Francisco has a program that allows for a variety of types of districts, which can include resident participation, including participation as board members.  San Diego's BID financing program is used by some neighborhoods as a way to fund Main Street oriented commercial district revitalization initiatives, which are more ground up community involved approaches, than the typical top-down BID approach dominated by large commercial property owners, although board membership still favors business owners.

A problem comes up as these districts become more mixed use, with a large residential component, because there are few if any provisions for adding residents to oversight boards of the organizations. You can't expect an apartment building owner represented on the boad of a building to be advocating very well for residential interests if they are opposed to the interests of property owners.

Painting a traffic signal pole, Downtown DC Business Improvement DistrictWhile everyone appreciates well managed "public spaces," they become more mall-like and private and lose some of their public character and potential for spontaneity when the public has limited say in how they are managed.

This type of the issue is likely to come up more often going forward as business districts become increasingly residential and cities increasingly work to offload management and financial responsibility for operating "new" parks--instead they are concerned with coming up with the money to manage their existing footprint (e.g., "Can Columbia afford to operate 56 public parks?," Columbia (SC) State).

Business improvement districts are the entity most likely to be parks managers in urban mixed use districts.

A few years ago I wrote a piece, "NoMA revisited: business planning to develop community," about the NoMA district in DC, which when it is built out, will have between 6,000 and 7,000 residents.

I recommended that DC plan for mixed use commercial-residential districts by changing the organizational format of "B"IDs to CIDs--community improvement districts--and provide a way for residents to be represented on newly reorganized CID boards and in the management oversight of the organizations.

NoMA isn't the only place where this recommendation is relevant.

The last couple days I spent in meetings related to the 11th Street Bridge Park project, and this came up in a discussion about management of the proposed park, policies, and civic engagement.

Someone mentioned that the Capital Riverfront "business district," the area around the Nationals Stadium and the US Department of Transportation, which is increasingly dominated by multiunit residential buildings.  According to this article, "Navy Yard/Capitol Riverfront: After a Rain Delay, the Stadium’s Boomtown Starts to Deliver" from Urban Turf, the district is expected to have as many as 5,000 residents next year, although most, a mix of condos and apartments, will live in large multiunit buildings.

Two of the signature elements of this district are Yards Park (pictured at left) and Canal Park, which are public parks, owned by DC, but managed by the local business improvement district, and built by private interests as part of development agreements.

As much as the parks are used and loved, in the meeting someone mentioned that there is some "community" resentment about the pricing structure for using the facilities in these parks, that the pricing structure is oriented towards maximum reventue generation and less on enabling community participation.

What happens is that the management of public facilities is in effect, privatized, because of limited oversight of and civic participation in the "nonprofit" "community serving" organization that is more a property manager than a civic engagement enabler.

While there is one residential property owner, a condominium owner, on the board of the Capital Riverfront district, and there are some slots for community stakeholders as ex-officio members membership is overwhelmingly dominated by commercial property owners.

This BID, and others, are good candidates for conversion to CIDs.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Map of combined state, local and federal gasoline excise tax rates

From our friends at ExxonMobil.  I didn't realize that the unsuccessful proposal for the increase in sales taxes in Missouri to pay for transportation improvements included a ten year period during which the state would not be able to raise toll or gasoline tax rates.

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Lower taxes vs. better communities

While walking past the Montgomery County Republican Party booth at the Ag Fair, of course I responded when queried.

The first thing that I remember being said to me is "Do you want lower taxes?"

Unfortunately, I didn't have a rejoinder immediately handy, which should have been "What I want most is a better community."

It happens that on our neighborhood listserv we've been discussing party competition and DC which has none of it.  I mentioned that I come from Michigan, which when I grew up, had an honorable moderate Republican tradition, that I had voted for Republicans when I first voted, that Mitt Romney was a decent Governor especially on smart growth issues, etc.

One member of the listserv, whose business has focused on hair braiding, pointed out that the strongest support for differentiated licensing for hair braiders vs. cosmeticians or hair stylists comes from Republicans (although it's because they don't believe in professional licensing in general).

Left vs. Right Spectrum infographic from Information is Beautiful.

That being said, I'd rather have lower taxes than higher taxes, smaller government than bigger government, exemplary government action rather than waste, and more support for self-help.

But given the anti-government, pro-wealthy, somewhat misogynist and racist agenda of the Republican Party "nationally" and the pro-property rights (semi-anti historic preservation) agenda locally, it's very difficult for me to vote for a Republican now.

What is the right kind of urban agenda for the Republican Party?  However, since I never managed to score a review copy of the book Seemless City by Rick Baker, the Republican former mayor of St. Petersburg, Florida, I bought it, but haven't gotten around to reading it, to figure out what an ideal Republican urban agenda would be.

What is the right kind of metropolitan agenda for the Republican Party given that metropolitan areas, at least for national and statewide offices, tend to vote more Democratic as well?  It's all relative, these suburban metro voters tend to be more progressive politically than more rural areas of their respective states, but still more conservative than center city voters.  And as we discussed yesterday, suburban voters tend to be less favorable towards fixed rail transit.

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Native Plants and Plant Invaders resources

One reason I like County Fairs like Arlington's or Montgomery County's is for the information booths by nonprofits and government agencies.  (Although this year churches and a pro-life group are at the MoCo AgFair.  Suzanne was surprised when a person at one of the church booths--they offer enticements like bracelet creation, which our 6-year-old next door neighbor cannot resist, making her susceptible to their spiels--told our little neighbor that God loves her more than even her parents are capable of.)

Groups like the Izaak Walton League, the Master Gardener program, Montgomery County's Department of Environmental Protection and the Solid Waste Division are usually exhibiting and are good places for people in the Chesapeake Bay region to get guidance on various environmental topics.

I picked up copies of these items, which are also listed on the blog:

-- Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat & Conservation Landscaping: Chesapeake Bay Watershed
-- Plant Invaders of Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas

We just don't have equivalently good "expositions" in DC where we can count on getting such good information and resources (e.g., I picked up a compost bin from MoCo DEP).

At the Arlington County Fair--it ended today, the Montgomery County fair goes through next weekend-- county government agencies take up one complete aisle in the indoor exhibition building.  Even the County Manager spends some time in the booth, interacting with fair-goers and answering their questions.


Transit stuff #3: bus rapid transit vs. the creation of foundational suburban mass transit systems

Maybe we should be thinking of bus rapid transit as a way of building a trunkline/foundational transit system for suburbs rather than some magic bullet.   A Coalition for Smart Growth initiative, Communities for Transit, is out in force at the Montgomery County Agriculture Fair this week, to promote the proposed Montgomery County Bus Rapid Transit system.

Because I was with other people, including young children  more focused on animals and playing than going to information booths, I wasn't able to make it to the main gate, where apparently CFT has a duded-out bus and more information, but I did pick up info from people stationed at the other entrance.  (Ironically, the CFT booth is at the automobile entrance to the fair, not at the entrance used by people coming to the fair by bus.  Given the nature of the fair, and the fact that many people don't cover the whole thing, they needed a second booth at the other entrance.)
These CFT volunteers live in Friendshp Heights, Maryland.

I guess like how some people don't recognize that the point of certain kinds of transit services aren't for fast inter-city transit but are intended to enhance transit service within cities, and that's okay--see my piece "Making the case for intra-city (vs. inter-city) transit planning" vs. this Vox piece by Matthew Yglesias "Meet the worst transit project in America," and this from Reason about Detroit, "Is Detroit's New Light Rail Line America's Greatest Boondoggle?," I do have concerns that bus rapid transit is oversold.

There is no question that BRT is oversold compared to fixed rail transit, at least in those communities that have the density that makes economical the more costly choiceof fixed rail, because there is not one good example in the US of more people choosing to ride "bus rapid transit" compared to fixed rail

HealthLineCleveland HealthLine photo from Flickr by SoCal Metro.

Cleveland's HealthLine has ridership lower than most of DC's highest ridership bus lines, and much of the development said to have been sparked by the BRT line would have been construced anyway. Similarly, Boston's Silver Line BRT has abysmal ridership.

But looking at the flyer that CFT is handing out at the Ag Fair, it occurs to me, although I haven't yet come up with the succinct language needed to describe the concept, that what is being planned for Montgomery County isn't so much "Bus Rapid Transit" but an upgraded, complete, and foundational transit system, not unlike my concept of "Signature Streets", which suggests that communities should think of their mobility system holistically, as an element of an integrated public realm framework, and define and build out a "road system" that equally accommodates pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users as well as motor vehicle operators, while simultaneously contributing positively to neighborhood and community quality of life, rather than diminishing it as so much of the road network does currently.

No community here... Rockville Pike, Montgomery County, Maryland.  Washington Post photo.
Rockville Pike, looking north, which Montgomery planners want to transform into a network of urban villages.

Route map, side two of the flyer
Flyer, side two, route map, bus rapid transit system, Montgomery County Maryland

Side one of the flyer
Flyer, side one, Communities for Transit, Montgomery County bus rapid transit system

The idea is that a county like Baltimore County should designate their primary road network, and build it and brand it as "foundational," and by doing so they can build the resident support necessary to pass votes for bond issues (comparable to Seattle's Bridging the Gap program, Oklahoma City's Metropolitan Area Projects program, or the Los Angeles or Denver sales tax initiatives to fund rail expansion).

It happens that Montgomery County already has Metrorail stations and two railroad passenger lines serving various points in the county, but the reality is those fixed rail transit services are oriented to DC.

A bus rapid transit system as conceptualized in Montgomery County's Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan is a different type of program which allows the suburban county to define its own transit agenda in a complementary manner to what already exists, but as an upgrade and rebranding.

Other examples.  Perhaps the Orange Line BRT in San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles
is maybe a better example of being able to serve as the trunk line for suburban transit rather than as a rail system, even though the end point station of North Hollywood links to fixed rail service.
Shown at left, the Orange Line runs in a dedicated transitway (formerly used by a passenger railroad line and then streetcars, not unlike how some of the Pittsburgh area busways are former railines too).

This ought to make the Orange Line a candidate for seeking approval for running buses longer than 60 feet in length, which would increase the capacity of the system, which has about 30,000 daily riders.

Warden Station, York Region's first rapid transit hub, in Markham. Viva system photo.

Perhaps the best example in North America of a suburban BRT system as an upgrade and creation of a foundational trunkline system within a bus transit system is the Viva system in the York Region of Greater Toronto.  There are five VIVA lines, one has ridership greater than 21,000 daily riders, and another is greater than 5,000 daily riders, while the other three have small ridership numbers.

Yes, they don't get ridership numbers like we do in DC proper for our bus lines.  But that's ok.  Also see "Maryland gubernatorial campaign transportation agenda."

Their ridership should be compared to other suburban jurisdictions that lack the density and concentrated activity and employment centers that are necessary to support successful fixed rail transit service.

Conclusion.  Still, it is unfortunate that many transit systems with cities as their foundation are yoked to and outnumbered by suburban jurisdictions and voting blocs, which can hamper the ability of the core system to grow and to stop the pressure to continually extend the system outwards in ways that make the system less efficient and more costly to operate.

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Transit stuff #2: Reducing the cost of constructing transit systems

There was an op-ed, "California's slow ride to new transit," in the San Francisco Chronicle by Ethan Elkind of the UCLA Law School's Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, based on a position brief, Back in the Fast Lane: How to Speed Public Transit Planning and Construction in California, discussing various ways for reducing the cost of building transit systems in California (and by extension, the US).

His recommendations fall into three categories:
Engage in strict oversight of construction management and awards and ensure no conflicts of interest due to construction-firm campaign contributions, possibly through the creation of more independent construction authorities.

Reform state laws to reduce litigation over environmental review of transit projects.

Allow local agencies to prioritize transit infrastructure over automobile traffic without requiring expensive new planning studies.
This is important, because now that the US financially is in more of a zero sum situation, the various environmental and public participation reviews add a lot of time and cost to projects, without necessarily adding value.

Cars parked along 26th Street fell onto CSX rail tracks when the road bed collapsed. (Photo credit: Stacey Mink via Associated Press.) 

I do think it's important to balance competing public interests with environmental reviews.  Much citizen involvement in such reviews is aimed to stop projects, not to improve the project.

At the root there is an unwillingness to acknowledge competing but equally compelling claims and the failure of automobility promoters to acknowledge that they are focused on maintaining automobile primacy rather than optimizing the mobility system, especially for urban transportation.

For example, while I can respect resident concerns about the impact of construction of a new Virginia Avenue Tunnel in Southeast DC ("Pressure builds over proposed reconstruction of CSX tunnel," Washington Post), I don't see how not rebuilding and expanding the tunnel isn't in the public interest.

It will enable safer transportation, enhance the freight transportation system, enable more passenger railroad transit service to Virginia, and will ward off structure failure like what has been happening in Baltimore--railroad tunnel fires a few years ago in one tunnel, inadequate capacity for higher speed trains, and a road cave in earlier this year ("City approves $12M contract for East 26th Street repairs," Baltimore Sun).

Calling for postponement until DC starts and finishes a "comprehensive rail plan" is a waste of time because such a plan would endorse reconstruction of this tunnel as one of the most fundamental and basic recommendations.

But there are many other examples, from a lawsuit against the LA MTA for plans to build a tunnel under Beverly Hill High School (if transit tunnels are that harmful what do we do with London, Paris, NYC, or DC, among others?) to opposition to building a taller apartment building at the Takoma Metro Station in DC of how the Town of Chevy Chase, Maryland is challenging the calculations for ridership of the Purple Line light rail system, proposed for Montgomery and Prince George's Counties--a system that I think will have the highest light rail ridership of any single line in the US as of the first day it opens.  See "MTA hands over Purple Line ridership data" from the Gazette.

Conclusion.  It is inexcusable that it costs so much more in the US to construct rail transit systems than it does in Europe and we need to address this, if we hope to construct more rapid transit systems in the future. The recommendations in Back in the Fast Lane: How to Speed Public Transit Planning & Construction in California are a good place to start.

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Transit stuff #1: Light rail in Portland has issues too

I have been meaning to write about the opening of the Silver Line heavy rail system in Northern Virginia and the streetcar in Tucson, as well as separately, the success of a bus millage in suburban Detroit, and the failure of the creation of a transportation tax district in Kansas City and the Missouri "transportation" sales tax, and San Antonio's halting of streetcar creation activities.

But I am behind...

Still there are a couple of other interesting developments in the transit arena that are worth reading, considering.

The Austin American-Statesman has a very long piece about light rail in Portland, Oregon ("Portland light rail's mixed track record" and how it isn't smooth sailing in terms of funding issues as well as resistance to expansion on the part of often conservative suburban counties.

In a separate email discussion, I made the point that the DC region has similar issues, and even DC.  This is what I wrote:

We have those same issues in the DC region. I think it's insane, some of the anti-rail opposition to the Purple Line especially (but also to streetcars in Northern Virginia) as it is not like the DC area lacks experience with the success of transit. In fact we have scads of sucessful examples, especially in DC.

The reason that much of the core of the city is successful now is because of the concentration of 31 Metro stations--even though the system was designed for suburbanites, at the core it works monocentrically for the benefit of the city itself.

But what really saddens me is that we have the same kinds of political dynamics within the city as well ("DC as a suburban agenda dominated city"), both in terms of progressives expressing anti-rail attitudes toward streetcars (although now I am less enamored of streetcars, though still supportive, because I think we should focus on intra-city heavy rail expansion) and the outer city (the parts outside of Wards 1, 2, and 6--the original L'Enfant City is comprised mostly of Wards 2 and 6) which is dominated by much more suburban attitudes toward mobility and automobile primacy vs. the inner city or core city of Washington, where walking, biking, transit, car sharing, density and relatively short distances between home and work make getting around a car practical and efficient..

Anyway, it happens I am preparing a piece on these issues, in response to a recent BBC piece on DC's revivification ("Washington DC from murder capital to boomtown"), because unfortunately that article ascribes most of the success to an influx of population starting in the late 1990s, and misses the point that the foundation of DC's success is built on the period from the 1960s to the mid 1990s, when people with choices were still attracted to urban living because of:

1. historic building stock in the city's neighborhoods in and around the city's core
2. (for the US) a deep transit infrastructure which allows people, at least in the core, to get around without having to rely on owning an automobile
3. the steady employment and contracting engine of the federal government
4. and the concentration of federal employment centers in DC's core and/or proximate to transit.

At least with regard to streetcars in DC, I am hoping, once the system starts operating for real, no later than the first quarter of 2015, that some of the opposition within the city will start to wane.

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Friday, August 08, 2014

Seattle Park District referendum

WP_20140712_013Image from the Seattle Parks Foundation Love Parks campaign.

It looks like creating a Seattle Parks District with the ability to levy a tax on property has been approved by Seattle voters ("Seattle Metropolitan Parks District: A tense 'yes'," Crosscut).

Some people criticized the proposal because the "Parks District" leadership will be comprised of the City Council, operating as the Parks District, and there are concerns that there are inadequate controls and plans in place to ensure that monies aren't wasted ("Seattle Park District continues trend toward victory," Seattle Times).

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Thursday, August 07, 2014

Infographic on DC's public health statistics by GWU Milken School of Public Health

is a good excuse to re-visit past blog entries on creating an integrated public health and health care system that serves the city's impoverished, with a focus on programming, managing chronic conditions ("When the problem is defects in the structure of "the market", financial incentives won't do much good: Maryland's health enterprise zones"), and improving the city's poorly functioning EMS system ("Here's the person to hire to manage the EMS department in DC" and "Recent death from failure of DC FEMS personnel to act").

I need to check in with the progress of St. Anthony Hospital in Chicago, where they are building a new hospital but repositioning it as a multifaceted community hub, which they call FocalPoint.  See:

-- Creating Community-Centric Hospitals in Lower Socio-Economic Areas: A Study in Chicago's Near Southwest Side, Summary of Research

From the Chicago Tribune article "Chicago safety-net hospitals face uncertain future amid changes to health care system: Area has 20 safety-net hospitals, which are a stop-gap medical system for the poor":
St. Anthony embarked on its turnaround after assessing the needs of its community and tailoring its services to match. It now functions as a de facto community hub, teaching language classes and hosting courses for people studying to take high-school equivalency tests. It also added health services like dialysis and occupational health and expanded its infusion, pediatric and maternal centers. 
"If you're doing what the community needs, you become very valuable to them," Medaglia said. "And to continue to serve them, you really have to think out of the box. You have to think:  What can we do that's different, that can service this community at a lower cost and higher quality?" 
St. Anthony is pushing forward with plans to build a 1 million-square-foot commercial development at 31st Street and Kedzie Avenue anchored by a 100-bed replacement hospital.
The $430 million Focal Point development is slated to be built on 11 acres acquired from the city for $1 by a nonprofit affiliated with St. Anthony. The complex is set to include two schools, retail stores, a child-care center, an indoor recreation facility and an athletic field.
That would be a good model for what DC could do with a revitalized United Medical Center ("United Medical Center is on financial upswing," Post) which I was hoping was the basis of the now jettisoned proposal by Mayor Gray to build a new hospital replacing the current facility, adjacent to the St. Elizabeths campus in Congress Heights ("New Ward 8 hospital will be floated," Post") which could even be developed as a system in association with Howard University Hospital, which has some financial issues of its own ("Howard University Hospital bottom line: $21M loss," Washington Business Journal).

The Health and Wellness in the District of Columbia infographic was created by by MPH@GW, a Masters in Public Health program at George Washington University.

Among the many facts presented are that 35% of DC's children are obese and the city's poverty rate, at 19%, is higher than the national average.

On the other hand, we have lots of hospitals...

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