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.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Focusing on what's most important: snow on cars or snow on sidewalks?

(I know, this is a photo from Europe...)

A number of legislators in New York State have introduced bills to institute fines on motor vehicle operators for not clearing snow off their vehicles, and then driving, with the likelihood of the snow flying off their cars.

From the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle article "Snow on car? Some lawmakers want a fine":

At least four separate bills in the state Legislature would hit motorists with a fine if they fail to clear snow and ice off their vehicles before hitting the road, following the lead of New Jersey and Connecticut, which have implemented similar policies.
Supporters of a fine say it would deter motorists from driving their snow-covered cars, which pose a danger to other drivers who could find themselves in the line of flying ice or debris. ...

Mayer's bill is the most comprehensive of the proposals, laying out a system of fines and a fund to provide for areas on the state Thruway where truckers can clean off their vehicles.

Non-commercial motorists would be hit with a fine of $150 to $800 if they are found operating a vehicle with more than 3 inches of snow or ice on it. A trucker would face a $450 to $1,250 fine. Drivers who are disabled wouldn't be subject to a fine.

The money would go into a fund, which would be used to pay for an awareness campaign, the Thruway clean-off spots and grants for trucking companies to purchase ice-clearing equipment.
While I think this initiative does show the priorities of elected officials as it relates to the transportation network amidst the general unwillingness to fine people for not clearing sidewalks ("Despite laws, progress on snow removal is uneven," Washington Post) it happens that the City of Rochester New York independently has a system for clearing sidewalks of snow throughout the city, including in residential areas. (The exclusion of disabled drivers from the requirement defeats the purpose of the bill though, as snow flying off a car happens regardless.)

-- City of Rochester | Sidewalk Snow Removal

The City of Rochester contracts for sidewalk removal, clearing to a width of 5 feet, but not exceeding that width in commercial districts.  Photo from Rochester Subway blog.

The city clears snow once it gets to 4 inches--so property owners are responsible for clearing snowfalls of less than 4 inches--and has 878 miles of sidewalks. They organize clearance by creating sidewalk snow clearance routes each 15 miles long and say it takes about 5 hours to clear each route.

The cost is covered by what the city calls an "embellishment fee," which is an add-on to property taxes, and is based on the width of the street frontage.

Although some argue that the program doesn't go far enough and should provide additional clearance to the full width of the sidewalk to the curb in commercial districts and the application of special clearance practices for bus stops ("Clearing Rochester’s Sidewalks of Snow is Not a Problem, It’s an Opportunity," Rochester Subway blog).

Note that inadequate dew removal from a car's windshield contributed to the death of a bicyclist in Maryland in 2011 ("Motorist cited in bicycle fatality: Hollywood woman's ticket charges negligent driving," Southern Maryland News). That driver ended up paying a fine around $300.  The consequences from causing death can be pretty cheap.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

DC EMS Medical Director/Assistant Fire Chief resigns with blistering resignation letter

In biting detail, the resignation letter describes the problems with the EMS program, and how they are embedded in organizational dysfunction and culture failures ("D.C. fire department's medical director resigns," Washington Post).  From the article:
The D.C. fire department’s medical director, hired last year to help reform an agency beset by failures in response times and patient care, is resigning, saying that her proposals have been blocked and that “people are dying needlessly because we are moving too slow.”

Jullette M. Saussy, ending her eight-month tenure, delivered a scathing indictment of the District’s new fire chief and what she calls his refusal to end a culture of indifference that she contends endangers residents’ lives.

“The situation is grim,” Saussy wrote in her Jan. 29 resignation letter to D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post. Saussy said that without an immediate change in leadership of paramedics and other first responders, the department “will continue to be plagued by serious — but fixable — issues that result in the continuous, unnecessary loss of life.”
The sad thing is that these problems date back decades.  See the past blog entries:

-- DC's fire department is in the same situation as WMATA in terms of the necessity of a redesign of culture and behavior through a human factors approach (2015)
-- The "recent" failures of the DC Fire Department are indicative of much deeper systems failures than people realize (2006)
-- Rationalizing fire and emergency services (2011)
-- Fire and emergency services (in DC) (2013)
-- DC "fire" department continued (2013)
-- Fire department issues in municipalities (2014)

And I am surprised that the letter indicates that the chief of the department is part of the problem too, since he hails from the Seattle Fire Department, which runs one of the more innovative and successful EMS programs in the US. From the article:
She directly attacks the chief, saying he bowed to union pressure to scuttle the assessment tests of emergency medical technicians, allows his firefighters and others to run “undisciplined and unchecked,” and did not put in properly trained supervisors to oversee crucial medical care.

She also criticized Dean’s plan to privatize ambulance service for routine medical calls to free up advanced care for critically injured patients, writing that it “is as unlikely to fix the situation as placing a Band-Aid on a gushing artery.”
EMS and the fire fighting service: A bad fit?  A big problem with the provision of EMS care within fire departments is how departments have shifted from "fighting fires" to mostly responding to EMS calls. Typically more than 80% of the calls to a "fire department" are related to medical needs and care. Some of these calls are absolute emergencies. The majority are not.

Source: DC FEMS performance statistics webpage.

But fire departments want to remain EMS providers because otherwise, the department wouldn't have much to do.

EMS services and frequent users.  Most EMS systems are overburdened providing care to frequent users, such as is described in two series of articles in the San Diego Union-Tribune, mentioned in the previous entry on providing services to the homeless.

The DC fire department is no exception, and my sense is that the fact that many of the calls are not emergencies breeds a sense of laissez-faire amongst the workers in that they tend to believe that most patients are alcoholics and that the situation isn't an emergency.

EMS and alcoholics.  More than 13 years ago, when I was involved in alcoholic beverage sales issues in the city, I was surprised to learn of the association between availability of alcoholic beverages typically purchased for consumption in the public space and crime and emergency health calls. The impetus in Seattle at that time for restricting the sales of "singles" in certain areas of the city was a response to such problems ("Restaurants and liquor licenses--How much is too much on H Street?"). From the 2004 Seattle Times article, "Seattle may extend alcohol-sale limits to much larger area":
An estimated 2,000 chronic street alcoholics live in King County, nearly all in the three downtown Seattle zip codes. The 20 worst offenders among them cost an estimated $2 million a year for police, medical, ambulance and transportation, according to the King County Department of Community and Human Services.

Treatment options are limited. There are only two involuntary treatment centers in the state, and chronic street alcoholics are usually poor candidates for the 227 publicly funded, voluntary treatment beds in King County.

City and county strategies on street alcoholics largely focus on cutting emergency-room and ambulance costs. A city-county agreement created the expanded, 60-bed Dutch Shisler Sobering Center, which provides a warm bed in which to sleep one off.

The city is also backing a novel housing idea, a 75-bed apartment complex at 1811 Eastlake Ave. that would allow chronic alcoholics to continue drinking, within certain restrictions.
Training, Organization, Management, Leadership.  But dealing mostly with nonemergency calls and a preponderance of alcoholics is only one element of the problem.  The other is the training of the paramedics, the way that the function of the agency is set up to be managed and organized, how it's operated, the resources that are provided, etc.

While I understand how integrating the use of private ambulances within the emergency care system can be seen as a stop gap measure, at the same time it does allow for the beginning of a reconfiguration and reformulation of how the city's EMS service works.

But Dr. Saussy's resignation and her description of the issues communicates that the problems are much deeper and the use of private ambulances isn't addressing deeper and more fundamental issues that are likely to remain unaddressed.

Government agencies and elected officials need to start thinking more deeply about risk management.  Lately, I have been thinking about systemic and systematic problems in government agencies--the frequent killing of African-Americans by police officers, the frequent killing of people with mental health problems by police officers, and what happened in Flint with the water system--from the standpoint of risk management.

For whatever reason, the accountability mechanisms are broken within these agencies, between these agencies and the executive branch, between government and the legislative branch and with elected officials.  So sure, officials in Michigan will be sued while the Republican Party tries to make this out as a problem created by Democratic Party elected representatives who had no control over the decision-making.

And in Chicago, year after year, the city government pays out millions of dollars in settlements and judgements for faulty police actions.  According to the Chicago Sun-Times ("City pays heavy price for police brutality"), even before the recent police killings in Chicago, on average the city pays out $51 million/year for "police brutality" lawsuits.

More recently, Chicago paid $5 million to the family of Laquan McDonald "Mitchell: $5 million settlement in Laquan McDonald case," CST") whose death was caught on video that took more than one year to release--it's widely believed the video was held back to reduce the fallout during the reelection campaign for Mayor Emanuel.

Monies paid out by government agencies are ultimately derived from "the taxpayers."  People like us.

The officials and employees who committed the actions are rarely held accountable.  Some do lose their jobs.  But they aren't the ones paying out the settlements.

At the same time, such high annual costs of settlements ought to be seen as an "indicator" of a more serious problem--one that should be addressed in a systematic way.

What needs to be addressed is the cause of the problem, hence the recommendation to take a human factors approach to reorganizing how the fire department is structured, how the emergency medical service is organized and who provides the service, and whether or not to separate the services.

In general, from a risk management approach, it seems clear that we ought to take much more seriously questions of organizational management, systems, hiring, and training as it relates to government actions.

Note that this is not a government vs. private sector performance issue.  Corporations are pretty much immune from actual accountability too.  Sure they pay fines when they do something particularly egregious, but ultimately few individuals are held accountable, especially people higher up in management.

The Michigan Republican Party published an infographic attempting to blame the Obama Administration for how the Flint Water Department under the emergency financial control of the state government controlled by Republican Governor Rick Snyder, failed to treat the water with a "chemical cocktail" designed to limit corrosion and the leaching of lead and other contaminants in the water system.  Instead of focusing on "who did what," the infographic ascribes blame/responsibility in terms of how much money which government has directed to the problem so far. The reality is that the Michigan State Government is fully responsible, although the EPA should have acted sooner and stepped in to force the local and state government to respond properly and act. (That's another issue, of government agencies and deference. Sometimes you have to step up and act, quickly.)

As long as governance is made out to be ideological, performance of government agencies will continue to suffer and diminish in quality.

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Decentralizing homeless shelters in DC

Mayor Bowser set a goal of closing the troubled large homeless shelter in the old DC General Hospital, because it was a substandard facility and poorly managed.  The City Council voted to close the facility.  Attention brought to the issue by the death of Relisha Rudd pushed the city to act.


This Washington Post lists the locations for the network of homeless shelters that will be created in DC to replace the large facility at the former DC General Hospital.

The response is to deconcentrate (make the facilities smaller) and distribute-decentalize homeless shelter services, across the city, outlined in the Homeward DC Plan.

Yesterday's announcement of the program lists the location of new facilities to be opened or constructed, with one in each ward ("District mayor reveals sites proposed for homeless shelters across city," Washington Post).

Homelessness as a river not a lake.  But an element of the problem that too often is overlooked is that because of the nature of the problem, homelessness is dynamic--the group of people needing services continues to grow even if you have provided permanent housing to everyone homeless at any one time.  So it's not really solvable in that somehow it can be permanently eradicated.

I liken it conceptually to a river--the water continually flows down the river from the high point to the low point and the water is constantly replenished--rather than a lake--where the water present is more or less static ("standing water").

The temporary homeless due to economic circumstances.  One of the problems dealing with the homeless issue is that the nature of the problem varies.  There is so to speak a temporary group of people who have economic problems--in the 1980s and 1990s research found that this group hated being in shelters so much that they did almost anything necessary to get out of the homeless shelter system.

Is economics-related homeless moving from a temporary to a permanent condition.  However, in high cost real estate markets like DC, it's more likely that this segment may become larger and more permanent in response to the rising cost of housing (although it is the case that people with substance abuse and/or mental health conditions are likely to have diminished economic circumstances as well).

Single room occupancy housing as a type.  One example is how with the elimination of single room occupancy housing as a prevalent type, people have more limited options ("Disappearance of SRO hotels playing even larger role in San Diego's homelessness problem," Los Angeles Times; "What happens when housing for the poor is remodeled as luxury studios," Washington Post).

Perhaps DC needs to consider the creation of a set of SRO housing facilities as part of the program to address homelessness, although a number of such facilities exist currently.  I imagine the demand is much greater than the supply ("Restored Rosslyn Hotel annex will house 75 homeless," LAT). Plus, it appears as if the housing offered is part of transitional housing programs to get the homeless off the street, rather than a type of housing routinely offered as part of the city's housing mix.

In any case, providing SRO housing is only one element of an in-depth approach and framework.

Permanently homeless due to substance abuse and mental health problems.  The other segment is comprised of people who are permanently homeless, mostly as a result of chronic conditions revolving around substance abuse and/or mental health issues.

Housing first as a way save money.  With regard to the this group, the response over the past 20 years has been to provide permanent housing even if the people refuse services ("Million-Dollar Murray," New Yorker), because otherwise the cost to "service" the population is extraordinary (e.g., "Los Angeles County spends $1 billion managing homelessness," Los Angeles Times).

This strategy is called "housing first."  (Although the EMS program in Greater Fort Worth implemented a different strategy not focused on providing housing, but on interdicting medical calls, and providing care plans and designated EMS worker contacts for these patients ("Case study: How an EMS agency tackled 'frequent fliers'").  Dallas has a similar program.)

Many cities have adopted this approach as a cost-containment matter, because the most frequent users of the emergency care system (911) rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars of services annually (see the San Diego Union-Tribune series "Health Care 911": "Part 1: The Problem;" "Part 2: The Streets," "Part 3: The ER;" "Part 4: A New Model;" "Part 5: Breaking the Cycle" and a follow up, "Paramedic team redirects most-frequent 911 users").

San Diego's Project 25 initiative focused on providing housing and services to the 25 people using the emergency care system the most.  In San Diego, frequent users generate over 11% of emergency medical calls.

The main issue: providing high quality management and services and itinerant vs. structured facilities.  In my experience having once lived around the corner from a homeless shelter, is that there is a big difference between homeless shelters that are itinerant or "temporary"--when the people can't stay in the facility during the day and are forced out with their belongings, often hanging out in the adjacent neighborhood and other places, until they return again at night--and permanent/ongoing, such as those that are part of drug rehabilitation programs, which are structured and have services, assigned rooms, lockers for personal items, etc.

With itinerant facilities, there are big problems offloaded to the neighborhoods around the shelter.

With structured and managed programs, by comparison, the problems are minimal.  Ironically, the Coalition for the Homeless managed the facility around the corner from where I lived after it became a structured facility, and except for an occasional ambulance and car washing fundraising events, it was pretty unobtrusive, other than being in a big old school building, but they are the same group that managed homeless shelter services at DC General when Relisha Rudd died ("Relisha Rudd's legacy: Millions to help the homeless," Washington Post).

The challenge for the city will be to provide high quality management and services at these facilities, which because they will be spread out across the city, won't be "warehoused" in a more remote location, like DC General at Reservation 13 on the edge of Capitol Hill and off to the side by a cemetery, where problems went unnoticed by a wider population and were allowed to fester.

By distributing these facilities around the city, in each ward, they will be highly visible and involved residents (most resident organizing on local land use issues focuses on maintaining and enhancing property values) will oppose them vociferously if they aren't well-functioning.

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Tuesday, February 09, 2016

London Mayor proposes roadway tunnels to divert surface motor vehicle traffic and congestion

Central Artery before and after, Boston.  

According to the Guardian ("Boris Johnson unveils road tunnel plans to ease London congestion"). From the article:
“Around eight of every 10 journeys in London are made using our roads – whether by car, taxi, motorbike, bus, cycle, foot or freight – which is why it is vital that we think big. We must deliver long-term solutions that will not just make the most of the space we have for road users but bring environmental and amenity improvements to local areas.” ...

He added: “By pushing forward strategic initiatives we are outlining today, we will lay the foundation for the next wave of improvements to everyone’s experience of the road network across the city.”

The major road tunnels are based on the strategies pursued in Stockholm and Boston, although the latter’s “Big Dig” proved difficult, costly and controversial. The success of flyunders in transforming parts of cities such as Madrid, where its inner ring road was partially buried, may make the smaller projects more viable. TfL believes a 1.3km tunnel at Barking could create a new neighbourhood of 5,000 homes in a blighted area, and that either tolls or the housing could make the project pay for itself.
Who knew that there is the International Tunneling and Underground Space Association?

-- "Urban Road Tunnels," ITA
-- "MADRID CALLE 30: AN URBAN TRANSFORMATION PROJECT"

I mention this because I have suggested this in the North Capitol-Blair Road corridor in DC, and support it for through traffic on New York Avenue (the equivalent of a connection between I-95 through DC to Virginia)--this is not my idea originally, it was suggested in the New York Avenue Transportation Study about ten years ago. 16th Street NW would be another corridor where this is worth considering.

The justification is that the negative impacts on abutting neighborhoods are significant and worthy of mitigation.  The underground trip would be faster and therefore should be worthwhile for users, thereby justifying toll charges for the privilege.  See "Tunnelized road projects for DC and the Carmel Tunnel, Haifa, Israel example--tolls."

I didn't know about the Madrid example. Marseille removed a highway along the waterfront by shifting it to an underused rail tunnel. Thessaloniki built a tunnel around its historic traffic to divert traffic and create a more pedestrian-centric environment along the waterfront.

In Long Beach, an undergrounded rail tunnel, the Alameda Corridor, was built to facilitate freight movement between the port and the freight railway system.

It could have been interesting to have also built a tunnel for truck traffic between the port and the highway system, since the road system is inundated with truck traffic generated by the port.

Miami is creating such a facility, the N.W. 25th Street Viaduct Project, between the Miami Airport's cargo hub and the local freeway system (pictured at left).*

Of course, Boston's "Big Dig" or Central Artery Freeway is another example ("10 years later, did the Big Dig deliver?," Boston Globe) although it is not tolled.

Note that the tunnel underpasses in various places in the city, such as at Massachusetts Avenue and Thomas Circle for the roadway system and on North Capitol Street between M Street and Rhode Island Avenue, were early attempts to facilitate traffic movement but without providing simultaneous improvements in conditions for neighborhoods and the urban street fabric.

Capitol Crossing, before.  

The Capitol Crossing development, which will deck over of the I-395 freeway between Masachusetts Avenue and D Street NE is an example of decking over an existing facility, without creating a new tunnel.


Reknitting the street grid in Washington by decking over more of I-395.

==========

* Separately, I wonder if the Long Bridge reconstruction project--the bridge carries passenger railroad, freight railroad, and subway trains over the Potomac River between Southwest DC and Arlington County--should add lanes for a bi-directional dedicated busway.

It could serve National Airport when the subway is closed as well as tour bus traffic and other bus traffic to and from DC.

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Sunday, February 07, 2016

Super Bowl

Tonight is the Super Bowl, the annual football championship for the National Football League, which brings together the conference champions from the National and American Football Conferences.

1.  Economic benefits for localities. For some reason, the convention and visitors bureau in San Jose believes that tracking Super Bowl attendees every move will generate scintillating information relevant to tourism ("San Jose will track Super Bowl visitors' mobile devices to find out what they like to do in the Bay Area," Silicon Valley Business Journal).  I suspect not.

Mostly attendees go to events sponsored by the NFL and to restaurants and bars, and spend money on food and lodging mostly, and don't spend much time or energy on activities that don't have anything to do with the Super Bowl, meaning that ancillary tourism benefits from holding the Super Bowl are pretty minimal.

That's why most communities find that they don't benefit much economically from such all star games and championship sporting events.

San Jose, site of some pre-game events, expects to net about $200,000 ("San Jose expects its extra Super Bowl expenses to be exceeded by visitor-generated tax revenues," SVBJ). It seems that SJ has been better at getting reimbursements for expenses from the NFL, compared to past hosts such as Glendale in suburban Phoenix ("Report: Super Bowl likely was fiscal flop for Glendale," Arizona Republic).

Opening day of the free fan experience Super Bowl City at the foot of Market St. in downtown San Francisco, Calif., on Sat. January 30, 2016 Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle.

2.  More benefits connote to the location where NFL organizes Super Bowl week activities. If the events are held separately in a location distant from where the stadium is, the stadium community is not likely to see much in the way of ancillary economic benefits.

Just like how the NFL held most of its events in New York City when the actual game was at a suburban-located stadium in New Jersey, this year's Super Bowl is in Santa Clara but most of the week's pre-game activities are in San Francisco ("San Francisco is Super Bowl Central this week," USA Today; "Huge crowds force evening closure of Super Bowl City," San Francisco Chronicle. From USAT:
Sure, the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos clash at Levi's Stadium on Feb. 7 in the heart of the valley — Santa Clara, 40 miles south of San Francisco. The stadium is a John Elway heave from gleaming corporate office complexes for Intel and Samsung. But most of the festivities, fans and tech bigwigs are centered in San Francisco until game time.

Super Bowl City and the NFL Experience, book-ending the financial district and South of Market neighborhoods, are drawing thousands of fans to festival-like settings that lean heavily on tech exhibits for virtual reality, drones and video games. A fireworks show and lighting of the Bay Bridge, which connects San Francisco to Oakland, illuminated the Bay on Saturday night. Super Bowl parties hosted by ESPN, Playboy, Vanity Fair, Maxim and other high-end brands are scattered across S.F.
3.  Transit.  The Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART) did experience about a 10% rise in usage during they week, which they attributed to an increase in the number of riders traveling to Super Bowl related events ("Super Bowl hoopla dramatically pumps up BART weekday ridership" and "BART trains so crowded, passengers asked to remove backpacks especially during Super Bowl Week," SF Chronicle).

Note that to be able to accommodate such ridership increases without taxing the system, the transit network needs to be quite robust.  For example, light rail systems are generally not that robust and have a hard time dealing with such one-time massive increases in ridership.  Similarly, railroad systems may not be that successful either, depending on the stadium location and the track line configurations.

Photo by Peter Menchini. 

4. The opportunity for protest.  Protesters are taking advantage of the opportunity to bring attention to their issues, by calling attention to the contrast between wealth and poverty as exemplified by the Super Bowl ("Why San Franciscans Are So Angry at the Super Bowl," Vice), and city spending in support of Super Bowl-related activities.

5.  Leveraging brand opportunities at the stadium: stadiums as marketing platforms.  Adweek Magazine ("Here's a Look at All the Parts of Levi's Stadium That Are Sponsored by Brands") has a diagram of Levi's Stadium, and all the ways that sponsoring brands are being integrated into stadium marketing opportunities.

It's another illustration of the concept of stadiums and arenas as "media platforms."  See the past blog entry "Stadiums and arenas as enabling infrastructure for 'money making' platforms."  From Adweek:
In addition to the Levi's name on the outside of the structure (a deal worth a cool $220 million), the stadium is stuffed with sponsored amenities—from the Pepsi Fan Deck to the Safeway tailgate area. In all, the San Francisco 49ers inked 16 decade-long deals worth a cumulative half-billion dollars with sponsors "who wanted to establish brand equity inside of our game-day experience," according to the team's chief revenue officer Ethan Casson.

And when that game day happens to be the Super Bowl, all of these brands can expect "a significant uptick in exposure," said 49ers senior manager of corporate communications Roger Hacker.

Still, with so many brand names scattered around, will that exposure translate to new customers for those brands, too? Mario Natarelli, managing partner with brand agency MBLM, isn't sure. "They've taken this asset and sliced it into a million pieces," he said. "If you're going to build strong connections with your customers, is naming part of a parking lot the way to get there? We're skeptical."
The Faithful Mile, courtesy of Safeway, is among the sponsored features of Levi’s Stadium, the San Francisco 49ers’ new home. Credit: Tony Avelar/Associated Press.

The Adweek article "6 Ways Brands Can Draft Modern Sports Fans," discusses research by Momentum Worldwide on fan attitudes towards brand associations with sports, in a study they called "We Know Sports Fans."

The article is important in providing insight on the directions that sports marketing is moving, and how it will impact the development of stadiums and arenas.  From the article:
Agencies, brands, leagues, properties, content partners and media need to develop new ways of working together to make sure fans never feel like an afterthought. A new approach demands new principles:

Data and intuition: Don't do what's always been done. Understanding what your target audience cares about ensures lasting ROI. Looking at numbers isn't enough. Proper data leads to insights that drive your brand's objectives.

Fan and brand led: Sports properties matter, but if platforms aren't focused on fans, you're already losing. Experiences matter more than messaging. Putting fans first and your brand a close second gives them an experience that provides a value.

Partnership vs. sponsorship: Sponsorships need a long-term view. Being a better partner leads to more access and new opportunities to meaningfully connect.

Activation vs. association: The numbers prove that simply being connected to a sports property doesn't increase sales or brand loyalty. Create an engagement that enhances or evolves the fan experience and people will never forget your name.

Ownership vs. exposure: It's the difference between an experience and a media buy. The very nature of exposure doesn't allow for personalization or a strong connection between property and brand. Creating owned equity is the brand bond you need to build a platform.

Creativity and innovation vs. volume: More than ever, fans walk by static brand placements and the messages don't connect. Build something different, interactive and exciting, and you can do more with one activation than millions of branded logos spread out across a property.

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Biking as transportation roundup

1.  The Winter Cycling Congress, an annual conference focused on promoting biking for transportation in winter, was held earlier this week in Minneapolis.  Montreal looks to host the conference in 2017.

-- "Winter Cycling Congress: Tackles Infrastructure, ‘Wimpification’ On Bikes," Gear Junkie
-- "Why public health advocates are getting behind winter cycling," Calgary Herald

I don't know if there were any attendees from the DC area.

Cyclists in central London, where they could soon outnumber car drivers. Photograph: Steven Vidler/Corbis.

2.  The Guardian reports ("‘The cycling boom is fantastic – but I miss having London to myself’") on the rise of biking in London, to the point that--because of how the congestion charge reduces car traffic in the core of the city--there may be more bicyclists in the core of the city in an average day than automobiles.

3.  Who knew, there's a book on winter biking, Frostbike: The Joy, Pain and Numbness of Winter Cycling by Tom Babin of Calgary.

4.  One of the drills run at the Winter Cycling Congress was on the appropriateness of bikes for disaster response in winter ("Can bicyclists provide better disaster relief?," Minneapolis Star-Tribune).

I am told that the DC Fire Department is now using bicycle-based paramedics when covering large special events.  Also see this press release.

5.  A new all-city bike riding event called DC Bike Ride is being launched by a for-profit business, Capital Sports Ventures, with the participation of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association along with Events DC, a DC Government agency, and CareFirst, a health organization.  See "D.C. to launch massive bike ride around monuments, landmarks," Washington Business Journal.

The first edition will be May 22nd, on a 17-mile route.

This is the kind of event I've recommended that communities should offer, to bring greater attention to biking as transportation, not unlike the Open Streets events that close off streets to traffic, modeled after Bogota's Ciclovia.

The biggest Open Streets event in the US is CicLAvia in Los Angeles County, which happens in the Spring and Fall and shifts to different places around the county.  The county transit authority is the primary sponsor of the event.

A typical CicLAvia brings out 100,000 to 200,000 participants, and communities and organizations along the route often leverage the event to bring more attention to their communities and issues.

But CicLAvia is free, and the DC Bike Ride will cost $50 to participate, which I think is a mistake.

Although it must be acknowledged that NYC's TD Five Boro Bike Tour | Bike New York costs $94, although all of the proceeds go to the nonprofit organization holding the event.

6.  WABA has a "new" executive director, Greg Billings, who has worked for WABA for a long time.  The article also mentions that:
A portion of the proceeds of the for-profit event will go to support WABA’s campaign around Vision Zero, a national initiative to end traffic fatalities.

The association will use the money to run eight D.C. neighborhood events surrounding traffic deaths, one for each ward of the city, as well as to host a regional summit to get other jurisdictions to sign on to Vision Zero. (So far, D.C. and Montgomery County have committed.)
which I think is a great development (and something I've also suggested in past blog entries--doing sustainable transportation programming at the sub-city scale).

DC needs an organization more focused on sustainable transportation--biking and walking as well as transit--than strictly biking.  Groups like Transportation Alternatives in NYC and the Active Transportation Alliance in Chicago, which is the repositioning of the Chicago Bicycle Federation. Maybe WABA is moving in that direction.

7.  For going on one year, the Des Moines Register has been running a series of stories on biking, "Iowa biking: Welcome or not."

Imagine such a series in the Washington Post, which to my way of thinking, is more focused on throwing gasoline on the fire when it comes to "discussing" sustainable transportation.  Compare columns by Courtland Milloy ("Bicyclist bullies try to rule the road in DC") advocating that drivers hit bicyclists (although similar writings have also appeared in the Boston Globe) to the DMR article, "Why Iowa isn't as bike friendly as you might think."

Amy Oberbroeckling, an Iowa transplant living in Minneapolis, approaches a bicycle boulevard on her commute home from work on Dec. 10. The bicycle boulevard on Bryant Avenue, which covers more than half of her 3.5-mile ride to downtown, includes lower speed limits, speed humps and other traffic calming features to help cyclists feel safe on the road. Timothy Meinch/The Register.

The latest pieces in the series are about Minneapolis, "How frozen Minneapolis became a biking mecca" and "6 lessons biking mecca Minneapolis can teach Des Moines." Minneapolis has created "a 225-mile bike[ways] network with protected on-street lanes, off-street paths and bike/pedestrian bridges."

The articles discuss how to build structural change in a systematic way. From the second article:
Find a voice: An active bike advisory committee or council creates a crucial advocacy presence in City Hall. Des Moines has no such group.

Make it a priority: Designated city staff positions overseeing bike and pedestrian coordination and planning make it much more likely that progress will be made. Des Moines has none.

Think big: Building a network of strategically placed bike lanes and trails is key. Target corridors with high concentrations of young people and connect them to the urban core, such as Drake University.Ingersoll Avenue is a good example.

Make votes count: Elect officials who prioritize biking and pedestrian improvements to spur rapid headway and change.

Forget the weather: Cold winters doesn’t disqualify a city from being bike friendly. They just require more planning and support from the public works department.

Think differently: Building a bike-friendly culture requires a paradigm shift for traffic engineers and public works officials who need to stop viewing urban streets as beltways for speeding vehicles and start viewing them as gathering spaces and destinations serving the entire community.
The first article ascribes success in Minneapolis in part to (1) moving cycling from the fringe to the mainstream; (2) integrating street cycling infrastructure with parks and trails; and (3) creating a set of highly visible elements of a core biking infrastructure, especially the Midtown Greenway, a 5-mile long dedicated bikeway constructed in an old railroad "trench," which means it is mostly free of road crossings.

Note that using the example of Minneapolis by the DMR is a good one, a kind of illustration of the point I make that elected officials are most comfortable with examples from elsewhere in their state, and comparable cities elsewhere in their multi-state area second, and never with examples from what we might call outlier cities like Portland or New York City, which don't ever seem comparable, and definitely not from Europe, which really don't seem to offer comparable experiences.

8. BikeMaryland's annual Bike Symposium in Annapolis, focused in part on lobbying the state's elected officials, is this week, on Wednesday February 10th.  It's free.

9.  Yesterday there was a weekend meeting on bike lanes in the Shaw neighborhood, which some churches, in an attempt to protect their parking privileges, called anti-religious (see this previous blog entry).  According to the Post ("Can prominent black churches agree with newer residents on bike lanes?") some participants remain intransigent:
Pastor Robert Price III made it very clear Saturday afternoon: His position had not wavered, and he would still not support a protected bike lane that could jut into his church’s parking spaces and make the streets more congested for his congregants.

“We are not going to allow someone’s pastime to destroy our lifeline,” Price, a pastor at the United House of Prayer church in Washington’s Shaw neighborhood, said at a D.C. Department of Transportation community meeting Saturday. “We have to protect what’s ours. We are going to be peaceful, but we are going to stand.”
Ironically, I have no problem with providing to churches special accommodations for parking during services, but recognize this is a privilege, while many argue, with seemingly no capacity for self-reflection, that they are advocating for the privileging of automobile usage and parking over all other uses of scarce public space.

Note that WAMU Radio, reports that not everyone is so intransigent and entitled as "Three African-American Churches Open To Compromise On Shaw bike lanes."

A cyclist enjoys the first five-kilometre (three-mile) stretch of a bicycle highway in Mulheim an der Ruhr, which will connect 10 western cities including Duisburg, Bochum and Hamm and four universities.

10.  Meanwhile, in the Ruhr Valley in Germany (next year, Essen will be the designated the European Green Capital), they are creating a 100+ kilometer long "bicycle superhighway." See "Germany gives green light to bicycle highways,"   From the article:
As a glimpse of a greener urban transport future, Germany has just opened the first five-kilometre (three-mile) stretch of a bicycle highway that is set to span over 100 kilometres.

It will connect 10 western cities including Duisburg, Bochum and Hamm and four universities, running largely along disused railroad tracks in the crumbling Ruhr industrial region. Almost two million people live within two kilometres of the route and will be able to use sections for their daily commutes, said Martin Toennes of regional development group RVR.

Aided by booming demand for electric bikes, which take the sting out of uphill sections, the new track should take 50,000 cars off the roads every day, an RVR study predicts.

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Friday, February 05, 2016

The problem when you define every outcome as a success, you don't learn, and therefore failure is more likely: bike share in Seattle and Los Angeles as examples

A few years ago at a private conference on bike sharing associated with the League of American Bicyclists annual meeting, I got frustrated by the presentation by the main presenters because they defined every example, even a two station bike sharing program in one of the Carolinas that had a handful of users per week, as a great success, making the point that the definition of success can be very dynamic.

I countered: when you define everything as a success, you don't ever learn, you don't figure out what works well and what doesn't.  (While they weren't happy with that statement, a person from LA MTA commented I had good insights...)

When planning for Seattle's bike share (user pictured at left) was going on, they used DC as an example of why they would be successful, but were not clear at all about the fact that 97% of revenue that makes DC's system break even on an operating basis is generated by tourists who either don't care or haven't figured out how to use the system without racking up additional fees.

Not to mention that compared to other major bike sharing systems, the Capital Bikeshare grows at a much slower rate.

Besides the fact that Seattle has nowhere near the same level of tourism, Seattle has a mandatory bike helmet law, which makes itinerant bike use much less convenient (bike helmet use requirements in Melbourne are believed to be a major reason why that system isn't successful, "Spoke too soon: Melbourne Bike Share to drag chain another year" and "Bike Share Scheme Melbourne Usage Statistics | Helmet Law." Melbourne Age).

For these and other reasons the system is on the verge of financial failure ("Seattle's Pronto bike-share nonprofit teetering, seeks $1.4M rescue by city" and "Bike share's failure deflates Seattle's self-image," Seattle Times) and the city is going to take it over. From the second article:
The news that Seattle’s bike share program is insolvent only a year after opening is, symbolically anyway, a wound to Seattle’s green psyche.

It could be due to mismanagement. Or a lame rollout. These were some of the reasons offered for how a bicycling program could falter so badly in a place that fancies itself as Bike City, USA. ... there’s a more vexing problem: Nobody’s riding the bikes.

In its first year, people took 142,832 rides on Pronto bikes. That’s only 391 rides per day. It’s about seven rides taken at each station per day. Each station brought in only an average $30 a day in revenue.
A couple of other articles on bike share such as "How NYC's bike share saved itself," Fast Company, get into more detail about the extent to which programs must go in order to operate better.

Were advocates, planners under the gun from their political masters, and consultants from bike planning firms not so focused on defining everything as successful, likely there would be more real success.

FWIW, I don't think many cities in North America are capable of being successful with bike share, if success as defined as lots of users, high daily usage, greater take up of bicycling for transportation, low subsidies, etc.

Bike share in DC.  Wikipedia photo.

That being said, it might be worth supporting bike share applications in more limited circumstances, and not necessarily for transportation, such as for recreation and health reasons.

Many bike advocates counter that most forms of mobility "are subsidized" so why shouldn't bike share be subsidized, just like roads, driving, and transit?

But that begs the question that should be asked, but isn't:
what is the best way to promote greater adoption of bicycling for transportation, at what cost, and is bike share the best choice (by doing a cost-benefit analysis) and program on which to spend scarce resources?
Spain's Biceberg is an underground bike parking system that can store 23, 46, 69, or 92 bikes, accessed through an above-ground kiosk.  I think these should be installed in apartment-dominated neighborhoods in the core of DC, such as Columbia Heights or Dupont Circle, at transit stations, parks, and other public facilities to increase the availability of secure bicycle parking.

Giving people bikes, building bike parking including high capacity parking in neighborhoods dominated by multiunit housing without the capacity for on-site bike parking, requiring multiunit residential buildings and office buildings to provide high quality bike parking, creating wide ranging transportation demand management programs sponsoring biking, providing loan/payroll deduction systems for bike purchases (Bicycle Loan Program | VACU - Virginia Credit UnionTax free bikes for work through the Government's Green Transport Plan, UK) are probably ways that would reap more cost effective results.

Unlocked Capital Bikeshare bikes, 3rd and Pennsylvania Avenue SEUnlocked Capital Bikeshare bikes, 3rd and Pennsylvania Avenue SE.

But as along as elected officials cycle through Washington DC or NYC and see bike share in operation, they are going to demand that their city deploy a bike sharing system of their own, without recognizing or acknowledging that highly visible cool bikes don't in and of themselves make a successful program.

Los Angeles. It happens that after I started writing this piece, I did come across an op-ed ("L.A.'s bike-share program is being set up to fail") in the Los Angeles Times that makes some of these same points, although the piece has a serious error (attributing the better financial results of some programs solely to the sales of advertising or sponsorships).

The article makes three major points:

1.  While bike share is touted as helping to reduce car use, most users shift from public transit;

2.  The new bike share system sponsored by the transit agency will be incompatible with the other systems being deployed in cities like Long Beach and Santa Monica

3.  Since the system is most likely to be used by transit users, and most transit users in LA County are low income, the price to use bike share is too high to be used by low income users.

Creating a critical mass of infrastructure that supports sustainable mobility.  Note that the author argues that Downtown LA is the place where bike share is most likely to be successful, but states that this area is already served by a dense network of transit, making bike share unnecessary, that when most transit users are making longer trips, they aren't likely to end up using bike share.

I would argue that bike share shouldn't be touted as a way to reduce car usage as much as it can be one of the elements in creating a critical mass of sustainable transportation infrastructure that supports a car-light or car-free lifestyle more generally. 

Mobility shed diagramMobility shed diagram:  think of the rings as representing different mobility modes (shuttle, bus, subway, biking, walking, etc.), and varying in width based on the amount of distance that can be covered in five minute increments.  

The mobility shed.  In order for this scenario to work, there need to be tight links between transportation and land use planning, a great deal of density, and short distances between residential areas and primary destinations--activity centers such as major centers of employment like DC's Downtown, community business districts and supermarkets, entertainment destinations (stadiums, arenas, auditoriums, parks), etc.

Catchment area of public transit stops for pedestrians and cyclistsBike and walk sheds from transit stations.  From Planning and Design for Pedestrians and Cyclists: A Technical Guide, produced and published by VeloQuebec.

Given that a bike ride of three miles takes about 15 minutes, this presupposes a fair amount of density within a three-mile radius.

Cities such as NYC, the core of Washington, the core of Chicago, San Francisco, etc. qualify, while most others do not.  Salt Lake City might be an exception for supporting a working system because the block size there is so big--an average city block in SLC is four to five times larger than blocks in other cities.

Cities like San Francisco with severe topography present a special case also.

Why bike sharing systems fail.  Not having this set of land use and transportation conditions is why bike sharing deployments in cities like Palo Alto failed, even though it was part of a regional bike sharing program, anchored by San Francisco, and why cities like Chattanooga ("2 years later, Chattanooga bike-share program is struggling," Chattanooga Times-Free Press), San Antonio ("San Antonio Bike-Share Threatens to Close Without Major Sponsor, Next City), and San Diego ("San Diego bike-share program hits snags over modest use," Los Angeles Times), and Toronto ("Clock is ticking for Toronto Bixi bike-share program," Toronto Star), among others haven't achieved much success with bike sharing.  (Note that in Toronto, the system is being taken over by the Toronto Parking Authority and the regional transportation agency, and some of the problems are being addressed.)

Moving towards the creation of SMDs or Sustainable Mobility Districts.  To determine where bike share can be particularly successful in Los Angeles, similar kinds of mapping exercises need to be performed, with a focus on identifying (and working to create) what we might think of as "sustainable mobility districts."

Maps at Seattle bike share stations show the respective distances that can be covered by a five minute walk or a five minute bike ride.  Image from Geekwire.

In the past, I've called this the mobility shed ("Updating the mobilityshed / mobility shed concept") and the maps for Seattle's bike sharing system are the first to illustrate the difference between "walk shed" and "bike shed" on posted maps.

In this scenario, bike share is complemented by walking, bicycling on owned-bikes, public transit (shuttle, bus, maybe streetcar, maybe light rail, heavy rail, railroad), one-way and two-way car share, taxi services, car rentals, even rollerblading and skateboarding, and electric bikes, mopeds, etc.

Car2Go on Capitol Hill
Car sharing is an element of a sustainable mobility infrastructure platform.  Right: a Car2Go one-way car sharing vehicle in Washington, DC.  

Members of car sharing systems like Car2Go and Zipcar can use sister programs in other cities across the US and Canada (for both systems) and Europe (for Zipcar).

The thing about bikes vs. bike share is that in most places the density of stations isn't likely to be great enough to be convenient for most trips, given that the normal advantage biking presents is the ability to perform your trip with complete efficiency, by being able to leave immediately from your origin point on bike and to arrive within a few feet of your final destination.  That's why an owned bike typically makes more sense for people who travel primarily by bike.

However, offloading storage and security issues--especially in cities like New York--can make bike share a worthwhile alternative for many.

Lack of one regional system.  It's hard to disagree with this kind of criticism.  I agree that one common system is the best way to go at the metropolitan scale, but because it can take such a long time to launch, some communities get frustrated and go off on their own.

From the standpoint of mobility as a platform, it is counter-productive because it requires users to join or pay to use multiple systems.  For similar reasons, it's why most metropolitan areas have combined transit fare media systems for local transit (although typically these systems do not include railroad services).

Launch of Citibikes in Jersey City.  Jersey Journal photo.

This comes up in Hudson County, New Jersey, on the west bank of the Hudson River across from Manhattan, where Jersey City has decided to join into the Citibikes system ("Fulop: Citi Bike Jersey City launch 'one of the most exciting things," Jersey Journalr), figuring that most of their residents and/or employers are tied into NYC in terms of their mobility shed.

But neighboring cities like Hoboken are going with their own system ("Hoboken launches bike share program" Jersey Journal ) which won't be tied into the same system in NYC, but is much cheaper to launch and operate.

Launch of Next Ride in Hoboken.  Jersey Journal photo.

That being said the Hudson Bike Share program has some interesting innovations in signage, outreach, communications, and in their creation of "no fee regional zones" where bikes can be retuned in locations outside of Hoboken.

I am not sure if some of these locations are in NYC, where the operator is based, with various bike rental locations in Manhattan. But this is interesting in how it allows cross-trips between certain locations outside of the normal "home zone" of the system.

The idea of the "no free regional zones" can be a way to deal with areas that don't participate (this is an issue with some boroughs in Montreal) or where there are a variety of different systems.

It's also an issue in Maryland, vis-v-vis suburban counties (Montgomery is part of the Capital Bikeshare system, while communities in and Prince George's County has considered developing a separate program) and Baltimore and Annapolis, which have some cross-trips with the DC metropolitan area.

It's also why the attempt by the US House of Representatives to create their own bike sharing system failed, when they should have just joined the DC bike sharing system.  Sadly the failure of that closed system is used by Republican Congressmembers as a reason to denigrate bike sharing more generally.

Another issue concerning how "metropolitan" scale bike share systems are operated.   One problem with bike sharing systems that isn't understood by users has to do with the fact that unless the system is run by a transit agency or only operates within a single jurisdiction, despite being branded as a single, metropolitan-scale system, it's actually organized on a jurisdiction specific basis. In reality it's a collection of separate programs unified under a single brand.

 For example, in the DC area, the Montgomery County participation is financed separately from DC, as are the programs in Alexandria and Arlington County in Virginia).  What this means is that revenues are collected by jurisdiction and not shared across jurisdictions, so there isn't the opportunity for cross-subsidies between high-use and low-use areas.  This was an issue in San Francisco and is in Boston, with the Hubway system.

But not understanding this element may blindside smaller jurisdictions elsewhere, believing that the revenues generated by the "success" of the system is DC are shared with the other members of the "compact."

Bike share and equity.  The LAT op-ed makes good points about bike share and equity in the LA context. However, the author misses the point that biking can be the killer app for people without access to cars, since the average cyclist can cover a great amount of distance, say up to 5 miles in less than 30 minutes, which is much less time by comparison to the time required to travel by either bus or rail when you take into account either time waiting or the time it takes to get to a station and from a transit station to your final destination.

See these past blog entries for a discussion on bike planning and equity and increasing bike take up amongst low income populations:

-- "Equity as the sixth "E" in bike and pedestrian planning"
-- "Revisiting bicycle (and pedestrian) planning and the 6th 'E': equity and the City of Minneapolis Bicycle Master Plan"
-- "Urg: bad studies don't push the discourse or policy forward"

Frankly, saving time was the primary reason I started biking for transportation in 1990--I figured it saved me a minimum of 30 minutes each day compared to walking and/or using transit.

The problem is that transit agencies haven't been conceptualized as "transportation solution providers" as much as they are providers of bus or rail transit service.  If they were, then agencies would integrate bike share into transit service operations very tightly.  (This kind of thinking is why the German rail system has offered bike share for more than a decade.)

And to be fair, many transit agencies see the value of bike share in terms of providing a faster means to get from a transit station or stop to the intended destination, which may still be some distance away.

Boston's success with making equity a priority in bike share.  But this issue is addressable.  Boston has gone the farthest in creating programs making bike share widely accessible to low income populations, offering annual membership, including a helmet, for only $5, to people who qualify.  (I have also suggested to public housing organizations that they integrate bike share and high quality secure bike parking on site but I haven't had much headway.)

Generally, this requires the involvement of agencies other than the local transit agency.  In the case of Boston, it includes the city's transportation department and the city's the public health agency, and private funders.  The local transit agency is not involved.

The Philadelphia Experiment.  Note that the Philadelphia Inquirer has run a number of articles ("Why low-income people bike share less," Indego popular for university commuters and joyriders, mixed results for low-income outreach," "Ridership with reach," and "Indego has inroads yet to make") about the relative dearth of low income users of the Indego bike sharing system there.

Unlike say articles by the Washington Post on the streetcar project, which in my observation are more focused on painting streetcar use as moronic, the Inquirer articles explore the issue in depth.  Mostly the system hasn't done very good marketing, and unlike Boston, they didn't create a discounted membership program for low-income uses.

But despite the existence of the Better Bike Share Partnership research initiative, of which the City of Philadelphia is a member, the Indego program doesn't appear to have launched with the implementation of best practices concerning take up by low-income populations, figuring that installing stations in low income neighborhoods was enough.  DC's system has the same problem ("Who uses Capital Bikeshare?," Washington Post).

Bicyclists ride down Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena during CicLAviaThe CicLAvia "Open Streets" event in Los Angeles County is probably the most successful example of such a program in North America.  Each event brings out 100,000 to 200,000 participants.  The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority is the primary sponsor of the event.  Photo from the LA Times.

By contrast the LAT op-ed suggests discounting transit service for trips that don't lend themselves to bike share.  I think that's misguided.

While I do believe that fares and passes should be discounted for low income riders, the money to cover that cost needs to be appropriated separately from funds allocated to transit systems for general operations and capital improvement.

Otherwise, discounting fares merely reduce the revenue for the transit system, and the fare structure for transit in LA County is among the cheapest in the US already--bus costs about the same as DC (which is the about the cheapest in the US for major transit agencies) but riding heavy or light rail is the same fare, $1.75, although transfers between modes are free only with a weekly or monthly fare pass.

Conclusion.  There are best practice analyses of bike sharing such as the Bike Sharing Planning Guide by the Institute for Transportation and Development, , and various studies by academics and other organizations (many are listed in this blog entry, "Bikeshare systems: Recent research on their growth, users’ demographics and their health and societal impacts," from Journalist Resource).

So it's not like there isn't good information out there about what works, what doesn't work, and what could work better.

Maybe the real issue is not that there isn't information, but that information is either not being accessed to begin with or it's not being used or it's rejected for non-evidence-based reasons.

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Tuesday, February 02, 2016

DC, Anacostia, Skyland, and food deserts

Yesterday's Post discusses ("Without Walmart, the long wait for more groceries continues in east DC") the cancelling of two Walmart stores in Ward 7 as a continuation of those areas being under-stored with limited access to fresh foods.

The problem with this argument, and it is true that compared to higher income areas, the area has fewer options and a narrower range of the types of stores close by, the fact is that DC residents, "even" in Wards 7 and 8, are not limited to DC or their immediate neighborhoods when they choose to shop.

Supermarkets agdjacent to Wards 7 and 8
Note that most urban supermarkets plan for a "retail trade area" of a 3 mile radius, which covers an area of about 28 square miles.  This is out of sorts with advocate assertions that people should be able to buy groceries within a 3/4 mile walk from home.

In 2008, I wrote a blog piece in response to a similar article in the Washington Business Journal, written by the same journalist when he worked there.

"Food deserts are complicated places" discusses the reality that people's shopping options aren't limited to DC--for example, there are many grocery stores in the part of Prince George's County that abuts this part of DC, and there are Giant and Safeway supermarkets located within one mile of the Skyland location.

A follow up entry reprinted a Washington Post graphic from a story about the Congress Heights shopping center, showing how many supermarkets are nearby in PG County--although that graphic is 7 years old now and things have changed somewhat.

Eight options for supermarkets other than Walmart.  That being said, there are many options other than relying on Walmart to expand the array of choices available in under-stored areas that are distressed neighborhoods Anacostia.  Even if the Mayor believes that Walmart is the only choice.  From the Post article:
Days after the retailer’s announcement, officials said Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D)– who described herself as “blood mad” upon hearing the news — tried a last-minute save by calling Greg Foran, president and chief executive of Walmart U.S., to “communicate frustration and the importance of these two projects” according to Brian Kenner, deputy mayor for planning and economic development.

Kenner said the mayor was told a reversal was unlikely.

“His response there’s really nothing he could do,” Kenner said. “It’s not like this is a cost issue. This has to do with their larger issue nationally in particularly paring down urban markets, which they have been very specific about.”
Some are discussed in this entry, "In lower income neighborhoods, are businesses supposed to be "community organizations" first?," from 2012.

Like the points made in the piece last week on how a ground up redevelopment approach would have ultimately worked a lot better for Skyland ("Ground up commercial revitalization and the Skyland Town Center project"), the problem for cities with "options other than Walmart" or other chain stores is that they are a lot more work and more risky--not that working with chains isn't time consuming or risky also.

Admittedly, fostering retail openings in underserved areas is risky.  And many independent grocery ventures fostered by cities do fail--one did on H Street NE back in the late 1980s.  Although I argue this happens most often because poor business fundamentals were ignored for political reasons, with various reasons--stores being opened in the wrong places, being underfinanced, paying high rents, etc.--leading to failure.

One example that comes to mind is the failure of a grocery in New Brunswick, New Jersey, which was opened in a business and transit district with limited business and transit activity and few nearby residents ("Fresh Grocer supermarket opens in New Brunswick, addressing 'food desert' challenge," NJBiz, "Owing $1 Million to NBPA, New Brunswick FreshGrocer Closes After Just 18 Months in Business," New Brunswick Today).

Part of a mixed use project, it was located on the ground floor of a parking structure adjacent to the NJ Transit station in New Brunswick, which is home to Rutgers University.

Other problematic examples include Portland ("Revitalization in impoverished neighborhoods can be very difficult because different "stakeholders" have different understandings of what's at stake") and Los Angeles ("How a South L.A. supermarket proposal fell apart, after a decade of effort," Los Angeles Times).

Revitalization in distressed and emerging commercial districts is very hard.

Create a "public market."  This would be similar to the old DC Farmers Market building that focused on serving the needs of low income consumers--that building is now the upscale Union Market food hall.

A public market could also be used as a business development initiative, because it's easier for individual entrepreneurs to run sections of a market (e.g., meat, seafood, produce, dairy, deli) but not able to take on, launch and run an entire store.

To spur local economic development in low income communities, communities elsewhere are adapting the public market/market hall model as a way to spur business development and retail offerings in otherwise underserved communities.

Image of La Marqueta from Manhattan Times.

The Thai Town Marketplace in Los Angeles and the Portland Mercado are examples of such efforts.  La Marqueta in Spanish Harlem is a repositioning of an older public market with a decided focus on business incubation and serving the otherwise underserved.

There is no reason why a public market couldn't be anchored by a vendor selling "center store" nonperishable products (canned, boxed, and bagged items).  Baltimore wholesaler B. Green could be the wholesaler supporting such a venture ("Changing with the times," Progressive Grocer).  For decades, Baltimore's Lexington Market has had such a store as part of the retail mix there.

The business development opportunities make this a good model.  And business development could be furthered by setting up a commercial kitchen/incubator to support small business food production and catering organizations, and this could also support pop up restaurants both as a business development and support effort and as a way to boost  customer activity during different dayparts.

Similarly, the school system could shift a high school culinary education program (and add an adult education component) to such a facility which would provide training opportunities, could support the provision of better and more equipment for the incubator, and could support a restaurant too with the students operating it, which is another way to extend the ability to open more diverse restaurant options to otherwise emerging commercial districts.

Franchise a Sav-A-Lot.  Many years ago, the Anacostia Economic Development Corporation indicated they were looking to open a supermarket, replacing the old Anacostia Supermarket independent store.

Sav-A-Lot, a division of Supervalu, is a mix of company-owned and franchised stores.  There is at least one Sav-A-Lot store in DC, although compared to a nearby location on Chillum Road in Hyattsville, the DC location has a hyper-limited selection of fresh fruit and vegetables.

-- Sav-A-Lot franchise information

Recruit PriceRite.  PriceRite is the discount supermarket banner of the Wakefern organization, which also supports traditional supermarket stores (ShopRite and Fresh Grocer).

Probably PriceRite has been developed as a way for the organization to compete with Sav-A-Lot and other discounters (Aldi, Walmart).

The company has been expanding in the region, and has stores nearby in Prince George's County ("PriceRite makes regional push with store in Prince George's," Washington Business Journal).  Also see "Price Rite to open grocery store in Syracuse 'food desert'," Syracuse Post-Herald.

Recruit ShopRite.  While there aren't ShopRites in DC, there are some in Maryland, and one Wakefern member, Brown's, operates stores in urban neighborhoods in Philadelphia.

Brown's has a consulting unit, UpLift Solutions, which works with supermarkets opening stores in center city locations.  The group facilitated the opening in Baltimore City of a unit by an otherwise suburban focused ShopRite affiliate ("City says it's largest supermarket to open in Howard Park," Baltimore Sun).

Create a member-owned food cooperative.  The Glut Food Cooperative in Mount Rainier, Maryland is owned by the workers, and so is a business cooperative, while the Takoma Park and Greenbelt Food Cooperatives are owned by members.  Either type qualifies for loans and business support from the National Cooperative Bank.

Philadelphia Weekly photo.

The Mariposa Food Cooperative, a member co-op in Philadelphia, was organized to mitigate "food desert" issues and has been in operation for going on six years ("Philly's Mariposa Food Co-op Focuses on Outreach Along Baltimore Avenue," Philadelphia Weekly; "Food co-ops on rise in Philly area," Philadelphia Inquirer).

But without strong support systems, food co-ops have a tough time in low income areas, since they are funded by capital from members.

For example, the Elm City Market Food Co-op was created in New Haven ("Food co-op to save New Haven's crisis?," Yale Herald), "Elm City Market Food Co-op - A Model for Downtowns") to deal with lack of supermarket options in the core of the city.

But poor decision making led to financial problems because the group agreed to large rent increases as sales rose, despite the fact that supermarkets have low profit margins (one to three percent) and in the short run, growth increases costs ("Elm City Market auctioned off," Yale Daily News).  The store faced closure, but was purchased by a private investor, and converted to a for profit enterprise.

Support the creation of an independently-owned supermarket.  Many independent grocers are affiliated with business cooperatives.  The business cooperative is owned by the members, and it supports their individual operation.  While there are many supermarket business cooperatives across the country, Wakefern is the major group operating in the Mid-Atlantic.

There is an alternative however. IGA is a supermarket business cooperative operating nationally and could support an independent operation operating East of the River, for a group not interested in working as ShopRite, but still wanted the advantages of a national brand and marketing support.  IGA affiliate stores operated in the city in various locations into the early 2000s.

-- Why IGA? marketing brochure for supermarket operators


Contact small supermarket firms already operating in the metropolitan area.  There are some small grocery companies operating in the area, focusing on ethnic communities, primarily Latinos (PanAm, Megamart, Bestway) that theoretically could be interested in opening a store in the currently under construction site on East Capitol Street that was abandoned by Walmart. A new Megamart at New Hampshire Avenue is more upscale than their nearby store on University Blvd. near Piney Branch Road.
Note that the old District Grocery Stores group of neighborhood corner store markets was a business cooperative supporting individually owned stores.  At one point there were 300 stores in the group, most serving DC, but also with locations in the suburbs.

The group had a warehouse allowing the organization to buy food more cheaply by amalgamating the orders of individual stores and provided marketing support.  In the face of changes in the city and the industry, the group dissolved in 1972. Note that the still extant Sniders Supermarket in Silver Spring started out as a DGS affiliate.

Note that technically, Yes Grocery is an independent and did open a store in Ward 7 which proved unsuccessful ("Organic Verses," Washington City Paper).  But I would argue that was because their business model was incongruent with the market demographics present in that location.

Image from the Chester City Blog.

Open a nonprofit supermarket.  In Chester, Pennsylvania, a nonprofit supermarket called Fare & Square was launched by the Philadelphia area food bank Philabundance, and has been open for more than three years ("Nation's First Non-Profit Supermarket Is Picking Up Steam,"Next City; "Q&A: Fare & Square, an oasis in a U.S. food desert," FreshFruit Portal).


Unlike the fairly grim stores that are typical of PriceRite and Sav-A-Lot and other firms focusing on low income consumers, the interiors of the Fare & Square store are attractive, and the organization has strong branding and identity systems.

I believe it would make sense for other cities to work with Philabundance and create a platform out of this store that could be opened in other locations, a kind of franchise for social entrepreneurialism in the grocery sector.

These suggestions only cover food: what about general merchandise categories?  Granted, Walmart is food+general merchandise, while the eight options discussed above only cover food.

WUSA-TV photo.

There are other discount store options too, but they are limited.  The locally-owned Discount Mart, which had already operated at Skyland is one.

Maxway operates in DC's suburbs and is owned by a company with a wide variety of discount merchandise stores active in the Southeastern United States.

The firm opened one of their bigger banners, Rose's, in Prince George's County ("Largest Roses store in the US opens in Prince George's," WUSA-TV).  Plus, there are big dollar stores.  Five Below.  Ollie's Bargain Outlet which operates as close as Baltimore.  Etc.

In other entries, I've mentioned that Kroger has a Marketplace model that adds general merchandise to grocery stores--like Walmart Supercenters but smaller.

Harris-Teeter is owned by Kroger but has no plans as of yet to open any of these kinds of combination stores.  In any case, my sense is that Kroger opens Marketplace stores as a way to ward off Walmart and other discounters from opening stores, and likely the company isn't interested in opening these kinds of combination stores in what we might call "retail deserts."

The Fred's discount store chain does not operate in Virginia or Maryland, but does operate as close as North Carolina.  The Beall's Outlet chain, operating as Burke's Outlet, does have stores in Virginia and West Virginia, but not Maryland.  The latter is focused on clothing, although they also sell home goods and electronics, while Fred's is more of a full line discounter.

Shoppers World is a general merchandise discount store based in the region also.  They have a store at the Boulevard at Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland (Prince George's County).  They could be an option too.

While the old Value City discount chain is no more, they still have the Value City Furniture company, selling furniture, but the store has suburban locations and isn't likely to be interested in a store location in DC, figuring that would merely cannibalize existing customers.

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