Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

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

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Author talk, After the Projects: Public Housing Redevelopment and the Governance of the Poorest Americans: Saturday October 19th

From the Metropolitan Studies Center at American University in Washington, DC:

Saturday, October 19, 2019
2:00 PM – 4:00 PM
Mt. Pleasant Neighborhood Library
3160 16th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20010

Professor Lawrence Vale will talk about his new book After the Projects: Public Housing Redevelopment and the Governance of the Poorest Americans this Saturday. The manuscript examines the deeply-rooted spatial politics of public housing development and redevelopment at a time when lower-income Americans face a desperate struggle to find affordable rental housing in many cities.

This event is part of a series of author talks in connection with the Anacostia Community Museum's exhibition, A Right To The City. It was developed in partnership with American University's Metropolitan Policy Center and the D.C. Public Library.

Book Abstract:
At a time when lower-income Americans face a desperate struggle to find affordable rental housing in many cities, After the Projects investigates the contested spatial politics of public housing development and redevelopment. Public housing practices differ markedly from city to city and, collectively, reveal deeply held American attitudes about poverty and how the poorest should be governed. The book exposes the range of outcomes from the US federal government’s HOPE VI program for public housing transformation, focused on nuanced accounts of four very different ways of implementing this same national initiative—in Boston, New Orleans, Tucson, and San Francisco. It draws upon more than two hundred interviews, analysis of internal documents about each project, and nearly fifteen years of visits to these neighborhoods. The central aim is to understand how and why some cities, when redeveloping public housing, have attempted to minimize the presence of the poorest residents in their new mixed-income communities, while other cities have instead tried to serve the maximum number of extremely low-income households. The book shows that these socially and politically revealing decisions are rooted in distinctly different kinds of governance constellations—each yielding quite different sorts of community pressures. These have been forged over many decades in response to each city’s own struggle with previous efforts at urban renewal. In contrast to other books that have focused on housing in a single city, this volume offers comparative analysis and a national picture, while also discussing four emblematic communities with an unprecedented level of detail.

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New York's 14th Street, San Francisco's Market Street (and Toronto's King Street): When major cities adopt innovative practice it makes it easier for other cities to do something similar

Following up on last week's entry, "Speaking of "Just Do It": A 14th Street bus transit mall for Manhattan," on the introduction of a highly visible transit-prioritized street in New York City.

Many years ago, I heard Charles Landry, author of books such as The Creative City: A Toolkit for Urban Innovators and The Art of City Making, speak and I thought I heard him say something like "Great cities don't just take, they give" -- providing examples of best practice and innovation that other cities can learn from and adopt/adapt on their own.

Velib at the Eiffel TowerParis and bike share.  A particularly good example is Paris and bike share.  They weren't the first city to do bike share, hardly.  But they were the first to do bike share at a large scale, with an initial deployment of hundreds of stations and more than 20,000 bikes.

It electrified not only cyclists but city leaders all over the world and it significantly increased the take up and deployment of bike share in cities all over the wrold.

It turns out he didn't exactly say that and Aaron Renn of Urbanophile credits me with making this point.

Toronto prioritizing transit on King Street.  A more recent example is Toronto prioritizing King Street for streetcar service.

It came with a fair amount of controversy, and while streetcar throughput has improved significantly and ridership increased by X%, some businesses did lose patronage and sales -- although in that case, I argued it is because the city failed to develop a parking wayfinding and validation system to complement the changes.

Wikipedia photo.

From the Toronto Star article "Latest King St. pilot data shows higher ridership, shorter commutes":
New data released on the King St. pilot project shows overall ridership was up 11 per cent during May and June.

According to the new numbers released Wednesday, ridership rose by 35 per cent during the morning commute and by 27 per cent during the afternoon rush hour.

Travel times have also been reduced by approximately 4 to 5 minutes, according to the city. This is in each direction during the afternoon commute for the slowest streetcar travel time. Average travel time during the midday also improved by 2 minutes.

The data also shows transit has become more reliable in the downtown core, with 85 per cent of streetcars arriving within four minutes during the morning commute. ...

The project has attracted controversy, especially from local business owners such as Al Carbone, owner of Kit Kat restaurant at King and John Sts., who called on Tory back in January to reverse it “immediately.” He said revenue for some establishments dropped by half.

However, according to the release, “Customer spending on King St. since the pilot began has seen a slight growth (0.3 per cent) from the average rate of spending over the same months from the year before.”
Dedicated transitways aren't a new urban design treatment. Dedicated transitways aren't new--many cities had them in the 1970s and 1980s -- but as city centers declined as a loci for shopping and pedestrian movement, many cities dropped them.

Even so, smaller cities like Portland, Denver, and Minneapolis not only introduced "transit malls" where bus service was prioritized (Portland later added light rail) and automobile traffic banned, but have continued to invest in and improve these spaces.

Still, the concept of more cities adopting dedicated transitways as a method of improving transit service -- the speed of vehicles -- in recognition that it's more important to focus on moving lots of people more quickly rather than facilitating the movement of a person or two in every car, and that high use bus and streetcar lines move significantly more people more efficiently has been pushed forward not by the great examples of Portland, Denver, and Minneapolis, but of King Street.

New York City's 14th Street.  Pushed forward originally because the L subway line was scheduled to be closed for 18 months for repair and rehabilitation, New York City has moved forward with a "pilot" of its own -- making a central section of 14th Street in Manhattan a transit priority street, with most motor vehicle traffic being banned.

Despite all the clamor of all the likely negative effects, traffic on other streets didn't come to a standstill and bus movement has improved significantly ("Cars Were Banned on 14th Street. The Apocalypse Did Not Come" and "Riding the Bus on the New 14th Street," New York Times.
14th Street Manhattan dedicated transitway, at night
Seth Gottfried, New York Post

It helps that Manhattan has a robust grid-based street network, so there are many other options for drivers other than 14th Street.

And while the city was initially somewhat diffident about stating whether or not what happens on 14th Street would lead to the creation of other transitways elsewhere, now they are being more declarative about the concept.  Not that the New York Post is happy about it ("14th Street is only the beginning for NYC car bans, top transit official says").

San Francisco votes to ban motor vehicles from Market Street
. Like King Street, San Francisco's Market Street is a major and central thoroughfare and spine in the core, and a major route for both streetcars and buses. In fact, historically at one point it had four streetcar tracks, which is one of the only examples I've come across where streetcar traffic was so heavy.
Market Street, San Francisco, vintage postcard, showing four tracks for streetcars
(It wasn't unusually for a street to have more than two tracks when part of the street was used for another route, but usually this was for a short section, while the Market Street double trackage was for a significant distance.)

Yesterday, the transit agency board in San Francisco moved to make Market Street a transit prioritized street also ("SFMTA votes to restrict private vehicles from Market Street in bid to make area safer," San Francisco Chronicle).

The Better Market Street Project will make sustainable mobility (not just buses and streetcars but cyclists and pedestrians too) the priority on a two mile section of the street.

Incremental change.  While I argue above that Toronto set the stage for New York and San Francisco, that may be overstating the case.  SF and New York City have been recent leaders in creating dedicated lanes for surface transit, albeit in corridors that remain open to motor vehicle traffic.

Moving from mixed trnasitways to dedicated transitways can be seen as but an incremental step forward, but still a quantum jump in practice.

And Brooklyn's Fulton Street Mall has been a transit mall since the 1970s ("The Fulton Street Mall: Retail Success on NYC’s Original Transitway," Streetsblog). And outside of Manhattan, the transit and pedestrianized Fulton Street district has remained a successful retail center that draws crowds and higher than normal rents.
Before and After in Times Square, pedestrian-placemaking
Before and after, Times Square.  NYC DOT photo.

Other initiatives that transitways build on include "road diets," initiatives in New York City (which also triggered adoption of the practice elsewhere) to shift road space to pedestrian uses in Times Square and along Broadway in Manhattan (and then in other places around the city), creating and extending bikeway networks, and reducing the amount of space dedicated to parking, for parklets, bicycle sharing stations, dedicated bikeways (cycletracks), and other uses.

Long process.  And all of these projects take a long time.  Toronto first proposed the King Street initiative in 2007, but it was not until 2017 that they were able to do it.  New York City has considered transit priority streets for quite awhile, and past initiatives did not move forward.  San Francisco has been working on speeding up transit on Market Street for a long time also.

Each of these cities deserve a lot of credit for making key streets transit priority in the face of intense opposition from businesses, residents, the automobile lobby, and other stakeholders.

Other benefitsCanada's Atmosphere Fund argues that the benefits of transit priority streets are considerable and greater than mobility throughput, including:

1. Improved public health
2. Vibrancy & accessibility
3. Economic prosperity

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Monday, October 14, 2019

Why so many "for profit" projects require subsidy: Detroit, lots of projects, but still a weak market

This building had been vacant for decades, but a couple years ago it was acquired by Ford Motor to be used as a headquarters for innovation.

1.  Why projects get subsidies.  Nigel from New Zealand calls our attention to a great article ("Can anything be built in Detroit without subsidies?") in Curbed Detroit about why "for profit" projects receive tax and other subsidies.  It's because in weak markets, for profit financial sources aren't forthcoming because the project doesn't "pencil out" and is likely to be unprofitable were it to be traditionally financed. From the article:
Development is booming in Detroit. Every month there’s new announcements for transformational projects, multi-million dollar mixed-use buildings, and countless other smaller developments.

But behind nearly all these developments are subsidies, adding up to billions of dollars in tax incentives, grants, low-interest loans, and cheap land provided by various government entities at the city, state, and federal level.

Despite its identity as a comeback city, Detroit still remains a “weak market” in development terms. Most projects are unable to secure sufficient financing, leaving a “gap”—the difference between development costs and what market rents or projected commercial revenue can support. For Detroit, that gap can be significant.
I came to understand this, being involved in such matters in weak market neighborhoods. But for a couple years, coming from the perspective of "an advocate," I didn't understand why we had to give public money to the private sector.

Now I do. But as Rolf Goetze writes in Building Neighborhood Confidence, the point of such efforts shouldn't be to breed dependence on government monies, but to set the stage so that private efforts can become sustainable.

The thing is, you know when projects take decades to come to fruition, like Skyland in DC ("For the first time, Skyland Town Center's revitalization might have a chance: creating a community focused retail destination") which has been going on since 1997, or take lots and lots of money, the market conditions are incredibly unfavorable.

Lesson: you can't fund everything, you have to make choices.  You do have to make choices and sometimes tell neighborhoods that the amount of subsidies are unsustainable, and that the local government needs to husband its resources and apply them in other places with a greater likelihood of success.

Lesson: aim for decent profits on the more sustainable projects, so you can still invest in the weakest areas.  Of course, the point of the more successful projects should be to generate extranormal profits that can be applied to the more difficult situations.

Detroit's Woodbridge neighborhood is quite attractive.

2.  Anticipatory planning.  Nigel also sent me a link to a story, about the Woodbridge neighborhood where some pretty good planning and design firms are developing a master plan for an abandoned school site ("Residential, commercial project planned for historic Woodbridge neighborhood," Detroit News).

Lesson:  It's good to be prepared by having plans in place, for when opportunities come along.

-- "Economic restructuring success and failure: Detroit compared to Bilbao, Liverpool, and Pittsburgh," 2014

Reading the headline, I was prepared to think they were wasting their time, until I saw that the neighborhood is in central Detroit, where most of the redevelopment energy is occurring, especially in the Woodward Avenue corridor.  Otherwise, it'd probably be wasted money.

Because ...

Lesson: Location matters, centrality matters, critical mass matters.  At conferences, I've seen government economic development agencies pass out flyers about "development opportunities" scattered around, mostly in lousy locations.  I always say to myself, "why do you think some unknowledgeble developer from somewhere else is gonna come in and be your savior?"

3.  Greektown neighborhood does its own plan.  A few weeks ago, I got a press release for a Framework Vision Plan developed by and for the Greektown Neighborhood Partnership.

The plan was produced by a wide ranging team that included SOM (Skidmore, Owings and Merrill) with HR&A, OJB Landscape Architecture, Sam Schwartz Engineering, McIntosh Poris Associates Architecture, and Kraemer Design Group.

Even after Detroit leaked population, a core of businesses and attractions remained in Detroit's Greektown neighborhood, although patronage from suburbanites has waxed and waned over the decades.
The casino-hotel looms over the neighborhood.

One of the things I learned from patronizing Greektown myself--I was one of those occasional visitors decades ago--was that places like this need to constantly plan and polish their retail mix in order to attract repeat patronage.

And despite all the acclaim Detroit has received from its post-bankruptcy planning, which had an equity orientation (Detroit Future City Strategic Framework Plan, Hamilton-Anderson), obviously plenty of opportunities were overlooked, or this plan would have already been created.

One relatively new anchor in Greektown is a casino.  The Greektown Casino and Hotel--400 rooms and meeting spaces--opened in 2009.

While casinos are not my first choice, I will say it can provide financial might to support not just planning but also implementation, with the proviso that gamblers tend to not be interested in leaving the confines of the casino.

I haven't had a chance yet to sit down and go through the Plan, but I am always impressed when neighborhood groups, business improvement districts, Main Street programs, and similar entities take the initiative to create their own plans.

The Neighborhood Partnership grew out of the neighborhood's historic preservation group, and has brought together stakeholders from across the neighborhood, including residents, businesses, nonprofit groups, and cultural institutions. Various stakeholders came together and funded the study independently of the city, county, or state. According to the press release:
Stakeholder outcomes from the planning effort focus on five key categories: Public Realm, Mobility & Parking, Culture & History, Development Opportunities, and Neighborhood Experience. Design strategies are focused around connectivity to surrounding neighborhoods and the downtown core, increasing built density, the introduction of new public open spaces connected by activated pedestrian paths, and the creation of a mixed- use neighborhood, expanding uses beyond entertainment.

The Greektown Neighborhood Framework Vision considers all opportunities, from public to private, and provides an inspiring roadmap for the future of the historic neighborhood. As the east gateway to downtown, Greektown will emphasize connected, contextual, and inclusive development. The Framework also amplifies opportunities in conjunction with planned new development in and around the neighborhood.
The plan has already garnered some media attention:

-- "Greektown fights back against years of decline with sweeping new concepts," Detroit Free Press
-- "Detroit's Greektown seeks to awaken 'sleeping giant' with neighborhood plan," Detroit News

Infographic about Detroit used during the Comprehensive Planning process
Infographic about Detroit used during the Comprehensive Planning process

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Friday, October 11, 2019

Reopening of Anacostia Community Museum: Sunday October 13th

Why this is important is not so much a chance to meet the new director, but to see the fabulous "Right to the City" exhibit, which I think is a great model for showing how to present community history at the neighborhood scale.

The neighborhoods it covers are Adams-Morgan, Anacostia, Brookland, Chinatown, Shaw, and Southwest.

It takes 3-4 hours to go through the exhibit. It is rich and deep. One of the great scores is footage from ABC-TV featuring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. riding in a parade and his speech to the group, a Shaw neighborhood improvement initiative led by civil rights activist Walter Fauntroy, Jr., who later became DC's Congressional Delegate.

For me, having been in DC since 1987, I feel like civil society today here is pretty weak. The exhibit shows that in the 1960s and 1970s especially that was decidedly not the case.

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October is Co-op Month

I visited a food cooperative, Coopportunity Market and Deli.

The store in Culver City, California is part of a two-store group with the other in Santa Monica (which I haven't visited) and something in the store reminded me.

 -- 2019 Co-op Month

Part of a mixed use development with housing above, and proximate to freeways, major arterials but also across the street from the Expo Line Culver City Station and visible from the line, it was a knock out store.

The nicest (or another way to put it might be "the most upscale") food cooperative I've ever seen, with the way the store was organized being superior even to the group of PCC Community Markets food cooperative stores headquartered in but not limited to Seattle or the separate Central Co-op in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle. (Greater Minneapolis also has a preponderance of food cooperatives but I haven't been there in years.)

It had great deli, bakery, produce, and beer and wine sections, and fabulous indoor and outdoor seating areas.

Maybe because they had a traditional and well-respected retail design firm help them.

I haven't been to the Common Market co-op in Frederick, Maryland, but the store promotion materials they produce, including a regular bi-monthly newsletter called Spoonful, are excellent.

Most of the other food cooperatives I've been to merely distribute materials like the Delicious Living magazine which heavily hypes vitamins and supplements (natural foods markets make a lot of money off this stuff, even though research tends to indicate they don't have much positive effect).

So it's worth revisiting some past writings on food cooperatives:

-- "Food co-ops as potential anchors of "ethical commercial districts," 2011
-- "Pogue's Run Grocer food cooperative, Indianapolis," 2018
-- "The lost opportunity of the Takoma Food Co-op as a transformational driver for the Takoma Junction district," 2018

And on Cooperative Month in general, this round up piece from last year:

-- October is Co-operative Month

Saturday October 19th is Food Cooperative Day in Philadelphia ("Cooperative businesses foster human connection in an increasingly isolated world," Grid Magazine).

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Thursday, October 10, 2019

Another example of a "public planning" fail by a private developer: Silver Spring's Ellsworth Avenue

Greater Greater Washington has a piece, "After 15 years, Downtown Silver Spring is getting a big update," on the proposed update by developer Foulger-Pratt to Ellsworth Avenue, the mostly pedestrianized spine of "Downtown Silver Spring," the now more than 15 year program to anchor Silver Spring's revitalization, necessary at the time because of the decline of the retail offer there as well as Montgomery County's continued growth outward and westward, which threatened to leave Silver Spring and "East County" behind.

-- Downtown Silver Spring Refresh

It's interesting because I have written a lot about Silver Spring over the years, and more recently, when I provided a multi-point vision for how to go really really big, in response to opportunities presented by the forthcoming Purple Line light rail service which will have multiple stations serving the community.

-- "The layering effect: how the building blocks of an integrated public realm set the stage for community building and Silver Spring, Maryland as an example," 2011

-- PL #5: Creating a Silver Spring "Sustainable Mobility District" (2017)
-- "Part 1: Setting the stage"
-- "Part 2: Program items 1- 9"
-- "Part 3: Program items 10-18"
-- "Part 4: Conclusion"
-- "Map for the Silver Spring Sustainable Mobility District"
-- "(Big Hairy) Projects Action Plan(s) as an element of Comprehensive/Master Plans"
-- "Creating the Silver Spring/Montgomery County Arena and Recreation Center

-- "Making "Downtown Silver Spring" a true open air shopping district by adding department stores," 2018
-- "Revisiting the Purple Line (series) and a more complete program of complementary improvements to the transit network," 2019

Private developers planning public spaces.  The GGW piece misses a key point.  The developer pursued planning for changes without a public process.  There are public meetings now, but basically the developer is merely presenting what they've already decided.

This is pretty typical of private developers, but can be problematic when private developers manage public places as part of long term development agreements with a local jurisdiction, which is the case in Silver Spring.

Business improvement districts are an issue too.  It's also an issue with business improvement districts, which typically most represent property owner interests.

-- "NoMA revisited: business planning to develop community," 2011
-- "Integrating citizen residents into "business" improvement districts: Capital Riverfront district as an opportunity and example of the need for change," 2014

Parking in Reston Town Center as a similar example.  And like with Boston Properties and their debacle over instituting charges for parking at Reston Town Center, I argued that the debacle could have been significantly reduced had the private developer taken the time to do a public process, with the time investment necessary to build understanding, if not consensus for the changes.

-- "What to do about public input when seemingly public facilities are privately owned?: Parking at Reston Town Center, Fairfax County, Virginia," 2016
-- "Reston Town Center parking issue as a "planning failure" by the private sector," 2017

Public planning processes need to be taken up for "public" places even if privately controlled.  While it's obvious that urban places constantly change, in recognition that the space is "owned" in part by its users, property owners need to acknowledge the need for public processes.

I would argue in the case of both Reston and Silver Spring, very public planning processes are required.

Downtown Silver Spring.  It's not that some of the proposed changes aren't interesting.

And it's necessary to keep "refreshing" the place in the face of ongoing competition with other destinations, changes in the retail sector, etc.

But this is a great illustration of one of my points in the 2017 series on the Purple Line/Silver Spring set of articles specifically is that Montgomery County shouldn't be ceding primary planning responsibility for the area to the private sector.

If Foulger-Pratt had done a public process, there would have been an opportunity for someone like me to participate, submit ideas like the extension of the pedestrian path between the Metrorail station and Georgia Avenue, pedestrianizing a section of Fenton Street, extending the pedestrian section of Ellsworth across Fenton Street, etc.

Now that to them, the plan for changes is mostly finalized, there aren't opportunities to significantly challenge--as is often necessary--their ideas.

Making a different kind of plaza by getting rid of the splash fountain and evening the grade and putting down artificial turf aren't world changing concepts.

Creating a pedestrian zone beyond the current street stub is a big idea.  From "Revisiting the Purple Line (series) and a more complete program of complementary improvements to the transit network":

1. Extend the Ellsworth Avenue Pedestrian Mall to the Metrorail Station.  I wrote a piece in 2018 about extending the pedestrian district from Ellsworth Avenue between Georgia Avenue and Fenton Street west to the Silver Spring Metrorail Station, ideally anchored by a Boscovs Departmenet Store in the redeveloped Discovery HQ ("Making "Downtown Silver Spring" a true open air shopping district by adding department stores").

Wiesbaden Germany Pedestrian Zone
Spine of the Wiesbaden Germany Pedestrian Zone.  From Pedestrian Zones: Car-Free Urban Spaces, published by Braun, page 93.

I know this is a bit of a stretch, but department stores can still thrive in certain situations, and I believe that Silver Spring is one such place.

Expanding on the pedestrian district there would be a model best practice for the DC area.  Note that as it is, this pedestrianizing district is one of the only ones in the DC area that anchors night-time activity, something I've meant to write about for a couple years.

2. Pedestrianizing part of Fenton Street.  I should have suggested some pedestrianizing (but still with transit) of Fenton Street, at a minimum from Colesville Road to Wayne Avenue.  Bus access would still be maintained.
2009 03 10 - 2752 - Silver Spring - Fenton St at Ellsworth Dr

4.  Add at least one children's playground to the urban core.  My thinking has evolved on accommodating families, especially little kids with lots of energy ("Keeping Cities from Becoming “Child-Free Zones”," Governing Magazine).

While Downtown Silver Spring has a small splash park, and in the winter an ice rink, that's not enough.

Inspiration Playground, Bellevue, Washington.
While the district doesn't need to develop a full-fledged focus on families, as it is more adult-focused, having a couple small playgrounds would help to expand the range of amenities provided for other demographics.

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Wednesday, October 09, 2019

A reason to join the Art Deco Society of Washington: this Saturday's tour of the Mihran Mesrobian residence in Chevy Chase Maryland

From the H-DC listserv:
(H-DC is a listservand supporting website covering DC topics from the history and humanities perspective)

Art Deco Society of Washington - Mihran Mesrobian Residence in Chevy Chase, Maryland October 12, 2019

by Matthew Gilmore

Join ADSW for this Opportunity to see the Home of One of Washington's Great 20th Century Architects: The Mihran Mesrobian Residence in Chevy Chase, Maryland

When: Saturday, October 12th, 4:00 to 6:00 PM

Among many notable area buildings, Mihran Mesrobian designed Sedgwick Gardens, the DuPont Circle Building, the Wardman Park Tower and the St. Regis and Hay-Adams Hotels. Mesrobian was an immensely talented architect who left an indelibly positive mark on his adopted home of Washington DC. This is an opportunity to experience the unique home he designed for himself and his family in the late 1930's.

An ethnic Armenian, Mesrobian had a successful career in Ottoman Turkey before immigrating to the States with his family in the early 1920s . He quickly became the chief designer for prolific developer Harry Wardman, while also maintaining his own firm.

The house at first glance blends in with the other traditionally-inspired homes of the area. Closer examination reveals interesting design features emblematic of Mesrobian's uniquely eclectic style, including his own interpretations of historical precedents as well as elegant Art Deco stylization.

ADSW member and architectural historian Caroline Mesrobian Hickman has graciously agreed to open the house for a tour as well as provide a brief talk on her grandfather's work, which she has been studying extensively in preparation for an upcoming book.

Space is limited and the tour will be open to Art Deco Society members only. Light refreshments will be provided. Specific directions for arrival, parking and address for the Chevy Chase House will be provided after registering.

We hope you can join us!

Cost is $10 pp (ADSW members only)

When: Saturday, October 12th, 4:00 to 6:00 PM

Among many notable area buildings, Mihran Mesrobian designed Sedgwick Gardens, the DuPont Circle Building, the Wardman Park Tower and the St. Regis and Hay-Adams Hotels. Mesrobian was an immensely talented architect who left an indelibly positive mark on his adopted home of Washington DC. This is an opportunity to experience the unique home he designed for himself and his family in the late 1930's.

An ethnic Armenian, Mesrobian had a successful career in Ottoman Turkey before immigrating to the States with his family in the early 1920s . He quickly became the chief designer for prolific developer Harry Wardman, while also maintaining his own firm.

The house at first glance blends in with the other traditionally-inspired homes of the area. Closer examination reveals interesting design features emblematic of Mesrobian's uniquely eclectic style, including his own interpretations of historical precedents as well as elegant Art Deco stylization.

ADSW member and architectural historian Caroline Mesrobian Hickman has graciously agreed to open the house for a tour as well as provide a brief talk on her grandfather's work, which she has been studying extensively in preparation for an upcoming book.

Space is limited and the tour will be open to Art Deco Society members only. Light refreshments will be provided. Specific directions for arrival, parking and address for the Chevy Chase House will be provided after registering.

We hope you can join us!

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A "Transformational Projects Action Plan" for a statewide passenger railroad program in Maryland

Executive Summary: Using the positioning device of "Climate Change" and the fact that Maryland, Virginia, and DC are members of the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states which aims to take a joint approach to reducing the impact on climate change from transportation-related activities, Maryland (and Virginia) should develop a statewide approach to the promotion and extension of railroad passenger service, beyond the current approach which is focused on moving Marylanders to and from DC for work.

-- "Nine States and D.C. to Design Regional Approach to Cap Greenhouse Gas Pollution from Transportation"

MARCUsing what I call the "Transformational Projects Action Planning" approach, which suggests that master planning approaches include an element outlining anchor projects to drive the plan forward it's worth outlining a program for Maryland's railroad passenger program.

It's especially relevant in light of a couple recent articles, GGW's "Maryland wants to slash its funding for transit, and it would hit Baltimore hard," in response to the State of Maryland's proposal in the Consolidated Transportation Program, the six-year capital program for the state's transportation program, which proposes to cut funding for transit significantly, and the piece, "On Transit, Pondering What Might Be and Lamenting What Might Have Been," in Maryland Matters about a recent forum on transit/transportation sponsored by the Greater Baltimore Co.mmittee and the Greater Washington Partnership.
  • In 2006, I started writing pieces about how Maryland and Virginia should merge their railroad passenger programs and develop a more expansive service profile, based on a bunch of ideas first outlined by Dan Malouff/BeyondDC in the late 1990s.
-- "A regional railroad passenger transportation vision for DC, MD, VA, WV and parts of PA"

Proposed map of a Washington-Baltimore regional rail system

Railroad system Washington-Baltimore region

-- "Why don't Maryland and West Virginia think about expanding MARC into a true regional system?," 2012
-- "More on Union Station DC and the need for innovative master planning," 2011
-- "DC State Rail planning," 2015
  • Later I called the proposed service RACER, for Railroad Authority for the Chesapeake Region [insert cool graphic here].
-- "Regional transportation planning and fixed rail service," 2009
Overground, London UK
  • To provide more regularized commuter services comparable to S-BAHN service in Germany, RER in Paris, or the London Overground, I laid out a program to better integrate DC area Metrorail with regular railroad service using the London Overground model
-- "One big idea: Getting MARC and Metrorail to integrate fares, stations, and marketing systems, using London Overground as an example," 2015
  • To move this idea along, I suggested merging the MARC Penn Lines and the VRE Fredericksburg Line into one line, and worrying about the rest of the program later
-- "A new backbone for the regional transit system: merging the MARC Penn and VRE Fredericksburg Lines," 2017

It would also have the advantage of providing the opportunity for real railroad service to and from National Airport.

-- "A brief comment on ground transportation at National Airport vis a vis VRE rail service," 2016
  • Also to provide a means for implementation, I suggested the creation of a German style "transport association" linking transportation planning organizations and mobility providers including transit agencies across DC, Maryland, and Virginia.
-- "The answer is: Create a single multi-state/regional multi-modal transit planning, management, and operations authority association," 2017
(The Purple Line will connect to all three existing MARC lines)
-- Item #3 calls for integrating MARC fares into the SmarTrip/CharmCard fare system
-- Item #4 proposes all day bi-directional service on the Brunswick Line
-- Item #5 proposes a more Metro-like fare system on the Brunswick Line between Montgomery County and DC
-- Item #6 proposes that the proposed White Flint infill MARC station be built forthwith
-- Item #7 proposes an infill MARC station in Northeast DC
-- Item #14 reiterates the concept of merging the MARC Penn and VRE Fredericksburg lines to spur the creation of a regional passenger railroad system

A passenger rail vision for all of Maryland, not just getting to and from DC.  It's not like Maryland doesn't do rail planning.  In 2007, Maryland produced a wide ranging program for rail expansion, including more service, bi-directional service on the Brunswick Line, and weekend service on the Penn Line.

-- MARC Growth and Investment Plan (2007), Maryland MTA
-- MARC Growth and Investment Plan Update: 2013 to 2050 (2013), Maryland MTA
-- MARC Growth and Investment Plan: Overview and Status Update (2018), Maryland MTA

But this was just before the onset of the Great Financial Crisis and instead of expanding, the system pulled back.  Since the plan, only weekend Penn Line service has come to fruition.

Today, the 2007 document isn't even on the Maryland DOT website. Although to be fair, MDOT is updating the plan in the meantime.

But the big problem with the plan from a vision or "Transformational Projects Action Planning" approach is that Maryland's railroad planning is DC-centric, focused primarily on getting commuters to DC for work and then back home.

It's not focused on developing a broad program of railroad passenger service for the entire state, with the aim of creating a full-fledged network with frequent service--I call this network breadth and network depth--and if not 24/7 service, at least 18/7 service, so that most of the state can benefit from passenger railroad service.

That's how metropolitan rail service works in Germany, where the suburban "commuter" rail system (S-bahn for suburban railroad) is tightly integrated into the overall transit planning program for each major city, providing a backbone for the system, but also providing passenger service more generally, rather than being a true commuter service, focused primarily on providing transportation during the 9-5 workday.

New rail routes "Beyond DC."  MARC service today is based on historical passenger railroad service patterns.  By the 1970s, three Maryland-based commuter services still existed, serving Baltimore and Washington: the Penn Line from Perryville to DC; the Camden Line from Baltimore to DC; and the Brunwick Line from Martinsburg, WV to DC.  The latter two were provided by the B&O Railroad (CSX); the Penn Line by Penn Central and later Conrail.

MTA Maryland/MARC commuter railroad Map
MTA Maryland/MARC commuter railroad map

Starting in 1974, in response to threatened cuts in service, Maryland began providing subsidies to these routes, first to the B&O lines and then to Conrail.  When Congress mandated that Conrail, which inherited the Penn Line commuter service, cease providing passenger services, Maryland paid Amtrak to run the line.

In 1984, the state's railroad operations were organized into and branded as MARC and over time operational arrangements for the three lines have changed.  In Maryland and Virginia, Amtrak also provides some complementary service.

(In Virginia, this is provided under the rubric of the Amtrak Virginia program spearheaded by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.  In fact Gov. Northam of Virginia has declared October "Passenger Rail Month" to bring more attention to the Amtrak Virginia program.)

The first BeyondDC graphic, "Washington-Baltimore Regional Rail" shows the basic concept of a statewide rail passenger program, although some parts of the state aren't covered.

1.  To set the stage, merge the MARC Penn Line and the Virginia Railway Express Fredericksburg Line, to provide through running and Maryland connections to key Northern Virginia destinations, especially Crystal City, which will be home to Amazon's HQ2, and National Airport, along with a direct connection to L'Enfant Plaza in DC.

This is dependent on an expansion of Long Bridge, the rail bridge connecting DC and Virginia, to four tracks (Plan for Long Bridge expansion moves forward," Washington Post) and is in keeping with Virginia's goals concerning rail expansion.

VRE, Virginia Railway Express commuter railroad map
VRE, Virginia Railway Express commuter railroad map

2.  Beyond the current lines, it shows the following changes to the service footprint in Maryland:
  • An extension of the existing Penn Line service from its endpoint in Perryville to Wilmington Delaware where it would connect to the SEPTA service out of Philadelphia
  • Service between Annapolis, the State Capital and Washington
  • Service between Baltimore and Annapolis
  • Service between Baltimore and Westminster in Carroll County
  • Service between Baltimore and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
  • Service between Martinsburg, West Virginia and Hagerstown, Maryland.
3.  The second BeyondDC graphic shows the potential for three more extensions:
Easton, Maryland train station, Baltimore, Chesapeake and Atlantic Railway

4.  I would add two additional lines not shown on either graphic:
  • Service between DC and Southern Maryland, especially Charles County, but including stations in DC between Union Station and the DC-Maryland state line
  • Although an MTA study, the Southern Maryland Commuter Rail Service Feasibility Study proposes service to Charles and St. Mary's County by branching off from the Penn Line, whereas my idea was to do this via DC south from Union Station
Maryland MTA proposal for rail passenger service to Charles and St. Mary's Counties
  • Consideration of the addition of a line to the I-270 corridor, from Frederick to Bethesda and then to DC and Northern Virginia (it would be electrified and a goodly portion would run in a tunnel created through cut and cover construction under I-270).
Interstate_270My second MARC line in Montgomery County might not be necessary, but it would be better placed to capture traffic and passengers more directly in the I-270 corridor, which I argue should be consider edfrom a corridor management approach there, rather than reflexively pushing HOT lanes.

It should be studied and is mentioned as an item in "Revisiting the Purple Line (series) and a more complete program of complementary improvements to the transit network," 2019.

5.  Adding infill stations across the existing system, such as:
  • the three stations for Baltimore proposed in the original Growth and Investment Plan but later dropped: Bayview and Madison Square in East Baltimore; and Upton in West Baltimore
  • in DC in the New York Avenue corridor on both the Camden and Penn Lines
  • in DC at Fort Totten as a redundancy platform vis-a-vis Union Station (although the Silver Spring MARC station also serves this function, etc.
6.  Finally, considering opportunities for the Eastern Shore and the Camden Line more thoroughly.

My previous writings never anticipated a significant change in the profile of the Camden line service because the stations aren't particularly well-placed to generate significant ridership increases, but an objective study would evaluate the line for changes also.

Conclusion/Positioning.  The reality is that the current governor, Republican Larry Hogan, does not support transit.  But he has continued to support efforts by the State of Maryland in association with other Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states for joint initiatives aimed at staunching climate change through the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states.

Perhaps by positioning this approach in that vein, as well as serving many more parts of Maryland outside of the Baltimore and Washington metropolitan areas, and in terms of creating a legacy that would be unmatched by any other U.S. state, at least at this time (no state really has a statewide railroad transportation program quite like this) maybe Governor Hogan can be convinced to support the expansion of MARC into a true statewide passenger rail service that goes far beyond its existing footprint as a DC-focused commuter rail service.

Other states should do two stage rail planning too.  All states with some form of rail passenger service have created state rail plans in order to comply with the federal Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008. Some plans are better than others. I can't say I've read many of the plans.

But none of the plans lay out a bigger vision for a complete state-based passenger rail network, unlike the existence of a complete road and freeway network.  It's unlikely any of the plans I haven't read are organized at the two scales I propose here:

(1) a big vision, Transformational Projects Action Plan and

(2) what is called a "Constrained Plan" based on the availability of capital both current and reasonably projected.  (Also see "New Transportation Planning Paradigm: Constraints-Based
Planning in the Era of Limited Transportation Funds

Note that the MARC plan for 2050 isn't particularly visionary. It calls for additional service, but not a lot more service, and more dedicated tracks where needed in the current footprint, but it doesn't call for any passenger railroad service outside of the basic footprint provided today. It definitely doesn't call for full bi-directional service on the Brunswick Line between Frederick and DC.

And really, this is merely trying to re-create what once existed.

-- Kilduff's archive of Maryland railroad stations

(if you click on the map it goes to the much larger image at the Library of Congress)  This railroad map dates to 1876.
New railroad map of the state of Maryland, Delaware, and the District of Columbia. Compiled and drawn by Frank Arnold Gray, 1876

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Monday, October 07, 2019

New York City Ferry subsidies: it's obvious it should be repriced upward as a premium service

The fact that the New York City Ferry service, the only transit service operated by the City of New York, is priced the same as a single fare on the subway or bus, but the cost to provide each ride is significantly higher, is getting renewed media coverage.

According to Politico New York, based on a study by the Citizens Budget Commission, NYC has the second highest subsidy for ferry trips, surpassed only by New Orleans ("Should New York City charge more to ride the ferry?" ), but that's because NYC's fare is many dollars lower than peer systems.

-- "How the NYC Ferry could work: Experts weigh in on how to improve the city’s ferries without scrapping them," City & State
-- "NYC Ferry mostly used by white, well-off New Yorkers, city data shows," New York Daily News

The obvious course of action is to charge more, recognizing it is a premium service. But this is one more issue that Mayor DeBlasio is obstinate about and so far he refuses to acknowledge the reasonability of charging more.

I wrote about this, but as part of another entry, in 2018:

New York City is expanding the ferry system ("NYC Ferry service is getting a major expansion," Time Out) which is the only element of the transit system controlled directly by the city.  They'll be adding two routes, and three new vessels each with a capacity of 350 passengers, compared to the 150-person capacity of each boat in the 17 boats in the current fleet.

Commuter Emily Mueller enjoys a drink at the ferry bar on her way home to north Brooklyn on the evening ferry. Village Voice Photo: David Williams.

Before the recent agreement by Mayor DeBlasio to fund a lower cost transit pass for low income residents, advocates criticized the transit focus on ferries as helping the well off, especially because under mayor DeBlasio, the ferry fare is equal to the subway fare,$2.75, making it heavily subsidized.

From the Village Voice article "Foamland security: ferry riders say DeBlasio's subsidies spare them subway trauma":
Ferry riders are, by and large, higher-income New Yorkers taking advantage of subsidized ferry rides to avoid subways and buses — not because it’s a faster commute, but because of the ferry’s creature comforts such as elbow room, concessions, alcohol, WiFi, and the fresh sea air.

“The time factor has nothing to do with it for me,” explained J. Scott Klossner, a 53-year-old freelancer currently working for the Today show who takes the Rockaway route, even though it adds almost 45 minutes each way to his commute.

“I can get a coffee, a bagel, everyone is nice. The opposite is true of the A train: Everyone is a fucking asshole.”
London as a counter example: pricing ferry commuter rides as a premium service.  On my walking tour of London with former TfL official Ivan Bennett, we talked about the ferry services there, called the River Bus.

In planning for river  transit, TfL differentiates between commuter transportation and tourist services.

-- TfL River services
-- London River Services map and guide, Tfl (speaking of branding, it uses the same design style as other London transit services)
-- London River Services map, 2018

Ferry trips on the Thames tend to be slower than rail, but nicer, with coffee service and newspapers. Ivan argues that they should be marketed and priced as premium services, with the extra revenues used to support other aspects of the transit system.

And in London, they are.

(By contrast, most ferry fares in other places fares are higher too, but the services aren't necessarily marketed as premium.  But there is a recognition that water transit costs more to provide, but it's worth paying more because it may be the only option because there aren't bridges to the mainland, or it is less congested compared to bridges, etc.)

That seems like a sensible approach for pricing ferry/water taxi service in London and elsewhere.

While the individual fare for ferry service in London is higher than riding the Underground--2x to 4x higher than a single fare, they've slacked off raising River Bus fares, and because of the Crossrail cash crunch, expansions to the system have been delayed.

Past writings on water-based transit include:

-- "Metrorail shutdown south of AlexandriaNational Airport would have been a good opportunity to promote ferry service," 2019
-- "Instead of a third Chesapeake Bay Bridge, why not start out with a fast ferry from Rock Hall to Baltimore?," 2018
-- "Implementing transit services (water taxi) before the market will support them," 2017

Changing minds: Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London versus most politicians, including Bill DeBlasio. In talking with Ivan about London's use of articulated buses instead of double deck buses, I wondered why they wanted to use articulateds, because double deck buses are so signature to London's identity. He said it was because there is only one entry door on a double deck buses, and to reduce bus dwell time, they wanted multi-door entry and exit.

Livingstone wasn't favorable, but as Ivan said "He listened [taking in what people said and then actually considering it}" and he changed his mind, based on the recommendations of the transit planners.

(In the vein of successors countermanding the decisions of predecessors, Boris Johnson made the decision to remove articulated buses from the London bus fleet.)

Many politicians don't listen, let alone consider what's been said and change their minds.

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Speaking of "Just Do It": A 14th Street bus transit mall for Manhattan

The New York City newspapers have articles about the short distance dedicated transitway that is being created on part of 14th Street, between 3rd and 9th Avenues, in Manhattan.  Not only will there be a "dedicated lane," for the most part, passenger cars will be "banned" as well.

Sign explaining the changes in association with the 18 month pilot program.  New York Post photo by James Messerschmidt.

This project was originally proposed when the L line subway was going to be closed 18 months for repairs.

-- ""RPA/Transit Riders Alliance proposal to respond to the L Subway shutdown includes a dedicated transitway on 14th Street in Manhattan," 2016

Curbed New York goes further, recommending banning cars from Manhattan ("It’s time to ban cars from Manhattan: New York City’s traffic woes have reached a tipping point, and banning cars is the solution"). Among other points, it states that only 22% of households in Manhattan own cars, but the surface mobility system privileges the movement of cars.

But even though plans have changed for the L Line, so that subway line remains operational while being repaired, the City Department of Transportation is going ahead with the proposal, which had been held up by a lawsuit.

-- 14th Street Transit & Truck Priority Pilot Project brochure, NYC DOT

While the New York Post article is pretty shrill ("The 14th Street car ban begins tomorrow — here’s what you should know"), referring to the initiative as a "car ban," befitting its pro-car editorial slant, another shrill NYP article ("De Blasio’s ‘busway’ plan for 14th Street is a nightmare set to unfold") inadvertently makes the point that to be most effective, the "car ban" should be extended further, especially through an area full of construction projects.

While the text doesn't really cover it, the headline of a New York Daily News article ("As city kicks cars off most of 14th St., fate of future street redesigns hangs in the balance") makes the point that the success or failure of this 18-month pilot will impact similar initiatives elsewhere in the city.

Recently, I picked up a bunch of books, many dating to the 1970s and some originally published overseas, on pedestrian zone initiatives, including what are called transit malls -- transit malls are dedicated to bus transit and may or may not have pro-pedestrian elements.

(Bus) Transit Malls.  In the US, today, the most prominent transit malls are 16th Street in Denver, Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis, and the transit mall on 5th and 6th Avenues in Portland, Oregon.  While these streets concentrate bus service, the Denver and Minneapolis bus malls also have a separate bus-mall-only bus that is free, basically an intra-district bus service.c

-- "Making the case for intra-city (vs. inter-city) transit planning," 2011

Even more so than 16th Street in Denver, the Nicollet Mall is intended to be an active pedestrian district, which is tough because of how the retail and entertainment sectors are organized, but they continue to invest in this, including a recognition of the need for special treatments at night.

Nicollet Mall, Minnesota, after redesign
Nicollett Mall after a redesign including new sidewalks, nearly 250 trees, LED lighting, 12 bus shelters and the city’s largest public art display outside of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, as well as new street signage, point-of-interest signs and totem maps.  Photo by Justin Gese.

The problem with transit malls is by concentrating bus service, they are great for bus service, but the quality of the pedestrian experience isn't so great, because buses are big and noisy.

A Streetcar Transit Mall: King Street, Toronto.  More recently, Toronto has made a key section of King Street, a streetcar "mall."

In terms of its capture of total trips, the King Street streetcar is an outlier, where 75% of the mobility throughput (65,000 people) on the corridor is by streetcar and 25% by cars (20,000 vehicle trips), with such a high percentage of the throughput being captured by transit.

I know that on many of DC's primary bus routes, transit as a proportion of the passenger throughput isn't quite as high, but is still above 40%, which is very good.

King St. has changed to more pedestrian and TTC friendly with cars only allowed to go a single block along the street before having to turn off.  (RICHARD LAUTENS / TORONTO STAR).  The TTC announces the King Street streetcar prioritization project on vehicle livery for the streetcar line.

Shawn Micaleff, a columnist for the Toronto Star, has a piece on the King Street initiative, "King St. pilot project does what big cities around the world are doing," writing:
One of my earliest memories of feeling frustrated in Toronto was riding a streetcar. The streetcars themselves were fine: elegant street ships sailing the city’s rail network like an electric nervous system.

What was confounding was that one lone car turning left, often just carrying one driver, could hold up an entire streetcar filled with dozens of people, sometimes up to 130 or over 200 people, depending on if it was a short or long streetcar. Other times there were just too many cars on the road to allow quick passage of a mass transit vehicle.

Something seemed out of whack. How could this be? Was there no political courage in this new city of mine to give vehicles carrying many people a quicker passage? My newcomer’s naïveté was soon corrected.
I think this is one of the most important surface transportation initiatives right now in North America ("A transit miracle on King St. shows how it can work," Star), because despite the headline of the Micaleff column, the fact of the matter is that most cities are not prioritizing transit in this way, because the electorate continues to be car-centric, so that elected officials don't have the cover to be able to pursue transit prioritization on city streets.

The world hasn't yet come to an end.  According to Crain's New York Business ("Buses cruise 14th Street on first day of traffic experiment"). From the article:
The first day of the city's busway experiment on the crosstown street zipped buses along to the point drivers had to slow down to keep to their schedules, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The MTA's acting head of bus operations told the Journal the agency might have to shorten its schedules if the pace continues. That's quite a shift from a report earlier this year on the M14 route's reliability, which found only about half its buses typically arrived on time.
But the NYP thinks the world has come to an end, such as how an Uber driver had to pick up a customer around the corner, not on 14th Street ("14th Street car ban begins, causing headaches for motorists).

A new restriction on cars along 14th Street is meant to speed up public buses along a major crosstown route.Credit: Natalie Keyssar for The New York Times.

According to the New York Times ("Cars All but Banned on One of Manhattan’s Busiest Streets"), this only impacts 21,000 vehicles/day, which isn't a whole lot. From the article:
Buses cruised along without getting trapped behind cars.

Thousands of riders used to being late to work or for appointments were suddenly early.

On Thursday, New York City transformed one of its most congested streets into a “busway” that delighted long frustrated bus riders and transit advocates but left many drivers and local businesses fuming that the city had gone too far.

Passenger cars, including taxis and Ubers, were all but banned from 14th Street, a major crosstown route for 21,000 vehicles a day that links the East and West Sides of Manhattan.

It was New York’s most ambitious stand yet against cars since the first pedestrian plazas were carved out of asphalt more than a decade ago.
Bus rapid transit transitways.  Mostly outside of city centers are dedicated transitways for bus service, serving various bus rapid transit programs, including Pittsburgh, Eugene, Oregon, Connecticut, the San Fernando Valley Orange Line, even the short Metroway dedicated busway between Alexandria and Arlington in Virginia, etc.
LOS ANGELES--9203 appr Valley College Station OB

Herron Station Inbound P1

Transitways were more common in the 1970s and 1980s.  But I didn't know that dedicated transitway networks were much more common in the 1970s and 1980s, as part of various initiatives to promote transit and the continued relevance of inner cities as major employment centers.

-- "We had bus lanes a half century ago and we can again," PlanIt Metro (WMATA, Washington), 2014

As automobile usage continued to grow and transit ridership dropped significantly, these transitway networks were discontinued, in DC, Philadelphia ("Did Philadelphia make a terrible mistake getting rid of the Chestnut Street Transitway," Philadelphia Inquirer), and elsewhere.
Chestnut Street Transitway, Philadelphia, postcard

 From the PI:
For many Philadelphians, it is an article of faith that the bus-only Transitway was a major policy fail that nearly killed shopping on Chestnut Street. But from the vantage of 2018 (as well as the back of a traffic-moored 42 bus) that narrative seems as outdated as tie-dye and bell-bottoms.

Opened in 1975, the Transitway transformed the 12 busiest blocks of Chestnut Street — from Sixth to 18th — into a corridor that prioritized pedestrians and buses over cars. Because it was a product of the ‘70s, when cities were struggling to compete with suburban shopping, the Transitway was really an urban mall in transit clothing, featuring elaborately paved sidewalks, lots of pedestrian seating, and futuristic traffic lights called “Transitrons.”

Even though the city was mainly interested in simulating a suburban shopping experience, the corridor was still a transit-rider’s dream. In its original incarnation, buses cruised in both directions. Maybe the most futuristic thing about the Transitway was that you could get from one end of Center City to the other in under 15 minutes.

Yet, within a few years of its creation, merchants turned against the project. The Transitway was blamed for everything from dirty sidewalks to unruly teenage behavior, especially after the Easter Parade got out of hand in 1985 and shop windows were broken. Based on news clips from the time, it’s striking how much the complaints resemble those that would be leveled later against the Gallery, another disgraced ‘70s retail experiment.
Therefore creating a transit prioritized surface street in Manhattan is a big deal.  New York City already has a large number of dedicated bus lanes, called Select Bus Service.  But like in most places, these are exclusive lanes as part of a street that has other lanes dedicated to regular traffic.

-- Select Bus Service, NYC DOT

What is happening on 14th Street is different.  Regular passenger car traffic is now excluded, so they are on the way to developing a bus transit mall, except that taxis/ride share vehicles (and this is not uncommon) and delivery vehicles still have access.

That New York City is creating a highly visible bus priority transitway on 14th Street is noteworthy.  It will be highly prominent, and if successful (although NYC has other preconditions supporting success not necessarily possessed in the same way by others) it will make it easier for other transit agencies to promote and deploy similar initiatives.

(Like the Select Bus Service, DC is slowly expanding a new network of bus transitways. See "DC's downtown bus lanes aren't temporary after all," WTOP-radio).

How to make the 14th Street bus mall an even bigger deal: bi-articulated buses.  In the piece I wrote in 2016 about this, which was originally a response to the planned closure of the L subway line, I suggested that like in Europe, it would be transformational to deploy bi-articulated buses.

I've seen them in operation on the bus mall in Hamburg's pedestrian district ("Monckebergstraße transitway in Hamburg, Germany and bi-articulated buses," 2014)

The 14th Street bus mall "pilot" would be an even bigger deal if they could use 80' bi-articulated buses.  Or even just get a chance to demonstrate them.
Bi-articulated bus, Spitalerstrasse, Hamburg, Germany
Bi-articulated bus, on 
Mönckebergstraße in the Spitalerstraße pedestian district, Hamburg, Germany. 

Spitalerstrasse transit mall, Hamburg, Germany

But the FTA and the FHWA don't allow bus vehicles of this length on public streets in the United States.  (On freeways, some states allow similar length truck and trailer tandems.)

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