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.

Friday, April 18, 2014

DC Zoning Code Rewrite written testimony deadline: Friday April 25th, 3 pm (Chickens edition), now September 15th

======
Updated and republished due to an extension of the public comment period to September
======

WAMU-FM reported yesterday ("After Six Years, D.C. To Get Six More Months To Debate Zoning Code Rewrite ") that the Zoning Commission has extended the public comment period to September 15th.

GGW thinks this is a bad idea ("DC's 40-year out of date zoning code will get at least 6 months more stale").

I think that the ZRR process has been so flawed from the get go that (1) the delay doesn't surprise me and (2) it is an indicator and recognition of the flawed process (see the past blog entry "DC and the zoning rewrite and the approach not taken").

Will it result in a better code and more support for necessary changes?

Doubtful, because most of the angst has to do with more suburban parts of the city expressing vehement outrage against changes that are more specifically urban and less focused on automobility (see the past blog entries "DC as a suburban agenda dominated city" and "Understanding why Upper Northwest DC residents don't buy into the sustainability mobility paradigm").

But that means I get to polish and craft the various testimonies that I plan to submit.

The DC Office of Zoning hasn't updated its website to reflect the new circumstances.

===============
Previous entry
===============

Update on the Zoning Rewrite Process:  DC Zoning Commission

While I testified earlier on Accessory Dwelling Units, I do intend to submit written testimonies about (1) pop ups; (2) the need for special big box review provisions and problems with large tract review procedures; (3) general organization of the code; and (4) legalization of chickens--because a Greater Takoma resident was "busted" for having a coop and I offered to help.

The volume of the submissions means they'll be quick and dirty rather than hyper-detailed.

With regard to urban agriculture and poultry, I argue that cities have taken two directions, what I call loose or tight regulations.  Tight regulations legalize the raising of poultry in residential districts but have requirements for lot sizes and distance from lot lines that are not sized for cities, making raising poultry illegal in reality.  For example, Norfolk, Virginia requires a minimum lot size of 10,000 square feet, which is just under a quarter-acre.  A typical rowhouse lot is less than one-tenth that size.

Loose regulations are focused on allowing the practice by making regulations fit the form of urban neighborhoods.  They don't specify minimum lot sizes, and focus coop placement requirements on the distance from dwelling units (on the property and adjacent properties), not the lot line.  Places like Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New York City, Portland, Salt Lake City and County, and Seattle have what I call loose regulations.

DC's earliest proposals are definitely a form of tight regulation--lots would have to be about 110 feet wide--making poultry raising in residential districts illegal for the most part.

Interestingly, DC's touted Sustainability Plan doesn't bring up residential poultry raising at all.

Note that one writer in the LA Times likes eggs, but not chickens, and she writes about the organization of "chicken cooperatives" there ("When the chickens came home to roost"), which are on a much larger scale than what I call "Block Supported Agriculture."

Right: chickens in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle.

It turns out that the State of Virginia held its first Urban Agriculture Summit earlier in the week, in Lynchburg.  See "First Va. Urban Agriculture Summit kicks off in Lynchburg" from the Lynchburg News-Advance.

... interestingly, with regard to DC, you can do urban aquaculture but you can't raise chickens.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Legalizing electoral fusion as another election improvement measure in DC

Today's Washington Times has an article, "Minority parties see power grab for D.C. vote," about how because of DC election laws that require one of the winning candidates of the at-large Councilmember race in each election cycle not be from the majority (Democratic) party, that a bunch of candidates who are normally considered to be Democratic Party members, are considering dropping their affiliation for that of an "Independent," to win election.

In the past, DC has had representatives from the Statehood Party (which later merged with the DC Green Party but since has not had success on the ballot) and the Republican Party on Council, but hasn't since Carole Schwartz was defeated in an internecine party battle in 2008 ("Farewell To Carol Schwartz--D.C.'s Last Republican?," Washington Post).

The first Democrat to do this was William Lightfoot.  Later Michael Brown did the same thing.  Then so did David Grosso.

2.  But there is another course.  I have written that DC's Democratic Party has a weak platform and gets away with it ("Special election redux: Part 2" and "Repositioning cities (at least on the coasts) for greater political prominence, and a city-first agenda"), because the majority of residents are Democratic in affiliation and aren't likely to vote for non-Democratic candidates, regardless in large part, of their positions--if any--on most issues.

A way to begin to develop "platforms" would be to allow DC candidates to run on multiple party lines, which is called "electoral fusion."  It used to be legal across the country but now is legal in only 8 states, although New York State and New York City are the best examples.  For example, winning Mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio ran as representative of both the Democratic Party and the Working Families Party ("The Third Party That's Winning" Bill Moyers Journal; "The Power of Fusion Politics," The Nation).

3.  The DC Democratic Party elections have a variant form of this, as candidates have the option of organizing and running as part of slates.  

Labels: , ,

DC proposal for HOT lanes doesn't seem to make sense

The point of HOT or High Occupancy Toll lanes is (1) adding lanes (2) accessible only by paying tolls (3) financed through private ventures expecting toll revenues to be high (4) but allowing vehicles with multiple passengers ("high occupancy") free or reduced pricing.

Basically they are HOT or "High Occupancy" or pay "Tolls" lanes -- HO/T lanes.

The lanes can be controversial because much of the momentum for creating them is ideological (such as in Virginia and Maryland, where projects were pushed forward by Republican Governors) and desperation to come up with money for freeway expansion, because they are more about generating new revenues and could be seen as inducing more driving, just for people who are willing to pay a premium price.  See "For Virginia commuters, new era begins with HOT lanes" and "Highway historian looks at HOT lanes projects" from the Washington Post.

Arlington County did not allow HOT lanes to be installed on freeways in their jurisdiction, because they believed that such lanes would be contradictory to their Master Transportation Goals that de-emphasize "single occupancy vehicle" trips ("Arlington Will Withdraw HOT Lanes Suit," Arlington Now).

Washington Post graphic showing where proposed HOT lanes in DC would be placed.

Yesterday's Post has an article "DC considers adding carpool, toll lanes to part of the 14th Street bridge," stating that DC's Dept. of Transportation is proposing some high occupancy toll lanes on the city's freeways "to reduce congestion."

HOT lanes in DC wouldn't be new lanes, but repositioning of current lanes.

But I don't think they'll have much impact on reducing congestion because driving in DC on these roads is a function of moving "between other places" and if the origin and destination points don't have comparable congestion reduction measures in place, HOT lanes in DC won't make much difference.  Also see "DC HOT lanes plan will bump into reality" from the Washington Post.

They might raise some revenue though.  And since they wouldn't involve the construction of new lanes, the costs to impose the tolls wouldn't be that great.

Still, I would argue that this is yet another proposal in need of guidance from a Master Transportation Plan.

But I could be swayed if the city would commit all the revenues to other transportation improvements elsewhere in the city.

Labels: , , , ,

DC Streetcar article in the New York Times

"Washington Retail District's Future Rides on Streetcars," New York Times.
 
Workers tested a new streetcar that will run along the H Street commercial corridor in Washington and, city officials and others hope, drive development. Credit Daniel Rosenbaum for The New York Times.
I would say the headline is a bit misleading as it isn't really much of a retail district anymore, more of an eater-tainment district.  I remember a few years ago, when I was still involved in H Street matters, and a businessperson on the corridor asked me what I thought about the streetcar, I said:

1.  It will be the first modern streetcar on the East Coast, which is a big deal.  Of course, who knew then it would take so long and it is neck and neck with Atlanta, although they won't be launching til the end of the year.  See "Reed: Streetcar launch by December 31," from WXIA-TV and "Atlanta's streetcar launch, costs in flux," from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

2.  It has the opportunity to reposition the H Street district towards retail once again--in the district's heyday it was the city's second biggest retail district and home to one of the first Sears Department Stores in the US and the biggest Chevrolet dealership in the country--because some retailers will see streetcar service as hip and something to be associated with.

For example, the Giant Supermarket at 3rd and H Streets NE "demanded" and paid for the addition of a streetcar stop to serve its location, and it's possible that some larger companies will see the advantage of locating there.  Whole Foods Supermarket will be opening a store in 2016, and the current H Street Connection space is supposed to be remade into a mixed use project which provides the opportunity for a retailer upgrade.

More recently, H Street has been revived around nightlife and entertainment ("Plans to Set The Bar High On H Street NE," Washington Post) but it hasn't seen much improvement in retail, other than the opening of the Giant Supermarket and the Whole Foods announcement.

Although Downtown, especially with the gradual reopening of CityCenter, and the strengthening of retail elsewhere in the district ("Gap, Walgreens to open big stores downtown" and "Target considering a store near Metro Center in downtown DC," Washington Post) is a big competitor.  The advantage that the nightlife element of the H Street district is that it brings many people to the area to sample it.  The challenge will be to get them to come back at other times to buy goods rather than meals and drinks.

Rendering of building proposed for 501 H Street, which will be about one block away from the new Whole Foods Supermarket.

Many of the developers active on H Street now have strong retail portfolios and it is possible that they will bring that expertise to bear.  For example, the project that Douglas Development is bringing to the 500 block includes retail ("Douglas Development plots H Street apartments, retail," Washington Business Journal).

... in the I told you so department, in 2003 back during the creation of the H Street Revival commercial district plan, they said that the 200 to 700 blocks would be residential.  I argued that because there were relatively large lots capable of redevelopment and because of proximity to Union Station, that the area could accommodate high quality mixed use retail as well.

Looks like I was right.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Getting better transportation usage data: Alliance for Walking and Biking release 2014 benchmarking report

One of the problems with getting good data for the use of sustainable transportation modes, is that most metropolitan areas aren't gathering the data every year. 

(I think this is a real problem in DC proper.  DC DOT should begin collecting this data, and do special research projects on sustainable transportation behavior, parking, etc., by different types of households and spatial conditions.)

It's tough too because you need to oversample to ensure that you get enough walkers and bicyclists as respondents (in other communities it would also be for transit users, where transit use is low), because they make up a small portion of the total population.

The complete American Community Survey form from the US Census Bureau that collects data on transportation is only a sample, and it's difficult to be able to drill down to the neighborhood level because the sample size is too small. 

The same goes for the National Household Travel Survey.  It is an intermittent survey, without the ability to go deep. 

So these studies create limits on the quality and utility of data on walking and biking, even though the Alliance for Walking and Biking creates useful reports, based on this data.

Plus you need more detailed information and better information, because the ability to promote sustainable transportation modes varies according to urban form, density, and distance to major activity centers, which is difficult to capture in traditional study techniques.

-- Download the 2014 Benchmarking Report

2.  I was very surprised to come across the very interesting City Clock blog, and it has a feature on the neighborhoods across Canada with the highest use of bicycling for transportation ("Top 10 cycling communities in Canada"), the highest being 21.15% of trips, in the Studio District neighborhood in Toronto. 

Sadly, conservative forces in Canada have led the nation to drop the collection of Census data, which face it, is an insanely stupid decision.

3.  And in Helsinki, they've been collecting data on transit use for 50 years, and this past year was the first where more trips were conducted by transit than the automobile.  See "Historic transport shift as capital dwellers switch from cars" from YLE.

Labels: , ,

Inga Saffron of Philadelphia Inquirer wins Pulitzer Prize for criticism

-- "Inquirer's Saffron, critic of the built environment, wins Pulitzer," Philadelphia Inquirer

There are only a handful of newspapers in North America that have urban design or architecture beats, and publish articles on the subject on a week-in. week-out basis.

-- Christopher Hawthorne, Los Angeles Times
-- Christopher Hume, Toronto Star
-- Blair Kamin, Chicago Tribune
-- Michael Kimmelman, architecture, New York Times
-- John King, San Francisco Chronicle
-- Robin Pogrebin, urban design, New York Times
-- Inga Saffron, Philadelphia Inquirer

More newspapers used to cover this beat (Baltimore Sun, Charlotte Observer, Miami Herald, etc.), but no longer do. (Philip Kennecott of the Washington Post is an art critic and covers architecture and urban design issues frequently, but not as regularly as the journalists listed above).

In my opinion, given the vital importance of urban design to a city's identity and quality of life, it's one of the most important beats a local newspaper could have to demonstrate its commitment to "localness."

Inga Saffron's articles and columns are informative to all of us interested in the subject, not just Philadelphians.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

San Antonio university architecture school neighborhood improvement program initiative

Right:  City of San Antonio photo.  

In the vein of Sunday's post about self-help efforts, Stuart calls our attention to a program run by the University of Texas at San Antonio's architecture school, where Professor Sue Ann Pemberton has developed a program called "Students Together Achieving Revitalization," where students come together to repair "derelict residences," working with the city's Office of Historic Preservation and local contractors.

From the San Antonio Express-News article "UTSA students go beyond the surface to repair East Side homes":
Over the last five years, the program's more than 700 participants have helped restore about 77 houses in East Side historic districts such as Knob Hill, Tobin Hill, Government Hill and Dignowity Hill. Property owners, who have to apply through the city's Office of Historic preservation, don't just get a paint job, but valuable repairs to porches, windows and roofing...
Note that programs like these are good ways to ameliorate the higher costs that be involved in maintaining historic properties, costs that are harder to bear for low income households.

Labels: , , ,

Two worthwhile Financial Times special reports

Most of the articles in the special report on Barcelona touch on various issues relating to the knowledge economy.

The special report on Urban Resilience addresses disaster preparedness and planning, including Superstorm Sandy.

WRT the latter, the uptick in earthquakes along the Pacific Rim is an advance warning of the possibility of serious earthquakes on the west coast.  So it's a good think that Mayor Gil Garcetti of Los Angeles is upping the city's game on earthquake preparedness planning.  See "It's a big task for Lucy Jones: preparing us for the Big One" from the Los Angeles Times.

Labels: , , ,

It turns out that the political shenigans in Toronto is leading to discussion on transportation agency consolidation

----------
"Always put passengers first and make sure you have a governance structure that enables the transit system to put passengers first."

    -- David Quarmby, transit consultant who is one of the creators of Transport for London

“Every bureaucracy has their own plans. There is a solution and it’s one transportation plan for Toronto. One system with all the pieces moving together in sync.”

    -- Karen Stintz, member of the Toronto City Council and candidate for mayor 
----------

I hadn't been keeping up with the Toronto Star, so I didn't know that while I was writing the other pieces, there is major conversation right now in Greater Toronto about transportation agency consolidation.

Right now, the City of Toronto has streets/transportation and transit (the TTC) agencies, while Metrolinx, a regional-Provincial agency, does planning, runs roads and what not, and operates the railroad commuter service, which used to be provided by a different provincial agency.   (WMATA is going to use the PrestoCard transit media system created by Metrolinx.)

Cities and regions not within Toronto proper run their own transit agencies for local service and are considering various light rail schemes.  The Greater York Region has a highly touted bus rapid transit system, VIVA, which provides service into Toronto.

Toronto's previous administration under David Miller produced a transit plan called "Transit City," which proposed mostly light rail creation and had a great number of equity considerations, as one of the principles from the process was that no one should be disadvantaged by not owning a car.

But his successor, Rob Ford, a suburban councillor, ran on a Mayoral platform of reducing conflicts with motor vehicles and subway expansion, especially to suburban districts he represented (c.f. "Rob Ford wants to get rid of streetcars entirely " Toronto Globe and Mail; "Rob Ford defends $300K bike lane removal" National Post).   The problem with the subway expansion proposals is that they are expensive but also were directed to areas where the potential ridership does not justify that particular mode.

Once Ford was elected he junked the Transit City plan, although eventually it was determined he didn't have that authority.  He fired the TTC director when the TTC didn't sign off on his subway plan, and lack of consensus within the region on what to do made it impossible to create the right kinds of relationships with the Province and potentially the National Government (a conservative one, so not big on transit) for funding and financing.

The mobility agenda in the region has been "in flux" ever since.  One of the people running against him for mayor is Karen Stintz, who is the chair of the TTC board right now ("Mayoral candidate Karen Stintz wants umbrella transportation agency," Toronto Sun).  From the article:
Stintz would place the czar at the head of a new agency, Transportation for Toronto, that would be a combination of the TTC, transportation services, parking enforcement and taxi and licensing standards.
Toronto has multiple city bureaucracies, who all have their own plans - bike plans, parking plans, pedestrian plans, multi-year TTC plans, GO plans,” Stintz said in a statement Friday.  “But there’s nothing bringing all these plans together, looking at how all forms of transportation could be working together.”

Under her plan, Stintz would have the Transportation for Toronto department oversee all transportation infrastructure including roads, bridges, bike lanes and sidewalks. The department would lead transportation planning and funding strategies, oversee taxi regulation and parking enforcement and develop a “smart commuting” management system.
Metrolinx goes back and forth with the city's agenda (see the past blog entry "Metrolinx Toronto: 25 potential tools to fund transit-transportation infrastructure").

I used Toronto as an example of political b.s. and meddling making achieving excellent mobility policy very difficult.  But they are grappling with the problems and have even had David Quarmby, architect of the creation of the multi-modal Transport for London agency, come out to speak.

See "Lessons from London for transit on Toronto," "It's high time for some realism about transit: Hume," "Could Toronto use a central agency to rule roads and transit like London," and "Addressing Toronto's transit deficit" from the Toronto Star.   From the "high time" article:
Certainly, Toronto and the GTA suffer from lack of leadership. Without a shared vision, transit gets pushed in a different direction with each new regime. When elected, Ford killed Transit City, a fully planned and funded program. When Wynne loses, her successor could well decide to start from scratch. Let’s not forget, Hudak was a member of the Mike Harris cabinet when he killed the Eglinton subway in 1995 after construction had begun.
Clearly, transit needs as much distance as it can get from politics. The region has been poorly served by the sort of logic that leads officialdom to choose a Scarborough subway over the DRL [Downtown Relief Line, comparable to the proposal in DC for a separated blue line], diesel over electrification, ridership over capacity, etc. In every case, the city, province and their agencies have made the wrong choice.
And from the Toronto Globe & Mail,  "London transit expert supports Metrolinx oversight of TTC" and "Transit planning must have legal protection, London expert says." From the last article:
Lock politicians and experts in a room until they can agree on transit.  That’s the advice – only half in jest – of a transportation expert speaking in Toronto Wednesday morning. But even more important is the next step: set up a legal structure to stop the plans changing with every political cycle.

“The strength lies behind the systems that are in law,” said David Quarmby, one of the architects of Transport for London, the over-arching agency responsible for almost all forms of public transportation in the U.K. capital.  ...

“You need to have a decision-making system that is more consensual, that is based on a single governance [model], where all the parties are required by law to collaborate and arrive at plans, which are going to get delivered,” he said....
Transport for London was formed in 2000, part of the Labour governance reforms of 1997 that also gave the city a directly elected mayor. That mayor chairs the agency and appoints all of its board members, but that doesn’t mean each succeeding one has an entirely free hand. The mayor has to create land-use and transport plans that are written into law.
Which is something worthy of consideration in DC.

2.  WRT Toronto, things are a bit more complicated because of the tension between the metropolitan cities and regions and the City of Toronto, but better integration and coordination of transit and mobility planning and service is key.

Toronto residents are concerned that a TTC run by a regional agency with little public input would become further disconnected from the concerns of residents at the core, which now make up only 40% of the region's population.

But greater funding from the Provincial Government for the "local transit" service is likely in order, as it is done most everywhere else in North America, because of transit's link to economic competitiveness in the biggest metropolitan areas and the lack of financial capacity within the government of even the largest cities to fully invest what's necessary to maintain and expand transit.

3.  In any case, splitting up transportation agencies, as is proposed in DC, is a backwards, not a forward looking move.

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Self-help civic initiatives in DC, Mount Rainier, MD, Ysilanti, MI, and Brookings, SD

One of the points within Tocqueville's Democracy in America that is very important is the self-help-community impulse that was expressed by word and action by so many. 

People from other countries frequently comment about how the civil society in the US is so much more vibrant than in their own countries--even as we are experiencing a serious decline in civic participation--voting, reading newspapers, participating in local organizations, etc.

On the other hand, opposition to the growth of "big government" comes in part out of the recognition that it reduces civic impulses.

You see this in DC especially.  My joke is that "big government--the federal government--trickles down and shapes little--local--government in its image."  Advisory Neighborhood Commissions are both a benefit and a bane to local participation.  It's great that neighborhoods have a right to weigh in on matters before DC government through ANCs.  On the other hand, people end up believing that even the minutest matters have to be taken care of by government rather than ourselves.

But DC has a couple of interesting civic initiatives underweigh that are a kind of government-civic partnership.

1.  Love Your Block DC, a program by the Serve DC volunteer unit of the Executive Branch, offers grants of up to $1,000 to support independent civic initiatives focused on micro-neighborhood improvements.

Unfortunately, they don't make a downloadable application fully available--it's set up to be read and filled out page-by-page online and you can't read the whole thing first.  So I can't tell you the application due date.

(P.S. one of my examples about re-figuring how city offices ostensibly focused on engaging with the public is the Serve DC program.  I think offices like this should be based in the Main Branch of the Central Library, and open on those hours, rather than more traditional "business" hours, and located in less accessible government buildings.)

2.  I have been remiss in not writing about the Age-Friendly DC Block by Block Walk initiative.   Trainings preceded the March 20th launch of the program, which lasts til the end of the month.  The intent is to walk every block in the city " to help identify neighborhood assets and issues needing attention, particularly through the lens of residents, workers, and visitors 60 and older."

I think the main effort is a walkability audit, which frankly, ought to be done throughout the city, as part of sustainable mobility and community development planning anyway.  The kinds of things they are looking to record (see graphic) are the kinds of things that ought to be recorded anyway, such as in a neighborhood audit (cf. the 2007 entry "Systematic neighborhood engagement").

And it's the flip side of a point made in Safe Routes to Schools programs (and in my entry "Night-time safety: rethinking lighting in the context of a walking community") that these programs of developing and promoting safe walking routes benefit all residents, not just schoolchildren.

I think about these issues more and more as I age, don't see as well, don't hear as well (yes, young'uns, it will happen to you too, soon enough you realize that you are not perpetually 18 years of age).  I think about it a lot vis-a-vis Suzanne's parents, when we take them on transit or watch them drive in areas they are unfamiliar with.  So this is an important initiative too.

... but I doubt this initiative will do separate day time and night time walks.

3. And then there are some interesting projects locally and elsewhere, which also exemplify civic initiative, some involving local government and some not.

Before and after of a 2013 Paint Ypsilanti project.

In Ypsilanti, Michigan (it's next to Ann Arbor), the "Paint Ypsilanti" project ("Paint Ypsilanti project looking to expand after successful launch," Ypsilanti Courier) is not unlike Rebuilding Together's focus on housing improvement and repair for low income households or the HGTV show "Curb Appeal: The Block," where they fix up a house on a block but then also do some other smaller for other houses on the same block, to maximize the impact.

From the website:
 "Paint Ypsilanti is founded on the simple premise that we want to increase the vibrancy of our neighborhoods by providing assistance to residents unable to keep up financially and/or physically with the maintenance for their homes.  After completing a successful pilot project in 2013, the program has plans to expand and hopes to provide paint, landscaping materials and labor for 20 project recipients in 2014."
In Brookings, South Dakota, presentation consultant Robert Yapp is leading three different workshops (painting historic houses, exterior wood repair, window repair and weatherization) that involve fixing up particular houses as a form of training--I expect that the buildings getting the extra attention are owned by people of limited means. 

See the press release, "BOB YAPP HISTORIC PRESERVATION WORKSHOPS - May 1-3, 2014," from the city website.  Brookings has a strong historic preservation and Main Street commercial district revitalization programs, which are about promoting civic health as well as economic development.

Note that these kinds of programs exemplify the point made by Rolf Goetze in Building Neighborhood Confidence that the point of government assistance for community development and revitalization isn't to make the residents dependent on the municipality, it's to provide a push and confirm to people that the community is worth staying in and investing in.

4.  Locally, Mount Rainer, Maryland is sponsoring their annual "Better Block" initiative, on Friday April 25th. From the press release:
April 25th from 6 – 10 pm, the Mount Rainier Circle and intersecting streets of Rhode Island Avenue and 34th street will come alive for one evening of music, workshops, parade, performances, open studios, arts activities, and more. This year, creative placemaking activities will feature Lesole’s Dance Project, Urban Eats Arts and Music Café, Adinkra Cultural Arts Studio, Beloved Community Mosaics, artist Kenny George and Patrick McDonough’s Chard/Hops spot, a Hoop Jam by Noelle Powers to the body rollin’ tunes of BOOMscat, an open studio at Ani Kasten Ceramics, a pop-up exhibition by Krista Schlyer and family crafts with Community Forklift.
For more information:

-- Art Lives Here placemaking initiative
-- Gateway Arts District, in Mount Rainier, Brentwood, North Brentwood, Hyattsville, Maryland

Labels: , , , , , ,

More on the proposed splitting up of DC's Dept. of Transportation by DC City Council

Today's Washington Post has a piece on the matter discussed in the past few entries, "Rival bureaucracies are not the way to manage traffic congestion in Washington, D.C.," and it quotes me--more succinctly than the three blog entries.  From the article:
“Council members do ‘ready, fire, aim’ all the time,” said Richard Layman, author of the blog Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space. DDOT needs to be reviewed and evaluated, he said, but “a unified agency is required, with a solid master plan.”

“Parking functions need to be consolidated, but within DDOT,” he said. “I’d even consider adding the traffic enforcement unit of the police department.”

Spinning off parking functions into their own agency might address the widespread frustration with confusing street signs that don’t match the meters. But, as Layman pointed out, there’s a downside: “A parking agency as Cheh recommends would privilege motor vehicle use of the public space for car storage.”
It gives me the excuse to do a very brief followup.

First, I have to reconsider the previous blog entry and list seven cities, not five, as peer cities for comparison purposes in terms of the organization of transportation functions and the delivery of transportation services:  London, New York City, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, Toronto.  That's seven and I listed five. 

Portland and New York City, even though they are outliers for different reasons, should be included because of how the departments are organized and what they do, regardless of physical size, population and other somewhat extraneous factors.

Second, I should have pointed out more clearly that the reason that taxi services haven't been regulated by transportation departments is that most cities started out with streets departments focused on building and maintaining roads.  It wasn't in their DNA to think about transportation more holistically.  So taxi regulation was handled by a different unit of government.  It's only as agencies reconceptualized their responsibilities more broadly--like with parking--have multiple functions begun to be consolidated within a single agency.

Third, with regard to the wacky DC City Council proposal, the basic point is that the best practice transportation agencies--London, New York City, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle--are consolidating transportation functions, not parceling them out to different departments.

And the f*ed politics in Philadelphia and Toronto that get in the way of those cities and how they are managing and executing their transportation functions ought to be something that DC's elected officials and stakeholders consider very carefully before moving further along on this slippery slope of bad policy.

Fourth, reiterating the importance of streets to placemaking and community identity, NotionsCapital calls our attention a Slate article, "How cars conquered the American City and how we can win it back," featuring John Massengale, co-author of Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns (they used one of my photos in the book).   From the article:
"Part instruction manual, part history, part manifesto, the book argues that it is the street, more than anything, that shapes the city. In traveling to cities around the world and interviewing residents, pedestrians and businesspeople, Dover and Massengale found a remarkable degree of agreement about which streets are nice and which are not. “If there is so much consensus on what makes a good street,” they ask, “then why are we still building so many bad and ugly ones?”

Again, putting streets into a separate agency from "sustainable transportation" is nonsensical. Either do what SFMTA did, which is make over the "streets" department into a division concerned not just with throughput but quality of life (there the division is called "Livable Streets") or do what TfL did and put non-rail transportation into one department called "Surface Transportation."

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, April 11, 2014

How other cities deliver transportation functions (Part 3 of the series, Proposed changes to DC's transportation agency structure as another example of acting without solid planning)

I woke up realizing I should/could have written more extensively about peer cities when it comes to comparing and contrasting how transportation functions are delivered within DC.

DC is unique across North America in that it is a city-state, and while a city, it is not subsidiary to state or county regulatory and legal requirements concerning the delivery of public services.  In theory, this provides to the city an incredible opportunity to be innovative in all of its governmental functions and services, including transportation.

The two previous entries used San Francisco and London as the best examples of peer cities for comparison purposes.  I still stand by that, but would also include Philadelphia, Seattle and Toronto.  So those cities are the best examples although not necessarily best practice, but other communities are still worth a look for comparison purposes.

New York City isn't included, but it's a judgement call.  Its situation is most comparable to DC in terms of the level of control that the city has over its street and transportation planning, while most of the city's transit services are provided by other agencies.  But it is so much bigger than DC--NYC is 302 square miles of land plus another 160 square miles of water and has 8.337 million residents--that most people will get hung up on the size and density differences, rather than focus on how the respective agencies are organized and how they function.

I would argue that by proposing a separate sustainable transportation agency, a separate parking agency, and a separate streets (transportation) agency, DC City Council Bill B20-0759,  Transportation Reorganization Act of 2014 is a major step backwards in municipal best practice as it relates to the delivery and integration of transportation services and functions.

Most communities run streets, biking, and walking within one agency.  Parking is usually separate.  The bulk of transit services are usually provided by a different agency run at the state or regional level.  Transportation planning may be handled by the transportation department or by the planning department.  If transportation planning is handled by an agency also containing land use planning responsibilities, usually transit planning is handled separately.  In a couple places, such as Minneapolis, the transit agency is run by the Metropolitan Planning Organization, but that is extremely rare.

If transit services cross state lines, mostly they are delivered by separate authorities that are state-based.  If transit services cross city-county lines, they may be delivered by different agencies.

Parking.  Because of how government accounting systems are set up and parking generates revenue, it is called an "enterprise" activity or "enterprise fund," and most cities and counties that run parking lots, structures, and meters organize these activities in a separate department--in Maryland parking is one of the activities within "Revenue Authorities," which may run other "enterprise" activities, like golf courses. 

Chicago and Indianapolis, to raise money or for ideological reasons, have sold off the city's parking concession on long term leases. 

Most cities charge a parking tax on commercial parking, at a rate which is typically higher than regular sales tax.  The revenues typically go into the general fund.  (In DC, parking taxes are used to pay off the bonds for the Convention Center.)

So the number of cities that integrate parking with other transportation functions is more limited for historical reasons, and  the organizational structures are very difficult to change.  With the exception of communities that have been influenced by the work of UCLA Professor Donald Shoup, most municipal parking authorities are not particularly innovative.  Separating parking from DDOT would be a step backwards.

Transit.  Because transit is usually delivered at the metropolitan scale and because it is beyond the funding capacity of even comparatively wealthy cities, with two significant exceptions--San Francisco and Toronto--most city transit services in the US and Canada are provided by county, regional, or state authorities.

Advertising in the public space.  For the most part, this hasn't come up in the context of the proposed reorganization, but from the standpoint of comprehensiveness could be addressed.  Like how most cities have separate parking agencies, most cities contract the sales of advertising in the public space separately from transportation, and the money goes into the general fund.  In return for advertising, the city receives street furniture, mostly bus shelters.  In New York City, this includes bus shelters, some information kiosks, news stands, some public toilets, and some covered bike parking (repurposed bus shelters).

Some cities, such as Baltimore, do not allow advertising within the public space.

However, these contracts are usually pretty restrictive, limiting the opportunity for integration and innovation because without exception the contracts have not been written to allow for changes as opportunities develop, such as digital advertising.  And most cities haven't been too good at tracking the revenue, especially if they are to receive royalties rather than lump sum payments.  Contracting can also be subject to suasion and corruption and other issues.

Restrictive contracts that favor the vendor have prevented most cities from being able to include advertising as a revenue source within bike sharing systems, and is a major reason why bike sharing in Los Angeles has not launched.  Paris included the provision of bike share as a key element in its public space advertising contract.

Coordination of freight delivery.  We won't discuss it, but it's important, and under-addressed for the most part.

Taxis.  San Francisco and London are exceptions where taxi regulation is handled by the city transportation authority.  In most jurisdictions, taxi licensing and regulation is handled separately.  In some places it is well managed, especially in New York City, but often it is a regulatory backwater.

Not part of this series sort of, taxi innovation was discussed in a piece earlier in the week, "What a terrible idea: deregulating taxi fares in DC for mobile-based hails."

The five peer cities: London, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle and Toronto

San Francisco and London are the best examples of integrating all transportation services into one agency, including parking.  Seattle is a pretty good example of this, but while it provides some transit services--streetcar--most transit service is delivered by county or regional agencies.  Toronto is a good example of political meddling, limited budgets, and multiple city agencies delivering services in ways that at times are innovative, but aren't necessarily integrated and transformational, because they are not housed within a single agency.

Unlike San Francisco, Philadelphia isn't a good example of integrating transportation services at the city level, but is a good example of the creation of a cross-agency coordination program, the Mayor's Office of Transportation and Utilities in a situation where it is very difficult to reorganize government agencies and functions in a comprehensive way.

In London, transportation operates at the metropolitan scale, and Transport for London runs everything--streets, parking, taxis, transit, etc.--but the railroad system, including subways, but even certain railroad services do involve TfL, because it works better because of TfL's expertise in marketing, operations, and fare media.  However, while the agency runs the subway system, other transit services are delivered on a contract basis by private operators, even though the services all use the TfL brand.  The boroughs also have significant input into streets matters.  The Oyster fare card can be used on most transit services, with some exceptions for railroad service.

London Cyclist Campaign is one of the best cycling advocacy groups in the West, and they have an extensive ward-based cycling promotion and advocacy program.  But they are assisted by Sustrans and various city and borough advocates.  The London Cycle Design Manual is one of the best (I relied upon it when I was doing planning in Baltimore County).  They have bike sharing, called Barclays Cycle Hire, etc.

Philadelphia is a city-county 141 square miles in size (more than double the size of DC) with 1.5 million residents.  It doesn't run any of its transit services.  Within the city they are handled by SEPTA, a regional agency serving Philadelphia with bus, streetcar, subway, and commuter railroad services.  The city is also served by NJ Transit, PATCO, and Amtrak.  The city is hurting financially and its transportation functions are distributed across a huge number of city agencies, including the Philadelphia International Airport.

The city has some great public spaces but doesn't really stand out as an example of local level best practice in transportation at the scale of New York, San Francisco and Seattle, with a few exceptions, including the reinstitution of streetcar service on Girard Avenue in 2005.

What is most relevant to the DC situation is that while the city still delivers services through a variety of agencies, including the Philadelphia Parking Authority, Mayor Michael Nutter created a new unit, the Mayor's Office for Transportation and Utilities, headed up by a deputy mayor, to begin the difficult process of coordinating the agencies and making their policies, practices, and operations more congruent.  From the MOTU website:
Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) was charged with building a shared vision and coordinating decision-making among agencies and departments - Streets, Commerce, Public Property, Traffic Police, City Planning, the School District, Parks and Recreation, the Airport, the waterfront and port agencies, SEPTA, PATCO, PennDOT, Amtrak, and DVRPC in order to save money and improve conditions throughout the City’s transportation system. 
The other exception is that the city has some great "public-private partnerships" and civic groups.  The Center City Business Improvement District is one of the best BIDs in the country and it has pushed forward Philadelphia's public space planning and improvement program, including wayfinding signage, street furniture improvements, and transit history interpretation.   The University City District is working similarly in its area of interest, which includes the 30th Street Station, and there are many interesting public space improvements happening there.  The city's Mural Arts Program is a national best practice which adds value to the public spaces across the city.  The Design Advocacy Group works with neighborhood groups on public space and land use planning initiatives.  And these are only some of the examples of the great non-governmental programs that operate there.

San Francisco has organized its transportation functions, including transit and parking, into one agency, called the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.  San Franciscans always complain about the system, vociferously, but I think it's pretty remarkable.  The agency's placemaking programs are very good and the city is particularly innovative now with parking policy.  Note that bike sharing is delivered through a multi-jurisdictional program not unlike how bike sharing operates in the DC region.  Bridges are run by a regional authority as is the Caltrain commuter railroad.

SF is unusual in that the city runs an extensive transit system--MUNI includes bus, light rail, streetcars, and cable cars--that operates only within the city, called MUNI, which is separate from the BART heavy rail system that operates at the regional scale, with 8 of the system's 44 stations serving San Francisco.

By comparison, Chicago, Montreal, New York City, Philadelphia, and Toronto also have extensive transit systems that mostly operate only or mostly within the city limits, but except for Toronto, those transit systems are run by state or regional authorities.

(San Francisco's heritage streetcar operation has influenced the proposal I made for a similar kind of operation on DC's National Mall.  See "A National Mall-focused heritage (replica) streetcar service to serve visitors is a way bigger idea than a parking garage under the Mall.")

BART and MUNI don't have integrated fare media systems, although the region has developed an integrated fare card system with the intent of full integration.

Left:  Port-a-park: A temporary park was set up in a parking space on Mission Street by Rebar, an art collective. The group declared Sept. 21 "Park(ing) Day" and installed this temporary park in a parking space on Mission St. in downtown San Francisco, CA. The group moved the park to several different parking spaces throughout the day. San Francisco Chronicle photo by Laura Morton

San Francisco is also where in 2006 the Re:Bar design collective innovated the concept of the "parklet," as a way to challenge how people conceive of public space and parking spaces in terms of quality of place.  What distinguishes the SFMTA is that the parklet initiative led to a significant reconceptualization of how the city deals with public space and streetscapes, and the Livable Streets program developed out of the parklet initiative. 


Re:bar isn't the only vital civic-advocacy group either, SF Planning and Urban Research Association is an important group and there are many others.

Seattle controls most local transportation matters including parking within the Seattle DOT, but other than streetcar, land-based transit is provided by two different agencies, King County Transit for buses and Sound Transit for light rail and railroad commuter service. The State of Washington delivers most ferry services, with a couple of exceptions.

The city is better than most at integrating land use and transportation planning and is very active in expanding biking and livability infrastructure, and streetcars, while Sound Transit is expanding light rail service.  The city's parking policies and planning are particularly innovative.  The Orca fare media system can be used on all of the different transit systems (Sound Transit, King County, Seattle, Washington State Ferries).


The Feet First citizen group is a national best practice example of walking promotion, integrating mapping into planning and walking and biking promotion, Safe Routes to School development, etc.  The State of Washington's requirements concerning Safe Routes to School planning means that Seattle is way ahead of most cities when it comes to SRTS initiatives.  

Like San Francisco, Seattle has been a pioneer in "right-sizing" parking requirements within building regulations, eliminating parking minimums in the Downtown area in the 1990s and extending similar requirements to transit station zones and "urban villages" in 2006.

Toronto is so f***ed up right now in terms of its local politics, especially all matters concerning transportation in particular the management of the city transit agency, planning for transit expansion, and bike policy and infrastructure, but it does run its city transit agency along with other transportation matters, including parking, and has an incredibly robust planning department.   The city transit agency is run separately from other transportation and planning departments.  The Mayor is pro-car and had bicycle lanes removed from some city streets and the expansion of biking infrastructure has stalled.

Toronto charges significantly more for street parking permits than any other jurisdiction in North America.  Recently, the transit authority took control of the bike sharing system and contracted out its day-to-day operations.

The city is an amalgam of city and suburbs and delivering transit service to the suburbs within the City of Toronto has created various problems.  The cost of expanding Toronto's heavy rail transit infrastructure is so expensive that the province will become more directly involved in financing.  Road and railroad commuter services are provided by a provincial agency for the region, called Metrolinx.  The fare media system used in Greater Toronto is run by Metrolinx and can be used in multiple jurisdictions across Ontario.


Bike and pedestrian planning in Toronto is very good.  The city's guidance on bicycle parking is amongst the best in North America, as is the Toronto Walking Strategy.  The city's "BUG" program provides small grants to "Bicycle User Groups."  Cycle Toronto probably has the best "ward-based" initiatives (organized at the Council District scale) of any such group in North America.  

The Toronto Centre for Active Transportation deserves a shout out too as does the Spacing Collective, which focuses on public space matters of all types.

Other jurisdictions worth studying but they aren't necessarily full peers


I would write about Arlington County, Virginia if I hadn't done so much writing previously about their best practice transportation planning and programming initiatives...

In Baltimore, parking is managed by the separate City Parking Authority, most transit services (bus, light rail, subway, railroad) are run by a state agency, the Maryland Transit Administration, and the local Transportation Department handles an intra-city bus service called the Circulator, planning, and all street-related matters, even for what are "state roads"--the major arterials that usually connect communities across jurisdictional lines--which would normally be managed by the State Highway Administration anywhere else in the state.  

The Circulator bus service is free, and is funded through a city tax on parking.  The Charm Card transit media is a version of the DC metropolitan area's SmarTrip card, so it works on most transit services in DC and Baltimore, except for railroad passenger services.

Most of Boston's transit service is delivered by a regional agency, but the city has a robust bike infrastructure and programming initiative separately branded as Boston Bikes, and is the major player in the regional bike sharing system, called Hubway.  The director, Nicole Freedman, has pioneered important equity initiatives.  

WalkBoston, a citizen advocacy group, is a national leader in pedestrian advocacy.  The city has decent enough transportation planning, and other public space improvement initiatives.  But it is Boston Bikes that really stands out.

In Chicago, the Daley Administration sold off (on a multi-decade lease) municipal parking structures and street parking meters to get some quick cash to balance the budget and it has been a disaster, costing the city as much as $1 billion or more in lost revenue and angering residents.

A regional-state agency runs all transit within the city and region, organized in three different agencies, one for Chicago, one for railroad service, and one for suburban bus service.  Heavy rail service is mostly limited to Chicago.  The city runs the streets, including biking and walking and is extremely short of money for transportation infrastructure, but has been very much focused on bicycle infrastructure expansion and pedestrian safety improvements under Mayor Emanuel.  The city has considering licensing sponsorships of prominent infrastructure like bridges, to raise cash.  The transit media card doesn't work on railroad passenger services, but does work on city and suburban bus and rapid transit.  The city also owns and operates O'Hare and Midway Airports.  


Former Mayor Richard Daley was a strong supporter of biking and public space improvements, including the creation of Millennium Park.  The Active Transportation Alliance addresses all forms of sustainable mobility.

Hoboken, New Jersey is across the Hudson River from New York City.  It's only two square miles, has 50,000 residents, but they are doing very innovative work on sustainable transportation and parking policy.  Taxi services are handled by an agency separate from the Parking and Transportation department. The waterfront trail is run by the Hudson River Waterfront Conservancy.  The city runs an intra-city bus shuttle system ("The Hop") but inter-jurisdictional transit services are provided by either NJ Transit or the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.


Hoboken has the highest public transportation use of any city in the United States. Hoboken Terminal is served by six New Jersey Transit railroad lines which terminate at Hoboken Terminal, with private ferry service and the PATH subway system providing service to Manhattan.  PATH connects to Jersey City, Harrison, and Newark on another line. The Hudson-Bergen Light Rail has three stations in Hoboken out of 24 total and NJ Transit offers bus services.

One way where the city has been very innovative is their use of car sharing as a way to reduce parking demand and manage street parking inventory (past blog entry, "Car sharing as a method for managing the demand for on-street parking: Hoboken, New Jersey").  The city tested bike sharing and will expand this into a program with Hudson County and other municipalities.

If the NYC Transit 7 line were extended to New Jersey, Hoboken could possibly get a subway station that connects to the NYC Transit system.

New Jersey Transit does not have an integrated transit media program with New York State's MTA, and the NYC Transit Metro Card doesn't work with the MTA railroad services, although there are some functions that work on the PATH system.

Minneapolis is also a great example on many levels.  Transit is provided by the Metropolitan Council, the regional metropolitan planning organization tasked by the US DOT for transportation planning, and the city is benefiting from an expanding light rail system, bus rapid transit initiatives, great bike and walking promotion initiatives, including a safe routes to school plan for the entire city.  The city has one of the highest numbers of bike commuters in the US and an extensive trail network.

Minneapolis and St. Paul benefited from a special non-motorized transportation grant program from US DOT when James OBerstar was in Congress, St. Paul is pursuing streetcar service, the main train station is getting Amtrask service again, and the city soon will be served by light rail connecting to Minneapolis.  The Twin Cities has many great civic and nonprofit groups including Transit for Livable Communities and Twin Cities Streets for People.  Right now, they have a pathbreaking program working to integrate equity initiatives into the new light rail program.

Montreal
is much larger than DC in population and size and its transit agency operates mostly within the city of Montreal, but is a division of the regional transportation agency.  The city is organized as boroughs, and transportation services are delivered at both the city and borough scales.  The Plateau-Mont Royal borough is particularly committed to sustainable transportation policy and practice.  

The transit authority runs subway and bus services, has many innovative programs linking sustainable modes, such as transit passes that include car sharing and bike sharing memberships.  A separate agency runs the railroad system, which has many lines and many stops within Montreal not only located downtown.  STM is also integrating a variety of incentive and discount programs into its transit card program, which appears to be unique ("Cloud-based analytics keeps Montreal's buses full and ridership growing," Government Computing News).

Montreal has one of the best bicycle promotion programs in North America and the most extensive network of cycle tracks of any city.  They benefit from good research by engineering and transportation professors at McGill University also (something mostly lacking in DC, even though DDOT funds transportation research at Howard University).

Through its separate parking authority, the city innovated at a global scale, creating the modern system of bike sharing using solar powered kiosks, although being a division of a government agency ended up being the downfall of the bike sharing group because its financing requirements couldn't be met by the municipal financing system, and the Province of Quebec ruled that it was illegal for the City of Montreal to fund the technology development and sales arms of the organization.

Montreal was one of the first major cities in North America to introduce a motor vehicle speed reduction program comparable to the program in Graz, Austria, although implementation varies by borough.


Left:  Catchment area of public transit stops for pedestrians and cyclists.  From Planning and Design for Pedestrians and Cyclists: A Technical Guide, published by VeloQuebec. 

And VeloQuebec, the provincial advocacy group, has its headquarters on a busy cycle track in Montreal, and spurred the development of cycle path networks throughout the province, has an active research and publishing program, including a thick monthly magazine, and promotes bike tourism throughout the province also.

New York City, has the highest rate of walking and transit use and the lowest per capita energy and gasoline use in the US and biking is rising as well.

All transit except ferries, is delivered mostly by the Metropolitan Transportation Agency, which runs most cross-borough bridges and tunnels too.  Heavy rail and bus services in the city are delivered by the New York City Transit Authority, which runs the subway system, a separate railway on Staten Island, and bus services within and between the boroughs.  Two different MTA railroad agencies serve mostly suburban commuters but also provide some service within the city. A different state agency, the Port Authority, controls some other bridges and runs a subway service between Newark, Hoboken, and Manhattan and runs the inter-city bus terminal (and the major airports).  NJ Transit provides railroad and bus service to Manhattan, and Amtrak is used for commuting purposes also.  

The Staten Island Ferry is run by the city Dept. of Transportation while most of the other ferry services are provided by private contractors.


Left: a Neighborhood slow zone with 20 mph speed limits in Brooklyn's Carroll Gardens neighborhood.  Generally, the posted speed limit in NYC is 30 mph.

Streets, including parking, biking, and walking matters, are run by the city's transportation department.  


Under former mayor Michael Bloomberg, NYC's transportation function has focused on improving the quality of place in transformational ways, which has culminated in massive expansion in biking infrastructure, the launch of a bike sharing program, the creation of the Neighborhood Slow Zone traffic calming program, and tremendous public space expansion, improvement, and road diet initiatives including along Broadway and in Times Square, but across the city, and a variety of innovative public programs including "Sunday Streets" road closure programs in Manhattan and Brooklyn.   

New wayfinding information systems are being launched and a variety of public-private initiatives, including the High Line park, have delivered high quality public spaces to NYC residents and visitors.  The city has also published various best practice manuals on urban design and active living design.

Taxi services are regulated by a separate Taxi and Limousine Commission which has a robust research capacity.  The city's taxis were amongst the first in the nation to require credit card access with integrated tourist information tablets.

Right:  Edison Parking billboard near the High Lane in the Chelsea District of Manhattan. 

While the city runs some off-street parking operations, the majority of off-street parking is privately owned and managed.  NYC doesn't require residential parking permits for on street residential parking, but limited parking inventory helps to restrict demand.

And of course, Transportation Alternatives is a national best practice example of a sustainable transportation advocacy group, but there are so many other initiatives active in the city that are great.  TA has some borough based initiatives as well but not as extensive as those by groups in Toronto and London.

New York City is also an important example because its adoption of transformational transportation practices has been anything but painless.  First, the State Assembly denied the city the ability to impose a congestion charge for vehicles entering Manhattan, in part because suburban and outer borough residents have more representation in the Assembly than residents in the core--NYC has similar urban and suburban dynamics within the city as does DC.

Protesting against the Prospect Park West cycle track in Brooklyn.  WNYC image ("Residents Prepare Lawsuit on Brooklyn Bike Lane").

Second, many bike infrastructure initiatives have met opposition by Community Boards and other stakeholders.  For example, some residents (goosed by a former Transportation Commissioner) sued the city over the creation of the Prospect Park West cycle track, even after the DOT demonstrated that the lane helped reduce accidents.  The opponents lost, but it still demonstrates that the forces of automobility are ever present. 

There was some opposition to the public space expansion initiatives along Broadway in Manhattan which came at the expense of roadway, but the improvements garnered wide support and opposition quietened, especially as some businesses experienced increases in revenue as a result ("Times Square Pedestrian Makeover going permanent," City Clock).

What is important to note through all of this that the Mayor didn't back down and kept supporting Janette Sadik-Khan, the Transportation Commissioner and the department's initiatives, and improvements kept moving forward and additional initiatives were launched.  

This is a big difference compared to DC, where City Council and the Mayor tend to fold in the face of opposition with regard to changes in parking and other transportation policies.


Pasadena, California doesn't provide transit services, but it's where Donald Shoup of UCLA innovated many of his ideas about how to handle street and off-street parking, to use revenues from parking for streetscape improvements, etc.  Like many of the independent cities in Los Angeles County, Pasadena is also innovative in how it handles improvements to biking and walking infrastructure, and can be a bit ahead of DC in terms of implementing best practice intersection treatments.  

Portland Oregon is an obvious example but it may turn some people off because it's so widely touted.  Portland still has a commissioner form of "city council," which combines executive, legislative, and some judicial functions.  The public safety commissioner also oversees the "Bureau of Transportation." This is separate from the Metro Council and the Tri-Met transit agency.

To start, we must note that despite all of Portland's great planning and initiatives, DC has much higher total practice of sustainable transportation modes--almost double the rate of Portland.  For that we have to acknowledge L'Enfant's Plan and the concentration of federal government agencies and the transit benefit.  

Right: streetcar near Portland state University.  Photo by Miles Hochstein, Portland Ground.

But Portland is so much better than DC at being innovative.  Modern streetcars and the creation of an aerial tramway--both owned by the city but managed privately, separately from Tri-Met--are perhaps the best known projects.  

It all started with a decision to tear down a waterfront highway in the early 1970s and was soon followed by a pathbreaking Downtown Plan.  Portland continues to build on those pathbreaking decisions incrementally, so that "to be like Portland," requires a long term commitment, vision, and continuous improvement (the entry "A summary of my impressions of Portland Oregon" dates to 2005).

The continuous incremental improvements include developing a transit mall for buses (which can be somewhat hulking from a public space standpoint), improvements to public spaces like Pioneer Courthouse Square, launch of light rail in the mid-1980s, promotion of biking and walking, and sustainability, and great civic initiatives such as the Community Cycling Center of Portland, which has a variety of path breaking programs including support of biking by women and commuting by low income residents.  Of course, parking is handled by the City Department of Transportation.

While parking is handled by the Dept. of Transportation, one legacy of "government fund accounting" is that taxi services in Portland are managed by the "Revenue Department" of the Office of Management and Finance, which is under the Mayor.

And Portland's City Repair "street takeover program" preceded the tactical urbanism initiatives of Re:bar by 10 years since City Repair launched in 1996.
 
Orange County, California's Transportation Agency runs county transit (bus and paratransit only, no fixed rail), local roads--which can include pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, and highways including tolled roads and does some planning.  Parking is handled by separate cities located within the county and OCTA is one of the partners in the Metrolink railroad passenger service that links San Diego, Orange, and Los Angeles Counties.  Taxis are under a different agency, the Orange County Taxi Administration Program.

Savannah is a good example of linking parking and local transit services, especially for serving visitors.  See the past blog entry, "
Need for a comprehensive visitor transportation plan in DC."

Vancouver, British Columbia is similar to DC with about the same population (they have 603,000 residents) and size (they are 70 square miles including water, DC is about 62 square miles including water).  Like DC, most of Vancouver's transit services are delivered by a regional agency, TransLink.  It happens that TransLink has some of the best transportation planning functions of any metropolitan area in North America (their bike strategy and parking documents are the best!).


Even more vociferously than DC, residents prevented the extension of freeways into Vancouver City.  (DC has a couple freeways, but mostly prevented freeways from being built in the city.  Instead, the city's transportation budget for freeways went into WMATA.  See "End of the Roads" by Bob Levey and Jane Freundel Levey from the Washington Post Magazine, published in 2000.)

Most of Vancouver's non-transit transportation services, including parking, are handled by the City Dept. of Streets and Transportation.  But taxis falle under the police department.

Other programmatic best practices

Ciclavia tattoo, photo by Rosemary Zonni.

There are other specific programs deserving to be called out, for example, Los Angeles' CicLAvia program gets as many as 200,000 people coming out when they close streets for their quarterly events, but this entry is already long enough.

Labels: , , , , ,