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, June 23, 2017

MTA Baltimore running online ads promoting the BaltimoreLink service

I mentioned Baltimore's reconfiguration of its bus network earlier in the week ("Thinking systematically about bus transit service improvements"). While online today I noticed a clickable ad (obviously generated by cookies, since the website I was looking at was for an Indiana newspaper).

When you click on it, it takes you to a website, which while not graphically forward, provides you with information about new routes, by asking you to enter the number of the route you used to ride

There are at least two versions of the ad.  I didn't get a screenshot of the version that more directly uses the Baltimore CityLink name and logo.

When I worked for Baltimore County's Office of Planning, until I got "my Baltimore bike," I used to ride the bus up Greenmount Avenue/York Road to Towson for work. The line had the 48 QuickBus limited stop route (once we made the trip in 19 minutes!) and the 8 local route.

According to the website, it's now the CityLink Red route.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Words need to be followed by action: DC statehood edition

The Washington Post reports ("Can a change of titles make DC seem more stately? Ask Gov. Bowser.") on legislation put forth by DC Councilmember David Grosso on changing the names of the Mayor -- to Governor -- the City Council -- to the Legislative Assembly -- and Councilmembers -- to Representatives -- to have in place a better nomenclature to help make the argument that DC should be a state.

I've argued for a long long long time that "if you want to be a state, start acting like it, by being exemplary in all that you do in terms of governance and legislating."

We can call a Councilmember a Representative, but the city still mixes up capital budgeting in the annual appropriations process and Councilmembers take pride in cutting capital projects to fund current projects.

We waste hundreds of millions of dollars on constructing new buildings that aren't necessary or make poor use of existing facilities.

Or in not creating more innovative buildings and programs to serve the public better.

We claim we want to be "the most sustainable city in the US," but I find it hard to identify any programs (except one, by a semi-independent agency, see "How DC Water Is Using Recycled Sewage " Fortune Magazine) that function at the level of national best practice, let alone best practice on a global scale.

Instead we take great pride in slowly adopting programs that have been in place elsewhere for decades or more.

Among others, we still have serious issues with contracting ("D.C. Council report: Bowser administration favored top donor in contracting," Washington Post; and "How an Underperforming Company Won a Lucrative Energy Contract," Washington City Paper), electioneering ethics ("Council member Todd gets minor fine for many campaign finance violations," Post) and misuse of position ("Behind the DC school lottery scandal: A 'crisis in confidence '," Post).

Just because Illinois is being run into the ground ("Illinois' budget mess shackling growth," Bloomington Pantagraph) doesn't make DC a great candidate for statehood.

Statehood is both a right within the context of the United States and a privilege.  Territories had to meet conditions to become states, and that included sound governance.


A couple past entries on reforming local governance:

-- "Ideal Mayoral/City Council candidate campaign agenda: Getting Our City's S*** Together, 2012
-- "Incremental piecemeal fixes to DC politics and governance mostly don't help, 2013
-- "Outline for a proposed Ward-focused (DC) Councilmember campaign platform and agenda, 2015

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Two comments on national politics

The blog focuses on urbanism, placemaking, metropolitan and regional planning, transportation, and local governance, so I try to not comment on national politics except in how it impacts these matters, but two things are worth mentioning, because of how they are portrayed in the media.

1. The Special Elections, especially in Georgia, as a thermometer of support "for the Democrats" or "for President Trump."

If the special elections were in districts where Republicans had previously been elected on very close margins, it would be reasonable to say that they are good indicators for the tenor of the electorate. Plus they are elections run on a much shorter time line than the traditional election process.

The Kansas State Legislature is about 80% Republican, so expecting a Democrat to win in a special election, on a short time frame, is unrealistic. The same with Wyoming. Georgia may be a little different, but over the last couple decades, Georgia's Sixth Congressional District has been represented by pretty conservative guys, Newt Gingrich and Tom Price. Expecting it to flip was unrealistic. That Jon Ossoff did as well as he did sets him up to run again next year.

I do say that there are things to be learned from each of these elections, especially Georgia's since that is a district in a metropolitan area, which should be going "Democratic" in theory, but isn't.

cf. Jennifer Rubin's Washington Post blog entry, "Is victory in Georgia race of great consequence, or none?"

2. Making the Congressional Budget Office out to be a political animal against Republicans is about denying factual and objective research and analysis.

The New York Times reports ("Little known agency, striving for neutrality, finds itself under withering attack") on how Republicans are attacking the CBO for telling the truth about the impact of Republican proposals for changing health care, etc.

The CBO traditionally has been seen as a nonpartisan, objective, fact-driven organization. So why should Republicans not want such an organization to be seen as credible? Because they are pushing forward legislation that is mendacious and they want to be able to deny it ("CBO Has Clear Message About Losers in House Health Bill "NYT).

Remember the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment?

I finally understand, 20 years after the fact, why the Newt Gingrich led Congress abolished the OTA ("Bring Back the Office of Technology Assessment, NYT; and "The Much-Needed and Sane Congressional Office That Gingrich Killed Off and We Need Back," The Atlantic).

It's because Gingrich, despite having a PhD and being a college professor, wasn't favoring facts and knowledge, but ideology. An independent assessor of technology and science was seen as a threat, not a capacity builder.

The same is now true of the CBO. Hopefully, the same won't happen to the Congressional Research Office.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Thinking systematically about bus transit service improvements: spurred by Columbia SC, Edmonton AB, and Baltimore

Charging ports on new buses in Columbia, SC.  Photo: Tim Dominick, Columbia State newspaper.

The Columbia State reports ("This new Columbia ride is smoother, has Wi-Fi and lets you pay with an app") on new buses at the local  transit agency, the Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority, operating as Comet.  Getting new buses tends to be ordinary, not really newsworthy. 

But the new buses added to the fleet offer significant advances in on-board amenities and fare collection, so are an upgrade in terms of customer service too.

The buses have free to use wifi and charging ports, along with security cameras, and IT capabilities to capture real-time data about performance. The data will be used by transit operators to improve service, but will also be made available to riders, using an app called TransLoc (I think that's the app is used by the Go Transit services in Raleigh-Durham too).

Plus the fareboxes are outfitted to accept smartphone payment apps!

Wifi has been made available on buses for awhile, but for transit agencies, it's still a new service.  I haven't heard of charging ports being offered on buses, nor have I come across many examples of smartphone-enabled payment options at the farebox, so these are significant improvements.

The new buses are being paid for by a county sales tax add-on for transportation, which has been levied since 2012. It pays for transit (bus) and road improvements and expansion of a trail network.

A framework for bus service improvement.  It makes me realize while I discuss in so many ways how to improve bus service in the 2012 entry "Make Bus Service Sexy and More Equitable," a more robust framework is required to outline bus service improvements in a more systematic way.

This also comes up in the DC area as starting on Sunday June 25th bus fares increase simultaneously with many service cutbacks ("It's about to get more expensive to ride the bus," Washington Post).  And yesterday the Maryland Transit Administration launched its new BaltimoreLink reconceptualization of transit service in the Baltimore area ("Some bumps in the road for bus riders as BaltimoreLink hits city streets," Baltimore Sun).

Note that I haven't gotten around to reading this article from McKinsey, "The expanding role of design in creating an end-to-end customer experience."

Amenities inside the bus.  The changes in Columbia make me realize that I haven't thought about this enough in terms of improvements to the transit rider experience "inside the bus."  The 2012 entry mentions having bus system maps on the bus and maybe better accommodations for strollers/packages. But that's about it.

Branding-identity improvements.  The Columbia transit system, called the Comet, has a design forward bus livery and transit stop signage.   Transport for London has "product design managers" for the different "lines of business" such as "bus service."

-- "The Sign Design Society Event: Defining a City," designworkplan
-- Product design guidelines, Transport for London

From the presentation by Ivan Bennett, Design Manger for London Buses:
One reason other systems have failed is the lack of continuity. London bus stops extend beyond central areas and cover all routes in Greater London. Ivan indicated that passengers do not just want information about where they are travelling from, but when they get there, they need the same consistently presented information. People need information near their homes and local areas, not just in the centre of the city.
Central Midlands RTA 319

Bus shelter/bus stop improvements/bus transit stations. Many past entries discussed bus shelters but there are newer developments in bus shelters outside of public art expression and more along the lines of broader urban design and placemaking improvements to communities such as in the Jurong district of Singapore ("Jurong bus stop makes waiting fun,"Straits Times).

Features in the Jurong experimental bus stop, Singapore

Most transit stop signage is pretty dull.  The COMET system extends their "not boring" bus livery design to the signage at bus stops.
Central Midlands RTA Bus Stop Sign

Transit stations are another element of the mix, and exist at various sizes. In the DC area, there are a handful of bus-only transit stations.  Many rail transit stations also function as significant transfer points to bus service.

Fare equity.  I am embarrassed that most of my earlier entries on "transit wish lists" and the like didn't address making lower cost transit pass options for lower income households.  Many areas have special youth passes (DC and Montgomery County Maryland among them, more recently San Francisco, "Free Muni for low-income youth starts Friday," San Francisco Chronicle).

And San Francisco has had for awhile a specially priced transit pass for low income residents called the Lifeline Pass--it's half the price of the regular monthly pass.  More recently, Seattle has introduced a similar program called ORCA Lift, although it is per ride, but about half the cost of a regular fare ("Seattle Cuts Public Transportation Fares For Low-Income Commuters," NPR). 

The one thing I say about such fare pricing is that there should be funds provided locally for this subsidy, separate from the general appropriations for "transit service."

Edmonton Transit is introducing a new fare media system that like the Oyster card system in Greater London, can calculate "maximum fare costs for riders." London does it for riders who don't have weekly or monthly passes, but based on the cost of a daily transit pass.

In the case of Edmonton, for low income riders who can't afford to buy a monthly pass in advance, the "rate capper" will work over the course of an entire month, and once a rider pays in fares the equivalent of the cost of a monthly pass, the pass -- and "free" travel for the rest of the month kicks in ("New smart cards for Edmonton Transit boast a 'social justice' edge," Edmonton Journal).
From the article:
People with steady jobs and good paycheques are the most likely to buy a monthly pass. They have cash on hand at the beginning of the month.

Those who might need their last nickel just to keep the lights on are the most likely to pay cash for every trip. It means they pay $3.25 per ride, more money for the same service.

That’s one reason Ken Koropeski is excited about Smart Fare.

With a card and an online account, the system can track how many times a person uses transit during a 30-day period, said Koropeski, director of special projects for Edmonton Transit. No one would have to commit to a monthly pass on Day 1. Instead, the system could automatically track use and once the rider hits that monthly maximum, all other rides are free.

“When you have capping, it has inherent benefits for people with low income,” said Koropeski.
While the transit agency is adding the capability of "capping" to their fare media system, Council approval must be obtained before the program can be implemented.

Urban design and access improvements. The VIA transit agency in San Antonio incorporates urban design thinking into its strategic planning unit.

According to Christine Vina ("VIA urban planner wants to build a better San Antonio," San Antonio Express-News):
I don’t consider VIA “a bus company.” It’s a transit agency that connects people with places through sustainable transportation options. But that’s too long for a business card.

VIA’s Strategic Planning Division, for example, analyzes the projected transit needs of the community over the next five to 25 years and develops projects that respond to the need for transportation alternatives. This allows people to reduce their vehicle travel, and increase their options for living, working and playing — which provides the opportunity for an enhanced quality of life.

As an architect and urban planner, I manage VIA’s joint development and public art programs, so I’m fortunate to be able to work as a liaison to creative architects, landscape architects, planners, artists and developers who we contract with to design and build our capital projects. Through good design, we increase the value of the role our facilities play in contributing to the built environment.
Northgate Transit Station, Edmonton.  Photo by Tom Braid.

People are complaining in Edmonton that they have some great new transit stations, but the stations don't do much in the way of changing the mobility paradigm towards sustainability, that the stations extend the automobility paradigm because while they might look nice (public art treatments) access requires walking across many lanes of traffic, etc. ("Edmonton bus terminals fall short for pedestrians, says mayor," Edmonton Journal).  That's a matter of urban design and access.

Maps, schedules, real-time information, etc.  We can't forget the need to have printed products as well as online apps, real-time data at stations and stops, etc.  Many of these items are covered in my "critique" of the then newly opened akoma Langley Crossroads Transit Center from December 2016.

Transit network breadth and depth.  While listed last, this is the most important element.  I argue that network breadth, network depth, level of service (LOS) and level of quality (LOQ) standards and expectations should be produced by the area's "Metropolitan Planning Organization" separate from the transit agency or agencies.  That would mean the service footprint and standards would be set independently.

The King County Metro Transit (Washington State) Service Guidelines are a good model.

This is important because too often decisions are "satisficed" because of budget limitations.  That's an issue in the DC area, as service declines in Metrorail have resulted in lower ridership for both the rail and bus systems, which has reduced "farebox revenue" further stressing the system's finances.

But service cuts when not done judiciously, can further result in ridership declines.

Transit network legibility: differentiating between express; local; and high-frequency service.  Bus systems should reconfigure their service footprint every so often.  By defining the type of service--technically bus rapid transit is a form of high frequency service, but with limited stops, so it's a hybrid of express and high-frequency, but usually charged at a regular fare--and creating the right set of routes, ideally maximum ridership is achieved, accomplishing breadth, frequency, service, and quality goals and objectives.

A number of bus systems are implementing changes such as Richmond ("City to rethink GRTC routes, largely unchanged since trolley days," Richmond Times-Dispatch) and Baltimore. From the Baltimore Sunarticle:
Some people balked at the confusing changes, while others welcomed them. Everyone enjoyed the free rides being offered for the system's first two weeks. ...

BaltimoreLink is based around a dozen color-coded, high-frequency CityLink routes running every 10 minutes through downtown Baltimore, connected to less frequent LocalLink and weekday ExpressLink commuter buses.

The overhaul, the first re-routing of the system in decades, is designed to modernize routes and connect buses to where people go, whether it's jobs, entertainment or other transit. In addition to redesigning the routes, wrapping the buses in the Maryland flag colors and unveiling 5,000 new bus stop signs, the MTA added bus-only lanes and traffic-light sensors aboard buses to shorten red lights and extend green ones to get the buses more quickly through traffic congestion.
New transit service map for the City of Baltimore.

Transit prioritization on roadways.  As integrated into the new BaltimoreLink service, exclusive transitways, traffic signal control, and other methods help transit buses (and streetcars/light rail) move more quickly and better balance transit vehicles recognizing that they carry many more people. 

Exclusive bus lane in Downtown Baltimore.  Baltimore Sun photo.

Also see "MTA officials pull all-nighter for 3 a.m. launch of $135 million BaltimoreLink bus route overhaul" and "New MTA head Kevin Quinn: 'We're ready for launch' of BaltimoreLink," Baltimore Sun.

For example, in DC it has been a struggle to develop bus exclusive lanes, but on streets like 16th Street, Georgia Avenue, and H Street, buses carry 40% to 50% of the total people throughput.  On Georgia Avenue and H Street, about 300 bus runs move 15,000 people trips, while 20,000 motor vehicles move 20,000 to 25,000 people.

Toronto is prioritizing streetcar service on King Street--the line has 65,000+ daily riders--but not without some controvery ("Ford's costly streetcar study will just reveal the obvious," Toronto Star). 

Minneapolis is introducing urban design improvements to the Nicolett Transit Mall ("Nicollet Mall likely to reopen this fall after two years of work," Minneapolis Star-Tribune).

-- Nicolett Mall Project

Bus rapid transit, to meet the definition, is supposed to have exclusive rights of way.

Transit network: intra-district service.  I write about what I call the "tertiary" transit network of service within neighborhoods.  Other intra-district service like Circulators can be part of the primary or secondary transit networks of a community or metropolitan area ("Making the case for intra-city (vs. inter-city) transit planning").

While I tout the Tempe Orbit service as the premier example of intra-district multi-neighborhood bus service ("Earth Day and Intra-neighborhood transit"), Edmonton is discussing this kind of service in the context of providing better service to seniors ("Four ways to keep Edmonton seniors walking from transit." Edmonton Journal), albeit with a fare upcharge.  From the article:
Community buses

If the bus service focuses on main streets and express routes, transit officials say service inside neighbourhoods should focus on key destinations for people with mobility challenges. They’ll design a sample route to present to the urban planning committee with the larger changes June 7.

That will be critical, said Walters. Some residents in Lendrum were upset last September when service cuts to Routes 55 left them with no way to get to the neighbourhood strip mall.

But transit officials returned to ask residents which destinations are most important. The new changes, set to be rolled out this coming September, will reduce service to once an hour but cover more of the neighbourhood. It’s a good example of what’s possible.

In the future, a community bus ticket might cost extra because it’s a niche service requiring extra resources per rider, said Walters. But research out of the University of Alberta suggests many seniors are willing to pay, they just need the option.

“We’re encouraging these people to stay in their homes,” said Walters. “We need to have transportation options when they can no longer drive their own private vehicle.”
And I've discussed micro-transit services, particularly shuttles, as part of mobility services in commercial districts, aimed at getting people to park in parking structures so that street right of way can be used for purposes other than car storage ("Intra-neighborhood (tertiary) transit revisited because of new San Diego service").

Equity of access. Another element of transit service is equitable access. Outside of major cities, transit service is seen more as a form of social services for people who can't afford to own a car rather than as a preferred mobility choice and a way to manage optimal use of the road network.

Where services go, providing access to employment opportunities and other destinations, hours of operation, etc., may all involve questions of equity. The Federal Transit Administration has a process called Title VI to guide consideration of these matters by transit agencies.

Sometimes this is about providing service to suburban locations from cities, sometimes it has to do with whether or not a desired destination like a shopping center, will allow on-site access to transit vehicles, but most often it comes up with fares and service hours.

With regard to fares, I don't think that transit agencies should have to "keep fares low" in ways that harm the system's ability to be funded. But I do think that the "social service" function of transit--fares--as discussed above, needs to be funded from different sources than "transit," in recognition of the function and its importance.

WRT BaltimoreLink, note that some transit advocates and organizations argue that the new service footprint doesn't do enough when considered on equity grounds in terms of providing increased access to jobs. See the op-ed, "Is BaltimoreLink really better? Show us the data," from the Baltimore Sun.

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Toronto has a parking enforcement officer exclusively assigned to bike lanes

See the Toronto Star article, "Parking enforcement officer takes to Twitter — and two wheels — to zap bike lane invaders" and video.

This will have to be something I add to my "best practice" lists going forward ("Making cycling irresistible in DC 2.0 | Revisiting a post from 2008").

At a community meeting a couple weeks ago about extension of the Metropolitan Branch Trail in my neighborhood (I am on a neighborhood committee addressing "public works and infrastructure") I said that I am ok with Sunday parking in bike lanes as an accommodation to churches.

The director of Washington Area Bicyclist Association disagreed, saying that if there is an exception for one day, people will believe there is a dispensation to park in bike lanes at other times.

I can see that point, but as a way to assuage complaints from black churches about bike lanes ("Churches, community, religion and change), I think it's a reasonable step, especially as the lanes won't be blocked at other times.

And I think a Sunday exception is pretty understandable as an exception.

But in the process I realized that we don't seem to have "no parking bike lane" signs.  Although they are manufactured and easily available.

No Parking Bike Lane sign

And it wouldn't be hard to create a special sign for bike lanes around churches:

"no parking bike lane
except during Sunday church services
[listing specific hours of duration]"

My ability to "design" such a sign is limited by the options from an online sign generator, called My Parking Sign (they are a sign manufacturer).  It'd be nice to add info on what the fines are, etc.

No Parking Bike Lane sign: Except Sunday church services

Toronto Star video featuring Kyle Ashley of Toronto's Parking Enforcement unit

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Quote of the day: on what compels changes in law and regulation

From "Revealed: the tower block fire warnings that ministers ignored," a Guardian story about the Grenfell Tower fire disaster in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea:
“They seem to need a disaster to change regulations, rather than evidence and experience.

-- Ronnie King, Member of Parliament, a former chief fire officer and secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fire Safety
Unlike in the US, the UK doesn't require sprinklers in residential tower buildings.

Interestingly/1, I happened to come across a recent issue of Fire Protection, the magazine of the National Fire Protection Association, the professional standards and training organization. There are interesting articles there, including about how various incidents identify gaps in regulation and practice.

Interestingly/2, yesterday morning I got into an private email debate related to a historic preservation matter and the reality that individual houses under threat of demolition generally don't rise to the level of a historic landmark, so filing a nomination ultimately won't save such properties.

Someone sent me an email, criticizing me for being negative--I had responded on the HistoricWashington e-list concerning a matter in Bloomingdale. I responded to the email thusly:
It's not negative, it's focused on achieving the outcome you desire. If you submit a landmark nomination and lose, and knowing going in you have a less than 20% chance of winning, you've wasted hundreds of hours of time.

Better to focus your energies on ways you can win and achieve the outcomes you want.

Better to identify the need for remedies when they don't exist, as a way to move necessary structural changes forward.

It's also based on experience, going through a similar process -- trying to save pre-1877 frame rowhouses in the H St. neighborhood, filing a landmark nomination, and losing, because the houses didn't rise to the level of significance of an individual landmark, despite some famous associations [...].

Based on that experience, I (1) focus on identifying the structural changes necessary to achieve the outcomes we want and (2) don't file individual nominations for "single houses" when hundreds of other examples exist.

You can read the staff report on that particular case, but they use comparable language in other such cases. E.g. the Grant Circle house matter ("Historic Preservation Tuesday: 16 Grant Circle and the landscape of DC's avenues and circles as an element of the city's identity" and "Historic Preservation Tuesday: Grant Circle Historic District nomination, Thursday April 2nd").

They lost. So they moved to landmark a district, with all the buildings facing the circle.

You may recall I said the same thing then, that the individual landmark nomination wouldn't be sustained, and they followed my recommendation of seeking a district nomination, for which they were successful. But at the cost of the first house.

FWIW/1: there is the line that insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result.

FWIW/2, there is the line from Bismarck -- fools learn from experience, I prefer to profit from the experience of others.

Learn from the experience of people like me in failing to achieve landmark status for individual houses threatened by developers "arbitraging" the mass and density maximums that are allowable which differ from those typical of the time when the houses were constructed.

If we know that an individual landmark nomination won't sustain, then we need other options, which we currently do not have.

Which is why I'll be submitting some comp plan amendments, which won't pass but need to be out there, on mandatory design review and demolition protection.

... issues I've been raising for more than 10 years.
So the point about evidence and experience mattering but being ignored resonates.

This was the cover page of yesterday's edition of Canada's National Post.
National Post (Canada) Front Page, 6/17/2017, on the Grenfell Tower fire

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Saturday, June 17, 2017

Pittsburgh as a mixed use civic center but no residential

These postcards are pre-1967, because the Mellon Institute for Industrial Research merged with the Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1967. I bought the card because of the description on the back:

Civic Center, Pittsburgh, Pa., showing Mellon Institute in the foreground. This view shows a part of one of the most costly and impressive civic centers to be found anywhere.  From this point of view one looks down on universities, libraries, memorials, art galleries, auditoriums, music halls, hospitals, athletic fields -- and Carnegie Museum.  Along with all this, magnificent churches, theaters, and hotels.

FWIW, Jane Jacobs was critical of the creation of this district--separate from Downtown--in the discussion in Death and Life of Great American Cities, making the point that "mixed primary use" allows for shared parking and other efficiencies.

Postcard front, Pittsburgh Civic Center, no date (but before 1967)

Postcard back, Pittsburgh Civic Center


1966 Ford Falcon magazine ad: "The Economy Run to Suburbia"

Ford Falcon automobile ad: "Commuters: Exciting news about the Economy Run to Suburbia," c. 1966
Magazine source unknown.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Creating the Silver Spring/Montgomery County Arena and Recreation Center (+ and a roof-top athletic field?)

This blog entry expands on item #11, "Creating the Silver Spring/Montgomery County Arena and Recreation Center" from PL #5: Creating a Silver Spring "Sustainable Mobility District" | Part 3: Program items 10-18" as part of this series:

-- Setting the stage for the Purple Line light rail line to be an overwhelming success: Part 1 | simultaneously introduce improvements to other elements of the transit network
-- Part 2 |   the program (macro changes)
-- Part 3 |   influences
-- Part 4 |   Making over New Carrollton as a transit-centric urban center and Prince George's County's "New Downtown"
-- PL #5: Creating a Silver Spring "Sustainable Mobility District"
- 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"

-- Part 6 | Creating a transportation development authority in Montgomery and Prince George's County to effectuate placemaking, retail development, and housing programs in association with the Purple Line (to come)
-- Part 7 | Using the Purple Line to rebrand Montgomery and Prince George's Counties as Design Forward (to come)

Montgomery County has proposed creating an arena in the Silver Spring Triangle ("Montgomery eyes 5,000-seat sports arena for downtown Silver Spring," Washington Post).   

The article describes the preferred program:
The facility would be built either atop, or in place of, two county parking garages that straddle Bonifant Street east of the Silver Spring Metro station. The garages, which together have 1,772 spaces, are a prime parking spot for Red Line riders and people who work in downtown Silver Spring, a major job center.

The arena must be designed to serve as “the home of one or more minor league sports teams, with a semi-professional hockey organization as the preferred anchor tenant,” the request says. It also must be able to host high school, amateur and college sporting events, serve as a live entertainment venue, and provide space for exhibits and conventions.
-- REQUEST FOR DEVELOPMENT PROPOSALS For Public Parking Garage 5-55, 1100 and 1101 Bonifant Drive, Silver Spring, Maryland, Montgomery County Department of Transportation

There are plenty of concert facilities in DC especially with some in the suburbs, and a "small" concert hall in Silver Spring, the Fillmore, already, run by the nation's largest "chain" of concert facilities, Live Nation.  Montgomery County has a well respected concert hall for classical music, Strathmore, on Rockville Pike.

IMP, a local firm that is able to compete with national circuits, is opening a new facility on the DC waterfront ("Foo Fighters to open The Wharf's entertainment venue," Washington Business Journal).  From the article:
The $60 million concert hall, to be managed by 9:30 Club owner and entertainment company I.M.P. Inc., is The Wharf’s entertainment anchor. ... The Anthem can be configured for anywhere from 2,500 to 6,000 attendees, with a variety of seating and general admission and standing-room configurations. I.M.P. is using a movable stage and backdrops similar to the setup at 9:30 Club to accommodate shows of different sizes.
The County released an RFP for an arena but didn't receive responses ("Proposed Silver Spring Arena Fails To Generate Developer Interest," Bethesda Magazine).  I believe that the expectation that the private sector would want to take this on without significant subsidy is unrealistic, given the economic and use conditions presented.

That doesn't mean creating a public arena isn't important and worth doing, it is. 

What it means is that Montgomery County needs to be particularly creative in forging a forward path to realization.

And such a facility should achieve multiple goals and objectives while doing so.  For example, why not ensure that with its creation, an urban recreation center facility for a neighborhood is also included?

The district doesn't have a public recreation center, although there is a recreation center, Falcon Hall, at Montgomery College and a YMCA near the Beltway, a couple miles outside the Triangle.  Otherwise, Montgomery County has an extensive array of recreation centers, run by the Executive branch agency, the Department of Recreation. 

Note that most urban districts in the metropolitan area seem to lack a recreation-community center and it is an opportunity for Montgomery County to demonstrate better practice.

The original idea was to build an arena in place of some aged parking facilities.  That's still a decent idea, but I recommend a bigger, bolder (and more expensive) project.

1.  Build more than an arena, build a multi-purpose facility, including a recreation center.

Montgomery County is more aware of the possibilities presented by co-locating facilities run by different agencies as discussed in a report commissioned by the county a couple years ago:

-- Colocation White Paper, Montgomery County Department of Planning, MNCPPC

Montgomery College's recreation center at the Takoma Park-Silver Spring campus is obsolete and its replacement is one of the items within a current MC campus planning process.

Montgomery County's Department of Recreation has great, multi-purpose recreation centers but they are not always well located in terms of achieving the best possible economic and community revitalization objectives.  There is not a county recreation center within the Silver Spring district.

There are a number of examples of creative co-location.  The Idea Store in London's Tower Hamlets borough is a combination library-adult learning/workforce center, located in highly accessible areas rather than in poorly located de-accessioned buildings.

Another is the multi-purpose Drumbrae Library and Community Hub in Scotland ("Work begins on Drumbrae's new library, day care and youth cafe," Guardian).  It has a library, teen center, senior programs, and local government facilities.

The Bizkaia Arena for Bilbao's professional basketball team includes a community recreation center with a pool and other facilities.  Community members have access to the arena "gym" when not in use by the team (ACXT Architects, Bilbao Arena and Sports center, Archello).

The Kettler IcePlex in Arlington is a practice facility for the Washington Capitals hockey team, which is also used for college and high school hockey teams.

-- The Kettler Capitals Iceplex: A Creative Partnership, Arlington Economic Development

2.  Convene a group of public and private partners to develop a wide ranging program of events and a process for implementation, to realize both an arena and a recreation center.

One of my lines is that an RFP isn't a plan, it's a hope that a respondent will come up with a project that you can live with.  Without a plan, it's difficult to shape the best possible outcome, especially when the conditions aren't particularly favorable.

I'd recommend bringing together the Montgomery County Department of Recreation, the Montgomery County Parks Department (which is part of a separate agency), the Montgomery division of the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission), Montgomery College, a private music and events firm, Montgomery County Public Schools, and some professional and/or semi-professional sports team partners.

Only by developing a robust schedule of use may it be possible to build an arena facility that can be financially successful.  Success defined as (1) not losing much money; (2) meeting various community and public service needs; (3) with such a facility located within the county.

3.  Montgomery College as a lead partner for a recreation center and for the arena.

As mentioned, Montgomery College's Falcon Hall is obsolete. The 39,000 s.f. building was constructed in 1978, and includes a gym, pool, fitness areas, locker rooms, classrooms and offices.

While it is rare, some colleges have created facilities shared with localities.  The most prominent example is how the San Jose Central Library is co-located with the central library for San Jose State University, and residents can check out books and use the facilities of the college library. 

The concept here is to develop the recreation center use jointly with Montgomery College to create a recreation facility and an arena that can simultaneously serve the college and the community.

For marketing and student development purposes, it may be worth it for Montgomery College to develop a more wide ranging community college team sports program as an anchoring use for the arena.  Excepting football, the school has teams in major sports--basketball, soccer, and track for both women and men, and a women's volleyball team, already.

-- Montgomery College Athletics webpage

The College has successful cricket and chess teams operating as clubs.  Other community colleges have successful basketball and sometimes football programs, and relationships with four year colleges so that athletes can transfer.

Sports can be an effective way to reach students and forge for them an upward path ("Colleges Like Sarah Lawrence Are Putting Poets in Motion," New York Times). 

The New York Times recently featured a long piece on such a basketball program at the Manhattan campus of Berkeley College, a for-profit school ("How a 'Second Chance' College Produced the Team to Beat"). From the article:
But current and former players say their team’s success transcends basketball. They describe the program’s founder and coach, Chris Christiansen, 64, as a father figure who recruits young men who have often struggled elsewhere and helps them thrive in the classroom — and long after they leave Berkeley.

I call Berkeley ‘the second chance school,’” Hector Navarro, a former player, recently said. “They take kids who have no hope and give them some.”
 -- Athletics in Community Colleges, Community College Review
-- The Flutie Effect: How Athletic Success Boosts College Applications," Forbes Magazine
-- New Directions for Community Colleges, Volume 2009, Issue 147. Special Issue: Student Athletes and Athletics

4.  Urban recreation center concept.

As already mentioned, the Montgomery County Department of Recreation runs high quality multi-program recreation centers.  Working with the Parks Department (a separate agency and Montgomery College, a robust program for an urban recreation center can be developed, ideally incorporating broader community-serving elements as well, as a County function.

A recreation center isn't novel, it's just that as "downtowns" have become mixed use centers adding housing to the typical mix of commercial, retail, and civic functions, parks planning processes haven't caught up, and typically community recreation centers haven't been created within such districts.

Although, private fitness facilities and sometimes "legacy" YMCA/YWCA/YMHA/JCC facilities may exist--but increasingly have a difficult time being funded ("A new day: YMCA merger and revived programs breathe new life into Melrose facility, where membership dipped after scandal," Boston Globe; "Downtown YMCA to close amid rising competition from upscale gyms," Washington Post; "Downtown YWCA: closing," Washington City Paper).

Typically private fitness facilities have limited facilities, and not usually large gyms or pools, although sometimes special facilities not typically available in public facilities can be offered ("Eastbanc's Membership-Free Squash Facility Opening In DC," Bisnow).

Creating a "Downtown Silver Spring" recreation center is an opportunity to address that general omission, including gym facilities, a pool, indoor track, and other facilities.

-- "Provision of public services and recreational centers," 2009 blog entry

Besides Montgomery County's own experience with recreation centers, other examples of multifaceted recreation-community center facilities that can be used to create an even better model.

YMCA-Marblehead, Massachusetts. Seeing this article from the Boston Globe, albeit about a private facility, the YMCA in Marblehead, Massachusetts, shows the value of robust thinking and planning ("New YMCA dazzles and delights with bells, whistles, and ballet"). The new YMCA has a climbing wall, a wi-fi cafe, and ballet studios, among other facilities. Most capital improvement projects are generational--designed to last at least 30 years without significant change. So having the right planning process upfront is crucial to doing it right.

The just opened York Recreation Centre in Toronto ("A place out of no place: the new York Recreation Centre knits the city together by filling a gap: Already more than 10,000 people have signed up to use the centre which has been years in the making," Toronto Star) as another model.  It's a multi-faceted facility that is well located in the center of an intensifying suburban town center.

The York Centre offers some lessons in using public facilities to strengthen the sense of place, to leverage other public investments, such as in transit, fostering complementary development, and being located at the center of things rather than in peripheral locations. From the article:
Though a former “no place,” the site really is in the middle of things: at least three neighbourhoods surround it, more depending on how you define neighbourhood boundaries. It will also be a short walk away from the Mt. Dennis station on the Eglinton Crosstown LRT line. Currently under construction on the northwest side of the intersection, the station will be incorporated into the historic Kodak building there. ...

Though Eglinton and Black Creek will remain big and busy roads, car scaled rather than human, the centre will help knit the city together by filling in a gap. ...

Fenech describes the centre as a Swiss army knife: one building that does many things. During consultation the community said they also wanted a track, a pool gallery so parents could watch their kids swim, a dance studio and a music room. Change rooms are universal, meaning they are gender-neutral and have individual cubicles. There is light throughout, and the cars alternately speeding or idling on Black Creek are visible to people using the facilities, but the folks in those cars can also see all the action inside as the gym, pool and exercise room are lined with windows.

“You want to attract participants,” says Fenech of their open and “playful” design. “Centres like this used to be just a blank box. You can’t market and maximize participation if people can’t see in.”
I like the example of the Pounds Healthy Living Centre in Hampshire County, UK, although Montgomery County's recreation centers seem to have a similar set of facilities, based on my site visit to the recreation center in Long Branch, which is located next to the Long Branch Library. 

According to the report, CREATIVE RETURNS: The Economic and Social Impact of Cultural Investments in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, the Pounds Centre includes:
a branch library; Portsmouth City Council housing office; fully-equipped gym; sports halls; a ceramics workshop; workshop rooms; meeting rooms; incubation units for small businesses; a crèche; youth centre, community garden and a café. It is next to the newly built John Pounds Medical Centre and opposite the Portsea Venture Playground, a facility for the under-11s. Run by a Community Trust, the Centre aims to provide low-cost, accessible activities, primarily for the local population, that all fall under the broad theme of ‘healthy living’.
Arlington County, Virginia has an extensive co-location program.  The Thomas Jefferson Middle School is combined with a Community and Fitness Center with fitness facilities, arts studios and classrooms, a theater for a resident children's theatre company, and a large exposition hall -- a field house -- capable of supporting large events, track meets, roller derbies, etc.  The indoor program of the annual county fair is held in the field house and the parks department schedules regular roller skating programming.

4.  Montgomery County Public Schools could be a partner in the arena as a venue for teams and other uses.

Events could be scheduled at the arena facility and separate field house.

5.  For profit music and events.

Developing this segment of a total program will be tough.  A program that includes some concerts could be doable.

I talked with an music industry insider who thought that the area has plenty of existing facilities and not much in the way of "holes in the market," making the point that "if there were a good business case for this kind of concert facility, private sector firms would have submitted bids.  But we didn't."

A local events firm like IMP--which is based in Montgomery County, or national firms like SMG or Live Nation, could handle the management of the facility for concerts and other events.

But they are likely to be willing to do this as a contractor more than as a partner, given the large number of existing facilities across the region, some public or non-profit (Wolf Trap, centers at GMU and UMD, Lisner Auditorium at GWU, Constitution Hall, etc.) and others private (Verizon Center, 9:30 Club, Fillmore, Warner Theatre, etc.). 

Having a reputable firm with solid industry connections and experience is key, as the failure of the private management of DC's Lincoln Theatre is proving ("Howard Theatre insiders detail a chaotic operation, with bounced checks and unpaid vendors," Washington Post).

6.  Non-profit events.

One of the reasons that MoCo wants an arena is that they resent having to book official events like large high school graduations at facilities in DC.  This segment would need great marketing and management too, and nonprofit clients are unlikely to want to pay top dollar for rental fees.

Still, the use of the Silver Spring Civic Building for events as well as the use of the field house at Thomas Jefferson Center in Arlington prove that there could be demand for such a facility, not just for the "arena" but also for a field house (track +) that could be incorporated into the recreation center.

The trick will be charging for the use.  Nonprofits with tight budgets don't like to pay a lot of money for space use.  Although "subsidizing" use of the facility can be a legitimate public purpose, including "saving money" for other agencies, e.g., MCPS is paying to use Constitution Hall for graduation events, etc.

7.  Independent sports teams.

I have zero knowledge of this market segment, but there might be some opportunity, such as with development leagues in basketball, etc.   The original RFP specified including a minor league hockey team as part of the program.  The key would be to have as part of the management team a consultant with a lot of experience in this industry.

-- Sports Advisory Group

8.  Consider developing an athletic field on the roof of one of the Silver Spring parking garages, preferably the Town Square Parking Garage which brackets Ellsworth Avenue, the Silver Spring Civic Building, and Veterans Plaza, as an outdoor field that is another "entertainment" anchor for the district.

Separately from the proposed Arena-Recreation Center building, it might be worth or at the Montgomery College campus.  The Rash Field volleyball court in Baltimore is on the roof of a parking structure, while the football stadium at New Jersey's Union City High School is on the roof of the school, because the city is so dense ("In a Poor School District, a Magnificent New School (With Rooftop Stadium," New York Times).  From the article:
The stadium covers three acres in the center of one of New Jersey’s poorest school districts, resting on reinforced steel and concrete above two floors of classrooms. ... The total cost of the stadium was about $15 million, district officials said. Stanley M. Sanger, the superintendent, said the stadium had to be built on the roof because there was no open land available.
The football stadium is on the roof of Union City High School, New Jersey
The high school stadium at Union City High School in New Jersey is on the roof.  Photo from MaxPreps.

The Union City facility was built to accommodate football, soccer, and baseball, with seating for 2,200.  When not used for baseball, 1,800 additional seats can be set on part of the "outfield."

Such an offering would be a unique element in the entertainment and activity mix presented by Downtown Silver Spring.  A feasibility study would have to be performed, but it could be a cool addition to the core.

It seems like the block where Town Square Parking Garage (pictured below) is located would be big enough to accommodate this use.  And that would be the ideal location, alongside the pedestrianized Ellsworth Drive and across from the Veterans Plaza and Civic Building.
Garage 61 | Town Square Parking Garage, Silver Spring

9.  A garage-top tennis facility?

Since we're talking about a robust planning process and a "transformational projects action plan" for Silver Spring, an indoor tennis facility could also be considered, plopped on top of another parking structure. The YMCA Arlington Tennis & Squash Center is an indoor facility with 8 tennis courts and 2 squash courts. But it's "on the ground," not on top of a parking structure.

Tennis courts on top of a building in San Francisco
Tennis courts on top of a building in San Francisco.   Photo from High Beach.

Similarly, it might be less expensive to put a "field house" on top of another parking structure rather than to include it in the arena-recreation center footprint.

While the photo above shows a roof top facility open to the elements, I am thinking more of an indoor facility, perhaps one of those "tennis bubbles."
Tennis bubble, Stadium Tennis Center at Mill Pond Park, Bronx, New York City
Stadium Tennis Center at Mill Pond Park, Bronx, New York City. Photo: Tennis Grandstand.

According to the "rooftop portfolio" webpage of Classic Turf Company, they have:
worked with both private and public facilities to provide state-of-the-art rooftop sports surfaces including tennis and basketball & tennis courts, bocce ball courts and children’s play areas. We work closely with our clients to developed a customized facility design that meets their specific needs.
In any case, roof tops of parking garages are opportunities, as the Kettler IcePlex has already proved.

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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Map for the Silver Spring Sustainable Mobility District

This piece is the map entry of the series of Purple Line posts suggesting that making simultaneous improvements in the transit network and mobility system, spurred by the creation of the Purple Line light rail line, will improve the utility of the mobility network overall, further contributing to the success of the Purple Line at the outset.

-- Setting the stage for the Purple Line light rail line to be an overwhelming success: Part 1 | simultaneously introduce improvements to other elements of the transit network"
-- Part 2 |   the program (macro changes)
-- Part 3 |   influences
-- Part 4 |   Making over New Carrollton as a transit-centric urban center and Prince George's County's "New Downtown"
-- PL #5: Creating a Silver Spring "Sustainable Mobility District"
- 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"

-- Part 6 |  Creating a transportation development authority in Montgomery and Prince George's County to effectuate placemaking, retail development, and housing programs in association with the Purple Line (to come)
-- Part 7 | Using the Purple Line to rebrand Montgomery and Prince George's Counties as Design Forward (to come)

Downtown Silver Spring Map with suggested urban design improvements
Map for the proposed Silver Spring Sustainable Mobility District showing routing for cycletracks, pedestrian scramble intersections, and crosswalk improvements.

This map differs a bit from the recommendations in Part 2: Program items 1- 9 concerning enhanced crossings generally and Georgia Avenue specifically. 

Point #4 calls for creating pedestrian scramble intersections, but not so much a general approach to improving crosswalks overall, which is what the "enhanced" denotation is about--improving crossing conditions and urban design treatments whether or not a ped scramble is created.

First, I neglected to discuss Georgia Avenue in the series. Part of this is because it's a state road and changing elements of the street right of way requires negotiations with the Maryland State Highway Administration. The other is because I was focused on the light rail transit stations and the area around them. Nonetheless some urban design related changes should be made along Georgia Avenue too.

-- Main Street: When a Highway Runs Through It, Oregon Department of Transportation

Montgomery County has already invested heavily in "curbside" improvements--between the curb and buildings--in terms of enhanced sidewalks, street furniture, trees and plantings.

Because the street is so wide, with the exception of the intersections at Wayne Avenue and Colesville Road, pedestrian scrambles aren't recommended--there despite the width of the roads, the high levels of pedestrian traffic make scrambles workable.

But all the crosswalk crossings should be enhanced on Georgia Avenue, as indicated on the map. The map doesn't extend to the border of DC, which is the location of the Georgia Avenue and Eastern Avenue intersection.

For historical reasons, except for the northside crosswalk from the east to the west side of Georgia Avenue, the entire intersection is under the jurisdiction of DC, not Maryland, which is probably why it is in such bad condition compared to the intersections northward to Colesville Road. Maryland should negotiate with DC for comparable improvements to that intersection.

Second, I added a pedestrian scramble to the intersection of Fenton Street and Roeder Road (one block north of Ellsworth), and added an enhanced crosswalk to the mid-block crosswalk between Ellsworth Avenue and Wayne Avenue, at the service drive/crosswalk serving the "Whole Foods-CVS-Strosniders" shopping center. (A timed pedestrian traffic signal might need to be added to the Fenton-Roeder intersection to accommodate the scramble set up.  It would enhance safety.)

Third, I added an enhanced crosswalk across Colesville Road at the Silver Spring Transit Center, connecting the two sides of the Metrorail station. There is already a crosswalk there, it just needs to be better and more prominently "pedestrian-focused."

Fourth, I added enhanced crosswalks to the various existing crossings on East-West Highway. For the most part, these crosswalks (not at Georgia Avenue) are already enhanced somewhat, but I recommend even more special treatments with pavers, etc., to distinguish the walking character on what is otherwise a very wide road.

I don't have great images of what I mean by enhanced crosswalk treatments.  The ideal would be great pavers complemented by plantings.

These images from the Indianapolis Cultural Trail show what I am thinking, in terms of the crossing treatment and plantings and other elements.
Indianapolis Cultural Trail, pedestrians and flowers

Walkers and bikers crossing the street, Indianapolis Cultural Trail

I came across these images too.  Think of these sidewalk treatments as applied to crosswalks.
Special sidewalk
The yellow bricks are tactile to help blind pedestrians negotiate.  Photo by Lachlan Hardy.  Location not identified.

Streetside boardwalk, Portland, Oregon.  From the Land Perspectives blog.

Enhanced sidewalk in South Boston.  From the Lands Perspectives blog.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

How many more Republicans have to be shot before the U.S. Congress will consider stronger gun control laws?

See "James T. Hodgkinson: Illinois Man Identified as Suspected Gunman in Virginia Shooting," NBC News.

I don't believe today's shooting of a number of Republican legislators in Alexandria will have much effect on Congress passing tougher legislation on gun licensing, access, and use. Despite the fact that more people are killed in the US as a result of gun violence than any other country in the world.

-- "Why more than 100 gun control proposals in Congress since 2011 have failed," CNN
-- "Congress vs. the States on Guns," New York Times

At the very least, there should be a recognition for the need for differentiated laws between urban and rural areas.

-- Guns on the Roof, lyrics, The Clash

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In the Walking City, socks aren't a fashion statement but a necessary piece of equipment

The actor Jonah Hill is one of the celebrity practitioners of the black- socks-and-shorts trend. Credit Bauer-Griffin/GC Images.

Yes, it's been a faux pas for as long as I can remember to wear "dark socks" with shorts.  And many people don't wear socks with shorts anywhere, figuring it doesn't look cool.  (I wear footies.)

But in the Walking City, shoes chafe against uncovered feet, causing blisters.

It's nice to know the New York Times is recognizing the value of socks, although their focus is sartorial.  See "Go Ahead, Wear a Pair of High Black Socks With Those Shorts."

There is the old saw about women buying shoes that are "too small" but buy them because "they look so good." In fact, Suzanne's unwilling to toss a pair of shoes she likes even though one has a broken heel which is unrepairable, because she likes them so much.

I was at a Deseret Industries thrift store in Pocatello, Idaho and there was a pair of Doc Marten's, brown, for only $5. I bought them, although they seemed a bit small, figuring they'd stretch out.

Nope. I still keep them (after some terrible "injuries" to my feet), but I only walk short distances while wearing them. Fortunately, I have another pair of Doc's, black, that fit just fine. And like Suzanne, I have another pair set aside for some day putting on new heels. I remember back in the day they would sell replacement heels, but I can't ever seem to find them now.

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A new thought about Uber and Lyft as mobility/transportation services operating on a national footprint

One of the things that's problematic with "learning" how to ride transit is that transit is organized at the local, metropolitan, and regional scale, alongside a couple of nationally branded services (besides airlines, Amtrak, and the Greyhound and Trailways national bus lines), plus airlines.

Besides transit agencies all having different names for service, e.g., the T in Boston, the NYC Subway in NYC, the L in Chicago, Metrorail in DC (and many other places use the same name, or its variant, Metro; local and circulator and express bus services), with various names depending on how transit is organized in a particular area, most use different names, processes, transit media cards, machines, etc.
Tourists, Karlsplatz, Munich, Bavaria, Germany.
Karlsplatz, Munich, Bavaria, Germany

The Germans make it a little easier, having standard logos used across the country to denote the main types of services: Underground/Subway service; the U-Bahn; and local commuter rail, the S-Bahn; and a standard logo for bus services too.

But even Germany is a bit inconsistent in a common designation for light rail/streetcars, which in Europe are called trams either as light rail or streetcars.  Light rail services are called Stadtbahns, but there isn't a consistent logo like there is for the U- and S-Bahn services.  As shown above, in Munich they label these services as "tram."

You Besides knowing what it's called, you need to know what operates where, where bus stops and stations are located, have the right payment medium, etc.  Transit agencies may not have well integrated the ability to get information and transit cards at places like airports, etc.  (WRT airport transit information Chicago at O'Hare and Cleveland at its airport are particularly good at explaining what's up.)

WRT payment media, most metropolitan areas now have an integrated fare media card and system that works across most or even "all" of the services. For example, while most transit media systems don't include commuter railroads, the systems in the SF Bay and Puget Sound areas do include railroads (Caltrain, Sounder) and ferries too.

While it's true that if you know how to use one multi-faceted transit system well, you can usually figure out how to use it elsewhere, perhaps most people, especially "younger people" (often called "digital natives") aren't interested in spending the time and energy figuring it out.

Instead, they often use an app on their phones to "hail" or order a taxi, but not a "local" taxi -- local taxi services can be even more balkanized than transit services -- but a so-called "transportation network company" ride hailing service like Uber or Lyft.

And the advantage is that as long as these companies have their service available where you are at or are going to--other major cities--you can use the same app and process "universally," at the scale of the entire nation.

(In Ontario, with a couple exceptions, all transit agencies use the same fare card system, which was created by the Province.)

Perhaps that's some of the attractiveness of ride hailing services, despite the fact that they usually cost more than transit, especially if cost isn't the main concern, but convenience and ease of use is.

Note that Zipcar and Car2Go operate at the national scale too, although you have to switch the app to the right city (and it's pretty cumbersome to do in Zipcar).  When it works, it works great.  We've used Car2Go in Seattle, San Diego, and Brooklyn, and Zipcar in Seattle and San Francisco.

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