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.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Flawed* planning and/or thinking: transportation edition

* Only because it obviously needs repeating: flawed is the other f word

1. Greater Greater Washington has a nice piece on the various proposals by WMATA for expansion. See "Metro planners contemplate system's second generation."

2. GGW's Eric Fidler has a follow on piece criticizing many of the proposals for promoting polycentric transit as opposed to monocentric transit, based on the concepts laid out by Steve Belmont in Cities in Full. It's nice to know that my mentioning this book so often means that some people are actually reading it. See ""Metro sprawl" misses better opportunities in the core."

Many of the WMATA ideas are flawed, but that is because they serve multiple often conflicting agendas pushed by outer suburban vs. center city vs. inner suburban interests.

3. MoCo Councilman George Levanthal says something pretty unknowledgeable (I wanted to say stupid) in this article in the Examiner, "Takoma-Langley Crossroads to get a makeover." From the article:

Officials in both counties say they want to improve the quality of life in the community when the Purple Line is built, but they are worried about what some say is the inevitable displacement of the largely low- and middle-income, Hispanic community there now.

The redevelopment plans center around the intersection of New Hampshire Avenue and University Boulevard, the planned site for a Purple Line station, although officials expect the light rail connecting Bethesda to New Carrollton probably won't exist for at least 10 years.

The development plans describe a pedestrian-friendly environment with a bike lane, an off-road cycling path and a 14-foot-wide sidewalk.

Prince George's County's plan also mentions a public market and new library.

But Montgomery County Council members are questioning the feasibility of the plans and the potential pitfalls of redevelopment. Councilman George Leventhal, D-Takoma Park, reminded the committee that the Purple Line station might not bring the anticipated economic opportunities.

"In Glenmont, nothing's happened, and there's been a Metro station there for a long, long time," he said. "The fact that there may be a Purple Line station in Langley Park doesn't change the fact that it's Langley Park, and the people who live there live there."

In fairness to Councilman Levanthal, clearly we haven't, regionally, assessed what works and what doesn't in terms of transit-assisted development. Clearly, if we have done this kind of assessment, the findings haven't trickled down to the Councilpeople in places like DC, Montgomery County, and Prince George's County in particular.

I have written about this extensively as have others. The basic point is that stations in dense "mixed use" areas do better than outlying stations, that endpoint stations don't do that well, that if you want to leverage transit access changing the zoning to allow for more intense development can be a way to more quickly yield return on investment (Arlington County) but even so it takes 10 to 30 years to reap significantly the benefits, and it takes even longer for stations not as well placed as the stations in the core.

Glenmont is like the other endpoints of the system. Langley Park is nothing like Glenmont, Greenbelt, Vienna, etc. It will be in the heart of the light rail line, in an area that already has high levels of investment and activity which will only be enhanced by significantly improved transit access.

This is partly Belmont's argument, and is also made in the research findings by the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota.

4. STATION PLANNING IS KEY. Doing it right is even more key. Fortunately many of DC's station plans were ignored for the WMATA system. Good thing, since they were done during the urban renewal era and likely wouldn't have been as successful as the more organic process that has has resulted.

5. Similarly, PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY HAS AN INCREDIBLE OPPORTUNITY TO REPOSITION THEIR DEVELOPMENT AGENDA AND PARADIGM AROUND TRANSIT, given that they are being given a second chance at transit nirvana through the creation of the Purple Line Light rail system, which will connect two of their subway end points circumferentially, and connect them to both the west and east sections of the red line in Montgomery County, and provide up to 10 additional high quality transit stations.

They haven't figured out yet that they have this opportunity.

Hopefully they will do so within the next couple years.
Purple Line map
Washington Post graphic.

6. Even though I find Sam Staley, the transportation program director for the Reason Foundation, to be reasonable some of the time, I don't think his op-ed in today's Post has much of anything interesting to offer. He focuses on market-based pricing for transit to ease congestion on the system in "A smarter transit system ,"but I think this point is a distraction.

The higher the fares, the more people are discouraged from using transit. There needs to be a balance between the cost of fares and the desire to move people more efficiently on transit, to reduce road congestion and to achieve other benefits. Adding even higher fares to system expansion goals defeats the purpose of system expansion.

7. Today's Post has a scary as s*** article, "How to set traffic priorities," about how various suburban business organizations are pushing their road-centric "congestion reduction agenda."

The agenda was based on interviews with various "experts" which the organization then compiled and used to shape their findings. From the article:

The new report was done by two business groups, the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance and the Maryland Suburban Transportation Alliance, for a regional association called the 2030 Group. The two alliances say they picked 45 transportation professionals — traffic engineers, transportation administrators, civil engineers, designers and urban planners — for interviews, and then used the results to fashion their report.

Downside: The survey aspect of the report is difficult to assess. The interviewees were selected by the business groups, the interviews were confidential and the resulting recommendations are very much in the mainstream of what business leaders have endorsed in recent years.

Upside: Just because the transportation recommendations emerge from business groups doesn’t mean the ideas are bad or unworthy of discussion. The region has taken very seriously the ideas on Metro governance put forward last year by the Greater Washington Board of Trade. The key things to take from the new report are its insistence that we need to develop a short list of projects that will have a big impact on congestion within the lifetime of today’s commuters, as well as a proposal on priorities to discuss.

WHAT BEARS REPEATING IS THAT EVEN EXPERT PLANS ARE IMPROVED THROUGH PUBLIC INPUT AND A BROADER, MORE CREATIVE PROCESS. I have never seen a plan that couldn't be improved through additional involvement, review, critical analysis, and criticism by citizens and stakeholders.

Plus, the business groups are particularly interested in how new roads, like an Outer Beltway, enable sprawl, I mean "new development" which makes me question their findings (which of course I have to read).

8. I guess I should be happy with the business groups, although they should have interviewed me too, because according to the article:

The report challenges us to define what we mean when we say we have a transportation problem and then focus on the most effective ways to address it.

“The prioritization process should focus heavily on highway and transit investments that do the most to reduce travel times/delays, reduce congestion, and improve transportation network safety and reliability,” the report concludes. And the process for making choices must be “more regional and professional and less parochial, political and ideologically driven.”

That of course is the point I make in the presentation Metropolitan Mass Transit Planning: Towards a Hierarchical and Conceptual Framework. These are the basic points:

a. we have to define the metropolitan transportation network (this includes roads and highways as well as bikeways, not just transit) at four levels--regionally (between metropolitan areas); at the metropolitan scale; and at the suburban and center city scales;

b. that the networks interconnect but that the right modes should be specified for the various networks, rather than focusing on particular modes, disconnected from a consideration of the best way to meet the need;

c. that definition of the transportation network depth and breadth, and level of service metrics should be made at the metropolitan scale, separate from the transit operator--by default the transit operator becomes the main transportation planner, and this process is constrained by many factors that satisfice the transit system in deleterious ways.

The presentation only discusses transit, not roads and highways and bikeways, and it neglects to discuss an on-street prioritized system of streets/lanes for the high frequency surface transportation network.

Otherwise, it makes important points that seem to be neglected in transportation planning within the Washington metropolitan area.

Which of course is how I came up with the framework.

Also see the 2009 blog entry, "St. Louis regional transit planning process as a model for what needs to be done in the DC Metropolitan region."

That entry makes the point that the DC region needs to update and reassess and rebuild a regional consensus on transportation planning and a plan, especially after the significant service failures experienced by WMATA over the past two years.

All of the points above reiterate the desperate need for such a process.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home