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, January 25, 2013

Revised and republished (New York) (DC*) Railroad stuff

When I first wrote this I hadn't yet read the Local Living section of yesterday's Post, in which the Dr. Gridlock column, "Traveler pans plan for Metro Silver Line's 'three-way fiasco," discusses the implifications of the expansion of the heavy rail footprint to serve Fairfax and Loudoun Counties.  So now this is covered in the new section 4 below.

*  Because WMATA in "DC" functions as a hybrid commuter railroad for the suburbs and as a subway service in the core of the region, at least in DC and Arlington County, we can call it a railroad for the purposes of this entry.

1.  The 100th anniversary of the building of Grand Central Station in New York City is next month.  So New York Times urban affairs columnist Sam Roberts wrote a book, Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America, about it.  See "The Birth of Grand Central Terminal" from the NYT and "Web Extras: Secrets of Grand Central Terminal" from WNET.

What's interesting is that at roughly the same time, a similar project, the creation of Washington's Union Station, occurred as well.  But unlike with Grand Central, in Washington they didn't decide to create an underground "yard" for the station, while in NYC, the tracks for the station were put underground and 14 blocks above were able to be developed.

In DC, the cost to do something similar (Amtrak Union Station Master Plan Executive Summary) but recovering much less space by comparison, will cost more than $1 billion.

2.  Relatedly, Nigel points us to a Regional Plan Association report, Rail Rewards: How LIRR’s Grand Central Connection Will Boost Home Values, on the value of proximity to improved Long Island Railroad passenger rail service to Central Manhattan ("LIRR Grand Central Link to Boost Home Values" from the RPA website). According to the study, 600,000 houses will each increase over $7,000 in value as a result of extension of the lines to Grand Central (currently the LIRR terminates at Penn Station).

Note that the RPA weblink to this report, How the Long Island Rail Road Could Shape the Next Economy from Long Island Index doesn't work. This link does.

3. Now, I have to read those reports, I haven't yet, but I think they set a more interesting stage for today's release of the WMATA (Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority) Strategic Plan. I haven't read the plan (link to the plan from Greater Greater Washington) yet.

I've just looked at the article "Metro proposes major upgrade to D.C. transit;" in the Washington Post about the plan, plus the column, "Wanted: Area leaders who have enough political courage to back Metro's plans," by Robert McCartney.

McCartney whines--then again so do I--about the lack of local leadership with regard to transit.  My complaints are that most DC elected officials take transit for granted and don't recognize transit's centrality to DC's economic and competitive advantage, and that the biggest threat to DC's central business district is the forecasted reaching of capacity in the core in the next decade or so.

Christopher Zimmerman, County Board ChairmanBut I do think he could have highlighted Arlington County's Chris Zimmerman as the example of what one elected official can do. It's not that Chris Zimmerman has become so knowledgeable about sustainable mobility that he now has a job with one of the world's leading planning firms, I think that he is amazing because for the most part, he has brought all of his colleagues on the Arlington County Board along with him--talk to any member of the ArCo Board, and they are equally articulate about the value of transit to the County and to the quality of life of its citizens.

No other jurisdiction in the metropolitan area, has more than a couple particularly good elected officials when it comes to transit--at least in my opinion--and no other elected board or council has all of its members as knowledgeable on sustainable mobility as is the Arlington County Board.

(DC in particular has really bobbled its opportunity to be a leader within the region on this element, among others.)

Based on the graphic map of proposals as included in the Post article, I'm not super pleased because why this is a good step forward, it appears merely to prove the points I've made in the past that:

• it would be best for metropolitan wide transportation planning to be done by the Metropolitan Planning Organization (in this case the Transportation Policy Board of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments), because the transit operator--which ends up doing this by default--is constrained by its worldview and the modes they are already operating, (blog entry: "Metropolitan Mass Transit Planning presentation");

• to this end, a metropolitan wide plan would define the ideal network, its breadth and depth, metrics for service type (mode) and frequency, levels of service, and levels of quality, and then jurisdictions would contract with transit operators for the service, if budget shortfalls mean the service profile can't be satisfied, rather than destroying the transit service through constant fare increases and service cuts, a stronger justification for other sources of financial support can be made (blog entry: "Defining service standards down as an indicator of breakdown in metropolitan transit planning");

• WMATA needs to step back and rebuild the regional consensus over the value and necessity of transit through a metropolitan-wide planning initiative, although as stated in the previous paragraph, this should really be conducted by the TPB and WMATA and the other transit operators jointly (blog entry: "St. Louis regional transit planning process as a model for what needs to be done in the DC Metropolitan region").

Note that technically, WMATA as the operator of the subway, and VRE and MARC as the railroad passenger services, are the only transit providers operating at a metropolitan or regional scale and therefore should be the lead agencies involved in such an effort.

But as important as WMATA's strategic plan is to the DC metropolitan area, a joint MARC-VRE expansion and service plan is equally important. Ah, but there isn't one (separately MARC has a Growth and Investment Plan, currently on hold, and the State of Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation is actively expanding railroad service across the state).

Apparently the WMATA Board isn't as critical as I am because tomorrow's Post will have this article, "Metro board praises plan for major work."

4.  The problems identified above and discussed voluminously over the years are illustrated by the problems discussed in yesterday's Dr. Gridlock column.  From the column:

Back before planners settled on a heavy-rail line to link the District and Dulles Airport, there was a debate on several options, including a bus rapid transit system. The airports authority wanted a heavy-rail link joining up with the rest of the regional Metrorail system, not a bus or light-rail system that would require air travelers to transfer from a plane to a bus or light-rail car to Metrorail to reach destinations in the Washington region’s core. A Metrorail link also appealed to Fairfax County planners hoping not only to end the dependence of Tysons Corner residents on cars but also to reshape its geography around train stations.

So the plan for what we now call the Silver Line was a hybrid, reflecting various interests. And it wasn’t a plan created by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. The Metro board had to take a vote to accept the results.

First, I argue that it's important to have a rail link to all regional airports, and this should be planned at the metropolitan scale. Although Dan Malouff and others have argued that based on the distance from Washington, transit to the airport could have been done via railroad service as opposed to an expansion of the subway system.  (Another illustration of the need for transit planning at the metropolitan scale.)

Second, and that it's "okay" to utilize transit to reshape land use patterns.

Third, but that it was unconscionable for the expansion of the system to be planned and built with having to also take on the financial costs of the problems the expansion would cause elsewhere in the system--in particular, the capacity constraints at Rosslyn and the need for a second tunnel there.

Proposed changes for the WMATA system, 2001 (separated blue line)Fourth, and that it was also a tremendous lost opportunity to not use the "Silver Line" planning as a way to jumpstart the creation of the so-called "separated blue line" which would have added a second tunnel at Rosslyn, service to Georgetown, and additional capacity and redundancy through the core--the original proposal called for service from Georgetown east of the current lines, say on M Street and then to Union Station (the station with the largest daily ridership) and to H Street. (2003 Washington Post graphic below).

After this plan was scuttled in 2003 in response to a local recession and budget shortfalls for WMATA, it died.

 DC took up streetcars instead believing that no money could ever be found to do this project, even though the economic and quality of life impact from a separated blue line is likely to be far greater than from streetcars.

The WMATA Strategic Plan does not resurrect the separated blue line proposal completely, it truncates it, ending it around Thomas Circle (14th Street NW). But I can't comment more until I read the full report.

I do think that the plan probably wrestles with the issue of expansion--the issue of polycentrism that I talk about all the time--versus intensification--or monocentric system development.

As a transit system operating at the scale of the Metropolitan area, these conflicting goals have to be managed, but I would aver that likely a longer, broader, and deeper process is/was needed, as discussed in the previous section.

5. What my previous writings say should be the priorities in the transit element of a transportation plan at the metropolitan scale:

1. Provide more capacity for Metrorail at the core.
2. Extend Metrorail?
3. Change regional land use development policies now, especially those of the federal government.  (This means locating activities proximate to high capacity transit.)
4. Isn't it time that counties develop complementary surface rail transit programs of their own?
5. Expand and extend passenger railroad services.
6. Continued improvements in bus transportation and customer service. (This has been updated as of this entry "Making bus service sexy and more equitable.")



At 9:37 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Not sure Zimmerman being hired by the Canadians is a tribute to his saavy, or as way of opening up the DC market. Let's call a spade a spade.

As we've discussed, I doubt there is a lot of extra value in building a blue line only to Thomas Circle, but if you can extend it you open up some new areas for development. M st, after all, is pretty well developed.

At 6:34 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

and I totally forgot to mention the original sep. blue line plan of connecting to and through/past Union Station, Union Station being the #1 station in terms of daily ridership.

This is particularly important re the Amtrak master plan for the station too.

2. yes, sure, CZ got hired in part to reach new segments, but AECOM (I think that's the firm) is pretty active here already. (Among other things, they acquired Glatting Jackson, home to my favorite group of parks planners, and they are active here, + the firm has an office in Alexandria already). But yeah, that's how this things work.

At 3:49 AM, Blogger MJ Zinnat said...

Not sure Zimmerman being hired by the Canadians is a tribute to his saavy, or as way of opening up the DC market. Let's call a spade a spade.
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