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.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Purple line planning in suburban Maryland as an opportunity to integrate place and people focused initiatives into delivery of new transit systems

The conference sponsored by the Purple Line Corridor Coalition at the University of Maryland's National Center for Smart Growth was very interesting in the questions it raised with regard to revitalization and equity planning and integrating these elements into what we might call infrastructure planning and construction in order to yield more directly the kinds of economic revitalization benefits that DC and Arlington County enjoy in particular from the Metrorail system.

-- Press release

I was a bit surprised that there wasn't much in the way of focused discussion about the experience in the Washington Metropolitan (and Baltimore) regions with transit infrastructure, because there are many lessons to be had.

Instead the conference focused on Minneapolis and Denver, in large part because those systems are light rail based and therefore use "the same" "mode" as what will be constructed as the Purple Line, while the Metrorail system is heavy rail-subway (although part of the Denver system that will be opening in the next few years will be a form of heavy rail).

From trickle down to purposive economic and equitable benefits from new fixed rail transit infrastructure.  Personally, I think the distinctions between modes: light rail and heavy rail (and railroad and streetcar); are immaterial.

The real difference concerns planning, specifically a more intricate focus on integrating economic and equity planning into development and land use planning at the outset, and trying to shape what happens rather than being reactive or not planning at all, rather than hoping for the best from private sector initiatives and any "trickle down benefits" that might occur by happenstance.

The complication is that transit authorities build and operate transit system and don't see their role being very directly involved in terms of placemaking ("Transit, stations, and placemaking"), although systems tend to be much more involved in economic development--referred to as "transit oriented development," and not really involved at all in equity planning.

-- Center for Transit Oriented Development
-- Downtowns, Greenfields and Places In Between: Promoting Development Near Transit, CTOD
-- Trans-Formation: Recreating Transit-Oriented Neighborhood Centers in DC: Design Handbook, (DC Office of Planning, out-of-print)
-- Ten Principles for Successful Development Around Transit, Urban Land Institute

-- Puget Sound Regional Equity Network: Principles of Equitable Development
-- Maintaining Diversity In America’s Transit-Rich Neighborhoods: Tools for Equitable Neighborhood Change, Dukakis Institute at Northeastern University

Place focused station planning vs. planning that is place and people focused.  The major difference in what I am calling "fourth generation" fixed rail transit planning is integrating economic revitalization planning and equity planning into the agenda and planning process during the construction process, if not before, rather than not at all.

It's a broader approach than traditional station area planning, which is place focused (land use and placemaking), rather than an approach that simultaneously addresses people focused initiatives, that is economic development planning designed to improve the economic status of individuals.

In order to make this happen, other agencies and stakeholders need to get involved, because such initiatives can't be expected to be developed and delivered by transit authorities.

"First generation" dates to the creation of heavy rail systems from the late 1950s to the mid-1980s, such as BART in San Francisco, the WMATA system, the Baltimore subway (and later the light rail), the MARTA system in Atlanta, and Metrorail in Miami.  At that time, the systems were seen mostly for their value in getting suburban commuters to in-city work locations.

Baltimore Sun photo by David Hobby of a subdivision in Howard County, Maryland.

Economic benefits to the areas around the stations, especially in the center city, weren't a primary focus.  That being said, there was station planning, but it took 20 or more years to see the economic impact, in part because of the state of the urban economy at the time, and the fact that the  real estate development and financing regime was primarily focused on suburban development.

A big lesson from this period of system development is the difference between the development of a line or two (Baltimore, MARTA, Miami) versus a transit network (SF, DC) although the impact of BART is limited somewhat by it functioning more like a commuter railroad, with a limited number of stations serving the center cities.

"Second generation" are the systems or lines developed in the middle (including Buffalo and Portland in earlier stages, and Houston and Dallas in later stages, etc.) and are mostly light rail, because of decreases in federal funding.  Most were seen as fostering economic development, but with the exception of Portland, didn't integrate economic revitalization planning in significant ways to the development of the transit system and/or involved routing trade offs because of limited funding which significantly limited the potential of positive effect.

"Third generation" I will term various streetcar initiatives, starting with the Portland experience, which decidedly linked the creation of the streetcar line to economic revitalization in the area between the old railroad station and the Downtown and Waterfront), as well as light rail program development.

"Fourth generation" fixed rail transit planning aims to integrate more directly not only economic revitalization with the onset of new services, but includes equity planning focused on job development and other social progress elements so that lower income households benefit from new access to better transit, rather than becoming its victims and displaced persons because neighborhoods newly connected to transit tend to go up in value and attract higher income residents.

Being defined as a fourth generation system isn't just about when the system is being built but also how it is being planned.  My understanding is that a focus on equity planning isn't a significant element of system development in places like Phoenix, Dallas, and Houston, while it is in Minneapolis and Denver.  Sound Transit's light rail planning is probably in the middle of the two extremes, but also represents scalar improvements in transit station integration in terms of placemaking and accessibility.

Minneapolis and Denver.  The Minneapolis and Denver transit programs have engendered a response from the community development and foundation worlds that is somewhat unprecedented, in that they have pursued simultaneously an equity agenda alongside the infrastructure development and construction process.  (Sound Transit in Greater Seattle has been involved in some of this kind of planning too, but wasn't featured as part of the program.  See the past blog entry "Transformation through transit.")

-- Corridors of Opportunity program, Minneapolis
-- Mile High Connects, Denver

Hiawatha line in Minneapolis.  Flickr photo by Nick Benson.  

It's too soon to tell if it will work, because the systems are only now in the process of expanding and it takes a long time to see the results in terms of new development, but certainly by paying attention to the issues and planning in ways aimed at mitigating displacement effects, they have a much better chance of ameliorating the negatives, which hasn't been a big focus of what we might call the first, second, and third generations of new transit system development.

What has been key in those cities is that they have a strong community development community, capacity building organizations like LISC, and a big array of innovative foundations.

By comparison, generally Greater Washington's community development and foundation communities are weak, not particularly innovative, and definitely under-funded.   So it's interesting that the UMD National Center for Smart Growth is stepping into the breach.

Another attendee also pointed out that the Minneapolis and Denver programs are cross-jurisdictional, while traditionally, such initiatives in the Washington area have been specific to jurisdictions.

Two important lessons from Portland.  Portland, in both their second generation light rail and third generation streetcar planning, was very direct in linking transit development to economic revitalization and neighborhood stabilization and improvement, especially in focusing investment in the city and region on the Downtown, rather than supporting the dispersion of employment and major activity centers in the suburbs.  Besides how they created the streetcar as a land development initiative, perhaps their most interesting lesson is how they funded the the Interstate/Yellow Line.

This project was in large part an "urban economic development initiative," intended to improve the economically lagging east side.  Stymied in funding for various reasons, they ended up financing the local funding requirement through the sale of bonds against future tax revenue increases by creating an "Urban Renewal District."

This was done by the city's economic development agency, the Portland Development Commission, which contracted with Tri-Met to build and operate the line. Note that the federal government still provided the bulk of funding for the system's construction.

Two important lessons from Arlington County, Virginia.  Similarly, Arlington County made a decision in the late 1960s to have the Metrorail routed within the County, along Wilson Boulevard, rather than within the right of way of the I-66 freeway, in order to jump start economic improvement in the county, which at the time was losing population to farther out locations in the metropolitan area.

Key to Arlington's initiative was changing the underlying zoning in the transit corridor in ways that favored intensive development, but tying approvals to a negotiation process which required proffers for community infrastructure development of various types (public space improvements, transportation demand management, etc.).

-- 40 Years of Transit Oriented Development: Arlington County's Experience with Transit Oriented Development in the Rosslyn-Ballston Metro Corridor

Funding transit expansion through value capture.  There is a great deal of discussion about "value capture" in transit circles.  For example, in Hong Kong and Japan, transit systems generate a great deal of their annual revenue through rental income from property development.  By contrast, in North America, for the most part, property development benefits from transit access are reaped by the private sector, and except for property tax revenue increases, although there are various examples.

As mentioned, the most prominent example that I am familiar with is in Portland, with the creation of the Urban Renewal District as a bond financing vehicle.  But there are various examples, including in DC and now Arlington and Alexandria, but elsewhere also, about creating geographically defined areas where there is a property tax surcharge assessed in order to fund the building of a transit station.

DC did a form of this with the NoMA infill subway station--in the 1990s they created a TIF district to generate 1/3 of the funding for building the station ("NoMa: The Neighborhood That Transit Built," Urban Land Magazine).   Developers mostly were happy to do so, because they knew this would increase the value of their land--and it did, many fold.

More recently, Alexandria has created a similar district to fund the construction of an infill station to serve the Potomac Yards area--the station would be between the National Airport and Braddock Road stations ("Special tax district for Potomac Yard moves forward," Alexandria Times).  A similar tax has been created in the Tysons area of Fairfax County, Virginia.

The necessary next step to realizing the potential of the Purple Line in Suburban DC (and the Red Line in Suburban Baltimore) for equitable economic revitalization requires the creation of a "Transportation Renewal Tax Increment Financing District" and Bi-County Revitalization Authority to develop and carry out the program.

I am not going to give a blow by blow of the conference, but my biggest take-away, which wasn't discussed as part of the agenda, is that the state, the counties, and the region don't have the same kind of community development and philanthropic infrastructure that exists in places like Denver and Minneapolis.

There is no way that some foundation is going to provide millions of dollars to buy land in advance of property value escalation or to fund technical assistance and funding programs designed to reduce the failure of small businesses hurt by a drop in business during the construction phase.

If these communities want to be able to get ahead of the economic dislocation that will come, they need the programming and funding that is required.

To have great plans, but only "trickle down" financing, means failure, at least in terms of equitable development.  The market will fund market-rate development.  Financing is required and so is a great implementation organization, with sound accountability mechanisms.

The Purple Line Corridor Coalition divides the catchment area of the transit line into five sub-districts.  The total catchment area could comprise the "transportation renewal district" as proposed.


1.  The creation of a tax increment financing district*, along the lines of what Portland did to provide the local funding match to construct their Yellow Line, covering the full routing of the Purple Line in both Montgomery and Prince George's County, as defined by the sub-areas map of the Purple Line's catchment area.

2.  And to carry it out, the creation of a joint, bi-county, Purple Line Revitalization Authority.

(3.  Baltimore City and Baltimore County need to do the same thing as it relates to their respective Red Line.)

4.  The implementation activities of the Suburban Maryland Revitalization Authority should be structured by the creation of a large scale revitalization plan comparable in scope and detail as those done by Liverpool (e.g., City Centre Strategic Investment Framework), Bilbao (Strategic Plan for the Revitalization of Metropolitan Bilbao) and the City of Hamburg's waterfront revitalization initiative, organized and branded as HafenCity, which is a development corporation owned by the City of Hamburg. 

But sure, this authority can learn from Denver and Minneapolis and Portland and Arlington and Seattle and DC too.

Bilbao too offers some interesting examples with regard to integrating transit infrastructure development within revitalization planning and public realm improvements.

--  "Beyond Moving People: Excavating the Motivations for Investing in Urban Public Transit Infrastructure in Bilbao Spain," Matti Siemiatycki, European Planning Studies, 2005
-- "Return to the Rails: The Motivations for Building a Modern Tramway in Bilbao, Spain," Matti Siemiatycki, Oxford University Centre for the Environment

And the HafenCity development offers a similar example, albeit over a smaller district, includes a wide range of transportation infrastructure initiatives including pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure, streetscape improvements, extension of the city's roadway grid into the former docklands, and extension of subway service into the district through the phased opening of three new subway stations.

5.  With the plan including a heavy dose of equity initiatives.
* Note:  at present the Maryland Senate is considering a similar kind of bill, but the bill is set up to work at the discretion of the Maryland Transit Administration, which operates transit in Greater Baltimore.  Instead a more general bill authorizing the creation of transit benefit districts should be approved.  And it is set up to authorize only two such districts, which is arbitrary and restrictive. 

-- Maryland Senate Bill, SB772, Transit Benefits Districts

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At 2:48 PM, Blogger David said...

More on Maryland Tax Increment Financing:

At 4:02 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

what a great resource. Thank you.

At 5:40 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

BUT... the Portland example was really serious, more than $200 million.

The projects referenced in the report are comparatively small.

I am talking big stuff, really big, a TRD for the whole catchment area of the Purple Line... it would be worth a few hundred million in bonding capacity.

At 9:54 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

I've always thought the advantge Arlington had was you could build a very narrow, high density corridor -- and yet keep (historic) housing withing two blocks of the corridor.

Not sure if that is what Maryland is envisioning.

Also I'd question the job draw of Bethesda.

Silver Spring could sure use a refresh. But the "public improvements" in ARL aren't the reason it is desirable.

At 11:06 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Yep. PLUS, it's relatively compact, a short distance. Definitely it's short between Courthouse and Ballston. The topography isn't so kind between Rosslyn and Courthouse, but it works well enough.

2. And yes, wrt that strip in MD, which the NCSG is labeling potentially the strongest job corridor in MD outside of Baltimore and I-270, in some respects, the heyday of large office conglomerations is passing.

DC and Tysons wouldn't be all that were it not for the conglomeration of the federal government and all the business activity it throws off.

But I see that shrinking. E.g., look at the law firm mergers and now bankruptcies. That could be a harbinger of a reduction in ancillary trade on the fed. govt. from law firms, lobbying firms, and associations. Maybe not, but the glory days of high billings might be fading (cf. Patton Boggs).

At 12:33 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

"that strip in MD" which strip?

OFf topic, didn't realize Nadeau was from Grosse Pointe.

At 1:17 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Purple Line corridor as defined in that map "as a strip."

2. Nor did I. I hate to admit I haven't read too much about her. I haven't written about the local races, other than Mayor. I should but it's already bad enough that CM Wells and CM Bowser know that I am not wowed...

She would be a step forward definitely, although in his heyday, Graham had done a bunch of good things.

3. I guess while people talk about the need to be a state so we'd have a legislature and more "political offices" for people and therefore "more competition" I think that we should have a few more wards and two councilmembers per ward.

With a bit more intra-ward competition it would be harder for caudillismo to reign supreme, as has happened with CM Graham.

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