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.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Slight update to New Year's Post #3: top transportation stories

-- New Year's Post #2: DC area top transportation stories of 2014

In the discussion, commenter h st ll made the point wrt item #27. While high speed rail development continues to be controversial and languish in California, that I was selling the state of California high speed rail short, that it was about to start construction.

Item 27 is listed in the section of "Other/National" matters.

Dignitaries and VIP's line up to sign a portion of the rail at the California High Speed Rail Authority ground breaking event, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015 in Fresno, Calif. The $68 billion project faces challenges from Republicans in Congress eager to reduce government spending and Central Valley farmers suing to block the train from crossing their fields. The train would whisk travelers at 200 mph between Los Angeles and San Francisco in less than three hours. (AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian)

He's right of course.  Yesterday, the first (ceremonial) groundbreaking, highlighting the start of construction occurred in Fresno.  See "Groundbreaking at Fresno for high-speed rail ,"from the Sacramento Bee.  From the article:
"Everything big runs into opposition," Brown said, calling the project's critics - some of them protesting at the fence line - "weak of spirit."
The Other/National section has another 9 items, ending at #30.

But there should be at least one other item added, numbered around 24 or 25, which would make the total number of items at 31.

The veto by Governor Cuomo of New York and Governor Christie of New Jersey of reform and accountability legislation for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.  The legislation grew out of investigations concerning the 2013 lane closure scandal on the George Washington Bridge, which was done to "punish" a Democratic mayor who didn't endorse Republican Governor Christie for reelection.

The scandal touched off greater consideration of the way the authority, a bi-state authority where the board members are appointed by the governors of each state, and certain executive positions are "allocated" between the states, operates and the misuse of funds, especially by New Jersey, for projects not related to the mission of the agency.  That led to the accountability legislation, unprecedentedly passed unanimously by the legislatures of each state.

But not wanting more checks on their power, the governors vetoed the legislation.  It's not clear if the legislatures will be able to override the vetoes ("Opinion: Port Authority reform is needed now," Bergen Record).

Separately, at the behest of the governors, a commission was formed to review the operations of the authority, and they released the report last Saturday, when the veto actions were announced.

-- Keeping the Region Moving, A report prepared by The Special Panel on the Future of the Port Authority for The Governors of New York and New Jersey

 From "Port Authority transformation will take time, top appointees say" (Bergen Record):
Those include selling the recently completed One World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, handing over operation of the PATH train system to NJ Transit or another operator, and shuttering a small port on the Brooklyn waterfront and turning it over to commercial developers.
The Port Authority generates most of its revenues from tolls on area bridges and from its operation of the region's airports in NY and NJ.

Part of the financial problems faced by the Port Authority concern PATH, the subway system connecting Newark, Harrison, Hoboken, and Jersey City to lower Manhattan. The system has an annual deficit of $300 million.

PATH is both railroad and subway, because in some places the tracks interlock with Amtrak and NJ Transit commuter railroad services.

Therefore PATH is regulated by the Federal Railroad Administration, not the Federal Transit Administration.  Not only does that make regulation more expensive, PATH ends up not being eligible for funding from FTA for the provision of urban transit services.

Among the report's discussion is the suggestion that PATH should be priced as a railroad service rather than a subway service, pegged to the pricing of the NYC Subway ("Doblin: The road less traveled is called the PATH," Bergen Record; "What's the real reason the Port Authority is targeting the PATH,"

Meanwhile Hoboken and Jersey City have successfully positioned their cities as an extension of New York City, but cheaper, because of PATH service (not unlike how Rosslyn and Crystal City in Arlington County are positioned vis-a-vis Downtown DC).  It happens that Hoboken has the highest rate of transit ridership of any city in the US.

Now, Harrison too is experiencing a building boom because of proximity to NYC and PATH's connections to Manhattan.

Another Port Authority financial burden is the $4 billion transit center in lower Manhattan, built to replace the station that had been at the World Trade Center. ("How Cost of Train Station at World Trade Center Swelled to $4 billion," New York Times). For a variety of reasons beyond setting "a reasonable expense based on ridership" (30,000 people daily), the choice was made to construct an "iconic station" which ended up costing billions.

A future financial burden is the extension of PATH to Newark International Airport, duplicating service provided by the NJ Transit commuter railroad.  Construction is expected to start in 2018.

(Were I the transit czar there, I'd probably merge PATH into the MTA/New York City subway system, excepting that $300 million financial burden.  PATH accepts MetroCards already, but not MTA passes.  That creates different problems sure, but the PATH system, formerly the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad, is about leveraging access to Manhattan.)

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At 9:26 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

off topic, but rather than say something on the others new years post I'll say it here.

I'd expand out the gas price collapse issue. Huge implicatons for urban life. Clearly also a result of forward thinking on fed hikes.

So, I'd say a larger point is the continued threat by the fed to raise rates, and what that will do to urban life.

We can't know the outcomes there. The results have been very clear -- overbuilding of rental, $4 gas, not enought SFH construction, increase in asset prices (housing).

Throw in the delayed millenal urge to get married/have kids and it will be an interesting forward 4 years.

At 9:57 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

well, there are at least two more new year's posts I intend to write.

One is on the NYT coverage of the DC restaurant scene. Which surprisingly is related to the other, which is "the urban boom" as discussed in two articles by the WSJ, one on the continued move in some cities of companies to the center city, the other, an article about young people driving the increase in urban population.

In the commenting on GGW in the thread on the Columbia Heights day care debacle, I wrote a bunch, discussing the Chicago School of sociology theories as well as application of Rogers theory of innovation diffusion to the achievement of a new critical mass of people committed to urban living.

Plus, my point in the base New Year's post #3, #4, about millennials and is there a defined sort/differentiation for demand for urban living, and has it achieved critical mass.

I think it is still somewhat tenuous, as you point out.

With continued investment in transit, walkability, etc., you can still build the value, and strengthen the critical mass so this differentiated way of living can maintain itself.

But it is very very difficult to do so in the face of a political and investment regime that still favors suburbanity to some extent but automobility is valued overall.

That makes it hard to get public investment in transit. The local debacles concerning streetcars and light rail are an example, and that's in a metropolitan area that has a very successful (if recently clunky) subway system. We can complain about it, sure, but it works, and hey, compared to most cities it's way better, and example of a differentiated land use, transportation paradigm.

At 10:13 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

the thing is on some of my comments in that GGW thread, there was pushback on the appropriateness of the language, "urban pioneers" and the application of Rogers' theory.

The thing is that while it is somewhat imperialist to use such terms and thinking, the reality is that until the past few years, US policy and economics haven't favored urban living choices.

Arguably, you can say urban renewal was pro-urban policy, but for obvious reasons, it mostly didn't work, because it tried to make over cities for the car, rather than strengthen those qualities of the city that were differentially attractive compared to the suburbs. (Although you can also say it satisfied the demand for a small segment that wanted to live and work in such buildings.)

In the face of that reality, the people who moved into cities like the Brooklyn Brownstoners or the people who chose to live in Capitol Hill or even someone like me in 1987, may not have been "pioneers" because there were already people in the city sure, but they were making a very clear and visible decision to live in the city when virtually every cue about American society supported automobility and suburbanity.

I remember being at an office party, probably in 1996 or so, post-Barry imprisonment. The director's husband--they lived in Gaithersburg--criticized me for being a thinking person living under Barry. I merely countered, "it takes me 15 minutes to get to work [deliberate pause] ... by bike." He was speechless.

Moving and staying the city in the face of a strong bias in favor of suburbanity took guts and a lot different commitment to the city than the kind evinced by that condo board in Columbia Heights.

Achieving a critical mass of like minded people was absolutely key. There were enough people trickling in year by year that after a few decades, "overnight" you could end up with a substantive critical mass.

But it took decades to become substantive and measurable and significant.

From the standpoint of Rogers, that's the effect of the innovators + the early adopters.

I think that it's reasonable to apply his work to this process.

nnovators are way ahead of the curve. (E.g., I just watched an episode of Fixer Uppers, an HGTV show set in Waco, TX, where they fixed a wreck of a four square, that they bought for $25K from the city, more than 2000 s.f., and spent $100K renovating.) The Brownstoners in Brooklyn were innovators definitely.

People from the last even ten years are at best, late adopters and "early majority" even if majority doesn't refer to "a majority of American citizens preferring to live in the city". (cf. Leinberger's work. He says 40% prefer living in the suburbs, 30% in the city, and the other 30% are happy to live in either, depending on the specifics).

Although I suppose it varies by neighborhood in terms of how you use the scale, e.g., Capitol East or H Street vs. Capitol Hill, Trinidad vs. H Street, etc.

At 10:16 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

ANyway, to your points about the lack of inventory of single family housing and the urge to marry/have kids amongst millennials, we do have issues, because it's not possible, at current prices to meet that demand _in the center city_.

The inventory present in places like Petworth, along North Capitol, Manor Park, some parts of Brightwood, etc. is going to dissipate.

And the prices are constantly appreciating even if way less than before the 2008 crash.

So yes, it will be an interesting four years, definitely.

At 9:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

a big problem with DC are the NIMBY groups seeking to contain all new development- these people are making life harder for new residents and artifically driving up real estate prices for everyone else- or are a factor in the price rises. To some extent I see a leveling off now- houses are staying on th emarket a long time and the poutrageous prices of a year or two back are being sustained at least residentially in my area.

As for High Speed Rail- its time has come. I am sick of the resistance to it and we need to be developing this all over the USA. It looks like Texas might start it up. How many studies need to be done before we get a new HSR line in the NE? I hear of the recent japanese proposals but the way things get stymied around here in red tape and legalistic mountains I fear it will never happen . The highway proposals do not seem to have go thru the incredible amounts of studies that rail has to go thru for some reason. People do not like rail from the previous generation- and where I live they are adamntly against all rail projects especially the new tunnel project in SE. No one seemed to lift a finger against the much more disruptive freeway rehab project- which went on a lot longer than the rail project is slated to go on for. These people are total a- holes and I cannot even talk to some of my neighbors because they are so damned backwards about these issues. And they call themselves "democrats" and "liberals"- they sound just like Rush Limbaugh on transit , cycling,density and rail issues.


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