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.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Transportation demand management requirements for large developments and the MGM National Harbor Casino as an example of why this is absolutely necessary


Revised slightly with the Bilbao example below, so "reprinted".


Clearly, TDM requirements aren't taken seriously in Prince George's County, where the under construction MGM Grand Casino is arguing against accommodating public transit bus services on the site ("MGM National Harbor says public buses won't have access to casino site," Washington Post).

According to the US Census, using data from the 2013 American Community Survey (via the Census Reporter website, pictured at right), 17% of Prince George's County residents use transit to get to work--not that employees at the Casino will be exclusively from that County.

The Prince George's County's Master Land Use Plan prioritizes transit as a mobility option and choice.  Land use and transportation decision making should have fealty to this priority.

The article provides details about employee work trips to other destinations on the site.

For example, 10% of employees of the Gaylord National Harbor Resort use transit.

And it quotes transit advocates as saying that MGM is reneging on commitments made during the planning process.

The decision on providing transit access to the National Harbor site shouldn't be exclusively the decision of the developer and tenants of the site.

It is a public policy choice and decision.

MGM National Harbor Casino and the Peterson Companies, developers of the site, are out of line.

But they have been for awhile ("At National Harbor, commuting is a daily trial for service workers," Post) and the siting of such a major destination "shouldn't" have been allowed without significant upgrades to the non-automobile transportation network there.

The real problem is Prince George's County's continued failure to synchronize land use and transportation planning.   The problem is PG County's transportation and land use planning failures, of which National Harbor is but an (albeit prominent) example.

Separately from current "Purple Line planning" the County should have prioritized development of light rail between Suitland Metrorail Station to Alexandria (which is a link as part of a complete Purple Line anyway).
Purple Line Map  DC Metro
The original full circumferential Purple Line proposal would provide a light rail transit connection for National Harbor.

Once the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao opened, even though they already had subway service, the City realized they needed to improve surface transit and decided to do so with "a tram" which they built the first leg from time of conceptualization to opening in less than 4 years. (It helps that they have a train car manufacturer in the Basque Country, and some argue it was a form of self-dealing.) The system continues to be expanded and now the Basque Country is building trams in other cities.

-- paper, Return to the Rails: The Motivations for Building a Modern Tramway in Bilbao Spain

PGC could have been gutsy and moved something like that forward, creating an urban renewal district (like what Portland did for the yellow line) to fund and build it and they'd have some high quality transit service now.

The need for a transportation financing and management district for the National Harbor district.  If PGC intends for National Harbor to become an edge city of a type, a kind of new "town center" for Southern PG County, then they have to treat it differently from the standpoint of transit and mobility.

And that shouldn't be solely a financial responsibility of the NH developers and tenants, although they should pay towards it.

It's analogous to what I just wrote, "parking lot district" vs. "transportation management district" on Bethesda.

There needs to be a TMD created for National Harbor and a tax on development there to pay towards it and funding should be supplemented by other county sources, out of the idea that they are building a new activity center for the southern county.

There are transportation demand management plans for casinos in other jurisdictions.  The Institute of Transportation Engineers has various papers on casinos and TDM.  But with the rise of more in-city and in-county casino locations, it would be useful to compile new data for casino settings outside of the major casino agglomerations in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

Springfield, Massachusetts.  Ironically,  the master plan proposal for an MGM casino in Springfield, Massachusetts is much more focused on connecting to other revitalization efforts in the Downtown core, where the facility is to be constructed.

See "MGM 1st with Springfield casino details, 1st in Western Massachusetts with $400,000 application fee" from the Springfield Republican.

The transportation plan section of the proposal commits to the creation of a transportation demand management program and the hiring of a transportation coordinator, accommodates public transit, proposes a casino shuttle bus, improvements to bus shelters in the vicinity of the project, employee ride sharing (van pooling, etc.), car sharing, suggests paying for transit home in unexpected circumstances, etc.   

According to the document:
The TC or TMO will be responsible for:
 Posting and distributing announcements
 Holding promotional events to encourage ridesharing, using public transit, bicycling, and walking
 Monitoring the program and assisting in the evaluation
 Providing transit schedules and information about program services
 Coordinating on-site sales of transit passes
 Managing transit subsidy programs for employees
 Coordinating rideshare and carpool programs and coordinating with employees to offer preferential parking for participants
 Coordinating with PVTA and MassRIDES to implement TDM programs and improve transit mode share
The Rivers Casino is the upper left of this photo, immediately adjacent to the Allegheny Light Rail Station in Pittsburgh.  Image from Subchat

Pittsburgh.  The Rivers Casino is one of the sponsor-funders of free transit from Downtown to their Northside Pittsburgh location via the light rail system's North Shore Connector.

The casino was required to develop and execute a transportation demand management plan as part of the licensing agreement with the state.

Although the initial plan did not suggest the creation of the North Shore extension to the light rail, which had been discussed for many years, and the extension also serves baseball and football stadiums located there.

Las Vegas.  The Las Vegas Monorail has various financial issues, but does connect various casinos within the city, including the MGM Grand.  The system is supposed to be extended from the last stop, the MGM Grand, to the airport.

Casinos in Maryland are regulated by a state agency and commission: Transit advocates should file a complaint with the agency.  While it doesn't surprise me that Prince George's County didn't protect its interest on this matter--after all, National Harbor has been resistant to providing high quality transit access from the outset, transit advocates should also file complaints on this matter with the regulator of casinos in Maryland:
... with a copy of the complaint to the State of Maryland Department of Planning.  I would think that the failure to accommodate transit could be construed as a violation of state planning requirements concerning "priority funding areas" and smart growth regulations.

I don't track what the agency does in great detail, but they did provide recommendations concerning transportation and the Baltimore casino.

My sense is that MGM could come around, based on their activities in other cities such as Detroit or Springfield, Massachusetts, but they are probably taking their anti-transit cues from the master developer of the site, Peterson Companies.

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At 7:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the design and location of National Harbor are OK.

My main objection is that instead of connecting to the local street grid, they ran a fence around it, and provided only one entrance.

Apparently the neighbors wanted it that way - a foolish decision IMO, they just cut themselves off from the waterfront park, restaurants and other amenities.

It's as though you'd built a wall around the Ballston-Clarendon corridor before redeveloping it, then touted the proximity of the surrounding homes.

The local real estate listings tout their proximity to National Harbor, so it's clearly a net asset.

At a bare minimum, there should be an entrance on Oxon Hill Road for pedestrians. There is a bus route on Oxon Hill Road, which is easily walkable to the Convention Center if the fence wasn't there.

Plus another couple of routes on Indian Head highway, and some apartments too.

With just one shuttle bus to the Green Line, access for low-paid hotel and kitchen staff is a real problem. I'm not sure where the developer's assertion that only 1% of their staff will use transit is coming from.

At 7:57 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

The thing that was probably motivating the residents wrt to "disconnection" was a fear of "through traffic" going on neighborhood streets. Likely that was an unnecessary concern--people mostly drive on the main streets. Only people with extranormal knowledge would know about quicker trips through neighborhood streets. But by doing this, they made it that much harder to get there, and require a motor vehicle trip to do so.

PGC should do a new planning iteration focused on correcting the disconnections you've identified, with the eye of the long term goal of making this a "town center" for the southern county.

At 8:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

as for any initiatives from the PG county gov't officials- I doubt that anyone in that capacity would ever bother to read a book on urbanism nevermind undertake any ideas that are at all risky or innovative- these are people simply collecting paychecks and that is it. They do not want any complications and good ideas are too complicated for their lives.

At 9:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I interviewed with PGC once. Was not selected, and would not have wanted to work there, but you gotta eat. I was curious that I got an interview for the 1st job I ever applied for there, but was never called again for about dozen subsequent positions I applied for even though I was qualified. I can never figure employers out.


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