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, May 20, 2015

To build the Purple Line, perhaps Montgomery and Prince George's Counties will have to create a "Transportation Renewal District" and Development Authority

Subareas, Purple Line Transit Corridor, Montgomery and Prince George's Counties, MarylandLast year, after attending the big conference of the Purple Line Coalition at UMD, I wrote a couple of blog entries:
making the point that to foster equitable development, reduce displacement and to produce significant improvement around stations in a concerted and accelerated manner, it is necessary to create a development authority, funded through the creation of a tax increment finance district based on the Purple Line's transitshed (catchment area).

This was the recommendation:

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.

But rather than pay for the building of the line, I proposed that the monies be used exclusively to pay for focused equitable development and placemaking and business development issues in the Purple Line corridor.

Now I think that to get the Purple Line funded in today's circumstances, given Governor Hogan's reticence to invest in urban areas or in transit ("Hogan’s decision on light-rail Purple Line expected by mid-May," "Hogan: Price of Purple Line is ‘not acceptable’," Washington Post), Montgomery and Prince George's County will have to do what Portland did to fund the Interstate/Yellow Line.

Tri Met #206 in front of the Overlook, a new mixed use development on the corner of Shaver and Interstate, Portland Oregon, April 3 2008.Tri Met #206 in front of the Overlook, a new mixed use development on the corner of Shaver and Interstate, Portland Oregon, April 3 2008. by Dan Haneckow, on Flickr.

The Portland Development Commission created an urban renewal district and the bonds financed a good portion of the local match (federal transit funds covered about 3/4 of the cost) both the construction of the light rail line and various revitalization initiatives.

They took this step after various failed state referenda.  First, because the line was supposed to go to Vancouver, Washington, a State of Washington ballot was required, which failed, even though State of Oregon voters approved.  Second, they cut Washington out but still needed a statewide vote because the line was supposed to go outside of Portland to eastern suburbs.  That failed.  I think there was a third vote as well.

Each time, Portland residents voted in favor and the city's officials decided that in order to proceed, they needed to stick within Portland.  Of course now Vancouver is looking for the Yellow line to be extended ("Light rail: bliss or blight," Vancouver Columbian).

One problem with URDs is that generally they are limited to a 20 year term.  The term should be at least 30 years, given the long time frame necessary to achieve the various goals and objectives, especially in weaker sub markets.

Maryland needs to enable the creation of Transportation Renewal Districts at the sub-state level, with a broader charge based on the strict "blight" standards typically used to justify the creation of urban renewal initiatives.

This will allow the state to reduce the amount of money it must come up with to fund transit projects.

In this case, Montgomery and Prince George's Counties can put a lot more money into funding the construction of the light rail line and take the "burden" off the state.

(Similar to how the State of Virginia reduced its financial obligations for the Silver Line by shifting control of the Dulles Toll Road to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, gave MWAA the responsibility for construction and financing of the Silver Line, and MWAA generated a great deal of the funding by escalating toll rates.)

At the same time, there will still be enough money in the TRD so that the counties can still do the equity, portfolio, and placemaking initiatives and investments also recommended.

 Montgomery County could create separate TRDs to deal with Metrorail expansion and the creation of a BRT network(subject of a recent failed initiative by County Executive Leggett to create a state-enabled transit authority, "Leggett withdraws Independent Transit Authority Bill," Bethesda Magazine).


Note:  I didn't remember this, but apparently I suggested this in 2007 as well.  See "It's time to create the "Port Authority" of Montgomery and Prince George's Counties."

This is what I wrote:

1. Otherwise the Purple Line transit line may never get built.

Probably the only way to build the line, given how the State of Maryland's transportation priorities are focused on the Inter County Connector, HOT lanes on I-95 north of Baltimore, and maybe Baltimore, not to mention dealing with the infrastructure ramifications of military base expansion in the Fort Meade area due to the BRAC process, is to create an "urban renewal district" that can sell bonds with repayments based on the anticipated gain in property and other tax revenues.

Note that I am not so familiar with the proposed route that I have a sense about how much new value will be created. One of the problems is that it takes quite a while for the new value to kick in, at least 12-15 years...

The Interstate, or Yellow, Line in Portland, Oregon was built using such a method.

And of course, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey funds projects that benefits both states, such as transportation projects like the PATH subway trains.

Closer to home, the Gateway Georgia Avenue Revitalization Corporation operates in both Silver Spring, Maryland and in the Upper Georgia Avenue section of DC.

2. And efforts in Takoma Park to improve New Hampshire Avenue and University Boulevard will be harder to pull off without the creation of a bi-county authority. This is because one side of New Hampshire Avenue is in MoCo, the other in PG, and in different parts of the corridor, value capture varies by county, based on the opportunities presented. But to pay for it all, you need the tax increment revenue increases from both sides of the street.

Note that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey gets no taxes, only revenues from operations and fees such as the airports, etc., and a bi-county authority in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties couldn't operate in the same way.

Nonetheless, a local authority in those two counties would be a logical extension of the legally combined, but in reality separated, bi-county Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which is supposed to manage planning in those two counties in ways that are complementary to the federal presence in the District of Columbia. (Each county has its own planning operation and procedures.)

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At 8:21 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Well, in principle also not different from Moses/MTA (take bridge/toll money and re-invest it).

Perhaps the 66 toll concept could do the same for NVTC.

Presumably 20 year is a decent time line for this area. Strongish market.

I think Hogan may be more concerned about future capital overruns and operating costs rather than the projected figures. At least I would be.

At 11:09 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Yep. Good point about linkage on I-66. At the same time, I think that Dulles Toll Road users got abused wrt funding the Silver Line.

At 2:54 PM, Blogger Bradley Heard said...

I think MoCo has made a pretty decent case for needing new light rail infrastructure between Bethesda and Silver Spring, and it should find a way to fund it even if Gov. Hogan punts on the Purple Line.

The case for the Purple Line is much less strong in PGCo. The county has 15 Metro stations that it hasn't yet developed--some of which have sat empty for 30+ years. And the county claims it won't have enough development for all of them in the next 20 years. How can they make a straight-faced argument for more rail transit when they've pretty much ignored the vast rail infrastructure they already have?

I know you've made the case that the Purple Line could reboot TOD in PGCo, but frankly, I don't find that argument very persuasive. It's inexcusable for PGCo not to develop its 15 Metro stations--all of them, not just the ones at the Beltway edge, and not just the ones in north county. Until the county can figure out how to use and develop what it already has, I'll remain somewhat skeptical about the prospects of a new light rail transit line in PGCo.

All that said, it would be stupid for Hogan to punt completely on the Purple Line, because of the federal New Starts funding that has already been committed. At the very least, if he's truly interested in cost-savings, Hogan and MTA should be looking for ways to secure federal approval for a modified Purple Line strategy--beginning with the Bethesda-Silver Spring segment.

What PGCo could really use now (in addition to a real Metro station development strategy) is better and more frequent bus connectivity throughout the county--something similar to the RideOn and ART networks. If PGCo leaders were smart, they'd be angling for a portion of the MTA/Purple Line funding to be redirected to that project, or to further Metro station development (assuming Hogan decides to punt completely or do the MoCo-only option).

At 6:41 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

While I understand your point about the existing Metrorail stations, the reality is that most of them aren't well placed for the kind of development that you think should happen there.

If they were, the development would be happening.

Someone mentioned on a GGW post that the PGC stations were poorly placed because of the cheapness of railroad ROW, not unlike how most of the Baltimore light rail line ROW was similarly chosen, outside of Downtown Baltimore.

Most of the PG stations are the equivalent of DC's Fort Totten, which (1) will only be developed as the better located stations "fill up"(2) and won't develop the kind of synergy present in closer in stations because of the sub-urban design of the areas surrounding the station and (3) the lack of a special planning-zoning overly and review process to force the development of a more urban centric urban design wasn't created. (Rhode Island Metro has the same problem, the same level of disjointness, for the same reasons.)

I am not super familiar with a lot of the PGC stations, but they seem poorly placed from a dense development opportunity. E.g., Southern Ave., Capitol Heights, etc.

Even an area with some potential, West Hyattsville, has had a TOD station area plan for what, at least 10 years?, and nothing has happened. Greenbelt too. (Although as Fort Totten builds out, maybe then development could leapfrog there).

Brookland is a good contrast with the Monroe St. Market project as a good illustration of how to repattern more densely. Although I think it was a mistake to allow the partial block between 7th and 8th to become rowhouses, rather than a bigger denser building like the other ones.

This pattern will be extended to what happens on the Metro station as well, although again, not as densely as I think it should be.

The difference with the Purple Line is that it re-focuses transit on central places in PGC, places that have the potential to add "place value".

You saw my piece on New Carrollton? That's the kind of problem that most of the PGC Metrorail stations have, and it will take decades--with really top notch able leadership--to pull off the kind of change that's necessary.

Remember it took 25 years before development in DC moved out of the core of the Metrorail stations to "outer stations" like Columbia Heights, U Street (actually pretty quick, 10 or so years after the opening of the Green Line), Petworth, Takoma.

And DC has more advantages than PGC because of the statutory requirement for a goodly part of the federal government to remain housed within the city.

In my not so humble opinion, if PGC doesn't get the Purple Line, it will never successfully move to the next level of urbanized suburbanism like Tysons or White Flint.

A couple nodes maybe. see next comment.

At 6:48 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

as far as I know, at least for me, the first I ever read about the Purple Line concept was its proposal within a City Paper cover story on 12/4/1987, just a few months after I moved to the city.

It happens that the Washingtoniana collection has a digitized file of all the issues of the WCP because a Yale professor wanted them, and Yale U paid to digitize them. They aren't available online though because DCPL doesn't yet have an agreement with WCP for public access.

Anyway, I got a copy of the article this week (for a couple of other reasons)--the author of the piece, Mark Jenkins, doesn't have a copy himself, I asked him about it for the last year...--and one of the points he made was fascinating.

He proposed the circle line, and called it purple somewhere in there, based on circle lines in places like Paris.

He also discussed the ability to link rail services to heavy rail service as key nodes.

He made the point that New Carrollton was the only secondary main train junction then, outside of Union Station, because of the link of the orange line to Amtrak and MARC.

But with a real purple line and improving rail services (as you know I also write about merging VRE and MARC), then stations like Greenbelt, Rockville, and Alexandria would move up in the hierarchy as well.

The same could happen in some other places if rail service were added to the mix. E.g. couldn't rail track be added to Rte. 50 to Annapolis, even beyond? And in one of Dan Malouff's map of potential rail services, he shows the potential for service to Southern Maryland. That would help southern PGC as well.

Right now I just have the entire 12-4-1987 issue, but I will see if I can get the pdf of just that article, and put it online.

At 6:49 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

sorry I meant to cite this in my first response to Bradley:

This is the New Carrollton piece:


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