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.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

An argument for differentiated practice (on transportation policy)

A theme in the entries in this blog is that rather than one size fits all policies for "a nation" or "a state," it makes much more sense to differentiate.

Transit practice is a key example.  Most trips in the US are conducted by car.  But in certain places, primarily densely populated communities, transit captures a significant proportion of trips.

Just as many people scoff at the idea of bicycling as transportation, seeing bicycles as a toy, most people see transit as a conveyance for people who can't afford to own a car, transit therefore is seen as a social service, not a practical method and mode of transportation.

Transit policy ought to prioritize transit service in places where transit is highly used.  (While still ensuring access for people who need it.)

A couple graphics illustrating data on transit use, drawn from the Pew Foundation panel study American Trendlines, illustrate the point.  Northeastern cities and urban areas are where transit use dominates.

Public transit use varies by demographic group

New York leads U.S. in public transit use

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At 11:17 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

off-topic, budget:

At 11:40 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Thanks. Many comments.

1. Seems like the general scoping process was half-baked.

2. RE analysis is only one element of the analysis that's needed. And where is that? The homeless advocacy/interest community is not going to be particularly critical (if criticism is necessary) out of fear it will impact their contracts-connections and maybe too they just don't have particularly good robust recommendations for alternatives.

3. half-baked procurement is an indicator that it makes more sense to take more time on the process, not unlike how the city redid how they handled the soccer stadium land acquisition process vs. the course they originally chose (trading land).

4. back to #2, the analyses done by Seattle in their process seem to be more thorough and focused. E.g., families aren't the only segment of homelessness that needs to be addressed.

5. another illustration of the failures not having a rigorous public capital budgeting process separate from the regular budgeting process and process for passing laws.

... e.g., like how CM Cheh responded when Mayor Bowser asked Council to weigh in on the zoning, and she said something like "typically, that's not what we do and it interferes..."

6. The Office of Public-Private Partnerships is a potentially scary entity too. Given the lack of adequate planning processes and checks and balances. (Well, Council is a check sort of, but look at CM Nadeau's response on the homeless site leases-acquisitions -- "we have to do it this way because we've exhausted the city's capital budgeting financing authority-capacity on other projects." I'd think that would be an indicator to look at these processes, an indicator that there are major concerns.)

As we know, these aren't really partnerships as much as they are financing vehicles.

At 12:04 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

RE: Seattle.

In discussions, they seem to have done sort of internal audit -- they reported DC General is the largest driver of costs in the system.

That might have changed in 2015 as the number of hotel guests doubled as a result of policy changes.

A lot of the housing subsidies on homeless are being hidden in another budget item. (DC Housing Finance agency?).

Somebody really screwed the pooch here. The lure of giving away DC General is just too much.

At 12:38 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I used to have "arguments" with my old mentor. They were selling their house, but going to move to an area just as expensive (or at least their plans for buying-renovating a house were just as expensive).

I said the point of buying low and selling high isn't to buy high again.

E.g., we can redevelop DC General, and that would be a good idea, but if we spend more money to transfer the use currently there than we get back in economic return, it's nonsensical.

your point reminds me of the "we'll build and rent out space on top of the MLK Library." There wasn't a good business case for doing so, but it was part of the discussions for a long long time.

In a meeting with the library director, he said "well, they brought me here to get the library renovated and ... "

I said (you know the line), "An RFP isn't a plan, and the studies that recommended that course of action were mostly biased and unobjective..."

Finally, not because of me, but because the concept didn't cost-benefit positively, they dropped it.

(But anyone with the least bit of understanding with how construction costs and return work should have known the capacity to add on wasn't "big enough" to generate positive returns.)

At 11:48 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Well assuming they managed to find a firm that would sell out so quickly, we should see the report this week.

RE: Transit use.

As long as transit use is moving poor people it is going to suffer.

I had to use the Circulator yesterday -- probably the only person going to Fiola Mare who had to circulate there.

It was a great experience, except for the homeless person camped in the front half of the bus, driving every else into the back thanks to various smells.

At the last ANC1 meeting there was supposed to be a Circulator presentation on the "U st line" but nobody showed up.

At 10:35 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Hmm, you're right about the public/private (P3) office is terrifying.

Need to do more digging here...

I'd say at least of 4 homeless sites (ward 3, 4 5 and 6) could be runs as P3 partnerships and get away form all procurement law.

At 11:22 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

.... would still require a contract, which the city council would have to approve.

The city goes back and forth. I think they are desperate for financing vehicles.

But with the streetcar the Gray Admin. put a P3 solicitation out there and then never followed through after it had winnowed through and had a few serious expressions of interest.

At 11:29 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

The thing I hate about the P3 term is that I don't see how they are "partnerships." They are financing arrangements involving the private sector.

At 11:35 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

That is a partnership! General parents gets all the money! Limited partner gets all the losses!

(Old tax joke from the 1980s!)

I think the Mayor is going to try and re-bid through the p3 office rather than a RFP.

At 11:56 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

1. "There is nothing in life quite so limited as being a limited partner of George Steinbrenner."

2. I just think of the parking structure and parking meter deals that the City of Chicago did, where they left at least $1 billion on the table for the financiers.

Then again, they were desperate for money for the near term budget and maybe they didn't see themselves as having options.

An entry I wrote in 2005 about "negotiating" with MLB was that DC didn't need to be such a supplicant, that our market was valuable enough, and we didn't have to give away the store.

At 12:04 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Well as you have said before the post-Barry rebound was so quick and violent that the people in place in 2005 could have no idea on level of the market in 2015.

At 12:19 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Hmm, I thought about going to that conference, but I didn't.

2. The thing that makes me hesitant about writing that piece about upping the debt cap is that as you know, basing projections of the future on the past isn't a slam dunk.

Yes, DC is doing a lot better. Yes it is growing.

Therefore I'd say it's reasonable to up the debt cap some, especially as the limit means financial engineering workarounds that don't help the city nor the safety of the city's financial instruments.

OTOH/1, it's not a slam dunk, circumstances will change, a lot can go wrong, etc.

OTOH/2, it's not like Council/The Mayor are such stupendous financial and asset managers that you want to give them the ability to waste more money.

That's why I would pair it with some significant changes and improvements to the capital planning, budgeting, and approval process.

Probably also a change in how charter schools can be created without attention to demand. That is becoming a big drain and leads to poor utilization of DCPS facilities.

Probably too setting it for a 6 year period, coincident with a new capital budgeting process over the same period, and having to review the debt percentage level at that point.

And an "investment plan" for dealing with poverty that spends money, but with the aim of over time reducing poverty in significant ways and then reducing outlays as a result.


... I got a press release from WRI about a new study and how they say that "national investment strategies" should prioritize sustainable transportation to reduce impacts on climate change. My response was, that presupposes your nation/state/city has an investment strategy to begin with.

The UK does have a much different approach to this at the city level, not unlike those "investment" documents produced by the City of Seattle in relation to their homeless reduction programming.


I don't see DC functioning in a similar manner. However, I am the first to admit I don't read all the CFO documents, and at least we have a CFO and that process, which affords some independence.

But in terms of expenditures that increase value, are neutral, or negative, I don't feel like DC stakeholders/elected officials think like that.

I prefer to spend/invest monies in a manner that adds value, has positive ROI. Do our stakeholders even think that way.

(E.g., on a DCPS elist, me and this other guy argued with the rest of the list because of the use of school buses to move kids a couple blocks from Brookland Elem. to Bunker Hill Elem. for after school programs.

Yes the road, Michigan Avenue, is busy. But the cost was--I don't remember the exact amount--somewhere between $1MM and $3MM. Spending a lot of money for little value. Walking would be a much better alternative with incredible ROI in comparison.)

At 12:28 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

oh, and impact fees. Maybe. There is a fine line on profit/ROI because of the height limit, but DC should consider impact fees, or tightening up various approval processes to require proffers, dealing with certain elements that instead get pushed onto the city.

... like that the Nationals won't do an MOU with Metrorail for if-needed late night service. (Granted the city doesn't pay for it either, but given the funding for the stadium, the city should get certain transportation facilities/mitigation efforts in return. I asked a planner about this the other day. We don't have TDM planning required as part of uses in an ongoing way. Yes, Verizon Center or Nationals Stadium, as part of the initial approvals had to do certain things. But these agreements aren't revisited and revised over time.)

At 1:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Yes the road, Michigan Avenue, is busy. But the cost was--I don't remember the exact amount--somewhere between $1MM and $3MM. Spending a lot of money for little value. Walking would be a much better alternative with incredible ROI in comparison."

See the recent kerfuffle over Fillmore Arts wherein DCPS again tried to end the program. It's not the programming costs but the transportation costs--to port the kids to Fillmore--that are through the roof.

Public education is on the ropes in DC. No transparency. No accountability.



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