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.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Update on the DC Streetcar program on the verge of launching Sunday service

2016.08.19 H Street NE Washington DC USA 07460Flickr photo by Ted Eytan.

In December 2015, a couple months before the DC Streetcar launched, I wrote a series of posts about the streetcar, making a few points:

(1) the poor launch of the program shouldn't be held against the mode;

(2) streetcars need to be judged in terms of what they are supposed to do, which is to provide "intra-city" and "intra-district" transit, not longer distance service;

(3) that you can't properly judge the program until there is more trackage--right now the line is only a couple miles line and poorly integrated with Union Station; and

(4) judged in terms of economic development impact, the DC Streetcar is a wild success, as in my conservative opinion more than $750 million in new development has been sparked or significantly accelerated by the streetcar, and H Street NE is the only corridor in the city without Metrorail service where development at this scale is occurring, especially as you go east on the corridor--what spurred post #4 was the announcement of a project on the 1700 block of Benning Road/H Street, east of Hechinger Mall.

-- "DC streetcars move to simulated service: passenger service expected within a couple months: DC streetcars part 1"
-- "DC and streetcars #2: STREETCARS ARE ABOUT TRANSIT, just in a different way from how most people are accustomed to thinking about it"
-- "DC and streetcars #3: More discussion (from almost two years ago)"
-- "DC and streetcars #4: from the standpoint of stoking real estate development, the line is incredibly successful and it isn't even in service yet, and now that development is extending eastward past 15th Street"

Tomorrow is the H Street Festival, now the city's largest neighborhood street festival, and on Sunday, the DC Streetcar launches 7 day/week service as originally the service was provided six days/week, because not all of the vehicles in the fleet were ready for revenue service.

The need to incorporate other improvements into transit projects simultaneously.  I intend to write another piece in the series on "Transportation Infrastructure as Civic Architecture" (post #3 on Rhode Island Avenue Metro Station) about plans for extension of the streetcar system east on Benning Road to Minnesota Avenue, and how failures in urban design planning illustrate that DDOT and most transportation agencies fail to acknowledge transportation infrastructure as an element of civic architecture.

This is wasteful because adding enhanced capacities and aesthetic elements within transportation corridors have extranormal return on investment when it comes to economic development, and I will get to that, after I read the new NACTO publication, Transit Street Design Guide, published by Island Press.

A counter-example I will use is Kansas City's successful streetcar launch and how they integrated "Smart City" elements within the street's new infrastructure as part of the project ("Kansas City just installed free public Wi-Fi and dozens of 'smart' streetlights," The Verge).

Photo of the Smart City Kiosk and the KC Streetcar by Eric Bowers.

Launch of Sunday service.  But the launch of Sunday service (I had hoped to get the city to consider adding heritage streetcars to the fleet to accomplish this, see "An idea for Sunday streetcar service in DC: heritage streetcars"), reminds me of two things.

A lot of money is being spent marketing the streetcar: does this make sense?  First, I've been meaning to write about how I think it's somewhat of a waste of money to be spending a lot of money on promoting the streetcar since it provides such limited service, although I suppose the money spent can be positioned as promoting the H Street commercial district.

You could argue it's good to promote "the mode" so that people support its extension, but many people will see this as frivolous, since the line only provides intra-district transit on H Street, and people will have a hard time conceiving it as part of a bigger network.
Ad in the Express promoting the DC Streetcar
Ad in the Express promoting the DC Streetcar.  Ive also seen the ads posted on bike share kiosks.

That being said, DC needs to have a systematic program for funding the ongoing development and promotion of the city's sub-districts (like Capitol Hill, Georgetown, Dupont Circle, etc.) and it doesn't, and in any case the money shouldn't be coming from transportation funds ("New Jingle Very Enthusiastic About Streetcar, Will Costs Thousands of Dollars to Run," Washington City Paper)..

Updating the master list of H Street area development projects spurred by the streetcar program.  Second, the original list of the various projects spurred by the Streetcar program failed to include some projects on Florida Avenue.  Projects there definitely would not be happening without a streetcar.

These projects are small by comparison, but still significant and push the development value over $800 million. (And note that in the 2003 piece I wrote for H Street Main Street about the need to develop a "housing development policy" did discuss some of the opportunities present on Florida Avenue.)

I am not counting little projects on H Street (buildings at 1300 and 1301, a project on Linden Court) which may have occurred regardless as a form of infill and intensification, although in my opinion while these projects would have occurred some day, they are in process now because of the streetcar, so it would be fair to include them.

New real estate development along the H Street corridor associated with the streetcar
Building name Address # of units Value
Stationhouse 701 2nd Street NE375 $165MM*
Senate Square 200 block north 476 $210MM*
Capital City Realty 301 H Street NE 25 $9MM*
Telesis315 H Street NE 25-40 $12MM*
360 Apartments 360 H Street NE 270 $120MM*
Ava 300 block I Street NE 140 $60MM*
Douglas Development 501 H Street 25$11MM*
Anthology Apartments 601-645 H Street NE 307 $135MM*
Apollo 600 H Street 430 $189MM
Rock Creek Realty 600 block north 32 $15MM*
H Street Connection 800 block south 368 $162MM*
Wall Development 1115 H Street NE 16 $6MM*
The Maryland 1350 Maryland Avenue NE84 $40MM*
TBD 1401 H Street NE34$15MM*
Atlas Flats 1600 Maryland Avenue NE 257 $36MM
Valor Development 1603 Benning Road NE 300 $100MM*
1701 H Street NE 1700 Benning Road NE 180 $60MM
Ditto Residential 1326 Florida Avenue NE 45 $13.5MM
Corey Condominiums 1350 Florida Avenue NE 43 $13MM
Havana Condominiums 1124 Florida Avenue NE 52 $15.6MM

* = the value of the project is an estimate, and the cost does not necessarily include the cost of land.

Note also that the original estimate for Atlas Flats failed to include the value of development rights on an abutting undeveloped parcel.  The property later sold for $95 million ("Kettler JV Scoops Up Flats at Atlas, Lot for $95M," Globe Street).

Rendering, The Corey Condominiums.

The total of the projects listed in December was $769 million.  The three Florida Avenue projects add $42 million to the total, taking it over $800 million.  (I used a slightly smaller average valuation for the Florida Avenue projects, which is a judgment call.)

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At 1:24 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

The google funded wifi kiosks in NYC have been pulled for the usual reasons.

You basic point -- the streetcar was able to move dense development further out from the metro stations -- is still the most valid.

The proposed Arlington/Columbia Pike might have been able to do the same, although there is obviously a lot less demand in Arlington that people thought.

At 7:04 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

1. wrt the kiosks in NYC

I hadn't thought about that issue that much, but of course it would be a problem.

While I like this general concept theoretically, the problem is that a digital kiosk can only serve one person at time, where signboards can serve multiple people.

But if you make the kiosk info also accessible within an app it has more applications.

DC is moving to an arrangement with the people who did the Kansas City kiosks.

I haven't seen them in action so I don't know if they are going to have the kinds of capabilities I have argued for.

Capitol Hill will get a few, and I serve on a committee with one of the people shepherding that along, and I am trying to get in on one of the meetings...

2. WRT the streetcar, I do think that they can make sense in areas underserved by transit, especially heavy rail transit, but the biggest value is for intensification.


Anytime you can invest public dollars in transit and get that kind of economic development, I think that's a great two-fer.

Of course, the connection has been obvious for a couple centuries, but had been discounted by planners and the federal govt. for the last few decades, and the system still privileges highway construction.

At least now people want to live in the city, which makes all the difference in terms of impact

... the trick is to also have the area be "walkable" and include neighborhood-serving retail and civic assets.

e.g., the discussion in GGW about places where you can afford to buy. Most of them aren't walkable communities. Places that have the potential, like along the Rte. 1 corridor in PG County, need to be intensified to be more walkable and to support local retail.

At 11:04 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

"but had been discounted by planners and the federal govt. for the last few decades, and the system still privileges highway construction."

Isn't this an issue of managing by the metric?

I mean, highways+cars are more effective in moving people. I realize that is heresy to say in these circles but there are reasons why cars won out.

What highways can't do -- and buses can't either -- as you said is create high quality walkable developments.

But the metrics are based on moving people.

The continued inability of the DC streetcar to figure out how to charge people isn't helping either. And no, an honor system won't work in DC -- for the same reason as giving people free wifi kiosks is a bad idea.

(Arlington has a free wifi in some plazas and they become homeless magnets).

At 1:59 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

well, this is one of language. The metrics weren't about moving people, but moving cars. When you switch to metrics about moving people (that's what LOS by mode does), then transit gets more value.

There are a lot of reasons our system switched to favor cars. As in the "Petrostates of America" article, as an oil producing nation, we 'needed' to encourage consumption. And manufacturing autos was a good way to develop the economy. The automobile centric development paradigm is a great way to develop and market stuff, from houses to cars to furniture to loan instruments, etc.

Cars are great for mobility, but don't scale. There is a point where you can't build the system bigger in order to accommodate more cars.

Transit is great to move lots of people short and intermediate distances, between a pre-selected set of places.

Cars and other forms, depending on the nature of the trip, are way better at point to point movement, especially outside of the "catchment areas" (transit shed-mobility shed) where the transit mode is optimized.

... I know you know all this.

But it's all about segmentation, which in the US we don't do very well at. It's all one or the other, not mixed, not both, each set to where it works best, but getting the transportation and land use paradigm more congruent towards optimality in terms of the development, maintenance, and use of the transportation system at the most benefit and least cost.

(As our anti-Agenda 21 friends say, "social engineering." Another way to say their perspective is spillover costs and subsidies and environmental degradation.)

2. I went to that Bikes vs. Cars movie. It was quite good. But their boogeyman was the car industry. It is, sure. But they didn't mention the oil industry. It's an equally important "culprit." The prime examples were Sao Paulo and LA, with a soupcon of Copenhagen, Netherlands, Toronto and NYC.

They countered Denmark and the Netherlands -- "they don't have a car manufacturing industry" -- but didn't mention the oil connection, both the US and Brazil are oil producers, with native companies, also a prof. was very good about discussing auto manufacturing as an industrial and economic development tool.

BUT a big reason besides the environmental and other impacts on cities for Denmark and the Netherlands to switch to sustainable mobility was the reality that they didn't produce oil, the impact of the "oil crisis" in 1973 which repriced the commodity upward, and the balance of payments issues resulting from 100% import of oil.

The difference between those two countries and all the others wrt sustainable mobility is that they made connections between oil and regulatory policy and cars and regulatory policy, where in most other countries in the US, we build bike infrastructure etc. but do very little to increase the cost of automobility. As long as "car use" is cheap, it's very difficult to force people to absorb some of the real costs imposed by using alternate modes (traveling with others on transit, time issues, riding, walking, etc.).

By contrast, again, you know this, in those countries the gas excise tax is about $6/gallon; a car excise tax can be equal to the cost of the car, the process for getting a driver's license is time consuming and very expensive, parking is very expensive, especially in cities, etc.

At 2:05 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

This is important enough to be a separate entry. I haven't written about pricing the streetcar.


It's a way to create a fareless square kind of thing.

In the paper I wrote for a class in 2007 laying out an interconnected transportation and land use planning paradigm for DC, besides enshrining the SF "transit first" charter amendment, I explored the idea of free transit. I can't remember the numbers, I think I estimated it would cost at least $75 million/year beyond what the city was spending on Metrobus.

It's too difficult to make the Metrorail service free. And it's hard to do it with Metrobus.

Why not start with the services that DC runs? I'll write a blog entry about it. G-D knows It'd be very hard to find that paper (many computers ago...).

But yes, like with the kiosks, there would be free rider problems, etc.

SF studied it but never released the actual study document. What they said was that ridership would increase significantly, leading to greater demand for vehicles and drivers, and they couldn't afford it.

at the very least, I say, keep the streetcar free.

... when Tempe considered charging for service after the onset of the recession, they figured out the cost of outfitting the buses with fare collection equipment, collecting and processing money, etc., it wasn't worth it.

At 2:09 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Speaking of your comment the other day about the Circulator and U Street, the Circulator team was at the H Street Festival, using their booth as a form of public meeting, showing three different routes where they are considering changes, and getting feedback.

One is the Dupont Circle-Rosslyn route, which they are considering extending to U Street like you want.

Of course, the biggest problem with such a route is the congestion on and around U Street and between there and Dupont Circle, which will degrade service, and would require more buses and drivers to maintain and adequate level of service.

... still, now that I am more committed to the tertiary network and creating a set of services to meet those needs, even if the Circulator and its headways isn't necessarily the right choice for all of the types of tertiary network service that might be required, I am fine with that extension.

... but I am having data disk and other problems with my very old Android phone and it will take me awhile to download the photos from the Festival.

At 7:32 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

I'd use the U St to Georgetown line, but it would be a horrible idea unless they are very creative about getting through dupont circle. The ones that were proposed about a year ago would NOT work.

Interesting thought on the "free". I'd say not work. IF you remember when bus rides were free on "Code orange" days the net effect was hispanic day workers were the only ones who used it. The bus was so crowded that I usually ended up driving those days since it was also hot out.

Same with Circulator K st; a large portion of the riders seem to be going straight to Union Station and want to avoid paying WMATA fares. It is clearly more efficient to to metro to union station but also quite expensive during rush hour.

And tourists would also flood the system.

Clearly some advantages in terms of boarding time and complexity. I'd say about 1/4 of the time on the Rosslyn-Dupont line (the smaller van hool buses) the fare machine was broken. It seems to be have been recently fixed.

take a look at the Project FI at google; it is an experiment with a cheaper plan + new google phone. It might work for you and bring down mostly prices.

At 6:37 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

WRT Circulator, frankly, I don't see how the U St. to Dupont Circle portion could work because of congestion. Although I now see the value of connection. Too bad we can't have bus tunnels.

WRT free it's more of an intellectual exercise. FWIW, the kind of tertiary transit service I thought of within neighborhoods in the paper I wrote in 2007 I did want to be free, but it was more jitney like, taking people from home to commercial district, transit station, etc., without having to drive _and park_.

The Circulator doesn't work like that.

People do use it to save money if they understand the various services. Just like people in the know take MARC to BWI instead of Amtrak.

OTOH there's a place for Circulator within the transit system as a form of sub-city transit that's not "regional", not unlike how the Circulator in Baltimore creates intra-city transit separate from cobbling it together via various MTA routes.

It depends on the city whether or not that service is secondary or tertiary or quaternary. The Tempe Orbit service is different from the Circulator, but that's because DC is more populated.

wrt the phone, thanks. I'll check it out.


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