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, April 19, 2018

Revisiting stories: 2005 BRAC and Fort Belvoir transit + disconnected BRT transit planning in the DC metropolitan area

1. In 2005, I wrote about the military Base Reconciliation and Closure program, and how the federal government was making changes in facilities which would create massive changes in transportation demand, without taking any responsibility for addressing this.

-- "Military Base Relocation"

One of the changes was increasing the number of agencies located at Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County, which is not quite 10 miles from the end of the Yellow Line Metrorail Line station at Huntington.

In 2011, the Post ran an article ("Study: Pentagon should pay for transportation improvements necessitated by BRAC") about a study that said the Federal Government should pay for the transportation infrastructure costs BRAC would impose on the region. From the article:

The Defense Department has shirked responsibility to pay for hundreds of millions of dollars in transportation improvements required as it transfers thousands of workers to Fort Belvoir, Fort Meade and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, according to a congressionally mandated study released Monday.

At the time I made the point that BRAC, deliberately or not, was about promoting sprawl, that making Fort Belvoir a bigger regional military center increases car trips because it's not well connected to the current transportation infrastructure.

Do you really need a congressional study to determine if you move lots of jobs from a concentrated place with highly developed alternative transportation modes, to places that are farther out in the region(s), inducing longer trips, to places where the presence of efficient non-automobile based transportation modes are limited, without investing significantly in new transportation infrastructure that there will be problems?

Or are that many people unaware about how things work in real life?

Why then weren't plans executed to extend the Yellow Line, as is suggested in the Metrorail future vision expansion planning graphic produced by Paul J. Meissner?
Conceptual Future integrated rail transit service network for the Washington DC National Capitol Region. Design by Paul J. Meissner.  Concept by Richard Layman and Paul Meissner.
Conceptual Future integrated rail transit service network for the Washington DC National Capitol Region. Design by Paul J. Meissner. Concept by Richard Layman and Paul Meissner

2. A couple years ago I wrote about how three different BRT development programs: WMATA with Metroway; Fairfax with Route 7, and Montgomery County, Maryland's extensive proposals; prove that the DC area doesn't do integrated transportation planning because instead of one common system for bus rapid transit, with unified branding, station design, etc., each is unique.

-- "Route 7 BRT proposal communicates the reality that the DC area doesn't adequately conduct transportation planning at the metropolitan-scale," 2016
-- Nikitas, Alexandros and Karlsson, MariAnne (2015) "A Worldwide State-of-the-Art Analysis for Bus Rapid Transit: Looking for the Success Formula." Journal of Public Transportation, 18 (1)

Photos by Dick Ulliano, WTOP.

These stories are now linked, as Fairfax County is planning a BRT line connecting the Huntington Metrorail Station to Fort Belvoir ("Plan for Richmond Highway includes widening, bus rapid transit system," WTOP).

Hopefully Fairfax County will use the same branding, station design, and ticketing system for both lines, as according to their recent presentation, they have not moved into the detailed design phase for the system (see photo below).

Bus rapid transit best practice.  I like the branding system created for the ART Bus Rapid Transit system in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

-- ART branding, Studio Hill Design Ltd.

Although that system is having problems launching, problems with buses etc.

For more discussion about BRT and regional transit planning, see "What can Suburban Atlanta and Greater Detroit learn from Virginia's Fairfax and Loudoun Counties."

And the WSJ recently published an article saying that buses are the future for urban transit ("The Next Big Thing in Urban Transit: Fast-Bus Systems").  They are, but in smaller metropolitan areas.

Plus, this article ("What could BRT look like in Tampa Bay? Three examples") in the Tampa Bay Times made me realize we sometimes fail to distinguish between center city BRT services such as the Wilshire Line in Los Angeles or the HealthLine in Cleveland and more suburban and longer distance routes such as the not quite 10 mile long Connecticut Fastrak line connecting New Britain and Hartford.

CT Fastrack bus rapid transit system runs in its own guideway in Hartford, Connecticut. The system opened in 2015.
CT Fastrak station. CDOT photo.

Although as I keep pointing out, switching to double deck buses would make a huge branding difference ("Making bus service sexy and more equitable," 2012).

I came across Sydney's B-Line buses today, looking for more information on Sydney's Cross-City Tunnel (thanks Nigel).

I sure wish I could score some of these cardboard models of buses produced by Transit Graphics of Australia.

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At 8:58 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Over reliance of the federal government spending is not innovation.

At 9:16 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Will check this out.

My point was that BRAC changes imposed huge costs on the localities, for which the federal government didn't take any responsibility.

I think there are two very different issues: innovation and funding.

E.g. my point that "chance favors the prepared city" is about having visionary plans and concepts in place so that you can take advantage of changing circumstances and new opportunities as they come up.

If there was a plan in place to extend the Yellow Line to Ft. Belvoir, which makes sense and has for years and years, then they could have jumped on it vis a vis BRAC.

WRT "funding" I think the problem is who is out there to fund stuff. The Federal Govt. is the biggest possible source for local and state governments, but there could be alternatives, like regional and state funding sources. But few exist. You have the big county transportation sales tax measures in California, which because those counties have such big populations, are a big deal (e.g., LA, Orange County etc.)

Other examples are Seattle's Move Seattle funding program for transportation (originally called "Bridging the Gap") and the Metropolitan Area Projects program in Greater Oklahoma City.

Bridging the Gap along with parks bonds shaped my Signature Streets concept.

ANYWAY, we can be both un-innovative and over-reliant on the federal government.

OR innovative and over-reliant on the federal government.

Neither is good.

More importantly, something you said a couple weeks ago has really shook me to the bones. Basically the idea that a lot of the investment in new infrastructure projects now wouldn't necessarily have the kind of multiplicative ROI associated with earlier waves of such projects (e.g., railroads, rapid transit, bridges, ports, etc.).

I think you could be right.

E.g., sure we can have a separated silver line, but if you can build more densely in response, DC doesn't get enough benefit to be able to pay for it.

At 9:27 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Interestingly, in the "trade" people are discussing the Provincial pension fund's proposal to build an extensive light rail system in Montreal as "privatization" rather than the use of semi-public institutions as a way to fund infrastructure.

For different reasons I think the program as proposed is a problem. STM isn't that involved, and because of Montreal's winter, having exposed infrastructure is problematic when it snows badly. The beauty of the Montreal subway is that by being completely underground it always is functional in the worst of weather.

But here, at least I hope we would, wouldn't we be hailing this as an example of using public organizations to fund infrastructure? E.g. what if CALPERS or TIAA/CREF did stuff like that?

cf. the Alabama pension fund that made bad investments.

cf. the Bank of North Dakota or even the old postal bonds system

The thing about BND is that for some reason they've been able to make the loan decision making process nonpolitical.

Imagine a Marion Barry or Harry Thomas Jr. on the board of such an institution in the District of Columbia? Even how owners of GM and Chrysler car dealerships lobbied their Congresspeople to influence the car companies decisions about which dealerships to close/keep open when the feds put all that money into the parent companies.


At 9:28 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

in the previous comment, can should have been can't

At 9:46 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

vis a vis Silver Line, the Toronto experience, aiming to add density to the subway line outside of the core:

At 10:00 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

I can't really type today, but

1. yes somewhat off topic;

2. I'd characterize your writing as efficiency/innovation actor, in the DC area why bother just let to feds take care of it and we'll be fine.

3. Yes basically pension funds NOT investing in the future and dumping their money into china etc..

4. does go back to trust. This is what happened in spain is the various cajas were controlled by local pols and map-investment happened.

5 Mal=investment can have returns other than numbers.

6. All too high level; on a local level where can we drive innovation. example next bus which drove bus numbers for a bit but the effect then collapsed.

7. likewise thinking of non-federal use of DC (uline)

8. To large extent bower's economic message tracks with that.

9. and in transit going back pushing transit use for non-federal jobs.

At 11:06 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

We're super f*ed if we are reliant on the feds for innovation. The federal government stopped doing big innovations with Nixon.

Separately, nextbus is a perfect example of one off improvements vs. "continuous process improvement" or "process innovation."

One of my lines in planning is that plans aren't an endpoint, they are a beginning.

Similarly an innovation shouldn't be seen as an endpoint but as part of a system and the other parts of the system need to be addressed as well. If you want to achieve "wild success."

Nextbus is great for knowing when the bus will be there. But it does nothing for "reliability" of the system.

To increase bus ridership you need to make the system more robust. If not more frequency, faster buses. (And with reduced frequency much greater reliability.)

For faster buses you need system improvements like transitways, bus signal priority, moving bus stops to the far side of the intersection so that once everybody gets on and off they don't have to wait for the light to change, more use of SmarTrip cards, etc.

To make the system sexier, double deck buses, etc.

At 11:07 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

-- continued --

Maybe I am just negative on the administration. They get needing to diversify the economy somewhat.

But they are still reactive. Very much focused on real estate -- housing and retail -- and not economic development/building a local economy.

E.g. the proposal I wrote for Walter Reed as a biotech and health education campus. It was completely blown off because they had already committed to the residential + retail dominated plan.

But I even laid out a justification for why the city made the wrong choice before and why it was important to change. There is an extensive discussion of the need to diversify the local economy beyond the federal government.

... in fact I am going to use some of that in discussing why the proposal for a new UMC is so underpowered.

Imagine UMC + Chicago FocalPoint initiative (community health, recreation and other elements) + other stuff + creating a graduate health education institution and biotech stuff (United Therapeutics owns some buildings in NW DC, not just Silver Spring).

The WR proposal anticipated doing this with Washington Adventist U and the Royal College of Surgeons Dublin and the Children's Hospital (which got part of the campus for medical research purposes).

But the people I was working with had issues, and we couldn't get an LOI from RCS and therefore not WAU.

But if an RCS could come through we could do it with them and "UDC". Move the nursing and allied health professions programs there (UDC already teaches some of this at UMC). Add a medical school, dental school, urban public health school, pharmacy, biotechnology school.

There is big demand for medical education now, and some real interesting new developments in graduate medical education. A bunch of new medical schools have been opening with new types of programs. Plus osteopathic medical schools are on the rise.

One of the examples that is relevant to WR, and now this, is the redevelopment of the Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio.

A local Catholic U, University of Incarnate Word is doing med, pharmacy, and other related schools on the Brooks City Base campus.

WRT east of the river, a study in MD found that 40% of the biotech jobs didn't require advance degrees.

that being said WR the far better choice. the property that Children's got is turnkey. You could open a med school there very fast. UIW used deaccessioned Air Force medical buildings for their medical school.

WR Hospital is ugly but rather than tear it down, use the 2.5 million square feet.

There's no way the DC govt. elected officials have it within them to propose something like the WR thing, what Bloomberg did in NYC with Cornell-Technion, the equivalent of an Amazon but without the external stimulus.

they are big on incubators. And they don't get that incubators work great for only one slice/particular phases of start ups, and there are other "interventions" needed for other phases.

At 11:14 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Hey -- sorry I set off trigger words on the administration.

You're 100% correct -- my point was limited (I could barely type last week -- hand injury) to they now future growth is not tied to the fed but beyond that they have no idea.

On innovation:

At 1:27 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I started collecting info on the 2017 biggest stories in transpo, but never got around to writing it.

one was the long term impact of e-vehicles on the oil industry. although we've talked about it.

Was reading convenience store news latest issue, lots of stories about the future of c-stores vis a vis fuel. The BP futures person figures it will be 3-5 decades before there is significant change. That could be true in the US, because we aren't serious like they seem to be in Europe or China in terms of shifting from direct fossil fuels for cars. But even within a decade things could change in the US.

will read story. thx.

more to grouse. OP's ec. planners I don't think are particularly impressive. I used to think so 11 years ago, when I dealt with one of them. But in the succeeding 11 years I've kept learning and I don't think they have. I don't think they have a keen grasp on how all this works together in the context of DC and the metropolitan area specifically. That being said, the elected officials probably wouldn't listen and are less attuned to business and market forces anyway.

The cultural plan is out of that unit. So not very good.

Typically, the plan said "create a cultural creators affordable housing toolkit" NOT (1) create arts focused cdcs (2) build housing, now.

That's like the people who did the industrial lands study saying "we should study the impact of market forces on industrial zoning" rather than "it's imperative that today we need to enact protections on industrial land because it's being converted to housing, retail, and charter schools."

I was so frustrated when I heard that in something like 2015 when in 2009 I submitted an amendment to the Comp Plan to restrict nonindustrial uses of industrially zoned lands, and it was blown off.

they have no sense of urgency.

The one thing I've learned over my involvements since 1999 is waiting to do something never helps. That capital is inexorable and as land is developed by traditional market forces your ability to do other things with a more social or community intent are constrained and closed off. That not having plans and implementation systems in place BEFORE the velocity of the market changes handicaps you. Etc. Basically, we're handicapped.

I don't know if it's like the Fairfax County planning dept. who did the plan _Vanishing Land_ in 1962 saying that if the county didn't react/pro-act sprawl would screw them. They did the plan but the elected officials, Til Hazel, etc. did something else.

Are they are just clueless and unmotivated OR unwilling to step up because they have little confidence that anything will change.

My line is the great thing about this field, at least in DC, is you have the opportunity to learn every day. They don't seem to be doing so.

At 1:27 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

hope your hand is better! That hasn't happened to me for a long time fortunately.

At 1:03 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

off topic:

At 2:25 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

decent piece. I take a middle position of maximizing density in the areas where it doesn't come at the expense of deep change -- commercial districts and transit sheds -- while also adding ADUs and basement apartments in existing buildings, and yes, even consideration of some insertion of denser multiunit within "traditional" housing stock neighborhoods, although preferably at the expense of newer buildings, not "historically eligible" buildings.

... but also recognizing the necessity of some intensification areas will come at the expense of single family housing (e.g. between 12th St. and the Metro in Brookland, etc.).

I'd rather do maximum intensification of everything else before advocating for eradicating historic buildings, which seems to me to be the GGW position.

As you have pointed out many times, there are significant opportunity costs to not even building to the maximum density that is allowed currently.

... interestingly, this position of the "radicals" in Seattle is completely different from the DC Grassroots Planning Coalition, which is against development mostly.

At least the Seattle people understand the dynamics of the housing market and why things are happening the way that they are.


“What the free-market urbanists don’t acknowledge is that density just for density’s sake doesn’t in itself create more affordable housing,” says Grant. “It creates more market-rate housing.”

that's true in the short run, because it is constructed at current prices, but in the long run (3-5 decades) it will reduce costs by adding to supply.

interesting surmise that millennials are less interested in traditional SFH. That may be true, or merely a function of their current age, and this can change as their household nature and type changes.

P.S. it's very too bad that Suzanne didn't keep her house in Wallingford...

At 10:58 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Yeah, we are getting very off topic, but....

The idea they don't want SFH is bunk.

What is bad right now is "starter homes" or "starter condos" aren't available for less than 600k. That is a decent down payment (120K) even if you can get a various loans deals to bring it down to 5% or so. (30K).

Multifamily is a terrible long term investment; the building costs will kill you over 20 years and the agency problem is also bad. The only structure that might work in the long term is a co-op; that limits your lending choices and very high fees.

The "missing middle" is just as bad in many ways; Fannie Mae says more than 50% rental is noncomforing so a 4 unit building that rents out 2 units is basically going to be unsellable in the near future.

(The answer is abolish ALL 30 year loans for all condos which would bring the price back to a realistic level where long term appreciation is possible).

So as long as we are talking about LOANS being the major part of the housing price SFH is the only way to go as an investment.

FT does a decent job explaining why we've had a overbuild of multiunit rentals in the past 8 years.

So, yeah, you want SFH still.

At 3:46 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

(I haven't read the FT for last two weeks. Am behind!)

as usual, deep s***! Thank you. Your point about condos I've/we've discussed in the past, that as the properties age they become way more expensive to maintain, which is a particularly acute problem in submarkets that are anything less than A rated.

Yes, I believe that the MFH "preference" is more a matter of age than cohort preferences more generally. When you're younger, you're ok with "nonstandard" living experiences, as you age you change. E.g., I'd be fine with a rowhouse, but Suzanne didn't want to deal with people connect to us on either side... and we weren't into condos, the idea of a monthly condo fee, etc.

But yes, in regions that were primarily constructed when the population base was at most 2/3 of today's popuation, there isn't enough housing.

2. BUT, all that being said about financing elements, just as we discuss how individuals are going to have to change some of their expectations, the same maybe goes for financing institutions? Although obviously, in a strong market center city a four unit condo is stronger financially than in a distant section of say PG County?

3. Other changes to the market. Multigenerational housing. We're going to, it appears, somehow join our HH with Suzanne's parents HH. DK exactly how it's gonna work. I am ok with it. But it requires significant changes either to our house here, or in moving, and moving to a place that can accommodate two sub-HHs.

At 9:47 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

RE: financing ; agreed a 4 unit in Shaw is very liquid and good proxy right now (compared to a SFH in PG County for instance).

However, banks generally don't care -- because they sell you a mortgage and then move it off books over to Fannie Mae. So all that matters is Fannie Mae's standards "conforming" and they aren't going to go granular.

Very different incentives.

RE: Multi generalation ; well I've always said the difference between Chinese people and Indian people is Chinese people look at their kids as retirement accounts and Indians look at them as elder care givers.

And there is any way to do this -- move to Fairfax and a place where you don't need zoning approvals to build out a bit.

Which ties into your original piece of the critical failure to look out further and keep building "new towns" or "Walk ups" or whatever you want to call them. I know you blame the car, but every other country has figured out how to do this and we have to great examples in Reston and Columbia.

I think I sent you a link before that is is the EU agricultural policy that is helping urbanism there by keeping farmland expensive.

Off topic (somewhat):

Again going back to Chicago model (which was immigration driven concentric circles) I'd say the model today is also driven by money and financing, which why you have to ask the the powers that be drove down land prices in urban areas so much in the 70s and 80s and 90s.

(Likewise, why are we driving down land prices for farmland so much in the US?)

At 4:36 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

the intensification of suburban conurbations is complicated. It happens because like in the city, in those places the cost of land is greater, hence the intensification. E.g., the development in "North Bethesda" (that tall building with the Whole Foods).

I think it is still a bit problematic. They are better places than typical sprawl, but still tend to be superblocks, not too walkable. That being said, they can do a good job with what they have. One of the reasons Reston is probably better is because it started about 20 years later than Columbia.

Columbia, I didn't read but there is a Sun article about a proposal to junk a bunch of the community facilities because they now need more people than live in the areas to keep them viable.

There is an article in the May Washingtonian about Alison Silverberg and the politics in Alexandria.

While I've written a bunch about these same kinds of issues in MoCo, the reality is that they are universal issues.

E.g., the anti=development narrative in DC now with the Comp Plan. I just don't see how by not building more housing you're going to slake price appreciation and make it easier for people of lesser means to stay.

cf. your Politico cite, etc. It's all the same argument, just different slices of it.

yes about financing. When you have to sell oil and cars you need sprawl... cf. Ford and dropping small and medium sized cars. And yes, expensive farm land tough to make over as houses.

We don't have a lot of incentives for intensification outside of the value of exchange creating demand to be in denser places.

At 7:45 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Reston doesn't have the same kind of facility set but they have some of these issues with "Old Reston" e.g., the brutalist shopping district at Lake Anna, etc.

and I forgot to say that the intensified conurbations are more walkable but most people drive to them.

At 9:07 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

"lack of inter-generational fairness"

This makes sense. Housing prices in high value markets have escalated/appreciated to be affordable only to the higher/highest incomes, which tend to be older deciles.

again, the lack of middle housing, except it's here, just no longer priced as middle housing.

At 10:02 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Meh, the guardian article is pretty weak. Not surprised they just want redistribution of wealth.

Look, you can't compare homeowner rates for 30 years today and then in 1983.

Second, house prices in the UK are crashing.

Third, it comes down to immigration in the UK and in London in particular. Andrew Sullivan just did a piece on that as well.

Fourth, in the US,

Easy way to get rid of people over 65; they die.

We're just hitting to point where millennial are in the 30s in bulk.

At 11:21 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

fwiw, people can live a long time. And when they die that doesn't mean that the property is "freed up."

The owner of our house died around 94-- 30 years after the age of 65. Plenty of people live into their 80s and 90s. Our house was given to a church, which sold it about a year later. But on our face block, houses remain in the family when the owner is put into a nursing home, or whatever, and the houses just sit there. There are three houses of about 24 in that state currently.

Like ours, 3 other houses that turned over in the last 12 years were because the owners died off. Another stayed in the family, was renovated over a period of years, and because they couldn't sell it at the price they wanted, they moved into it from PGC.

(Although granted outer neighborhoods tend to have different dynamics than inner neighborhoods.)

wrt the Guardian article, I was more focused on the inter-generational issue because of how the economic dynamics of the housing market have changed away from the original conditions and the resulting assumptions "of how things work" that undergird policy still today.

At 12:19 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Yeah, and that is something very peculiar to DC; old people (even when they don't live there anymore) keeping the houses off the market for a very long title.

I've always blamed DC taxes -- treating cap gains as ordinary income unless you can get it into the estate. Also a lot of very confusing title claims in some parts of the city. TOPA rules are also a factor.

But yes go into upper NW and there a lot very empty houses.

I'd throw out there again that multigenerational housing is the flip side of your argument on parking (building housing that doesn't have it bring people who don't own cars). In many ways you want to get those houses back into the market so they can recirculate. That goes again the living-in-place and stability goals of the city as well. The last thing you want it building onto it and staying in same family for 50+ years.

Tangled bunch of incentives...

At 12:53 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Yes, we've discussed these issues in the past. Waiting to capture the gains through an estate is a big issue.

Agreed about the things like CM Bonds' attempts to make seniors have no property taxes + the growth of the various "village" programs and aging in place. They keep people in place and "overhoused" compared to needs.

Dealing with re-circulating housing, providing more flexibility with types of housing, adding housing (ADUs, basements + multinunit, cohousing, cooperatives etc.) all these issues need to be discussed coherently and they aren't.

... I mentioned some of this a few weeks ago in the context of a report produced out of Toronto covering similar issues for some particular neighborhoods.


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