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, June 30, 2018

Transportation Development District votes in Kansas City will move streetcar forward

TriMet #327, Yellow Line, N Prescott station.  Portland Oregon, November 4 2015.Portland (Oregon) Yellow Line. In 2005 at the National Trust for Historic Preservation conference in Portland I went on a tour of the light rail system and learned that they were able to move ahead on creating the Yellow (Interstate) Line only by creating an in-city urban renewal district for part of the funding.

The line originally was supposed to go to Vancouver, Washington and required a vote by residents of that state.  It failed.  Then they changed the route to go to Portland's suburbs, requiring a state vote for Oregon.  It failed.  Then they changed tacks and made it a line completely bounded by Portland's city limits and it went forward.

Why not do the same thing for the Purple Line in Suburban Maryland? That lesson was on my mind when I wrote in 2007 and later in 2014 suggesting that a similar process should be done in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties, creating "a transportation renewal district," to foster and accelerate economic development in the "catchment area" of the Purple Line light rail.

-- "It's time to create the "Port Authority" of Montgomery and Prince George's Counties," 2007
-- "Purple line planning in suburban Maryland as an opportunity to integrate place and people focused initiatives into delivery of new transit systems," 2014
-- "Quick follow up to the Purple Line piece about creating a Transportation Renewal District and selling bonds to fund equitable development," 2014
-- "To build the Purple Line, perhaps Montgomery and Prince George's Counties will have to create a "Transportation Renewal District" and Development Authority," 2015
-- "Part 6 |  Creating a transportation development authority in Montgomery and Prince George's County to effectuate placemaking, retail development, and housing programs in association with the Purple Line," 2017

And given the waxing and waning of state support, such a district could have partially funded the construction cost too.

Public improvement districts for transit station catchment areas. And later, my concept for creating what I call "public improvement districts" specifically around transit stations to spearhead related access and urban design improvements.

-- "(In many places) Public improvement districts ought to be created as part of transit station development process: the east side of NoMA station as an example," 2016

Anti-streetcar protest sign, Kansas CityKansas City (Missouri) Streetcar.  Similar to Portland, in dealing with previously failed referenda held at the city- or metropolitan-scale, they refocused on the area specifically to be served by the streetcar, a section of Downtown.

To fund the KC Streetcar, they created a special purpose district, called a "Transportation Development District" Construction started in 2014 and the streetcar launched in 2016. Alongside the streetcar they implemented a range of "smart city" initiatives ("In Kansas City, a Streetcar Serves as a 'Laboratory' for Smart City," StateTech).

-- Kansas City Downtown Streetcar Transportation Development District, presentation, HuschBlackwell

The Streetcar has had decent although not stellar results and they are moving forward with the first expansion, so they expanded the TDD and held a vote, successfully, for funding it ("Taxes for KC Streetcar extension to UMKC approved by wide margin in mail-in ballots," Kansas City Star). Because it wasn't a city- or state-wide vote, it was much harder for outside forces to influence the vote. From the article:
Wednesday's results complete a trilogy of elections to put the Main Street extension on track. In two contests last year, voters agreed to form the district itself and elect a board of directors. Transit advocates, who gathered at the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce board room to hear the final numbers, expressed their elation with the outcome.

Streetcar in the Rain"Just excited. It's really going to move forward," said David Johnson, a member of the Main Street TDD board.

The returns also represent yet another setback for opponents who regard the streetcar as a waste of money and the elections paving the way for it unconstitutional.

Attorney Sherry DeJanes, a leader of SMART KC, the political committee leading the opposition, said she expected the tax measures to pass but was surprised by the lopsided outcome.

"It's a demonstration of why we need to not have these kinds of elections," DeJanes said, noting that her group was outspent 6-to-1 by Connect KC, the pro-streetcar committee.

After voters approved creation of the TDD last August, a group of Kansas City residents, led by DeJanes, challenged the election in court. State law provides for mail-in ballots in TDD elections. But the group asserted that the mail-in process was unduly burdensome, especially to low-income and disabled residents. Of the roughly 5,000 ballots mailed by the Jackson County Circuit Court, which administered the election, about a third went unreturned.
The State of Kansas also has TDDs, but no fixed rail transit.  These districts tend to fund roadway infrastructure.


Conclusion.  Remembering that I am focused on outcomes and achieving them as efficiently and as quickly as possible, recognizing that to move a project forward requires besting opposition, there are a couple of lessons here.  First, create the right "vehicles" to move such infrastructure forward, knowing that opposition will develop and likely will be quite vociferous.

That means the creation of transportation development special purpose districts of various sorts.

Second, something I have written about a lot in the context of funding for WMATA, the metropolitan transit operator in the DC area -- STRIKE WHILE THE IRON IS HOT.  Expand when you're successful.

Ask for money when you are successful, not in trouble.

The longer you wait, the much more difficult it becomes to expand or fund.

WRT WMATA, setting up a metropolitan sales tax and other funding options should have been created during the "euphoria period" when the system launched and expanded as the original five-line design was "built out."

That wasn't done, and has had deleterious consequences as the financial requirements of the system became more pressing.

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