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, July 19, 2018

Compromise is really hard, but sometimes you gotta do it to get (most of) what you want

Sometimes you have to compromise, or you can lose everything.  When I did the Baltimore County Western Pedestrian and Bicycle Access Plan, one of the original recommendations was to run a long distance trail through Cromwell Valley Park, ultimately connecting to Harford County, along the general route of the old Maryland and Pennsylvania RR line.

The park is adjacent to the Loch Raven Reservoir, a "park" that is a water reservoir in the Greater Baltimore water system, but is owned and managed by Baltimore City DPW. In turn, the Reservoir abuts the Northern Central Trail state park which is a shared use trail that extends past the border with Pennsylvania and to the City of York.

The way it works in Baltimore County is that park and recreation centers are organized into friends type groupings, and the funding, decision making and delivery for programming comes from the friends groups.  They are in charge.

They were virulently against the trail for three reasons:

(1) bicyclists are the equivalent of thugs, violent and dangerous etc.;

(2) the friends group expended tons of time and energy and money in restoring the stream bed and they didn't want that damaged (although it was possible for the two to co-exist if designed properly);

(3) they equated biking with mountain biking and mountain bikers were seen as misusing the trails in the Reservoir Park and wreaking havoc on water quality etc.("Loch'd Out: Loch Raven Reservoir MTB Riding," BIKE Magazine; WJZ story and video)

(It was also the location of my only "really bad" public meeting in that process.  I wasn't fully conversant with the issues, and presented at one of their meetings, and I got my clocked cleaned.)

Despite that, in the initial submitted draft, I kept in that recommendation.  I even came up with another recommendation that I was very proud of, for the county, City DPW, and state parks department to come up with an integrated management plan for all three parks in a coordinated fashion.

But later, I acquiesced because I realized that their virulent opposition to this one recommendation could be extended to the entire plan, and would threaten its passage, and that it was better to provide an alternative recommendation than lose the whole plan.

Special "Art in Tarta" bus livery design by Jessica Murphy.

Toledo transit needs to compromise too.  The Toledo Blade has a story, "Toledo Mayor, Others Air Disappointment Over TARTA Proposal's Rejection," about how the ability to have a county-wide vote on a move from property tax funding to sales tax funding and in increase in the sales tax can't go forward because Sylvania Township, one of the seven jurisdictions that has to approve the proposal before it can go on the ballot, rejected it.

They had four complaints: (1) the transit plan wasn't good enough; (2) some areas of the county don't want transit; (3) the proposed sales tax is too high; and (4) the fare is too low, riders should pay more in fare.

The agency made the point that increasing fares reduces ridership.  From the article:
Maumee Mayor Richard Carr said he city has had misgivings about the TARTA proposal -- particularly regarding how it would give Lucas County the third-highest sales tax in Ohio, behind only Cuyahoga County and a portion of Licking County where an 0.5 percent sales tax for the Central Ohio Transit Authority is collected.

"Many people feel the sales tax is too high," Mr. Carr said. "But I just think the voters should have the opportunity to make that decision, instead of just two people. Our vote was to allow it to be placed before the voters, not to say that we [city leaders] support it, or to say that TARTA's doing a good job." …

Under Ohio law, any proposal to expand TARTA's service area must be approved by its existing member jurisdictions. Of TARTA's seven members, only the councils in Maumee and Ottawa Hills had voted before the Sylvania Township trustees rejected it Tuesday. The other members are Sylvania city, Waterville, Toledo, and Rossford.

Mr. Mahoney said one thing that might induce him to reconsider his opposition would be if TARTA were to propose a smaller sales tax, such as 0.3 percent instead of 0.4, while also raising its fares so that riders pay a greater share of service cost.
TARTA's current base fare of $1.25 is tied for the lowest among major Ohio transit systems, and fares cover only 22 percent of the agency's budget.
But maybe they should have given in, and proposed a fare increase along with the other proposals, so that they could compromise with Sylvania Township.

And maybe originally they should have proposed a higher sales tax increase, say half of one percent instead of 40% of one percent, so they could come down to the number they can live with.


1.  You have to pick your battles.

2.  Some battles can lose the war (in this case, prevent a vote overall, putting the program back by years).

3.  So lay out alternatives and be prepared to compromise so that you can win the war, instead of lose it, or go into a years-long stalemate.

Most areas can't see transit as a choice preferred to automobility.  This is especially important because most US metropolitan areas don't have much experience with transit as an option for "choice riders."  Instead, in an automobile-dominated mobility paradigm, transit is seen as a social service for poor people.

The Connect Southeast Michigan plan would create transit corridors connecting four counties.

In a metropolitan area, there will always be opposition to transit by some jurisdictions, especially higher income jurisdictions, making transit expansion very difficult because they just don't believe that higher income people would be willing or sometimes prefer to use transit over driving.

For example, Cobb County in Greater Atlanta; Oakland and Macomb County in Greater Detroit, Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties in Tampa-St. Petersburg.

-- "Oakland County 'cannot support' new regional transit plan, Patterson says" and "Oakland County refusal of regional transit is 'downright insulting," Mlive
-- "Cobb County's conflicting views complicate regional transit plan," Atlanta Journal-Constitution
-- "Tampa Bay Times investigative report on transit in the Tampa-St. Petersburg Metropolitan Area," 2017

Therefore, be prepared to compromise on some important elements in order to keep transit moving forward overall, rather than for transit expansion to be perennially blocked.

The point is to develop a super robust plan that can withstand compromises, that the compromises won't be destructive, but that with compromise you can move forward.

Even transit dominated areas struggle to extend transit.  Even in areas with good transit, like the Washington area, it's still dominated by automobility in most areas, which makes it difficult to extend the transit system.  Even in DC, where more than 51% of daily trips are by non-automobile modes, there was tremendous opposition to building a streetcar system.

In Suburban Maryland, it has been a struggle to build a light rail line in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties--I first read about the idea in 1987 and it is expected to enter service in 2022!.

If it's that difficult in places with experience with high quality transit, think how difficult it is in the places where transit is seen exclusively as a social service.

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