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.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Massachusetts rail planning

MBTA, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, runs commuter rail, subway and light rail in Boston, and bus services, while the Massachusetts Department of Transportation supports other rail services elsewhere in the state. (Separately, the Charlie Card transit fare card in Boston also works on bus systems across the state.)

WRT Greater Boston, advocacy groups and foundations like the Conservation Law Foundation, the Barr Foundation, A Better City, MassInc Gateway Cities project, and Transit Matters (Regional Rail for Metropolitan Boston) have produced studies, reports, and articles about ways to better utilize the area's transit infrastructure, in particular the commuter railroad system.

There are four rail planning initiatives underway.

Rail Vision is looking at repositioning the MBTA commuter rail service both to provide more frequent service to and from Boston, more along the lines of European passenger rail systems such as in Berlin, Hamburg, London, and Paris.

The initiative outlines 7 different alternatives.

The website includes a link to a "peer rail systems" report, Peer Systems Review: For Domestic and International Rail Systems, which includes both North American and international examples.  It's mostly all data and not much narrative.  Having more narrative would have been helpful.

I didn't realize how many lines MBTA has--14--more than all the peer systems, except for London, which has 15 rail routes.

A cursory look at the data shows the impact of population density and geographic reach. European systems tend to cover a much smaller area and have greater ridership, leading to better financial outcomes, more frequent service, etc.

The second initiative is the South Coast Rail expansion project which will restore commuter rail service to Southeastern Massachusetts, including the cities of Taunton, Fall River and New Bedford, which are within 50 miles of the city center.

Service is supposed to start by 2023, by extending from the Plymouth Junction station on the Middleborough line.

The second phase, to open by 2030, will be electrified and extend the Stoughton Line to Taunton and East Taunton, and then provide through service to the two branches being built in phase one, disconnecting them from the Middleborough Line.  (All told though, this will provide service to fewer than 10,000 additional daily riders.)

Springfield.  Last year more frequent rail service to Springfield, Massachusetts from Hartford and New Haven Connecticut was launched by extending CT Rail train service north into Massachusetts as well as extending commuter rail service to Amtrak trains serving this corridor. The commuter rail fare schedule has been extended to the parallel service from Amtrak along the corridor.  For service to New York City, there are connecting services in New Haven, but also some Amtrak trains provide through service.

CTRail (Connecticut Rail) train service network diagramSpringfield Republican photo by Frederick Gore.

Later this summer, train service on the line will be extended on a multi-year test basis, from Springfield, to Holyoke, Northampton and Greenfield, Massachusetts ("Greenfield to see extended passenger rail service by end of summer," Greenfield Recorder).

Greenfield is about 40 miles from Springfield.  This will be done by extending Amtrak trains in each direction, where currently service from New York City terminates at Springfield Union Station.

-- New Haven – Hartford – Springfield Rail Program (NHHS), MassDOT
-- Trains in the Valley rail advocacy group

East-West Rail StudyThis planning process aims to provide rail service from Boston, westward to Pittsfield (from which service could be extended further west to Albany thereby connecting to New York area services).  The process is in its earliest phases.

This op-ed ("Keep East-West Rail on Track," Springfield Republican) criticizes an interim proposal for express bus service on the Massachusetts Turnpike, seeing it as competition for a superior train service.  It makes the point that the Turnpike route is somewhat distant from the core of the cities that would be served by the train, making the bus service more indirect and slower.

Still, it's worth putting bus service forward as proof of concept, it could be branded as an East-West transit service, much like how the GO transit service in Greater Toronto uses the same branding for buses and trains, and it would provide better connections now.

MassInc Gateway Cities initiative on "Transformative Transit-Oriented Development." Separately, MassInc, an advocacy/good government group has been promoting the Gateway Cities Initiative to strengthen the economies of legacy cities in the state both inside and outside of Greater Boston, such as Springfield, Fall River, and Worcester.

Last year they released a report, The Promise and Potential of Transformative Transit-Oriented Development in Gateway Cities, which recommends a more purposive program for leveraging access to transit for land use, development, and economic growth.

I think this is an important initiative because the reality is that all train stations are not created equal in terms of their ability to capture and expand community economic development.

Tracks and platforms behind Springfield Union Station, showing the area around the station in 2017, before the extension of CT Rail service.  Photo: Trains in the Valley.

This is not a new phenomenon. Traditionally, train stations distant from a core city have minimal economic activity and housing around the station, while train stations in cities and towns, especially main stations but also secondary stations, are typically much more economically active, although this varies, and has to take into account the period of urban decline from the 1950s to the early 2000s, when inner city location often was not prized.

By contrast, I am often critical about attempts to do "transit oriented development" at commuter railroad stations outside of the core, because for the most part these stations are on the outskirts of their respective metropolitan areas, in areas where the overall land use pattern and context, from the standpoint of the New Urban transect, is not very dense (T2/T3).

A related issue is whether or not the railroad stations are in fact key elements of their local communities or disconnected pods used by people from elsewhere in the region.

Parking is always full at the Halethorpe station.  Patch photo.

For example, while adjacent to the Arbutus community in Baltimore County, the highly used Halethorpe MARC railroad station is used not by residents from the immediate neighborhood, but people who drive to the station from around the metropolitan area who appreciate that the station is easily accessible from the Baltimore Beltway (I-695).

If you were to develop Halethorpe intensively for "smart growth" reasons, the desired impact likely would not occur, because the land use around the station is low density single family residential, with a small town center.

The challenge then is to figure out how to do this so that the transit infrastructure is leveraged, but the local community economy is also strengthened.

MassInc event in Fitchburg. To this end, MassInc is sponsoring a workshop in Fitchburg, Mass., on Tuesday May 21st. (I would argue the minimal number of train riders--under 750 per day--from this community proves my point about leveragability.)

From the press release:

The Massachusetts Institute for New Commonwealth (MassINC) brings discussion about Transformative Transit-Oriented Development (TTOD) to Fitchburg

WHAT: Central Massachusetts Transformative Transit-Oriented Development (TTOD) Regional Forum
WHEN: May 21, 2019,1:45 pm - 4:30 pm (Walking Tours, Presentations, Panel)
WHERE: Fitchburg Art Museum, 185 Elm St, Fitchburg, MA 01420

MassINC's Gateway Cities Innovation Institute will host an event on Transformative Transit-Oriented Development (TTOD) on May 21, 2019 at the Fitchburg Art Museum in downtown Fitchburg. The conversation features an afternoon of activities designed to bring stakeholders from Central Massachusetts Gateway Cities and surrounding communities together to discuss the promise and potential of improved transit service in advancing economic and regional development. …

The afternoon of May 21 kicks off with two walking tours of downtown Fitchburg at 1:45pm, followed by a forum at 3pm in the Fitchburg Art Museum. The agenda includes opening remarks by Mayor Stephen DiNatale, a presentation of TTOD opportunities in the region by Dr. Corley of MassINC, a Rail Vision presentation by Alexandra Markiewicz of MassDOT, and a panel discussion about TTOD in the region. The panel includes Tricia Pistone, Montachusett Opportunity Council; Marc Dohan, NewVue Communities; Tim Murray, Worcester Chamber of Commerce; and Paul Matthews, 495/Metrowest Partnership. Roy Nascimento from the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce will moderate the panel. After a Q&A session, attendees will have an opportunity to network until 6pm.

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At 10:01 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

off topic:

At 11:50 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

As you know I haven't been reading GGW much.

Separately, the last couple weeks I've been taking time off from the computer and writing.

… and we will be leaving for SoCal by the end of the summer. Had DC not reneged on a job offer, or other interviews had come through, we probably could have "forced" Suzanne's parents to come out here, but that didn't happen. And given that they've lived in SoCal for almost 60 years, that would be a big stretch to force them here otherwise.

So not like I am in the same league as Bueheler but it's f*ing frustrating that GGW, which positions itself as the region's primary blog/website on urbanism refuses to acknowledge my writings. Not just on this topic, but others.

I am not "brilliant" but compared to the avg. person I am 5-8 years ahead. I suppose that when they come around, 5-8 years later, I should be happy, but by then I've moved on.

The Buehler piece in GGW is a rehash of his original paper. (ANother paper I remember was co-authored by Mariia Zimmerman but I didn't think it was well written.)

My writings put these ideas in a much better context wrt "our area."

I'd say my PL and Silver Line pieces are better than the GWP writings, especially in terms of "that there are lots of things to make the transit network in the DC area better" let alone in the R-DC-B corridor.

The bookstore piece was bordering on pathetic too. Not because the general point--the way such buildings are taxed is disconnected from how they operate as stores/the business model of retail--isn't apt, but because of the hyper narrow lens for analysis.

GGW has editors and stuff. They shouldn't be putting out such articles, but focusing on structural issues. Which of course they tend to not really be able to see, except when it's simple.

e.g., zoning oriented to suburban land use doesn't work in the city is pretty simple

vs. "let's do congestion charges" or "let's do ADUs" in a really gross-grained way that is totally disconnected from how to make it on the ground.

the sad thing is even when I feel stale, my stale is better than most.

At 2:51 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

wow. big move. lots to think about.

And honestly this is a good thing from your intellectual path -- seeing a whole new city and how it works. Even if the most car-centric city in America? and so the world?

To be honest, I'd read the Greater Washington Partnership as getting the spark of their ideas from you.

The über/tech people have a concept of "seamless" which is to make the UI very easy to add on, and a great deal of your writing have been on a similar path.

(your writing isn't seamless ;-) -- it is the concept that you are pushing).

At 6:56 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

the concepts yes, the "journal article length" no...

Yes wrt "LA" not so much Orange County, although OC has some points. Incredibly verdant retail. Beach towns, etc.

But yes, I am pretty tired of here, intellectually speaking. I need a recharge.

Ideally, I can find a job in LA and we'd move from OC to LAC. But if not, then it's off to Utah, as Suzanne's family has a lot of relatives in the Intermountain region.

Even SLC has a lot going for it, and urban design wise it has similarity to DC in terms of livability and accessibility at its core.

(Ironically, the most job interviews I've had are for jobs in SLC, but I never seem to be able to close the deal. And a wide variety: DOT in biking, traffic safety, tourism, historic preservation, biking co-op...)

Ironically, at least a year ago I reached out to GWP but they never responded.

At 10:11 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

DC is a hard city.

On the national level, I've always said it is an city of existentialism; you've got to stay true to yourself as a human while you are working because the results of your work are so meagre. One of the first things I did was initial work on setting up 5G bands and moving spectrum allocation around back in the 1990s. It is only becoming useful today. that is a long time to feel rewarded, and it didn't provide many meals along the way!

On a local level, as you've said, this place is just f*****. Local politics is a bad joke. Powers that be don't want to make that work (i.e. GWP) because that is how you stay a power to be. We've got some very positive uptrends going on but one you pick on it it very hollow.

On the positive side, I've got a mile or more of very human urban form is almost every direction, and very few places in the US can say that. Manhattan is nice but not human!

So you and a car in OC is making me smile -- not just the irony but I think a lot of your lessons are far more applicable to other places than DC.

(telling people we need a plan to for say retaining local business is borderline insane here right? Nobody cares! the city just wants to collect more money.)

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

hmm. The thing is that towns like Orange Fullerton, and Santa Ana have some great stock, maybe a mile or so, but not a mile in every direction! Long Beach too, of course, it's just across the border in LA County.

Car. Ugh. Metrolink is pretty cool though. And a Metrolink pass comes with free access to local transit.

Biking. Ugh. OCTA does have "bike lanes" on many of the arterials, but I haven't seen many cyclists there.

I applied for some jobs in the vicinity of Union Station, but nothing came of it. It's a lot harder when you're not there. I was considered for a job in Pasadena. Hopefully being there will give me a better chance.

The thing would be get a job in LAC and then move.

But Suzanne is focused on the "cost" of housing in SoCal and therefore is focused on SLC (it helps that her best friend lives there...). I like SLC, but I'd rather live in LA County or San Diego.

The market is soft here now, but we've lined up renters. But between her parent's house $ and this one we could afford a nice place in parts of SoCal (not Santa Monica, Venice, etc. but maybe even Pasadena).

My problem work-wise is my weird resume and the fact that I don't have a planning degree. I should have gotten off my a** and got one. I will finally take the AICP certification exam this fall (hopefully, spring at the latest). But the other thing that gets in the way is my age.

I know it's cost me some. Combine that with the lack of a degree and it's easy to dismiss me.

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

wrt "the politics here" yep. Comes down to the argument in Howard Gillette's _Between Justice and Beauty_.

The African-American agenda discounts the value of "aesthetics" even though those kinds of considerations are ultimately what has positioned the city for its current success and economic viability.

but as I say, I'm great at gap analysis (or in other words, I can't avoid recognizing what hits me in the face and/or knocks me down). So I come up with great insights.

What pisses me off though is the use of my stuff and I still don't benefit. One example is the creation of the Deputy Mayor of Economic Opportunity, which came out of my proposal (in a long conversation with an election person) for a "Deputy Mayor for East of the River." It was great for Courtney Snowden. Not for me.

And what pisses me off is the opportunity cost.

For all intents and purposes, DC is a city-state with limited "state oversight" in this case from Congress. And with "unitary government" we can be more efficient and innovative.

But we ain't. Nowhere near it.

I piss some people off when I counter the statehood arguments with "well, why don't we choose to act and innovate like a leading state as an example of why we should be a state?"

They counter about rights. I point out that territories had to meet various conditions to become a state.

At 11:14 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wrt your mile in every direction, again, not quite like that, but the core of SLC is very "DC like." There was this house I loved near the 9th and 9th district, but the timing was off. Big enough for four adults. Huge yard--1/4 acre with studio outbuilding, etc. Would have needed a little work. The price kept coming down, finally to around $600K, but Suzanne's mother wasn't ready to act.

Anyway, in that area, basically in a 2 mile radius, you can get to everything that matters in Salt Lake. Downtown. Sugarhouse. State Capital. U of Utah.

But just above, a serious "fall line" where the hill is worse than 13th St. by Cardozo. Really tough.

So from that perspective, I see us ending up in Salt Lake.

At 11:15 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

9th and 9th. Big Smith's Market one block away; Trolley Square with Whole Foods and Trader Joe's and a Smith's Marketplace (food+nonfood) just a few blocks more. Light rail a couple blocks away. Buses in front of the house. Bungalow stock. Beautiful neighborhoods. ...

At 10:57 AM, Anonymous Richard L Layman said...

MassInc. wrote up a recap of the presentation in Fitchburg on Transit Oriented Development.


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