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, February 14, 2020

Local Washington Post op-ed: Gentrification pushes people from homes and away from transit

From the article that I guess will be published this Sunday:
A recent study by the University of Minnesota found that in the District, low-income residents are being pushed out of gentrifying neighborhoods at the highest rate in the country. The neighborhoods that have experienced the largest outflow of low-income residents, according to the study — places such as Logan Circle, Petworth and Columbia Heights — have an average walk score of 82.5 and an average transit score of 74.5. ...

The Purple Line, scheduled to open its first five-mile stretch in late 2022, is expected to provide daily service to nearly 75,000 people, some of whom now live in transit deserts. But three years is a long time to wait. Transit improvements can make low-income residents worse off by driving up house prices and making them vulnerable to displacement, says David Bowers, vice president and Mid-Atlantic market leader for housing finance organization Enterprise Community Partners. So, maintaining the supply of affordable housing concurrently is key. The Purple Line Corridor Coalition has released a Housing Action Plan that proposes to preserve 17,000 affordable housing units along the planned route.
Umm, duh. But a Housing Action Plan without implementation mechanisms won't do much.

It happens that in 2009, and then in 2014 after a Purple Line conference at the University of Maryland I suggested that a bi-county community development corporation be created to buy, hold, fund, and develop properties with an aim at maintaining affordability based on the likelihood of price appreciation based on the real examples of DC and Arlington County in the face of changes unleashed by Metrorail even though it took a almost three decades after the first leg of the Metrorail system opened in 1976 to begin seeing displacement occur in a significant way.

This piece from my 2017 series of articles on leveraging the investment in the Purple Line with complementary improvements to the transit network primarily updated my 2014 writings:

-- "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"

1.  Create a companion "Revitalization District" that wraps around the newly created transportation infrastructure, and create a "Tax Increment Financing" program to raise a very large fund, which could increase significantly the velocity of revitalization, and to purposefully fund the kinds of equitable development activities espoused by the Purple Line Corridor Coalition.

2. Rather than creating a variety of micro-TIF districts for various projects, this proposal is for a large single fund, but with a detailed program facilitating projects at various scales and locations, but using the large tax district as a way to realize projects across all parts of the catchment area, including areas where current demographics and economic conditions wouldn't normally support financing for such projects.

3. Originally I did not foresee using TRD monies to fund the construction of transit infrastructure per se, but to fund new property development by both for profit and nonprofit entities, property acquisition to maintain long term affordability, civic infrastructure, and community improvement programs of various types.

Now I would include transit network improvements as eligible for funding, and would even consider using a portion of the revenue stream to fund the actual construction of the Purple Line specifically.

4. The lessons from DC and Portland's use of an Urban Renewal District to fund most of the local match for the Yellow Line light rail is that it takes 30-40 years to see fully the investment, so the TRD needs to be set up to last a long time--typically an urban renewal district's funding is for a 20 year period and then ceases, although Portland has a process for extending the period.

5. Recognizing that new development results in new costs for existing systems like emergency services and schools, "all" of the forecasted increase in property taxes should not go to the TRD, some of the stream should be reserved and fund such services.

6.  Action plans would need to be created, along with the right accountability mechanisms and marketing systems, along with some flexibility to respond to changes in market conditions, circumstances, and opportunities as they development. 

Transit network improvements that are equity focused.  The op-ed makes a good suggesting about improvements to the transit network's breadth and depth as a result of displacement and lower income households being forced to move to outlying areas where transit connections are sub-standard.
By contrast, the neighborhoods receiving the largest inflow of low-income residents — suburbs including New Carrollton, Aspen Hill and Annandale — have an average walk score of 42.5 and an average transit score of 28.8.

This means the District’s most vulnerable residents, who had not historically relied on a car because they lived in dense urban zones, are being pushed into areas where having a car is necessary. Many can’t afford one.

One shorter-term option is to extend bus lines and increase frequency of buses serving the areas experiencing population inflows. Efforts such as the Bus Transformation Project are vying to improve the region’s bus system. Another option is to continue expanding micromobility options, including services such as Jump bikes and Skip scooters, which aren’t tied to docking stations that may be absent in transit deserts.
I have made a similar kind of point for a long time, that the transit network's breadth and depth should be planned separately from the budget for transit.  Although my focus wasn't on equity, just creating a great transit system that works for everyone.

It happens that an op-ed piece earlier this week in the Guardian about alleged plans to improve bus transit offerings in the UK sort of mentions this, calling for the UK to look at the way Switzerland manages its transit ("If Boris Johnson really wants to improve the UK's buses, he should look to Switzerland").

But it's not rocket science. And in the UK the problems are even easier to figure out. Except for London, they completely privatized the bus system and eliminated a network planning organization or requirement.  Private corporations provide service where it is most profitable (unless the local government provides subsidies to operate a route.)

But the Switzerland model is really German.  In any case, the "Switzerland model" is the kind of network management proposal I've been recommending for years:

-- "The answer is: Create a single multi-state/regional multi-modal transit planning, management, and operations authority association," 2017
-- "Will buses ever be cool? Boston versus the Raleigh-Durham's GoTransit Model," 2017
-- "Making bus service sexy and more equitable," 2012

And it's based on the German VV, Verkehrsverbund ("transport association") model.  (Seeing it in operation in Hamburg was really eye-opening.  Even though I was also in Essen, because the Ruhr is so spread out you can't see the same level of coordination as there is in Hamburg.)

-- VDV, the trade association for German transport associations
-- "Verkehrsverbund: The evolution and spread of fully integrated regional public transport in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland," International Journal of Sustainable Transportation (2018)
-- Transport Alliances - – Promoting Cooperation and. Integration to offer a more attractive and efficient Public Transport, VDV.  NOTE: if you click on this link it will just download the file

Transit improvements to the network in association with the Purple Line.  WRT the Purple Line, my complementary transit network improvement recommendations ("Setting the stage for the Purple Line light rail line to be an overwhelming success: Part 2 |   the program (macro changes)") are more focused on changes around the Purple Line.

They aren't specifically equity focused, but result in equity improvements.

Items 10, 11, 12, 13, 15 and 19 address improvements to bus service. One hindrance is that the State of Maryland generally forbids investment in better bus service that crosses the DC-Maryland land. Many bus lines are broken into two at the DC line.

10. Bus service in certain corridors between DC and Maryland should be extended and/or frequency increased to better link these areas to the new light rail service.

11. Montgomery County bus system improvements with the launch of the Purple Line and bi-directional service on the MARC Brunswick Line should include launch of planned Bus Rapid Transit services.

12. Rearticulate, rebrand, and reposition-extend the Prince George's County TheBus bus transit service. Change the name of the service and the graphic design of the bus livery.

13. Consider a redesign and rebranding of the the metropolitan area's bus systems into an integrated framework, comparable to that of GoTransit in the Raleigh-Durham area.

15. Set the opening of the Purple Line as the deadline for the implementation of a full-fledged integrated Night Owl bus network for the DC metropolitan area.

19. WMATA should upgrade its Metrorail station bus shelters.

Based on previous writings, I also called for a merger of MARC and VRE, starting with the MARC Penn and VRE Fredericksburg lines. Items 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 14 address train integration and improvements.

3. Integrate MARC fares into the SmarTrip/ CharmCard fare media system.

4. Introduce bi-directional passenger rail service between DC and Frederick on the MARC Brunswick Line.

5. Consider charging DC-Montgomery County trips on a bi-directional Brunswick Line using the Metrorail/Purple Line tolling/fare schedule. That would treat mileage from railroad trips in the context of a complete (linked) trip on railroad+subway+light rail as a single fare.

6. The White Flint Sector Plan calls for an infill MARC station. Plans to build that station should be accelerated as part of this proposal.

7. Build an infill train station in DC on the Penn Line, serving the New York Avenue corridor.

14. Set the opening of the Purple Line as the deadline for the integration of the MARC Penn Line and VRE Fredericksburg Line into one combined railroad passenger service.

Conclusion. These lists are Purple Line specific, and all of the changes aren't necessarily equity focused, although there would be plenty of equity benefits. For example, separately in a similar piece about Northern Virginia ("Using the Silver Line as the priming event, what would a transit network improvement program look like for NoVA?") item 27 discusses long distance commuter bus services. But there are other recommendations concerning bus transit as well.

And again, not including improvements that take longer than 5 years into the initial series limits huge equity initiatives like extending the Purple Line to Virginia from Bethesda and from New Carrollton to Alexandria.

There are many other improvements that can be made to network breadth and depth were there such a planning and operations system focused on bringing it about.

For example, this piece outlines a truly statewide passenger rail program for Maryland ("A "Transformational Projects Action Plan" for a statewide passenger railroad program in Maryland").

The same goes for housing affordability vis a vis transit. But without plans, planning, implementation mechanisms, and financing it will never happen.

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At 12:43 PM, Anonymous h st ll said...

Important concepts here! The obvious solution is to run more buses, way more buses, but that costs money. And when jurisdictions try and save on labor costs, ATU makes a huge fuss and then there are strikes etc

Of course being a bus driver is a hard job and they deserve to be compensated fairly.

At 1:50 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Yes, superhard job.

But two, man in lots of places not a lot of bus riders.

MoCo seems to do a good job of balancing high use service (depth) with what I call breadth or what Jarrett Walker calls "coverage".

But they have the Red Line to focus around. The Purple Line only gives them the opportunity to do much better.

I guess I need to reemphasize that with the PL PG has a huge opportunity.


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