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, September 22, 2017

DC Art all Night, Saturday September 23rd

Tomorrow night, the DC Department of Small and Local Business Development and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities is sponsoring an art event called "Art All Night 2017 - Made in D.C" where between the hours of 7 PM and 3 AM, districts offer a variety of art-related events.

It will be in six neighborhood Main Street commercial district revitalization districts:
  • Congress Heights
  • Dupont Circle
  • H Street
  • North Capitol 
  • Shaw
  • Tenleytown.
Last year I wrote a piece suggesting that the program is misconceived and should focus on one district at a time.  With six choices people will go to the popular and most conveniently located places, leaving the areas that "need the event the most" like Congress Heights and North Capitol competing unsuccessfully.

I am reprinting that piece below:

Too much of a good thing: the need to focus special attention instead of spreading it out and DC's Art all Night

Art all Night/Nuit Blanche is an overnight arts event held in various cities, pioneered in Nantes, France in the mid-1980s.

Usually held in a city's central district, it melds museums, galleries, arts organizations, and events/programming, mostly with free admission.

Over the past few years, DC has adopted the event, which this year is on Saturday September 24th, from 7 pm to 3 am on Sunday September 25th.

That's 8 hours.

But it's being held in 7 different neighborhoods:
  • Congress Heights
  • Dupont Circle
  • H Street
  • North Capitol
  • Shaw
  • Tenleytown
  • Van Ness
IMO, the way DC is doing this is too diffuse and spread out, making it difficult to go to more than one district, and maybe people don't even want to go to more than one.

And all the people who won't go to a particular district because they've gone to another one.

But think of all the planning and other efforts--social, community, and organizational capital--that is required to successfully organize and present a slate of events in each of the participating districts.

Organizing is wasted if it doesn't reach an audience.

Toronto as a counter example.  Saturday October 1st is Nuit Blanche Toronto.  Most of the events are located in two concentrated sections, either within about a 3 square mile area downtown, or along Bloor Street East. The subway system will even offer all-night service on a section of their system to support the event.

-- map

Toronto Nuit Blanche events map, 2016, screen shot

It's too much of a good thing.  For example, years ago I suggested to a group that rather than have a weekly flea and arts and crafts market, do it once/month.  That way it is special and can be marketed that way, rather than it being regular and rote and easy to blow off any one week because "I can always go next week."

Similarly, Takoma Park is selective with how they schedule their Grant Street Market, which operates 3 days/year, in the Spring and Fall, rather than to offer a weekly event that becomes underpowered because of frequency and overexposure.

Nuit Blanche Winnipeg, 2013.

Alternatively, focus and concentrate.  IMO it's way better to make Art all Night a rotating event, maybe most but not every month (e.g., no to December, probably November, and January for sure) monthly, like various "First Friday", "Second Thursday," "Third Saturday," Monthly Arts Walk type activities held in various arts and entertainment districts across the globe.

This would allow each neighborhood group to organize its Nuit Blanche event over a longer period of time, but also increases the likelihood of more media attention in advance of the event, as well as getting a much greater audience than they would when competing against six other places for the same audience.

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Maryland HOT lanes extension proposal by Governor Hogan

I have to admit that 10 years ago, I was much more hardcore about transit vs. cars.  While I am still pretty hardcore about shifting trips from motor vehicles and supporting the sustainable mobility platform, the reality is that the transportation system is a system and it's best to approach it in that fashion, rather than to be almost exclusively focused on one particular mode.

From the standpoint of a multi-modal transportation system functioning at multiple scales--and in the case of freeways at multi-state, regional, and metropolitan scales--I can see the utility of adding roads, recognizing that in the US transportation system motor vehicle use is privileged and we must fight to ensure that sustainable modes are prioritized and at the very least, simultaneously addressed when major road projects are proposed.

Besides the scale at which various proposals need to be considered, what needs to be focused on in such proposals is the land use context, whether the project extends "sprawl," AND complementary mobility network improvements, especially in terms of other modes.

One of the best ways to "expand capacity of the road network" is to shift trips from cars to transit and biking, and walking.  Even marginal drops in traffic of 5% to 10% can result in significant capacity and throughput improvements. 

But what happens is that the throughput improvement leads people to make more trips, ultimately using up the capacity. This is why many smart growth advocates talk about "induced demand" and argue that adding roadway capacity just gets "used up," so why bother? It's also why some economists argue for tolls, so that there are costs associated with taking trips, and therefore capacity is less likely to be absorbed "frivolously."

-- "What’s Up With That: Building Bigger Roads Actually Makes Traffic Worse," Wired Magazine
-- "Some Like It HOT: High-occupancy toll lanes work best on high-traffic roads. Without congestion, drivers have little incentive to pay the toll<," Brookings Institution, 2002

Yesterday, Maryland's Governor announced a major program to add high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes to I-270, I-495--the Capital Beltway in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties, and the Baltimore Washington Parkway, which currently is controlled by the National Park Service ("$9 billion highway project would widen 3 major Maryland roadways with toll lanes, Hogan says," Baltimore Sun).

From the article:
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday proposed a $9 billion plan to add express toll lanes to the routes of three of Maryland’s most congested highways — the Interstate 495 Capital Beltway, the I-270 spur connecting Frederick to D.C., and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway between the two cities. ...

The highway expansions would add two express toll lanes each way to roughly 100 miles of roadways in Maryland’s densely populated central region. Existing lanes on each road would remain free to drivers.

The massive undertaking involves persuading the federal government to give the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, now controlled by the National Park Service, to the Maryland Transportation Authority.

The price tag for the Baltimore-Washington Parkway would be $1.4 billion. It’s dwarfed by the size of the combined $7.6 billion project to widen I-495 and I-270. Those new lanes would be built and maintained by private companies through public-private partnerships, or PPPs, in what the governor said would be the largest highway public-private partnerships in North America.
HOT lanes add capacity through the private sector, which builds lanes in return for revenues from toll charges, usually on very long contracts--50 to 99 years in duration. 

The argument is that the public sector can't afford to add capacity on its own and that the addition, even if less democratic because people have to pay to use it, leads to throughput capacity improvements for all the lanes.

These arrangements are called "public-private partnerships," but I don't think they meet the definition of a partnership.  They are contractual and financing agreements guided completely by contract provisions.  The contracts are difficult to change.  There isn't a sense of mutuality. 

In short, the state is desperate for someone else to pay for road expansion, and the operator wants to maximize their financial return.  The party with money has more power and advantages within the relationship.

There can be problems with HOT lanes in terms of how to get scofflaws to pay and public oversight of the process of penalizing non-payers. 

One advantage of HOT lanes is that they tend to be well run in terms of maintenance and "accident clearance," because of performance standards within the contract. 

Sometimes, because use projections have been too robust, the projects go into bankruptcy, and either the project is refinanced, acquired by another operator, or sometimes acquired by the public sector.

HOT lanes are big in Virginia. The are expanding in the I-95 corridor and will be extended to the I-66 corridor (66 Express Lanes website). 

They function in Northern Baltimore too, on I-95, where they are run by the state ("I-95 toll lanes set to open north of Baltimore," Washington Post), but it isn't clear that the system needed the capacity expansion as much as they were a political priority of the Ehrlich Administration, which also approved the creation of the Inter County Corridor toll road in Northern Montgomery and Prince George's Counties.

There have been some complaints, which I think are reasonable, that the HOT lanes for 495 in Virginia would work better if they were integrated with Maryland roads. 

Definitely that makes sense for the I-270 corridor, which needs a broader corridor management approach as I wrote about last year ("Transportation network interruptions as an opportunity: Part 2" and "Transportation network service interruptions part 3: corridor/commute shed management for Northwest DC and Montgomery County, Maryland"), but I argued that if HOT lanes were extended to I-495/American Legion Bridge and I-270, they should be accompanied by simultaneous transit improvements.

Along those lines, I came across an article about the integration of toll lanes in the SR-91 corridor--a corridor management plan--for both Orange and Riverside Counties.  The toll lanes started out in Orange County, but were extended by Riverside County for 8 miles, to better manage the road resource and add capacity ("91 Express Lanes in Orange County paved way for new toll lanes opening Monday in Riverside," Orange County Register).

While each county will keep the tolls it collects, the lanes are managed and operated jointly across the two counties.  This is a big deal because such agreements typically are handled by "joint powers authorities" operating at a multi-county scale.

My concerns about the Maryland "Traffic Relief Plan"

1.  The road expansion proposals are mode-specific and aren't part of a complete and integrated multi-modal proposal.

Virginia's Atlantic Gateway project ("What to expect from Virginia's Atlantic Gateway projects," Washington Post) is a good example of what is missing in the Maryland proposal.

Maryland is proposing roadway expansion only.  While Virginia is focusing on roadway expansion, they are also working on large scale transit improvements at the metropolitan and regional scales. 

Although there is justifiable criticism that transit service (long distance bus) was supposed to be included in the 495 Express Lanes project and it wasn't.  (It is supposed to be a significant element of adding tolling to I-66.)

The Atlantic Gateway considers how to simultaneously improve other modes and shift trips away from the automobile when it is efficient and cost effective to do so.  The Maryland HOT lanes proposal does not.

Maryland already has an expansion program for MARC, the passenger railroad system, but for the most part it isn't moving forward, with the exception of work towards extending service on the Penn Line to Delaware.

According to the Wilmington News-Journal ("Maryland trains to Newark inch closer"), either MARC could extend from Perryville to Newark, or alternatively, SEPTA could extend from Newark to Perryville.  Service could start in about three years.
Lower Hudson Transit Link proposed bus service, Westchester/Rockland, New York
Lower Hudson Transit Link proposed bus service, Westchester/Rockland, New York

As another example of providing integrated transportation improvements using a corridor management approach, the new Tappan Zee Bridge in New York State, which primarily serves automobile and truck traffic, is accompanied by a program of transit and traffic improvements called the Lower Hudson Transit Link, targeting the I-287 corridor, although the new bus service connecting Westchester and Rockland Counties won't open until next year with the opening of the Bridge's second span (and the final service program will be truncated, as it originally anticipated providing service as far south as the Bronx ("Street Beat: A New Bus For A New Bridge. TZx–>LHTL," Nyack News and Views).

Light rail and MARC train, Camden Yards Station, Baltimore

Light rail and MARC train, Camden Yards Station, Baltimore

MARC expansion more generally, my idea for beginning to merge the MARC and VRE systems ("A new backbone for the regional transit system: merging the MARC Penn and VRE Fredericksburg Lines"), and ideas expressed in this post, "Setting the stage for the Purple Line light rail line to be an overwhelming success: Part 2 | proposed parallel improvements across the transit network," proposing complementary transit network improvements simultaneous with the creation of the Purple Line light rail line are the kinds of things missing from the Maryland transportation infrastructure expansion HOT Lanes expansion initiative.

2.  Too much money sloshing around in financial markets favors HOT lane projects.

Because there is a lot of money out there to finance toll projects, these kinds of road construction projects ends up making states like Maryland more focused on expanding roads, rather than considering road expansions as part of a broader set of transportation system improvements, including long distance transit (railroad and commuter bus), medium distance transit (subway, light rail, bus), and short distance transit.

Separately, this problem, the availability of financing and revenue generating capability driving transportation "planning," is endemic to the various proposals by the Trump Administration for investment in "infrastructure" ("The Many Problems With Donald Trump's Infrastructure Plan," Newsweek Magazine).

3.  There's no way that Maryland will be able to negotiate an agreement with the Federal Government/NPS on a short time frame to be able to get control of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

The Baltimore-Washington Parkway is owned and operated by the National Park Service.  NPS doesn't willingly give up programs, especially when the change is likely to be accompanied by changes that aren't congruent with natural resource preservation, conservation, and management principles. 

Even in situations where the federal government wants to give up property, it takes years.  For example it took about 5-6 years to transfer the deaccessioned Walter Reed Army Medical Center to the DC Government.  

Although various proposals over the decades have put forth transferring the road to the State of Maryland, but for various reasons such a change was never consummated.  Similarly, issues concerning the Parkway and various use matters have been top of mind for awhile ("B-W Parkway Upgrades: How, When?: NPS, FMA Discuss," BizMonthly), including a proposal to widen the road initiated by a Baltimore-area Congressman, Dutch Ruppersberger ("Plan to widen BW Parkway concerns local officials," Washington Examiner).

The announcement by Governor Hogan wrt the Parkway illustrates that such initiatives tend to have very long histories.

4.  However, it would be a good idea for NPS to get out of the road operation business.

First and foremost, the National Park Service should be focused on park management and operations.  While parkways in the Washington-Baltimore area run by the NPS do connect various park installations, for the most part these roads serve transportation purposes.  Roadway operation that is not park related diverts scarce funds from parks.

It would be better for NPS to give up financial responsibility for this and other parkways in the DC-Baltimore area, and reprogram monies spent on these roads to other NPS priorities, given their gargantuan maintenance backlog. See the 2016 blog entry, "The National Park Service shouldn't be on the hook for basic roadway infrastructure in the Washington Metropolitan Area."

5.  The parkway is a particular type of long distance road treatment that is "park like" in conception.  Adding HOT lanes to the Baltimore Washington Parkway completely changes its context, negatively.

There's something to be said for roads that aren't "traffic sewers," that are park-like.  For example, according to a History of Pelham Parkway in the Bronx borough of New York City:
The parkway is lined with trees on both sides and had a strict building code. Nobody was allowed to build within 150 feet of the center. No railroads were allowed to cross over the parkway; this is why the roadbed of the New Haven Railroad had to be laid in a tunnel underneath the parkway which is now the Dyre Avenue subway line. Bars and hotels are also prohibited from being built alongside the parkway.
Baltimore Washington Parkway as a scenic entry to Washington, DC.  NPS photo.

It would be a shame to lose the park-like elements of the BWI Parkway. Although granted, it can be full of cars now and isn't the kind of experience that was intended by the parkway's creators.

While there are many "parkways" that are freeway-like in terms of the volume of traffic, they are still park-like in design. I doubt there are any HOT lane projects with a parkway-like design, and I can't imagine that is a concern of the Hogan Administration.

If NPS would even agree to the change, if Maryland were to take this road over and change its context, in return significant mitigation benefits in terms of park and transportation system (bikeways and trails and transit improvements especially) should be provided, something that is unlikely to be received warmly by the Hogan Administration.

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Update to the Paul J. Meissner produced integrated high capacity transit map for the Washington metropolitan area

Earlier this year, Paul Meissner, a transit and urbanism advocate, and more recently a member of the WMATA Rider's Advisory Council, worked with me to create two different transit maps.  The point was to use them to discuss various transit issues, although I haven't written all the various intended posts at this point.

Washington area integrated rail transit map

The WMATA Metrorail map is probably the metropolitan area's most commonly understood graphic design product, but the problem is that it only shows the subway lines. This map would be more useful if it also included the regional railroad commuting services.

WMATA map with the Silver Line
It is common in other cities with more frequent passenger rail service to have integrated map products showing railroad, subway, and light rail/tram services in one map or a set of companion maps.  That it doesn't do so is in large part the result of the fact that the DC area's transit services are balkanized in terms of operation and planning.

In the DC area, Metrorail, MARC, and VRE each publish their own maps with limited depiction of the other services, although Maryland Transit Administration produces an integrated map for the Baltimore area.
MTA transit map for Baltimore
So Paul produced an integrated rail transit map for the Washington metropolitan area, showing not just the Metrorail heavy rail system and its six lines, but also other railroad services--primary the MARC (Maryland and West Virginia) and VRE (Northern Virginia) systems, but also streetcar.

I used the map to illustrate these entries:

-- "The real question to ask isn't "What to do about WMATA?": The maps"
-- "The answer is: Create a single multi-state/regional multi-modal transit planning, management, and operations authority association"
-- "Don't over focus on "fixing" the WMATA Compact. Instead create a new Regional Transit Compact, of which WMATA is one component"

That map didn't show the Purple Line light rail program for Montgomery and Prince George's Counties Maryland, which because of various controversies and legal actions, there was some doubt that the project would proceed.

Since the Courts recently gave the Federal Transit Administration the go ahead to proceed after having delayed the project in the face of a case filed against the project, and how subsequently Maryland and the US Department of Transportation signed a funding agreement, the Purple Line is moving forward and therefore should be included on the "current and under construction transit services" map.

As shown below, Paul has redone the map to include the Purple Line.  The sections of lines that are under construction are shown in as hatch marked.  Solid (black) blocks denote stations operating currently while white (empty) blocks show future stations.

Integrated rail transit map for the Washington DC Metropolitan area, including the Purple Line light rail routing
Integrated rail transit map for the Washington DC Metropolitan area, including the Purple Line light rail routing, produced by Paul J. Meissner.

Washington/National Capital Region Map of Future (Potential) Rapid Transit Services

The second map Paul produced is a "fantasy" map, with other ideas for expanding the rail-based transit system in the region.
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.

The basic idea was to shape the map with some general but also somewhat objective organizing principles. It wasn't just about drawing lines on a map, but aiming to serve high use destinations, which is necessary to justify the heavy public investment in this type of transportation infrastructure.

Second, the more recent proposal of the Metro Forward transit expansion program doesn't do all that much for DC, so we need a better plan for transit expansion that serves city interests.  Arguably, that program's recommendations were "satisficed" to focus on those expansions that could win unanimous support.

Third, it was about trying to separate the blue and silver lines, and to some extent the yellow and green lines, to reduce "interlining" which ends up reducing capacity and decreasing reliability (see the discussion of this point here, "More on Redundancy, engineered resilience, and subway systems: Metrorail failures will increase without adding capacity in the core").

Fourth, at the same time using the separation of the lines to add capacity and service and intensification of land use by using the changes to bring about more high capacity service to more areas. And to intensify service by providing infill lines and stations.  Some of this is by extending some of the lines outward, and some is by adding lines within the current system footprint.

In the original map, it would add 22 Metrorail stations to Northern Virginia, 27 stations in DC, and 21 new Metrorail stations in Maryland.

We must acknowledge that this map was mostly focused on heavy rail service extension and intensification. We didn't try to go at passenger rail service extension and expansion at the same level of detail, although it does add some train stations, and proposes a first step at merging MARC and VRE by starting with the MARC Penn Line and the VRE Fredericksburg Line ("A new backbone for the regional transit system: merging the MARC Penn and VRE Fredericksburg Lines").

Ideas for expanding the railroad system start with a map that Dan Malouff of BeyondDC produced many years ago. 

This is Dan's map.
Proposed map of a Washington-Baltimore regional rail system

But I'd more to this map now, such as a line from DC to Southern Maryland, especially Charles County, and a line between Baltimore and Frederick. 

And concurrently with Paul's mapmaking, Maryland announced plans to work with Delaware to provide "commuter rail" service connections between the end of the MARC line in Perryville, Maryland to either Newark or Wilmington, Delaware, where it would connect with SEPTA-provided commuter rail service.

And at the April Virginia Association of Rail Patrons meeting, VARP board member Rafi Guroian presented interesting ideas about expanding and intensifying the intra-Virginia railroad passenger service program that ought to be incorporated as well.

For Paul it was about using recommendations from adopted plans, as well as some key vision points, the likelihood of happening

It was something of a push-pull effort working out the "final map." Paul had his own ideas too, so the final product is kind of a negotiation. It didn't include some elements that I wanted, such as a Purple Line extension to the Tysons district of Fairfax County, hypothesized in the original map of the Purple Line, because light rail at such a distance is very slow. It would need to be given a separate right of way/tunnelized to be fast enough to motivate people to take it.

I have written about the fantasy map in three different pieces:

-- "Setting the stage for the Purple Line light rail line to be an overwhelming success: Part 2 | proposed parallel improvements across the transit network," although I didn't use the map to illustrate this piece, the concept of a program of wide ranging and wide reaching transit improvements influenced the concepts outlined within
-- "A new backbone for the regional transit system: merging the MARC Penn and VRE Fredericksburg Lines"
-- "Using the Silver Line as the priming event, what would a transit network improvement program look like for NoVA?"

But I still haven't written about it in terms of DC specifically, or Maryland, which I need to do.

Extension of the blue and/or yellow lines to Woodbridge

Something that came up in a conversation in the last week is something we hadn't discussed in the original mapmaking process, whether or not Metrorail service should be extended to Woodbridge in Prince William County.

It makes sense to consider because it is a major population center, and in the context of "corridor management" of transportation in the I-95 corridor.

It's also a good time to bring it up in the context of Virginia's current long range transportation planning process which has been holding meetings across the state and Virginia's ongoing Atlantic Gateway corridor management program for this corridor.

On the other hand, VRE service is a part of service in this corridor already, and it seemed "duplicative" to include both VRE and Metrorail service.  That's why we didn't include it in the original mapmaking development process.

Metrorail, like BART in San Francisco, is a hybrid transit service, providing both long distance "commuter rail" like service but via "heavy rail" not railroad passenger service, and intra-metropolitan transit service over short and longer distances. In the core of the area, Metrorail functions as a subway, while on the outer reaches of the system it functions more like commuter rail.

Metrorail service would allow the development of a more intensified intra-area and bi-directional transit program, whereas the VRE railroad passenger service is one dimensional--to DC in the morning and back to Virginia from DC in the evening.

Thinking about transit service at different scales ("Metropolitan Mass Transit Planning: Towards a Hierarchical and Conceptual Framework") is why it may make sense to have both longer distance railroad services complemented by shorter distance heavy rail service, even though the ultimate destination of each service would be the same place.

Slide, Metropolitan Mass Transit Planning: Towards a Hierarchical and Conceptual Framework

Slide, Metropolitan Mass Transit Planning: Towards a Hierarchical and Conceptual Framework

Slide, Metropolitan Mass Transit Planning: Towards a Hierarchical and Conceptual Framework

The Fantasy map proposes an extension of the Yellow Line to Fort Belvoir, adding four stations in the US 1 corridor. The fantasy map extends the Yellow Line by about 11 miles. With a Yellow Line extension, it would be another 9 miles to Woodbridge. By contrast, to extend the Blue Line from Franconia-Springfield Metrorail Station would be just over 12 miles.

Comments appreciated.

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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Destination restaurants as a call for revisiting "Richard's Rules for Restaurant-Based Revitalization"

"Richard's Rules" dates to 2005 and originally was written in response to another post elsewhere discussing the value of "destination restaurants" to the revitalization of neighborhood commercial districts.

Interestingly, even then I disagreed about destination restaurants being the right anchor.  The basic point is that to get people to sample what had been neglected and underutilized neighborhood commercial districts, restaurants were key, but you had to focus on serving area residents, and develop them into repeat and frequent customers.

The Rules read pretty well today, although I have done some updates over the years.

-- "Richard's Rules for Restaurant-Driven Revitalization (updated)," 2005, is the basic piece, with five rules (below) and a list of elements denoting quality restaurants
-- "Revisiting Richard's Rules for Restaurant-Based Revitalization," 2010, discusses a couple restaurants which repositioned away from upscale to more "comfort" food, to better meet the desires of neighborhood consumers

The original rules:

*1. Relatively appealing cuisine that isn't too specialized; food that is attractive to a large number of people--Italian, Mexican, and "American," seem to work best. You want at least 100 customers/nite. These days Thai food is moving into this category.

2. Good food; it doesn't have to be stunning but it better be good. (Perhaps Mexican restaurants illustrate this point the best.)

3. Good, good plus, or better service; waiting isn't fun, and neither is dealing with a server that doesn't help you get what you want with a modicum (ideally none) of problems.

*4. Competitively priced; you can't have drinks at $8 or most of your entrees costing $13-$20. If your prices aren't competitive and maybe a little less expensive than the market, you won't get that frequent patronage that is necessary for your success. Pitchers of margaritas or sangria are good, maybe not pitchers of beer, which seem to attract a rowdier more alcohol-centered clientele.

*5. Nice interior; it doesn't have to be stunning or a $300,000 interior renovation, but it can't be threadbare, and it has to be appealing.

* -- updated as an "appendix"

In "Updating Richard's Rules for Restaurant-Driven Revitalization," from 2013 and "DC restaurants, location and equilibrium," 2014, I discuss restaurants more specifically in the context of commercial retail district development, and have these rules for that element:

1. Walkable neighborhoods adding population are key to DC's restaurant resurgence. (So driving neighborhoods lag in terms of restaurant and retail improvement.

2. Critical mass matters and supports a broader range of food options than was possible before.

3. Downtown and Georgetown are no longer the high point in area cuisine--neighborhoods are now supporting restaurant creativity.

4. Regionally-serving districts that are neighborhood-based, like H Street NE, 14th Street NW, and Barracks Row/8th Street SE/Capitol Hill, will support greater numbers of restaurants and more creative concepts than strictly neighborhood-serving districts.

5. Denser neighborhoods (Dupont Circle, Columbia Heights, U Street, etc.) will also support greater numbers of restaurants than less dense neighborhoods (Takoma).

6. Money (disposable income) matters. Emerging districts are still more risky and have fewer cuisine options than transitioning (and healthy) commercial districts.

7. Driving neighborhoods, like emerging districts, will continue to have a harder time attracting restaurants because of lack of density and parking options.

*8. Will the next wave in restaurant development be the addition of family-friendly restaurants?

*9. When restaurants shift their business model to late night music, you know their food business is failing.

*10. Chains aren't the wave of the future.

The rise of destination restaurants outside of the city core.  The rise of "destination restaurants" in DC, ranging from Rose's Luxury ("Rose's Luxury, the Best New Restaurant in America 2014," Bon Appetit) on 8th Street SE in Capitol Hill's Barracks Row Main Street district, Bad Saint ("Bon Appétit hails Bad Saint as the No. 2 best new restaurant in America,"Washington Post) on 11th Street NW in Columbia Heights, Himitsu (Himitsu, Timber Pizza Among Bon Appétit's 50 Best New Restaurants," Washingtonian) on Upshur Street NW in the Petworth neighborhood just off Georgia Avenue more recently, or Dupont Circle's Komi Restaurant ("Chef Johnny Monis - Komi Restaurant," Delish; "Here's Johnny!," Washington Business Journal, 2004) dating to before "when DC got hot" ("Restaurants in D.C. Are Moving Into Residential Neighborhoods," New York Times) or at least acknowledged, does call for a significant modification of the idea of restaurants as being key building blocks for:

(1) commercial district revitalization; and
(2) support of adjacent retail.

Establishments serving regulars/neighborhood residents have a more positive impact on commercial district improvement.  The original set of rules was focused on creating "neighborhood restaurants" serving neighborhood residents who were willing to eat at that particular restaurant multiple times per month.

Neighborhood residents have different interests from "foodies" visiting a high profile restaurant in a neighborhood with which they are otherwise unfamiliar.

Residents visit and buy from other neighborhood-based retailers, if not on the same trip to the restaurant.

Food tourists are unlikely to support neighborhood retail.  "Food tourists" choosing to eat a high profile restaurant are visiting the restaurant but not the place or what else is there.   Even if they become regulars at the restaurant rather than one-time customers, they are still not likely to explore the district beyond the restaurant.  They definitely aren't interested in extending their trip by shopping local retailers.

But the publicity value of destination restaurants can be leveraged.  Destination restaurants aren't good for developing complementary retail, but they do bring publicity to your commercial district ("Upshur Street has evolved into the best place to eat in DC right now," Washington Post).  And this publicity can be leveraged both in helping to attract new residents and in new development of businesses and new residential property. 

Although you have to be careful in terms of oversaturation of restaurants, as discussed in "DC restaurants, location and equilibrium," because ultimately there is only so much demand within a neighborhood, even if the restaurants are somewhat "regionally-serving," even if the definition of "region" merely means nearby neighborhoods without commercial districts or decent restaurants.

Conclusion.  In the words of Public Enemy, "don't [necessarily] believe the hype."

Update to points:

Original Rules

1.  Relatively appealing cuisineTake out "Italian."  Add "artisanal pizza."  American is pretty broad and has a wide range.

4. Competitively priced.  The definition of competitively priced has changed.  Price and cost matters less as average household income has increased and people spend more money on food "out of home."  These days, an $8 drink is run of the mill, and even entrees pushing $20 or more don't seem outlandish to many people, nor does a $13 burger served with potato chips, not French fries.

It's hard to get out of a restaurant spending less than $60 for two people, especially if you have an appetizer, multiple alcoholic drinks, and one or more desserts.  That being said, many parts of the meal aren't likely to justify the cost (to my "old way" of thinking).

Also see "It’s not your imagination. It is getting more expensive to eat out," Boston Globe. From the article:
A national report on the health of the industry, by the NPD Group, found that high prices are taking a toll, with business flat or down by 1 percent. The “weakness” started in 2016 when labor costs started to rise, analyst Bonnie Riggs said. “So they increased restaurant prices quarter after quarter to the point where consumers have said, ‘It’s not a good value, it’s cheaper to eat at home.’

But in Massachusetts customers aren’t — yet — staying away, according to Luz of the restaurant association. Business at the majority of his member restaurants ranged from flat over last year to up by as much as 4 percent, he said. But larger chains, especially those in malls, aren’t doing as well as local independents that focus on quality.

Indeed, much of the griping is triggered less by the price of a meal than by its perceived value. It’s one thing to pay $160 for dinner for two at a restaurant with ambience, groovy servers, interesting cocktails, and local, fresh ingredients. It’s another to pay $55 for two warm glasses of white wine and bland appetizers at a spot that screams “hotel lobby."
The advantages restaurants have is they are a "third place," plus people see eating out as entertainment, and fewer people can cook. But if the price-quality-value equation isn't positive, at least certain restaurants will lose out, and it does motivate some people to start to cook.

5.  Nice interior.  Should be "interesting" and doesn't have to be expensive.  Outdoor beer gardens are one example, but generally interesting interiors.  Interesting can mean polished concrete and funky chairs, it doesn't have to mean multi-million dollar renovations.

Industry Trends Points
8. Will the next wave in restaurant development be the addition of family-friendly restaurants?  It turns out the answer is sort of yes, sort of no.  The answer is the rise of restaurants that are more friendly to and accommodating of children, but we wouldn't call them a family restaurant in the classic sense of a Howard Johnson's, Hot Shoppes, or Big Boy/Frischs/Shoneys/Cracker Barrel.

Family-appealing restaurants may benefit from an "early seating" between 5pm and 7pm when restaurants tend to be empty, providing a nice boost to evening sales.

From the Washington Post review, "Little Coco’s previewed: Fit for a much younger crowd":
But one of the greatest needs this restaurant fulfills is that it’s a kid-friendly place that doesn’t serve chicken fingers. Little Coco’s is for families, and not just in the sense that they merely tolerate the presence of young diners. Our server seemed to delight in my friends’ two children — they are adorable, after all — which set their parents at ease.

“If you come in early, around 5 o’clock, it’s like Chuck E. Cheese in there. There are strollers everywhere,” Harvey says.
9. When restaurants shift their business model to late night music, you know their food business is failing.  In terms of dealing with some liquor license renewals in my greater neighborhood, I've come to believe that we need to change how we award and manage liquor licenses. 

Rather than treat every establishment mostly the same, establishments should be ordered according to "land use context," not unlike how the Smart Transportation Guide makes recommendations for roadway, roadside, and posted speed limits depending on land use and the nature of the district we need to do the same thing for liquor licensing, so that a one block commercial district embedded in a neighborhood is treated different from a regionally-serving commercial district.

We need to create a typology of commercial districts (the city has done this for the most part) and link the alcoholic beverage licensing process to this typology.  It would mean restrictions on hours of operation and music (with the possibility for an exception process) in establishments deep within neighborhoods, and looser rules in regionally-serving districts.

10. Chains aren't the wave of the future.  "Restaurant chains" aren't doing too well in DC. Some of the more upscale chains like Legal Seafood or Ruth's Chris Steakhouse succeed partly due to their familiarity or appeal to clients on expense accounts, middle market chains like Ruby Tuesday's haven't had much success in the city.

But "restaurant groups" are chains, just not national ones.  Local restaurant groups with multiple concepts drive a significant amount of a city's restaurant business.

In DC, think Neighborhood Restaurant Group ("Restaurant Hospitality 25: Neighborhood Restaurant Group," Restaurant Hospitality), Clyde's, Great American Restaurants in the Virginia suburbs, the Black Restaurant Group ("Black Restaurant Group is a top restaurant company," Restaurant Hospitality, Joe Englert ("Joe Englert: The Life of the Party," Washingtonian) are what we might call a kind of area or regional chain.  Similar groups operate in most major cities.

Restaurant groups have advantages over individual operators because of established relationships with vendors and financiers ("Financing A Top Chef," Eater DC), and expertise in developing concepts and outfitting buildings, working with regulators, etc.

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Friday, September 15, 2017

Biking for transportation roundup

1.  The Washington Post Health and Science section on Tuesday focused on biking--bike commuting primarily but also a sad story of a cyclist recovering from a crash with an automobile as well as helmet safety.  By and large the coverage was positive.

-- "Cycling to work means better health and a longer life. Here’s how to get started"
-- "A short bike ride put him on a long road to recovery"
-- "Why wearing a bike helmet may not protect you as much as you think"

2017-09-11_09-52-552.  I noticed an electric air compressor public bike pump, produced by Bike Fixtation, at The Yards development, on the side of the Philz Coffee Shop off Tingey Street SE.

It's the first of this type of pump I've seen around the DC area.  Most of the air pumps put in the public space aren't rated for heavy public use, and fail pretty quickly after being deployed.

In secure situations, such as at Metro Stations and public buildings, an electric air pump is probably the best choice.

3.  People are complaining that because of the construction of the Purple Line light rail line, the section of the Capital Crescent Trail/Georgetown Branch Trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring will be closed for the next five years ("Purple Line Construction to Reroute Popular Bike Trail for 4 to 5 years," NBCWashington).

A very circuitous detour route has been developed.  But that's not the fault of bicycle planners. 

It's the fault of the Town of Chevy Chase, which has fought the Light Rail line for years, and continuing to be obstreperous, refused to authorize an on-street alternative. 

Fortunately, experienced bicyclists who know the streets can come up with better alternatives.

4.  The Dutch reach/opening the car door with your right hand, to limit dooring of cyclists, is being promoted by cycle advocates in the UK as a way to reduce the likelihood of dooring ("Encourage Dutch reach to stop cyclists car door deaths," Guardian).   It works because it forces you to look in the lane abutting the car door, whereas if you open with your left hand, you don't look behind you.  From the article:
Cycling UK says people are being killed by people opening their car doors without checking first for passing cyclists. It wants people to be trained to open their doors with their far hands to avoid “car-dooring” riders.

The problem has caused the deaths of eight people – primarily cyclists – in five years and injured thousands more, according to official figures.
There ought to be a state standard sign for this...5. Are bright strobe lights for bikes a safety hazard? I didn't think so, but Washington State does. They are banned. I wouldn't have known without coming across a Flickr photo by Joshua Putnam of a notice sticker placed on a lightpole.

6.  The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the MPO for "Chicagoland," calls our attention to two international publications on best practices in bicycle planning.

Global Environment for Walking and Cycling: Policies & realities from around the world is published by the United Nations Environment Program.

The Brazilian chapter of the World Cycling Alliance have published the guide How to Include Cycling in Urban Mobility Plans, with the assistance of the Instituto Clima e Sociedade. The publication is part of the organization's campaign to ensure that bicycling is included within all scales of transportation planning.

And separately I came across a publication by the UN Habitat program, Global Report: Planning and Design for Sustainable Urban Mobility on Human Settlements (2013).

7.  A Guardian Bike Blog report ("How much could commuter cycling increase in your part of England") discusses the (UK) Propensity to Cycle software application, which analyzes routes and areas according to four different scenarios.  From the article:
The Government Target scenario assumes a doubling of cycle commuting nationally – the Department for Transport’s current aim. The tool identifies where those extra trips might take place, based on how long and hilly commutes are in each area.

Gender Equality calculates how cycling levels would change if women were as likely as men to cycle every commute between any two locations.

The Go Dutch and Ebikes scenarios are more ambitious. Go Dutch shows what would happen if we reached average Dutch commuter cycling rates in England, accounting for differences in trip distances and hilliness between the two countries. Ebikes adds to Go Dutch the potential for mass electric bike ownership to facilitate longer and hillier trips, based on data about their use in the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Under the Go Dutch scenario, nearly one in five people across England would cycle to work – around a sixfold increase. Under Ebikes, it’s more than one in four. Distance and hilliness aren’t the main barriers stopping people cycling to work in England, although some areas (such as Cornwall and Devon) may need an extra electric bike boost as well as better infrastructure and policy support to reach Dutch levels of cycling.
8. The article also provides a link to an important journal article, "Cycling provision separated from motor traffic: a systematic review exploring whether stated preferences vary by gender and age," Transport Reviews, 37:1 (2017), which makes the point that to increase the take up of bicycling for transportation by people interested but less likely to do so in high traffic situations, more emphasis needs to given to the creation of separated bicycle infrastructure.

9. Cyclists want a more comfortable bike route configuration along the I-66 Freeway.  The Washington Post reports ("Biking advocates worry I-66 expansion puts a bike trail too close to traffic") that cycling advocates want to move the proposed bike lane extension from within the right of way of the freeway to outside of it, outside of the "barrier walls."  Residents tend to be opposed, fearing cyclists as outsiders and not wanting to give up more land.

From the standpoint of encouraging cycling for transportation, the cycling advocates have a point, especially from the perspective of the quality of the environment for biking. Claudio Oddo of the Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling produced a video simulation of how the current plan would work in place. It's not pretty.

VDOT is concerned that design changes will delay the highway expansion program. From the article:
The bike path, part of the $2.3 billion interstate expansion project, has drawn cheers and criticism from biking aficionados who welcome the addition of the trail but say, if built as proposed, users will be too close to cars whizzing by on the interstate and exposed to toxic exhaust fumes.

For about five of the project’s 22.5 miles, the trail would be squeezed between the highway and the concrete wall that will serve as a buffer between traffic noise and adjacent neighborhoods.

“It is air pollution, it’s noise, small particles that get kicked up from the highway,” said Bruce Wright, a member of the Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling. “Imagine riding on this trail and there is really no place to go if you have a problem. You are right next to a very tall soundwall, and you are right next to a jersey barrier.”
10.  DC considering adding "dockless bike share" to the city's bicycling mix. There are two forms of bike sharing systems. Dock-based systems are "hardened" and designed to reduce the likelihood of vandalism, as earlier forms of bike sharing failed because a number of "users" wrecked or stole the bikes. Dockless systems provide for a kind of "free-form" locking.

-- DDOT Seeks Public Feedback on Dockless Bikeshare

In China, the systems have suffered from a great deal of "dishonorable use," and the bikes have been abandoned by users at a high rate, bringing the systems to a standstill ("As Bike Sharing Brings Out Bad Manners, China Asks, What’s Wrong With Us?," New York Times).

Now the companies are aiming to bring their programs to Europe and North America, although I seem to recall the first deployment in the UK didn't go so well.  Programs are moving forward in Cambridge, Oxford, and London, among other places.

For me, I think the real problem in the US is that outside of a couple of cities, bike share isn't experiencing significant use. The point of a dock based system is to "focus" use in areas where you want to encourage sustainable mobility. Dockless systems disconnect that policy goal from the system footprint.

I do think it's worth testing. I can't remember what I thought about the concept of one-way car sharing by Car2Go. I do remember being asked about it by a then-DDOT staffer and I said it's worth testing. As a user, I have to say I love it!

Abandoned dockless bikes in Shanghai have been moved to a storage yard.  Different colors represent the different systems.

But early on, Car2Go vehicles would "accumulate" at the outskirts of the system.  But as more users joined, this problem worked itself out. 

The same could be true of dockless bike share, if lots of people were regular bikers.  But we don't have lots of regular cyclists in DC or in most other US cities.

But I think the issue with take up for biking as transportation isn't merely "access to bicycles," it's something more. If it weren't, then we'd have at least double the number of regular cyclists, compared to what we have.

However, the advantage of dockless bikes would definitely obtain in outer areas and in areas with lower station density.  For example, were I to use DC's bike share system, I'd have a half mile walk to and from the station.  With dockless, I could lock a bike up on my block.  Then again, I can do the same with my own bike, although with bike share, you offload the cost of maintenance, storage, and vandalism to the operator.

11.  Support for the Idaho Stop.  The Washington Post article ("Bicyclists learn from bicyclists to break traffic laws. But perhaps the law should learn from them, researcher says") on dockless bike share references research on why bicyclists run stop signs and red lights.  It's very interesting.

-- "Scofflaw cycling: illegal but rational," Journal of Transport and Land Use, 10:1 (2017).

Nearly everyone has jaywalked, rolled through a stop sign, or driven a few miles per hour over the speed limit, but most such offenses face no legal consequences. Society also tends to see these relatively minor infractions that almost all people make—though they are unmistakably illegal—as normal and even rational. Bicyclists who break the law, however, seem to attract a higher level of scorn and scrutiny. While the academic literature has exhaustively covered unlawful driving behaviors, there remains little research on bicyclists who break the rules of the road. This paper examines rule-breaking bicyclists and the factors associated with such behaviors. We also explore the question: are bicyclists making rational, albeit illegal, choices—similar to most drivers and pedestrians—or are bicyclists reckless and dangerous? Because it’s proven effective for reaching hard-to-reach populations, we employed a snowball-sampling framework and an online, scenario-based survey completed by nearly 18,000 respondents. Via multi-level statistical analyses, our results suggest that younger people and males tend to exhibit higher levels of illegal bicycling behavior, but even when combining high-risk factors, the overwhelming majority of bicyclists are not reckless. Controlling for the context and social norms of the city where one lives tends to outweigh individual bicyclist characteristics such as race/ethnicity and income. Unlawful drivers and pedestrians tend to rationalize their behaviors as time saving; bicyclists similarly rationalize their illegal behaviors but were more inclined to cite increasing their own personal safety and/or saving energy. Most bicyclists can generally be described as rational individuals trying to function safely and efficiently given the context and norms of where they live and the transportation system put in front of them.

12. Hornby separated bike lane in Vancouver has some nice landscaping treatments. (I don't think we'll be seeing this kind of treatment along I-66.) A photo of this cycletrack was in planning materials produced by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency for their Folsom-Howard Streetscape Project.  Thank you to Anthony Easterbrooks and Kelli Rudnick from the SF Department of Public Works for tracking this down.  Anthony says he was clued into the image from this article, "Top 5 Best Safety [Treatments] for Urban Cyclists," from Momentum Magazine.

Hornby Separated Bike Lane

Hornby Separated Bike Lane

Hornby Separated Bike Lane

13. Problems with the Baltimore bicycle sharing system. The Baltimore Sun reported earlier in the summer that only about 20% of the bikes were readily available, either out of service or not properly returned--the system dedicated two employees to retrieving missing bikes.  The introduction got a lot of press because it was one of the first larger scale deployments of e-bikes.

The system has just been shut down for a month for security improvements ("Baltimore Bike Share temporarily shutting down amid thefts").

The Baltimore Business Journal is also reporting on the matter, "Why most of Baltimore's bike share racks are sitting empty" and this article, which has restricted access, "What can Baltimore do to improve its bike share system? Other cities weigh in."

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International entities that affect communities: embassies; sewage

A woman walks along a beach closed due to sewage contaminated water Wednesday, March 1, 2017, in Coronado. (Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports ("Tijuana sewage, wastewater spills continue with no end in sight") about how problems with waste water treatment in Tijuana, Mexico leads to contamination of ocean waters in Greater San Diego.   From the article:
Hundreds of thousands of gallons of polluted water often carrying sewage and other contaminants have flowed over the Mexico border into the San Diego region every month this year — including a nearly four million gallon spill on Sunday, according to federal records.

The continued flows come in the wake of a massive spill in Tijuana that polluted beaches as far north as Coronado in February. The contamination came as sewer pipes cracked and manhole covers bubble over amid winter storms, which caused 256 million gallons of wastewater to go unaccounted for south of the border.
In the US, water service and waste water treatment is conducted on a large scale--metropolitan, multi-county, or regional.

The article discusses an existing compact between the US and Mexico, the International Boundary and Water Commission, which handles water treaties between the two countries. The US also funds a small grant program, the U.S.-Mexico Border Water Infrastructure Grant Program, which is one of the many programs threatened by budget cutbacks or elimination in this case because of the severe reduction in the federal budget proposed by the Trump Administration.

From the article:
Efforts to improve infrastructure along the border have greatly reduce the amount of sewage that flows across the board since the 1990s, when millions of gallons of raw sewage flowed daily down the river and across the border into the ocean.

Despite efforts, South Bay beaches have continued to suffer more than 80 percent of all the beach-closure days in the county since 2006, according to data from the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health. Imperial Beach, which stretches past the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge to the Mexican border, has had sections of its shoreline off-limits to swimmers for more than a third of each year on average in the last decade, according to county records.

The city of Imperial Beach has taken steps to sue the IBWC in an effort to force action on the part of the federal government.
It appears as if the need within San Diego County for safe waters outspans the capacity of the International Boundary and Water Commission to deal with the problem posed by decayed and decrepit infrastructure in Tijuana, because even if the grant program were not threatened, the grant amounts--$5 million or less--pale against the needs of the waste treatment system in Tijuana, which total many hundreds of millions of dollars.

Solution: Because the quality of waste water management and treatment in Tijuana has cross-border ramifications, San Diego County should aim to create a bi-"county" authority with the City of Tijuana to run waste water treatment.  It would have to involve the respective states (Baja California and California) and the nations, because cross-border arrangement such as this have to be approved by the national governments.

(In the Great Lakes region, the Great Lakes Basin Commission, an organization of US states, includes the Provinces of Ontario and Quebec as associate members, while the International Joint Commission brings the US and Canada jointly to address common interests concerning the waterways connecting the two countries.

Other cross-border agreements. More recently, a cross-border pedestrian connection from San Diego County to the Tijuana Airport was authorized and constructed ("How San Diego Built a Bridge Over the Wall," Politico).

This year is the 150th anniversary of the creation of Canada, and the Toronto Star published an article ("Canada 150: How the St. Lawrence Seaway changed the channel") about the Saint Lawrence Seaway as a seminal event in the country's development, a shipping canal along the US-Canadian border.  Canada had to strong arm President Eisenhower to accede to the project, which had been discussed for decades.  The US ended up paying about 1/3 of the cost of the project.

Until 1974 , at least one of the City of El Paso's streetcar lines crossed the border into Juárez.  The system is being rebuilt and service to is part of the plan ("A Trolley And A Dream: Texas Border City Aims To Boost Ties With Mexico," Fast Company).

In Detroit and Windsor, the privately owned Ambassador Bridge connects the two countries.

In Arizona, the Arizona-Mexico Commission, a public-private organization, brings together Arizona and Mexican stakeholders, including the State of Sonora, to address matters of common interest.

2.  Decrepit foreign mission buildings in DC.  There have been articles ("Neighbors face uphill battle against abandoned foreign missions" and "Norton pushes State Department to act on vacant foreign missions") in the Northwest Current/Dupont Current, a DC community media publication, and more recently the Washington Post ("Only in D.C.: What to do when your neighbor is a foreign government") about unhappy residents abutting decrepit foreign mission buildings--unused embassy and chancery buildings. From the Post article:
From Alan and Irene Wurtzel’s master bathroom, they can watch shingles fall off the neighbor’s roof, pigeons flutter through broken windows and rain pour into the four-story brick behemoth. And then there are the rats.

There’s nothing the city can do about the vacant Kalorama property because it’s owned by the government of Argentina, which doesn’t have to pay property taxes, adhere to local building codes — or evict vermin. ...

Residents like the Wurtzels must rely on the State Department to delicately encourage foreign governments to clean up their properties without instigating retaliation at U.S. embassies abroad. Sometimes it works, other times not so much.
Because of the way international law works, a locality can't enforce building regulations on such properties, which may moulder for decades.

Although according to the Current article, the State Department can revoke diplomatic designation on buildings, which then subjects them to local taxation and building regulation, but even then, there is no real ability to enforce the regulations and taxes may not be paid.

Solution: Because the issues are usually financial, I'd suggest that DC and the State Department facilitate the creation of what we might think of as "Friends" groups for the buildings, working with the foreign government, to help maintain the building, secure financing for improvements, etc.

The International Border and Water Commission and its grants program is another (imperfect) model for an organizational structure that could help to address this problem.

... When I first moved to Washington in 1987 and worked at 16th and P Streets NW there were two different buildings nearby, one on 16th Street, the other on Massachusetts Avenue, that were neglected properties owned by foreign governments.  Eventually the buildings were sold and renovated, but it took many years.  Having a mechanism to facilitate better relationships and solutions between residents, DC Government, the State Department, and foreign missions would go a long way towards rectifying this long standing problem.

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Cincinnati Enquirer special 20-page section on opiod epidemic

For whatever reason, I am not particularly sympathetic or empathetic about drug addiction (except for addictions deriving from overuse of pain medication), although I recognize it is a public health issue and a matter that local government and agencies, especially emergency services, have to deal with.

The scourge of opioid abuse in the American heartland has to be addressed, but it is somewhat ironic that the current approach seems to favor "helping people" rather than the more punitive approach--law and order/"lock 'em up") favored for the county's inner cities.

Regardless, that the Cincinnati Enquirer has published a 20-page section on the problem, covering the issue from a variety of perspectives, is pretty amazing, and harkens to the time when "local" newspapers did much more of this kind of in-depth reporting on issues of "local" concern.

-- "Heroin addiction: Why we took on this 7-day project"

Note that for all of the complaints about chain journalism dumbing down local newspapers, I have noticed over the past couple years that many Gannett Newspapers are doing remarkable in-depth coverage on local matters, from the Indianapolis Star's coverage of abuses of the property tax lien process, the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader's coverage of the K-12 education system and particularly, teaching reading, and the Wilmington News-Journal's ongoing coverage of revitalization activities.

Plus, USA Today is doing a number of in-depth investigative reports.  One was an out-reporting of the Washington Post on sanctioned cheating on standardized tests in schools in the DC Public Schools system.

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Friday, September 08, 2017

Developers activating properties: restaurants and tenant allowances

There is an article in Washingtonian ("Developers are giving DC restaurants crazy deals they can't resist, but should they") about how restauranteurs are being offered great deals by developers aiming to lease space in their buildings.  The article makes the point that even with a year of free rent, maybe the location doesn't make sense.

That should be obvious.

Slides from a presentation by LWLP--Live Work Learn Play, a real estate consulting and development firm based in Toronto.

For all the talk of placemaking, one has to remember that the goals of the property owner may not jibe with the tenant.

The property owner aims to "activate" its property and make it exciting, to help lease up commercial and/or residential space.

That's done with funky retail and restaurants.  Activation is more important to the developer than the success of the tenant--although there is no question that the developer wants the tenant to be successful. From the article:
After all, a hip eatery might be one of the reasons someone buys a condo in an up-and-coming area or might be among the amenities that help justify a law firm’s high rent. It might even be the catalyst a developer needs to make its neighborhood the next 14th Street corridor.

But with so many shiny new buildings popping up, landlords are getting more aggressive, offering restaurateurs such perks as heavily discounted initial rent or occasionally even a free restaurant build-out. Developer PRP Real Estate Investment Management is dropping about $10 million to bring the celebrity sushi spot Nobu to its West End condo building.

Isabella says these sweetheart deals have helped him expand, at times without other investors. They’re part of the reason he opened a trio of eateries—Yona, Pepita, and Kapnos Taverna—in Ballston.
Usually, the developer aims to do this with the proprietor of a business paying for the privilege of being in their development. Only in extreme circumstances or for particularly high profile firms would the developer be willing to provide a whole lot of incentives, in terms of free rent, reduced rent (typically this is offered), and build out allowances.

For ultimate success of the business, the proprietor needs to have a great business plan and concept and the ability to execute, whether or not they get significant "TI", tenant improvements ("Basic Tenant Improvements for Commercial Real Estate," Real Estate Optimizer; "Restaurant Build-out Allowances: Lease Negotiation and Restaurant Real Estate," Restaurant Voice), the long term rent needs to be reasonable, etc.

And the location needs to be good.  From the article:

But the bargains don’t work out for everyone. “Getting these great deals is like enabling a drug addict—then the restaurateur almost can’t say no,” says restaurant real-estate broker John Asadoorian. “They may have overlooked a lot of the concerns they had, because a lot of the risk was taken out of the equation.”
Specifically, many of these deals happen in areas with low density and foot traffic. (Think Ivy City, a once-industrial neighborhood in Northeast DC.) No matter what the rent, operating can be awfully expensive while you wait for the surrounding area to arrive.

Even if the financial toll is lessened, the risk to reputation remains. Jeff Black, who owns Pearl Dive Oyster Palace and Black’s Bar & Kitchen, among others, says he had one offer to open a Silver Spring spot with three years of no rent. He passed: “I’ll have three great years, and I’ll have two years of sucking wind and trying to Band-Aid it together, and then I’ll have to close the store, and that reflects poorly on me and my brand.”
As far as being an early entrant into a "new district," depending on the location and the period of time required for success, I'd ask for many years of free rent, or a rental agreement based on a percentage of revenue, with rents escalating only as revenues increase, so that the developer continues to share the risk for the entire period that the district remains emerging.

Plus, rents still need to be in the ballpark of industry metrics. Generally retailers shouldn't be paying more than 4% to 10% of gross revenue in rent, and restaurants no more than 15%. If the numbers are higher than that, and extraordinary revenues/s.f. aren't expected, walk away.

For example, an inexperienced group ("Food co-op to save New Haven's crisis?," Yale Herald; Elm City Market Food Co-op - A Model for Downtowns") creating a food cooperative in New Haven Connecticut agreed to big rent increases as sales increased, despite the reality that supermarket profit margins are less than 5% of gross sales (which is why supermarkets typically pay lower than market rent). As sales increased, rents increased, but profits didn't--especially as a growing business finds that expenses tend to increase extranormally with growth.

They failed ("Elm City Market auctioned off," Yale Daily News). Similarly, a lot of Cosi's problems have come from the fact that they are paying upwards of 25% of gross revenue on rent for locations in central business districts ("What Happened at Cosi?," Restaurant Finance Monitor). From the article:
“We estimate that on average the rest of Cosi's portfolio has rents of around 15% of sales,” said Brenner. “But for the worst performing stores with bad leases and too low sales, rents in some instances are greater than 25% of sales, making it virtually impossible for those stores to be profitable.”
-- Small Restaurant/Food Service Self-Assessment
-- Retail Business Check up survey

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