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, November 25, 2022

To and from origin stations can be difficult: More on the Silver Line and intra-neighborhood transit (tertiary network)

The initial Purple Line series on driving complementary improvements across the transit network ("Setting the stage for the Purple Line light rail line to be an overwhelming success: Part 1 | simultaneously introduce improvements to other elements of the transit network") missed some items, which I added in later updates ("Codifying the complementary transit network improvements and planning initiatives recommended in the Purple Line writings").  

One item was creating intra-neighborhood shuttle services to move people to and from new transit stations without them having to drive.

21. Create intra-district shuttle services within the catchment area of the individual light rail stations to get people to and from light rail stations without having to drive.

FRED, short for Free Ride Everywhere Downtown, is the San Diego-specific offshoot of Circuit Transit. City of San Diego photo ("Hail, FRED! San Diego’s subsidized shuttle will give free rides downtown for another year," San Diego Union-Tribune).

Note that the original PL series on Silver Spring did discuss an intra core shuttle system to complement their parking structures and to allow for converting Fenton Avenue to a sustainable mobility corridor.  But at the time I didn't think to extend this tertiary transit concept to the transit sheds of other PL stations.  

The Seattle electric shuttle service FRED, was mentioned as an example. Another example is the taxi collectif program of the STM transit system in Montreal, which operates at end of line stations.

In last week's piece on the opening of the second phase of the Silver Line ("Metrorail Silver Line phase two opening this week"), and in the original piece ("Using the Silver Line as the priming event, what would a transit network improvement program look like for NoVA?") I never did add a similar point.

Although I did here, "Tysons (Corner) 10 Years after the plan to make it more walkable: the necessity of implementation mechanisms" (2020).

This comes up in a letter to the editor to the Post ("Why I won’t take the Silver Line to Dulles"). The author makes the point that it's not easy to get from his house to a subway station, especially for trips to the airport, which include luggage.  From the letter:

Taking the Silver Line to Washington Dulles International Airport is impractical because I don’t live within walking distance of a Metro station. Instead, I’d have to walk 10 minutes to a bus that runs every 30 minutes, or take a taxi or a ride-hailing service to a Metro station. I can’t drive my own car because overnight parking is allowed only at four stations: Greenbelt, Huntington, Franconia-Springfield and Wiehle-Reston East. According to Metro’s website, “each of these stations has between 15 and 17 spaces allocated for multiday use of up to 10 days. Availability is on a first-come, first-served basis.” That’s a total of fewer than 65 spaces for the 15 million passengers Dulles serves each year, along with people who use these spaces when they travel from Reagan National Airport or Union Station.

 I have many pieces on airport transportation related issues:

-- "Manhattan Institute misses the point about the value of light rail transit connections to airports | Utility and the network effect: the transit network as a platform ," 2020
-- "Airport transportation demand management in flux," 2019
-- "Transportation demand management, transit: Los Angeles Airport (LAX) and Logan Airport, Boston," 2019
-- "London's Stansted Airport provides digital information on transit options," 2019
-- "Why not a bicycle hub at National Airport?, focused on capturing worker trips but open to all," 2017
-- "A brief comment on ground transportation at National Airport vis a vis VRE rail service," 2016
-- "Revisiting stories: ground transportation at airports (DCA/Logan)," 2017
-- "Airports and public transit access: O'Hare Airport and the proposed fast connection from Downtown Chicago," 2018
-- "More on airport-related transit/transit for visitors," 2013

but I don't always acknowledge the issue that it can be a PITA to get to and from an airport with luggage, from your house to a station (and back).  

As any transit user knows, once in a great while every transfer works beautifully, with little if any waiting (e.g., I still remember an amazing bus from BWI to Greenbelt Metro, Metro to Petworth, bus at Petworth station, which let me off a couple blocks from home, although mostly I could walk three quarters of a mile to and from Takoma Station provided I didn't have too much luggage, then again, in a fit of pique, once I walked from National Airport late at night, to Capitol Hill in DC, to get a car share).

An intra-neighborhood shuttle, an element of what I call the tertiary transit (sub)network, would address the problem.  Some examples exist, especially in Tempe, Arizona.  Most function more in terms of commercial districts. 

-- "Earth Day and intra-neighborhood transit," 2009
-- "Intra-neighborhood (tertiary) transit revisited because of new San Diego service," 2016
-- "Why microtransit isn't likely to be a source of great profits for private firms: labor," 2019

Interestingly, an Instagram feed about Salt Lake City history recently had a feature on jitneys.  

Then and now, jitneys (like ride hailing) are often seen as a substitute and competitor to public transit.  Often this is true. 

OTOH, they can complement and extend public transit too, by providing links between transit stops and stations and your origin and destination points.

More parking at stations as the solution?  OTOH, the letter writer, Charles Carron, being automobile centric in his thinking, argues that the solution is more parking at stations:

If Metro wants high ridership on the Silver Line to Dulles, it should offer plentiful reserved multiday parking at a variety of stations, perhaps charging for the number of days the vehicle will be parked. Though it might take years to build additional garages to meet all of the demand, Metro could offer outdoor parking now by leasing sections of underused shopping center parking lots and shuttling passengers to the nearest Metro station.

The solution is shuttle/jitney service to and from stations, rather than building more parking. 

Tertiary Network concept.  The transit network framework I worked out is an extension on how Arlington County, Virginia, in their 2005 Trasnportation Plan, defined a Primary and a Secondary Transit Network.  

I extended the concept to multiple scales.  Within a Metropolitan Area at the metropolitan, suburban and center city scales, and primary, secondary, and tertiary.  

Beyond the Metropolitan scale to regional (two or more metropolitan areas; state, multistate, sub-national districts, national, and international.  

From "Intra-neighborhood (tertiary) transit revisited because of new San Diego service" (2016):

Center City (DC) Primary Transit Network: Core of the WMATA system in DC (31 stations); streetcar system; Downtown Circulator bus service; foundational "main line" WMATA bus services; bus rapid/rapider transit.

Center City (DC) Secondary Transit Network: the other 9 subway stations in the city; streetcar lines; other WMATA bus service within the city; water taxi service if added, depending on the routes.

Center City (DC) Tertiary Transit Network: intra-neighborhood bus services including limited access shuttle services that are primarily for employees but also open to others if doing business with them (i.e., Washington Hospital Center to/from Brookland Metro, federal agency shuttle services), university shuttle services like the Georgetown University Connector shuttle service, for students and employees--usually an student id is required to board, etc.

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Monday, November 14, 2022

Metrorail Silver Line phase two opening this week

It's tradition for WMATA to hand out pennants to early riders on the day stations/lines open.

Advance coverage ("Silver Line extension to Dulles Airport opens at tough time,"WJLA-TV; "Silver Line’s second phase was to be different. It fell into the same trap," Washington Post), reminds me that some of my earliest substantive blog writings concern WMATA and the Silver Line.  

First, Virginia's focus on privatization, which is why the Silver Line was not built by Metro ("Silver Line delays: maybe the real lesson is that contracting out construction to the private sector doesn't always work so well," 2014).  

This led WMATA to get rid of its long range engineering and construction unit, and losing decades of experience in building and running the system ("Metro Construction Projects Creak to Halt; Economic, Political Changes Cancel Expansion Plans, Spur Job Cuts, Early Retirements," Lyndsey Layton. Washington Post, July 13, 2003. pg. C.01).

Second, how DC never seized leadership to leverage the Silver Line as the way to create "the separated blue line" in DC which would have added service to Georgetown, a more eastern line in DC, another line to Union Station, and service out H Street ("Blinking on urban design means you limit your chance for success," 2006, "If DC had visionary elected officials and planners it could use the new WMATA "BOS" study to push through the development of a separated Silver Line in DC (and Northern Virginia)," 2019). 

DC does not understand its "unique selling proposition" or "core competency" is being transit- and sustainable mobility-centric.

But the failures in planning extend beyond DC ("Silver Line Metro expansion a classic example of the need to have true regional transportation planning," 2011).

Intriguingly, the proposal was for a double stacked tunnel, which would have allowed for express service too.

Third, was the pro-tunnel effort, which failed, and the desire to have a better connection to the Dulles Airport Terminal, more comparable to National Airport ("Winners and losers with the Dulles subway project," 2007).

Fourth, that average pundits didn't understand the point of the Silver Line, which was to repattern land use in its transit shed for the 21st century ("Short term vs. long term thinking: transit, the Washington Examiner, Fairfax/Loudoun Counties vs. DC," 2011, "Silver line reshaping commercial office market in Fairfax County," 2015,  and "Without the right planning "controls" you can't stop change: Loudoun County and rail service in Northern Virginia," 2012).

Fifth, that activists and elected officials sure didn't understand how to be proactive ("The Silver Line WMATA story that WJLA-TV missed," 2014).  You don't complain about system problems when it opens, but before.

Sixth, and belatedly, that the Silver Line taxed the system's infrastructure in ways that have made degradation of service quality standard practice ("More on Redundancy, engineered resilience, and subway systems: Metrorail failures will increase without adding capacity in the core," 2016).

Complementary transit network improvement program for NoVA.  A few years ago, in line with the writings about how to leverage the Purple Line as a way to drive complementary improvements across the transit network ("Codifying the complementary transit network improvements and planning initiatives recommended in the Purple Line writings"), I wrote a similar piece on the Silver Line, "Using the Silver Line as the priming event, what would a transit network improvement program look like for NoVA?," which listed 2 system planning and 27 network improvements, for a total of 29. 

But it's really a broader program than could be accomplished in the time frame of constructing the Silver Line.

More network improvements. After that post was written in 2017, I continued to have related ideas: (1) a Tysons surface rail streetcar system, (2) extending the Blue Line further south (spurred by a conversation I had with a guy who lives near North Capitol Street and the Washington Hospital Center, who had lived in Virginia previously), and (3) dealing with ferry services, would make a total of 32 items.  

Plus, somehow I missed extending the Purple Line from New Carrollton to Alexandria and Springfield in Virginia.  So that's 33 items.

Yet another, but more from the standpoint of thinking of Metrorail as a commuter railroad, at least in the distant suburbs, would be extending it to Leesburg.  That would be 34 items.  Paul and I talked about it, but I never wrote anything about it.

Fantasy planning and the Paul Meissner maps.  The concept of "complementary transit network improvement planning" was triggered in part by work I was doing with Paul Meissner, in creating a map showing the various rail services as an integrated system and a separate map with ideas about expansion beyond existing services.

It was a mutual process.  I wanted elements he didn't and vice versa.  But a key organizing principle was including items that had been officially recommended at some point.  

Unfortunately, we weren't in a position to improve the map(s) iteratively as I expanded on some of the principles.

Adding a Tysons tram system to that list.  Later, I realized that along the lines of thinking about transit as a network operating at different scales

I propose a metropolitan scale as the foundation, usually heavy rail and railroad, and then center city and suburban (sub)networks within it.  But the concept of primary, secondary, and tertiary networks applies at multiple scales

that Tysons needs a surface level streetcar/tram/light rail system to really be able to create "a city." 

-- "A thought about an intra-district transit network for Tysons," 2020 
-- "Tysons (Corner) 10 Years after the plan to make it more walkable: the necessity of implementation mechanisms," 2020
-- "Making the case for intra-city versus inter-city transit planning, 2011
-- "Intra-neighborhood (tertiary) transit revisited because of new San Diego service," 2016

Models would be how Bilbao added a surface tram network, complementing the subway, to provide better service to major attractions like the Guggenheim Museum between subway stations ("Return to the Rails: The Motivations for Building a Modern Tramway in Bilbao Spain"), surface transit in Toyama City, Japan ("Brief follow up to intra-district transit proposal for Tysons: Toyama City Compact City initiative (Japan)"), and a proposal to extend transit service to a part of Ottawa, Ontario by extending the proposed light rail for Gatineau, Quebec, across the river.

Flickr photo by Clagmaster of the Bilbao Tram leaving the Guggenheim Museum.

I feel even more strongly about that now, especially in response to the Post article, "After Silver Line, Tysons makes progress in becoming less car-centric," because Metrorail in Fairfax and Loudoun Counties doesn't operate at the right spatial and service scale necessary to drive on-the-ground urban design, sustainable mobility, and placemaking improvements in a substantive way ("Planning for place/urban design/neighborhoods versus planning for transportation modes: new 17th Street NW bike lanes | Walkable community planning versus "pedestrian" planning").

The Silver Line has station spacing more like commuter railroad--4 miles or more between stations,.  By contrast, DC and Arlington have strings of stations--3 to 4--over a 2 to 2.5 mile distance.  At the larger scale, urban design and placemaking benefits from transit are minimal.

Blue Line to Potomac Mills/Quantico.  Something we missed in the Meissner/Layman transit expansion map was an extension of the Blue Line south in Virginia.   Although we did send the Yellow Line down that way, but not as far, to Fort Belvoir.

-- "A "Transformational Projects Action Plan" for the Metrorail Blue Line," 2020 

To deal with this planning wise, it's important to think about intra-district versus inter-county transit service.  To plan both for connection to the center city, but also how can the benefits be captured within Prince William County (the same conversation as for why I suggest a Tysons tram).

-- "Making the case for intra-city versus inter-city transit planning," 2011

Ferry service.  Another element that could be included, in terms of comprehensiveness, is ferry and water taxi services, even though they are pretty niche ("Metrorail shutdown south of AlexandriaNational Airport would have been a good opportunity to promote ferry service," 2017).   

There's been some use of ferries in response to the recent Yellow Line shutdown south of National Airport ("Alexandria looks to bicycles and boats to help replace Metro during shutdown," AlexNow).

But the Potomac River "isn't well situated" vis a vis activity centers to make ferry services foundational in the way that they can be in more port cities like Seattle, Sydney, or San Francisco, or when rivers are well situated in places like New York City and London (in other words those cities developed around their rivers while DC did not).

Purple Line to Virginia.  I first read about the PL concept in December 1987.  Almost 40 years later, a segment will open between Bethesda and New Carrollton.  There is zero planning to extend beyond that segment.  
If it takes 40 years for each segment, then any expansion that happens will be long after I die. 

But there should be planning for it now, especially from New Carrollton to Virginia ("Backwardness of transportation and land use planning: National Harbor, Prince George's County, Maryland | Why isn't high capacity transit access required from the outset?," "Prince George's County's newly announced transit oriented development program for the Blue Line," 2022). 

Extending the Silver Line to Leesburg.  It's about 8 miles from Ashburn, the end of the line of the Silver Line to Leesburg, the county seat for Loudoun County.  From the standpoint of "heavy rail" transit service, it makes no sense, but after Reston Town Center, the Silver Line Metrorail is more of a commuter railroad, so it's reasonable to consider, the same way it can be reasonable to extend the Blue Line to Quantico.

Note: these writings are all pre-covid.  The centrality of the center city as the foundation of the transit network is changing.

Improvements recommended in the original Silver Line program blog entry

 Overarching recommendations:

1.  Create the DMV Transport Association ("The answer is: Create a single multi-state/regional multi-modal transit planning, management, and operations authority association ")
2.  Create regularized transportation funding mechanisms for the metropolitan area and region that transcend individual operators like WMATA ("DC area transit commission board member thinks he has a brilliant idea on how to fund Metrorail: sales taxes," 2022)

Network improvement program

1. Separating the Silver Line from the Orange Line by extending the line south to Rte. 50 and then east along the street to Rosslyn. That would provide six new stations: West Street; Falls Church; Seven Corners; Arlington Forest; Ashton Heights; and Fort Myer. Continuing the Silver Line from its endpoint at Ashburn to Leesburg should be considered also, which isn't depicted on the above map.

(There would be plenty of benefits for DC, discussed here, ""If DC had visionary elected officials and planners it could use the new WMATA "BOS" study to push through the development of a separated Silver Line in DC (and Northern Virginia)," 2019).

2. Extending the Orange Line west, adding four stations: Fairfax City/GMU; Fair Oaks; Fair Lakes; and Centreville.

3. Extending the Yellow Line south on Rte. 1 to Fort Belvoir, adding four stations: Beacon Hill; Hybla Valley; Mount Vernon; and Fort Belvoir.  (This should have been done as part of BRAC planning, something I first suggested in 2005.)

4. The map also acknowledges the planned infill Potomac Yard station on the Blue and Yellow Lines, and proposes an infill station, called East Potomac Park, serving the west side of the National Mall near Jefferson Memorial, within DC.

5. A new Pink Line rapid transit line (subway) is proposed serving Northern Virginia in the Columbia Pike corridor, with service to DC, adding eight stations in Northern Virginia.

6. Integration of various Bus Rapid Transit improvements into a unified network (shown on the map as green lines).

7. 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 line ("A new backbone for the regional transit system: merging the MARC Penn and VRE Fredericksburg Lines").

8.  Introduce bi-directional railroad service between DC and Fredericksburg in association with the combination of the MARC Penn and VRE Fredericksburg Lines into one integrated service.

9. Integrate the Crystal City railroad station into the ground transportation system of National Airport ("A brief comment on ground transportation at National Airport vis a vis VRE rail service").

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

11. Extend the Purple Line light rail from Bethesda to Tysons, using dedicated right of way, including on the American Legion Bridge.

12. Consider a redesign and rebranding of the the metropolitan area's bus systems into an integrated family of transit agencies linked by a common graphic design treatment, comparable to that of GoTransit in the Raleigh-Durham area.

13. Implementation of a full-fledged integrated Night Owl bus network for the DC metropolitan area.

14. Provide integrated train arrival information screens at Metrorail, Light Rail, and VRE/MARC stations.

15. Provide integrated bus arrival and departure information screens at Metrorail, Light Rail, and VRE/MARC stations and bus-only transit stations.

16. Incorporate quantum improvements in bicycle facilities across the mobility network in association with the launch of the Silver Line and Purple Line  ("Bike to Work Day as an opportunity to assess the state of bicycle planning: Part 2, building a network of bike facilities at the regional scale")

17. Rearticulate transportation demand management programming and services including a unified network of "customer information centers"

18. WMATA should upgrade its Metrorail station bus shelters (I know this happened at Springfield).

19. Create sustainable mobility districts and corridors as appropriate, complementing the transit network improvements, especially in the Tysons area, which is planned, but far behind in implementation. (See the writings on Silver Spring in the Purple Line series.)

20.  Railroad improvements are dependent on reconstruction and expansion of the Long Bridge (which is happening, "An early look at plans for new rail, pedestrian bridges over the Potomac," Washington Post).

21.  I would add a heritage streetcar service for the National Mall including service to Arlington Cemetery and Rosslyn ("A National Mall-focused heritage (replica) streetcar service to serve visitors is way bigger idea than a parking garage under the Mall" and "New DC Circulator route serving National Mall reminds us that we are neglecting connections from west to east and fail to adequately connect Georgetown to the National Mall").

22.  Georgetown BID's gondola proposal connecting Georgetown DC with Rosslyn in Arlington County, Virginia (Although I'd rather focus on a separated silver line)

23. Adoption of the City of Alexandria wayfinding signage system as a regional best practice, and porting the system to other jurisdictions.

24.  Incorporate the proposed VRE system improvements plan into this program.

25. Incorporate transit services associated with the I-66 project, Transform 66, into this program.

-- Transform 66 in Northern Virginia - Outside the Beltway: FAQs
-- Transform 66 in Northern Virginia - Inside the Beltway 

26. Improve funding for local transit in Prince William County ("With sustained reduction in gasoline prices, will suburban transit systems lose ridership and revenue?")

27. Integrate the long distance commuter bus network into a unified system.

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Thursday, November 10, 2022

I can't help but laugh... DC Mayor's third term as a platform for transformation

 As the Washington Post headlines a story, "Bowser asks for ‘transformational’ ideas for her third term as mayor."

She could just do the stuff I suggested before she was elected:

A Marshall Plan for East of the River

-- "Social urbanism and equity planning as a way to address crime, violence, and persistent poverty: (not in) DC" (reports on a conversation from 2013 and the process after)

and during her two terms of office:

Transformational health care

Transformational traffic safety

Creating a local cultural system focused equally on arts as production not just consumption

-- "What would be a "Transformational Projects Action Plan" for DC's cultural ecosystem," 2018

Streetcars as an economic development device

-- "DC and streetcars #4: from the standpoint of stoking real estate development, the line is incredibly successful and it isn't even in service yet, and now that development is extending eastward past 15th Street," 2015 (why is DC's streetcar program so aimless and not focused on stoking improvements in lagging areas)

Years ago, before she was elected mayor, I had a conversation with a DC City Council staffer about how Muriel Bowser didn't like to be pinned down, having to make a decision.  
And I "argued" with her about various legislative initiatives that at the end of the day, had no impact, because they provided no additional remedies to give citizens the power to respond to and potentially stop things they didn't like, by providing a process for review and participation.
Later, when she was our Councilmember, I complained that she was unable to draw out the need for structural solutions from the information stream that comprised her heralded "constituent services" (never thought they were transformational anyway).

I had intended last week to write a scathing piece about Muriel Bowser, the Democratic candidate for Mayor, about her analytical myopia, an incredibly simplistic approach to complex issues, and a belief that any sort of development is "progress" and if you express any sort of opposition, even considered and measured, "you're against progress."

But then I realized that's an affliction common to most of DC's elected officials, even her opponent David Catania (e.g., his stand on ticketing parents for a child's truancy or absence from school--see "Criminalizing truancy versus creating focused programs to address truant behavior").

Friday, November 04, 2022

Valley Regional Transit (Boise): Pollution Solution marketing thrust | Transit is/as the Pollution Solution

The transit agency in Boise is positioning its ongoing shift to electric buses as the "Pollution Solution" although this is more about the switch to electricity from diesel.


But I think that the idea of transit as "the" "Pollution Solution" vis a vis motor vehicles and the reality that most trips are of one person is a great marketing positioning regardless of the fuel source.

-- Great cartoon-based brochure, Pollution Solution, Valley Regional Transit

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The Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority outbids Wall Street to buy houses in Cincinnati

Arts and retail focused community development corporations.  In "Revisiting stories: cultural planning and the need for arts-based community development corporations as real estate operators" I argue that to best buy, hold, develop, and maintain arts-related uses you need an arts and culture focused community development corporation (or the city or county government) to act at the city-wide/county scale.  

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, the Playhouse Square Development Corporation, and Jubilee Housing of Baltimore (focused on live work housing) are particularly good examples.

In "The SEMAEST Vital Quartier program remains the best model for helping independent retail," I state that SEMAEST in Paris is probably the best example of a city-chartered authority doing this.  Their focus is on maintaining independent retail.

Transit and real estate appreciation.  Transit focused community development corporations.  Similarly, in the face of real estate price increases in response to new transit infrastructure, I've suggested that a CDC could operate similarly, wrt both commercial and residential property, specifically for the Purple Line in Suburban Maryland ("Purple Line Corridor Coalition study: Same Old, Same Old | Gentrification will result from investment in transit infrastructure"). 

Sadly, wrt the Purple Line I first suggested this in 2007.  Fifteen years later, still no action.

Historic preservation.  Same for historic preservation.  The best way to arrest the possible demolition of a property is to buy it.  Having revolving funds and other mechanisms to be able to respond quickly to do so solves the problem ("Saving urban corner stores needs public assistance: Mott's Market on Capitol Hill, Washington, DC ").  

In Cleveland, not so much lately, the Cleveland Restoration Society was a leader in buying properties, sometimes using receivership statutes to cure notorious nuisances, rehabilitating them, and selling them at a loss if necessary, as a stabilization measure. Other preservation groups have done this similarly in places like Macon, Georgia, and Galveston, Texas. 

Serendipity and opportunity. And in my writings on "transformational projects action planning," one of the points about successful wide-scale revitalization programs is that there needs to be serendipity and the ability to seize opportunities as long as they fit within the outline of the master plan ("Why can't the "Bilbao Effect" be reproduced? | Bilbao as an example of Transformational Projects Action Planning").  

  1. A commitment to the development and production of a broad, comprehensive, visionary, and detailed revitalization plan/s (Bilbao, Hamburg, Liverpool);
  2. the creation of innovative and successful implementation organizations (Bilbao, Hamburg, Liverpool, Helsinki);
  3. strong accountability mechanisms that ensure that the critical distance provided by semi-independent implementation organizations isn't taken advantage of in terms of deleterious action;
  4. funding to realize the plan;
  5. integrated branding and marketing programs to support the realization of the plan (Hamburg, Vienna, Liverpool, Bilbao, Dublin);
  6. flexibility and a willingness to take advantage of serendipitous events and opportunities and integrate new projects into the overall planning and implementation framework (Bilbao, Liverpool, Helsinki).

Two examples of serendipity come from Bilbao.  First, in getting the Guggenheim Museum to open there, after Graz, Austria rejected their proposal.  Second, once the Museum opened recognizing that in addition to the subway, they need better surface rail transit (tram/streetcar) to serve the Museum District, and they got it running within a few years--one-third of the time it took DC to open a streetcar line.

Bias for action.  I guess this presupposes that the agency is predisposed to act instead of sit around.  I've written "bias for government inaction" is a problem, that government agencies aren't always that proactive, and tend to not have much of "a sense of urgency" when it comes for a need to act.  

Winston Churchill is famous for the quote:

You can always trust America to do the right thing... after she has exhausted all other alternatives.

Now, the bias is to not act, often because of ideological grounds, and an unwillingness to come up with the money for the change, even if the cost of not acting is much more expensive.

Housing market, venture capital and single family housing as rentals.  Since the 2008 Recession, Wall Street venture capital firms have developed large portfolios of single family housing, converting the properties to rental from owner occupied.  This was facilitated by banks wanting to simplify their REO (real estate owned) portfolios created by rampant foreclosures.

Because financiers have quick access to large amounts of capital, they can generally offer better terms than any individual or small company.  This has changed the nature of the real estate market in many communities, especially weaker markets.

A home recently purchased by The Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority.Jeff Dean for NPR.

Cincinnati.  The Port Authority in Cincinnati, recognizing that it is chartered as a community development corporation, realized it could step in and compete against venture capital and acquire REO portfolios ("It's harder to buy a house. This city fought back by outbidding corporate landlords," NPR).  From the article:

So when that California company, Raineth Housing, went under, the Port moved to buy up its properties scattered around Cincinnati. It's a first — she doesn't know of any other public agency like hers in the U.S. that's done it — and it's risky.

Brunner says the agency outbid 12 other investors, taking on $14.5 million in debt for those 194 homes. It has since paid $2 million more toward fixing them up.

Because large institutional owners are not usually committed to local communities, they may run the properties poorly (some do, others don't), so local ownership can also be an opportunity to improve the house and stabilize the neighborhood. ...

It's a challenge to fix up homes and keep sales prices low

The Port's purchase price per home averages out to roughly $78,000. But the amount it will sell them for depends on how much it has to spend to fix them up. And once the agency was able to look inside all 194 homes, it was clear many needed a lot more work than expected.

Their intent is to keep the properties as affordable, and that ideally they can sell them to tenants.  But this is complicated by the poor condition of many of the properties.

Conclusion.  The Port Authority in Cincinnati illustrates my points about having a (1) community development corporation or similar entity already created (2) that is ADEQUATELY CAPITALIZED, (3) with the wherewithal to act when important, transformational opportunities are presented.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2022

National Community Planning Month: Resource | Planning Whole Communities Toolkit, Puget Sound Regional Council

National Community Planning Month ended Monday, the end of October.

In writing the previous post on schools as neighborhood anchors, I referenced the Planning Whole Communities Toolkit, by the Puget Sound Regional Council.

It has 25 sections and looks to be an incredible resource:

A lot more could go in it.  Speaking of National Community Planning Month, this could become the foundation of a broader and deeper community planning toolkit, by adding various "missing" sections.

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National Community Planning Month: Schools as neighborhood anchors

This post is a little late, National Community Planning Month ended yesterday, the end of October.

I had a bunch of ideas to write a bunch of pieces over the course of the month, like on citizen participation and civic engagement through participation in planning engagements, and on best practice engagement programs involving community groups and planning agencies ("Framingham Massachusetts creates Citizen Participation Officer position," 2018).

Next year...

Students, parents, and teachers participating in a clean up of the school grounds, Wasatch Elementary School, Salt Lake.

Schools as fundamental neighborhood anchors.  One of the ideas for a piece was built on my pieces around the idea that the way we do "neighborhood planning" and schools planning is upside down in that elementary schools are key community-civic assets embedded in neighborhoods, and the neighborhoods with successful elementary schools usually function better than neighborhoods with less successful schools--for a variety of reasons.

So we should re-prioritize planning around this point, making neighborhoods better by making schools better and vice versa.  

-- "One way in which community planning is completely backwards," 2011
-- "Missing the most important point about Clifton School closure in Fairfax County," 2011
-- "Rethinking community planning around maintaining neighborhood civic assets and anchors," 2011
-- "The bilingual Key Elementary School in Arlington County as another example of the "upsidedownness" of community planning," 2019

Yes, I know some of this is about demographics.  Schools with high income demographics tend to do much better than those with low income demographics.

But Dallas and their Transformation Schools initiative has proven that with the addition of focused resources and initiatives, that doesn't have to be the case.  

-- "Dallas parents flocking to schools that pull students from both rich and poor parts of town," Hechinger Report

Well not exactly, what they do is in a very purposeful way, they bring high and low income demographics together, in ways where both groups are well served. 

2.  Special Funding.  What this should mean is that schools should get additional funding, from the local government separate from the school system, or the school system's budget should include support, for these functions.  

Another element could be treating schools as "neighborhood cultural centers" too, the way I describe how neighborhood libraries should be positioned ("Neighborhood libraries as nodes in a neighborhood and city-wide network of cultural assets," 2019).

An activist arrives at the entrance of Parker Elementary School in Oakland, where parents and community organizers occupied the building after it was closed by the school district. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

3.  Recognition of the need for school support = neighborhood support.  There are stories about school closure planning in Oakland, California ("In Oakland, closing schools opens questions about a city’s soul," Washington Post).  

What amazed me about the situation is that the city has lots of charter schools ("How Charter Schools Became Such a Big Player in California's Education System," KQED/NPR), and they drew off enrollment from the traditional schools, so those schools started failing, in turn having negative impact on the neighborhood.  

One way to think of this is as mitigation.  If new schools are allowed to draw off students, and schools in neighborhoods are key neighborhood assets, this policy needs to be further considered.

Open enrollment is a problem in a way.  While it expands choice, opportunity, and equity, at the same time it disconnects students from neighborhood schools.  It's also complicated because some people in low income neighborhoods believe that local schools are always inferior to schools in high income areas ("DCPS middle schools in black wards, "positive deviance" and the pull of the attractiveness of schools in the upper income wards west," 2022).

4.  Individual schools need a program to systematically build relationships with their neighborhood.  (Note that sometime in the next few months, I plan to write a dedicated blog entry on this topic.)

A big problem, at least in cities, is that households have a lot fewer children.  In the average city, fewer than 25% of households have children, so that means 75% of the households in the average neighborhood have limited interest or connection to the local schools.

That means that schools need to invest resources in engaging with the neighborhood beyond the school grounds.  But school districts don't invest in this, don't create assistance programs for schools.  Most figure that PTAs suffice, but again, PTAs are mostly comprised of parents of schoolchildren, not interested parties without children.

I found this bookmark, promoting volunteering in the schools, in a book at a Library book sale.  It dates to the 1980s.

Arts Festival and fundraiser, Uintah Elementary School, Salt Lake City.

In Salt Lake, many of the city's schools, even in the West Side low income area, are threatened with closure as long term demographics expect the city's population of school aged children will decline, even as the city's population rises, because most of the new residents will have no children or fewer children, and family sizes are declining (even though Utah, because of the Mormon Church, tends to have way more children per household on average compared to other states).

But in the higher income east side of the city, only one school, just one, out of more than a dozen, is threatened with closure.  That's because that school, on the edge of an exclusive neighborhood, is in an area where the demographics don't favor households with children.

The school district doesn't understand at all the link between neighborhoods and school success, school success and neighborhoods, and the need to invest in outreach and building relationships beyond the school grounds.

Although many of the schools do art festivals in the Spring, doing great projects as fundraisers.  I don't know if that happens at the poorer schools too.

My neighborhood school, Bonneville Elementary, has introduced its first fall festival.

But assistance to schools for marketing, for creating successful differentiated programs, is wanting.  

There is a big arts initiative, and some STEM efforts, but language programs and other innovative programs like Montessori, present elsewhere, aren't part of the discussion here.

Turn a place around workshop, Project for Public Spaces.  Ironically, when I first got involved in urban revitalization in my Northeast DC neighborhood 20+ years ago, because of the disconnection from the neighborhood problem, I suggested that the local school do a form of the PPS "How to Turn A Place Around" workshop, focused on building connections between the neighborhood and the school, if only to reduce vandalism.

The school had a special program in French, and for a long time had higher enrollments, because resident grandparents were illegally enrolling their suburban resident grandchildren in the local school.  This was a childcare measure among others.  

Capital City Public Charter School, DC.  This school is located a couple blocks from our DC house, and for the first few years after it opened, they made a big effort to do outreach to the neighborhood, to invite residents to school events, etc., but it fell off.   I think this is an element of their "expeditionary learning" approach.

But they did place the school playground in the front yard of the school so it could also serve the neighborhood.  And they've created a food forest on their grounds too ("For D.C. students, lessons in growth, of the garden variety," Washington Post).

5.  Community schools.  One type of program, although more focused on schools in low income neighborhoods, is called "community schools" ("Schools #2: Successful school programs in low income communities and the failure of DC to respond similarly," 2019). 

There are a number of great examples ("Community Schools Offer More Than Just Teaching," New York Times).  From the article:

Community schools, which, among other things, integrate nonprofits, businesses and colleges on the school site to offer services to students and their families, have existed for more than a century. There are now an estimated 5,000 such schools nationwide, according to the national Coalition for Community Schools. ...

The trend is bolstered by research demonstrating that community schools help increase students’ attendance and graduation rates. By addressing an array of student and family issues — from hunger and homelessness to health care — schools are lifting barriers that prevent students from fully participating in and benefiting from their education. The approach also helps to build trust that allows families to embrace the schools and their child’s learning. ...

A full-service community school includes four elements: various integrated support services through nonprofits, businesses and higher-education institutions; active family and community engagement; expanded and enriched learning, which can include after-school, weekends and summers; and collaborative partnerships among parents, students, school administrators and community leaders.

And not mentioned in the NYT article is the "Family Learning Center" model being expanded in Vancouver, Washington ("As need soars, schools rally behind families in Vancouver, Wash. — and other cities take notice," Seattle Times).

6.  Related is the concept of co-location, "joint use" and "shared services" between agencies to further support schools.  For example, why couldn't the local library system be involved in running school media centers?  I read somewhere that Helsinki does this.

In Baltimore County, the Department of Recreation and Parks invests in recreation and community serving facilities in schools, so that these facilities can serve the community beyond the school day, and at the level required, which might be more than what the school would normally provide to serve only its school population.  They've done this for 70+ years.  It's sad that it's so atypical.

An obvious example are playgrounds.

-- "Joint Use Agreements," Planning for Whole Communities Toolkit, Puget Sound Regional Council
-- Shared Use webpage, Change Lab Solutions

7.  Walk and Bike to School initiatives as a way to do urban design improvements in a neighborhood.  While I argue that transportation agencies should be planning for "walkable communities" not pedestrians ("Planning for place/urban design/neighborhoods versus planning for transportation modes: new 17th Street NW bike lanes | Walkable community planning versus "pedestrian" planning," ), the improvements that come from developing safe routes to schools also serve neighborhoods.

-- "Wednesday is National Walk and Roll to School Day," 2022 
-- "Why isn't walking/biking to school programming an option in Suburban Omaha? | Inadequacies in school transportation planning," 2022

Note that such programs should also address night time activities ("Night-time safety: rethinking lighting in the context of a walking community," 2014).

School Walk and Bike Routes: A Guide for Planning and Improving Walk and Bike to School Options for Students, Washington State Department of Transportation
-- Safe Routes to School program, Washington State Department of Transportation
-- City of Tacoma SRTS program, including SRTS Action Plan.  

Walk and bike to school activities can also be a way to engage residents who don't have children, in supporting "bike buses" and "walking school buses."

But if kids aren't neighborhood residents, they aren't going to be walking or biking.

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Friday, October 28, 2022

A wrinkle in thinking about the Transformational Projects Action Planning approach: Great public buildings aren't just about design, but what they do

Transformational Projects Action Planning is an approach I push for thinking about master planning and the planning of big infrastructure projects, in how plans can be leveraged with anchor projects that push the goals of a plan from vision to implementation, and in big infrastructure projects, how complementary improvements can be driven across the related ecosystem, improving both the success of the project and the infrastructure system within which it is embedded.

I've written about this in terms of Bilbao ("Why can't the "Bilbao Effect" be reproduced? | Bilbao as an example of Transformational Projects Action Planning") and Edmonton ("Downtown Edmonton cultural facilities development as an example of "Transformational Projects Action Planning""), and for infrastructure projects, the Purple Line light rail program in Suburban Maryland ("Codifying the complementary transit network improvements and planning initiatives recommended in the Purple Line writings") and the Silver Line Metrorail in Fairfax and Loudoun Counties in Virginia ("Using the Silver Line as the priming event, what would a transit network improvement program look like for Northern Virginia?").

I was going through back articles of the Toronto Globe & Mail, specifically architecture writer Alex Bozikovic, because the G&M is one of the only papers in North America that still covers the topic in depth, and one of the past articles, "Why won't Toronto strive for great public buildings?" (use printfriendly to read), laments the City of Toronto's low fee rate for architects makes it unlikely to achieve "great architecture" from public buildings.

I wrote to him, that I disagreed somewhat, that the issue more than "great architecture" is "great buildings" and great public buildings result from "great programs" that is, what the organization does within the building.

He wrote back, agreed somewhat and disagreed somewhat, and I realized that his article illustrates the conundrum of TPAS ideas in that many communities are on board with "design competitions" aimed at getting great designs, but not on "program transformation" which is their responsibility.

I always use the example of the IdeaStores in London.  The Tower Hamlets borough merged their workforce education and libraries together, and placed them in commercial districts or otherwise active visible places, as opposed to out of the way places.

They were designed by the now internationally acclaimed architect David Adjaye.  Who has gone on to design other libraries, including in DC.

The IdeaStores are transformational because of the program, not the design ("Neighborhood libraries as nodes in a neighborhood and city-wide network of cultural assets").  

 Flickr photo by Tom McKenzie.

So in DC, Adjaye designed libraries look great but are "just libraries" not IdeaStores.  

The Frances J. Gregory Library in DC is beautiful and set in a park AND IS COMPLETELY DISCONNECTED FROM THE PARK IN WHICH IT SITS. You'd think an acclaimed architect could do better.

Buildings ultimately are envelopes or containers for what's really important: what happens on the inside and how they connect to, improve and extend the qualities of place around them.

For example, while not done at the outset, the street in front of the South Park branch in Seattle was repurposed as a vibrant library, extending the library outside, and the vibrance outside to the interior.

I did write about this in "Community facilities: it's not just building them, it's making the program better when you do so" and in other pieces.  I wrote that:

TPAPs should be implemented at multiple scales:

(1) neighborhood/district/city/county wide as part of a master plan;
(2) within functional elements of a master plan such as transportation, housing, or economic development; and
(3) within a specific project (e.g., how do we make this particular library or transit station or park or neighborhood "great"?).

But that needs to be further delineated to distinguish between design and program. 

TPAPs should be implemented at multiple scales:

(1) neighborhood/district/city/county wide as part of a master plan;
(2) within functional elements of a master plan such as transportation, housing, or economic development; and
(3) within a specific project (e.g., how do we make this particular library or transit station or park or neighborhood "great"?); in terms of both
(4) architecture and design; and
(5) program/plan for what the functions within the building accomplish.

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City light shows: architectural lighting events

 I am a big fan of architectural lighting generally.  Few cities have lighting master plans and even fewer address lighting as an element of special events and programming ("Philips changes name to Signify").

I've written about events like Glow in Georgetown DC, Dlectricity in Detroit, and Chestnut Hill's "Light of Night" in Philadelphia.

I didn't know that Pittsburgh has had an architectural lighting event for 60 years, now going into the 61st ("Downtown will sparkle for Highmark Light Up Night on Nov. 19," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).  From the article:

According to The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, which announced the event on Thursday, a Saturday Light Up Night not only eliminates rush-hour traffic concerns, but attracts more people to the event.

Walkway under the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Flickr image by Jocelyn Coblin. 

Light Up Night will feature free musical performances, fireworks, tree lightings and more. Full details on the festivities will be announced in a press conference on Wednesday morning.

 All big cities should consider doing this kind of event ("Planning programming by daypart, month, season," "Night time as a daypart and a design product").

And it should be organized as part of a multifaceted set of activities.  If anything, I think Pittsburgh, doing it for one night only, might be a bit too conservative.

Public art projections, public history projections, architectural lighting of buildings, church steeples (Cleveland has a program that assists churches in the cost of implementing and operating the ongoing lighting of steeples), etc., should be considered as part of neighborhood cultural history planning, public art planning, and community and commercial district activation planning.

-- "Planning programming by daypart, month, season: and Boston Winter Garden, DC's Holiday Market, etc.," 2019

Of course, adherents to Dark Sky considerations would disagree.

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Vision Zero mea culpa in DC

 I've written about traffic safety initiatives for awhile, including what are called "Vision Zero" initiatives in DC specifically.  Last year I wrote a piece about the failure of such efforts in DC and NYC ("Revisiting Vision Zero in DC and NYC ").  And I made a bunch of points.

1.  How to measure and benchmark traffic deaths?
2.  The issues are unchanging.
3.  Government has a bias for inaction*.
4.  Planning for mode versus planning for place and livability.
5.  Not treating the road system as a network.
6.  Traffic deaths can be broadly categorized into three segments.
7.  How do you get reckless drivers off the street?
8.  Traffic enforcement.
9.  Oversight Committees at the City/County and District/Ward scales.
10.  Systematic review of crashes/accidents in a public fashion
11.  Mapping pedestrian, bicycle, transit and car accidents.

The Washington Post reports that "D.C. says it has ‘fallen short’ of goal to end traffic deaths."  I didn't realize there was reporting earlier in the year on where a majority of the deaths occur, in Wards 7 and 8, the "poor" wards, which dovetails on discussion in comments on various articles about how a big problem in DC and traffic deaths is aggressive driving ("D.C. traffic deaths at 14-year high with low-income areas hardest hit").  

Although those wards also have the presence of DC 295 which is designed in ways that promote accidents.

Much better website, still disappointing.  The article reports that DC has a new Vision Zero website. 

I will say they seem to have addressed some of my complaints in the past on this, that the DDOT "dashboard" didn't provide actionable information.  I'd say, they are addressing points 10 and 11 definitely, although...

The much more comprehensive website actually has "crash analysis memos" online, which are what should be used to identify areas of opportunity for structural improvements.

But it appears that the crash investigation memos are cryptic and deficient.  E.g. the one on the crash at Massachusetts Avenue that I wrote about last year doesn't say that the operator of the striking vehicle was driving recklessly, no recommendations about identifying bad drivers systematically.

The point about making separated bicycling infrastructure was indirect.  Safety would be improved by moving bikes away from cars.  It's not clear that they are using Federal Highway Administration protocol systems to actively identify systematic problems.

I wrote about this incident too, on I Street NW a few months back ("Bicyclist deaths-bicycle safety").

The memo doesn't discuss the fact that the cyclist "rode into" the situation instead of avoiding it.  And that this is an indicator of the need for more widespread bicyclist safety training.  

Aggressive driving.  While in many places the biggest reasons for crashes are (1) poor road design and (2) driver expectation that there won't be pedestrians and bicyclists on the road, especially in sprawl/suburban settings ("Teen hit by truck in Springville dies of injuries," KSL-TV), (3) in traditional cities like DC or New York City, especially those constructed during the Walking and Transit City eras, with reasonably sized streets, a grid and block network, etc., the biggest cause of traffic crashes is aggressive driving.   

People drive on streets as if they are highways, not home to houses, parks, commercial districts, etc.

That's about vehicle operator behavior and the most difficult to address.  I do believe that people who commit multiple incidents should lose their licenses.  But that doesn't prevent them from driving without a license.

I don't know if there are successful programs that identify aggressive drivers and provide behavioral interventions.

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Monday, October 24, 2022

Two words: vacancy tax | NYC: More than 60,000 Rent-Stabilized Apartments Are Now Vacant

The City news website in NYC reports that "More than 60,000 Rent-Stabilized Apartments Are Now Vacant — and Tenant Advocates Say Landlords Are Holding Them for ‘Ransom’."  From the article:

During a worsening housing affordability crisis, New York City landlords are keeping tens of thousands of rent-stabilized units off the market — a phenomenon tenant activists call “warehousing.” 

An internal state housing agency memo obtained by THE CITY shows that the number of rent-stabilized homes reported vacant on annual apartment registrations rose to over 61,000 in 2021 — nearly doubling from less than 34,000 in just a year as the city emerged from COVID lockdown.  ...

The Coalition to End Apartment Warehousing, a collective of tenants and 15 community organizations, has been calling attention to the trend, claiming that landlords are fabricating housing scarcity to manipulate legislative changes in Albany. “Creating fake scarcity to raise prices is not a fair way to run the housing market, and it deprives New Yorkers of needed housing,” coalition members wrote in a recent op-ed.  ...

The Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019 (HSTPA) repealed both vacancy bonuses and vacancy decontrol. It also sharply limited how much landlords could pass along the costs of renovations to tenants through rent increases, practices that housing advocates and lawmakers criticized for spiking rents and fueling displacement. 

Prior to 2019, landlords could make a lot of money by emptying out rent-stabilized apartments. HSTPA essentially revoked any financial incentive to do so. ...

But landlords are still legally permitted to keep their rent-stabilized apartments empty indefinitely.

It still has loopholes ("D.C.’s problems with vacant, blighted properties haven’t gone away, residents and officials say," Washington Post), but DC's vacant residential property tax is 5x the regular rate.  It does move properties back into the market. 

And they aren't a universal solution ("Cities Now Use Taxes to Fight Blight. Is It Working?," Governing).  They work better in strong markets, where the demand to develop and the demand to rent are both high.  

In weak markets, vacancy taxes encourage demolition, because of low demand, and demolition generally isn't the best way to move revitalization forward ("Demolition isn't always a solution").


-- "Rents are rising everywhere: with continued supply-demand mismatch, shouldn't renter protections be universal?," 2022

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