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, July 20, 2018

The surveillance state in real-time: China and London

I do run stop signs and traffic lights on my bike, called the "Idaho Stop," when there isn't oncoming traffic.

Earlier in the week, the New York Times ran a story about the state of public surveillance technologies in China, "Looking through the eyes of China's surveillance state."

This photo shows an intersection with a digital screen displaying the names and identification numbers of people who were jaywalking.

Caption: A crosswalk in Xiangyang is monitored by cameras linked to facial recognition technology. An outdoor screen displays photos of jaywalkers alongside their names and national identification numbers. Credit: Gilles Sabrié for The New York Times.

This puts the capabilities of surveillance into perspective.

A couple years ago there was an interesting article in the New Yorker ("London's Super-Recognizer Police Force") about taking the utilization of CCTV feeds to a new level in terms of actively identifying and apprehending criminals, rather than merely rely on feeds for after-the-fact identification.

Such technologies and practices are likely to raise important and wrenching issues over privacy and civil rights.

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Thursday, July 19, 2018

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


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

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

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

They were virulently against the trail for three reasons:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

1.  You have to pick your battles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A comment on the Army Futures Command: it's not enough to be innovative, the challenge is to implement and diffuse the innovation

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This isn't exactly about urbanism, but the reality is that the overarching theme of the blog is about change management and how organizations function, this is still relevant.
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There was a big competition between cities for landing the Army Futures Command, a new unit of the Army focused on innovation, technology, telcommunications etc., and bringing new ways of doing things to "The Big Army."

The Army chose Austin, Texas ("Why the Army picked Austin for Futures Command," Defense News), home to a big chunk of the IT industry, the University of Texas, and other forward firms and events like the South by Southwest Festival. From the article:
The Army focused on six major criteria to choose Austin: proximity to science, technology, engineering and mathematics workers and industries; proximity to private sector innovation; academic STEM and research and development investment; quality of life; cost; and civic support.

“I laid out the six variables. Austin scored the highest,” McCarthy said.

Additionally, the Army looked beyond those metrics and envisioned “how each city ecosystem would support our modernization efforts and priorities vertically from concept to capability to solution,” McCarthy said. “We do not have time to build this ecosystem; it needs to be ready immediately.”

The Army found Austin had access to academia, industry and mature entrepreneurial incubator hubs “to give our leaders placement and access to talent, ideas, collaboration and willingness to help us build the culture we need,” McCarthy said.
It's going to be a small unit, 500 people tops, led by a General.

But I wonder how effective can it be given that it will be so separated from the Defense Department establishment?

People argue that this is necessary so it can be innovative.

But at the same time, speaking of "the diffusion of innovations," they have to be in a position where the technologies and innovations can be introduced to, integrated within, and diffused throughout the organization.

Distant outposts of large organizations can be innovative.  But their ability to shape the future of the parent organization is limited.

Two counter-examples of (mostly) failure.  The first is the famous example of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center.  This unit of Xerox pioneered the development of many computing technologies that we take for granted today, such as visual computing displays and the mouse (which has since mutated into the touchpad).

But none of these technologies were introduced into the market as successful products by Xerox, which was headquartered far away, in Rochester, New York, and where the corporation continued to be primarily focused on the copy machine ("Big Companies Can't Innovate Halfway," Harvard Business Review).

Ford Motor Company moves division headquarters to California.  In the late 1990s, to be more innovative and less hidebound by remaining based in Detroit, and in recognizing the value of big Western state markets, Ford moved the headquarters of Lincoln-Mercury from its Dearborn Michigan complex to Irvine, California ("Ford Moving Main Office of Lincoln Mercury to Irvine," Los Angeles Times).

Two years later, the "Premier Automotive Group" the division made up of recently acquired foreign manufacturers Aston-Martin, Volvo and Jaguar, joined them ("Ford to Move Luxury Lines Offices to Irvine," LAT).

Ford's PAG marques were sold off later, as plans and opportunities changed, the Mercury division was dissolved, and Lincoln's leadership moved back to Dearborn.

Although the design group stayed, and has developed some successful cars ("Irvine epicenter of auto design," Irvine City News), although now for the most part, Ford is abandoning the car part of the "car business" ("Ford is getting out of the car business: Here's what's behind the change," Autoweek).

Another example of one-off innovation.  Another example I frequently mention is the Carl English Botanical Gardens at the Chittenden (Ballard) Locks at Lake Washington in Seattle.  The locks connect the Lake and River system to the Puget Sound.  All locks in the US are run by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Army doesn't create arboretums.  But because this installation is 2,400 miles from Washington, and was no priority for the Army generally, 20 years after the locks were built, a "groundskeeper," horticulturalist Carl English, Jr., was able to begin adding distinctive plantings because there wasn't close supervision to prevent him from doing so.

Now there's a great one-off arboretum there.  But it didn't influence or reshape the ACE going forward to add parks and botanical gardens to locks (although yes, it runs recreation areas as an incidental part of running dams and hydroelectric generation activities).

The challenge isn't just innovation, it's diffusion of the innovation.  And because of that, location and the ability to influence and shape the rest of the organization does matter.  How do you develop a feedback loop that connects into the parent organization?  Disconnected innovation becomes what I call "stranded best practice."

(Kroger's failure to systematically develop a subset of premium stores across their banners, or to make convenience stores be way better than a typical gas, beer, and tobacco store are examples.  See "Problem solvers versus possibility thinkers.")

This goes back to counter-insurgency units and "the Green Berets" and Ranger units developed in Vietnam, but not really integrated into Big Army thinking, much to the chagrin of the Army after they ran aground in Iraq, and rediscovered what was learned before.

While it will be great for the winning city, Austin, to have 500 more highly paid workers in a new high profile Army building, the challenge will be to make this move pay off for the Army and the Department of Defense.

The Layman approach to best practice development and diffusion: Indicate; Duplicate; Replicate; Communicate; Accelerate.  From "Revitalization planning vs. positive thinking* as planning" (2018) and "Helping Government Learn," (2009). My own take on innovation theory and the development, replication, and the diffusion of innovation is along these lines.

First develop a new practice and figure out if it works. Duplicate it to see if it is more than a one-off thing. Continue to scale it up and figure out all the elements. Once you've one that, communicate out so it can be and is successfully diffused.

1. Indicate -- identity the particulars of processes and structures of success and failure
2. Duplicate -- figure out how to duplicate (repeat) success.
3. Replicate -- develop the systems, structures, frameworks to apply programs to different situations and communicate them throughout innovation networks.
4. Communicate -- push out the final product to communities of practice for more widespread adoption, recognizing that other places will bring new elements to the model
5. Accelerate -- figure out how to speed up successful innovation and programs.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Towards "less" (zero) waste

Last week the Washington Post had two articles, one in the science section ("Weekly trash can be drastically reduced") and in the food section ("How to break your plastic, foil and paper addiction") about what we might call people adopting extreme zero waste behaviors--only throwing out ounces of waste each week, making their own cosmetics, etc.

Reading it made me feel inadequate and I do a lot, probably a lot more than the average DC resident:

-- recycle hugely and correctly (non-recyclables are disposed of in recycle bins by a significant number of households, which led China to stop buying US waste products, which has roiled the market)
-- separately recycle batteries (AU, My Organic Market, Library of Congress), textiles (thrift stores, those containers here and there), water filters (My Organic Market), plastic (grocery stores), pharmaceuticals (Walgreens), and wine corks (My Organic Market, Whole Foods)
-- take reusable building materials to Community Forklift and donate reusable stuff to the thrift store up the street
-- compost yard waste and kitchen waste (+ hair, nail clippings, napkins, sponges, q tips, etc.)
-- don't collect clippings when mowing the grass (with an electric mower)

to the point where we only "throw out" a few gallons of waste/week on average -- and that's by volume not weight, mostly nonrecyclable wrappers and stuff, or items that are soiled.

Being that I shop mostly by bicycle I am not likely to bring lots of containers to the store although we buy some stuff in bulk (especially spices, but that's more about freshness and cost savings).

While those people featured in the articles kick my butt in terms of hard core practices concerning zero waste, likely they consume way more energy because they drive, and live in suburban settings.

Making better choices is all about constraints.

Be that as it may I think the articles could turn off more people than they attract, because both featured zealots, rather than ordinary people doing a bunch of relatively simple things to reduce their waste production.

The thing about the concept of "zero waste" is that we aren't making it clear that this is a "stretch goal," that we don't necessarily expect people to get to that point, but we can do a lot to reduce the waste stream.

Just a few steps make a huge difference:

(1) recycling and not indiscriminately tossing recyclables into the trash

(2) taking the effort to divert (by donating) reusable stuff

(3) composting yard waste

(4) composting food waste.

That can be up to 90% of a household's typical waste stream.

With things like plastic you need to build into your routine bringing it with you when you go shop, dropping off textiles at a bin or thrift store because you'll be traveling by one, etc.

Shouldn't there be articles about that, rather than the zealots?

Also see "More on zero waste practice (and DC)" and "Reformulating building regulations to promote sustainability."

Separately there are different kinds of opportunities with multiunit housing and people who "dump" at the Fort Totten Transfer Station and certain types of businesses like restaurants.

And while I understand everyone wants curbside pick up of kitchen waste, like how Montgomery County encourages households to compost on-site, DC should be doing that in the outer city along with yard waste diversion ("A way for DC to begin adding yard waste collection as a separate element of waste collection and reduction programming").

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I've touted Salt Lake City's community days where different neighborhoods put out bulk trash on different days and people can "pick first."  They ended the practice because in many neighborhoods items were tossed on the curb in chaotic ways.

-- press release

Separately, the City of Boston has released recommendations on moving towards "zero waste".




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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Why "gentrification" is visible now... the Diffusion of Innovations Curve of Everett Rogers

I haven't reached out for a review copy yet, but the new Island Press book by Alan Mallach, The Divided City: Poverty and Prosperity in Urban America, makes the point that there are three types of cities now:

(1) cities growing in population, especially of higher and middle income residents and probably losing lower income residents (DC, Seattle, Portland, Boston, New York City);

(2) cities that are shrinking, but still gaining higher income residents so some neighborhoods are experiencing "gentrification effects in the face of widespread poverty (Philadelphia, Baltimore, St. Louis);"

(3) cities that are shrinking and not gaining higher income residents (Cleveland).

He makes the ("obvious" -- not a cut) that there needs to be differentiated policies depending on the specific dynamics of the city and/or neighborhood you're addressing.

(At a conference a couple years ago we were talking after a session and "scoffing" at a complaint by a local housing leader in Baltimore that Baltimore was behind because they didn't have an inclusionary zoning policy, while the city has more than 50,000 vacant properties.  IZ isn't what they should be worrying about now.)

The problem is that the national and local discussion of in-migration, neighborhood change, and displacement isn't particularly nuanced, and the general approaches like "inclusionary zoning" are a distraction for cities that are still shrinking, but cities -- gateway cities he calls them -- like DC have to deal with affordability at the city-wide and neighborhood scale because of the increased demand for housing by higher income segments of the market, which crowds out everybody else.

Which I've written about for years, e.g., "Applying the super-gentrification thesis to San Francisco, Santa Monica, and other cities experiencing hyper-demand," 2014. Also see "The nature of high value ("strong") residential real estate markets" (2017) and the use of the term "capital deepening" by University of British Columbia Professor David Ley:
… calls the process of high income (a variable indicating a neighborhood in high demand) neighborhoods becoming even higher income, "capital deepening," which I think is a better term than "supergentrification." From the article:

"Because every time redevelopment occurs you get a substantial increase in the socio economic status of occupants … [market-rate] supply is only for high-income people. So, whenever redevelopment occurs, it means higher income people are occupying the space," says Dr. Ley. "Two things are happening: there is gentrification in the inner city, but then there's what I call 'capital deepening,' which is an area that is becoming richer."
Getting residents involved in development review earlier, is that a solution?  NotionsCapital calls our attention to this Governing Magazine article, "One Woman's Quest to Fight Gentrification by Asking Residents How," which makes the point that the entry of Trader Joe's spurs gentrification.

The article opines that the professor featured, has a revolutionary idea, to get residents involved in the early stages of "developments" rather than later stages.

Technically, that's what planning is supposed to do to begin with, set the stage based on various principles, to produce the kinds of outcomes we say we want.

I don't think her ideas, while important for other reasons, which I will mention in a follow up post, will have much impact on the influx of higher income residents and the increased desire to live in cities. From the article:
But sociologist Cat Goughnour, a native Oregonian and an advocate for affordable housing, thinks more should be done -- and not just in Portland.

“People are being forced out by economic pressure,” she says. “It really resonates with me that tearing people out of these multigenerational communities has an impact, and there is still very little being done about gentrification."

Goughnour founded the Radix Consulting Group, which is lobbying the city to change its process of urban planning to involve community members upfront, rather than asking for their input toward the end of a project's development. She is also in talks with Detroit and Minneapolis to similarly alter those cities' processes for urban design.
Redesigning a project already being developed to attract higher income segments won't change the project very much.  So many decisions have been made by that point that you can only have impact on the margins, especially when it comes to big issues like market rate versus affordable housing.

What's going on in gateway cities like Portland is much different than what is going on in Detroit, although yes, there is inward investment in some places there.  But besides that, the issue isn't so much planning, but the stage of the market.

Population in-migration to the city and the concept of innovation diffusion.  In discussing this with NotionsCapital, I mentioned Everett Rogers and his "innovation diffusion curve," from the book Diffusion of Innovation, which I was fortunate to come across in college, although not for a class.

His work, originally in agriculture extension, looked at how long it took innovations to "diffuse" and become "adopted" on a widespread basis.


With demand for "living in the city" on the part of high value segments of the housing market, what happened is that for 40 to 50 years--staring with the 1950s era "Brownstoners" in Brooklyn, artists, etc. (immigrant groups looking for cheap housing were a variant)--year by year, small numbers of people moved to the city because they preferred urban living over the suburbs, even as residential housing trends were dominated by suburbanization.

People in Brooklyn in the 1950s were the innovators. People like me in 1987 were later to the game, but still early enough to qualify as "early adopters."

The earlier generations (1950s-1970s) people like Brooklyn's Brownstoners showed that it was possible to live in the city despite the problems and the continuing decline in population.

One of the stabilization strategies was historic preservation, assisted by the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966.

-- Who Lives Downtown, Professor Eugenie Birch, Brookings Institution, 2005. The back to the city movement was originally focused on center locations, hence the Downtown focus of this report.

-- Get Urban: The Complete Guide to City Living, out of print book by Kyle Ezell. I heard him speak about the book in Cleveland in 2002. His point was that you didn't have to move to NYC to have an urban living environment, that small cities like Cincinnati, Omaha, Columbus, etc. have similar neighborhoods providing the same kind of experience.

The cool coffee shop, Central Perk, in the Friends tv show.

Trends shifting towards favoring the city.  But helped by tv shows like "Friends" and "Seinfeld" (as opposed to the "Brady Bunch" etc.) which showed city life as exciting, around 2000, but really more like 2003, many American cities started seeing a change in perception of the value of urban living.

It helped that in many cities, public safety began improving, murder and crime rates began dropping, etc.

Hitting critical mass, entering the late adopter phase. What I argue is that while we didn't realize this at the time, because it was simultaneous with other trends, this year-by-year in-migration, after 40-50 years, finally hit critical mass, and reached the point where it could achieve a self-replicating momentum ("Revitalization in stages: Anacostia," 2011).

Rogers would have argued that around 2000 "in-migration of population to the city" hit "critical mass," consolidating the innovator and early adopter stages, and began the shift to the late adopter stage, where more than double the number of people would likely be interested in moving to the city.

In specific places, this general trend was also accelerated by other more local conditions, making changes particularly visible and apparent, such as with new construction of multi-unit housing or the entry of suburban retail chains to urban settings.

For example, in DC new in-migration was abetted by the move of the professional basketball and hockey teams to a downtown arena from a suburban location, as of 1997, Marion Barry was no longer mayor (although later he became a Councilmember), which revived the confidence of real estate investors, plus foreign investors looking for safer places to invest than their own country, and the post-9/11 growth in government which drew younger people to the metropolitan area and the city.

In Seattle and San Francisco, growth occurred in response to the tech boom. Not sure what was going on in West Los Angeles County. In Boston, leveraging the intellectual capital of MIT, Harvard, and other institutions in biotech and IT, etc.

Safeway and apartment building at 5th and L Streets NW, Washington DCThis Safeway on the outskirts of Downtown DC opened in 2008, as part of a condominium-apartment complex with other ground floor retail.

Vertical mixed use building type.  The concept of vertical mixed use real estate development -- usually housing above ground floor retail; the mixing of retail and office was already extant; and there aren't many examples of mixing retail, office, and residential in a single building -- became associated with this renewal of interest in urban living.

Cities started gaining population, not losing it.  In 2000, DC's population was 580,000, steadily shrinking from a peak of 800,000+ in the 1950 Census.  Today the population is 693,000+, and next year it's likely to be 700,000.

Increase in demand paired with a minimal increase in housing supply = significant price appreciation.  With a much larger portion of the residential housing market interested in city living, given the relatively fixed supply of housing--most housing in major cities was built decades ago, when the US population was much smaller, so most cities aren't built with enough housing to meet current demand, especially single family housing, it has an extranormal impact on the housing market, and prices have risen precipitously, and more neighborhoods have been "reproduced" as attractive to these segments of the market.

More and new residents also bring newer types of retail. Plus with the new population and their being higher income, there is more demand for new retail and restaurants, especially more expensive options--carry outs being replaced by sit down restaurants.  Ethnic choices featuring Japanese, Thai, and Filipino cuisine, etc.

Multiunit housing, new residents, and new retail are very visible but "gentrification" isn't new.  It's the velocity of change that now is so visible, but was a phenomenon building over decades. And I argue that what people think they are seeing today as "the start of gentrification" is more like in-migration entering either the late adopter or early majority phases where it is highly visible.

It's too late (song by Carole King)...  Hence the concern about displacement and affordability. But to address the issue now, 15+ years into the process, is for the most part, too late.

West End/Foggy Bottom | Trader Joe'sDiffusion of Trader Joe's within DC as an example of post-gentrification, not pre-gentrification.  Trader Joe's is a perfect example of my point. People think the company is "leading gentrification," when in fact, it's joined a party that has been in progress for a long time.

Despite all our clamoring and arguments for why such stores should be in DC, the first store, in Foggy Bottom, opened in 2006, 3-6 years after population in-migration hit the tipping point--and in return for a more than $1 million incentive payment made by the Foggy Bottom Association!, not the city's economic development department!

This was six years after the Whole Foods Supermarket on P Street NW opened in the Dupont Circle/Logan Circle neighborhoods ("Fresh Fields confirms lease for P Street site," Washington Business Journal, 1999). And previous to that, Fresh Fields, the local chain acquired by Whole Foods in 1996, had opened stores in a couple neighborhoods in Upper Northwest.

(To some extent, Fresh Fields was ahead of the curve, even if Whole Foods and Trader Joe's weren't. From the WBJ article "P Street: A Fresh Start":
What does it take to get Fresh Fields to build a store in an up-and-coming but still dicey neighborhood in Northwest D.C.? ...

The 1400 block of P Street NW hardly seems like a "natural" for any retailer. Dark, abandoned buildings dominate the streetscape, and few cars or people passed by on a recent evening when K Street and Georgetown were bustling.

But just blocks from the Fresh Fields site, developers have been snapping up aging town homes and apartments, converting them into luxury condominiums. Seeing that, Dickson's group decided a Fresh Fields not only could prosper but spur additional commercial growth in the neighborhoodsca.)
While it's likely the stores have received special rent pricing and other considerations from their respective developers, the new stores haven't required extraordinary incentives from the city or similar organizations.

The second store, at 14th and U Streets, didn't open until 2014. The third store, opened on Capitol Hill in 2017, and the fourth store, in Union Market, in 2018. A fifth store is slated for Upper Georgetown on Wisconsin Avenue  ("JBG Smith Lands Trader Joe's To Anchor Glover Park Development, Bisnow), likely to open in late 2019.

These stores haven't made 14th and U, Capitol Hill, Union Market, or Upper Georgetown "gentrified." These are already high income areas where TJ's wants to sell product.

By contrast, a store opening in Deanwood ("Three-bedroom, two-bathroom house in DC's Deanwoodlists for $375,000," Washington Post) would be an augur of "gentrification." Also see "Why is it news that houses are worth more when located near perceived high quality stores?," 2016.

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I guess my lesson from all this is two-fold.

1. More than 15 years ago, I came to the conclusion that without "visionary" master plans already in place, the velocity of development was too strong to be able to get control of the process and shape it for better outcomes.

So the lesson from this was to do planning before the onset of change, not after.  After the change process starts, you're always reactive.

With regard to individual projects, without master planning already in place, it's very difficult to change the trajectory of the developer (I can think of one process I was involved in that took 15 years, but that only came about because the earlier bad idea was discarded in the face of obvious changes in market opportunities--from a big gas station with a car wash to a 200+ unit apartment building with a grocery store on the ground floor and a streetcar station).

In response, I focused my energies on advocacy for better planning, identifying gaps in planning processes, coming up with great, but for the most part, ignored recommendations on how to do planning a lot better in the face of significant change, etc.

My joke is that I might not be a good planner but I am great at "gap analysis" and the replete and evident gaps in how DC does planning makes me an insightful planner.

For example, my testimonies and writings on changing the commercial property tax assessment methodology to support independent property owners and retailers date to 2005 ("Tax Policy Hurts D.C.'s Local Businesses," letter to the editor in the Washington Post, 2007), my writings on restructuring community benefits agreements have a similar timeline ("Community benefits agreements: revised (again)"), recommendations for artistic disciplines to "do their own planning" ("Arts, Culture Districts, and Revitalization," 2009) came out of earlier writings on cultural planning dating to 2003 ("Cultural resources planning in DC: In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king"), recentering neighborhood planning around ensuring high quality neighborhood schools ("Rethinking community planning around maintaining neighborhood civic assets and anchors," 2011), on Walmart (ANC4B Large Tract Review Report on Walmart, 5/2011, 2011), creation of metropolitan scaled mass transit organizations which integrate planning and operators ("The answer is: Create a single multi-state/regional multi-modal transit planning, management, and operations authority association," 2017), using infrastructure investments to leverage other complementary improvements ("Setting the stage for the Purple Line light rail line to be an overwhelming success: Part 2 | proposed parallel improvements across the transit network," 2017), etc.

2.  Now I believe that great plans are important, they need to be transformative, but they need to be paired with systems for implementation.

I think seeing the actions of the Portland Development Commission (now called Prosper Portland) at a conference in 2005 influenced me, plus reading an action plan for various State of Maryland "Community Revitalization Plans" and DC's adding action steps to plans.  Although, I was at some level somewhat hesitant maybe, because DC's community development corporations, which are a form of revitalization implementation, are so bad ("Falling up -- Accountability and DC Community Development Corporations," 2005).

I wrote about innovative delivery mechanisms and programs coming up with the concept of "action planning," in 2008 ("Social Marketing the Arlington (and Tower Hamlets and Baltimore) way") and then tried to bring about a similar kind of implementation in in the bicycle and pedestrian plan I wrote for the western district of Baltimore County in 2010 ("Best practice suburban bicycle planning using the action planning method").

Action Planning Steps

1. Design Method rather than Rational Planning
2. Social Marketing
3. Integrated Program Delivery System
4. Packaged through Branding & Identity Systems
5. Civic Engagement & Democracy at the foundation = citizen at the center

Not realizing these earlier influences, I outlined a six step process based on the series of articles I wrote about culture-based revitalization in 8 European cities for an EU project in Baltimore, in particular on Bilbao and Liverpool ("Why can't the "Bilbao Effect" be reproduced? | Bilbao as an example of Transformational Projects Action Planning"), after analyzing the processes in those cities which were particularly successful.

Best practice, large scale, revitalization planning framework
  1. A commitment to the development and production of a broad, comprehensive, visionary, and detailed revitalization plan/s (Bilbao, Hamburg, Liverpool);  [NOW I CALL THESE TRANSFORMATIONAL PROJECTS ACTION PLANS which can be an element of community master plans, a complete revitalization plan, or an approach to integrate into single project planning, to ensure all the opportunities for innovation are captured]
  2. the creation of innovative and successful implementation organizations, with representatives from the public sector and private firms, to carry out the program. Typically, the organizations have some distance from the local government so that the plan and program aren't subject to the vicissitudes of changing political administrations, parties and representatives (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 actions (for example Dublin's Temple Bar Cultural Trust was amazingly successful but over time became somewhat disconnected from local government and spent money somewhat injudiciously, even though they generated their own revenues--this came to a head during the economic downturn and the organization was widely criticized; in response the City Council decided to fold the TBCT and incorporate it into the city government structure, which may have negative ramifications for continued program effectiveness as its revenues get siphoned off and political priorities of elected officials shift elsewhere);
  4. funding to realize the plan, usually a combination of local, regional, state, and national sources, and in Europe, "structural adjustment" and other programmatic funding from the European Regional Development Fund and related programs is also available (Hamburg, as a city-state, has extra-normal access to funds beyond what may normally be available to the average city);
  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 worthwhile new projects into the overall planning and implementation framework (examples include Bilbao's "acquisition" of a branch of the Guggenheim Museum and the creation of a light rail system to complement its new subway system, Liverpool City Council's agreement with a developer to create the Liverpool One mixed use retail, office, and residential development in parallel to the regeneration plan and the hosting of the Capital of Culture program in 2008, and how multifaceted arts centers were developed in otherwise vacated properties rented out cheaply by their owners in Dublin, Helsinki, and Marseille).I
But until recently, I don't think I've been direct enough about this second point, needing to have the implementation organizations in place to make what you want to happen actually happen.

IT'S NOT ENOUGH TO EXPECT THE MARKET TO DO THIS FOR YOU (a la neoliberalism). There still need to be public entities active in the field to shift development outcomes for the better.

I realized in talking with my Airbnb "landlord" in Hackney Wick, an artist, about these kinds of issues that my "Arts, Culture Districts, and Revitalization" piece (and others) need to be revised and republished to integrate this point, to specifically call for the creation of artist-specific community development corporations, etc., to bring about these kinds of policies into realizable projects.

I've written that in terms of arts spaces and artist housing (and in my comments on the draft DC Cultural Plan):

-- "BTMFBA: the best way to ward off artist or retail displacement is to buy the building," 2016
-- "When BTMFBA isn't enough: keeping civic assets public through cy pres review," 2016
-- "BTMFBA revisited: nonprofits and facilities planning and acquisition," 2016

and community housing and related development around transit infrastructure, especially the Purple Line light rail system in Suburban Maryland:

-- "To build the Purple Line, perhaps Montgomery and Prince George's Counties will have to create a "Transportation Renewal District" and Development Authority," 2015
-- "Purple line planning in suburban Maryland as an opportunity to integrate place and people focused initiatives into delivery of new transit systems," 2014
-- "Quick follow up to the Purple Line piece about creating a Transportation Renewal District and selling bonds to fund equitable development," 2014

Typically, traditional urban planning processes do not adequately integrate implementation. This is true for land use, and for transportation, other than the creation and maintenance of transit organizations.

The exception is revitalization planning, and like with Portland (or Salt Lake City, Baltimore and other places) the creation of revitalization corporations, like CDCs but often run by cities more directly, to bring plans into reality.  Their problem though is lack of money, complicated often by lack of demand--being too far ahread of market demand.

What to do now for the production of affordable housing.  DC has pumped lots of money into affordable housing production, but it's too late for the most part.  As an article, "Why more affordable housing in SC isn't getting built where it's needed most," in the Charleston Post & Courier said the other day:
For one thing, it's just as expensive to build affordable housing as it to build market-rate housing. The land costs are the same. Building codes are the same. Construction costs are the same.

To put it in the simplest terms: In a market-rate project, you can get a loan from a bank to build it if you can generate enough rent revenue to pay it off. You'll might even take a decent profit once you sell it off to an apartment company.

In an affordable housing project, your tenants will pay only a certain amount every month, and it's probably not going to be enough to cover the interest costs on a bank loan, much less the land, the construction and the property taxes.

To make it work, you've got to cut corners in a lot of different ways, and it's not like you can just hire a smaller construction crew or use inferior materials (there are laws against that). So what do you do?
DC is going to need to do some different things.

1.  Move away from focusing on producing a few affordable units in new buildings to building 100% affordable buildings.

2. The city is going to have to get over its opposition to infill development and allow the construction of bigger buildings.

Unfortunately, this opportunity is mostly being lost, because developers are cutting the size of projects from today's maximums to reduce opposition. But since these buildings are being developed as owner-occupied the likelihood of them ever being able to be redeveloped to be bigger is remote.

3.  The practice of "lopping off floors" of projects to placate opposition or "allowing" single use developments in multi-use areas (like the space above the Georgetown Safeway or the Georgia Avenue Walmart--that site had approved plans for retail + 440 apartments) is going to have to stop.

Not that it will be easy.

But there is a big opportunity cost both to affordability because of restrictions on inventory as well as a constriction of revenues to the city from property, income, and sales taxes not being expended by residents vaporized by the project becoming smaller.

4. There should be portfolio investment in current housing complexes to maintain their affordability and to ward off conversion to upper income housing.

5.  There needs to be a more active program of insertion of affordable housing developers--not a few units of inclusionary housing--into large scale new developments, where they build 100% affordable housing buildings in the midst of market-rate housing.

This is done in Helsinki and Hamburg. In Vienna, government planning shapes housing production much more closely than comparable processes in the US ("Housing in Vienna: Innovative, Social, Ecological," Exhibition catalog).

It would be a great opportunity to do this with the Armed Forces Retirement Home development ("15 Acres of Residences Off North Capitol: The Vision for the Armed Forces Retirement Home," UrbanTurf).

6.  Relatedly would be when institutional property is redeveloped, it could be for affordable housing.  The problem though is often these properties are not centrally located and the institutions tend to be desperate for cash, which is why they are selling/developing, so it's difficult for them to consider leaving money on the table by not developing market rate housing in favor of affordable housing.

Although Alexandria, Virginia has had some success with churches ("'A win-win': Using local church buildings to address the affordable-housing crisis, " Washington Post),  There are a couple of similar examples in DC, such as with Emory Beacon of Life Church on Georgia Avenue NW, or the Plymouth Congregational Church on North Capitol Avenue NE.  By contrast, many of the property sales by institutions in Brookland have been for market rate housing.

7.  ADU construction is going to have to be encouraged in traditional single family districts, which will add housing likely to be cheaper to rent than that in Class A+ new construction, and it will provide more residents capable of supporting neighborhood improvements.

It will be a marginal increase, but a lot cheaper to subsidize than for profit or nonprofit new construction, even at 25% of the likely cost ($200,000 or so for an 800 s.f. separate unit fully legal).

8.  Because DC is now what Alan Mallach would call a gateway city, programs to de-densify public housing are a mistake, which local activists are now challenging ("DC asks court to throw out $1 billion lawsuit" Washington Post"), instead the housing projects should be upgraded and intensified and improved.  Deliberately eliminating affordable housing is not a supportable public policy.

Note that I think the lawsuit is generally misguided but the point about de-densification of current projects is legitimate and should be addressed. But because the rest of the lawsuit is outlandish, this point will probably be lost.


Although my response to their general point would be:

"yep, that's why you have to have plans, strategies, implementation organizations, funding, and accountability mechanisms in place in advance of change, so you can be proactive, not reactive, both when change starts to happen and is visible, and as it catches momentum and speeds up."

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Why not a summer "water taxi" service to Roosevelt Island in the Potomac River

Roosevelt Island is a National Park Service installation in the middle of the Potomac River, but it is only accessible from Virginia.  When I worked with the Foggy Bottom Association in 2007 doing some "visioning sessions" on dealing with civic facilities and other issues, this was one of the issues raised. We didn't get to the point of focusing on that particular concern other than suggesting the possibility of a bridge.  From the NPS Roosevelt Island webpage:
Can I land a boat on the island?
The north and northeast sides of the island tend to have the firmest sand and are best for landing a canoe or kayak. The rest of the shoreline can be quite mucky. If you land at the northeast corner of the island you can reach the Swamp Trail. There is no way to secure a boat, so be prepared to leave someone with yours to prevent it from floating away on the tide or being stolen.
Why not build docks on the DC and Virginia sides of the island?

Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area water taxi service

But looking at today's City Paper e-letter which as part of its humor quotient, mentions Roosevelt Island in the context of a "missed connections" ad, what popped into my head was "why not create a summer special water transit service? from the Georgetown Waterfront."

-- there is ferry service to Governor's Island in New York City, although now the park is run by the city and a nonprofit conservancy, not the federal government. There is a charge, but trips before noon on Saturdays and Sundays are free.

-- the Thames River Heritage Park connecting Groton and New London, Connecticut on the opposite banks of the river has a seasonal water taxi service. operating on weekends in the summer and fall. It charges too, but connects many more destinations.

-- the National Park Service's own Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area provides water transportation services to various sites in the system.

Potomac River, Roosevelt Island, Georgetown map

Along with their desire to create a gondola transportation link from Rosslyn to Georgetown, perhaps this is an initiative that the Georgetown Business Improvement District could take on, along with the NPS and the DC Department of Parks and Recreation.

It's less than 1,000 feet from the Georgetown Waterfront to Roosevelt Island, so an elaborate ferry isn't necessary.

======
I've suggested that DC needs a Rivers and Waterfronts Element in the Comprehensive Land Use Plan. Baring that, a water recreation element in the city's master parks and recreation plan.

This is the kind of item that would be identified and addressed as part of such plans.

There are docks at some of the parks assets along the Anacostia River.

If the city had a deeper tourism development and management plan, this item could be funded there too, from the tourism tax revenue stream.

Also see:

-- "A gap in planning across agencies: Prioritizing park access for pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users compared to motor vehicle access," 2015

Note that there is an initiative to plan for better use of the C&O Canal, it focuses on that specific water asset only, not all of the water assets in Georgetown:

-- C&O Canal National Historical Park - Georgetown Canal Plan, National Park Service

Speaking of tourism planning, it's also an illustration of the failure to have both a city-wide tourism plan as well as sub-city plans for districts like Capitol Hill, Dupont Circle, and Georgetown which have extra-normal opportunities for tourism development.

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Monday, July 16, 2018

DC is a market leader in Mobility as a Service (MaaS)

Over the past few months, writing various pieces concerning various elements of sustainable mobility and what I am now calling the Sustainable Mobility Platform, I came to realize that while it has transpired incrementally, and while neither the industry nor the city planners may realize it, DC is a market leader in smart mobility/mobility as a service/transportation as a service.

And so far, it has nothing to do with "autonomous vehicles."  E.g., "How Driverless Cars Are Going to Change Cities," Wall Street Journal

Changes in urban mobility infrastructure will come with driverless cars
Changes in urban mobility infrastructure will come with driverless cars. Wall Street Journal graphic by Peter and Martha Hoey.

123.11_McClelland_DC_Map.jpg

A lot of it comes from leveraging the urban form of the city--the grid of blocks and streets bisected by radial arterials.

This is the benefit of the L'Enfant Plan, laid out during the era of the "Walking City"--which bequeathed to the city an urban design that fosters the use of sustainable modes--first walking, then transit, then biking, the short distances between residential areas and employment centers, overlaid by a heavy rail and bus-based transit system.

-- "Transportation and Urban Form: Stages in the Spatial Evolution of the American Metropolis," Peter Muller

While the metropolitan area has access to many MaaS services, DC is premier because of how the services are layered and intertwined by users within the city and as a result it comprises a deeper and broader service platform within the city, enhanced by the city's urban form.

DC is the MaaS superstar, not the Washington Metropolitan area.

However, Bethesda and Silver Spring in Montgomery County, the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor and Crystal City in Arlington County, and probably a couple districts in Alexandria possess similar characteristics or have the potential, although not to the same degree of breadth and depth.

In presentations on bike planning, I make three related points:

1. Mobility is a system. And just like we built a system to support driving, we need a similar kind of deep system to support biking, if we want high usage, like in European cities like Copenhagen.

Bicycle Traffic as a system, diagram, German National Bicycle Plan, 2002-2012
Bicycle Traffic as a system, diagram, German National Bicycle Plan, 2002-2012


2. While the US land use and transportation system preferences automobility, it took 60+ years to build the system that supports it.

Automobility as a system (slide)
From my presentation "Best practice suburban bicycle planning".

Spread on ideal highway construction, Fortune Magazine, August 1936
Fortune Magazine, August 1936, article on how to create a highway system.

3.  As an example of the length of time required to create successful new mobility environments, the sustainable mobility environment present in today's Portland, Oregon has taken 50 years to construct.
When people look to Portland, Oregon as a sustainable mobility leader and lament that their own community isn't comparable, they fail to recognize that the sustainable mobility platform in Portland present today has been constructed out of both incremental and visionary decision making that has built and reinforced the platform, starting in late 1960s ("A summary of my impressions of Portland Oregon," 2005) with the first decision, to demolish the freeway along the waterfront.

This is not the image of what people think when they think about Portland today.  But it was accurate until the very early 1970s.
Portland's waterfront used to be scarred with freeways

The move to mobility as a service is mostly a big city phenomenon, and even so, most big cities aren't well positioned to prioritize and preference sustainable mobility/MaaS.

When it comes to smart mobility/MaaS, DC is and in fact has been a leader, at least in North America, even if the system is being developed more incrementally and less purposively.

(I'd say that Seattle is co-equal to DC, except that DC is ahead when it comes to having a heavy rail system. Arguably, Seattle has a better bus system.  Its stored value transit card is a bit more versatile and they have water-based transit services too.  Community Transit, serving Snohomish County with service to Seattle, uses some double deck buses.  And their area MPO is more innovative.)

The components of DC's Shared Mobility Platform/MaaS environment

The map, really a diagram, of the WMATA Metrorail system.

1. Multi-modal transit system (Metrorail, 1976).  DC had train service, streetcars dating to the 1860s (and ending in 1962), buses.

The Metrobus system was created out of local transit lines that went bankrupt, a few years before the then under construction Metrorail subway system began operating in 1976.

The Metrorail system now has 6 lines and 102 stations serving DC, Maryland and Virginia.

42 stations serve DC and 31 stations in the core of the city form a kind of "monocentric system" for DC proper, comparable to the MUNI system vis a vis BART in San Francisco, within the polycentric transit system that is Metrorail.

That sub-network is bounded by Foggy Bottom on the Southwest, RFK on the Southeast, Navy Yard and L'Enfant Plaza on the South, Van Ness on the Northwest and Brookland on the Northeast.

It's no surprise that not only is that section of the city the most prosperous, much of it includes the original L'Enfant City, for DC it is quite populous, and has the shortest distances between residential and activity centers.

Area jurisdictions also have their own bus systems.  Montgomery County's RideOn system is considered a national best practice for suburban systems.  Maryland took over commuter railroad services in the 1980s from Conrail and in the 1990s, Virginia launched the Virginia Railway Express.  Both systems focus on bringing commuters into Washington, but at least with Baltimore, there is some reverse commuting.

The railroad services were Monday-Friday services, although in December 2013 MARC added weekend service to the Penn Line.

WMATA metrorail fare card machinesWMATA is unusual in that it charges fares by mode.  A trip with both subway and bus legs is two fares, with a slight discount.  (Although bus to bus transfers, even between systems, are free.)

Two stations extended the blue line further into Maryland and opened in early 2004 while an infill station on the Red Line was built in DC's NoMa district and opened later that year.

Separately, Maryland is building a light rail system in Montgomery and Prince George's County that will intersect with Metrorail and MARC and open in 2022.

An extension to the Silver Line with 6 stations including service to Dulles Airport will open in 2020.  An infill station is being developed for the Potomac Yard section of Alexandria and will open in 2022.

DC taxi at the Wharf, Water Street SW2. Taxis. In various forms, taxis have served DC for more than 150 years.

For a long time DC used a flat rate zone fare system preferencing short trips in the core.  Under the zone system, taxis could carry separate parties and charge each a separate fare.

In 2008, they switched to a distance based system and could no longer take multiple fares in a single trip ("D.C. Cabs Told to Switch From Zone Fares to Meters," Washington Post).  With the change, taxis were also required to accept credit card payments.

Unlike many cities, DC does not charge "medallion fees" to own/operate a taxi so the barriers to entry were few, although taxi licensing is not unlimited and there are periods when the city does not issue new licenses. In 2012, DC City Council passed a law requiring that all taxis display a red-based color scheme, similar to the DC Circulator bus.
capital transit weekly pass featuring Glen Echo Amusement Park

The DC streetcar system sold weekly transit passes.  The story is that on weekends, parents would give them to their children for them to use.

3.  Discounted transit passes.  Compared to other metropolitan areas, monthly subway passes are quite expensive in the DC area. But bus passes are a bit cheaper than 10 fares, and include reciprocal use of local transit services.  MARC train passes are a good deal and include free bus transit in Montgomery County and DC and free local transit in Baltimore.

DC supports a Youth Transit Pass that covers Metrorail.  Metrorail also offers a discount pass for seniors.

SmarTrip card, WMATA4. Stored Value Transit Fare Card (1999).  SmarTrip card was introduced by WMATA in 1999, first for subway, then bus (2002) and parking (2004).

Over time, most area transit agencies (not railroads) have moved to the system.  The Baltimore area adopted a branded version called CharmCard in 2010.

Money is added to the card at machines, online, or at certain stores set up with the proper equipment.

It hasn't been integrated with non-transit modes, although in Montreal, the STM transit agency has integrated bike share access and car share access into their fare card system.

In London, the Oyster Card can be used on local and commuter railroads and on ferry services.  Seattle's card can be used on ferry, water taxis, and railroads.  In SF Bay, on ferries and trains too.  There, the fare card system is run by the local transportation planning organization, not a transit agency.

Recently it has been reported that DC and Baltimore area transit agencies are looking at bailing on the SmarTrip system because of problems dealing with WMATA ("Greater Washington Partnership issue brief on mobility (transit) fare systems," 2018).

Untitled5.  Two-Way Car Share (2004).   Around 2004, the Flexcar and Zipcar car sharing services entered the DC market, starting out in Arlington County.

Members reserve cars in advance and access cars through smart cards and wireless telecommunications connections.

Payment is made through a credit card connected to the account. Users pay sales tax of 10% on each trip.

Two-way car sharing requires that you keep/pay for a car for the entire trip without relinquishing control of the car and it must be returned to the same place where you picked it up.

Zipcar created a preferred vendor relationship with WMATA putting cars at Metrorail stations.  (Enterprise later bought that privilege.)  Cars are available from a variety of locations throughout the city (and elsewhere in the metropolitan area), some on the street, some on private property.  The Zipcar fleet has a variety of vehicles including pickup trucks and vans, to accommodate a range of trip needs and types.

Public participation processes were required for the authorization of the use of public spaces for this "private" service ("The high cost of free parking and car sharing in DC," 2005).

Flexcar and Zipcar merged in 2007.  Zipcar was acquired by Avis Car Rental in 2013.  Other companies, Enterprise and GM-owned Maven, have since entered the DC market, but Zipcar remains predominant.

For some people, two way car share substitutes for traditional car rental.  Over time, special rates for all day, multiple day, and overnight use have been added, as well as customer benefits in association with participating retailers.


6.  DC Circulator Bus (2005)/Metrobus limited stop bus services (2007).  For decades, Metrobus has provided high frequency service for almost 24 hours on a number of DC routes on key arterials such as 16th Street, H Street/Benning Road, and Wisconsin Avenue, although these routes aren't called out as a high frequency network the way that Portland or Minneapolis brands such routes. The high frequency routes each serve 13,000 to 25,000 riders per day.

Separately, DC started its own bus service in the core of the city, with the idea that the routes would encourage people to not use cars to get around in the most congested part of the city (it's like a "fareless square" but with a charge).

The concept is that the headways would be so frequent a posted schedule wasn't needed.

The DC Circulator service started out with Van Hool buses, which were "cooler" than the clunkier buses used by WMATA, done up in a more forward design scheme.  The fare is $1, now half the cost of a Metrobus fare.  And now the Circulator uses the same buses as Metrobus, but with the Circulator livery.

Over time, bus routes have been added to the Circulator system in farther reaches of the city, and routes outside the core tend to be less efficient in terms of usage and cost.

Route 79 Express bus, Georgia Avenue, Silver SpringIn 2007, Metrobus introduced the first limited stop "faster" bus service on Georgia Avenue, the Route 79, called "MetroExtra."  The buses are blue, as opposed to the red buses that denote they serve all stops.  Subsequently, similar routes have been introduced to other lines.

7. Transit information displays and apps (2009/2010).   Metrobus introduced NextBus real time bus information via phone in 2009.  

While still not implemented in a systematic way, in 2010, DDOT introduced a pilot digital transit information screen, similar to a setup previously deployed by Arlington County.  Since then, others including the independent firm TransitScreen has developed and deployed similar products, in DC and elsewhere.

DDOT Multimodal Display

This is an area with a great deal of opportunity for growth.  Screens with this information can be displayed in office building lobbies, at bus stops, in restaurants, etc.  Geographically-set apps can display the screen on computer screens and smart phones.
Real time transit information via TransitScreen and the Orange Barrel Media digital billboard outside Capital One Arena
Real time transit information via TransitScreen and the Orange Barrel Media digital billboard outside Capital One Arena, on 7th Street NW in the Gallery Place neighborhood.  August 2017.

3 people riding Capital Bikeshare bikes on M Street NW, after shopping8.  Dock-based Bike Share (2010).  While an earlier pilot (2008) had been done with Clear Channel, the bus shelter contract did not require a rollout of bike share across the city and it was a 10 station system, hardly widespread.

Instead of renegotiating, DC partnered with Arlington County and launched a different system in September 2010, called Capital Bikeshare, based on solar-powered equipment developed in Montreal.

Originally, members needed a key fob to access the system.

(One of the problems with the Clear Channel system is that it used hardwired electricity connections, which made the system more costly and much slower to deploy.)

Membership includes unlimited rides for no additional charge provide that the trip is less than 30 minutes.  Longer trips trigger additional fees.

An undiscounted membership is $95/year and monthly and shorter term periods are also available.  Later the additional fee structure was changed to reduce the cost for annual members, and a single trip option for $2 was added.  The bulk of operating revenues come from fees charged to short term users.

Over time, the system has expanded to Alexandria and Montgomery County, and soon Prince George's County.

Car2Go vehicles bunched up on Hawaii Avenue NE9.  One-Way Car Share (2011).  Car2Go, using small cars, introduced one-way car share to DC.  Rather than in half hour increments with a one-hour minimum, cars are charged by the minute. Users are also charged sales tax on each trip.

Over time, a per trip fee was added and in 2015 the system switched from a card-based access system to smartphone-based systems. Payment is made by credit card connected to the account.

Paying a hefty access fee per car to the city means that the cars can be parked in most legal spaces, even resident priority areas and at meters without having to pay for no extra charge.  In 2014, Car2Go service was extended to Arlington.  In 2016, cars could be driven from one city to the other and left in either zone.  2017, Mercedes vehicles were added to the fleet.

Car2Go paste up poster ads, New Hampshire Avenue NWThe advantage of the smartcars is that they are super easy to park in an environment of constrained parking supply.

To be competitive with one-way car share, Zipcar added "free parking" on DC streets to its service in 2014 ("Car Share Users Guaranteed Free Parking on D.C. Streets," NBC4).  Zipcar introduced a clunky form of one way car sharing in 2016, but dropped it earlier this year ("Zipcar drops one-way rentals in DC region," WTOP radio). Unlike Car2Go, Zipcar still uses card-based access systems.

Car2Go home zones only cover DC and Arlington County, so cars can only be used one-way when driving in those areas.

10.  Ride Hailing (2011). To me, ride hailing is no different than a taxi.  That being said, app-based ride hailing services utilizing a mix of professional and nonprofessional drivers, using personally-owned vehicles, were pioneered by Uber and Lyft.  Uber argued that somehow because they used a phone-based app system that it wasn't a taxi and shouldn't be regulated.  In many communities they won that argument.  Dispatching and payment is handled through e-commerce solutions.

Ward 4 DC Microtransit serviceDC Government supports a taxi-based microtransit service in some portions of the outer city.

11.  Microtransit services (2015/2016).  Microtransit is the term now being used to refer to small-scale, sometimes on-demand jitney or "shared taxi" services.

STM in Montreal, and other communities in Quebec have offered shared taxi services for decades, in certain parts of its territory, usually at the edges, where traditional fixed route transit service isn't cost effective or doesn't meet the needs of its riders. Other communities in Quebec also

Most other transit systems in North America do not provide similar services.  A number of for profit services were launched, focusing not on distant areas, but in core areas, but most (Split, Bridj) have failed.

Elsewhere, Ford continues to own one service called Chariot, and UberPool, LyftShuttle and the Via service remains operative in cities like New York and Washington DC.  Payment is app based.

This Via screenshot claims that Via users reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Probably not.  In DC, they are likely to be shifting trips from other more efficient modes like walking, biking, and transit.

My sense ("Where's the revolution?: Bridj microtransit service shuts down (a/k/a "Mobility as a Service")," 2017) and not only mine ("Microtransit: What I Think We Know," Human Transit) is that core-focused microtransit services will fail as people will have to pay a premium price for short trips, and this isn't economically viable, nor is it justifiable for such trips to be subsidized by transit agencies.

However, contracted out "shared taxi" services comparable to those of STM, serving transit systems and riders on the edges of service areas likely have upside but will require subsidy ("Beyond the Bus: 'Microtransit' Helps Cities Expand Transportation," Governing Magazine). In 2016, working with taxi companies, the city launched a microtransit service operative in some wards called the Neighborhood Ride Service. This service is more comparable to services in Montreal and is focused on parts of the city outside of the core.

In 2018, Via introduced a new membership program including four rides/day and access to dockless bike share for $159/month.

12.  DC Streetcar (2016).  The streetcar isn't particularly noteworthy yet, but it adds another mode to the city's transit mix. So far, the line is truncated, 2.2 miles long, serving H Street NE with a connection to Union Station.  The line is supposed to be extended east and west to Georgetown and perhaps Rosslyn, which would make it much more useful.
DC Streetcar vehicle proposed paint scheme
Presently, it's free to ride and advocates could use that as a way to press for the creation of a "fareless square" type of operation in the city ("Is making surface transit free the best transit investment DC can make?," 2015).

Unlike Kansas City ("Kansas City Tries to Go from Smart Strip to Smart City, Digital Trends), the streetcar hasn't been used to "drive" "smart city" improvements in that transit corridor or across the city.

I argue that such services need to be thought of as "intra-district" services ("Making the case for intra-city versus inter-city transportation planning," 2011).  Instead, streetcars are often compared to longer route services and found wanting.

13. Metrorail stops using paper farecards, shifting to exclusive SmarTrip usage (2016). The system stopped issuing and accepting paper farecards, although cash can still be used on buses, but is discouraged in favor of the SmarTrip card. This doesn't speed up Metrorail but does reduce the cost of processing payments, and strengthens the use of the stored value transit fare card as a primary MaaS payment device.

Red painted bus lane on Georgia Avenue NW, DC14. Dedicated bus lanes (transitways) painted red (2016).  Exclusive bus lanes painted red were introduced to a section of Georgia Avenue ("Georgia Avenue boasts bright red bus lanes," Washington Post).

Into the 1970s, the area had a number of dedicated busways, but over time they were removed.  Earlier in the decade an exclusive bus lane was installed on 7th Street NW but it isn't painted red and there is minimal enforcement.  More dedicated transitways are in planning.

Making bus service faster through transitways increases throughput and is the equivalent of adding new bus trips to the service. The red paint makes this noteworthy and worth listing as a MaaS element as would other bus prioritization initiatives such as traffic signal preferencing (in place for the DC Streetcar, but not buses).

15.  Dockless bike share including e-bikes (2017).  Dockless bike share was introduced on a pilot basis last fall. Multiple firms, some from China, are involved in the business.

dude makes LimeBike look coolThe original trial period which was to end in April, has been extended. The advantage of dockless is like one-way car share, it is point-to-point and you can leave the bike "anywhere," including right at the endpoint of your trip.

Riders join the system through an app, which is used to pay for individual trips through a credit card link.

Interestingly, these services mostly charge per ride, $1, but $2 for the e-bike from Jump, so that regular riding would cost significantly more--ten times more or higher--than traditional dock-based bike share and at least 3 times higher than the cost of buying a bike. Likely such systems only appeal to occasional users.

They are only cheaper to use when compared to a transit ride, which is $2-$4 on a single trip basis.

Given that dock-based systems were developed for bike share in response to vandalism and theft experienced with early versions of what we would now call dockless bike share, not surprisingly many of the bikes have been vandalized ("Theft and destruction of dockless bikes a growing problem," Washington Post).  And many bikes are improperly parked.

To compete with Jump, which was recently acquired by Uber, LimeBike added e-bikes in 2018.  Note that e-bikes are overkill in the core of the city, but make sense in the outer city ("(Still) tired of mis-understanding of the potential for e-bikes," 2015).

A Lime dockless electric scooter on 6th Street NW, Washington, DC16.  Dockless e-scooters (2018).  Bird, a company focused exclusively on dockless scooters, introduced e-scooters last year in Santa Monica, and after raising venture capital to fuel expansion ("Dockless scooters as an example of a lot of money sloshing around in venture capital," 2018), they and LimeBike, which added e-scooters to their program, launched e-scooters in DC in late Spring.

There is a flat fee of $1 plus a per minute use charge.  (Spin is also getting into the e-scooter market.)

E-scooters may have some advantages over bikes because they are faster and people believe they are trendy when they ride them ("The invasion of the scooter bros: A new tribe," Washington Post).

17. Transit card only bus service (2018).  Route 79, the first Metro Extra limited stop bus route, has just shifted to a card-only usage profile, no longer taking cash fares ("Metro's cash-free bus pilot aims to speed up trips, but some riders worried," WTOP-radio).  This is to speed up boarding.  (DC buses still do front-door boarding exclusively).

Surely this is a pilot with the hopes of being able to do this across the system.  But in order to do so, WMATA needs to make it a lot easier for people to put cash money on the cards ("What's remarkable about this storefront?," 2018).  I've thought for years they should put Metrofare machines in public places but that would create a security and collections cost problem.


The difference between the Sustainable Mobility Platform and Mobility as a Service.  In my SMP framework, I list elements like Barnes Dance intersections and cycle tracks.

But Mobility as a Service is about trips, usually costing money.  It's a sub-set of the SMP, not co-equal to it.

In this listing I did include items like transit information screens and transitways because they have a significant impact on the utility of certain services, or provide the kind of information that people need to make sense of their options.

Arguably, I could have included some other items.  What have I missed?

The MaaS underlying infrastructure: streets and traffic signals + computing and telecommunications.  One thing we don't think about is that almost none of this can work without roads, rights of way, and signaling systems. Those are controlled by local and state transportation departments.  In DC, they are mostly controlled by the DC Department of Transportation, although here and there certain roads and signals are controlled by federal agencies such as the National Park Service.

They are the enabling/foundational infrastructure, coupled with high quality computing applications, telecommunications systems and cloud-based hardware systems, accessed by smartphones and other computing/telecommunications devices.

What's missing or problematic

Do we need a master app integrating all services?  I don't think the lack of integrated apps pulling all the services together is a deal killer.  If it were just public agencies, it might be possible to create a master app, like the Oyster card.  But those are geographically bounded systems.

The for profit providers operate in multiple markets and it is less valuable for them to participate in regionally-specific fare systems.  It's problematic for the user too, who wants to be able to use these modes in other places--e.g., I've used Car2Go in San Diego and Seattle and Zipcar in San Francisco and Seattle.  Most Uber users use it when they travel, etc.

Nevertheless, area transit agencies must commit to using an integrated payment system.  That being said, there should be one unified fare card system for metropolitan area transit agencies, and ideally it should be managed and supported by the metropolitan transportation planning organization.  By shifting responsibility from WMATA to the Transportation Policy Board/Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, perhaps the current problems and enmity between actors can be assuaged.

The fare card system (recognizing its moving towards being exclusively contactless or including contactless options) should work diligently to include commuter railroad services. If London, Seattle, and San Francisco can do it so can other places, including DC.

-- "One big idea: Getting MARC and Metrorail to integrate fares, stations, and marketing systems, using London Overground as an example," 2015

Don't confuse tourist water transportation services with transit.  The DC area has a developing water taxi system, but it's for tourists and shouldn't be represented as transit.  That being said, it's worth integrating the service into the SmarTrip system as one element in moving towards adding water-based transportation services to the transit mix.

Do you need a subscription covering all or a basket of services?  Anyone out there wanting to pay almost $600/month to Whim?  Whim, which started in Helsinki, is doing pilots in the West Midlands, UK, Antwerp, and Amsterdam.

To me, the point of mobility as a service is to pay less than you would if you owned a car, which is $7,000 to $9,000/year.  Whim doesn't seem to provide much in the way of savings.  I don't think the trade off of simplicity--using one app, is worth the loss of savings.

Washington Post graphic.

Gondola as a modeThe Georgetown Business Improvement District aims to create a gondola system to connect Georgetown to the Rosslyn Metrorail Station, thereby "capturing" that station and making it serve DC more directly despite being in Virginia, across the Potomac River, and accessible currently only by the traffic engorged Key Bridge ("The case for the Georgetown-Rosslyn gondola").

Interestingly, the gondola service is more important for night-time and weekend transportation, not for day-time commuter use, although that would be served by the mode as well.

That would extend the transit network/MaaS/SMP.

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Writing all this, I still haven't read the various Los Angeles DOT reports on MaaS.  That city aims to be a leader in the field.

-- Strategic Implementation Plan: A Plan to realize the visions outlined in the Urban Mobility for a Digital Age and Blueprint for Autonomous Urbanism document, Los Angeles DOT
-- Urban Mobility in a Digital Age, Los Angeles DOT
-- Blueprint for Autonomous Urbanism, National Association of City Transportation Officials

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