Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, November 23, 2009

An example of why even generally good Councilmembers ought not to be legislating transportation routes

(buses, streetcars, etc.)

Will sends us a link to this story in Voice of the Hill, "City Officials map out streetcar plan." Councilmember Tommy Wells of Ward 6 is generally pretty damn good on transportation issues. But all councilmembers tend to waffle when it comes to making cost-benefit decisions on bus routes* and other transportation issues, especially parking, when it comes to facing the potential wrath of voters, funders, and other constituencies, especially the well organized long-time groups.

From the article:

Some neighborhoods might entirely reject the prospect of a streetcar. Wells himself has already voiced opposition to the two lines proposed for 8th Street SE (Barracks Row), instead suggesting that they should be moved farther east to 19th, 15th or 14th streets to promote development in Hill East, where an enormous mixed-used complex is planned for the site of the old D.C. General Hospital.

DC streetcar being prepared for shipment to the U.S. DDOT photo. Also see "D.C.'s Streetcars Finally Being Shipped from Czech Republic" from DCist.

Why else would Councilmember Wells suggest that a streetcar route not be placed on 8th Street SE--where there is a business district that needs more patrons--else why would Capitol Hill Bikes being going out of business, at least temporarily, and the retail as opposed to the entertainment-tavern-restaurant establishments continues to shrink--and there is a major activity center (Navy Yard) a subway stop (Eastern Market) and the ability to continue the route to the Baseball Stadium--and instead be placed on roads that do not serve "activity centers," although the addition of development to "Reservation 13" could justify the addition of streetcar service there some day, when the development is close to happening.

Note that given the number of foreclosures of major developments such as Senate Square, located two blocks from Union Station, it will be many many years before development in Reservation 13/the RFK Stadium/Armory area is substantively realized. Make them pay for streetcar hookups (called "proffers") and meanwhile be concerned about assisting the improvement and success of the commercial districts that already exist.

There is a major problem in "urban revitalization" in that developers and elected and appointed officials often focus on developing "new" places--I call this intra-city sprawl.

Intra-city sprawl usually comes at the expense of "old" places like H Street and 8th Street SE and Pennsylvania Avenue SE--places that already exist--but need help to be able to compete with an ever increasing number of destinations.

* 1. The H Street shuttle duplicates service provided by the X buses and is service for hipsters afraid of regular bus service.

(But I never minded living a few doors down from the H Street commercial district, nor the noise of the delivery trucks serving the stores. And while yes, often I was one of the few whiteys on the bus, the reality is that the X bus line provides a great deal of service for about 22 hours/day. But yes, often there are issues with service, such as bus bunching. We'll see if the improvement process will result in actual improvements. See the Metrobus Benning Road/H Street Line Study website.)

2. The old Navy Yard shuttle bus (N22) had fewer than 3,000 riders/day. Instead of junking this bus (which mostly duplicates service but did provide a connection to Pennsylvania Ave. from Union Station but is indirect because of security restrictions limiting street access in the U.S. Capitol area), instead DC replaced it with a 100% paid for DC bus service, the Circulator, and instead of reducing service due to limited use, service was doubled.

I call these kinds of services political bus services, designed to respond to merchant requests for more service, but generally "more service" especially in areas with a lot of bus service already, complemented by subway service in part isn't the real need.

What is the real need?

Having a better destination, providing people with more reasons to come to your commercial district instead of going somewhere else.


- It's the Reilly Law of Retail Gravitation (stupid)
- The "soft side" of commercial district competition

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