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.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Answering the question: How will Lyft Shuttle change public transit?

Posed by the Los Angelees public radio station KPCC, in response to the launch of a "private bus" by Lyft ("How will Lyft Shuttle change public transit?").

The answer is: not much.

If bus transit were profitable, the private sector would already be doing it -- see for example the history of why "transit" became "public transit" as the public sector took over previously private transit services, which were no longer operable without subsidy, as the nature of the market especially competition from the automobile as well as the decreased profitability as land use and population deconcentrated or "spread out."

See the more recent failures of Bridg ("Lessons from the collapse of Bridj: Quality counts, but transportation also requires subsidies," CommonWealth Magazine) and the premium bus service that Marc Andreesen and others tried to launch in San Francisco ("Behind the Failure of Leap Transit's Gentrified Buses in San Francisco," New York Times).

There are only so many people going to the same destinations to make it worthwhile to spend lots of money on expensive bus vehicles, etc.

From the CityLab article "Leap Transit is Dead, Long Live Public Transit":
The start-up mindset is especially problematic for private transit ventures because there’s no way to make loads of money charging bus prices for taxi services—at least, not the type of profit that conjures Justin Timberlake’s line in The Social Network that a million dollars isn’t cool, but a billion is. There’s a reason taxis cost a lot more than buses: they provide a personal chauffeur who follows a customized route. And there’s a reason it takes public funding to keep transit systems afloat. A taxi ride at a bus price won’t pencil out unless you find a revolutionary way to connect riders and rides or artificially undercut your own prices to boost volume—and even Uber, which has done both these things better than anyone, is considered by transportation experts to be severely overvalued.

Written by James Aloisi, a former Secretary of Transportation for the State of Massachusetts, the CommonWealth Magazine article is definitely worth a read for the insights it offers on innovation in transportation in the context of the role of the public sector.

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Monday, June 26, 2017

Carlton Reid, author of Bike Boom, speaks tonite at BicycleSPACE Downtown

I've read the book, which is very good, but I haven't had a chance to write up the review. Bike Boom is the second volume of what will be three books, and it covers the period from roughly the 1920s through the 1970s.

I learned a lot I didn't know--it's ironic as the stuff we advocate for today, cycletracks etc., were part of the discussion in the US in the 1970s, and in England long before.

From Facebook:

BicycleSPACE – Downtown
440 K St NW
Washington, DC

At 7:30pm, journalist Carlton Reid will give a talk about his latest book, Bike Boom: The Unexpected Resurgence of Cycling, published by Island Press. In Bike Boom, Carlton sets out to discover what we can learn from the history of bike booms. He uses history to shine a spotlight on the present and demonstrates how bicycling has the potential to grow even further, if the right measures are put in place by the politicians and planners of today and tomorrow.

He explores the benefits and challenges of cycling, the role of infrastructure and advocacy, and what we can learn from cities that have successfully supported and encouraged bike booms, including London; Davis, California; Montreal; Stevenage; Amsterdam; New York; and Copenhagen. Stick around after his presentation if you'd like a signed copy of the book!

Speaking of Amsterdam- before and after Carlton's presentation, demos will be available on electric cargo bikes by manufacturer Urban Arrow. If you fall in love with the convenience and capabilities of an Urban Arrow, any order placed this evening will also get you a FREE rain cover ($299 value!). They'll also be stopping by our Adams Morgan and Ivy City locations earlier in the day, so if you can't make it in the evening, contact us to set up an earlier demo.

Join us for a fun and educational evening that will leave you optimistic for the future of urban cycling!


Sunday, June 25, 2017

I don't understand why restaurants don't take care of the treeboxes next to their outdoor patios

The blog entry, "(Updating) The 'soft side' of commercial district revitalization," was originally written in 2006, but I updated it slightly last year.  From the entry:

One of the theories of commercial district development is called the Reilly Law of Retail Gravitation. The way I describe it is thusly: people choose to shop in the commercial district that has more and better stores that is also (more) convenient to get to.

But the Reilly Law is more than just the number of type of stores.  This is why I talk about "soft aspects" in relation to it, in terms of external and "internal" factors.  External factors concern the commercial district as a whole.  Internal factors the store.  I wrote a more expansive piece on this topic in September 2007 ("Analyzing retail store failure," although the post was originally titled, "Why ask why?  Because").

(1) the quality and condition of the buildings;
(2) the cleanliness of the street and sidewalks in the district;
(3) public safety in the commercial district*
(4) transportation convenience (walking, biking, and transit as well as driving; this is captured by the Reilly equations, but is worth calling out, yes this includes parking but doesn't mean providing scads of it as much as it means addressing the issue, including parking wayfinding, also see "Parking districts vs. transportation/urban management districts: Part two, Takoma DC/Takoma Park Maryland" from 2015)*
(5) the condition of the street furniture, treeboxes, roadways and other aspects of the physical environment;

Old Takoma business district map
Old Takoma parking map
(6) the signage and windows of the businesses (this also has external characteristics);
(7) the quality and organization of the store interiors.
* added to the original list

Each influences whether or not people will choose to shop in your commercial district, or if they will merely continue to shop elsewhere because you provide no compelling reason for them to change their minds, attitudes, habits, and comfortability.

These factors plus the number and quality of stores and the issue of how to get there are the primary considerations influencing people's decisions about where to shop, eat, or play...

People compare our neighborhood and downtown commercial districts to shopping centers or to the best-in-class traditional commercial districts in your region. So to be equally competitive, we have to do many of the same things the shopping centers do, and primary is providing a clean environment.

I don't understand why restaurants don't take care of the treeboxes next to their outdoor patios
Ruta del Vino gets great reviews in the Washington Post.  Why they don't spend a little time paying attention to the environment around their facility is beyond me.

The same goes for the Timber Pizza Company.  It gets lots of accolades.  You'd think that the condition of the space outside their restaurant would be something they and their customers notice.

Although I do think that "the city" should provide some "basic maintenance" and coordination in all commercial districts, especially for those areas without business improvement districts or functioning "commercial district revitalization organizations" such as "Main Street."

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Wall Street Journal special section on the "Future of Transportation"

On Wednesday, June 21st, the Wall Street Journal ran a special section on transportation issues, with some thought provoking articles.

-- "The End of Car Ownership" challenged some of my thinking on this issue.  I have argued that autonomous vehicles aren't likely to be institutionalized within my lifetime, because while they are touted on being most useful in cities, the cost and time and technological complexity of creating the necessary "intelligent transportation infrastructure" is astronomical.

Comparatively, it will be easy to set up such operations on interstates, especially for trucks.

From the article:
"By 2022, 2023, the majority of transportation in urban cities with temperate weather will be on demand, shared, and likely autonomous," says Aarjav Trivedi, chief executive of Ridecell, a San Francisco company that provides the back-end software for car sharing.
I think that's optimistic.

Car sharing is an analogue for on demand car usage, as are taxi and "ride hailing" operations.  Clearly, more people are willing to transport themselves in these ways, without having to own a car.  But reaching critical mass and then a majority of users in this fashion will take a long time

Still, I had to accept that I look at car sharing/ride hailing the wrong way sometimes--the issue isn't whether or not "it's cheaper" compared to transit, but is about convenience and whether or not it's cheaper than "owning a car."

An indicator of the increased acceptance of "not owning" or "fractional ownership" is how upper income segments of the market are starting to participate, such as with the BMW "ReachNow" car sharing service, or how Tesla owners, through an app called Turo, can "rent out" their cars, helping them to cover the purchase cost.

The article also discusses "subscription services" for car use and providing access to different types of cars. (Zipcar already provides access to different types of vehicles, including trucks and vans, and Car2Go recently added 4-door Mercedes vehicles to their fleets in some cities, allowing car sharing users to satisfy more types of trips than can be accomplished by the 2-door Smart car.)

-- To me, the article "Public Transit Learns From Uber," doesn't really break new ground.  It shouldn't be a surprise that the same kinds of IT/telecommunications advances that support car sharing can support "shared mobility" transit services on a scale smaller than buses.

There is a place for such services, and it will always be cheaper for the private sector to provide them, perhaps in conjunction with transit agencies.  It's cheaper because Uber-Lyft-Via drivers make less than union wages, and it's cheaper to operate their personally-owned car compared to an institutionally-owned vehicle, plus the administrative overhead is cheaper, etc.

Although the discussion of advances in mobile payment technologies is interesting, as this will eventually mean "one medium" can pay for all "mobility services," rather than there being separate methods for each different service.

However, Capital Transit in Austin, Texas is offering microtransit service themselves, using an app and branded vehicles called "Pickup" ("Cap Metro Brings Ride-Hailing to Public Transit").

-- "Technology vs. Traffic Congestion" discusses forms of congestion pricing.

-- "Car Interiors for a Driverless Era" outlines ways that car design will refocus on the interior and the experience it provides for riders ("a living room on wheels"), as opposed to the current paradigm where the exterior is made particularly "cool" (or not: see Volvo, Subaru) to push sales

-- "The Future of U.S. Train Travel," featuring comments from representatives from the US High Speed Rail Association, Eno Center for Transportation and the Reason Foundation wasn't particularly interesting, except in that the Reason representative believes that transit is only for the poor and disabled, and that trains shouldn't be subsidized, in the belief that roads and airports aren't subsidized.

Robert Puentes of Eno made a useful distinction in discussing Amtrak's footprint as being the high use network and the "geographic equity" service which provides services to various states without high ridership.  The "geographic equity" service has less than 20% of the total ridership and almost 50% of the costs.

-- "Rickshaws Plus Technology Equals a Better Commute In Developing Countries" makes a similar argument as the article on public transit. Advances in information technology, big data, and telecommunications can make "informal transportation" "systems" work better.

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As "out" groups become mainstream, place-based institutions and affinities are at risk

The Toronto Star has an article, "As the queer community spreads out, can the gay village remain vital?," about the potential decline of the city's Gay Village, as the LGBTQ community becomes more accepted and people feel less need to live in gay-specific neighborhoods to be safe and accepted. (This has been an issue in DC and other cities for a long time.)

Although the article also mentions cohort-specific issues, that the older Gay community may be less conscious of difference when it comes to transgender identifications. From the article:
Like many young LGBT Torontonians, Rosenberg-Lee lives and works in the west end, and he travels to the gay village very rarely, either to attend social events during Pride month in June, or to access transgender specific resources at the 519 community centre or the Sherbourne Health Centre. If these opportunities ceased to exist, he’s fairly certain he wouldn’t visit the village at all.

This is the dissonant truth about Toronto’s gay village. For at least a decade, a lot of young queer life in Toronto has coalesced outside the village proper, in smaller bars along Queen St. W. and Dundas St. W., or in Kensington Market, Parkdale, and Leslieville.

Even though Church St. between Wellesley and Carlton — a colourful strip of bars and clubs offering drag performances and trivia nights — still remains the heart of the city’s gay village and a popular address of LGBT tourism in Canada, it is not necessarily the heart of LGBT activity in the city.
Similarly, I commented on a neighborhood e-list awhile back about the discussion of issues around the "black" Douglas Memorial United Methodist Church on H Street NE as the neighborhood whitens ("Pastors Part Ways After Partnership Between Black and White Congregations Dissolves," Washington City Paper).

The irony of that case is that when the neighborhood became majority black in the 1950s, the then white church had to change its focus to remain relevant in a changing neighborhood.  Now the black church faces change as the neighborhood changes again.

... I was at a conference yesterday where one of the presenters does research on the impact of changing communities ("gentrification") on black churches.

Yes there is impact.  No the impact is not particularly new, even if it remains wrenching to the people and institutions facing change.

But to me these issues are no different from how "mainline" churches have declined in cities as ethnic groups--e.g., Polish Catholics, Lithuanian Catholics, German Catholics, Irish Catholics in Pittsburgh all had their own specific churches, which were place-based, and as people assimilated and moved to de-ethnicized communities those churches declined (see "Churches, community, religion and change").

Most churches follow their congregation as the members move outward (e.g., synagogues especially--first they moved further out into the city's outskirts, and oftentimes later out of the city entirely, as members moved further outward and no longer had residential connections within the city).

These are issues of what the "Chicago School of Sociology" called "ecological succession" as it related to neighborhood, community, and urban change, although then they argued that as people became better off they moved farther away from the center categorically, and as they left, they were replaced by new immigrants who then re-started the same kind of process.

From the Encyclopedia of Chicago article, "Chicago Studied: Social Scientists and Their City":

A second subtheme concerned the changes such succession implied in community institutions. In the 1930s, Samuel C. Kincheloe studied church succession, and Everett Hughes studied the real-estate board. In the 1950s, Morris Janowitz published his study of the community press. Later students were to study hospitals, jails, and cultural institutions. Again and again, the theme was underscored. Community institutions were both stakes and actors in the continuous ebb and flow of ethnic groups.

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Friday, June 23, 2017

MTA Baltimore running online ads promoting the BaltimoreLink service

I mentioned Baltimore's reconfiguration of its bus network earlier in the week ("Thinking systematically about bus transit service improvements"). While online today I noticed a clickable ad (obviously generated by cookies, since the website I was looking at was for an Indiana newspaper).

When you click on it, it takes you to a website, which while not graphically forward, provides you with information about new routes, by asking you to enter the number of the route you used to ride

There are at least two versions of the ad.  I didn't get a screenshot of the version that more directly uses the Baltimore CityLink name and logo.

When I worked for Baltimore County's Office of Planning, until I got "my Baltimore bike," I used to ride the bus up Greenmount Avenue/York Road to Towson for work. The line had the 48 QuickBus limited stop route (once we made the trip in 19 minutes!) and the 8 local route.

According to the website, it's now the CityLink Red route.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Words need to be followed by action: DC statehood edition

The Washington Post reports ("Can a change of titles make DC seem more stately? Ask Gov. Bowser.") on legislation put forth by DC Councilmember David Grosso on changing the names of the Mayor -- to Governor -- the City Council -- to the Legislative Assembly -- and Councilmembers -- to Representatives -- to have in place a better nomenclature to help make the argument that DC should be a state.

I've argued for a long long long time that "if you want to be a state, start acting like it, by being exemplary in all that you do in terms of governance and legislating."

We can call a Councilmember a Representative, but the city still mixes up capital budgeting in the annual appropriations process and Councilmembers take pride in cutting capital projects to fund current projects.

We waste hundreds of millions of dollars on constructing new buildings that aren't necessary or make poor use of existing facilities.

Or in not creating more innovative buildings and programs to serve the public better.

We claim we want to be "the most sustainable city in the US," but I find it hard to identify any programs (except one, by a semi-independent agency, see "How DC Water Is Using Recycled Sewage " Fortune Magazine) that function at the level of national best practice, let alone best practice on a global scale.

Instead we take great pride in slowly adopting programs that have been in place elsewhere for decades or more.

Among others, we still have serious issues with contracting ("D.C. Council report: Bowser administration favored top donor in contracting," Washington Post; and "How an Underperforming Company Won a Lucrative Energy Contract," Washington City Paper), electioneering ethics ("Council member Todd gets minor fine for many campaign finance violations," Post) and misuse of position ("Behind the DC school lottery scandal: A 'crisis in confidence '," Post).

Just because Illinois is being run into the ground ("Illinois' budget mess shackling growth," Bloomington Pantagraph) doesn't make DC a great candidate for statehood.

Statehood is both a right within the context of the United States and a privilege.  Territories had to meet conditions to become states, and that included sound governance.


A couple past entries on reforming local governance:

-- "Ideal Mayoral/City Council candidate campaign agenda: Getting Our City's S*** Together, 2012
-- "Incremental piecemeal fixes to DC politics and governance mostly don't help, 2013
-- "Outline for a proposed Ward-focused (DC) Councilmember campaign platform and agenda, 2015

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Two comments on national politics

The blog focuses on urbanism, placemaking, metropolitan and regional planning, transportation, and local governance, so I try to not comment on national politics except in how it impacts these matters, but two things are worth mentioning, because of how they are portrayed in the media.

1. The Special Elections, especially in Georgia, as a thermometer of support "for the Democrats" or "for President Trump."

If the special elections were in districts where Republicans had previously been elected on very close margins, it would be reasonable to say that they are good indicators for the tenor of the electorate. Plus they are elections run on a much shorter time line than the traditional election process.

The Kansas State Legislature is about 80% Republican, so expecting a Democrat to win in a special election, on a short time frame, is unrealistic. The same with Wyoming. Georgia may be a little different, but over the last couple decades, Georgia's Sixth Congressional District has been represented by pretty conservative guys, Newt Gingrich and Tom Price. Expecting it to flip was unrealistic. That Jon Ossoff did as well as he did sets him up to run again next year.

I do say that there are things to be learned from each of these elections, especially Georgia's since that is a district in a metropolitan area, which should be going "Democratic" in theory, but isn't.

cf. Jennifer Rubin's Washington Post blog entry, "Is victory in Georgia race of great consequence, or none?"

2. Making the Congressional Budget Office out to be a political animal against Republicans is about denying factual and objective research and analysis.

The New York Times reports ("Little known agency, striving for neutrality, finds itself under withering attack") on how Republicans are attacking the CBO for telling the truth about the impact of Republican proposals for changing health care, etc.

The CBO traditionally has been seen as a nonpartisan, objective, fact-driven organization. So why should Republicans not want such an organization to be seen as credible? Because they are pushing forward legislation that is mendacious and they want to be able to deny it ("CBO Has Clear Message About Losers in House Health Bill "NYT).

Remember the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment?

I finally understand, 20 years after the fact, why the Newt Gingrich led Congress abolished the OTA ("Bring Back the Office of Technology Assessment, NYT; and "The Much-Needed and Sane Congressional Office That Gingrich Killed Off and We Need Back," The Atlantic).

It's because Gingrich, despite having a PhD and being a college professor, wasn't favoring facts and knowledge, but ideology. An independent assessor of technology and science was seen as a threat, not a capacity builder.

The same is now true of the CBO. Hopefully, the same won't happen to the Congressional Research Office.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Thinking systematically about bus transit service improvements: spurred by Columbia SC, Edmonton AB, and Baltimore

Charging ports on new buses in Columbia, SC.  Photo: Tim Dominick, Columbia State newspaper.

The Columbia State reports ("This new Columbia ride is smoother, has Wi-Fi and lets you pay with an app") on new buses at the local  transit agency, the Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority, operating as Comet.  Getting new buses tends to be ordinary, not really newsworthy. 

But the new buses added to the fleet offer significant advances in on-board amenities and fare collection, so are an upgrade in terms of customer service too.

The buses have free to use wifi and charging ports, along with security cameras, and IT capabilities to capture real-time data about performance. The data will be used by transit operators to improve service, but will also be made available to riders, using an app called TransLoc (I think that's the app is used by the Go Transit services in Raleigh-Durham too).

Plus the fareboxes are outfitted to accept smartphone payment apps!

Wifi has been made available on buses for awhile, but for transit agencies, it's still a new service.  I haven't heard of charging ports being offered on buses, nor have I come across many examples of smartphone-enabled payment options at the farebox, so these are significant improvements.

The new buses are being paid for by a county sales tax add-on for transportation, which has been levied since 2012. It pays for transit (bus) and road improvements and expansion of a trail network.

A framework for bus service improvement.  It makes me realize while I discuss in so many ways how to improve bus service in the 2012 entry "Make Bus Service Sexy and More Equitable," a more robust framework is required to outline bus service improvements in a more systematic way.

This also comes up in the DC area as starting on Sunday June 25th bus fares increase simultaneously with many service cutbacks ("It's about to get more expensive to ride the bus," Washington Post).  And yesterday the Maryland Transit Administration launched its new BaltimoreLink reconceptualization of transit service in the Baltimore area ("Some bumps in the road for bus riders as BaltimoreLink hits city streets," Baltimore Sun).

Note that I haven't gotten around to reading this article from McKinsey, "The expanding role of design in creating an end-to-end customer experience."

Amenities inside the bus.  The changes in Columbia make me realize that I haven't thought about this enough in terms of improvements to the transit rider experience "inside the bus."  The 2012 entry mentions having bus system maps on the bus and maybe better accommodations for strollers/packages. But that's about it.

Branding-identity improvements.  The Columbia transit system, called the Comet, has a design forward bus livery and transit stop signage.   Transport for London has "product design managers" for the different "lines of business" such as "bus service."

-- "The Sign Design Society Event: Defining a City," designworkplan
-- Product design guidelines, Transport for London

From the presentation by Ivan Bennett, Design Manger for London Buses:
One reason other systems have failed is the lack of continuity. London bus stops extend beyond central areas and cover all routes in Greater London. Ivan indicated that passengers do not just want information about where they are travelling from, but when they get there, they need the same consistently presented information. People need information near their homes and local areas, not just in the centre of the city.
Central Midlands RTA 319

Bus shelter/bus stop improvements/bus transit stations. Many past entries discussed bus shelters but there are newer developments in bus shelters outside of public art expression and more along the lines of broader urban design and placemaking improvements to communities such as in the Jurong district of Singapore ("Jurong bus stop makes waiting fun,"Straits Times).

Features in the Jurong experimental bus stop, Singapore

Most transit stop signage is pretty dull.  The COMET system extends their "not boring" bus livery design to the signage at bus stops.
Central Midlands RTA Bus Stop Sign

Transit stations are another element of the mix, and exist at various sizes. In the DC area, there are a handful of bus-only transit stations.  Many rail transit stations also function as significant transfer points to bus service.

Fare equity.  I am embarrassed that most of my earlier entries on "transit wish lists" and the like didn't address making lower cost transit pass options for lower income households.  Many areas have special youth passes (DC and Montgomery County Maryland among them, more recently San Francisco, "Free Muni for low-income youth starts Friday," San Francisco Chronicle).

And San Francisco has had for awhile a specially priced transit pass for low income residents called the Lifeline Pass--it's half the price of the regular monthly pass.  More recently, Seattle has introduced a similar program called ORCA Lift, although it is per ride, but about half the cost of a regular fare ("Seattle Cuts Public Transportation Fares For Low-Income Commuters," NPR). 

The one thing I say about such fare pricing is that there should be funds provided locally for this subsidy, separate from the general appropriations for "transit service."

Edmonton Transit is introducing a new fare media system that like the Oyster card system in Greater London, can calculate "maximum fare costs for riders." London does it for riders who don't have weekly or monthly passes, but based on the cost of a daily transit pass.

In the case of Edmonton, for low income riders who can't afford to buy a monthly pass in advance, the "rate capper" will work over the course of an entire month, and once a rider pays in fares the equivalent of the cost of a monthly pass, the pass -- and "free" travel for the rest of the month kicks in ("New smart cards for Edmonton Transit boast a 'social justice' edge," Edmonton Journal).
From the article:
People with steady jobs and good paycheques are the most likely to buy a monthly pass. They have cash on hand at the beginning of the month.

Those who might need their last nickel just to keep the lights on are the most likely to pay cash for every trip. It means they pay $3.25 per ride, more money for the same service.

That’s one reason Ken Koropeski is excited about Smart Fare.

With a card and an online account, the system can track how many times a person uses transit during a 30-day period, said Koropeski, director of special projects for Edmonton Transit. No one would have to commit to a monthly pass on Day 1. Instead, the system could automatically track use and once the rider hits that monthly maximum, all other rides are free.

“When you have capping, it has inherent benefits for people with low income,” said Koropeski.
While the transit agency is adding the capability of "capping" to their fare media system, Council approval must be obtained before the program can be implemented.

Urban design and access improvements. The VIA transit agency in San Antonio incorporates urban design thinking into its strategic planning unit.

According to Christine Vina ("VIA urban planner wants to build a better San Antonio," San Antonio Express-News):
I don’t consider VIA “a bus company.” It’s a transit agency that connects people with places through sustainable transportation options. But that’s too long for a business card.

VIA’s Strategic Planning Division, for example, analyzes the projected transit needs of the community over the next five to 25 years and develops projects that respond to the need for transportation alternatives. This allows people to reduce their vehicle travel, and increase their options for living, working and playing — which provides the opportunity for an enhanced quality of life.

As an architect and urban planner, I manage VIA’s joint development and public art programs, so I’m fortunate to be able to work as a liaison to creative architects, landscape architects, planners, artists and developers who we contract with to design and build our capital projects. Through good design, we increase the value of the role our facilities play in contributing to the built environment.
Northgate Transit Station, Edmonton.  Photo by Tom Braid.

People are complaining in Edmonton that they have some great new transit stations, but the stations don't do much in the way of changing the mobility paradigm towards sustainability, that the stations extend the automobility paradigm because while they might look nice (public art treatments) access requires walking across many lanes of traffic, etc. ("Edmonton bus terminals fall short for pedestrians, says mayor," Edmonton Journal).  That's a matter of urban design and access.

Maps, schedules, real-time information, etc.  We can't forget the need to have printed products as well as online apps, real-time data at stations and stops, etc.  Many of these items are covered in my "critique" of the then newly opened akoma Langley Crossroads Transit Center from December 2016.

Transit network breadth and depth.  While listed last, this is the most important element.  I argue that network breadth, network depth, level of service (LOS) and level of quality (LOQ) standards and expectations should be produced by the area's "Metropolitan Planning Organization" separate from the transit agency or agencies.  That would mean the service footprint and standards would be set independently.

The King County Metro Transit (Washington State) Service Guidelines are a good model.

This is important because too often decisions are "satisficed" because of budget limitations.  That's an issue in the DC area, as service declines in Metrorail have resulted in lower ridership for both the rail and bus systems, which has reduced "farebox revenue" further stressing the system's finances.

But service cuts when not done judiciously, can further result in ridership declines.

Transit network legibility: differentiating between express; local; and high-frequency service.  Bus systems should reconfigure their service footprint every so often.  By defining the type of service--technically bus rapid transit is a form of high frequency service, but with limited stops, so it's a hybrid of express and high-frequency, but usually charged at a regular fare--and creating the right set of routes, ideally maximum ridership is achieved, accomplishing breadth, frequency, service, and quality goals and objectives.

A number of bus systems are implementing changes such as Richmond ("City to rethink GRTC routes, largely unchanged since trolley days," Richmond Times-Dispatch) and Baltimore. From the Baltimore Sunarticle:
Some people balked at the confusing changes, while others welcomed them. Everyone enjoyed the free rides being offered for the system's first two weeks. ...

BaltimoreLink is based around a dozen color-coded, high-frequency CityLink routes running every 10 minutes through downtown Baltimore, connected to less frequent LocalLink and weekday ExpressLink commuter buses.

The overhaul, the first re-routing of the system in decades, is designed to modernize routes and connect buses to where people go, whether it's jobs, entertainment or other transit. In addition to redesigning the routes, wrapping the buses in the Maryland flag colors and unveiling 5,000 new bus stop signs, the MTA added bus-only lanes and traffic-light sensors aboard buses to shorten red lights and extend green ones to get the buses more quickly through traffic congestion.
New transit service map for the City of Baltimore.

Transit prioritization on roadways.  As integrated into the new BaltimoreLink service, exclusive transitways, traffic signal control, and other methods help transit buses (and streetcars/light rail) move more quickly and better balance transit vehicles recognizing that they carry many more people. 

Exclusive bus lane in Downtown Baltimore.  Baltimore Sun photo.

Also see "MTA officials pull all-nighter for 3 a.m. launch of $135 million BaltimoreLink bus route overhaul" and "New MTA head Kevin Quinn: 'We're ready for launch' of BaltimoreLink," Baltimore Sun.

For example, in DC it has been a struggle to develop bus exclusive lanes, but on streets like 16th Street, Georgia Avenue, and H Street, buses carry 40% to 50% of the total people throughput.  On Georgia Avenue and H Street, about 300 bus runs move 15,000 people trips, while 20,000 motor vehicles move 20,000 to 25,000 people.

Toronto is prioritizing streetcar service on King Street--the line has 65,000+ daily riders--but not without some controvery ("Ford's costly streetcar study will just reveal the obvious," Toronto Star). 

Minneapolis is introducing urban design improvements to the Nicolett Transit Mall ("Nicollet Mall likely to reopen this fall after two years of work," Minneapolis Star-Tribune).

-- Nicolett Mall Project

Bus rapid transit, to meet the definition, is supposed to have exclusive rights of way.

Transit network: intra-district service.  I write about what I call the "tertiary" transit network of service within neighborhoods.  Other intra-district service like Circulators can be part of the primary or secondary transit networks of a community or metropolitan area ("Making the case for intra-city (vs. inter-city) transit planning").

While I tout the Tempe Orbit service as the premier example of intra-district multi-neighborhood bus service ("Earth Day and Intra-neighborhood transit"), Edmonton is discussing this kind of service in the context of providing better service to seniors ("Four ways to keep Edmonton seniors walking from transit." Edmonton Journal), albeit with a fare upcharge.  From the article:
Community buses

If the bus service focuses on main streets and express routes, transit officials say service inside neighbourhoods should focus on key destinations for people with mobility challenges. They’ll design a sample route to present to the urban planning committee with the larger changes June 7.

That will be critical, said Walters. Some residents in Lendrum were upset last September when service cuts to Routes 55 left them with no way to get to the neighbourhood strip mall.

But transit officials returned to ask residents which destinations are most important. The new changes, set to be rolled out this coming September, will reduce service to once an hour but cover more of the neighbourhood. It’s a good example of what’s possible.

In the future, a community bus ticket might cost extra because it’s a niche service requiring extra resources per rider, said Walters. But research out of the University of Alberta suggests many seniors are willing to pay, they just need the option.

“We’re encouraging these people to stay in their homes,” said Walters. “We need to have transportation options when they can no longer drive their own private vehicle.”
And I've discussed micro-transit services, particularly shuttles, as part of mobility services in commercial districts, aimed at getting people to park in parking structures so that street right of way can be used for purposes other than car storage ("Intra-neighborhood (tertiary) transit revisited because of new San Diego service").

Equity of access. Another element of transit service is equitable access. Outside of major cities, transit service is seen more as a form of social services for people who can't afford to own a car rather than as a preferred mobility choice and a way to manage optimal use of the road network.

Where services go, providing access to employment opportunities and other destinations, hours of operation, etc., may all involve questions of equity. The Federal Transit Administration has a process called Title VI to guide consideration of these matters by transit agencies.

Sometimes this is about providing service to suburban locations from cities, sometimes it has to do with whether or not a desired destination like a shopping center, will allow on-site access to transit vehicles, but most often it comes up with fares and service hours.

With regard to fares, I don't think that transit agencies should have to "keep fares low" in ways that harm the system's ability to be funded. But I do think that the "social service" function of transit--fares--as discussed above, needs to be funded from different sources than "transit," in recognition of the function and its importance.

WRT BaltimoreLink, note that some transit advocates and organizations argue that the new service footprint doesn't do enough when considered on equity grounds in terms of providing increased access to jobs. See the op-ed, "Is BaltimoreLink really better? Show us the data," from the Baltimore Sun.

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Toronto has a parking enforcement officer exclusively assigned to bike lanes

See the Toronto Star article, "Parking enforcement officer takes to Twitter — and two wheels — to zap bike lane invaders" and video.

This will have to be something I add to my "best practice" lists going forward ("Making cycling irresistible in DC 2.0 | Revisiting a post from 2008").

At a community meeting a couple weeks ago about extension of the Metropolitan Branch Trail in my neighborhood (I am on a neighborhood committee addressing "public works and infrastructure") I said that I am ok with Sunday parking in bike lanes as an accommodation to churches.

The director of Washington Area Bicyclist Association disagreed, saying that if there is an exception for one day, people will believe there is a dispensation to park in bike lanes at other times.

I can see that point, but as a way to assuage complaints from black churches about bike lanes ("Churches, community, religion and change), I think it's a reasonable step, especially as the lanes won't be blocked at other times.

And I think a Sunday exception is pretty understandable as an exception.

But in the process I realized that we don't seem to have "no parking bike lane" signs.  Although they are manufactured and easily available.

No Parking Bike Lane sign

And it wouldn't be hard to create a special sign for bike lanes around churches:

"no parking bike lane
except during Sunday church services
[listing specific hours of duration]"

My ability to "design" such a sign is limited by the options from an online sign generator, called My Parking Sign (they are a sign manufacturer).  It'd be nice to add info on what the fines are, etc.

No Parking Bike Lane sign: Except Sunday church services

Toronto Star video featuring Kyle Ashley of Toronto's Parking Enforcement unit

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Quote of the day: on what compels changes in law and regulation

From "Revealed: the tower block fire warnings that ministers ignored," a Guardian story about the Grenfell Tower fire disaster in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea:
“They seem to need a disaster to change regulations, rather than evidence and experience.

-- Ronnie King, Member of Parliament, a former chief fire officer and secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fire Safety
Unlike in the US, the UK doesn't require sprinklers in residential tower buildings.

Interestingly/1, I happened to come across a recent issue of Fire Protection, the magazine of the National Fire Protection Association, the professional standards and training organization. There are interesting articles there, including about how various incidents identify gaps in regulation and practice.

Interestingly/2, yesterday morning I got into an private email debate related to a historic preservation matter and the reality that individual houses under threat of demolition generally don't rise to the level of a historic landmark, so filing a nomination ultimately won't save such properties.

Someone sent me an email, criticizing me for being negative--I had responded on the HistoricWashington e-list concerning a matter in Bloomingdale. I responded to the email thusly:
It's not negative, it's focused on achieving the outcome you desire. If you submit a landmark nomination and lose, and knowing going in you have a less than 20% chance of winning, you've wasted hundreds of hours of time.

Better to focus your energies on ways you can win and achieve the outcomes you want.

Better to identify the need for remedies when they don't exist, as a way to move necessary structural changes forward.

It's also based on experience, going through a similar process -- trying to save pre-1877 frame rowhouses in the H St. neighborhood, filing a landmark nomination, and losing, because the houses didn't rise to the level of significance of an individual landmark, despite some famous associations [...].

Based on that experience, I (1) focus on identifying the structural changes necessary to achieve the outcomes we want and (2) don't file individual nominations for "single houses" when hundreds of other examples exist.

You can read the staff report on that particular case, but they use comparable language in other such cases. E.g. the Grant Circle house matter ("Historic Preservation Tuesday: 16 Grant Circle and the landscape of DC's avenues and circles as an element of the city's identity" and "Historic Preservation Tuesday: Grant Circle Historic District nomination, Thursday April 2nd").

They lost. So they moved to landmark a district, with all the buildings facing the circle.

You may recall I said the same thing then, that the individual landmark nomination wouldn't be sustained, and they followed my recommendation of seeking a district nomination, for which they were successful. But at the cost of the first house.

FWIW/1: there is the line that insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result.

FWIW/2, there is the line from Bismarck -- fools learn from experience, I prefer to profit from the experience of others.

Learn from the experience of people like me in failing to achieve landmark status for individual houses threatened by developers "arbitraging" the mass and density maximums that are allowable which differ from those typical of the time when the houses were constructed.

If we know that an individual landmark nomination won't sustain, then we need other options, which we currently do not have.

Which is why I'll be submitting some comp plan amendments, which won't pass but need to be out there, on mandatory design review and demolition protection.

... issues I've been raising for more than 10 years.
So the point about evidence and experience mattering but being ignored resonates.

This was the cover page of yesterday's edition of Canada's National Post.
National Post (Canada) Front Page, 6/17/2017, on the Grenfell Tower fire

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Saturday, June 17, 2017

Pittsburgh as a mixed use civic center but no residential

These postcards are pre-1967, because the Mellon Institute for Industrial Research merged with the Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1967. I bought the card because of the description on the back:

Civic Center, Pittsburgh, Pa., showing Mellon Institute in the foreground. This view shows a part of one of the most costly and impressive civic centers to be found anywhere.  From this point of view one looks down on universities, libraries, memorials, art galleries, auditoriums, music halls, hospitals, athletic fields -- and Carnegie Museum.  Along with all this, magnificent churches, theaters, and hotels.

FWIW, Jane Jacobs was critical of the creation of this district--separate from Downtown--in the discussion in Death and Life of Great American Cities, making the point that "mixed primary use" allows for shared parking and other efficiencies.

Postcard front, Pittsburgh Civic Center, no date (but before 1967)

Postcard back, Pittsburgh Civic Center


1966 Ford Falcon magazine ad: "The Economy Run to Suburbia"

Ford Falcon automobile ad: "Commuters: Exciting news about the Economy Run to Suburbia," c. 1966
Magazine source unknown.