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.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Park benches as cultural information and wayfinding devices

https://www.fwdp.co.uk/recent-projects/providing-interactive-benches-along-monmouthshire-and-brecon-beacons-canalDesigned by FitzpatrickWoolmer on the Brecon Beacons Canal for the Canal And River Trust.

Often such benches are used to display advertising, but there are plenty of creative opportunities to utilize them differently.

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Friday, May 25, 2018

Updating my review of the Silver Spring Transit Center: a few things I missed in 2015

All Tracks Lead to Greater Chicago postcard, Curt Teich Co.
This vintage postcard describes Chicago's train stations as major attractions.

I wrote about the Silver Spring Transit Center in 2015:

-- "Multiple missed opportunities in the creation of the Silver Spring Transit Center"
-- "Brief follow up on the Silver Spring Transit Center"

although my review of the Takoma Langley Crossroads Transit Center in 2016 has a more detailed framework.

(And other guides for railway--Network Rail in the UK, and streetcar--SEPTA in Philadelphia--systems have great frameworks and checklists too.)

The three pieces provide a pretty good framework for thinking about a wide range of access, service, and accommodation issues as it relates to transit stations.

This is also another example of apply "Transformational Projects Action Planning" at multiple scales, in this case at the scale of an individual project.

Silver Spring Transit Center
WRT the SSTC, over time, I've come up with a few things I missed that are a big deal.

1.  The transit information center shouldn't be buried in the back of the bus station on the second floor but placed on the ground floor at the front.  

It should also be open on weekends.

It could function in part as a Silver Spring Visitor Center too, and get some other funds to support 7 day/week operation.

Wayfinding Sign, Ballston, Arlington County, Virginia
Area map sign for a neighborhood in Arlington County.

2.  Two of the three information panels on the SSTC directory repeat.  One of the panels should have a map of Silver Spring, comparable to area maps in other wayfinding systems.

The information panels aren't lighted at night.  That's a big deal.

In the Gallery Place station there are sign panels showing the Metrobus transit network for Greater Washington, which they call the National Capitoal Region.  This kind of signage needs to be placed at main transit stations such as SSTC.

3.  At the transit information center, on the second floor, they have a real time display of all the bus routes serving the station.  But that's the only place it's available.  This information is not displayed as you approach the bus station on the ground plane, is not in the foyer of the Metrorail station, etc.

4.  There should have been accommodations made for the long distance commuter buses, to provide shelter, on the "ground floor" of the site, not necessarily within the current SSTC footprint.  The inter-city bus line Peter Pan does have a bay in the main SSTC, and you can buy tickets for it from the transit info center.  (But Greyhound still has a separate station about one mile away.)

Commuter buses don't go into the SSTC because it would add time to the trip.  Instead they stop adjacent to the station on Colesville Road, but closer to the intersection at East-West Highway.

 A ground floor "appendage" closer to the street could have been created to provide more direct support for this kind of service.

Which could also be extended to serve other inter-city bus services like Best Bus, which does stop at Silver Spring, but on the street in front of the transit center, not inside.
Inter city bus stopped adjacent to Silver Spring Transit Center
Best Bus -- service to NYC -- stopped adjacent to Silver Spring Transit Center, on Colesville Road.

5.  In fact, a bus station lobby for Colesville Road commuter and inter-city bus service could be integrated with a relocated transit information center facing the street. Plus a visitor center for the district could be included.

Charlottesville's two-level Downtown Transit Station would be an example (the second floor fronts the pedestrian mall and has the town visitor center, while the ground floor, facing Water Street, has the ticket office, waiting area, and restrooms).
Downtown Transit Station, Charlottesville, Virginia
Bus station side of the Downtown Transit Station, Charlottesville.  (It could use more prominent signage.)

City of Springfield Missouri, Downtown Bus Transit Station | Maintenance Design Group
Springfield Missouri, Downtown Bus Transit Station.

The transit ticket office and waiting area in Lancaster, PA would be another.  But there are others.

Some transit systems do have customer service centers in street-facing locations.   It could also have a café.

The Metro Transit Service Center on Marquette Avenue in Minneapolis.
Metro Transit Service Center, Minneapolis.

6.  I wrote about high quality exterior signage also as a form of public art being a big miss in TLCTC, using examples from California and San Antonio.  I didn't think about that for the SSTC until recently.

WMATA's signage isn't very interesting, the "obelisk."  It also can't be seen from far away.
Columbia_Heights_station_entrance_pylon
Columbia Heights Metrorail Station pylon sign.

In an e-discussion today, I brought up old Greyhound bus terminal neon signage as an example of practical signage that is also a form of public art.

Greyhound Bus Depot- Pocatello, Idaho

Greyhound Bus Depot- Pocatello, Idaho


Amarillo By Morning

Greyhound Bus Depot- Dallas


Art Deco greyhound station, Huntington, West Virginia
Greyhound Bus Depot- Huntington, West Virginia


But there are examples of train stations too.  Not just the "Go By Train" signage in Portland, Oregon,  although I should have referenced it.  That model has been used elsewhere in the city to create "Go By Streetcar" and "Go By Tram" signage.

Chicago and Northwestern Station, Chicago, IL
Chicago and Northwestern Station, Chicago.

Union Station -Denver

Denver.

The Denver train station also shows the opportunity presented by architectural lighting.

Pacific Central Station, Vancouver
Pacific Central Station, Vancouver.

In fact, why don't local transit agencies create great neon signage.  The old North Shore and still extant South Shore Lines in Greater Chicago had such signage.

North Shhore Line Sign

South Shore Line

7. Recent initiatives to add bursts of color in the otherwise monochromatic Crystal City business district demonstrate that ugly concrete parking structures don't have to remain dull.

Colorful painting treatment around public parking entrance, Crystal City

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Train service in Greater Manchester needs to be reorganized?

Twitter photo of Northern Railway train on "Meltdown Monday."

1.  Massive failures in train services in Northern England ("Think London’s trains are bad? Look at the great northern train fail," Guardian) is another reminder that privatization of certain kinds of services that need ongoing investment and significant coordination isn't always the right strategy if high quality service is supposed to be a routine outcome.

But at the same time it is another illustration of how a discrete massive change, in this case introduction of a new schedule with hundreds of changes--can act as a kind of exogenous shock to a system at equilibrium--can make evident all the latent problems and bring them to a head.

With Boston's transit system it was massive snows. With DC's system it was the addition of a new train line without making serious capacity improvements to the existing core system along with failure to spend enough on maintenance. In NYC's system it has to do with an increase in ridership, the cost to upgrade the core system, and impacts from Superstorm Sandy.

In Manchester it has to do with lack of investment in equipment, not enough equipment, probably the failure to rearticulate the system generally (see below re: Southern Railway), and too few train drivers.  The Manchester Evening News reports that in the last two weeks, over 900 trains were cancelled and in the last month, 600 trains were dispatched with an inadequate number of train cars.

It will only get worse later in the week when the union goes out on a planned two-day strike to protest conditions.

2.  An angry rail user created an iPhone phone app called NorthernFail that keeps track of train cancellations and other problems with the system ("'Unacceptable
#NorthernFail' - the travel chaos passengers faced on first working day of new Northern timetable
," Manchester Evening News).

The Mayor of Greater Manchester is calling for an inquiry, etc.

-- "Grayling: Improving Northern rail 'number one priority'," BBC
-- "Dozens more Northern train services cancelled this morning - full list," Manchester Evening News

While much of railroad privatization has gone awry in the UK, at least they require the collection and availability of information on train service, delays, and cancellations.

3.  It reminds me of reading about the failure of the Southern train services in Greater London.  I wrote about it last year, intending to follow up with a longer piece.  The situation there and in Manchester now is strikingly similar.

======
The issues of the DC and NYC subway transit systems, and the Southern Rail system in Greater London, and Penn Station in NYC are different, but too often conflated (e.g., "Call it Metro schadenfreude: As New York's subway woes worsen Washingtonians offer sympathy," Washington Post).

The problem with the NYC transit system is popularity reaching the system's breaking point, while in DC it's about failure to maintain the system and the addition of a new line stretching the system beyond equilibrium.

Anyway, as part of the review of the problems with the London railroad system, the British Government commissioned a review by rail executive Chris Gibb.  Reading the report I was struck by what a difference in seriousness, rigor and thoroughness compared to the recent announcement of a million dollar prize "to fix" the NYC transit system by Gov. Cuomo ("Subway upgrade contest from Cuomo to pay $3M to anyone who can fix signals," AM New York).

It's obvious what the problems are with the NYC Subway--they need new signal systems capable of supporting more trains, and continued investment in tracks and equipment.  Instead, lack of budget means it will take decades with the current capital program before the signals are upgraded.

The Gibb report made some amazing recommendations ("Gibb report into improving Southern performance published," Railway Gazette), recognizing that when creating the franchise by merging three different railroads, the "program" on offer was not seriously evaluated or "rationalized," and the reality is that the lines compete, even today, so that the timetable is not optimized for efficient operation.

Given that the system (Southern Railway, Thameslink, Gatwick Express) is the busiest in Britain, the various changes put on the franchise, including new equipment and moving to single engineer operation which is opposed by the Union and led to labor action, along with unnecessary duplication stresses the system.

Given the usage--not unlike the problems experienced in NYC both on the subway and at Penn Station--extra normal shocks to the system like derailments bring everything to a standstill, although in the case of Southern Rail, Gibb argued it was the labor union strikes and other actions that pushed the system to the edge ("Southern rail strike causes worst disruption in 20 years," Guardian).

Five recommendations stuck out to me:

1.  Rightsizing the schedule between the services, focusing on the Thameslink brand
2.  Retroceding the Southern Metro train line, which functions more as transit for London, to Transport for London, to provide more resources
3.  Electrifying the one diesel line, to make common operation possible, and releasing the diesel equipment to other areas, and eliminating the need for investment in diesel-specific storage and maintenance facilities**
4.  Possibly selling the Gatwick station to the airport, because it matters more to the airport to invest in the station than it does to the rail system
5.  Changing the way hiring and depots are organized, distributing staff around the system in ways that mean more time is spent moving active trains rather than on off-schedule equipment moves

This kind of detailed analysis seems to be out of the scope of similar processes in the US.  Instead, there is political grandstanding.

**  Similarly, when David Gunn ran Amtrak, he changed the home depot for the Cardinal--the only train Amtrak created on its own--from ending in DC, to NYC.  He did this because NYC had the maintenance equipment already in place for servicing that kind of train and DC did not.  Rather than pay for and install such equipment in DC, he routed the train to NYC.  Interestingly, not only did it save money, it increased ridership of that train by 40%.

4. There needs to be a "Gibb Report" on Northern Railway too. Probably similar reports could be done for all of the UK's major metropolitan services. The reality is that although privatization was likely the wrong move, at the same time, like with the Thameslink-Gatwick-Southern rail services, there could have been rearticulation and "rationalization" to yield a better service.

Service disruption notices, Meltdown Monday.

5. More places, not just Manchester, need to consciously reorganize their regional passenger rail services to function more like the S-bahn commuter railway systems in German cities, which complement and extend local transit services, but are run by the national railroad.

-- "Verkehrsverbund: The evolution and spread of fully integrated regional public transport in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland," Ralph Buehler, John Pucher & Oliver Dümmler, International Journal of Sustainable Transportation (2018)

From the abstract:
Unlike regional PT organizations in most other countries, VVs include both PT operators and government representatives in the process of making policy decisions about services and fares. Moreover, the overall degree of integration provided by a Verkehrsverbund (singular) is greater, offering one unified route network (all modes, all lines), fully coordinated schedules, and one fare structure and ticketing system. Although there is variation among VVs in the details of their organizational structure and decision-making process, all VVs offer their customers fully integrated regional PT.

The enhanced quality of service VVs provide is crucial forPT to compete effectively with the private car in European andNorth American metropolitan areas, which are increasinglyspreading out into formerly rural areas ...
(Transit service in Paris functions in the same manner with tight integration between rail and subway service.  In London, only some railroad services are integrated into the "local system.")

In the US, train systems in Boston, Chicago, New Jersey, Greater New York City, and Philadelphia function more like S-Bahn services, but usually without the tight integration with local transit, and when services cross state lines, such as from NY to NJ or CT to MA, at least between NJ and NY there are many system failures and lack of coordination.

6.  Using Germany and the London Overground as a model, I've written about how the train services could be integrated and made more S-Bahn like in the DC area.

-- "A new backbone for the regional transit system: merging the MARC Penn and VRE Fredericksburg Lines,"2017
-- "One big idea: Getting MARC and Metrorail to integrate fares, stations, and marketing systems, using London Overground as an example," 2015

7.  Separately I've argued that the DC area doesn't do true integrated transportation planning and once I learned about the "German Transport Association" model which was first developed in Hamburg, make the case that the DC area needs to create a Verkehrsverbund of our own.

-- "Without the right transportation planning framework, metropolitan areas are screwed, and that includes the DC area," 2011
-- "Route 7 BRT proposal communicates the reality that the DC area doesn't adequately conduct transportation planning at the metropolitan-scale," 2016
-- "The answer is: Create a single multi-state/regional multi-modal transit planning, management, and operations authority association," 2017

It's telling that the first big major report from the new Greater Washington Partnership is on highway tolls, not transit ("Is the solution to the region's awful congestion more tolls? This group of CEOs thinks so," Washington Business Journal).

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May is Historic Preservation Month: 60 ways to celebrate | Part 4: Items 42-60 (Cultural heritage tourism)

(I realize for next year that this entry should be first, because it's things to do. I'll run that on the first day of May. And then the other three posts on succeeding Fridays.)
=====
This post is updated and expanded annually, to encourage us to acknowledge and celebrate historic preservation, ideally not only during Preservation Month but throughout the year, by pointing out things that we can see and do.

-- "May is Historic Preservation Month: 60 ways to celebrate | Part 1: Learn; Get Involved (1-16)"--
-- "May is Historic Preservation Month: 60 ways to celebrate | Part 2: Explore your community (17-33)"
-- "May is Historic Preservation Month: 60 ways to celebrate | Part 3: Preservation At Home (34-41)
-- May is Historic Preservation Month: 60 ways to celebrate | Part 4: Cultural Heritage Tourism (42-60)
========

Cultural heritage tourism is the segment of tourism and visitation where people "consume" culture-related attractions, events, and places.  Cultural tourists tend to stay longer, spend more, and spend more "locally."  Of course, the great thing about making places great for ourselves is that they are attractive to visitors, and the money they spend while visiting supports the local economy.

-- Cultural Heritage Tourism, Partners for Livable Communities

At the same time, we have to be conscious of our footprint, because places can become "touristified" and the local offer shifts from locally-serving commerce to tourist-serving activities (think junky souvenirs and Spring Break type drinking establishments).

 The use of nonstandard accommodations through Airbnb or Home Away can also be controversial because these properties can remove housing from the normal residential rental market ("Statistics and data on whether Airbnb puts up rent prices," Business Insider).

While most cities charge a variety of "tourist" taxes (extra taxes on hotel stays, rental cars, and meals), some impose separate fees--a fee for being there--and other cities are considering this ("Barcelona plans day tax for tourists," London Telegraph).

From a planning perspective, interestingly, in Passaic County, NJ, the Transportation Plan raised the idea of treating historic transportation corridors as opportunities for historic interpretation and cultural tourism, and the county has further developed the idea as part of the county's Heritage Tourism Plan.

(The National Trust for Historic Preservation used to focus on cultural heritage tourism, which is one of the ways I learned about the field, but they have de-emphasized this in recent years.

Like how the Main Street program can produce "resource plans" for local commercial district revitalization programs, they used to produce similar cultural heritage development plans, but other organizations still do so, such as the policy studies program at the University of Delaware, and their proposal for Sussex County as well as academic tourism programs.)

Visitor centers as resources.  Many cities, counties, and state tourism and/or "convention and visitors bureaus" sponsor "visitor centers" where people can get tons of information about the places they are visiting, and usually information about history and cultural is readily available there.  (For me, visitor centers are also a great place to learn about "best practices.")

-- "Why Miami-Dade has more visitor centers than any city in the U.S.," Miami Herald
-- Accredited Visitor Information Centres Portal, Tourism and Events Queensland, Australia

Historic preservation organizations.  Obviously, local historic preservation organizations at the city, county, or neighborhood level are a great resource for finding out about local points of interests, historic neighborhoods, and interesting architecture.

Many such websites include downloadable resources for walking tours, etc.

The April 2017 cover story of Southern Living Magazine featured Charleston, South Carolina. 

(FWIW, seeing Charleston and Savannah for the first time taught me about the value of historic preservation, but at the time thinking of my own community, how too often we take the historic features of our own city and neighborhood for granted.)

Magazines focusing on historic homes (Old House JournalThis Old HouseAmerican Bungalow) and regional travel (SunsetSouthern Living) and interesting travel (National Geographic Traveler) are also a good source.

-- Southern Living City Guides

Note that a community doesn't have to have the reputation of a Savannah or Charleston to have plenty of interesting historic features that are worth exploring.

Resources at local chapters of the American Institute of Architects. In many cities, AIA chapters often have multifaceted offices that also have exhibit spaces and bookstores, and offer information on a city's built environment that is useful for visitors.  The Philadelphia chapter is particularly noteworthy, and is located close to Reading Terminal Market.

Most major cities have a guide to local architecture published in association with the AIA and the Architecture Daily website also has a City Guides page.

Local bookstores.  Most communities have some premier, usually independent, bookstores, and these stores usually have a section of books on local history and places to visit.

42. Stay at a historic hotel in the city or a bed and breakfast located in a historic district. For example, the Tabard Inn in the Dupont Circle Historic District is one of the most romantic places in the city to have weekend brunch--out on the patio, during the spring, summer, and fall.

Pittsburgh Trip - Priory HotelI'm a big fan of the Priory Inn (Flickr photo by Two Ks) in Pittsburgh, which is in the Northside district, but an easy walk over the river into Downtown, near various Northside cultural institutions (and football and baseball if you're into that), etc.

Kennedy School in Portland, Oregon is a B&B in a former school, etc.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has an affinity group, Historic Hotels of America, a collection of particularly distinctive and historic hotel properties.  NTHP members get discounts.

But the Standard Hotel in Los Angeles isn't a traditional historic hotel--it is remade from an office building constructed during the art deco area for an oil company--and it's very cool!  There are an increasing number of such hotel properties across the country.

Old neon signs, like this one for Groff's Restaurant, hang in the Doo Wop Preservation League museum in Wildwood. Photo: Dale Gerhard, Atlantic City Press.

All kinds of buildings can be historic, from motels in the Doo Wop Motel District, technically named the "Wildwoods Shore Resort Historic District" in Wildwood, NJ ("Wildwood's doo wop architecture, appeal finding new generation of younger fans," Atlantic City Press), the art deco district in Miami Beach, or the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.

VRBO.com, HomeAway, Airbnb, etc. are great sites for finding places to stay in neighborhoods, including historic districts. Not only do you more directly support the local economy (typically, hotels are owned by noncity interests and most of the room rental revenue doesn't stay local), but you can--if it's your way--have a much better, more local experience.

As examples, we've stayed in a house on Forsyth Park and a converted church building both in Savannah, a rowhouse in North Beach in San Francisco, and a basement apartment in Capitol Hill in Seattle and we experienced those places much more like local residents.

When you visit other places, check out how they deal with historic preservation matters, and share that learning when you come back. For example, every fall, Pasadena Heritage sponsors Craftsman Weekend, in honor of its bungalow heritage.

43. Don't forget to check out traditional commercial districts, antique shops, other stores, cinemas, theaters, concert halls, restaurants, historic cemeteries, etc. as a regular part of your travel itinerary.

44. Check out a historic library building/Central Library.  Another great place to learn about a community when you're traveling is the main library.  Some of the buildings are historic, others more recently are majestic new construction buildings very much worth visiting.  .


Pictured at left, the Handley Memorial Library in Winchester, Virginia is particularly grand.

A number of DC's libraries were built with support from the Carnegie Foundation (Northeast, Southeast, the old Carnegie Library downtown, Takoma, and Mount Pleasant, which is particularly gorgeous) as were more than 2,000 other libraries elsewhere in the US.

Big city libraries tend to be pretty awesome, but as Winchester, Virginia proves, there are such jewels in cities of all sizes.

45. Visit historic sites.  Many people visit historic sites when traveling.  Across the United States, ("The shortest route to America's 49603 historic sites," Washington Post) there are almost 90,000 places listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

46. Go see a museum exhibit relevant to urban history, even if it's on a seemingly broader topic. When people travel, and "consume" locally available museums, usually people's trips start and end with the local arts museum.

But most cities have history museums as well, and they are well worth visiting.  In New York City there is the Museum of the City of New York, the New-York Historical Society, the NYC Transit Museum.  The Morgan Library has relevant exhibits, etc.  The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley outside Winchester, Virginia combines history and art.  The Valentine Center in Richmond, Virginia is excellent, as are the museums in Greater Williamsburg, the Pittsburgh History Center, etc.

While it's a national example, at the National Museum of American History, the exhibit on transportation history, "America on the Move" is superb.

Part of that exhibit uses Washington as an example specifically. But in any case, it explains the role of transportation in urban and regional development, and will give you a lot of insight into these issues as they relate to any region.

47.  Walking and building tours.  Many communities have organized walking tours for historic areas. Some print booklets for self-guided tours, many places have smartphone tour apps, and cities often have historic marker and trails programs.

In New York City, the Municipal Arts Society offers tours.  In Chicago, the Chicago Architecture Center is a staging point for tours.  In San Francisco, the City Guides organization provides free tours led by volunteers.

48. Bicycle touring.  Bikes are a great way to cover a lot of ground more quickly.  And it's less tiring to bike than it is to walk.  Many cities have bike rental operations (there is a loosely affiliated group called "Bike and Roll" operating in many cities).  And some hotels and B&Bs make bicycles available to their guests.  (There are even apps for renting bikes directly from individuals, like Spinlister, which can be cheaper than the bike rental places.)

Me on a Bixi
Me on a Bixi bicycle sharing bike in Montreal.

Bike share operates in many cities and can be a good way to get around, although to be cost effective you need to be clued in to how the system works.

Usually you can buy a short term pass, for a day, a few days, or a week, and this entitles you to unlimited free trips of 30 minutes duration.

But if any individual trip lasts for more than 30 minutes, you will be charged additional fees, which usually escalate with each additional 15 minutes to half hour.

But as long as you keep your trips to 30 minutes, no additional fees will be charged.

The Divvy bike share system in Chicago sometimes offers neighborhood tours as a promotional effort, although these are targeting residents.

It would be great for bike sharing systems, working with local convention and tourism bureaus, to develop a little better the opportunity of bike tourism--it would increase usage during slack times, would introduce people to the concept, and make a little money.

As an example, Choose Chicago has a webpage, "DIY Tours: Chicago's Riverfront by Divvy Bike," promoting bike share as a way to explore parts of the city..

49.  Transit as a way to get around.  While not many cities in the US do this, many European cities set up or promote specific transit services as a way to tour parts of the city, usually a set of tourist-oriented attractions in the core ("Travel around the city by tram," Visit Helsinki).

If you're already familiar with how to use transit, it usually isn't hard to figure out how to use another transit system.  If you don't regularly ride transit, likely people will be happy to help you.

Pierce Transit Bayliner, waterfront transit serviceThe old "Bayliner" bus used by Pierce Transit in its special waterfront service was decorated with images related to the sea.

Many cities have "Circulator" bus routes focused on the core that can aid "traveling by tourists."

Most cost money, some are free (Baltimore, Raleigh, North Carolina).  Tacoma, Washington is re-introducing a waterfront access transit service.

Some transit agencies publish special brochures and webpages for visitors, but CVBs and transit agencies need to work more closely together on facilitating visitor use of local transit, if only for "transportation demand management" purposes.

-- CTA Visitor Information - Using Transit in Chicago, Chicago Transit Authority-- Visitor's guide to public transit, City of Vancouver
-- MetroCard City, NYC MTA
--- Visitor's Kit, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

Some cities--not DC--have bundled transit access into specially priced tourist passes, such as the City Pass in San Francisco, which includes unlimited use of the MUNI transit system including the cable cars and the vintage streetcars as well as regular bus and light rail services.

To get the best prices on fares, likely you'll have to buy a local transit fare card, rather than paying for each ride as you go.  Depending on the system, the type and price of available passes, and how long you stay, it may or may not be worth buying a transit pass.

50.  When we travel, we like to visit house museums.  For example, the Woodford Mansion in Philadelphia is really cool, and Savannah has many different house museums that you can visit, the most notorious being the Mercer-Williams House.  Most cities have at least one.  Los Angeles has just reopened the Hollyhock House.

51. Arguably, "antiquing" which for me includes ephemera, can be a form of historical/historic preservation-related research and is deserving of a separate entry.

While traveling, you may wish to check out reclaimed building materials stores too.  You'll probably have to do some digging to find such organizations, but offhand I know there are such places in New York City, DC (Suburban Maryland), Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Detroit, York and Scranton, Pennsylvania, etc., plus the various Re:stores run by local affiliates of Habitat for Humanity.

52.  Visit a historic railroad station, bus terminal and/or a transportation museum.   There are many fabulous extant railroad stations, many no longer in use, in so many cities.2013 was the 100th anniversary of Grand Central Station in New York City, and in Chicago, Denver, and Los Angeles new master planning and/or construction improvement projects for stations in those cities are underway.

Photo of the exterior of The Grey Restaurant, Savannah by Emily Andrews.  

Greyhound, the inter-city bus company, was known for in the 1940s and 1950s, the construction of dynamic bus terminals featuring art deco/streamline design.

Savannah's Greyhound Bus Terminal has been transformed into a sleek restaurant ("How a Greyhound station in Savannah became a hit new restaurant," Washington Post).

The Illinois Railway Museum runs trains and streetcars on its site, including the art deco/streamline designed Nebraska Zephyr, of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad.


Nebraska Zephyr.  Arlington (IL) Daily Herald photo.

-- list of railroad museums

While they don't promote "sustainable mobility" classic car shows and museums are still interesting and great opportunities for learning and seeing something different.

-- National Association of Automobile Museums

53. Visit a streetcar museum.   Many communities have streetcar/transit museums such as the Baltimore Streetcar Museum and the National Capital Trolley Museum  in Montgomery County, Maryland in this area.  So try to ride a historic streetcar as well.

Photo of a Kenosha streetcar by Brian Gardner.

54.  Ride a streetcar system in active service. Some places run heritage streetcars in active service.  Everyone knows about the streetcars in New Orleans (and that system continues to expand in bits and pieces).

San Francisco's F Line/Market Street Railway is an active transportation museum, featuring vintage streetcars painted to represent various streetcar systems from around North America.

The cars are restored with the help of volunteers, organized as the Market Street Railway. Membership in the group entitles you to their quarterly newsletter, which is fabulous.

But historic/"old" streetcars run in many places in regular service: Boston; Dallas; Kenosha, Wisconsin; Little Rock; Memphis; Philadelphia; Tampa, Toronto (the current cars date to the 1980s but the system has remained in operation for a long time); etc.

In the summer, on weekends, the Toronto streetcar system runs a heritage car on the waterfront ("TTC's vintage streetcar a great way to see harbourfront on Sundays").  Portland used to do something like this, but no long does.

San Francisco also has the cable cars, which are a designated National Historic Landmark.
San Francisco Cable Car
Cable car in San Francisco.  Flickr photo by Jon Robson.  Cable cars are mostly a tourist attraction, but depending on where you live and work in the city, they are also a working element of the public transit system.

Not to mention new streetcars such as in Portland, Tacoma, Seattle, etc. Memphis re-created part of its historic trolley system, which runs Downtown and in the riverfront district, in 1993.

And note that the South Shore Line, an active transit service connecting Northern Indiana to Chicago, is the nation's only extant interurban railroad service--there once hundreds of such systems across the country, but their moment as an elemental mode in the transportation system was brief, snuffed out by the combination of the rise of the automobile and the Depression.
South Shore Line
South Shore Line train in Michigan City, Indiana.  Flickr photo by Tony Lau.

Reading Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places by John Stilgoe will help you look at the outside environment in new ways.

55. Tour a historic trail, road, railroad, canal, park network, or parkway/greenway.

The C&O Canal Trust has restored some of the canal lockmaster quarters, which people can stay in.

-- Great Allegheny Passage (biking)
-- National Scenic Byways Program

The National and State scenic byways programs draw attention to these opportunities, and information from these programs is usually made available at visitor centers.

Minneapolis has recently upgraded its Grand Rounds Scenic Byway System, which connects Downtown sites, neighborhoods and the city's park system including lakes, the Mississippi River, and Minnehaha Creek.

Salt Lake City has created a bike loop not quite 14 miles long, linking various points of interests and the route is signed with special "Cycle the City" signage (Brochure and map).

56.  Garden Tourism. Garden tourism has two different strands.

The first focuses on public gardens such as the National Arboretum in DC, Roses Garden in Portland, Oregon or San Diego, and large scale local arboretums like the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, or the Morton Arboretum outside of Chicago. Usually such facilities are open all year.

The second is special event public access to normally what are private gardens.

One such program is Virginia's Historic Garden Week--held every year the last week of April--and sponsored by the Garden Club of Virginia. 

Another is how GardenWalk Buffalo sponsors a weekend of events, this year on July 29th and 30th, where people can tour gardens across the city.    (It's supposed to lead into a six week program that they call the "National Garden Festival.")  Both organizations use monies raised from their programs to support beautification and restoration projects.

These larger scale events are complemented by various locally organized events and programs, such as Garden Tours in the Georgetown and Shepherd Park neighborhoods of DC.

University Avenue in Toronto.

There is an interesting article ("Hidden landmarks: Why Toronto is at the forefront of the landscape architecture movement") in the Toronto Globe and Mail about that city's place in landscape architecture, which is perhaps deserving of a separate item for landscapes and urban design. From the article:
University Avenue may be the least wild place in Toronto, with eight lanes of traffic running between great walls of stone and concrete. But it’s a landscape. Look around: On the islands in the boulevard, lawns, copses, planters, fountains and benches form a modernist tapestry all the way from College to Richmond Street.

To Charles Birnbaum, this is a valuable piece of history, a work of design with “a pedigree that doesn’t exist anywhere else in Toronto,” explains Mr. Birnbaum, the head of the Cultural Landscape Foundation. Speaking from his office in Washington, he enthusiastically runs through the history of those traffic islands: The landscape designer André Parmentier planted the avenue in 1829; it was reshaped in the 1920s in the Beaux-Arts style; and in the 1960s, the current landscape was designed by the British-born architect Howard Dunington-Grubb to cap the newly built subway. It includes perennials, statues and vent stacks.
And as an example, the American Society for Landscape Architecture has produced three area guides (usually in association with their national conference) which discuss monuments, sites, neighborhoods and other points of interest from the landscape architecture perspective.

-- The Landscape Architect's Guide to Boston
-- The Landscape Architect's Guide to Portland
--  The Landscape Architect's Guide to Washington, DC,

57. Visit a heritage area/heritage park.  Somewhat different from a specific site is the concept of state or nationally designated "heritage areas," based on the organizing framework of the cultural landscape, addresses heritage preservation and cultural interpretation over a large district sharing a common identity, history, and theme.  Heritage areas are networks of sites, attractions, historic districts and other features.

The Alliance of National Heritage Areas is a support organization for nationally-designated heritage areas.  There are more than 40 such areas including cities like Baltimore and the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area: Blue Ridge Mountains, which includes Asheville, North Carolina.

Separate from the federal program of National Heritage Areas, which are designated by Congress (so it can be a somewhat political process), many states have their own programs. Some, like Maryland or Pennsylvania, call them "heritage areas," while certain states like Connecticut call them "heritage parks."

-- Map of heritage areas in New York State

Baltimore started out with a state-designated heritage area -- and I've argued that DC should use the heritage area concept as an organizing tool to manage and present the city's cultural resources -- which later was nationally designated.

A newer heritage area is the Thames River Heritage Park in Connecticut, promoting and linking cultural sites in Groton and New London, which are across the river from each other, and home to many great sites, shopping districts, etc.

Last summer they launched water taxi service for visitors wanting to see sites on both sides of the river.

-- Thames River Heritage Park Master Plan

58. Ride a passenger rail train.  Ride a passenger railroad (commuter) train.  In the DC region, that means MARC or VRE.  In Greater New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia (SEPTA), Chicago, and Boston (as well as Toronto and Montreal), Southern California, Northern California and elsewhere commuter railroads provide passenger rail services once provided by private railroad companies.

The Norfolk Southern Railroad, in association with the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, is running steam engine passenger train excursions in various places on their system.

(Union Pacific has decided to restore a steam locomotive--it will take some time--and run similar kinds of excursions beginning in 2019, which is the 150th anniversary of the driving of the "Golden Spike" and the creation of a transcontinental railroad system. See "Big Boy steam engine to start journey to Wyoming on April 28" from the Los Angeles Times.)

Amtrak's National Train Day is one way to acknowledge and celebrate railroad history and passenger train service.

There are many special scenic railroad organizations and other riding opportunities too.  Children really love these experiences.

-- Tourist Railway Association
-- Heritage Rail Alliance

Perhaps the most prominent example is the railroad from Williams, Arizona to the Grand Canyon, the Grand Canyon Railway.  The trains used to be powered by steam locomotives, but they switched to diesels to reduce negative environmental impact.

59. Visit a national or state park. DC, for obvious reasons, has many nationally owned parks, the system of Fort Circle Parks works to preserve the forts built during the Civil War to protect the city from Confederate invasion. Fort Stevens, hidden behind a church on Georgia Avenue, around Quackenbos Street NW, was attacked by Confederate forces, and President Lincoln was up there and watched. Up Georgia Avenue a bit, close to Walter Reed Hospital, is a somewhat forlorn and neglected battlefield cemetery and monument honoring soldiers who died at the battle at Fort Stevens.

-- National Park Service, find a park
-- America's State Parks

60. Take a boat trip on a local river.  Many cities have water-based tours or smaller scale water taxi systems.  Boston, Seattle, New York City, and San Francisco have working passenger ferry systems. The Staten Island Ferry is working transit that's free and is a fun trip.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Then (2007) and Now (2018): Apartment building at 2nd and T Streets NE

When I make presentations or have discussions about H Street NE /the city today versus what it was like 30 or 20 years ago, people seem to indicate that the improvements visible today are a bad thing, gentrification etc.

It's way more complicated than that.  But it sucked before.  I can't imagine anyone preferring that to what there is there today.

While these photos aren't from the H Street NE neighborhood, the contrast between then and now is comparable.

Pigeons and disinvestment, 2nd and T Street NE
Pigeons and disinvestment, 2nd and T Street NE, July 2007.

Now vs. Then: renovated and rehabilitated apartment building at 2nd and T Streets NE, Eckington neighborhood, DC

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The Unleashed by Petco Store didn't work out in NoMA

The Unleashed by Petco Store didn't work out in NoMA

One concept that needs to be emphasized more in planning retail in DC is the difference between neighborhood serving districts and "regionally serving districts" even though in this case, regional means "multiple neighborhoods" rather than multiple cities.

In Manhattan, it would be how Union Square serves as a major retail center, while commercial districts in Lower Manhattan have smaller groceries, hardware stores, specialty markets, dry cleaners and other service establishments etc.

In DC, Friendship Heights, Columbia Heights (the Target anchored DC/USA shopping center has other retailers including DSW Shoe Warehouse, Bed, Bath and Beyond, Modell's Sporting Goods, and Best Buy), and other areas act as regional destinations.

Probably pet supply stores have a "retail trade area" of the neighborhood and a bit beyond.  People aren't likely to travel too far outside of their neighborhood for pet supplies.  So putting such a store in a place with large mostly apartment and condominium buildings probably wasn't a good move on the part of Petco.

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Bringing back iconic city/regional food and beverage brands as an element of revitalization


Baltimore has National Bohemian Beer, Detroit has/had Stroh's Beer, Kowalski Polish Sausage, Sanders baked goods, Faygo soda--called pop in Michigan, Vernors, a spicy ginger soda (at their plant only, they produced a chocolate version that you could get a sample of on tours of the bottling facility).

I still miss the homey Bill Knapp's Restaurants--great fried chicken and chocolate cake--which were headquartered in Michigan but were in other Midwest states.   And I miss peppermint ice cream from the long defunct Cloverdale Dairy once based in the Detroit area.

The Big Boy restaurants are but a ghost of what they once were--at one time there were regional franchises with large groups of restaurants all around the country.

DC had Senate Beer brewed by the Heurich Brewery and for a time in the 1990s, a descendent, Gary Heurich, produced and distributed a version of the firm's beer as Old Heurich.  High's was a local dairy store that has long since been absorbed into 7-11.  DGS, District Grocery Stores, was a group of individually owned corner stores sharing common branding, purchasing, and marketing.

Marshall Fields Department Store was known for its Frango chocolate mint candies.  California was known for Nesbitt's orange soda. New England and the South had regional soda brands. Etc.

As food and drink companies became national companies -- wrt beer this was abetted by Prohibition, which drove many companies out of business and unable to restart production after Prohibition was repealed -- many regional brands disappeared. Some remain. You have Duke Mayonnaise in parts of the South, Blue Bell is the ice cream of Texas, etc.

Climax soda billboard on the side of a building in Richmond.  Vintage photo: Valentine Richmond History Center.

Two different efforts in Richmond aim to revive an old soda brand, Climax pale dry ginger ale ("Couple wants to relaunch Richmond's iconic soda brand and create a destination for food and beverage in former grocery store building," Richmond Times-Dispatch) and Richbrau beer ("The return of Richbrau: Local broker plans to bring back an iconic Richmond beer").

In DC, when I had some concepts for making a bigger and better City Museum, one of my ideas was to try to license the "Hot Shoppes" Restaurant brand from Marriott Corporation to serve as the museum's restaurant.

From the soda article:
Climax Beverage would be just one component in a multifaceted redevelopment of the former supermarket space, which opened in 1957 with an arched roof made of California cedar and huge plate glass entrance windows.

The Hilds are thinking of turning the building and nearby surrounding area — they have an additional adjacent block under contract to purchase — into a destination space for food and beverage purveyors.

The company used to have a neon billboard at Richmond's Belle Isle recreation facility. 
The concept would be similar to a food hall, often found in many European cities and becoming popular in cities in the United States, that would have a variety of food vendors, restaurants, breweries, distilleries, wineries, and produce and seafood purveyors.

“We want to create a destination point,” Hild said, adding that the food hall could be similar in concept to Union Market in Washington, D.C.

“We’re thinking of an old, old city market where you have various food vendors and food and drink all in one place that complement one another,” he said. “We are not trying to create a traditional grocery store. We don’t think that is a recipe for success.”
I think locally relevant food and drink brands are an interesting element to add to food-related revitalization efforts, the creation of market districts, food business incubators, etc.

Interestingly, while these are two separate efforts, it turns out that Climax soda was produced by the same company that produced Richbrau beers.

Still, the failed Old Heurich demonstrates this isn't an easy task.  The issue is whether or not you focus on producing and selling the item in your own facilities, versus trying to recreate and distribute a product that is sold by others.

Maybe if Gary Heurich created a brew pub and used that as the primary or at least the initial distribution site, rather than bottling for sale in stores and beer as kegs for restaurants, it would have been easier to develop a more sustainable business model.

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As a transit agency think about branding and marketing as a total focus of the organization

WMATA service vehicle

I wouldn't consider this Washington Gas truck a paragon of branding, but they do way more than WMATA with what you would consider to be an ordinary element of their fleet.

Washington Gas utility pickup has some branding elements

There are plenty of ways to be creative with pro-transit advertising.  This is an example of an ad from Chicago.

RTA (Chicago) pro-transit advertising

Or just some basic graphics about transit vehicles and how many riders they carry versus cars.

Number of vehicles needed to carry 45 people, by type of vehicle

1200px-Moscow_traffic_congestion
Bus and traffic in Moscow.  Wikipedia photo.

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Of course, this is true of city and county governments too.  Why not wrap their service vehicles with promotions?  I've mentioned this for years in terms of garbage trucks, but there are many other opportunities.

Waste Management can do it, why not a city or county?

Waste Management trash collection truck with ad

Baltimore city garbage sanitation truck with environmental message
Baltimore City garbage truck

The solid waste function in Johannesburg, South Africa is "branded" as Pikitup. Although they could do a lot more with the opportunity of their trucks as rolling billboards.

This is a wrap of a garbage truck done by Ferrari Color.  Philadelphia and later DC have done a bit of this with trucks designated for recycling.
Garbage truck vehicle (branding) wrap

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