Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

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

Friday, November 24, 2017

Holiday Shopping, Small Business Saturday, etc.

Cover, Golden Book Publishing, 1958.

Black Friday, the biggest day for retail sales.  I saw something on the news today that I don't believe.  They said that $682 billion in sales are made on Black Friday, today, the day after Thanksgiving, and the traditional start of the holiday shopping season.

That is $2,000 for every person in the U.S.

Small Business Saturday is a promotion created by the American Independent Business Alliance and now spearheaded by American Express. 

-- Small Business Saturday website

The idea is that independent businesses can't compete  "head-to-head" against traditional chain retailers in terms of offering the best prices on mass market goods, especially on Black Friday, but they can differentiate their businesses in terms of artisan goods, customer service, and experiences.

Bene hat shop, 6200 block of 3rd Street NWMany stores run promotions throughout the day. 

In DC, as part of SBS, at 4:30 pm, Mayor Bowser will be visiting Bene' Millinery & Bridal Supplies at 6217 3rd Street NW in the Manor Park neighborhood of DC (it's a throwback retail block, one block, embedded within the neighborhood).

Bene' adjoins two other boutiques, Lovely Lady, which sells new clothes, and Kasia's Collection, a consignment type store.

All three of the stores do great windows but their hard work often goes unrewarded because few people walk by and look, and cars go too fast to be able to see the artistry.

Artisan retail on the rise.  Traditional retail has been on the decline for some time.  Every week there are new reports on store closings, retail firm bankruptcies, and sales declines.  While some of this has to do with the rise of online retail, another perhaps more significant element concerns how people are using their time, specifically time using digital devices ("It's Not Just Retail That's Changing. It's Us," Bloomberg).

Separately, Bloomberg reports a rise in sale for independent stores and continued difficulty on the part of traditional shopping malls ("Mom-and-Pop Shops Are Threatening the Mall This Holiday Season").  From the article:
Spending growth at mom-and-pop businesses has outpaced that of the big chains in the past two years, according to Sarah Quinlan, senior vice president at credit-card giant Mastercard Inc., which tracks purchasing patterns. When they’re not shopping online, Americans are seeking more personal connections and advice -- something they can find lacking at national retailers.

“The consumer is shopping small,” she said.

Big chain stores still account for the majority of shoppers’ purchases, according to Mastercard. But many of the most affluent consumers are now clustered in walkable neighborhoods, letting them skip the mall in favor of neighborhood hardware stores, bookshops and grocers. And they’re willing to pay the higher prices, Quinlan said.
Relatedly, there are reports of the creation of more independent bookstores, including the opening of a new bookstore, Solid State Supply, on H Street NE last weekend.

Last week, I went to the opening of the new location of Willow, an apparel and gift store, in the Navy Yard district of the Capitol Riverfront.  Willow's first store is on Upshur Street NW in the Petworth neighborhood, and it's an exception that "proves the rule" about the difficulty of success for one-off apparel retail in neighborhood shopping districts. 

The proprietors aren't going to become wealthy, or a national chain, but they have figured out how to fill a niche in providing affordable apparel, complemented by gifts, cards, housewares, and items for children in neighborhoods with certain kinds of demographics.

I had been skeptical that such a store could work in the Navy Yard, which tends to have fewer in-neighborhood residents as regular customers, but the store, by reaching out further into a retail trade area that encompasses Capitol Hill, can be successful.

Another fascinating store in the Navy Yard district is Steadfast Supply, an independent which specializes in selling items created by locally-based artists and craftspeople,  It's an interesting contrast to Willow, because of the price points.  By featuring items produced "by hand," items definitely cost more money at Steadfast Supply, which might make it more difficult for them to build a base of repeat customers.

Storefront window, Willow retail store
The Willow apparel and gift store on Upshur Street NW, Petworth, Washington, DC.

Willow, Steadfast Supply, Solid State Books and others (e.g., Upshur Street Books, the Big Bad Woof pet supply store in Takoma, etc.) are examples of the new small scale retail resurgence, which admittedly is a localized phenomenon. 

The development of this kind of retail can only happen in those areas with the right population and demographics.  But stores like Willow prove that there are more places that can support independent retail than was previously thought.

A couple of initiatives in DC.  From Mayor Muriel Bowser's weekly e-letter:
When Washingtonians share their talents and creativity with our city, we want to do all we can to support them. Last month, we celebrated the opening of Shop Made in DC, a new brick and mortar store and café stocked exclusively with DC brands and concepts. Tomorrow, I will celebrate Small Business Saturday on Minnesota Avenue, DC's newest Main Streets designee. And next week, the Council and I will host a variety of District-based entrepreneurs at the Wilson Building for a pop-up Made in DC: Holiday Bazaar.
Handwringing about the future of retail in New York CityCrain's New York Business reports ("Local pols shop for solutions to retail's crisis") on legislation proposed by various City Councilmembers to provide support to independent retailers and restaurants, which have been caught between chain businesses and ever escalating rents.

Rents have been escalating in part over non-sales related objectives, or by property values being set in a fashion that is disconnected from the revenue potential of the space.

Proposals include tax cuts for retailers and rent control.  One program provides some discounted rent in a new development for four stores.

I still believe the best option is for New York City to create a commercial retail space community development corporation comparable to the SEMAEST group in Paris.  The Vital Quartier program has by this time supported 400 independent businesses and controls more than 500,000 s.f. of retail space.

From the Guardian article "Paris's new planning strategy: bookshops in, textile wholesalers out":
Devoted to "economic development and commercial diversity" in the eastern districts of the city, Vital'Quartier works in 11 parts of the city deemed stagnant or dominated by a single commercial activity.

In those areas, the Semaest targets premises, buys them, renovates them and then advertises for tenants who will be able to pay rent at affordable rates as long as their plans for the space concur with the authorities' vision. De Nuñez, who believed there was an "urgent" need for a Spanish-language bookshop, pays around €1,700 per month for his 60 sq metres in one of the priciest parts of the city.

"Normally you would have to pay a big sum of money up front, maybe €50,000 or €60,000," he said. 
The holiday window at 1z2z3z, a store featuring items for young children.

VCU Brandcenter students decorate store windows at Richmond's Westhampton shopping district.  VCU Brandcenter is the advertising program, and this year, students working on Project Holiday decorated the storefront windows of 28 stores on Libbie, Grove and Patterson Avenues ("VCU Brandcenter students create holiday window magic at shops," Richmond Times-Dispatch). From the article:
Their efforts are part of Project Holiday, a friendly competition for the students to come up with the most wonder-inspiring window display with a budget of just $100 per window and lots of creativity. The public will get the chance to vote on the windows they think are the most creative.

The project is a collaboration between the Westhampton Merchants Association and graduate students in the Experience Design track at the VCU Brandcenter. The participating businesses provided the $100 budget per window.
That's a great way for students to get practical experience in retail merchandising and builds on the idea of artisanal retail experiences.

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Revisiting stories: double deck buses as a modern solution for rebranding bus service for choice riders

As a child, I'm sure I had a Matchbox toy of the Routemaster bus.  Matchbox continues to produce copies of the current version of the bus.

For a long time, I've argued that one way to reposition and rebrand bus-based transit service would be to shift to double deck buses.

-- "Making bus service sexy and more equitable," 2012
After all, the iconic Routemaster bus in London is an image known the world over.

In the early part of the last century, both double deck streetcars and buses were common in dense cities, even in New York City.

Megabus double deck bus on H Street NE, Washington, DC, on the way to Union StationMegabus double deck bus on H Street NE, Washington, DC, on the way to Union Station.

Today, double deck buses are used widely throughout the UK, not just in London, but not so much in North America, except in tourism applications and some high ridership inter-city bus routes, such as between DC and New York City.

According to the Wikipedia page, double deck buses are deployed in many European cities outside of the UK and Ireland, and in Asia, in particular Hong Kong.

In North America, for regular transit service, Ottawa, Ontario has the largest fleet of such buses, while the GOBus system in Ontario (GO = Government of Ontario) is the largest, with service dedicated to long distance commuting routes rather than inter-city transit like in Ottawa. 

A few double deck buses are deployed in various communities in the US, such as in the Puget Sound region of Washington State and Las Vegas, where Community Transit has the largest fleet providing commuter service between Snohomish County and Seattle.

The New York City Transit Museum still has one of the Yellow Coach double deck buses in its museum fleet.

Charlie shares with us an article ("Bus Stop Classics: 1934-38 Yellow Coach Model 720/735 “Double Decker” – the Queen of Fifth Avenue," CurbsideClassics) he came across about double deck bus service on Fifth Avenue in New York City. 

This particular article discusses the bus that was used on the route for about 20 years, until the mid-1950s.

The highly used bus line on Fifth Avenue is discussed in voluminous detail in this piece from the Coachbuilt website, and has many images of earlier double deck buses that had been in service on the route.

The Coachbuilt website focuses on companies that built "coaches," not just buses but limos, taxis, etc. For example, the geographical listing for Michigan has entries for more than 150 companies.

It's an incredibly voluminous site.  The author aims to produce a book titled the Encyclopedia of American Coachbuilders.
Vintage postcard showing double deck buses on Fifth Avenue in New York CIty
Vintage postcard showing double deck buses on Fifth Avenue in New York City

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Steve Vance photo of the integrated passenger railroad network within North Rhine Westphalia state in Germany

When I was in NRW a few years ago, I never came across such a map, which is very cool. It looks like he saw it at the Dusseldorf main railroad station. I don't recall seeing such a map in Essen.

Looking at it more closely, it's a map of the intra-state railroad services, both long distance and "local," the metropolitan area suburban commuter railroad services called the S-Bahn. As he points out, the map doesn't include the intra-metropolitan area scaled transit services.

I imagine Deutsche Bahn has comparable maps for other states across Germany.

In my typology of the transit network ("Reprint (with editing): The Meta-Regional Transit Network," 2009), I'd call this a depiction of the regional transit network, at the full scale of a state.

An amazing map of the interconnected subregions of the regions of North-Rhine Westphalia

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Saturday, November 18, 2017

A sign that Pumpkin Spice is probably an overused flavor

Not exactly an "urbanism" post but reflective of paying close attention to supermarkets both as an element of cities/commercial district revitalization and how food products and supermarkets are marketed vis a vis my seating on the community advisory committee for DC's public market, Eastern Market.

A sign that Pumpkin Spice is probably an overused flavor

Maybe utilities should pay the locality for trimming trees to protect electric lines

Because the utility companies and their contractors seem to be somewhat heavy handed. It's hard to believe that "right now all of a sudden" this tree became suddenly dangerous after growing for the past 3-4 decades unhindered.

This once somewhat grand tree has been hacked by the local electric utility
This once somewhat grand tree has been hacked by the local electric utility. 3rd Street at Blair Road NW, Takoma DC.


This once somewhat grand tree has been hacked by the local electric utility

This once somewhat grand tree has been hacked by the local electric utility

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More cities should have lighted street signs...

Having missed a turn last night while biking when it was quite dark.  Of course, it turned out that the street, a major avenue, didn't have any signs posted for the New Jersey Avenue part of the road network at that particular intersection in the "Capital Riverfront" district.

Photo: Daily Herald, "New signs lighting the way on suburban streets."


Many cities/counties put lighted signs on their major arterials, but they "hang over the street" being affixed to traffic signal crossarms ("More lighted street signs coming to Chesapeake intersections," Norfolk Virginian-Pilot; "Street signs light up at dusk," Washington Post).

Denser cities don't typically place traffic signals across lanes of traffic in the same way as suburban counties.

But that doesn't mean that cities shouldn't think about having lighted street signs in major districts that experience a great deal of night time activity ("Marking roads for better safety," Public Roads Magazine).

Manhattan's 34th Street Partnership district is one place I've noticed lighted street signs on the major streets. 

The Partnership discusses the attention it pays to elements of the streetscape on a dedicated webpage.

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Revisiting stories: ground transportation at airports (DCA/Logan)

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For a number of years, I have written a fair amount about ground transportation vis a vis airports, focused on transit, and using DC's National Airport as an example of best practice (a Metrorail station on the airport grounds) and not best practice (failure to accommodate car sharing, not integrating the railroad station into the ground transportation program).

I use the BWI Airport outside of Baltimore as an example of best practice in terms of integrating off-airport rail stations into the ground transportation program.

At one time, Amtrak provided shuttle services between the rail station and the airport, but a few years ago, recognizing the importance of controlling the quality of the experience and the necessity of high quality connections between modes, the Airport integrated the BWI Rail Station into their ground transportation program.

In 2016, in "A brief comment on ground transportation at National Airport vis a vis VRE rail service," I made the point (building on comments offered in a GGW article) that National Airport should do the same thing wrt the Crystal City Rail Station, which serves as a stop on the VRE rail line.

Amtrak doesn't stop there, but perhaps it could, a point I didn't make in the earlier post.

A more recent entry, "Why not a bicycle hub at National Airport?: focused on capturing worker trips but open to all," besides a discussion about carsharing access, discusses creating a true bike hub, using the model of Heathrow Airport, and given the fact that the airport is served by the Mount Vernon Trail, one of the metropolitan area's most heavily used bicycle commuting routes.

The comment thread mentioned the DCA Connection Feasibility Study being led by the Crystal City Business Improvement District. But I would argue that's not an all-encompassing study, merely looking at one element, a better pedestrian connection.

The comment thread also mentioned coverage in the Washington Post about airports losing parking revenue as more people get to airports in other ways ("The popularity of Uber, Lyft boosts airport revenue but there are tradeoffs").

The rail station "abuts" the airport, but is separated from it by the George Washington Parkway and railroad lines.

Logan Airport bus shuttle at the Airport T Station.  Wikipedia photo.

More recently, I came across some information about ground transportation services at Logan Airport in Boston, which is another example of best practice relevant to airport ground transportation planning generally and wrt National Airport specifically.

Logan Airport provides shuttle services to the nearby Airport T Station, which unlike the National Airport Metrorail Station, is not on the grounds of Logan Airport.

Beyond that, there is also a "Water Transportation Terminal" serving Logan Airport for ferry and water taxi services, and shuttle service is provided to that location too.

Given that the DC area has been trying to develop water transportation services for a long time ("At ferry summit, a vision emerges for a commuter system along the Potomac River," Washington Post) and the recent expansion of such services concomitant with the opening of the Wharf development on DC's Southwest waterfront ("The Wharf's new water taxi embarks on a maiden voyage," WTOP), National Airport's location alongside the Potomac River, and the presence of an NPS parking lot next to the airport abutting the river (often used by taxi drivers), it would be possible to create a similar service there, were NPS to be amenable.

In addition, called Logan Express, certain express bus services to Logan Airport are run by the airport authority from suburban locations.  Closer in, the Back Bay Express also provides special services to the airport.

A form of "Logan Express" is run by Maryland MTA serving BWI Airport via the Inter County Connector, staging from the rail station, not the airport directly. 

While National Airport may not "need" that kind of dedicated express service, because the rail station could provide this kind of opportunity at least in the I-95 corridor, likely Dulles Airport could use such a complementary program ("Dulles International Airport struggles to find its footing," Washington Post, 2014), even with the addition of Silver Line Metrorail service in the next couple years.

Probably, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and the State of Virginia should do a transportation planning exercise for both airports, not limited to Metrorail and traditional public transit services, to think about such services, including better connections from Maryland, although the State of Maryland may not be too willing "to help" given that Dulles and BWI Airports compete.

While not practical for National Airport and Crystal City, separately the idea has been floated to add a moving sidewalk connection from the closest Logan terminal to the Airport T stop ("Potential moving walkway at Logan Airport could land in record books," Boston Globe).  The distance is about one-half mile.


I definitely think such a connection between the Midway Airport L Station and the actual airport terminal would make a lot of sense in Chicago.

Back Bay Logan Express
Back Bay Logan Express.  Flickr photo by SoCal Metro.

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Friday, November 17, 2017

King Street streetcar, Toronto (and Seattle's urban mobility planning)

At the Washington Post Transformers presentation earlier this week on Smart Cities, one of the presenters was Jeff Tumlin, a principal at the forward thinking transportation consultancy Nelson-Nygaard. 

Jeff is a great speaker, although what sounded "transformational" to many people who came up to him afterwards was to me, merely stuff I've been hearing for the last 13-15 years, including from Jeff.

Jeff Tumlin is author of Sustainable Transportation Planning: Tools for Creating Vibrant, Healthy, and Resilient Communities, published by Wiley.

He made a couple of very important points, one of which will be covered in another piece. 

In discussing the general fall off in transit usage over the past year, which is partly in response to continued low gas prices, but also the impact of ride hailing services on transit use ("Why selling your car to take Uber or Lyft is a problem for cities," CNN), he discussed Seattle as a counter-example.

Technically, Seattle's local bus transit is provided by the county, through the King County Metro transit agency, and the agency has one of the largest bus fleets in the US, especially for a city of its size, including a network of electric trolleybuses. 

An electric bus, SeattleAmong its initiatives, the transit agency has a robust set of metrics for setting service levels, has been implementing a rapid bus network, and is working to simplify its fare system ("Metro to charge a simplified, $2.75 flat fare for bus rides next year," Seattle Times). 

The city used to have a downtown free fare zone, but it was dropped as a result of the 2008 recession's impact on transit agency budgets.

SDOT works very closely with the agency, and separately, the City of Seattle is one of the nation's leaders in innovative transportation planning.

To deal with the city's rapid growth ("Can Seattle handle its own growth," The Atlantic) in the digital economy era, Seattle has prioritized transit movement on the city's street network, making bus transit faster.  As Jeff pointed out, this has had real impact, so that Seattle is one of the only major cities in the US where transit ridership is increasing ("How Seattle Got More People to Ride the Bus," CityLab).

Mobility throughput: counting people instead of carsWhile I just mentioned the King Street streetcar prioritization test that launched earlier this week in Toronto, that touches on the thing that Jeff mentioned that seemed revelatory to people in the audience, to focus on moving "people" not cars, or overall throughput, which is what they are doing in Seattle.

In terms of its capture of total trips, King Street streetcar is an outlier, where 75% of the mobility throughput (65,000 people) on the corridor is by streetcar and 25% cars (20,000 vehicle trips), with such a high percentage of the throughput being captured by transit.

I know that on many of DC's primary bus routes, transit as a proportion of the throughput isn't quite as high, but is still above 40%, which is very good.

King St. has changed to more pedestrian and TTC friendly with cars only allowed to go a single block along the street before having to turn off. (RICHARD LAUTENS / TORONTO STAR). The TTC announces the King Street streetcar prioritization project on vehicle livery for the streetcar line.


Shawn Micaleff, a columnist for the Toronto Star, has a piece on the King Street initiative, "King St. pilot project does what big cities around the world are doing," writing:
One of my earliest memories of feeling frustrated in Toronto was riding a streetcar. The streetcars themselves were fine: elegant street ships sailing the city’s rail network like an electric nervous system.

What was confounding was that one lone car turning left, often just carrying one driver, could hold up an entire streetcar filled with dozens of people, sometimes up to 130 or over 200 people, depending on if it was a short or long streetcar. Other times there were just too many cars on the road to allow quick passage of a mass transit vehicle.

Something seemed out of whack. How could this be? Was there no political courage in this new city of mine to give vehicles carrying many people a quicker passage? My newcomer’s naïveté was soon corrected.
I think this is one of the most important surface transportation initiatives right now in North America ("A transit miracle on King St. shows how it can work," Star), because despite the headline of the Micaleff column, the fact of the matter is that most cities are not prioritizing transit in this way, because the electorate continues to be car-centric, so that elected officials don't have the cover to be able to pursue transit prioritization on city streets.

One of the people interviewed after the change said that lunchtime trips on the King Street streetcar are now three times faster.

Market Street in San Francisco is another street where streetcars should be prioritized in the same way as in Toronto (discussed within this blog entry, "It's been a drawn out process, but DC is in the process of creating transitways on 16th Street NW"). 
Market Street, San Francisco, vintage postcard, showing four tracks for streetcars
Note that at one point, Market Street had four streetcar tracks. At some point, two were removed. Note too that the desire to create a subway system, which eventually culminated in MUNI Metro, was to remove streetcars from surface streets in favor of cars.

And a special L Line replacement bus service in Manhattan ought to have a similar treatment ("RPA/Transit Riders Alliance proposal to respond to the L Subway shutdown includes a dedicated transitway on 14th Street in Manhattan").

One of Micaleff's examples is the rebalancing of streetspace between pedestrians and cars in Manhattan, but that rebalancing hasn't been extended to transit-prioritized streets in the same was as King Street, even though NYC has been developing an extensive network of transit priority lanes.

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Revisiting stories: FRED Downtown shuttle in San Diego

David Aragon, an operation manager and one of the drivers for Free Ride Everywhere Downtown (FRED) waits at a local apartment building for his next pick up in the downtown area. (Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune).


(2014)

I've written about the FRED e-shuttle in Downtown San Diego as an example of creating intra-district shuttle services as a component of the "sustainable mobility platform."

More recently, I mentioned FRED in my discussion on making Fenton Street in Silver Spring a prioritized sustainable mobility corridor, within item #5, "PL #5: Creating a Silver Spring "Sustainable Mobility District" | Part 2: Program items 1 - 9," as a part of shifting Fenton Street to a sustainable mobility corridor and removing street parking by better leveraging the thousands of spaces in parking garages along the corridor.

Apparently, the FRED service, just over two years old, is quite successful and will be expanded ("Free Ride shuttle: Riders getting "busy" signal but help on way with extra funding," San Diego Union-Tribune).

From the article:
San Diego will spend up to $5.7 million over five years to help New York-based The Free Ride put more all-electric shuttles on downtown streets. The money comes from revenue from parking meters and public garages downtown. The original five-year budget was $2 million.

By 2020, there should be 30 FRED shuttles on the road, up from today’s 17. The funding includes upgrading a dozen existing cars to a longer-running lithium ion battery. ...

It landed in San Diego in July 2014 with five shuttles financed totally by the billboards they displayed while offering free rides around downtown. Around the same time, San Diego downtown stakeholders were looking for a shuttle system for the business district. The Free Ride was chosen and launched a beefed-up presence in August 2016.
Strengthen branding?  Although I will say that as a transportation/mobility service, branding is an important element of the program. 

Having the vehicles serve mostly as moving advertisements diminishes the ability to brand the service as a key mobility service within the Downtown San Diego district.

But maybe the fact that they are a small and very distinguishable vehicle regardless is enough.

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Revisiting stories: community culture master plans should include an element on higher education institutions

(2016)

In "Should community culture master plans include elements on higher education arts programs?," given the experience with the Corcoran School of Art and Design being merged into George Washington University, one of the nation's most expensive universities, and issues with Cornish College of Arts in Seattle, local cultural plans should include an element on higher education programs, if offered, within their communities.


Academy of Art University building at the Cannery, San Francisco.  Chronicle photo by Liz Hafalia.

But I didn't distinguish between "for profit" and "nonprofit" colleges in that discussion ("For profit art schools on the rise," HuffPost). 

That matters because often there are gaps in zoning review and planning policy when it comes to the difference between for profit and nonprofit higher education institutions and "trade schools" and between public and private universities--e.g., Maryland requires state schools to update their campus plans every five or six years, but private universities don't have the same requirements.

Issues with for profit "trade schools" have been an issue in many communities, such as with the constant expansion of the Academy of Art University in space-constrained San Francisco ("Academy of Art agrees to $60 million settlement," San Francisco Chronicle), and the shutdown of various arts and culinary arts programs across the country, and the turmoil in the for profit higher education sector more generally ("Amid industry turmoil, Strayer sees strength and growth in scale," Washington Business Journal).

From the SF Chronicle article:
After a decade of thumbing its nose at San Francisco’s zoning laws, the Academy of Art University has agreed to a $60 million settlement with the city aimed at bringing the school’s many illegally converted buildings into compliance with local rules.

The deal caps a highly charged battle with one of the nation’s largest for-profit art schools, an institution that is also one of the city’s biggest landlords — a fight that culminated in May when City Attorney Dennis Herrera sued the academy.

The city’s lawsuit said that at least 33 of the academy’s 40 buildings throughout the city — including its campus headquarters on New Montgomery Street — were out of compliance with zoning codes, signage laws or historic preservation rules. In addition, Herrera said, the school had taken 160 units of affordable residential units off the market and illegally turned them into student housing.
An even more current example that raises the general issue and the "for profit vs. nonprofit" issue concerns the Santa Fe University of Arts and Design in New Mexico. 

Owned by a for profit education company, Laureate Education, and opened in part with land and monies provided by the City of Santa Fe, the company announced plans to close the school next year ("Santa Fe University of Art and Design to close in 2018," Santa Fe New Mexican). From the article:
In addition to upending students’ college plans, the decision casts into uncertainty the jobs of about 75 full-time staff and promises a big change for the 60-acre midtown campus the school leases from the city of Santa Fe, which is still paying off millions of dollars in debt incurred when the municipal government bought the former College of Santa Fe property for use by the for-profit Laureate Education Inc. ...

“We’ve been battling this enrollment decline for a few years,” said Maria Puzziferro, the university’s interim president.

The school has seen the number of new students enrolling each year shrink by 15 percent for the past three years, a spokeswoman said.

And the university had racked up a net loss of nearly $7.6 million as of June 2015, according to regulatory filings. ...

Some students and city officials had hoped the proposed sale, which became public in May, would save the school from closure. But others felt blindsided by the proposal. Raffles’ record with regulators in Asia raised concerns, and the sale stirred criticism that the university’s owners were not acting transparently.

The deal became bogged down amid scrutiny from regulators and The Higher Learning Commission, the school’s accrediting body.
Given how much money the City of Santa Fe has invested in this project, irrespective of the existence of a cultural master plan, the city should have used risk management planning ("Town-city management: We are all asset managers now") to keep on top of and stay ahead of the problems, to be able to address the situation as proactively as possible, rather than from a reactive position.

At least in this case, the city owns the property.  But loss of rental income and the economic development elements of the school, not to mention its contribution as an anchor of the local cultural ecosystem, and the difficulty of creating a viable new use from scratch puts the city in a bad position.

Me, I would have tried to get an injunction to force the school to continue to accept students for the next academic year, and come up with a way to keep the school open.  More time and options are better than less time and fewer options.

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

An idea for an Urban Sustainable Mobility Triathlon -- ride bike share bikes, swim the local river, and run on the streets

The Washington Post ran an article, "We had triathletes race all 6 of D.C.’s bike-share bikes. The results surprised even us," which gives me the idea...

Six equally fast triathletes, six bike-share bikes. Who emerged victorious? (Photos by Allie Caren).

Otherwise the article seemed to miss the point.

The point of bike share is biking for transportation, not racing.

But it raises the aforementioned idea, as a way to promote urban environmental goals and objectives:

- clean water and swimmable rivers
- sustainable mobility including biking for transportation
- active movement, being outside, running and walking

Note that in 2012, Jefferson Smith, a competitor in the "Nation's Triathlon," did use a Capital Bikeshare bicycle ("'If I Said It Was a Breeze, I'd Be A Liar': The Capital Bikeshare Triathlete Speaks," DCist).

Gabriel Horchler demonstrates part of his commute as he rows on the Anacostia River on Jan. 12, 2016, in Bladensburg, Md. Horchler has used rowing as part of his commute for 15 years. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

WRT the "water" portion of the race, from time to time media report about people, kayaking or canoeing as part of their commute ("‘Master of the River’: A 71-year-old librarian’s 15 years of water commutes," and "Navigating the River Road to Work," Washington Post; "One less car: Amazon engineer gets to work by kayak — and enjoys a unique perspective on Seattle," Geekwire). 

Apparently a group of CIA staff used to canoe across the Potomac River to get to work at the headquarters in Langley, Virgina ("Declassified: The CIA Canoe Commuters," Canoe & Kayak Magazine).

That could be another element within the Urban Sustainable Mobility Triathlon, an option to swim or to canoe/kayak/row as part of the water element, and walking or running as part of the "on foot" element of the race.



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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Sad but not a surprise: bankruptcy and shutdown of TechShop MakerSpace chain

In my piece, "Arts, culture districts, and revitalization" I argued that cultural infrastructure is comprised of at least five elements:

- Place;
- Space and facilities;
- Artists;
- Cultural organizations and support networks;
- Cultural-creative businesses;

and we should differentiate between hard (buildings/the physical), squishy (organizations) and soft (people) infrastructure. These five elements—place, space, artists, organizations, and businesses—are the components of cultural clusters or cultural quarters.

I said that artists/artistic disciplines needed to create their own plans (in association with cultural planners) and it was essential for such plans to include a facilities and space element, and I used the Creative City Network of Canada thought paper, Cultural Infrastructure: An Integral Component of Canadian Communities as a starting point.

The paper outlines six types of creative space, and four of the six: multi-use hubs; incubators; multi-sector convergence projects; and production habitats; are anchors, a set of either cross-disciplinary or discipline-specific facilities and programs that support the development of art, artists, partnerships, networking, connections, and cultural production.

Building the capacity of artists and organizations through these types of investment supports local economic and community building objectives, and improves the likelihood of success for all types of cultural initiatives. There are many examples of these types of facilities across North America, although no one community has developed a full set across disciplines.


The CEO of TechShop authored a book, The Maker Movement Manifesto: Rules for Innovation in the New World of Crafters, Hackers, and Tinkerers (article).

While I haven't exactly thought through this in all the elements in terms of supporting innovation and business development in the context of "building a local economy" ("Naturally occurring innovation districts | Technology districts and the tech sector," 2014), maker type spaces are an element, as are collaborative workspaces like WeWork, and business incubators of various sorts.

Until the opening of the TechShop in Crystal City a couple years ago, the only one that I really knew of in the area is the Woodworkers Club in Rockville. I'm not a woodworker, but when we were installing a new kitchen in 2008, we took the butcher block counter top there to be cut, because we needed a highly precise cut that a typical radial saw couldn't necessarily produce. They've managed to stay open for 21 years.

While no one reasonable (cf. Artisphere in Arlington County) would expect these kinds of spaces to be wildly profitable, because the modern maker movement is a spinoff of the digital economy, people had different expectations concerning large scale maker spaces.

The very cool Third Ward project in Brooklyn (and for a time in Philadelphia) went belly up pretty quickly ("Why Did 3rd Ward Close?," Observer), because "investors" were looking for quick returns.

As reported by the Washington Business Journal ("TechShop to declare bankruptcy, shuts down suddenly") it seems that a similar problem has developed for TechShop, a digital and analog makerspace with ten locations across the country, including in Crystal City.

-- TechShop history document

When a sort of nonprofit but technically for profit space in Philadelphia, Philadelphia Sculpture Gym shut down a couple years ago, I lamented that the Philadelphia nonprofit and arts community didn't step in to ensure its continuation, unlike how the Baltimore arts community rallied and saved Baltimore Clayworks, after its board had voted to shut down; "Baltimore Clayworks to reopen with new board, old debt," Baltimore Sun).

Note that libraries have been getting into the maker space movement, but the spaces tend to be pretty simple compared to a TechShop, with a 3D printer or two and some graphic design software applications and workstations but probably not CAD and related software. According to the WBJ, the TechShop is pretty elaborate:
With more than $1 million in equipment and software and up to 70 classes each week, TechShop gave access to industrial equipment too expensive for many people and early-stage businesses, for $150 per month or $1,650 for the year. The 22,000-square-foot Crystal City location, with 2016 revenue of nearly $1.5 million and a goal of 20 percent year-over-year growth in 2017, opened in April 2014 and had 700 members.
But I can't see how gross revenue of $1.5 million is nearly enough to run such a facility, let alone provide economic returns to investors.

Shepard Test Stand, TechShop Arlington.

While it is common for city and county economic development agencies to create and support "business incubators" of various types ("Where entrepreneurs work: Inside D.C.'s business incubators," Washington Post), such agencies ought to begin thinking about creating and operating larger scale maker spaces like the equivalent of TechShop, to help foster business development and innovation within the local business and research ecosystem, as a capacity building element of business infrastructure and entrepreneurship development.

Such facilities can help to brand communities as pro-"maker". 

Recommendation.  Ideally, the Arlington County Economic Development agency and the Crystal City Business Improvement District could step in and possibly acquire the assets of the Crystal City branch of TechShop, and continue the operation as an element of the county's commitment to supporting local business development.  From the WBJ article:
The company’s site also links to a form for individuals, organizations or institutions interested in acquiring its assets or one of its locations.
Baring action by Arlington County, another jurisdiction should swoop in, buy all the equipment, and set up a similar operation.

In DC, I'd consider doing that at the Walter Reed campus, Howard University, Catholic University, or at the St. Elizabeths East Campus, as a way to seed its redevelopment.

In Silver Spring, it could be something the County could do with Montgomery College (see item #16, "Positioning Silver Spring as an innovation district and/or an Ecodistrict," "PL #5: Creating a Silver Spring "Sustainable Mobility District" | Part 3: Program items 10-18").

In New Carrollton, it would be a way to seed a new direction for that Prince George's County city ("Setting the stage for the Purple Line light rail line to be an overwhelming success: Part 4 | Making over New Carrollton as a transit-centric urban center and Prince George's County's "New Downtown"").

Etc.

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Associated Press story on homelessness in Western U.S. cities

I noticed that DC is rebranding the smaller family homeless shelters it is creating as "short term family housing"I noticed that on the family homeless housing building being constructed in Ward 4 in DC, that the property is being promoted as "short term family housing."  This is part of the program to close the large homeless shelter in the long since closed DC General Hospital building, and shift people to smaller facilities spread out across the city.

Because I scan a lot of newspapers online, I am able to see trends that mostly aren't discernible within "local" newspapers because they are only covering matters within their geography. 

But from newspaper coverage and some observation, it's been clear to me for many years that homelessness in western cities like San Diego, Salt Lake City, Seattle, and San Francisco is much worse that what I seem to see in the east. 

Partly it's an issue of "the weather" allowing for more people to sleep outside for more months of the year.  But it's also because some of those cities are hyperstrong real estate markets, and the inventory of extremely low cost housing has disappeared.

Yes, it's an issue in DC too, but by comparison the problem pales.

I wrote about this a few months ago in response to an article in the Orange County Register, making the point that (1) there needs to be a lot more SRO housing and (2) a way to create social enterprise businesses that can provide "supported settings" for work opportunities.

-- "One of the "solutions" to the crisis of homelessness is a lot more SRO housing"
-- "One potential solution to the problem of "finding work" for homeless adults

This has been an issue in DC because of the program to decentralize family homeless shelter to smaller facilities across the city, as well as to bundle support programs more purposively within the program. See "Decentralizing homeless shelters in DC," 2016.

A worker clears out a homeless encampment near Seattle’s Ravenna Park neighborhood. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)


Reading the Associated Press article that was distributed last week, "Amid booming economy, homelessness soars on the US West Coast," I think that those two recommendations are on point.

The article doesn't really address substance abuse (in London, research finds that 44% of "rough sleepers" are alcoholics) or mental health issues among the homeless, instead it mostly focuses on the cost and availability of housing.

In this Sept. 25, 2017 photo, a worker sprays a bleach solution on a sidewalk in downtown San Diego as part of an effort to control a deadly hepatitis A outbreak. The increased number of hepatitis cases in the homeless population, and the geographic spread of the disease led California to declare a state of emergency in October. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

It makes sense that as extremely low cost housing options disappear in strongest real estate market cities, people living precarious lives already are pushed over the edge.

Ironically, around the same time this article was published, the Bisnow real estate news information service ran a story about a new "power nap store" called Recharj, where people can pay to sleep for 25 minutes ("Power nap retail concept expanding to second location"). From the article:
The studio offers single 25-minute power naps for $9 and unlimited monthly memberships for $79. Customers nap on a six-foot Yogibo, which it describes as "new age bean bag furniture," in private spaces with sound-absorbing drapes. The napping areas also include a full-body support pillow, a throw pillow, a blanket, an eye mask and ear plugs. For those seeking guided meditation, Recharj offers a series of classes for $18 each. The classes, with names such as "Sound Bath Immersion," "Gong Bath" and "De-stress," are also included in the monthly membership.
And there are related articles from places like Hong Kong ("Hong Kong rents leave some in coffin homes," AP) and London ("London housing crisis: £480 a month for a bed, in a shed" and "The great London property squeeze," Guardian) about lack of housing options leading people to rent spaces in "coffin hotels" etc.

Again, I think this coverage of affordable housing shortages in high cost markets illustrates the need for significantly more SRO type housing.

Not just microhousing for higher income segments such as WeLiving ("What Life Is Like Inside WeWork's Communal Housing Project," Bloomberg), shared apartments for $2,000+/room ("Inside Common's Newest Co-Living Space In Chinatown, On A Fast Track To Opening," Bisnow), microapartments ("Historic DC mansion gets luxury apartment makeover," WTOP; "Life in a 375-square-foot apartment," Washington Post; "NYC micro-apartments: Success of Kips Bay's tiny studios could to more, developer says," AM New York), etc.

Note that the Kips Bay project referenced in the AM New York article includes affordable units. From the article:
Billed as an experiment, the city relaxed its rules on minimum apartment-size at Carmel Place to see if micro-apartments could help house the growing singles population and drive down rents. Above nearly 5,000 square feet of donated city land, Monadnock Development constructed 55 micro-units, including eight set aside for homeless veterans and 14 affordable units renting for between $949 and $1,490 a month.
Still expensive for people living on the edge, but it adds more options. (Although I argue for more SRO housing that is even cheaper to rent, because it's "cheaper" to have people housed than to deal with the social and economic costs of homelessness for the people stuck in that situation and for the cities and counties that have to deal with it.

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Thoughtful Thanksgiving host/ess gifts beyond wine

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Buried at #8 are mentions of how an area farmers market organization and an individual business owner on H Street NE in Washington, DC, are doing creative charitable projects that are Thanksgiving/Holiday related.

If you don't read the entire post, at least skip to #8
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It happens that the traditional foods at Thanksgiving--turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, even cranberry sauce, vegetables (but not the green beans grossed up with mushroom soup and French fried onions) including squash, breads, pie (pumpkin, apple, pecan, sweet potato) and ice cream--comprise my favorite meal.

I hope that this year we can go to our neighbors again--last year her brother and wife made the best roasted turkey I've ever tasted.  Last year we made roasted vegetables (who knew that by simply roasting them in olive oil, salt and pepper, brussel sprouts could actually taste really good?).

(But they have some weird family dynamics.  One side of the family doesn't like to have non-family members at such gatherings, and I think it's their turn to be hosted.)

Probably I'll make pie.  For the past few years I've finally been making my own crusts after having used refrigerated pre-made crusts, but it took awhile before I committed to using vegetable shortening, rather than trying various somewhat unsuccessful alternatives.  Shortening makes all the difference. (But I am still not very good at rolling out the crust...)

A couple pie recipes I'm considering are from the New York Times ("Brandied Pumpkin and Chestnut Pie Recipe") and a Mixed Nut instead of Pecan Pie that I think I saw in a discarded Better Homes & Gardens Magazine that I picked up on Capitol Hill.

Newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post run themed Food sections related to Thanksgiving (and Christmas/Hanukah).  Last year the Times section them focused on immigrants and how they've adapted to the Thanksgiving holiday and ritual with recipes of their own and modifications of traditional "American" dishes.

-- Thanksgiving Recipes - NYT Cooking
-- Thanksgiving 2016 - NYT Cooking

The Wall Street Journal provides other advice ("How to Have Thanksgiving Dinner Without a Family Blowup") for getting through the family meal as does this blog entry, "Tips and Resources for Better Thanksgiving Conversations," from the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation.  From the article:
1. Be an active listener
2. Keep an open mind
3. Be curious
4. Discuss stories rather than debating facts
5. Look for common ground
6. Try to end on a positive note
Last year, the New York Times had a great piece by writer Ann Patchett, "Collecting Strays at the Thanksgiving Table," about her first attempt at cooking Thanksgiving Day Dinner in her otherwise empty dorm backed up by Joy of Cooking

Now I use a line from Patchett's article all the time.  When people tell her they can't cook, Patchett replies "can't you read?" making the point that if you read and follow a recipe, unless it's super complicated, you'll end up with edible food.

Since Thanksgiving is the kick off for the holiday gift buying season, it occurs to me that it's possible to develop a great new Thanksgiving tradition for "host" gifts that are food/foodways related, rather than a quickly bought bottle of wine (although the Wall Street Journal suggests prosecco and other bubbly wines, "Why the Best Thanksgiving Wine Is Sparkling").

1.  A gift subscription to a regional food magazine.  A gift subscription to one of the Edible Communities regional publications on the local food system would be great.  They now have 83 affiliates in the US and Canada. Each magazine covers its local food scene, from farmers and restaurants to markets and recipes.

There are some places with magazines that aren't Edible Communities related. Devour Utah in Salt Lake City and Feast Magazine in Missouri are other examples. There was one in Virginia called Flavor, then Foodshed, but I don't think they are publishing anymore.

2. Or to Cook's Illustrated, an independently published specialty recipe magazine.

3.  Gift subscription to a regional lifestyle magazine that covers foodways issues.  If you live in the South (Southern Living), in California/Pacific Northwest (Sunset) or New England (Yankee Magazine) these magazines are great guides about homes, regional traditions, travel, and food, with great recipes.

4.  Books on regional foodways/cookbooks.  There are a number of books published that explore regional foodways and systems, and I think it would be cool to come in hand with a great book on regional foodways. Darrin Nordahl's book, Eating Appalachia: Rediscovering Regional American Flavors, explores the Appalachian region. Writing primarily about (but not limited to) the Southwest, Gary Nabhun has written many books about food, cuisine, and agriculture.

A good local bookstore ought to be able to make recommendations relevant to your region.  I'm still looking for a killer recipe for Brunswick Stew, a dish that both Georgia and Virginia claim as their own.

And, I never knew about Sweet Potato Pie until I moved to Washington and started eating in soul food restaurants.  Or oyster stuffing, which is common in the Chesapeake Bay region and the Pacific Northwest, where oysters are grown.  Or Mashed Turnips instead of mashed potatoes--they're really good.

Awhile back we were visiting friends in New York State, and the lady of the house is into pro-biotics (she makes her own kefir) and pickling.  She had a book, the Art of Natural Cheesemaking, that looks really cool, which provides the right kind of guidance for being able to make your own cheese, and a wide number of varieties too.

5. Planning-related books on food and gardening.  I was first introduced to Darrin Nordahl through his books on urban agriculture and transit. Produce: Cultivating Our Parks, Plazas, and Streets for Healthier Cities, published by Island Press and now in its second edition, explores how to utilize public land as a way to grow food.

A community-focused illustration of Nordahl's thesis is presented in The Urban Garden: How One Community Turned Idle Land into a Garden City and How You Can, Too.

It explores the programs of Garden City Harvest, a non-profit in Missoula, Montana.  They sponsor a variety of a farm projects, community gardens, school-based gardens, and CSAs, and the book discusses the impact of participation on individuals and the community.

It's in the vein of The Town That Food Saved, about a very small Vermont town which is reorienting its economy around artisanal food production.)

Edible City has been out for a few years, and explores Greater Toronto's food system.  It's a model for cities in how to cover this topic in a readable way, but focused on planning and policy.

(The book was published by Coach House Books as part of series called uTOpia, addressing various concerns in the Toronto region from a variety of perspectives.  That series too is a model of the value of having local publishing houses focused on publishing titles relevant to their region.)

In proof of the adage that big issues never go away, just pop up again and again in slightly different guises, note the headline at the bottom of the page of this 1923 magazine cover.

6. Herb planters.  Or how about a set of seeds, planter and soil (planted by you) of herbs, a so called "kitchen garden" so that your host--after the plants have grown--has access to fresh herbs for cooking.

7. Locally-produced artisan food items.  They can be specially produced items, locally produced wine, or even ice cream.  For example, in DC, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Northern Virginia, bringing a couple half-gallons of Trickling Springs Ice Cream (my favorite flavor is Coffee Bean Frappe).

Virginia has a great variety of vineyards.  (We're fond of Ingleside Vineyards in Virginia's Northern Neck, which is on the way to the George Washington Birthplace National Monument.)

At least in the Maryland side of the DC area, it's pretty common to have vineyards, breweries, and distillers hawking their products at farmers markets, so that can be a place to score some locally produced alcoholic beverages.

8.  Besides bringing a gift, how about making a gift to a food-related charity in honor of Thanksgiving and in the name of the host/ess?  Food banks and community feeding programs of various sorts are an obvious choice.  Or farmers markets serving the underserved (like the Crossroads Community Market in Takoma Crossroads/Langley Park, Maryland).  Or community kitchen/food incubators, like the one being developed in Takoma Park.  Or programs working with youth like DC's Brainfood.

For Thanksgiving, FRESHFARM farmers markets have designated a food charity for each of their markets through a program they call the Fresh Food Drive.  Donations are used to buy fresh foods that the organizations will use in cooking holiday meals.

Ayanna Smith of the Escape Lounge on H Street NE has started a tradition of her own.  From email:

Hi Everyone,

As some of you may recall, last year around the holidays I collected toiletries and new socks for the homeless and a group of families and friends went out into the streets on Christmas day to distribute them to people in need.

A number of the people from the community who donated items said they requested guests bring items to holiday gatherings and that allowed them to make large donations to this effort. So, I wanted to hit you all up with this ask before Thankgiving, in case you may be willing to ask your dinner guests to bring items to donate.

Here's what you can donate to the toiletry bag drive:
  • New packs of socks for adults and children
  • Feminine products
  • Travel size soap, lotion, toothpaste
  • Toothbrushes
  • Gloves (adults and children)
You can email or text me to arrange to drop off your donation at The Escape Lounge on H Street (202-664-0900). Or, I can pick it up. Those of you who know where I live can leave your donations on my porch.

I will continue to collect donations until Saturday, December 16th.

=======What a great thing to do.  Better probably than spending time dishing out food at a food kitchen.

9.  Set a place at the dinner table for a "silent, unseen guest".  In this vein, History News Network has a post, "This Thanksgiving Invite a “Silent Guest” to Dinner," about how students at Ohio's Mount St. Joseph University are leading a "silent guest" food program fundraising campaign ("Students revive 'silent guest' tradition," Cincinnati Enquirer. Apparently it is modeled after a campaign in the late 1940s ("Feed a silent guest and help promote peace," Wichita Eagle. From the article:
After World War II, thousands of American households took in "silent guests" at Thanksgiving. The "silent guest" campaign of 1947-48 asked Americans to open up their hearts and share their Thanksgiving bounty. Governor Robert Bradford of Massachusetts, a descendant of the Pilgrims who started Thanksgiving, proclaimed the new tradition of feeding a "silent guest" at the holiday meal.

American families were asked to donate the cost of feeding their "silent guest" to a committee in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The "silent guest" donations from Americans led to CARE packages of food being sent to starving families overseas. This was crucial for many countries in Europe, who were still reeling from the destruction caused by World War II. Drought had struck in the summer of 1947, causing severe food shortages.

The food from the "silent guest" helped keep Europe afloat until the U.S. backed Marshall Plan to rebuild could kick in. As Secretary of State George Marshall said, "food is the very basis of all reconstruction."
Enjoy the day.

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Prioritizing sustainable mobility in Toronto, Chicago, and Los Angeles

Nationally, transit ridership is down--although problems with transit service in New York City are a result of very large increases in ridership ("Surge in Ridership Pushes New York Subway to Limit," New York Times). This is attributed to cheap gasoline prices, some service cuts by transit agencies in response to budget problems, and the rise of ride hailing services ("Ride-Sharing Decreases Public TransitUse," Government Technology).

Chicago.  Earlier in the week, Chicago's Active Transportation Alliance released a report, Back on the Bus: Speeding Up Chicago's Buses, about ways to improve bus ridership, which as in many cities across the country, has been dropping ("As buses slow and ridership sinks, advocates look for ways to lure commuters back," Chicago Tribune).

The report makes a number of recommendations on service improvements--nothing about fares--to speed throughput, as most research demonstrates that the time spent traveling is the main decision point concerning mode choice, along with cost.
• Dedicated bus lanes – Create a network of Transit Priority Streets, as outlined in the Chicago’s Complete Streets policy, including at least 50 miles of dedicated bus lanes and other on-street infrastructure to give crowded buses priority;
• Traffic signal improvements – Move buses more smoothly through busy intersections by changing signal timing or using technology that gives buses an extended green light to get through intersections;
• Faster boarding – Allow riders to pay their fare at the bus stop before boarding and enter the bus through the front or rear doors

Recommended actions:

(1) Create a plan for Transit Priority Streets with 50 miles of new bus lanes
(2) Create effective ways to enforce bus-only lanes
(3) Incentivize purchase of multi-day passes
(4) Establish a new local dedicated revenue stream to fund transit improvements and expansion
(5) Push for more data sharing and analysis of ride-hailing trips
Chicago priority bus lane
Chicago has begun implementing priority bus lanes downtown, although this is a rendering.

Los Angeles.  I found the approach by Chicago's advocates interesting (and I have to say, ATA is one of the best sustainable mobility advocacy groups in the US) because during the same week that ATA released their report, there was an op-ed ("L.A.'s dwindling transit ridership isn't hard to fix. Make riding the bus cheaper and more convenient") in the Los Angeles Times about solutions for the decline in bus ridership in Los Angeles.

The writers argue the primary issue is investment in rail transit at the expense of bus service and high fares.  I don't necessarily agree.

First, of major U.S. cities, LA's individual trip fares are the cheapest (excepting DC's Circulator buses, which cost $1 per ride), and the cost of a weekly or monthly pass compares favorably to the lowest cost pass products in San Francisco and New York City, which are among the lowest priced nationally.

Second, it's hard to see how investment in light rail and subway services cripples bus service in Los Angeles specifically. 

Metro Rapid bus on Wilshire Blvd. (Mid-Wilshire), Los Angeles
In creating rapid bus lines, LA Metro was an early adopter of creating different graphic treatments for rapid (red) and local (orange) buses.

As an outsider, the investments in bus service by LA Metro are impressive, not just in terms of low cost fares, but in terms of the quality of vehicles, branding, creation of high quality transfer stations (El Monte Transit Center), and support of biking as a complementary mode--LA Metro runs the LA bike sharing system, and is the only major city transit agency to do so and their bike hubs are national best practice ("L.A. officials encourage bicycle commuting, safety during Bike Week," Los Angeles Daily News).

Metro Local Bus, Wilshire Blvd., Los AngelesThe biggest problem is the dispersal of jobs around the region, making bus transit trips to and from work less efficient.

That's why comparatively speaking, while having ridership between 9,000 and 20,000 on many of the system's bus lines, Chicago's bus lines have higher ridership, even though Los Angeles has much greater population.

Toronto. The Toronto Star is reporting ("Street overhaul that puts transit first set to launch on King St.") on how that city is about to embark on one of North America's most prominent initiatives in prioritizing transit use over motor vehicles, by making through driving impossible on King Street--the location of the city's most heavily used streetcar line--while taxis and bicycles can make through trips too. Although, at this point it's not permanent, but a pilot test, lasting one year.  From the article:
Once the project is operational motorists will be prohibited from driving straight through the length of the pilot area. Instead, drivers will be channelled into right turn lanes at most signalized intersections and be compelled to turn off of King. That should allow streetcars to pass through the centre lane uninhibited. Additionally, on-street parking will be removed to make way for loading zones, taxi stands, and new public spaces.

City staff believe giving streetcars the right-of-way will allow for the more efficient movement of people downtown, because the majority of those who use King are transit riders. The 504 King streetcar carries 65,000 people every weekday, but is often stuck in traffic behind the 20,000 drivers who use the street.
Because Toronto is one of North America's largest cities, this is a big deal, probably the most prominent example of the creation of a sustainable mobility prioritized street. Perhaps this can happen more now, elsewhere, depending on the level of success.
Traffic changes coming to King Street, Toronto

What to do? The reality is that it's true that choice riders--people who are not transit dependent--prefer rail. Plus, rail tends to support complementary real estate development and adoption of a sustainable mobility lifestyle at greater rates than bus transit, which means that as a public investment it has much greater economic return.

Chicago's advocates make the point that investing in bus is cheaper. From the CT article:
It is important to make buses appealing because they are less expensive and better for the environment than cars, the report said. And improving bus service is cheaper and easier than adding more rail routes — the cost of expanding the Red Line from 95th Street to 130th Street is estimated at more than $2 billion.

“Of all the available options, the bus is one of, if not the most, efficient and affordable,” said Kyle Whitehead, government relations director for the Active Transportation Alliance and an author of the report.
The cost to create improvements to bus service is cheaper, no question. But it doesn't necessarily result in the kinds of broader changes in land use and mobility choice that we are seeking. Plus, without relatively short distances between residential and employment centers and other destinations, it's slow, which reduces considerably the opportunity to capture ridership.

Chicago has 33 bus routes with 9,000 to 19,000+ riders, and 5 routes with more than 20,000 ridersLA has many dozens of routes with comparable ridership

By contrast, DC proper has a few routes with high ridership--12,000+ to 25,000 daily riders--which tend to be "point-to-point" lines running on major arterials serving major destinations and employment centers, and usually Downtown (the 90s buses do not serve Downtown, but the other high ridership routes do--30s on Wisconsin-Pennsylvania Avenues, 50s on 14th Street, S on 16th Street, 70s on Georgia Avenue--it's worth a research project to figure out why Rhode Island Avenue doesn't have the same potential).

That being said, we should definitely work towards making the improvements, especially in dedicated transitways on high-use corridors, that improve bus service in significant ways.

Also see "Making bus service sexy and more equitable" (2012) and "The need for a double decker bus vs. streetcar comparison study" (2014).

But definitely in the case of Los Angeles County, the solution that will lead to a significant increase in bus transit ridership is a lot more complicated than lowering already comparatively low fares or shifting resources from rail expansion (which is a capital expenditure, not operations).

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